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Passionate Cockrell excited for opportunity

NEW YORK -- Long-term job security was not on the table when Alan Cockrell discussed his future with the Yankees last month, agreeing to take on the challenge of serving as the club's third hitting coach in three seasons. The expectations of the position are clear.

Cockrell was promoted from his post as assistant hitting coach, in which he served under the dismissed Jeff Pentland and helped oversee a lineup that ranked second in the Majors in runs scored (764) and fourth in homers (212), but fizzled down the stretch before being shut out by the Astros in the American League Wild Card Game.

"There are no assurances, you know? It's a volatile position," Cockrell said on Wednesday. "If you don't hit, then they find somebody else. I'm thankful, I'm honored, I'm excited by this opportunity. I'm excited about the guys that we have."

The Yankees' lineup, as currently comprised, projects to bank upon veterans repeating their performances from 2015 while looking for young players like Didi Gregorius to continue to making strides in development.

Cockrell said that he doesn't envision a drastic overhaul that would emulate the Royals' contact-hitting approach, but indicated that he would like to expand the team's offensive skill set beyond being solely home run reliant in 2016.

"We have guys that can hit homers, but we also have guys that can manipulate the bat a little bit, and we have guys that can use the field," Cockrell said. "There are times and situations in ballgames where you are afforded the luxury of, 'I'm going to let it eat and I'm going to try to hit a homer.'

"And then there are times when you say, 'We need a guy on base. We need to move a runner from second to third.' We've got to be willing to hit a ground ball to second or short with a guy at third and the infield back in the fourth inning, a run you don't have to get off the back end of a bullpen later in the ballgame."

Cockrell plans to make individual phone calls this offseason to discuss specific objectives with the hitters. He noted that he expects another strong season from Alex Rodriguez, whom he called "the smartest baseball player I've ever been around."

"What the future holds, I really don't know, but I do know Alex well enough to know that he's a professional to the nth degree and he will prepare himself to come in here next year and be ready to go," Cockrell said. "I would be surprised if he doesn't come back and have another great year."

Former big leaguer Marcus Thames will join the Major League coaching staff as an assistant under the 52-year-old Cockrell, who played in nine big league games and 1,414 Minor League contests from 1984-96 after attending the University of Tennessee, where he was an All-American baseball player as well as the Vols' starting quarterback for two seasons (1982-83).

Cockrell has previously served as a hitting coach for the Mariners (2009-10) and Rockies (2002, '07-08), and said that he spent much of this past season developing relationships with the Yankees' hitters; Gregorius was one of the first players that Cockrell was able to reach on a personal level.

"Each and every one of our guys has been highly successful, off-the-charts successful," Cockrell said. "So it was my job to get to know them and understand what it was that they did on a daily basis and be there for another set of eyes and any communication that would go back and forth. I had to make sure I had done my homework."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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