PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates officially rounded out their coaching staff on Monday by hiring Jacob Cruz, formerly the Cubs' Minor League hitting coordinator, to be their new assistant hitting coach.Cruz, 45, will join new hitting coach Rick Eckstein on manager Clint Hurdle's staff next season. Cruz spent the past two
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates officially rounded out their coaching staff on Monday by hiring Jacob Cruz, formerly the Cubs' Minor League hitting coordinator, to be their new assistant hitting coach.
Cruz, 45, will join new hitting coach Rick Eckstein on manager Clint Hurdle's staff next season. Cruz spent the past two years in the Cubs organization, first as Double-A Tennessee's hitting coach and most recently as their Minor League hitting coordinator, following six years coaching in the D-backs' system.
The Pirates hired Eckstein on Nov. 2 and involved him in the interview process for the assistant hitting coach, as he and Cruz will work together on a daily basis. General manager Neal Huntington called Eckstein "a student of the modern philosophy of hitting," an indication of the kind of forward-thinking approach the Bucs sought as they replaced former hitting coaches Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey.
Cruz appears to fit the description as well, though he brings more firsthand experience as a professional player.
"Jacob Cruz has experiences as a player and as a coach that will complement Rick Eckstein very well," Huntington said. "Jacob has a quality understanding of, and ability to teach, offensive mentality and approach while being well-versed in modern hitting mechanics and philosophy. We look forward to the positive impact Rick and Jacob will make on our offensive program and our hitters."
Cruz played in the Majors for nine years, compiling a career batting line of .241/.331/.377 with 19 home runs in 842 plate appearances for the Giants, Indians, Rockies, Tigers and Reds. The left-handed-hitting outfielder, a first-round Draft pick out of Arizona State University, put together a .306/.385/.482 batting line in the Minors. He also spent time in the Korean Baseball Organization, Mexican League and independent American Association before beginning his coaching career in 2011.
The Pirates dismissed Branson and Livesey on Oct. 1, a day after the season ended. Pittsburgh ranked 20th in the Majors in runs (692, 4.3 per game) and 25th in home runs (157) last season. The Bucs finished 16th in slugging percentage (.407) and 17th in OPS (.725), and nearly every hitter struggled through one extended slump.
Still, the new hitting coaches will be working with eight returning regulars who posted an above-average OPS+ last season: Gregory Polanco, Francisco Cervelli, Corey Dickerson, Adam Frazier, Elias Diaz, Starling Marte, Josh Bell and Colin Moran.
Eckstein and Cruz will be tasked with coaxing more power out of Bell and Moran, getting Jungho Kang on track after essentially two years away from the Majors and helping Frazier fulfill former teammate David Freese's prediction that he'll eventually win a batting title. They will also need to guide a handful of young players -- Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer and Pablo Reyes among them -- as they continue to learn on the fly against Major League competition.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.