The Detroit Tigers hired Scott Coolbaugh as their hitting coach on Saturday. Here’s what you need to know about the veteran coach.
In hiring Scott Coolbaugh, A.J. Hinch can already boast one impressive feat as Detroit Tigers manager: he has completed his coaching staff. Ramon Santiago and Josh Paul are staying with the team, Chris Fetter is the new pitching coach, with Juan Nieves as his assistant, and on Saturday Hinch added Coolbaugh, rising star George Lombard, and former manager Chip Hale.
If that doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, consider that Tony La Russa, who was hired the day before Hinch, hasn’t added anyone to his coaching staff yet. One of his potential options was Scott Coolbaugh, who served as the White Sox assistant hitting coach last year, but that’s no longer possible.
So let’s learn a bit more about the new Detroit Tigers hitting coach.
Who is Scott Coolbaugh?
Scott Coolbaugh was born and raised in Binghamton, New York, but his family moved to San Antonio when he was a high-school freshman. Coolbaugh excelled in baseball, earning a scholarship to the University of Texas in the mid-80s. He played well for the Longhorns, manning third base and hitting .361 with 15 home runs as a junior, and the Texas Rangers selected him in the 3rd round of the 1987 draft.
Though Scott Coolbaugh produced like a first-rounder in college, he slid in the draft because he was considered undersized and maxed out. He did boast plenty of arm strength and above-average raw power, though, making him somewhat similar to current Detroit Tigers prospect Nick Quintana.
Coolbaugh played solidly in the minor-leagues, working up to Triple-A by 1989, and hitting .267 with 33 home runs over his first 2 1/2 seasons. He made his MLB debut on September 2, 1989 against the Royals. He saw regular playing time down the stretch, batted .275 with 2 home runs, and was named Baseball America’s 94th ranked prospect heading into 1990.
But an MLB career never really materialized for Scott Coolbaugh. He hit just .200 with 2 home runs over 67 games for the Rangers in 1990 and was traded to the Padres that December. He again struggled, batting .217 with 2 homers for San Diego in 1991, and was traded to the Reds in 1992.
Coolbaugh played 15 more big-league games, batting .190 with 2 home runs for the Cardinals in 1994. He continued playing for five more seasons, including two in Japan and one in South Korea, but officially retired after 1999, a year in which he served as a player/manager for the Double-AA El Paso Diablos.
Toward the end of his career he would occasionally cross paths with his brother Mike Coolbaugh, who was six years younger. Mike was drafted out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 16th round in 1990, and he toiled in the minors for parts of 17 seasons. He did finally make the big leagues as a 29-year-old in 2001, batting .200 with 2 home runs in 39 games for the Milwaukee Brewers.
And like Scott, Mike quickly moved into coaching once his playing days were finished, signing on as the first-base coach for the Tulsa Drillers in July 2007. Tragically, just a few weeks later Mike was killed when a line drive hit him in the neck and pulverized his vertebral artery.
Mike Coolbaugh’s death led to a new rule that first- and third-base coaches must wear helmets, and the Texas League created the Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Coach of the Year Award given to the best hitting or pitching coach in the league each season. It’s first recipient was Scott Coolbaugh.
Scott Coolbaugh As A Coach
After spending part of the 1999 season as a player/manager, Scott Coolbaugh took over as the manager of the High Desert Mavericks, the High-A affiliate for the Arizona Diamonbacks. He continued managing for the next four seasons, with a one-year stop as the hitting coach in El Paso, and then from 2007 to June 2011 he served as a hitting coach in Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
On June 8, 2011, the Texas Rangers fired their hitting coach Thad Bosely and promoted Scott Coolbaugh. He took over a club that ranked fifth in the American League in wRC+ (103), second in batting average, and second in home runs. For the rest of the season the Rangers ranked second in baseball in wRC+ (118), and first in batting average and home runs.
Scott Coolbaugh remained Texas’s hitting coach in 2012, and though the club was once again a top-5 offense during the regular season, they scored just one run in the AL Wild Card game. Coolbaugh was surprisingly replaced by Dave Magadan.
After a few seasons as the minor-league hitting coordinator for the Rangers, Scott Coolbaugh joined the Baltimore Orioles as their hitting coach in 2015. He spent four seasons in that role, helping Chris Davis bounce back from a brutal 2014 season, and presiding over a group of hitters who finished 3rd in the American League in home runs, but in the middle of the pack in most other offensive categories.
The Orioles changed regimes in 2019 and Coolbaugh moved on to the Dodgers organization, serving as hitting coach for a Triple-A Oklahoma City squad that featured future big-leaguers Matt Beaty, Gavin Lux, Zach McKinstry, Edwin Rios, Keibert Ruiz, and Will Smith. Then it was back to the big-leagues for 2020, where he helped the White Sox to the second best offense in the American League.
Scott Coolbaugh has earned a reputation as a calm, honest evaluator of his hitters. LADodgerTalk did a small profile on him after he was hired by Oklahoma City, and in it there are a few interesting quotes, including this one from Manny Machado:
” Coolbaugh’s been a big influence on why I’ve been doing so well, staying on me every day, getting me in the cage,” Machado said. “I talk to him between innings — if he sees something wrong or he sees how pitchers are pitching to me. I think that’s why, offensively, we’ve been so different. He’s been on top of us a little more. It just makes the game easier. It’s already hard enough.”
There’s only so much a hitting coach can do, and fans are likely to be disappointed if they expect Scott Coolbaugh to transform a power-starved, free-swinging lineup into a group of patient power hitters. But Coolbaugh does have a well-earned reputation, and a long track record of coaching good offensive clubs. He’s a solid hire for A.J. Hinch and the Detroit Tigers.