MLB Network’s Jon Heyman has reported that the Cleveland Guardians are expected to make Chris Valaika their next hitting coach. The Athletic’s Zack Meisel confirmed the report, and also noted that Padres hitting coach Jay Washington was another candidate.
Valaika enjoyed a brief playing career in the early 2010’s before being picked up by the Cubs as a low-level hitting instructor and working his way up to assistant hitting coach. I can’t sit here and pretend like I know much about him, so here is an excerpt from Bleacher Nation, a Chicago sports blog, about how Valaika impacted the Cubs’ hitting development during his time there.
Valaika had worked his way up as a hitting instructor in the minors, and then became the team’s assistant hitting coach last year. He had developed a reputation for working especially well with some of the veteran players who were still trying to establish themselves, so I immediately wonder what kind of impact he had one guys like Frank Schwindel and Rafael Ortega and Patrick Wisdom. Obviously the players deserve most of the credit, but they also must have had a good structure set up around them. I suspect Valaika had at least something to do with it.
A coach who is good at working with veteran players looking to establish themselves sounds right up Cleveland’s alley. They may have one of the youngest lineups in baseball, but their love of grabbing under-valued veterans and trying to find lightning in a bottle sounds like it’ll play right into Valaika’s strengths.
That’s not all he does, though. Nico Hoerner credited Valaika for helping him open his stance for the 2021 season, which didn’t exactly make him a world-beater, but he did go from a 61 wRC+ in 2020 to 104 wRC+ in 2021:
Talking with Nico Hoerner today, he said he opened up his stance this offseason working with assistant hitting coach Chris Valaika. Says swing is the same, but felt like he needed to have a more athletic base. #Cubs— Russell Dorsey (@Russ_Dorsey1) February 24, 2021
Valaika also garnered high praise from former Cubs hitting coach Anthony Lapoce, who called him “one of the best hitting coaches in baseball” and credited his use of information and new technology in the sport.
“Everybody’s always looking for that person who can do multiple things,” Iapoce said. “With Val, he has experience of playing in the big leagues, being around these guys when they were coming up, being informative with our database already and making player plans and getting in with the technology over the last few years.
“He’s been on the forefront of that, while still being a great individual one-on-one coach, also on the mental side, and being proactive on everything he does. He’s really good.”
When the move becomes official, Valaika will be one of the youngest on-field coaches of the Guardians. The 36-year-old replaces 58-year-old Ty Van Burkleo and will work alongside manager Terry Francona (62 years old), pitching coach Carl Willis (60), third base coach Mike Sarbaugh (54), hitting assistant coach Victor Rodriguez (56), first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. (55), bullpen coach Brian Sweeney (47), and outfield/interim third base coach Kyle Hudson (34).
Valaika will fill the hole left by Van Burkleo, who was ousted last month after spending nine seasons as the Guardians’ hitting coach.