Ever since the trio of Halladay, Lee, and Hamels stood atop the Phillies starting rotation, the focus in Philadelphia, as far as baseball goes, has been the pitching. While most baseball folk would agree that pitching coaches at the MLB level provide little advice as far as development, the men who head the coaching side of a team's pitching do play a major role during the long MLB season. For years, Rich Dubee has held that position for the Phillies, helping both young starters like Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone, and Tyler Cloyd, as well as veterans like Lee and Halladay, navigate the often treacherous waters of pitching to major league hitters. When the 2013 season concluded, the Phillies fired pitching coach Rich Dubee.
Dubee's firing did not constitute a surprise. He did his best with Kendrick and others, but oftentimes the coaches become scapegoats, and in this case Dubee represented a casualty of losing. With Dubee out of the picture, the Phillies have begun the search for his replacement. Today, Jayson Stark of ESPN reported that the Phillies had taken a greater interest in Pirates pitching coordinator Jim Benedict to fill the vacancy. Other candidates included Bryan Price, who the Reds recently promoted from pitching coach to manager, as well as current Phillies bullpen coach Rod Nichols and Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius.
Benedict represents the first name other than Price, Cornelius, and Nichols to publicly appear as candidates. According to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, the team has no specific timetable for hiring Dubee's replacement, but generally in these cases, teams already have lists prepared and candidates they like. Price, who is fluent in Spanish and has a connection to Pat Gillick when the former Phillies GM manend the helm in Seattle, would have made a lot of sense for a Phllies pitching staff that recently signed Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, but with his promotion to lead the Reds in the post Dusty Baker era, Amaro and the front office must look elsewhere for a solution.
Enter Benedict, who most recently held the title of Minor League Pitching Coordinator in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. The Pirates have become the most recent success story in the majors, due in large part to their pitching upgrades both in the minors and the majors. Adding pitchers like Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, all while developing young talented arms like Justin Wilson, Gerrit Cole, and Hared Hughes. Before holding the position of Minor League Pitching Coordinator Benedict served as a special assistant to the GM under Neal Huntington, showing that he not only has a relationship with players, but also understands the front office level of an MLB organization. Before joining the club in Pittsburgh, Benedict served as a scout for the Indians and Yankees. In the 90's he spent time as the pitching coordinator in the minor leagues for both the Montreal Expos and the Angels.
Benedict pitched in the minor leagues, doing so as a sidearmer. In an interview with the respected website piratesprospects.com, Benedict mentioned some of his philosophies towards developing young arms.
You try to put what’s best for the player, and try to develop a rate of speed for their advancement all the way through the minor leagues through the big leagues. So it’s done early, and then the human element enters in to it. That will slow it down, speed it up, some guys surprise you, some guys take longer.
Most of the answers Benedict gave in the interview portrayed a coach who understands that every pitcher projects differently, and must be coached as such. He described the Pirates' penchant for long-toss amongst their pitchers, both prospects and veterans, but explained that each pitcher has a different distance that suited them most. He expressed a premium on the human level, the ability to provide comfort to his pitchers as they develop. While the Phillies have both Lee and Hamels atop their current starting rotation, the rest will most likely be made up of young, less experienced pitchers in need of more hand holding and nudging from the coaching staff.
In the same interview, Benedict showed a knack for understanding the specific mechanics of pitching, the sometimes long process of a pitcher's physical and mental development, as well as an obviously solid ability to talk with the media on all issues pitching related. While the Phllies have been given permission to talk with Benedict concerning the open position, there is no guarantee that Benedict would be interested, or that the Phillies value him over the other candidates on their list. Still, the fact that the team has reached out to inquire about him shows more than just a fleeting interest.
The Pirates have become a hot organization recently, and that is in large part due to the personnel, both players and coaches, that Neal Huntington and his staff have hired over the last several years. Benedict, only in his early 50's, has experience on the player level, the scouting level, the front office, and minor league pitching level. Everything about his baseball resume screams pitching coach, but that has never stopped the Phillies front office from going in a different direction before. Overall, it's a pleasant surprise to see the Phillies reaching out to possible pitching coaches like Benedict, and if the team does hire him or a someone with a similar pedigree the team would be better off for it.