Cubs hire Folden: 'She's going to be a star'

November 23rd, 2019

CHICAGO -- During Cubs Convention last winter, a young girl walked forward, grabbed a microphone and had a question for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. She wanted to know if the team was planning on hiring more women throughout the organization. The audience cheered with approval.

"We are," Epstein said during that forum last January. "There's no way we can be as good as we want to be unless we have women contributing."

On Friday, the Cubs backed up Epstein's words with a significant hire, bringing Rachel Folden on board as the lead hitting lab tech and fourth coach for Rookie League Mesa. The addition of Folden -- the creator of Folden Fastpitch in Merrillville, Ind. -- was one in a series of hires that continued Chicago's offseason push to overhaul and modernize its player development department.

The 32-year-old Folden has provided baseball and softball instruction based on biomechanics, science, technology and data since launching Folden Fastpitch in 2010. She also served as a hitting consultant for Elite Baseball Training, which was created by Justin Stone. Earlier this offseason, the Cubs hired Stone to be their new director of hitting.

"She's going to be a star," Stone said on Friday. "She's the first person I brought in for an interview. Even when I was interviewing with different teams, I brought this up in my own interview process, that this was important to me, because I knew wherever I was going to go, I was going to have to build a staff. ... Rachel's been working alongside me for the last couple years, and there is nobody more confident.

"You worry, or you take a second thought of, 'How are guys going to react to the first time they've ever been coached by a woman in their life?' Rachel's the perfect person to cross this barrier, because not only is she one of the most talented people in our industry, she's extremely confident. And, if somebody gives her crap, she'll get in the cage and probably outswing them."

Folden played five seasons in the National Pro Fastpitch league (2008-12) and also worked as an assistant softball coach at Valparaiso University ('09-10). She graduated from Marshall University with a major in history and a minor in mathematics.

Now, Folden will run the hitting lab in Mesa, Ariz., while also working as one of four hitting coaches for the Cubs' two Arizona League affiliates.

"I am extremely honored and proud for the opportunity to work for this organization," Folden tweeted. "First class from the top down, and I can’t wait to get started. It has been a dream of mine to work in baseball for a while now."

Folden joins a small but growing list of women who have received on-field coaching opportunities in recent years. In 2015, Oakland hired Justine Siegal to be a guest instructor for its fall instructional league, making her the first woman to serve as an MLB coach. Earlier this year, the A’s brought Veronica Alvarez -- former catcher on the U.S. women's national baseball team -- to Spring Training to work with their backstops. Also, the Yankees reportedly are hiring Rachel Balkovec as a roving hitting instructor.

Folden will be fully immersed over the course of a season with Cubs prospects at their complex in Mesa, further blazing down the trail forged by the likes of Siegal and Alvarez.

Other hirings announced on Friday by the Cubs include:

Casey Jacobson, coordinator of pitching development: A 29-year-old instructor from Driveline Baseball in Kent, Wash., with six years of collegiate coaching experience.

Doug Willey, Rookie League Mesa pitching coach: Most recently worked as a graduate assistant bullpen coach at the University of Arkansas. The 26-year-old was selected in the 32nd round of the 2016 Draft by the Angels.

Travis Fitta, Class A Short-Season Eugene, fourth coach, hitting and baseball development: Most recently served as the director of hitting development at Ohio University, where the 29-year-old utilized data, tech and traditional instruction to create individualized hitting programs.

Steven Pollakov, Dominican hitting analytics coordinator: Recently worked as a hitting apprentice in the Astros' farm system, integrating tech and biometrics into hitting programs. Previously, the 27-year-old worked at the Dominican Republic academy of the Red Sox.

Dan Puente, Class A South Bend hitting coach: The 37-year-old has been a hitting and catching instructor at Elite Baseball Training since 2012, working alongside Stone. He also served as an associate scout for the Astros and was the manager of youth baseball initiatives for the White Sox ('08-12)

Will Remillard, Double-A Tennessee, fourth coach, hitting and baseball development: The 27-year-old was a development coach with Tennessee in 2019 following a playing career that ended in '18 at Triple-A Iowa.

Will Skett, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, fourth coach, hitting and baseball development: The 45-year-old started the So Cal Hitting Zone in 2012, a data-driven baseball training and batting development center.