New ideas reflected in Rox development staff

Defensive coordinator, bench coaches added in effort to emphasize winning

January 29th, 2022

DENVER -- In this time for new ideas, the Rockies’ Minor League system made the cross-pollination move of hiring a defensive coordinator.

The move of Doug Bernier from Major League data and game planning coordinator to a player development role that sounds borrowed from a sport with an oblong ball is one of the new ideas instituted by new player development director Chris Forbes.

The goal of the Rockies and Forbes -- who began leading Colorado's system last summer, when assistant general manager of player development Zach Wilson resigned, and becomes the official director -- is to refresh the system. The plan is to take a fresh look at balancing the pursuit of on-field results with development.

“There’s always been that dynamic of player development versus winning, but I feel if you’re doing it right, you’re doing them both,” Forbes said.

The new appointments also tap into some of the personnel who had enjoyed success with the club in the past.

Friday’s announcement made official previously known moves such as the promotion of Forbes, who had a long history in scouting and player development. Also previously revealed were former manager Clint Hurdle returning as special assistant to the GM, with duties in the Minor and Major League areas; and Steve Foster moving from Major League pitching coach to director of pitching operations, replacing the retired Mark Wiley.

New this year is the addition of a bench coach at each level.

Beginning in 2013, under general manager Dan O’Dowd and then-player development director Jeff Bridich (who would take over as GM after '14), the Rockies had a development supervisor at each level below Triple-A. The philosophy was to have someone often looking at the big picture, rather than daily results.

Under the system, mostly homegrown Rockies teams made postseason trips in 2017 and '18. But this key change, which makes each Minor League staff’s leadership mirror the big club, reinforces the message that players are evaluated on how their work contributes to winning.

“We need to put an emphasis on Minor League wins,” Forbes said. “Groups of players that win on the way up, that’s a key. It started to show up in 2006 and hit that stretch in '07, they played together a lot.

“Our younger teams played well last year [Low-A Fresno and High-A Spokane made the postseason], and we want to keep that going. It’s not at the risk of certain development things, but we’re trying to create a landscape where their expectations are to win. When that game starts, it’s your job to put your thumb on the pulse of that game and find the win.”

Pairings also are designed to help develop managers and coaches. Triple-A Albuquerque manager Warren Schaeffer will work with bench coach Pedro Lopez (last year’s Albuquerque hitting coach); Double-A manager Chris Denorfia will work with Luis Lopez; Spokane manager Scott Little is joined by Julio Campos (formerly an area scouting supervisor in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic); Fresno manager Robinson Cancel will work with Steve Soliz (the team’s development supervisor last season); and in the Arizona Complex League, Fred Ocasio (development supervisor at Spokane last year) will work with Cesar Galvez (a Hartford coach last year).

The moves also are part of a program to increase coaching roles.

Bernier, for example, had a long career in the Minors and Majors as an infielder, and at times last season spent pregame time working with Rockies infielders. His new football-like title -- “We’re going to run the 4-3,” Forbes joked -- broadens his role to outfield play. But he will be working with coaches with experience in the outfield to quicken his learning curve.

Former Rockies catcher Mark Strittmatter adds field coordinator to his catching coordinator role. The Rockies also swapped upper-level pitching coaches: Frank Gonzales to Triple-A and Blaine Beatty to Double-A. It gives Gonzales -- father of Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales and a former Colorado high school coach and instructor -- pro-level experience at altitude and exposes Beatty to younger prospects.

Forbes also said the inclusion of Hurdle -- who managed Colorado from 2002-09 and led the team to the ’07 World Series -- plus veteran special assistants Jerry Weinstein and Rick Mathews offer a link between the Minor Leaguers and those who have devoted their careers to helping the Rockies win.

“You can’t tell these kids where we’re trying to go without knowing where we’ve been,” Forbes said. “Hurdle used to use that line, before Keli [McGregor, the revered team president] passed [in 2010] about being with the Rockies when it wasn’t cool. Now we’ve entered that same dynamic. Anything we put out there, we can get hammered on.

“But we are getting back to connecting to people and the human element. This is going to be a very player-centric culture, and we’re gong to create that dynamic.”