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Mariners announce player development coaching staff for 2021

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The minds that will shape Seattle’s up and coming minor leaguers are...young ones, relatively speaking.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
Double-A hitting coach Joe Thurston
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Mariners announced their minor-league coaching staff for 2021, and while there are many familiar faces, there are some new people in new places—figuratively and literally, as the new minor-league alignment will move some teams around. The Mariners also continued their commitment to youth-ening their coaching staff, with new hires that span players fresh off their playing careers to recent college grads.

Starting at the top with Triple-A Tacoma, there’s a surprising promotion right off the bat: 34-year-old Kristopher Negrón, who worked in player development with the big-league club last season and the year before that playing for the Dodgers (and Mariners), will helm the Rainiers. That’s a somewhat surprising ouster of former skipper Daren Brown, who has been with the club in some capacity for 20 years, and is just shy of 500 wins with Triple-A Tacoma. Maybe Brown will turn up on the big-league club coaching staff, or was given an excellent opportunity elsewhere, because otherwise that’s kind of a bummer for a long-tenured member of the organization. It’s hard not to be excited about Negrón, though, who is beloved by his players, and has been in the majors recently enough that he’ll be able to offer firsthand experience and advice regarding today’s baseball landscape to his MLB-adjacent players. Providing a bit more age and experience with be hitting coach Roy Howell, who has also been with the club for a while; he filled sudden managerial vacancies twice before in back-to-back seasons, once in 2014 with the Rainiers and again in 2015 with the Jackson Generals. You can learn more about Howell’s background, and his challenge in melding the newer technologies (“They use some terminology like they’re launching a space shuttle or something”) with old-fashioned hitting know-how, in this profile from the Rainiers blog. Pitching whiz Rob Marcello will also “return” to Tacoma after getting a promotion from High-A prior to the 2020 non-season. We are huge fans of Marcello around here after seeing the change he helped bring about in Modesto’s pitching staff last season, and excited to see what he will do with Seattle’s young crop of advanced arms. Tacoma’s coaching staff will be rounded out by Eric Young Jr., who, like Negrón, is fresh off his playing career, most recently with the Rainiers in 2019. This will be his coaching debut, obviously, adding more relevant recent MLB experience and a leadership role for a Black coach to Tacoma’s staff.

At Double-A Arkansas, there’s another surprising promotion: Colin Cowgill, who you might remember as a spring training signing last season, will make his coaching debut as the manager of the Travelers. That’s quite a significant role for a 34-year-old who has never coached before, although it fits with a pattern of a strong organizational preference for younger coaches and managers who are more versed in the newer technologies and only slightly removed from their own playing careers. Cowgill will be supported by pitching coach Alon Leichman, whom Becca interviewed here, and hitting coach Joe Thurston, 41, who was with Modesto previously and coached first base for the big-league club in 2020 when Perry Hill had to sit out the season as a COVID precaution.

Ryan McLaughlin will also make his coaching debut at Arkansas. Another former Mariner technically if not actually (signed as a free agent SS for Modesto prior to 2020), McLaughlin is the youngest of the bunch at just 23 years old, so young his MiLB player page still lists him as “active” in a Google preview. McLaughlin, a New Jersey native and NYU grad (Go Violets!), lists his location in his Twitter bio as “1904 Surf Avenue,” aka MCU Park on Coney Island, where NYU played their home games.

On to changes that aren’t really changes but also kind of changes: Louis Boyd, a Vancouver BC native and another young’un, returns to lead the Everett ballclub, but with a promotion, as Everett will be High-A now instead of short-season. The 26-year-old Boyd got in some coaching time at High-A in 2019, when he was just 24, before being promoted to lead Everett, but this will be his first full-season assignment as the manager at High-A. Joining Boyd is another Northwest native and former player in former Mariners utilityman Shawn O’Malley, who will serve as hitting coach; pitching coach duties will be handled by Sean McGrath, formerly of the Mariners’ favorite feeder school Elon University, who will enter his first full year of coaching for the Mariners after joining the organization prior to the 2020 season. Rounding out the staff is the universally beloved José Umbría, who at a mere 43 years old will be the senior member of this group.

The Mariners’ Single-A affiliate will now be Modesto, which is going to take some getting used to. Eric Farris, who was slated to lead the West Virginia club in 2020 after serving as pitching coach there in 2019 (RIP Power, we hardly knew ye), will get another crack at heading up a team in much warmer climes. He’ll be joined by pitching coach Nathan Bannister, who spent some time playing in Modesto as a member of the Mariners organization in 2017. Rob Benjamin returns to the organization as hitting coach for what will hopefully be his first full season at the Single-A level; here’s his blurb from last year:

Benjamin, a Puerto Rican/New York native who is bilingual, runs his own hitting academy in the off-season. He has worked extensively with Mariners prospects Noelvi Marte and Jonatan Clase, both of whom credit Benjamin with making them better hitters.

Geoff Jimenez also joins the staff at Modesto, making his Mariners debut after spending 2020 with the Phillies’ PD staff. Jimenez is a graduate of Nova Southeastern, the same school that produced J.D. Martinez and the Mariners’ Jake Anchía. His Twitter header shows a young Geoffrey wearing a Mariners Little League uniform, always a quick route to our hearts.

(There’s no short-season level to talk about! That feels weird.)

At the Rookie ball level, skipper Austin Knight moves to Peoria from the DSL. Hitting coach Michael Fransoso moves to Peoria from Everett after his first season with the organization was cut short. Yoel Monzón returns as pitching coach, and Zach Livingston, who managed the club last year, returns as a coach. In the DSL, Luís Caballero finally gets a crack at leading a team after serving as a coach in the organization for the past five years, four of them at the Academy. He’ll be re-joined by pitching coach José Amancio, legendary Dominican coach Guady Jabalera, and hitting coach Brett Schneider, who you can see in the forefront of this video:

Juan Pimentel also joins the coaching staff in his affiliated baseball coaching debut. Pimentel was most recently with the University of Delaware as an assistant coach and is described on their site as being “one of the most energetic and talented young coaching minds in college baseball.”

In addition to being one of the youngest coaching staffs in baseball, this is also one of the most diverse: by my count, 12 of the total 25 coaching positions are filled by coaches of color. There are three Black coaches, one in a managerial position, which is a number that could certainly stand to improve. Also something that could improve: the lack of women. As other organizations like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs move to bring on women (and women of color, as is the case for Red Sox coach Bianca Smith), the Mariners should follow suit. There’s clearly not a complete lack of qualified female coaches out there; find one.