Monday afternoon, the New York Yankees hired Detroit Tigers assistant hitting coach James Rowson for their head hitting coach vacancy. Rowson spent just one season in Detroit, meaning New York will be Rowson's third team in as many years. This is his third time taking a coaching job with the Yanks; he spent the 2007-12 and 2014-17 seasons as their minor league hitting coordinator.
The average Tigers fan likely wasn't all that familiar with Rowson until a few days ago when the news broke that he'd been offered the job in New York. He's spent nearly two decades in key coaching roles, though never the few high profile positions in the major leagues until recently, making him one of the most experienced Tigers coaches on staff last season.
A segment of online Yankees fans are grumbling about the lack of caché the Tigers logo, and therefore Rowson, carries in their eyes. Odds are that the Yankees themselves see him as an experienced hand who can right the ship. They struggled to put up the MLB's 19th ranked offense by wRC+ (and 29th ranked offense by batting average) in 2023. Frankly, that's below their true talent level. Rowson won't revolutionize anything, but he may be able to help them get right. He’s also gotten a bit of credit for his work with Aaron Judge when the right fielder was coming through the Yankees’ farm system. That familiarity with their star player no doubt made him an attractive option.
While Rowson was likely a steadying force, he isn't a major loss to this particular staff. AJ Hinch has proven himself on the biggest stage and between bench coach George Lombard, new infield coach Joey Cora, and outfield coach Gary Jones, they have a lot of experienced veteran coaches. On the other hand, with new school hitting coaches like Michael Brdar and Keith Beauregard instructing Tigers batters, having a very experienced assistant to help them made a lot of sense. We’ll see whether the Tigers prioritize experience again or go young with something along the lines of an up-and-coming Driveline coach.
Hinch can draw coaches from all over, which makes it exceedingly difficult to predict who may fill Rowson's vacated post. Just for the fun of it, though, I'd like to take three mildly irresponsible and completely speculative guesses at who could be among the Tigers' list of candidates: Anthony Iapoce, Sean Smedley, and Rachel Folden.
Detroit stole Anthony Iapoce from the Red Sox last offseason and he spent 2023 managing the Toledo Mud Hens. He and Tigers President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris spent time together in the Cubs organization, making it a natural reunion for the two in Detroit. Exactly how hands on he was with the Tigers hitting prospects is a bit unclear, but the offensive performances of Colt Keith, Justyn-Henry Malloy, Parker Meadows and others seem like a mark in his favor. However, Iapoce has been an MLB hitting coach before, and serving as an assistant may hold less appeal for him than continuing in a managerial role with the Hens.
The Rays are fast-tracking Sean Smedley through their organization, and he managed the Double-A Charleston RiverDogs last season despite only being 32 years old. Detroit has consistently been willing to do what it takes to bring in smart, young coaches on the rise over the last three years. They already have the book on Smedley thanks to Rob Metzler, who they hired out of Tampa Bay's front office last October. By all accounts, Smedley looks like a future MLB manager. If Metzler gives a good recommendation, Detroit could offer Smedley a tempting opportunity to start his big league apprenticeship under Hinch.
If Scott Harris and General Manager Jeff Greenberg want to keep drawing on their mutual Cubs connections, they may also be interested in Rachel Folden. As the minor league hitting coordinator in Chicago, she's arguably the most influential woman in baseball at the moment, and Cubs prospects have blossomed under her watch. As recent examples of her work, Pete Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie — who play at different levels and arrived in different trades — both had offensive breakouts immediately after coming into her system.
Before working in baseball, she ran her own softball hitting studio, employing biometric hitting analysis technology reminiscent of what Driveline uses. She's my favorite among these candidates, known as a skilled and innovative instructor, and I would be thrilled to have her working with like-minded Tigers hitting coaches Brdar and Beauregard.