New coach’s innovative vision for Cubs hitters

November 19th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

After two years working as the Cubs’ Minor League hitting coordinator, Dustin Kelly was prepping for a new role as a field coordinator in the farm system for the 2023 season. That changed last month, when president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer let Kelly know that the organization wanted him to take over as the hitting coach on manager David Ross’ staff.

“It was somewhat unexpected,” Kelly said in a Zoom conversation this week. “It was something that [Hoyer] had talked to the rest of the staff about, and a couple of other people, and we had a couple of really good conversations. And I got a chance to talk to Rossy and some of the other staff members and it just seemed like a really, really good opportunity for me.”

Given Kelly’s recent background of working with hitters across the Cubs’ farm system and helping with the development of coaches along the way, Chicago felt he was a good fit for an MLB team that appears close to emerging from a rebuild. Younger players have started to graduate to the big leagues and more prospects familiar with Kelly are coming soon.

Kelly will become the eighth lead hitting coach for the Cubs in a 12-year span, but there will be a different approach to the group in 2023 compared to recent seasons. While Chicago has had an assistant hitting coach in place for the past decade-plus, Kelly will have a team of assistants at the MLB level.

The concept is simple: different hitters have different needs and preferences, and a group of coaches with varying skillsets and personalities can better serve an entire clubhouse. Kelly will have assistant hitting coaches in Johnny Washington, Juan Cabreja and Jim Adduci, while also leaning on first-base coach Mike Napoli.

“It's going to be a collective group,” Kelly said. “And I think that was one of the things that we talked about early on: how do we utilize each member of our staff that's involved with the hitters, that has a presence with these hitters, and identify what they're really good at? And then, [we should] be able to bring that to the table to create a group that services our hitters.”

• Napoli had an impressive 12-year career in the Majors as an All-Star and World Series champion, and he has a perspective from the first-base box that the coaches in the third-base dugout lack.

• Washington has filled multiple roles as part of Major League, Minor League and foreign organizations and staffs over his extensive career. He was the assistant hitting coach on Ross’ staff last year.

• Cabreja has been in the Cubs’ organization for 20 years, spending the past six seasons as a staff assistant after working as a coach, coordinator and manager in the farm system.

• Adduci played parts of five MLB seasons, spent 14 years in the Minors, played overseas and has spent the past two years as an assistant director of run production for the Cubs.

“Everybody brings something to the table,” Kelly said. “I'm really excited to just collaborate and create an awesome group of people that can impact these guys. That's the fun part of this so far, is getting to know this staff and trying to extract some things like, ‘Hey, you're going to dominate this. And I'm going to give you a ton of free range to go dominate it for us.’”