Orioles hitting coach Don Long won’t be back with the club in 2022, according to a source with direct knowledge of the decision, the latest change on manager Brandon Hyde’s coaching staff.
Assistant hitting coach José Hernández will be moved to a different role on the staff as part of the shake-up.
Changes have occurred over the last week on the minor league front as well. Triple-A Norfolk Tides manager Gary Kendall, a Sparrows Point High graduate who spent eight seasons as manager with Double-A Bowie and has been in the organization since 2000, and pitching coach Kennie Steenstra won’t return in 2022, according to an industry source. Neither will Florida Complex League manager Alan Mills, a former Orioles reliever, High-A Aberdeen hitting coach Tom Eller, and Low-A Delmarva hitting coach Patrick Jones.
Buck Britton, who managed Double-A Bowie to the playoffs in 2019 and 2021 and was the organization’s Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award winner last month, is expected to be offered the manager’s job at Triple-A Norfolk.
MASNSports.com and The Athletic first reported several of Monday’s moves.
Long, who came to the Orioles for the 2019 season with a long track record of success both in player development and as the major league hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, took on a challenging role guiding hitters who were either inexperienced young players or waiver claims brought in to fill needs.
He had his share of success and he particularly helped Trey Mancini separate his mindset from his swing, leading to great success in 2019 and at times in 2021. He supported Cedric Mullins in his decision to abandon switch-hitting and hit left-handed only, which led to an All-Star season and consideration for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Strong stretches for Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays have come on Long’s watch in recent years as well.
Hernández was a longtime Orioles minor league coach who joined the staff for the 2019 season as a major league coach, and moved to the assistant hitting coach role in place of Howie Clark the following season.
But as the Orioles looked to create a more unified approach to their pitching side between the minors and majors in 2021 as so many of their recent wave of young arms looked poised to reach the majors, so too could be the organization’s thinking with hitting here.
The Orioles’ hitting program on the farm underwent significant changes in recent years. Director of player development Matt Blood brought in a crop of progressive hitting coaches with varied backgrounds to create a challenging atmosphere built on fostering plate discipline and hard contact in the strike zone.
In their first full season with this staff intact, the Orioles’ minor league hitters saw significant gains. The combined OPS over the four full-season affiliates climbed from .696 to .733 from 2019 to 2021, with significant gains in walk rates and home run rates. Ryan Fuller, the full-season hitting coordinator and hitting coach at Double-A Bowie, and Anthony Villa, a hitting coach in the Florida Complex League who coordinated the short-season levels, emerged as the leaders of that group over the last two years.
Given how the Orioles slowly transitioned the pitching side to create a uniform philosophy over all the levels, they could similarly use one of their minor league coaches to bring that onto the major league staff in 2021 so top prospects like Adley Rutschman, Kyle Stowers, and possibly Jordan Westburg all continue in the same program in the big leagues as they enjoyed in the minors.
However they fill the role, the staff will be further transformed from when Hyde first assembled it late in the 2018 offseason.
First base coach Anthony Sanders replaced Arnie Beyeler for 2020, and third base coach Tony Mansolino replaced José David Flores for the 2021 season. Pitching coach Chris Holt, who was one of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ cornerstone hires from the Houston Astros, ascended to that role in place of Doug Brocail for the 2021 season, with assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes replacing John Wasdin as the bullpen coach entering 2020.
Major league field coordinator and catching instructor Tim Cossins and Hernández remain in place from Hyde’s initial, which was constructed late in the 2019 offseason, while former big league manager Fredi González was added to the staff entering 2020 as a major league coach.