Bell among coaches to round out revamped Reds staff
Ex-big leaguer takes over as bench coach; Long hitting coach, Pico pitching coach
CINCINNATI -- Bryan Price may be a familiar face as he moves up from pitching coach to Reds manager, but his new coaching staff received a near-total overhaul from Dusty Baker's previous regime.
First-base coach Billy Hatcher and catching coach/bullpen catcher Mike Stefanski are the only two members of the staff remaining in their same role. Last year's assistant pitching coach, Mack Jenkins, has moved over to become the bullpen coach.
The rest of Price's 2014 coaching staff is new blood.
"I think the goal was to try and retain a coach or two to keep some continuity and also to try and promote from within," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We rounded out the staff with guys that Bryan had some knowledge of, some working relationships with and was comfortable with."
Jay Bell takes over as bench coach, Don Long is the new hitting coach, Jeff Pico is the new pitching coach, Steve Smith is the third-base coach and Freddie Benavides is an extra coach who will focus on infield instruction.
Price felt that comfort with the coaches played a large role in the hires.
"Some of that comfort is established in pre-existing relationships, and some of it is established through the interview process," Price said. "I think we really made some smart hires and got some outstanding baseball people here and some really good teachers."
Bell, who is replacing Chris Speier, spent the 2013 season as the Pirates' hitting coach under manager Clint Hurdle. Bell was Bob Melvin's bench coach with the D-backs from 2005-06 and Arizona's Spring Training advisor from 2007-09. It was on Melvin's staff where the 47-year-old Bell worked with Price, who was that team's pitching coach at the time.
In an 18-season career in the big leagues with the Indians, Pirates, Royals, D-backs and Mets, Bell batted .265 with 195 home runs and 860 RBIs. He was a two-time National League All-Star at both shortstop and second base.
Long replaces Brook Jacoby, who is now the Rangers' assistant hitting coach. The 51-year-old Long spent the last three seasons as the Braves' Minor League hitting coordinator and three seasons before that as the big league hitting coach for the Pirates. From 2000-07, he was the Phillies' Minor League hitting coordinator, and he also has 11 years of Minor League managing experience -- all in the Angels' organization.
Of all the new coaches, Long was the only one that Price or Jocketty had little familiarity with.
"He came highly recommended by a couple of people," Jocketty said. "We interviewed him several weeks ago and were very impressed."
A former switch-hitter, Long never played in the Majors after being a third-round pick of the Giants in the 1983 First-Year Player Draft. He played three seasons in San Francisco's farm system.
Pico, 47, spent the last 11 seasons in the D-backs' organization, the last two as Minor League field coordinator. He was Arizona's Minor League pitching coordinator from 2010-2011 and a pitching coach for its affiliates in Class A Yakima (2003), South Bend (2004), Lancaster (2005-2006), Visalia (2007) and Double-A Mobile (2008-2009). From 1997-2002, he was the pitching coach for the independent Western League's Chico Heat.
From 1988-90, Pico was a right-handed pitcher in the big leagues for the Cubs, and he had a 13-12 career record with a 4.24 ERA in 26 starts and 87 relief appearances. On May 31, 1988, vs. the Reds, he earned a 4-0 win and became the first Cubs pitcher to throw a shutout in his Major League debut.
Jenkins spent the past two seasons as Price's assistant. The Reds won't be keeping an assistant pitching coach in 2014, at least in name and title.
"Mack will continue to assist the pitching coach in his responsibilities," Price said. "Jeff Pico is a well-seasoned pitching coach, but this will be his first Major League assignment as a coach. He'll have a strong right-hand man in Mack Jenkins."
Smith, who replaces Mark Berry, is a veteran coach from multiple organizations and has served as the third-base coach for the Mariners (1996-99), Rangers (2002-06), Phillies (2007-08) and Indians (2010-12). The 61-year-old was a Minor League manager for the Mariners and an infield instructor from 1991-95, and a Minor League manager for the Padres from 1984-89.
Benavides, 47, has spent the past 15 years working in the Reds' Minor League system, and he is a big league coach for the second time. His last six seasons were spent as player development coordinator. From August 2003 until the end of that season, Benavides served as a Reds Major League coach on Dave Miley's staff.
"He's got some pretty good pre-established relationships with the guys we have in our system, not just in player development but guys on our big league club," Price said. "He's a really well-respected guy. He'll have a lot of influence on our infield play."
During a three-season Major League playing career from 1991-94 with the Reds, Rockies and Expos, Benavides was a .253 hitter and a backup infielder.
The interviews for the coaches began in late October and weren't wrapped up until just before Thanksgiving, Jocketty said. Contracts were finalized earlier this week. All of the new coaches are in town for meetings and will appear at Redsfest this weekend.
Berry -- who had been the Reds' longest-tenured coach with 15 Major League seasons, including the last 10 as third-base coach -- chose not to return. Last season, he missed most of the first half battling throat cancer.
Jocketty maintained that Berry is still healthy and will remain affiliated with the organization he's worked with for 30 years.
"He'll hopefully still be able to do some things with us," Jocketty said. "We plan, depending on how he feels, to bring him to Spring Training and maybe involve him in things throughout the year. It's whatever he feels capable of doing. I think he felt that he didn't want to work as a full-time coach again for at least a year. He wanted some time off. We all respect him and think very highly of him, so we wanted to keep him in the organization."
Miguel Cairo, who joined the coaching staff while Berry was out, will return to his role as an assistant to Jocketty and the baseball operations department. Cairo will also work as a player development instructor.
"It was the role he was supposed to have last year," Jocketty said. "He wants to learn the business. He'll go into the role he was supposed to have last year before being called into duty when Mark got sick."
Former Reds assistant hitting coach Ronnie Ortegon wound up taking Long's former job with the Braves last month. There will be an assistant hitting coach eventually named.
"It's been kind of a back-burner issue," Price said. "It's something we hope to resolve in the next couple of weeks."