[sny-editorial userid="tobyhyde"]Valentino Pascucci, something of a cult hero in certain segments of Mets fandom, was looking for a job hitting baseballs. Instead, he found a job teaching others how to hit them, as the hitting coach for the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Mets Single-A affiliate.[/sny-editorial]
Pascucci, who turned 35 last November, was coming off a 30 home run season, split between Reynosa in the Mexican League and Camden in the Atlantic League, bopping 15 in each. But he and his 191 Triple-A long balls and career .266/.390/.493 line in over 1,000 games could not find a job on a Major League team’s 40-man roster or in Japan.
And so, it was time for a change. Truthfully, the Mets have had their collective eyes on Pascucci as a coaching candidate since at least 2011 and 2012 when Pascucci was still playing for the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.
“It started back a couple of years ago with [Minor League Field Coordinator] Dick Scott,” Pascucci said, “We talked about what I wanted to do when I was done playing – if there was an opportunity to coach, they would love to have me back as a coach in the organization.”
This year there was. After Pascucci’s preferred Japanese team went with another hitter, Pascucci and Scott got back together and finalized a deal in mid-January.
The Philosophical Fit
Pascucci drew a walk in 15.5 percent of his minor league plate appearances and hit 301 doubles and 281 minor league homers. His style, represents, pretty closely, the kind of patient, powerful hitters the Mets are looking to develop.
Mets Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson, who oversees the minor league hitters and hitting coaches, talked about Pascucci, the hitter: “When you watch him play, and watch him hit, he does everything you would like a hitter to do. A guy like that, with that kind of discipline, that kind of plate coverage, and that kind of power, hey. He’s perfect for what we’re trying to do.”
Pascucci hit like a Mets farmhand, even before he was a Met.
“I kind of fit in with the Mets philosophy,” he said. “They want you to get a good pitch to hit. If you get it, drive it. If not, recognize it, [and] lay off it. Most of my career, I think I did a pretty good job of that.”
Johnson liked that Pascucci, did not just wait for his pitch, but he did damage when he connected: “He was a guy that would get good pitches to hit and when he got good pitches to hit, he would drive them. What he did at the plate was our main philosophy: always get a good pitch to hit.”
Even though he stood 6’6″ and north of 200 pounds, with tremendous power, Pascucci took pride in using the whole field.
“Keep it to the big part of the field, the hits will come.” he said he always told himself. “I stayed to the big part of the field. Hit a lot of balls to right-center. It’s that old saying, ‘Hard in, soft away.’ I know guys are going to try to do that to me, so I just stayed looking out over the plate … recognizing offspeed and laying off of it was a big part of my game.”
Where other hitters, particularly guys his age, were skeptical about drawing walks, Pascucci saw their value.
“I knew if I could draw a walk and get on base, then we’d have a runner on base, and the next guy would have a good chance, with a double, we’re scoring,” he said, likely making wise baseball fans weep for joy.
A Different Kind of Hitting Coach.
Pascucci represents a departure from other Mets minor league hitting coaches in that he was a more successful, more powerful hitter than most of the other hitting coaches and managers in the system. He has more professional American home runs than the other seven managers and hitting coaches for the Mets full-season affiliates combined. It’s “Scooch” 281 – everyone else 103.
Pascucci represents modern baseball.
[sny-table rowheader=true columnheader=true]
;Level;Yrs in Minors;HR;HR/Yr;Career MiLB SLG;MiLB AVG;MiLB Iso;
Wally Backman;Mgr AAA;6;13;2.2;.377;.297;.080
Pedro Lopez ;Mgr AA;13;49;3.8;.359;.247;.112
Ryan Ellis ;Mgr A+;5;2;0.4;.317;.251;.066
Luis Rojas;Mgr A;1;2;2.0;.352;.240;.112
One of these things is not like the others: Pascucci. He is the only one with an isolated slugging percentage above .130, and his was a healthy .215 in the minors.
The power comes second for Johnson, because, before you can be a power hitter, “You’re a good hitter first.”
Now A Teacher
Pascucci went from looking for a job as a player in to walking into Spring Training as a coach just four months later.
“It was weird walking into the other lockerroom,” he said in Port St. Lucie. “There are some young players that were here my last year with the Mets. My last year in Tiple-A was 2012 with the Mets, so a lot of the guys knew me.”
Pascucci cannot teach his charges to be replicas of himself. Instead he has to figure out how to improve 25 guys. This is the hardest part of being a hitting coach. As he explained the challenge: “Just watching all the guys, learning all the personalities. … Communication with them is just going to be the key.”
Johnson, with over two decades to his credit, knows that learning personalities is perhaps more important than teaching mechanics.
“That’s going to be the toughest thing for all hitting coaches,” he said. “Getting to know [the hitters] as individuals, what they need everyday and being there for them, especially times when things are not going well. You’ve got to be like a dad, a philosopher – you’ve got to be all that to those guys. Getting to know the players is the most important thing.”
And the Kids?
The Gnats have the Mets’ last two first round picks, SS Gavin Cecchini (2012) and 1B Dominic Smith (2013) on the team.
Smith confesses he didn’t know who Pascucci was early in Spring Training.
“When I first saw him, I thought he was a pitching coach, because he didn’t say too much to us,” Smith said.
That changed quickly.
“He knows what he’s talking about. He’s really helping me become a better hitter,” he said.
Already, his charges are starting to sound like mini-Pascuccis.
“He just really wants to emphasize for me, and a lot of the hitters in the lineup, to stay up the middle and in the opposite field. A lot of pitchers in minor league baseball work the outside half, so that’s what we have to be looking for and ready to hit. We have to learn how to drive those balls on the outer half because they don’t come in too many times, and if they do, our hands are quick enough to get to the inside pitch.”
“Pascucci, what a great hitter he was, is always preaching stay up the middle, stay up the middle, stay on balls. Look for something out over the plate.”
Pascucci’s instructions — and it’s early yet — have been straightforward. Cecchini likes it.
“He’s been great,” the shortstop said. “He keeps things simple. Its not so much things with your hands, or your feet or your load. Everyone has a different swing. He just works with you, and your routine and [focuses on] your approach.”
Pascucci’s two big league periods as a player lasted 74 plate appearances with the Expos in 2004 and 11 plate appearances with the Mets in 2011. In between, he played in Japan, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Lehigh Valley, Portland, Camden and Buffalo, where he hit 126 home runs on US soil and more in Japan. He hit 47 more in 2012 and 2013. Still, that didn’t get him there.
His third time through is most likely going to arrive when his pupils take the big guy’s teachings up to the big leagues.