Swiss Army Knife: Cubs hitting department planning on to take holistic approach to offense
New Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly refuses to look at himself like the tip of the spear or the blade of a knife.
Instead, he sees himself as another instrument in the Cubs’ hitting department, one that can be a liaison for some of the young Cub hitters and someone that’s part of a group that can unlock the Cubs’ full offensive potential.
“I’ve kind of described our group as we’re the Swiss Army knife,” Kelly said Wednesday afternoon. “Whatever tool is needed, we have somebody on that staff that can help, that can basically bring something to the table in that situation.”
This offseason, the Cubs went separate ways with Greg Brown after one season as hitting coach, opting to go with Kelly, who served as the team’s minor league hitting coordinator for the last two years after joining the organization from the Dodgers. The Cubs retained assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington, promoted Juan Cabreja from staff assistant to assistant hitting coach and added Jim Adduci as assistant hitting coach, game planning.
“Our whole group is really seasoned in a bunch of different areas,” Kelly said. “We’re going to leverage that as much as we can to help the players.”
Not every single coach on the hitting side is going to be an expert in every single area or connect with the various personalities inside a clubhouse the same. So, having different voices and being able to articulate their message is pivotal.
“A big part of what we’ve done at the minor league level is really simplify our messaging,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of minutia that goes on with hitting and there’s so many different things, rabbit holes that you can go down — all of that has value. There’s little things here and there that will help each and every player.
“But as a group we made our messaging really, really simple. Making good swing decisions, making quality contact and doing damage.”
For Kelly that starts and ends with relationship building. Kelly’s background means he already has some familiarity with some of the younger players on the Cubs roster who spent time with him in the minor leagues. Additionally, Kelly spent the last two Spring Trainings with the major league team, getting to know some of the more veteran players on the Cubs roster.
“Once you have that and you’ve established that, then you can actually start to make some really good gains, maybe some swing changes or things that need to happen that takes some trust and some relationship building to get accomplished,” Kelly said.
At the minor league level, Kelly has seen that firsthand, specifically with the Cubs’ breakout minor leaguer Matt Mervis. Mervis had some struggles in 2021, worked in the offseason on some mechanical aspects of his swing to clean it up and broke out at three different minor league levels, squarely putting himself in the conversation for the first base spot in 2023.
“Me having that background is really gonna help with some of these younger players that are coming up and acclimating them to the major league level and continuing the work that they’ve done in the minor leagues,” Kelly said. “I think that’s a big thing that we’ve seen, is guys have success in the minor leagues and once they get to the big leagues, sometimes the routines change and the demeanor changes.
“Me having that background with these players, I’m gonna be able to continue to hold them accountable to their work ethic and how they prepare for games and what they’ve done in the minor leagues, because it’s good enough to be at the big league level cause they’re there.”