Rachel Balkovec pressed the phone to her ear and absorbed the information coming from it, learning that she was ticketed to Denver as the first female coach selected to the SiriusXM Futures Game. Her initial response was, “Did I earn this? Why?”
On the other end of the line, Dillon Lawson chuckled. Having tracked Balkovec’s rise to becoming the first female full-time hitting coach in a big league organization, the Yankees’ Minor League hitting coordinator can attest that she more than deserves to help coach the American League’s brightest prospects in the showcase game.
“I started thinking about my journey,” Balkovec said. “I’ve been in the game for more than 10 years, so this is something that’s been a long time coming. My first reaction was to make sure that this is something I have earned and that I’m getting it for the right reasons, not maybe just because of my gender.”
LaTroy Hawkins, who will manage the American League squad on Sunday in the exhibition at Coors Field, specifically requested that the 34-year-old Balkovec be added to his staff.
Hawkins told Balkovec that he had followed her career on social media since she was hired by the Yankees in December 2019, including her 2020 journey to coach for the Sydney Blue Sox in the Australian Baseball League.
“He basically mentioned that he wanted a diverse staff,” Balkovec said. “He saw that I went to Australia and some things that I put out there on my accounts. We didn’t know each other previously, but when we got on the phone, it was kind of like: ‘Nice to finally meet you!’”
Balkovec had expected to coach for the Bombers’ Gulf Coast League affiliates last year, though that plan changed when the COVID-19 pandemic halted play in March. Balkovec said that she landed the Australia opportunity after the Yankees furloughed their Minor League coaches for four months.
“2020 was tough on everyone in many different ways,” Balkovec said. “But just like every other time in my life, I just kind of looked at the year and said, ‘How can I maximize this year personally, professionally, mentally, physically -- all of it?’ You have to lean on it and find the opportunity within the darkness.’”
Balkovec has been coaching in the Florida Complex League (FCL), helping the Yankees of tomorrow focus on their hitting development with individualized one-on-one instruction -- including center fielder Jasson Dominguez, the organization’s No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
“It’s no secret, but Mr. Dominguez has been a fun one to work with,” Balkovec said. “He is incredibly intelligent, and his aptitude is high. I would consider him a leader among the group here. He’s very young, obviously, but he carries himself in the right way. I’ve been able to work with him pretty closely and he’s just a joy to work with as far as his mannerisms and the way he acts.”
Dominguez, who received a $5.1 million signing bonus as an international amateur free agent in July 2019, made his pro debut on June 28 and recorded his first pro hit on Monday for the FCL Yankees. Dominguez and right-hander Luis Medina, the Yanks’ No. 7 prospect, have both been selected for the Futures Game.
Nicknamed “The Martian,” Dominguez is rated as baseball’s No. 24 prospect and will become the first player to appear in the Futures Game without first playing in a full-season league.
“Getting him an opportunity to face better pitching in Denver will be a good challenge for him,” Balkovec said. “You’re going to see a lot of energy. Keep a careful eye for the dancing that might happen [in the dugout]. The baseball skill is pretty clear, but the deeper story is who he is as a person.
“He’s going to hustle, he’s going to be crafty on the bases and he’ll probably do something fun in the outfield. He’s definitely an energetic person here [in Tampa], but he might be a little shy in Denver. We’ll see.”