Maybe the Rockies have been busier in the off season than we thought.
At the end of the 2019 season, the Rockies promoted Steve Merriman, a well-traveled baseball coach and the 2019 Hartford Yard Goats pitching coach. He now has Darryl Scott’s old job as Minor League pitching co-coordinator. Initially, this seemed more like moving around deck chairs on the Titanic, but Thomas Harding has reported that Merriman brings with him significant upgrades to the Rockies’ pitching technology lab at Salt River Fields.
Merriman has worked in many places, spending his career moving between college (University of Michigan, University of Toledo, Macomb Community College) and Major League Baseball (Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Chicago Cubs). As Harding explains, Merriman has been fascinated by the potential of technology in baseball since his early coaching days at the University of Michigan. He adds this:
Merriman had worked with the Cubs in 2018 at their high-tech pitching lab in Mesa, Ariz. So he collaborated with director of pitching operations Mark Wiley and Minor and Major League coaches to build a similar setup at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the Rockies’ Spring Training ballpark, in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was revealed last month during the team’s pitching development program.
Both Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland have spoken positively about the resources available to them in the new pitching lab and Merriman’s effectiveness as a “sounding board” for pitchers looking to improve. Gray would know, given his trip to Driveline in the 2019 offseason.
In addition to his coaching and technology background, Merriman has a long-standing relationship with the Rockies organization. The Rockies sponsored Merriman in the early 2000s when he attended a two-week MLB scout school. He went on to work as an associate scout with the Rockies from 2002-2004 and was scheduled to coach for the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate in 2015, but declined the job to address family issues. He was also on the Royals coaching staff with Steve Foster.
In a September 2019 Sports Spectrum podcast, Merriman said of his extensive travels, “All of those things that I experienced in all those environments prepared me for the very next thing that I had the opportunity to be a part of.”
It’s also worth noting that in the interview, which begins with Jason Romano commenting on the beauty of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Merriman moves immediately to praise the available technology, saying it “makes that time much quicker for you to develop [players] and work with them.”
Merriman’s promotion is consistent with the Rockies’ long-term plan of drafting and developing talent and hiring within the organization. As the Rockies approach 2020, it will be key for the pitching staff to have coaches the players know and trust, given that this year will be as much about restoring confidence as it is about pitching mechanics.
There’s a lot to like in Merriman’s promotion. In addition to his familiarity with pitching-related technology, he graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in education and a plan to become a high school social studies teacher. As Jared Diamond’s forthcoming book Swing Kings makes clear, having ability and knowledge doesn’t matter if they can’t be communicated. Merriman’s background suggests that he has developed those skills both through academic training and on-field practice. (Look for Purple Row’s review of Swing Kings in late March.)
Moreover, Merriman moved from his first coaching job at the University of Toledo to being the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen catcher from 1996-99. He brings with him the kinds of skills Bud Black values, and it suggests a positive change in Black’s thinking about technology given what Adam Ottavino described in Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s The MVP Machine.
We’ve known since October that the Rockies front office believes they have a contending team while most of us have agonized over the Rockies’ inertia during the off season. Last week Dick Monfort made a rosy prediction of a 94-win season, so the pressure is on Steve Merriman given that the Rockies had a National League worst combined 2019 ERA of 5.46. But if Merriman has brought the technological, teaching, and interpersonal skills to improve this organization’s pitching staff, then perhaps the Rockies are in better shape than we thought. Pitchers and catchers report today, so we’ll soon have a better idea of where this pitching staff is as they head into the 2020 season.