Steering the Staff: An interview with Hickory pitching coach Jose Jaimes
There are some people that know how to teach. Hickory Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes appears to be one of them.
When one looks at the pitchers he has mentored over the past three seasons, it’s an impressive list. The last two Nolan Ryan Award winners, given to the Texas Rangers minor league pitcher of the year, both came from the Hickory squad – Kyle Cody in 2017 and Tyler Phillips last year. The minor league reliever of the year in 2018 also pitched at Hickory – Demarcus Evans.
A look at the current Texas Rangers top-30 prospects on mlb.com is a gallery of pitchers that have come through Hickory, or are here now: Hans Crouse (No. 1), Cole Winn (2), Joe Palumbo (7), Jonathan Hernandez (8), Tyler Phillips (13), C.D. Pelham (15), A.J. Alexy (20), Evans (24), Cody (28) and Ronny Henriquez (30).
Jeffrey Springs and Erik Swanson were also here with Jaimes in 2016, seasons during which both made the South Atlantic League all-star team. They, along with Pelham, have ascended to the majors.
Many of the names on the list above had their share of struggles. Some, like Phillips and Evans, went through demotions before coming back and figuring out what they were doing. Others, such as Pelham and Hernandez and Alexy, had to bull through tough times at Hickory, but eventually caught on to what they needed to do.
They common factor among them all is a calm-demeanored pitching coach in Jose Jaimes. In talking with him, now for four seasons, here is a coach that is positive about every pitcher under his care and expects them to succeed.
I had a chance to talk with Jaimes a couple of weeks ago about coaching and what adjustments he has made in that field. He also gives insights about those who worked through their struggles and those who were stubborn and had to learn the hard way that adjustments were needed.
Here is that interview.
This is your fourth year here?
Jaimes: The fourth year, you’re right.
Does this feel like home now?
Jaimes: Yeah, it kind of feels like home, actually. When we got back this year in early April, I told my wife that it kind of felt like we never left. It felt like we were gone for two weeks and then we came back. I like it here.
Obviously, the Rangers keep sending you back here, but you have a say in this. What brings you back here year after year?
Jaimes: Well, those decisions are more to the Rangers, but when they tell me I have to go back I don’t mind it at all, because I like the city. It’s a safe city and my wife loves it. So, it makes everything a little easier. I have only good stuff to say about Hickory.
This is your fourth year here. What do you know now that you had to learn since your first year back in 2016?
Jaimes: Well, 2016 was my first full-season as a coach. So, I kind of had to adjust to the workload of the players. Coming from extended (spring training) and Spokane (Wash.), they didn’t play that many games. In Arizona, they get an off day a week, so it’s a lot easier to manage the workload of the players. Coming here, it’s a little more difficult because you play 18 games in a row and you’ve got to travel. You got to do a bunch of stuff that you don’t do in short season. So, being able to manage that with the players was probably my biggest challenge my first year.
And then, it’s getting to know the league and to know the teams that we face. I feel like every year has been a little easier. But, it’s always a challenge, because you’re always getting new players and a new staff. So, you kind of have to adjust to them also.
Does this feel like a good niche for you to get these young guys in their first full season? Is that something you see yourself doing longer term?
Jaimes: Yeah. I like it here and I like working with the young players, definitely. I think it’s a really important year for these guys and I feel like I can help to get on track on what to expect in a full season and all that. I feel like it’s a good fit for me.
How difficult is it to take a group of 13 -14 guys, especially this year where so many of them are new to you, to learn their stuff and what they like to do, and then take some of what is not working for them, and fix what they can do better?
Jaimes: Everything starts for me in spring training. I try to spend as much time as I can with the guys that I know are going to come with me. So, I try to get to know them and what they like to do on the field, and get to know their routines, know what works for them.
That’s how it starts, and then once I get here, probably that first week, I start to put my plan together for them from when I got to know them in Arizona. Then, as the year goes, they start getting to know themselves a little more, so they start to put stuff together that will work for them.
Most of the time it comes from them. Sometimes I’ll give a suggestion, but at the end of the day, they’re the ones making the decision. That isn’t working for me, or other stuff they’re doing in their routines, thing like that.
Do you ever get guys that are stubborn and they have to figure that stuff out?
Jaimes: (Laughing) Yeah. That’s part of it. You’ll always get that guy that wants to do their own things. Sometimes you’ve just got to let it go until they can’t handle that. Then, they realize that they need to listen a little more.
How difficult is it to stand back when you see something that you know is not going to work, and they’re getting pounded, and you see the teammates’ reactions that something is not working?
Jaimes: I think that comes with experience. I think, maybe, my first couple of years as a coach, I always tried to jump in right away. But then, with experience, you kind of get to learn to be a little more patient and let the game take care of that. Sometimes, you need to let them come to you.
You always want them to tell you what they didn’t do right, or if they need to change. Sometimes, it gets a little overwhelming to them. I think the best thing, sometimes, is to let them come to you and ask for advice.
In your four years, you’ve had Kyle Cody, Edgar Arredondo, Joe Palumbo to name a few. Who is the guy that struggled some early, but you saw the light switch on, that gave you the most pleasure to see that?
Jaimes: There’s a couple, but definitely Joe Palumbo was one of them. I had him in 2014 and 2015. We always saw the potential that he had, but early in his career he didn’t challenge himself and he didn’t put in the effort in practice. Once he started changing that mentality and you started seeing the difference. The velo went up. The command got better. He became more of a true pitcher. It was probably one of the more exciting stories I’ve had in my career.
The 2017 and 2018 seasons, the first month to six weeks were tough. You and I would talk, and I know those were tough times. Part of that was what the Rangers were wanting to see the guys in commanding the fastball. How difficult was that to go through as a coach? You knew what the outcome was going to be, but still guys are getting beat up and they’re not happy.
Jaimes: That’s what we teach the players, is that we have to stay with the process. It was a plan that we put together for them. Yeah, it was tough to see it, but we always tried to stay positive, because at some point, that plan was going to pay off. And it did.
It was tough but watching the guys those first five or six weeks start to command their fastball better and getting to know that they can pitch with their fastball. It was cool to see. It was tough, but sometimes you have to stay with the process.
Who is the most talented pitcher you’ve had?
Jaimes: Oooo, that’s a tough one. We’ve had a few of them. Demarcus Evans.
Demarcus, for me, is one of the most talented pitchers because, obviously the size. He’s a big guy. He has a plus-fastball at 94-95, but when you look deeper at what kind of fastball he has, you look at the spin rate and the type of vertical movement that he has, that’s what makes his fastball so special. That’s why he has so many swing-and-misses on fastballs at the middle of the plate.
Kyle Cody was another one. Big fastball with some sinker action, then with the slider that he has. Those two pitches play very well.
Crouse, obviously. He’s a big talent and throws pitches for strikes. I love the way that he competes. To me, that’s special. He’s not afraid. He likes a good challenge. So, you pull the talent and then you add the type of person and athlete that he is, and the mentality he has, that makes him even better.
So, what’s the feeling like when you see guy like C.D. (Pelham) get a call up? Now, you start seeing the guys get the brass ring, what does that mean to you?
Jaimes: When I think about C.D. – you remember those first couple of months in 2017, he struggled. Then, he started putting it together halfway through the year. When I saw him when he got called up last year, it kind of almost made me cry, because I know how hard he worked and I know how much patience he had with the process. Sometimes, he tried stuff and it didn’t work, but he gave his best effort.
When you see guys like that make it to the big leagues, it makes you feel good for them, because you know how hard they work. He’s a special kid and a great guy, a good teammate and he was always good with the coaches.
What’s your path to the big leagues, or do you see a path? Do you like this part of the process in the teaching and developing?
Jaimes: Yes, I love teaching. I would like to see myself at some point, in a few years, getting into the big leagues. That’s the ultimate goal, for sure. But, as long as I have a job and doing what I like, I’ll be okay.
What made you want to do it in the first place?
Jaimes: My last year, when I played, I was the oldest Latin kid on the team. We had a lot of Latin players, so I kind of took them under my wing. So I started guiding them to what they were going to face when they went to Spokane. So, that’s when I started liking the teaching part. They were listening to what I was saying, so that’s when coaching started to become more intriguing to me. I knew my playing career was probably going to be pretty short, so I thought, ‘you know what, if I get to stay in baseball and I can coach, I’ll be fine.’