Lawson amped for role: 'We've got monsters'

January 26th, 2022

Dillon Lawson boils his philosophy down to three simple words: “Hit strikes hard.” It is a mantra that the Yankees’ new hitting coach believes will yield immediate results this season.

“We chose that because we feel that it’s accurate to what really good baseball players do, but that it’s also very easy for players to remember,” Lawson said on Wednesday. “If you peel that back just one layer, it’s not that complicated. When we swing, we want to swing at strikes.

“When we swing at strikes, we’re likely to make more contact. When we make more contact, we’re likely to hit the ball harder. When we make hard contact, we would like to hit it over the infield. Sometimes we would like to hit it over the outfield fence. All of that works.”

Having served as the Yankees’ Minor League hitting coordinator for the past three years, Lawson will inherit a Yankees lineup that ranked 19th in the Majors and 10th in the American League with 711 runs scored last season.

“There’s plenty of things to be excited and optimistic about,” Lawson said. “We have an outstanding roster. As a hitting coach, we’ve got monsters all up and down the lineup. It’s amazing to be able to work with these guys. In reality, we’re trying to keep their strengths, and then any areas where we can improve -- even just about 1% -- that’s going to make a big difference.”

The 36-year-old Lawson is replacing hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere, whose contracts were not renewed in October. Lawson will work alongside assistant hitting coach Casey Dykes, 31, who spent last year as the hitting coach for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“I feel really confident in our ability to be successful if a pitcher has to throw pitches over the white of home plate,” Lawson said.

Lawson, who is currently in Tampa, Fla., at the Yankees’ player development complex, said he connected with some of the club’s 40-man roster players in October and November before the lockout. He has been reviewing video and anticipates building relationships quickly once workouts resume.

“It’s definitely a compressed window, but I feel very lucky that I’ve been in the organization for the last [few] years,” Lawson said. “One of the small benefits that came out of the 2020 season was that it put me face-to-face with these players, whether it was at the alternate site or in the bubble.”

The Yankees are continuing to evaluate candidates for a third hitting coach. Eric Chavez initially accepted the position but was granted permission to join the Mets as their primary hitting coach. It is believed that the Yankees are seeking a coach with a Major League track record, but Lawson said that is not necessarily a must.

“Experience is important, but we have that in [Aaron] Boone,” Lawson said. “Boonie’s done it, and we have that piece. We’re interviewing candidates with a wide range of strengths. We’re not looking for some sort of cookie-cutter fit.”

Since the Yankees appointed Lawson as the Minor League hitting coordinator, Bombers farmhands have ranked fourth among all 30 organizations in slugging percentage (.404) and in OPS (.743), placing sixth in on-base percentage (.339) and runs per game (5.12).

Before joining the Yankees, Lawson spent two seasons in the Astros organization, serving as the hitting coach for Class A Short Season Tri-City in 2016 and Class A Quad Cities in 2018.

Lawson also was the hitting coach for the University of Missouri in 2017, part of a collegiate career that included four seasons playing first base and catcher at Transylvania (Ky.) University, then coaching positions at Lindenwood (Mo.) University, Morehead State (Ky.) and Southeast Missouri State.

“I knew that I always wanted to coach. I hadn’t really considered being the coach of the New York Yankees, the greatest sports franchise on Earth,” Lawson said. “I think I’m somebody that just puts their head down and tries to do good work.”