How Rachel Folden is making an impact with Cubs' Minor League hitters

March 9th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- With two baseballs in her left hand, Rachel Folden stands atop the portable mound on Field 5 at the Cubs' complex on a recent morning, firing a batting-practice pitch with her right. She works at a rapid pace and offers instant feedback.

"Do it, Pedro!" Folden says after Cubs prospect Pedro Ramírez launches a ball into a gap.

"Sigue! Sigue!" she offers in Spanish to highly-touted shortstop Cristian Hernández, who knows that is her way of telling him to "follow" the ball and not cut his swing short.

Folden, a lead lab tech and hitting coach for the Cubs' Arizona Complex League team, is entering her third season in the organization. When she is on the field, it is obvious it is where she belongs and where she feels most at home.

"That'll play!" Folden says after Christian Olivo slashes a ball deep into the outfield.

In 2011, when Justine Siegal became the first woman to throw batting practice to a Major League team, it was national news. Folden appreciates that Siegal and others have helped things progress to a point where seeing a woman on the field, or holding one of any number of roles within baseball's structure, has become more normalized.

"That is all I want from this whole thing," Folden said. "I understand the importance of having females on staff. I understand why it's national news. I understand why you guys write the stories. I get it. And I take that responsibility very personally -- I really do.

"But at the same time, the more I normalize it, the more everybody else is going to normalize it, right? I'm just standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before me, right?"

Folden mentioned A's Minor League catching instructor Veronica Alvarez and Marlins general manager Kim Ng. There are also Yankees Minor League manager Rachel Balkovec, Astros director of player development Sara Goodrum and Giants Major League coach Alyssa Nakken, just to name a few.

"A lot of women have kicked the door down already," Folden said. "It's just getting a lot easier for us to walk through it. And I think baseball as a whole is just embracing non-traditional baseball hires."

The Cubs added Folden to their Minor League coaching ranks ahead of the 2020 season, given her experience in the private coaching world. After she retired from playing in 2012, she created Folden Fastpitch, where hitting instruction is offered with the help of biomechanics, technology and data.

Folden was also a consultant for Justin Stone at Elite Baseball Training. Stone was hired as the Cubs' director of hitting after the '19 season, and Folden was immediately on his radar for the team's staff. She became the first woman to hold an on-field position in Cubs history.

"I knew she was the right person to break that barrier," Stone said. "And I knew she'd be able to handle any obstacles in front of her. And we also had talks about [how] that comes with a lot of extra responsibility in terms of having a target on your back. You're an easy target because you're the first one that's done something, right?"

Folden said the players she has worked with have been welcoming and accepting of her from Day 1.

"Players just want to get better," Folden said. "It's, 'You tell me. You're in a Cubs uniform. What do you know?' And you talk to them. I think mostly it's just been building relationships with the players as any coach has to.

"There's multiple coaches here, so some players are going to gravitate towards me. Some players are going to gravitate to other coaches. That hasn't been because of gender or because of my stature or whatever."

After coming to the Cubs via trade last summer, outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong spent a lot of time in the batting cage with Folden in Arizona. At the time, he was coming back from a right shoulder injury and had to build up to swinging again.

For a period of time, all Crow-Armstrong could do was track pitches. It sounds easy, but he said Folden had ways to make it challenging.

"It's tough when you can't swing and you see a ball coming at you," Crow-Armstrong said. "You just want to swing. But Rachel put us in situations where we had to be real locked in, just tracking a baseball."

This spring, Crow-Armstrong has returned to a regular hitting routine. He laughed when asked what he thinks when he has to face Folden during batting practice.

"I dont want to hit against her," he joked.

In baseball, that is high praise.

"I actually love Rachel's BP," Crow-Armstrong said. "I don't want to hit against her, because she makes it game like. That's the thing with Rachel and the other hitting people here. They put you in situations where you are a little uncomfortable. Just drill-wise. And I think that's OK. I think you've got to be uncomfortable."

Last summer, the ACL Cubs had a high-powered offense under Folden's watch. The group of prospects combined to lead the Arizona Complex League in slugging percentage (.462), hits (536), runs (384) and total bases (865), while ranking second in OPS (.838) and homers (57).

Folden is not about to take credit for the work done by the hitters.

"Everybody's like, 'Wow, your team did really good. You're a really good coach,'" Folden said with a laugh. "I'm like, 'No, I had really good players.' We'll find out as time goes on if I'm a good coach."

Folden admitted that there has been a learning curve for her since shifting into baseball, though. Coming from the private coaching sector, she was used to being paid for her opinions. When working with professional hitters, she has learned there are times to let the players lead the conversation.

After years of essentially being her own boss, Folden has also enjoyed learning how to tap into all the voices around her with the Cubs.

"I'm so happy for my personal growth in that respect," she said.

Folden is not sure where her career will go from here, but she knows she loves working in player development and being on the field. Watching her fire changeups, breaking balls and fastballs during BP, it is clear she is right where she belongs.