MILWAUKEE -- Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns was watching batting practice on the field Wednesday, and this time he had a question for the beat reporters instead of the other way around.
“Is anyone writing a Chris Hook story?” Stearns asked.
Hook’s story was told when the Brewers hired him as pitching coach after the surprise departure of Derek Johnson to the Reds following Milwaukee’s run to the 2018 National League Championship Series, and when Hook instituted his own system beginning with 2019 Spring Training. And much was written about Hook early in the 2019 season, when Corbin Burnes’ miserable start headlined some early-season staff struggles.
Now, Hook has the Brewers pitching as well as any team in the Major Leagues -- a group effort with bullpen coach Steve Karsay; pitching, catching and strategy coach Walker McKinven; and the team’s array of analysts and scouts. Those who were grumbling about Brewers pitching early in 2019 are not doing so anymore; the Brewers entered Wednesday with the best strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and third-best ERA (3.39) and fWAR (22.9) in baseball after sending Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Josh Hader to the All-Star Game.
“Look, I think we all knew what a talented coach Chris is,” Stearns said. “I’m not sure how much of that he heard. If he heard it, he did a wonderful job of staying focused. What he cares about is helping the players. He has known a lot of these guys for a long time. He’s very invested in these guys, and he’s going to do whatever he can to help them succeed.”
Hook’s story with Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta, Hader and the rest of Milwaukee’s longtime pitchers goes back before their Major League debuts. Hook was a pitching coach in the Brewers’ system at the Class A (2009-11) and Double-A (2008, 2012-17) levels before serving as a pitching coordinator in 2018 prior to his promotion to the Major League staff.
“He comes at this from a number of different angles,” Stearns said. “First is he works really hard at building relationships with all of the players, all of his pitchers. He has pitched in the big leagues, so he immediately has that level of credibility. He spent time honing his craft as a Minor League coach and coordinator. And largely through self-direction, he has become really educated on all of the new technologies, all of the new information sources that are around in the game.
“You combine all of that, and you have an enormously talented coach.”
A coach Stearns felt deserved some public praise.
Surgery for catching prospect Quero
Brewers Minor League catcher Jeferson Quero, ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline’s latest list of the organization’s Top 30 prospects, separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder while sliding home in an Arizona Complex League game in late August and underwent surgery in early September. He is expected to make a full recovery for next season.
The 18-year-old is one of Milwaukee’s most exciting prospects, regarded for his take-charge demeanor on the field, even while handling older and more experienced pitchers. Quero slashed .309/.434/.500 in 83 plate appearances for the “Brewers Blue” team in the ACL before he was injured.
New plan for fall
The Brewers are trying something different this fall, eschewing the usual instructional league in favor of small group work at American Family Fields of Phoenix throughout the offseason. Like so many other things, the decision is partly related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had a lot of players play a lot of baseball after a 2020 campaign with no baseball, so we have a lot of pitchers due for some rest,” Stearns said. “We are going to bring some players in periodically for targeted work, targeted focus, working on specific skillsets. We will have players at our complex over the winter at various times. But we’re not going to do the traditional instructional league this year.”
Stearns said it remains to be seen whether this is a one-year change or a new model for future years. The Brewers have a number of Phoenix-based coaches who could take part in programs, including director of player development initiatives Jake McKinley, coordinator of hitting development initiatives Sara Goodrum, bench coach Pat Murphy and Karsay.
Goodrum, incidentally, will be in uniform at American Family Field this weekend for the Mets-Brewers series as the latest in a series of Minor League instructors to get a September stint in the big leagues. McKinley, infield coordinator Bob Miscik and catching coordinator Charlie Greene have already served in that capacity for a series apiece.
Goodrum drew high marks, Stearns said, in her first season after breaking ground as the first woman ever named an organization’s Minor League hitting coordinator.
“I think that’s reflected by some of the performances we saw, and it’s also reflected by the respect she earned from our players and coaches,” Stearns said. “She works incredibly hard, and I think that comes through.”