TRENTON, NEW JERSEY – Throughout his career, Sean Coyle has had the benefit of one person’s wisdom.
When he began his time with the Salem Red Sox, hitting coach Rich Gedman was there to guide him. Now, both are with the Red Sox Double-A affiliate Portland Sea Dogs, with Gedman again as his hitting coach. That bond has been instrumental in Coyle’s development.
"He’s been a huge influence," Coyle said Wednesday before a game in Trenton against the Thunder. "The way he talks about preparing every day, taking care of your swing, and he gets to know every hitter. He wants to work on what you want to. He puts in the work and the guys respect everything he has to say."
Former Red Sox catcher Gedman was behind the plate in the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. His contributions to the system have kept him connected to the Red Sox, not to mention his native Massachusetts, for many years. He’d managed the Independent League Worcester Tornadoes, where the players spoke almost in awe of his guidance and wisdom. His efforts with Coyle have been about simplifying approach, with a heavy dose of baseball intelligence.
"[The main thing we work on is] daily routine and keeping it the same," Gedman said. "Working on effort level…learning and understanding his swing and being consistent with it daily. And listen to what’s happening, rather than trying to produce results force results let swing work and things happen sometimes a player might say ‘I can hit a home run here." Well, the situation might call for it, but that’s not how we do things. What we do is have a confident approach in our swing, so the bat stays in the strike zone a long time; now you can be early, on time, a little late and still be productive. So when it’s going well you can hit to all fields and not try to create power. If you have decent timing you can hit any pitch. If you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to pull on this fastball’, now you become one-dimensional. I respect that he has talent, but he listens when I come to him. We have a great relationship."
The 2010 third rounder is hitting .347 for Portland, with 67 hits, 40 RBI, 10 homers,, a .181 wRC+ & .452 wOBA in 223 at-bats, with 13 hits in his last ten games. He’s taking that stretch of success in stride. Coyle’s excellent first half has led to the second baseman being chosen to participate in the Futures Game in Minnesota.
"I think the season overall, these are extracurricular things…things I’ll remember. I’m honored to be a part of it," Coyle said.
The Chalfont, Pennsylvania native began the learning process around Little League age, receiving instruction at the well-known Pennsylvania facility All-Star Baseball Academy in Hatsboro. Without the ability to play baseball outdoors in winter months, the ASBA became a place Coyle could grow as a young player.
"It was awesome. Back then, you don’t think about it as work. It’s kind of like extra recess time. It develops the work habit," he said.
Through the past few years, and particularly now, Gedman’s instruction, combined with Coyle’s self-motivation have led to obvious improvement. After last season’s difficulties brought on by general injuries and soreness, he’s emerged again as a solid hitting prospect in the Red Sox system.
"I’m learning myself as a hitter and sticking to my approach, taking care of my swing every day, being able to make the right adjustments. This off-season I spent a lot of time in the cage, working on the rhythm and direction of my swing. I try to find my timing every day, that’s the biggest thing to work on to stay consistent."
"All of it stems from timing, we talk about that a lot," Gedman said.
Coyle ended 2013 with the league title with the Salem Red Sox and was named the Carolina League Championship Series MVP after hitting two two-run doubles in the series. Due to injury, he didn’t play in the Division Series, but drove in seven runs in three games of the Championship. He’d spent that season level jumping, first from the GCL, then to the South Atlantic League, for a combined twelve games, finishing with Salem, where he played 48 games. In 2011 he was named a MiLB Organizational All-Star, repeating that honor in 2012.
"I stay away from statistics, knowing I did my part to succeed. I can control my effort level and preparation, not what happens when the ball leaves the bat," Coyle said.
That kind of thinking has benefitted the 22-year-old this season, keeping him from any slumps to slow his pace. But the value of struggling is as meaningful to the overall learning process, according to Gedman.
"He’s gone through a period of success this year. When you’re hitting .340, .350, you have a tendency to expect that. He hasn’t hit a dry spell. There’ll be ups and downs. He hasn’t varied his approach and he’s handled himself like a man. It’s easy to ride the wave. He may try to create more results. It’s normal. But we’ll see then, where he’s at. So far [in Double-A] the road’s been pretty clear for him."
To Gedman’s eyes, Coyle appears to have his success in his own hands.
"He’s a very good student of the game. He’s become his best hitting coach."