KC adds former Cleveland pitching guru to staff

Brian Sweeney joins Royals as pitching coach; José Alguacil also hired as infield coach

December 2nd, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- The pager sits on Brian Sweeney’s desk inside his home office.

When it buzzes, he must decide immediately if he’ll head to his local fire station to lend a hand as a volunteer firefighter, a job he began doing in the baseball offseasons to honor his father, who was a firefighter for 35 years in Yonkers, N.Y.

Sometimes it leads to tough decisions, like back in 2018. He had an interview scheduled with Guardians officials for a coaching job, and the pager buzzed. There was a structure fire nearby. Sweeney either had to respond or wait for his phone to ring for the interview.

“I went to the fire,” Sweeney said, “and I rescheduled the interview.”

And he got the job, which has led to his new job four years later. The new Royals pitching coach has been on a lot of Zoom calls in the past few days. Luckily -- for him and others -- it hasn’t gone off.

“Whenever that pager goes off, you have to make a choice,” Sweeney said. “It doesn’t go off because people are happy. Somebody’s calling 911 and it’s an emergency, and I feel like it’s my responsibility, regardless of the situation, if it does go off and I’m able to respond, I should go.”

Sweeney has been on several Zoom calls this week to introduce himself to his new organization after the Royals hired the former Guardians bullpen coach as the pitching coach for manager Matt Quatraro’s staff in 2023.

The Royals also hired José Alguacil as their new infield coach. He spent last season as a Minor League infield coordinator with the Nationals after spending the previous 15 seasons in San Francisco’s organization.

Hiring a new pitching coach was one of the most important tasks of the Royals’ offseason, given their desire to turn their pitching development around with a bevy of young talent at the Major League level.

It was an extensive process. Kansas City narrowed down its list to five candidates. Sweeney didn’t run into any structure fires, but there were some complications.

“It was intense. I was really impressed with some of the difficulties that they gave me, like getting the jet bridge stuck to the airplane in Chicago and losing my luggage,” Sweeney quipped. “How they had the bandwidth to get that figured out and see how I would handle things, I thought was really impressive.”

In the end, the Royals landed on a pitching guru who is lauded for his genuine personality, ability to relate to players and knowledge of using data to dramatically improve pitchers’ results on the mound.

“Knowing what our pitchers need, where they are in their careers, the urgency while they’re in the Major Leagues to continue to develop and get on a path that will allow them to be successful, I think Brian has the ability to get the most out of them,” executive vice president and general manager J.J. Picollo said. “He’s great at building relationships. Great at understanding the data, and great at collaborating.”

A former Major League pitcher for the Padres and Mariners, Sweeney has been a coach with the Guardians since 2018 and their bullpen coach since ’20.

After going undrafted out of Mercy College, Sweeney spent 18 years working his way through the Minor Leagues as a pitcher in the Seattle and San Diego organizations, as well as a three-year stint in Japan. He appeared in 73 Major League games with a 3.38 ERA and two saves.

He started coaching professionally in 2015 and quickly developed a solid reputation because of his ability to connect with players, embrace analytics and integrating the data into a game plan players could easily understand. Sweeney views analytics as a tool for players to improve.

“It would have helped me because I wasn’t that good,” Sweeney said. “I needed all the help I could get.”

Sweeney worked for three seasons in Philadelphia’s Minor League system before joining the Guardians. Working in Cleveland opened Sweeney’s eyes to what using advanced analytics can do for an organization.

“It really formed my philosophy,” Sweeney said. “I heard this in Cleveland: Combining tradition, experience and innovation really is the best route. I think that’s the style we’re looking for here in Kansas City.”

Cleveland has constructed a pitching factory that churns out capable hurlers year after year. Development starts in the Minors and continues in the Majors with an expert blend of innovation and instruction, as well as buy-in from the players.

Royals CEO and chairman John Sherman, who was a minority owner in Cleveland before buying the Royals in 2019, has mentioned his former organization as one for the Royals to emulate in terms of pitching development.

In their search for a pitching coach, the Royals were looking for someone who had experience in applying advanced data and video, especially when working with the young pitching staff. Sweeney has done just that for the Guardians the past four seasons, and he’s been praised extensively by other coaches and players. Cleveland finished in the top four in ERA in the American League in three of Sweeney’s four seasons on its big league coaching staff.

Sweeney has learned that each pitcher is different in how they use data, but no matter where they’re at, his goal is to make information available “concise and actionable.”

“Every time we have information we want to pass along to a player, I think it’s really important to bring it down to its simplest terms,” Sweeney said. “Not because of the player’s understanding of it, but just to make it actionable. … It’s not going to be a 10-page thesis. It’s going to be bullet points that say, ‘Hey, check this out. We think this can help you get better. What do you think?’”

The Zoom and phone calls aren’t stopping any time soon for Sweeney as he gets to know his new players. Quatraro, Sweeney and the Royals’ front office will now turn their attention to hiring an assistant pitching coach -- one who will work alongside Sweeney but in a strategist role, Picollo said Thursday -- and a bullpen coach.

Sweeney also plans to travel to see Kansas City's pitchers, watch them work out and begin to build the trust required of a coach and his players.

The pager will stay at home: He can’t fight fires from the road or during the season.  But he’s already working on getting his fellow firefighters into Royals gear.

“We’d like to build something here,” Sweeney said. “It’s not just me as the pitching coach, we want to build a pitching team to support these players. They deserve it, and the organization deserves it. We’re excited about getting that process going.”