Tigers shake up staff, dismiss hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh

Detroit Tigers

Hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and quality control coach Josh Paul will not return, manager A.J. Hinch announced in a Friday morning meeting with beat writers and columnists. Third-base coach Ramon Santiago and assistant hitting coach Mike Hessman have been reassigned and offered positions on the Minor League side.

The rest of the coaching staff is expected to return, though bench coach George Lombard could be in play for managerial openings on other Major League clubs. Alfredo Amezaga, who joined the team in September as first-base coach, will stay on in that role next season, while Gary Jones — who had been Detroit’s first-base coach before stepping into the dugout as a defensive coordinator — will remain on staff in a role to be determined.

“We will be building a staff that may mirror what we’ve had, but it may also expand and be a touch different than what we’ve been used to,” Hinch said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Tigers are headed toward a much larger staff like the Giants, where Harris was previously general manager. However, it means Detroit is taking a fresh look at how it coaches a roster that includes both seasoned veterans and a bevy of young players.

“The goal is to enhance the coaching staff,” Hinch continued. “Some of that is with different voices, but also some of that may be in different roles. We don’t really have, like, a spot to fill. It’s not like you have to do it the same exact way that you’ve always done it.

“We’ll look into building a hitting department — whatever that means, whatever the skill sets are, whatever the balance is. Same in other areas.”

Coolbaugh was one of Hinch’s initial staff hires and was credited in 2021 with helping Robbie Grossman’s 23-homer, 20-steal season, Eric Haase’s 22-homer emergence, Jeimer Candelario’s 42-double outburst and Akil Baddoo’s Rule 5 breakout. Virtually nothing of that sort went right for the Tigers this season, in which Detroit finished last in the Majors in runs scored, home runs, walks drawn and slugging percentage. Detroit was also shut out 22 times this season, second most in franchise history and most by an American League team in the DH era (since 1973).

Hinch resisted any in-season changes at hitting coach, saying that making a change by itself doesn’t solve the struggles. But a change had been expected at season’s end, especially once Harris talked in his introductory remarks about dominating the strike zone and staying disciplined at the plate.

“This is a difficult decision at the end of this season, based on the momentum that we felt out of the previous season,” Hinch said. “I don’t think they got worse as hitting coaches. I think the overall struggle of the hitting department was such a topic for such a long time, it definitely wore on them, wore on the players. We were trying to grind through it together, rather than make a midseason change, but I think we can be better in different areas within the hitting department that we didn’t display this season.”

The Tigers have already started talking with candidates. One internal option is Triple-A Toledo hitting coach Adam Melhuse, who joined Detroit’s staff as an extra coach in September in part to work with Spencer Torkelson down the stretch. They’ll work together this offseason near Torkelson’s home in Arizona.

Santiago, a teammate of Hinch on the 2003 Tigers, was a holdover from former manager Ron Gardenhire’s staff. He was in charge of Detroit’s infield defense, in addition to coaching third base for the last season and a half. Hinch characterized the decision as partly a developmental move.

“We want him in the organization still,” Hinch said. “And I think as he develops his coaching style, what we’d like him to do is develop an infield program that is stronger and develop in his own personality as a coach to be even more aggressive than maybe some of his sends. …

“He’s not being reassigned because you got a guy thrown out at home plate. We’re hoping to continue to develop him as a coach and get him around our younger kids in the Minor Leagues, especially with the younger Latin kids, and teaming up with our [player development] system that hopefully will round out his coaching strengths.”

Still to be determined are potential changes to Detroit’s medical and training staffs following a season in which the Tigers used 53 players — including a franchise record-tying 17 starting pitchers — due in part to injuries. Hinch said he and Harris will discuss that next week.

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