NEW YORK -- Four years ago, Matt Blake was testing his progressive pitching philosophies on high school hurlers in the Boston suburbs, a precursor to what would be a dizzying rise through the professional baseball ranks. Now, he will be delivering those lessons for the Yankees, having been named as the club’s new pitching coach on Thursday.
Blake, who previously worked in the Yankees’ organization as an area scout, returns after four seasons with the Indians (2016-19), where he was recently promoted to director of pitching development. The 34-year-old spent the last three seasons as the club’s assistant director of player development, overseeing the formation of pitching strategy for the organization.
“In the modern day of this game, there are a lot of tools and tech and data available to us,” Blake said. “I think it's trying to find ways to boil it down for [the players] and what may fit into their process so they can go out and compete and not have to worry about that stuff. There is a growing field of tech that is coming into the game. It's trying to make sense of it for the player, and aggregate our resources for any bite-size nuggets that help.”
Blake will succeed Larry Rothschild, who was dismissed with one year remaining on his contract and was recently hired as the Padres’ pitching coach. In June, the Yankees hired Driveline Baseball's Sam Briend to take over the organization's Minor League pitching system, with general manager Brian Cashman saying that the club intended to “close the gap” on the explosion of technology.
“He's got an extensive knowledge of pitching,” Cashman said this week at the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The way he communicated resonated with me. That was the one thing I felt really good about -- just like when I went through the Aaron Boone [managerial] interview. At pencils down, I was like, ‘I think this is the guy.’”
Blake has been credited with assisting the rapid ascent of some of Cleveland’s exciting young hurlers, a group that includes Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko and Aaron Civale.
“He’s awesome,” Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, a former Indian, said on Twitter. “One of the smarter guys I know. Knows a lot about pitching. A lot about development. Good communicator. Really excited for him getting this opportunity and pumped to see the results.”
Prior to joining the Indians, Blake served seven years as the pitching coordinator for Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., while also spending time coaching the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League.
The Concord, N.H., native pitched four seasons at the College of the Holy Cross (Mass.) and graduated in 2007 with a degree in Psychology and Philosophy. As recently as 2015, Blake was serving as the pitching coach for Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in the Boston suburbs.
“The biggest thing is finding out where the player is and what makes him tick,” Blake said. “Across different ages or nationalities and cultures, you get to the root of what it is that they are seeking for help, and then bring it to the edge of their learning zone. I think having a wide range of ages and types of athletes that you spend time with gives you a wider breadth of tools to help accomplish that.”
Other candidates who interviewed for the pitching coach vacancy were former Yankees pitcher David Cone and collegiate coaches Chris Fetter (University of Michigan) and Matt Hobbs (University of Arkansas). Two other college coaches, Nate Yeskie (University of Arizona) and Kirk Saarloos (TCU), turned down opportunities to interview for the job.
“Watching it from across the field in Cleveland, there's obviously a bevy of really talented pitchers,” Blake said. “I think it'll be interesting to get to know where they are in terms of the things they're thinking about and the things they're wanting to work on and improve upon.”
The Yankees have not formally announced the other changes to their coaching staff, though Cashman confirmed that Tanner Swanson will join the club from the Twins as the new catching and quality control coach, with Carlos Mendoza shifting to bench coach.
Cashman said that bench coach Josh Bard and catching coach Jason Brown will not return, with Bard having expressed a desire to pursue opportunities closer to his Colorado home. Cashman said that he anticipates hitting coach Marcus Thames, first-base coach Reggie Willits, third-base coach Phil Nevin and bullpen coach Mike Harkey will all return in 2020.