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Honeycutt to Prior a 'seamless' transition

New pitching coach is point man in increasingly specialized staff
@kengurnick
February 27, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- From 2006-19, teams employed 131 big league pitching coaches. The Dodgers had one of them. Now after 14 years, Rick Honeycutt has stepped aside, passing the baton and title to Mark Prior and providing management with an opportunity to throw additional resources at run prevention in general

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- From 2006-19, teams employed 131 big league pitching coaches. The Dodgers had one of them.

Now after 14 years, Rick Honeycutt has stepped aside, passing the baton and title to Mark Prior and providing management with an opportunity to throw additional resources at run prevention in general and, specifically, at a pitching department that has been the bond of Dodgers DNA for nearly a century.

Prior, hired two years ago as the bullpen coach and pitching coach-in-training for whenever Honeycutt stepped down, now has Honeycutt’s job. He was replaced as bullpen coach by Josh Bard, who returned to the position he held for two seasons after a one-year sabbatical to be the Yankees' bench coach.

“For me, it’s been pretty seamless,” manager Dave Roberts said of the transition so far.

The Dodgers also promoted Connor McGuiness from Class A pitching coach to big league assistant pitching coach, a first for the franchise.

“It’s working out even better than anticipated,” said president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who has overseen similar expansions in just about every department on his watch. “We’ve been fortunate to have Honey as long as we did, and it’s not like he’s riding off into the sunset. I see him impacting us as much as ever, just in a different role.”'

Honeycutt turned 65 last season and was in pain for all of it from back surgery and an arthritic knee. Relieved of the burden of marathon workdays, he now instructs pitchers on mechanics in their bullpen sessions, but he has gladly turned over the stress and demands to Prior.

“I’m loving it,” said Honeycutt, whose pitching staffs finished first or second in the National League in ERA in seven of his 14 seasons.

The Dodgers have been as invested as any club in embracing technology on the pitching side, through biodynamics, spin rates and other analytic metrics. So, it fit that with the changes in the traditional coaching roles, Friedman also tapped Driveline Baseball for an offseason hire, adding Rob Hill as consulting pitching coordinator who will remain affiliated with Driveline.

Hill will work mostly with Minor Leaguers during the season. But the 24-year-old with the weighted baseballs has been a Spring Training pied piper to most of the big-league pitchers who have seen the early improvements in Driveline converts Alex Wood and Kenley Jansen.

Even if it’s coincidental, the transition from Honeycutt to Prior, combined with the expansion of the coaching staff and the sudden omnipresence of Driveline and analytics, are all part of a staff reorganization that will allow the Dodgers to bring added specialization to pitcher coaching.

It's not the way it was done when Honeycutt was a pitcher or coach. But the game is changing, and even veterans like Clayton Kershaw acknowledge the new normal.

“We have to understand why we’re changing, and I get that,” said Kershaw, who visited Driveline’s complex in Kent, Wash. “At the end of the day, it’s, 'How do you help somebody the best?' If you have a lot of guys that specialize in a lot of different things, you have a lot of different avenues to help people, which is good.

“Some people might be more apt to understand the scientific, mechanical, analytical side. Some people, you might just need to tell them, 'Stop thinking -- just compete,' and we have a lot of those guys. I plan on preparing the way I always have. I don’t really know how they’re planning to give me the information. I guess I’ll find out. To me, it’s up to them. It’s not our job to conform to them. It’s their job, as coaches, to learn the players and how they take in and process information and help them with that. It’s their job to figure that out.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.