Last Monday, the Blue Jays announced their minor league coaching staff for 2014. One of the more significant moves was the promotion of Clayton McCullough to the position of "Coordinator of Instruction". We had a question in the comments about what that role really entails, so I caught up with the Blue Jays' director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson to ask him about a few of the most interesting moves. Wilson was appointed to his current position in 2009, having working his way up the organization since joining as a summer intern with the public relations department in 1993. He has been a baseball assistant with the baseball operations department, scouting coordinator, and the manager of minor league operations. His duties is to be the overseer of all the day-to-day operations of player development and the Blue Jays' farm system.
Clayton McCullough, Coordinator of Instruction
McCullough was most recently the manager of the short-season Vancouver Canadians. The 34-year-old joined the Blue Jays organization in 2006 as the hitting coach in rookie-level Pulaski, as a rookie coach. It was there where he instructed a young Travis Snider, fresh from being drafted out of high school. He got a managerial position with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays in 2007 before moving to Lansing for two seasons and Dunedin for another two. He won the Florida State League Manager of the Year award in 2011, then was assigned to manage in Vancouver. His clubs have made the playoffs every year since 2010, and he won two Northwest League championships with Vancouver in 2012 and 2013.
In 2013, the Blue Jays called for the former catcher to join the big league team to begin the year as their interim backup catcher to demonstrate the organization's commitment to, and confidence in, him. Charlie Wilson seemed to be very high on young McCullough and his talents for player development.
"This is a senior position in the player development department," Wilson explained,"to characterize it, he’s an extension of the field coordinator Doug Davis. He will work closely with Doug and will be exactly like a rover, going from team to team from day one of the season right through the playoffs."
"Starting in spring training, he’ll be setting the daily schedule, running it by the field coordinator and the pitching coordinator. Clayton will be in charge of organizing a lot of the administration behind-the-scenes with scheduling and the fundamental work players will be doing on the field every day."
Rich Miller, Senior Advisor for Player Development
Rich Miller was the Senior Roving Instructor in 2013 and is moved to a slightly different title and role for 2014, taking over the senior advisor role from Tim Leiper, who is now Toronto's first-base coach. Miller has been in coaching for 35 years, starting as a player-coach for the double-A affiliate of the Mets in 1979. He joined the Blue Jays organization in 2010 as a roving minor league outfield and baserunner coach and served in that role until 2013 when Tim Raines was hired. Miller served as the Vancouver Canadians' interim manager starting in mid-August through their Northwest League championship after John Schneider left the team to tend to a personal matter.
In his new role, Miller will serve as the "right-hand man" (he bats left, though) to Charlie Wilson and minor league field coordinator Doug Davis on the operations side, but that doesn't mean he will leave coaching behind.
"Rich will continue to have a big part in outfield and baserunning part of our development. He has a wealth of experience [and] knowledge, so we’re happy to put him in a position where he will be able to evaluate--he will rove, going from team to team," Wilson said, "he will be very involved in the day-to-day operation and instruction, but he will be evaluating for the most part when the season gets running. We’re happy to have a guy with that much knowledge and experience to be with us."
John Nunnally, Hitting Coach, New Hampshire Fisher Cats
When the Blue Jays moved Gary Allenson from managing the Fisher Cats up to the Bisons, they decided to send swap the hitting coaches in triple-A and double-A as well, sending Richie Hebner to the Bisons and John Nunnally to the Fisher Cats. Nunally's move is a "shift" rather than a demotion, as Wilson was careful to point out.
"John is a very loyal guy. In talking with him this year and in previous years, I think he is very happy at the double-A level or the triple-A level," Wilson said, "a lot of time, coaches have their ultimate goal of instructing and coaching in the big leagues, and I think John falls within that group. He has had time as a player and a coach with the Indians."
Nunnally joined the coaching staff of the Fisher Cats in 2012 after serving parts of two seasons as the Indians' big league hitting coach.
"At the end of the day, he wants to help the young players get better," Wilson continued, "and he’s very excited about being hitting coach in double-A just as he was a couple years ago before he came to Buffalo. He’s still a very important part of our system."
Jeff Ware, Pitching Coach, Vancouver Canadians
Long-time Blue Jays fans may remember the name Jeff Ware, who pitched in 18 games over two seasons for the Blue Jays in 1995 and 1996. Ware was the 35th-overall pick in the 1991 amateur draft, a compensation pick for the loss of George Bell. He started his professional career in Dunedin in 1992, but missed half of the season, all of 1993, and half of 1994 due to rotator cuff injuries. When he was called up to the Blue Jays in September 1995, he had only made 38 professional starts. I was a kid back then, but I remember him being shellacked in the majority of his starts.
"I know Jeff," Wilson recalled his early years with the Blue Jays, "he was a first-round draft choice by the Blue Jays, he pitched for us in the big leagues, he pitched for us in Syracuse and a bunch of other teams."
After leaving the Blue Jays, Ware would pitch in triple-A for Milwaukee in 1997 before ending his pitching career by playing five years in independent ball. He returned to affiliated baseball as the pitching coach for the short-season Staten Island Yankees in 2007 before being promoted to single-A Charleston then finally to advanced-A Tampa in 2011. The Blue Jays took special notice of their former player's coaching abilities when Dunedin played Tampa in the Florida State League.
"We’re familiar with Jeff, we like what he does on the field. It was one of those situations where we knew who he was, we knew he was very capable, we thought he’d be a very good pitching coach, but he was under contract with another organization," Wilson said, "when his contract wasn’t renewed, we jumped at the chance to interview him. Then when an opportunity became available, like it did here the last few weeks with some of the shuffling, we were able to offer him a position. We’re happy to have him aboard on the staff side."
John Schneider, Manager, Vancouver Canadians
After leaving the Canadians due to a personal matter in 2011, Schneider was named as the manager for the Gulf Coast Blue Jays and served in that capacity in 2012 and 2013. He will return to Vancouver in 2014 after the promotion of Clayton McCullough, where he will be looking lead his team to a fourth consecutive title. He was also acting as a minor league catching instructor in spring training last season.
"John is another very capable young staff member that we have. His skillset is certainly that of a manager and we’re lucky to have him," Wilson said, " I don’t think there was a plan to move him to Vancouver then back down to the Gulf Coast League then back to Vancouver—there were certain circumstances that dictated that, but we’re just happy that he’s going back to Vancouver. He’s a very capable young man, he’s a good leader, he’s a good teacher, and he manages the game well, and he’s a good ambassador for the organization. We’re happy that he’s back."
A.J. Jimenez: The Blue Jays have not committed on whether to send Jimenez to Buffalo or New Hampshire to start the season. Wilson said that there have been internal discussions and thoughts, but "I think spring training is going to ultimately determine where A.J. will play this year."
Tomo Ohka: Wilson denies that Ohka was brought in to train A.J. Jimenez to catch knuckleballs, saying that "he’s coming in as a pitcher" and that they brought him in to "evaluate his ability to throw his knuckleball in spring training, and go from there."