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Interview with Charleston Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn

Charleston RiverDogs Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn

I had a great opportunity to interview Greg Colbrunn yesterday and he provided a lot of feedback on the hitters in the Yankees organization.  Colbrunn played 13 seasons in the Major Leagues as a career .289/.336/.460 hitter and was part of the World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks team that beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 season.

He has been with the Yankees since 2007, serving as Hitting Coach of the Charleston RiverDogs every season except for 2010 when he stepped in as Manager.  This will be his 6th season with the team so he has worked with nearly every hitter in the Yankee system above the Rookie ball level.  With his knowledge and experience I thought he’d be a great resource to find out more about the hitters in the Yankee chain.  My questions are in BLUE.

How did you get into coaching for the Yankees and do you prefer Managing or coaching hitting?

I live here in Charleston, we moved her in 1999/2000 when I was still playing. I took a year off after I stopped playing but I knew I wanted to get into coaching. I met Gary Denbo (Yankee organization hitting coordinator), and we had some of the same beliefs about hitting. It seemed like a great fit and great opportunity to coach for the RiverDogs and the Yanks have been a very good organization.

I enjoyed Managing but I prefer Hitting Coach more. I have more impact on the kids and I really enjoy working in the cage. I relate well to hitters.

Between Kevin Long, Gary Denbo, Butch Wynegar, yourself, etc., a young hitter progressing through the system will work with different hitting coaches all the time. How much communication is there between you and the other hitting instructors talking about individual players, tendencies and areas to work on?

Its kind of the same philosophy. We have good communication. When one guy moves from one level to another, we talk about him and what type of drills he’s doing. When you have different coaches that are on the same page but may go about it in different ways , you can find out what works with certain hitters.

It seems the Yankees at the MLB-level, stress the importance of going deep into counts and wearing down pitchers. Is that an organizational philosophy they try to instill early on?

When kids are starting out you want to see what a kid can do first. See what they do well, see what they can and can’t hit so we can develop a program from there. The main thing we stress is to get a good pitch and hit it hard somewhere. Learn how to recognize a curve ball from a Fastball. We talk about the importance of OBP.

During their 1st or 2nd year, the kids are still developing so you don’t want to tell them they can’t hit a certain way or that’s not gonna work. When you watch the big leagues, you see a lot of different styles, different stances – hands up, hands down. There are a lot of different ways to hit. We kind of let them go and just put them in a good position where they can have some success and be able to repeat their swing. If we see something that’s getting in the way of having success I’ll make an adjustment. I might alter hand position or something like that. But for most part in the 1st or 2nd year, I kind of let them go and make some suggestions here and there. If they’re struggling I might step in and tell them what I think but as far as any big mechanical adjustments, I try to stay away from that for the most part.

You’ve been in the organization sine 2007 and have worked with most of the highly thought of hitters. If I were to list some specific characteristics, tell me who comes to mind as the prospect in the organization that best epitomizes these skills/strengths. (NOTE: Greg hasn’t seen the hitters below the Charleston level yet)

Strike zone Recognition

Ramon Flores gets rave reviews from Colbrunn

Ramon Flores. It’s something we work on but for some reason he’s always had a real good sense. He picks up pitches as well as anyone I’ve seen come through here. He picks up pitches right out of the pitcher’s hands and has real good strike zone discipline and pitch recognition – and he recognizes it real early. The biggest thing with him was getting him to be more aggressive in counts where he could take advantage of it and let some of his natural ability take off more.

Pure bat speed

JR (Murphy) has some bat speed…….Kyle Roller, big 1B – he’s got some unbelievable bat speed coming through the zone and that’s something you cant really teach. Of course Montero.

Pull Power

Montero, Gary Sanchez. Melky Mesa hit some balls a long way when he was here but Montero had the most pure power.

Power to All Fields

Gary Sanchez, Kyle Roller had some tremendous power, he hit some balls that were unbelievable. Great all around power, oppo power. Gary, being only 18 is impressive and has ability to drive the ball the other way.

Hits for Average

Rob Segedin, he was 22 but he kind of dominated, he uses the whole field and I could see him hitting for a high average throughout the system as he gets acclimated and gets his feet on the ground. Also David Adams and Corban Joseph too.

Uses the Whole Field

Segedin, Corban Joseph. Gary (Sanchez) does a good job when we convince him to use the whole field. He’s still only 18 and gonna be real good.

Best Fastball Hitter

Brandon Laird. Romine was a good fastball hitter.

Best Breaking Ball Hitter

(Ramon)Flores does a real good job, Laird was good at hitting the hanging breaking balls, Montero, Sanchez

When I watched Slade Heathcott play this year, his physique and immense natural talent really stood out. What are his strengths as a hitter and how do you see his shoulder injuries effecting his development?

He’s got all the talent in the world. His first year here, he was 19 yrs old and we just let him go. This year he was able to make adjustments and apply them early on until his shoulder started bothering him. Hopefully the shoulder thing he can put it past him and go out there and get enough ABs so he can move up through the system. He has ability to adjust his swing, we call it “Adjustability” with his swing – he can be fooled and still get the bat head to the ball. He definitely has the power, has the bat speed, can run, put the ball in play, get on base…..so he has all the things you look for in a Major League player

Gary Sanchez has been getting some high praise as one of the best hitters in all of the Minors. Talk about Gary’s strengths and what you see for him down the road.

Gary Sanchez is the top hitter in the system

I see a bright future. He has a cannon for an arm, he’s got power, he’s got bat speed, uses the whole field, has good pitch recognition – all the things you look for in a good young hitter The praise is justifiable. He’s still learning how to play. This was the first year he played every day and was just getting the feel for it and it took him until the last 3 or 4 weeks of the season to really get going and put it all together before he got hurt. He just needs repetitions, getting games behind the plate and playing baseball.

JR Murphy looked like he was hitting everything hard with Charleston in 2011. Do you see him developing his gap to gap line drives into HRs as he progresses?

Yes, I do. He’s still 20/21. He swung the bat real well the first half of last year where he was hitting 3 or 4 balls hard per game. He ran into a little lull before he was promoted. In Charleston, the wind blows in 80% of the time, it’s not a big HR park, so power numbers might be down when you look at Charleston hitters. I think he’s gonna hit some HRs since he does hit the ball hard. As he gets bigger and stronger, when he learns to sit on pitches and take advantage of some pitches he can really handle the HRs will come.

Ramon Flores has a pretty swing for a 19-yr old. Do you see him developing enough power to be a Corner OF in the Bigs?

I do. He has one of the most natural swings we’ve had come through here. And he does have some power. Last year he took advantage, he hit 11 HRs which is pretty good for a 19 year old in Charleston. The difference between 2 years ago when I first saw him and last year when his body filled out and the strength he had was big and hopefully he’ll continue to make that progress. I’m looking forward to see him in the spring to see what kind of shape he comes in. He hit some balls well, has a great swing, a natural swing, and a real great feel. Definitely one of the best natural hitters I’ve seen come through here.

Austin Romine seems like his Catching skills will lead to a long MLB career. Do you see him being a good hitter once comfortable in the Majors?

Yes, especially for a catcher. He had a real high leg kick when he was here 3 years ago – kind of out of control with it. The time he spent here we calmed it down some, got it under control some. In the bigs, the more he gets accustomed to better pitching, he’ll hit. He has characteristics of a big league hitter – real good feel for the barrel, power, power to all fields and ability to use the whole field too. That’s something he did show as a young hitter. I think he will be an above-average hitter.

Corban Joseph and David Adams have shown ability to hit at every level. What is your opinion of them as hitters?

Colbrunn called David Adams a poor man's Jeff Kent

They are hitters. We’re fortunate that the Yanks do a great job in the amateur scouting department to bring in pure hitters. They are natural hitters. David went through some changes at Virginia (in college), when he came to us we simplified some things and he just took off, took right to it. He’s gonna hit wherever he goes, a line drive hitter who works hard. If there’s one guy I could compare him to probably a poor mans Jeff Kent, that type of hitter.

Corban is natural, gets bigger & stronger every year, ball comes off the bat a little crisper. He has an uncanny ability to get the barrel to the ball. He can be fooled, he can be beaten by a fastball and still be able to get the barrel to the ball. Great set of hands on him, he can go out and flick some things or jump on some things. Corban’s going to hit wherever he goes.

How does it feel to work with a kid, watch him progress up the ladder, then see him traded to another club right when he’s ready to make an impact in the Majors a la Montero?

I’m happy for him. I’m glad he’s going to get the chance. When I came up through the Montreal system, that was one thing they always told us – there are 27 (now 29) other teams out there. Working for the Yankees you want to see a young player come up and play for the Yankees but you have to be realistic. We try to get them better whether they are gonna help us out or help another team out.