One of the more intriguing aspects of the Orioles hiring former Texas Rangers hitting coordinator Scott Coolbaugh as their new hitting coach is that he already has a relationship with slugger Chris Davis.
It's pretty much a given that the Orioles need Davis to rebound from an awful 2014 – one in which he batted .196 and was suspended for failing an amphetamine test – if they expect to repeat as American League East champions.
While vetting candidates, Orioles manager Buck Showalter obviously talked to Davis about Coolbaugh. Showalter talked to a bunch of other people about Coolbaugh as well, including current first base coach Wayne Kirby and former Rangers manager Ron Washington. And Showalter kept getting excellent feedback.
Davis raved about Coolbaugh, and there's probably no Oriole who knows more about the 48-year-old former big league infielder. While Davis was a top prospect in the Rangers organization, he worked with Coolbaugh at Double-A in 2007 and 2008, at Triple-A in 2009 and 2010 and briefly in 2011 with Triple-A and the Rangers.
So how much did Davis' relationship with Coolbaugh play into Showalter's decision?
"Not that much, honestly," Showalter said. "He's been a hitting coach for everybody. We talked to a lot of people (about Coolbaugh). And we try to make hires for the long-term."
In other words, Davis is a free agent at the end of 2015. There are no guarantees he'll be back in 2016. So Showalter wasn't basing his hitting coach decision on the sole possibility of getting Davis turned around for one season.
"We hope Chris is here long-term, too," Showalter said. "But this is about a hitting coach that can best reach everybody. We want a lot of guys to go to another level."
Coolbaugh gets it. He made a point to say that despite his affinity for Davis – "I'm a big Chris Davis fan and I have always rooted for him," – Coolbaugh's not sure an enthusiastic endorsement from the slugger will mean much in the eyes of the Orioles' other hitters
"Chris can say all he wants to the other players, but at the end of the day, it's about what the information is that I give to the players," he said. "The player only cares about what is good information, and they'll decipher all the other stuff."
Coolbaugh is prepared to win over each hitter individually.
"I've not been hired in the Orioles system to be Chris' personal hitting coach. The bottom line is he is a part of the 13 guys that are going to be here during the season," Coolbaugh said. "He is as important as any given player that is in that lineup any given night, whether it is Adam Jones or Steve Pearce or Jonathan Schoop or Matt Wieters. They all are, in my eyes, the same. It's a matter of proving myself to them and getting their trust so they understand where I am coming from and we all have a good working relationship."
Another interesting aspect of the hiring is that, because Coolbaugh was a long-time Texas Rangers coach and was drafted by and played for that organization, he and Showalter have a long history. They both live in Dallas and they both were in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
And we all know how Showalter likes to hire people that he knows and trusts.
But the two men don't know each other very well. Coolbaugh played in the Diamondbacks' minor league system in 1999, while Showalter was managing the big league club. Coolbaugh said he received two pinch-hit appearances in Cactus League exhibitions under Showalter, though he didn't have a spring training invite (Showalter loves using JICs – just in case guys – at the end of spring training games).
After that, Coolbaugh managed Arizona's High-A affiliate in 2000 and had one conversation in the spring with Showalter about the team's young prospects.
He doesn't think they talked after that until the Orioles' hitting coach position opened up.
Coolbaugh also barely had a connection with Orioles vice president Brady Anderson, who was part of Friday's interview in Dallas. Coolbaugh played against Anderson in 1989 and 1990 when Anderson was with the Orioles and Coolbaugh was with the Rangers. And in 1993 Coolbaugh played at Triple-A Rochester in the Orioles' organization and their paths crossed briefly in spring training.
So, when Coolbaugh met Friday with Anderson and Showalter, he was, in a sense, selling himself to unfamiliar buyers. And Coolbaugh thoroughly enjoyed it.
"It was outstanding. We had an easy conversation. It felt comfortable. It felt like I was a part of it. Brady was very open in some of the questions he asked me, tough questions. But, at the same time, I think he felt comfortable with some of the answers I gave him," Coolbaugh said. "Buck, he's easygoing and easy to talk to. He's very passionate and loves the game, and I have passion about the game. I just thought it was a good fit and I felt like they felt the same way."