Chad Mottola played parts of five season in the major leagues with two of those for Toronto. He also played parts of five season playing in Syracuse for the Blue Jays. Now Mottola is the Blue Jays minor league hitting coordinator. I caught up with him in Lansing last week.
BB: What is the main message you have for the young guys here in Lansing?
CM: Right now it is to relax and breathe. Here we have a couple of guys from Florida and a couple of guys from the Dominican just out of high school who had never really left home. So the first month and a half or so it is just go out and play baseball, we don't want anything more than that, anything advanced, rather than get out of your home, go find a place and play baseball and have fun. Now that we are in the second month and heading for the third we are starting to tinker with mechanics but the first couple of months it was just going out and breathing because you can see none of them played before a crowd or in cold weather. So let them get acclimated to the situation first.
BB: How important is pitch recognition for young guys, is that something they learn through experience?
CM: Absolutely it is something you can learn through experience. Some guys that's a little too advanced for them right now, some guys you just want them to see it and hit it. But some guys here now are starting to understand what we are saying, we say it over and over and it's not really registering but we keep driving that point home, how you need to recognize the fastball and attack the fastball. And the sooner they get it the better off they are but we can't expect it to happen yet at this point.
BB: Speaking of young guys here, Marcus Brisker is going out there and not having much results, do you have to help him with his confidence and just tell him to keep plugging away?
CM: Fortunately with Brisker and Wilson I had them both last year in the GCL so I got to know them as people as well as baseball players. A guy like Brisker he is from a quiet family and you just want to get him away from Florida away from the GCL for a little bit; have him play in front of a crowd, he has never done that; and see what guys do to him and now advance in baseball. He is a happy guy along with Wilson and I am not worried about their confidence. And they got to leave Florida which I think is more important and see what real baseball is. Here they can get in the baseball schedule where they show up at the park at two, maybe go to the cage for an hour and they are advancing, working on things, even though it doesn't show. It's better than being back in extended spring training where you are playing in a hundred degrees at noon, the umpire is sweating and everything is a strike, they are not getting much out of it. So even though the numbers aren't showing what we want they are actually getting a lot done here.
BB: Kenny Wilson started off slowly but seemed to be getting it before he went on the DL.
CM: He has taken great strides this year compared to last year and is a great example of learning it. I think last year he hit .210 with no home runs, I think he is up to .240 with three home runs (this year) which I didn't expect at all. But he is starting to answer the questions for us rather than in the past we kept having to drive it home. He is perfect example of a younger guy starting to learn pitch recognition, learning what's happening and why it's happening. Last year he wasn't much of a baseball player, I can now see it month to month where he is turning ito a baseball player and that's what's fun about doing this.
BB: Tyler Pastornicky comes from a baseball family, he has been around the game more than the other guys, so he probably needs a different approach.
CM: And it's funny, every time you sit there on the bench you turn around and Tyler's right next to you. No matter what the situation he is just a sponge right now. He is really enjoyable to be around as well and he is learning through other things that happen to other people as well. He is great guy to be around and you saw in a couple of plays last night how he has great baseball instincts that you really can't teach.
BB: Eric Eiland was here for a while last year but this year is in extended, how is he doing?
CM: He has started to come along well in extended. Last year he went to the Hawaiian fall league and didn't play too much there and I think that hurt him a little bit in the sense that he didn't have any of our coaches with him so he kinda went off to the side and the other organizations coaches weren't too interested in him and it showed when he came into spring training this year where he grooved a bad swing. It wasn't from lack of effort, it wasn't from lack of work, it's almost that he worked too hard and didn't feel what he was doing. He was a football player and he is learning baseball as he goes and he worked hard on some things that we are trying to get him out of. He is working on it down in extended and starting to swing the bat a lot better right now which is good for him.
BB: Justin Jackson had a terrible April and a pretty good May. What's been the difference?
CM: Jackson, Ahrens and Tolisano are all high school guys in the FSL which is a college league. Some of those guys have been playing in the FSL for a couple of years. They are starting to learn how guys pitch to you rather than throw to you and they are starting to see breaking balls in fastball counts, and learn what to do. I think it was more trial and error early on.
BB: There was some suggestion that Jackson wanted to do his own thing and only changed after he failed.
CM: And that's the whole story with a lot of young guys. He doesn't have a bad attitude whatsoever but if I walk up to a kid hitting .300 and try to throw things at him he will look at me funny and say I'm hitting .300 why would I change. As bad as it sounds you want guys to fail so they're begging for information, all of a sudden they want it all. Failure early on is great so then you can change it right away.
BB: How is David Cooper making out in AA?
CM: He is starting to make some good adjustments even in the last week. He has hit a lot of doubles there and he is a college guy who was ready to go to AA and he is another guy who we keep emphasizing pitch recognition to. He is not only in AA but he is hitting in the 3/4 hole so he is being pitched differently than going there in the 8 hole. We think the long term goal is for him to be a middle of the order guy so we are going to stick him there, he is going to fail early but as time goes by he will see some breaking balls in fastball counts and he will start to drive the ball better.
BB: Brian Jeroloman had a singles hitter, walk a lot reputation but he seems to be driving the ball better this year.
CM: Yes, and to me that's just a mindset. And he is not doing anything wrong but that's what he was thought, maybe it was in Florida, maybe it was his high school coach, and we run into a lot of guys that aren't doing anything wrong it's just what they have been doing their whole life. We are just trying to get him in a 2-0 count, in a 3-1 count, to realize that we are going to count on him for RBI's, not just to hit a single. And no disrespect to him but we call him a base-clogger so by him walking or by him hitting a single we need two more hits to get him in maybe three hits.
BB: JP Arencibia is the opposite, he is a guy who you want to walk more.
CM: He and Jeroloman are opposites, we need a blend of the two. JP misunderstood what we were asking him to do, he thought walks were good and it's not that walks are bad but we didn't want him to just walk, we want him to be more selective and not chase that 0-2 slider off the outside corner. But we are straight now and he knows what we want him to do.
Batters Box thanks Chad Mottola for his time in answering our questions.