Carlos Bohorquez was a Mexican League pitcher on his way back home to Venezuela for a tryout with a winter ball team 10 years ago when an old friend called him with a job opportunity:
“I thought he meant playing,” the right-hander said. “And he said, ‘No, I have a job for you, but it'll be coaching. The Tigers need a pitching coach in Venezuela. Just come here for a day, work with the kids [at their Venezuelan academy] and see if they can offer a contract.’ I called my wife and talked to her about the situation and she said, ‘It's on the way to Caracas, so why not stop? Do it for one day, and if not, you can continue to Caracas and do your training.’”
A decade later, Bohorquez is still in the Tigers' organization. Now the pitching coach at Class A Connecticut, he’s the kind of coach the Tigers would like to have more of as they continue their rebuild.
“Carlos is really engaged with [analytics] and has been a model for what we're looking for in the evolution and where baseball is headed now with technology,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said. “He has really been a leader in grasping both of those.”
For his work, the Tigers have honored Bohorquez with this year’s Dwight Lowry Award, given each offseason to a member of the team’s player development department whose accomplishments contribute to the success of the system.
The award is named after former Tigers backup catcher Dwight Lowry, who played on the 1984 World Series championship club before coming back to the organization as a coach in the 1990s. Lowry was the Tigers’ Minor League Manager of the Year in 1996, before his tragic death from a heart attack a year later at just 39.
Bohorquez’s work the past two seasons in Connecticut, the Tigers’ affiliate in the short-season NY-Penn League, marked his first work with a squad outside the Tigers’ complex in Lakeland. When the job suddenly opened up in 2018, he answered the call. But Bohorquez has answered so many calls in the organization that it was no surprise.
He spent six years coaching in the Venezuelan Summer League before the Tigers folded their team amidst unrest in the country. When the organization started a second team in Florida’s Gulf Coast League to make up for the loss, Bohorquez left Venezuela for the states. He still returned to the Venezuelan academy in the winter to work with young pitchers and coaches.
“[Littlefield] said, ‘I need somebody to go to Venezuela who knows the area,’” Bohorquez said. “So I went to Venezuela the last two years for player development department to check that all the operations in Venezuela were operating the way they wanted. I was pretty much working year-round the last two years, and I really liked it, and I think it gives me value in the organization.”
Bohorquez’s promotion to Connecticut last year after three seasons in the GCL gave the chance to work with more advanced pitchers. One of them was Tarik Skubal, then a ninth-round pick getting the feel for his pitches after Tommy John surgery in 2017. Skubal made just four appearances in Connecticut, all in relief, but he worked with Bohorquez along the way.
“Very, very respectful kid, hard worker, very smart,” Bohorquez said. “As soon as I saw him throw, I thought, ‘Oh, this guy's special.’ This guy has an explosive fastball, nasty slider and his changeup got better. With his stuff, we didn't do much. Pretty much what I did was introduce to Tarik the difference between professional baseball and college baseball, and it wasn't hard. He's very smart and he understands the difference between a routine playing two to three times a week and professional baseball, playing every day.”
Bohorquez’s pitchers in Connecticut the last two seasons included Jack O’Laughlin, a big Australian left-hander who made his U.S. debut with the club in 2018. The 19-year-old became a full-time starter this season, posting a 3.13 ERA while allowing 57 hits over 60 1/3 innings with 24 walks and 49 strikeouts.
“I did research with Jack and I found out that his main pitch, it wasn't the fastball. It was the changeup,” Bohorquez said. “I talked to him and said, ‘Jack, the numbers that you have with your changeup are better than the fastball, so why don't we increase the use with your changeup? Instead of being 75 percent fastballs and 15 percent changeups, I believe you should be at least 35-40 percent changeups. Pretty much that's what we did during the summer, and just a couple small tweaks to simply his delivery so he can repeat it more often.”
The research and analytics are a big part of Bohorquez’s day, and why he arrives at the ballpark by mid-morning for an evening game.
“I know Connecticut is a lower level, and the kids don't have real good command,” Bohorquez said, “but in my opinion if we can get a chart on them and make them understand this is part of the game -- heat maps, statistics -- the main thing is to create the habit. You're going to be doing this when you’re playing in Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues, so why not start using it now so you're prepared?”
That foundation is increasingly important for the Tigers with their young players.
“With Carlos, he's a guy that's very well-respected, works extremely hard at his tasks, has really grown and evolved with all the learning of pitching and taking on more and more of engaging with the analytics and technology that's out there so much today,” Littlefield said.