Dustin Kelly gets turn on Cubs' wild, woolly hitting coach carousel

Dustin Kelly gets turn on Cubs' wild hitting coach carousel originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAS VEGAS — Heads up, Dustin Kelly.

Or better yet keep your head down.

The Cubs’ hitting coach job has become in many cases what the Cubs’ manager job used to be — the place where careers go to die.

No reason to think the well regarded Kelly won’t succeed in his first-time role as a big-league hitting coach after earning a promotion last month following two seasons as the Cubs’ minor-league hitting coordinator.

“First and foremost, he’s a leader, a really integral part of our player development department overall,” farm director Jared Banner said this week from the GM meetings in Las Vegas. “He’s had a tremendous impact on our hitting department, our position players. … It’s not surprising he’s gotten this opportunity.”

The promotion was made official with an announcement Tuesday. In fact, the Cubs are adding assistant hitting coach roles for returning coaches Jim Adduci and Juan Cabreja, alongside the returning assistant hitting coachJohnny Washington, creating essentially a hitting coaching staff.

RELATED: Cubs announce changes to coaching staff for 2023

Again, nothing says Kelly doesn’t have the chops to succeed.

Certainly not any more reason than there might have been to think the same about, say, James Rowson or Chili Davis or Greg Brown before him.

But damn.

The revolving door of Cubs hitting coaches and assistant hitting coaches has been more dizzying than the Philliles’ strikeout rate last week.

Kelly’s predecessor, Brown, lasted one year. Brown’s predecessor, Anthony Iapoce, lasted long enough for his former minor-league charges — the Cubs’ top core players — to be traded away or non-tendered in a 2020-21 roster purge.

Iapoce’s predecessor, three-time All-Star Chili Davis, lasted long enough to get hired to deliver a message and approach to young hitters then to get pushback from the young players for delivering the message and get fired a year later.

Kelly becomes the eighth hitting coach to toil for the Cubs since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over baseball operations ahead of the 2012 season, which doesn’t count nine assistant hitting coaches in that stretch (counting the two extra guys announced Tuesday) — for 17 heading into what will be 12 seasons under the Epstein-Hoyer/Hoyer-Hawkins regime(s).

In theory, Kelly should bring continuity to the Cubs' rebuilding process as hitters he oversaw in the minors begin matriculating to the majors.

But then there were plenty of theories behind the hirings of his multitude of predecessors over the past decade, too.

If you thought you needed a scorecard to tell the players, trying keeping track of all the hitting coaches hired, fired or otherwise departed during the era (*-assistant hitting coach):

  • Rudy Jaramillo: Back when teams had only one hitting coach, the Cubs hired one of the most respected, highest-paid in the game two seasons ahead of the regime change that brought in Epstein and Hoyer in the fall of 2011. He was fired during the 2012 season.

  • James Rowson: The Cubs’ minor-league hitting coordinator was promoted to take over for Jaramillo and remained into 2013, when assistant hitting coaches were added to official big-league coaching rosters. He was swept out with manager Dale Sveum’s firing after 2013.

  • Rob Deer:* Hired as the Cubs’ first official assistant hitting coach in 2013, he also was gone after that season.

  • Bill Mueller: The former batting champ with the Red Sox (and one-time Cub) was hired as manager Rick Renteria came in — and quit after that 2014 season over the Cubs’ decision to replace his assistant, Mike Brumley.

  • Mike Brumley:* (See: Bill Mueller)

  • John Mallee: Arguably the most successful of the group, the launch-angle advocate was hired away from the Houston coaching staff under new Cubs manager Joe Maddon for the 2015 season. He was fired in a coaching-staff shakeup after the 2017 “World Series hangover” and NLCS elimination. He later spent a year and a half as the Phillies hitting coach and three seasons as an assistant hitting coach under Maddon in Anaheim.

  • Eric Hinske:* The former rookie of the year moved from Cubs 2014 first base coach to 2015 assistant hitting coach under Maddon and left after the 2017 season to become the Angels’ head hitting coach (for one year).

  • Chili Davis: Hired to deliver a message on big-league approach to young All-Star hitters after 2017, the three-time All-Star and three-time World Series winner got pushback from said All-Star hitters and was fired after the “offense broke” in the second half of 2018.

  • Andy Haines:* Davis’ assistant also left after 2018, to take the Brewers’ head hitting coach job. Fired after three years there, he is now the Pirates hitting coach.

  • Anthony Iapoce: A well-regarded coach in the Cubs system who left to become the Rangers’ big-league hitting coach, Iapoce returned to the Cubs to replace Davis after a managerial change in Texas took most of that staff with it. He was fired after 2021, a few months after the Cubs jettisoned the former system hitters he had relationships with.

  • Terrmel Sledge:* He lasted two years after joining the staff with Iapoce.

  • Chris Valaika:*: Promoted from within the system to replace Sledge for 2021, the former Cub player left to take the head hitting coach job in Cleveland after one season.

  • Greg Brown: Success in scouting and as a minor-league coach with Tampa Bay as well as a successful college coaching run landed Brown the job. “His background is fascinating with being a really good area scout to a really good college coach to being a coordinator for an organization that really does a really great job developing hitting,” Hoyer said a year ago this week. "He was really impressive throughout and we were excited to bring him on board."

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