The White Sox divided an expansive hitting-coach search that ended Thursday with Todd Steverson’s hire into three categories of candidates.
First among the 16-to-17 contenders initially considered were those with a higher profile, including several former batting coaches. Then came those with strong recommendations from other clubs. Third was a group discovered when the front office took a deeper look at several successful hitting organizations, ones the White Sox would like to emulate.
What the White Sox hope to have uncovered in Steverson, 41, is a coach who has not only had longevity within one of those franchises but a strong influence on the hitting process. Steverson worked in a variety of roles with the A’s and previously worked in St. Louis’ farm system from 1993-2003. From minor league roving hitting instructor to first-base coach in the majors to Triple-A manager, Steverson has experienced plenty with Oakland in the past 10 seasons.
“We did some research of certain organizations that we admire their approach to hitting as well as their continuity of instruction from the big leagues through their minor league system,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “We had researched individuals who played an important role to those programs and had been there a while. That’s how Todd’s name got added to the list.”
Hahn declined to comment on the specific organizations included in the search, but Oakland, St. Louis and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox were no doubt included among others.
While the White Sox didn’t know Steverson until research unearthed him, he quickly became a favorite in the interview process. Hahn said Steverson — who describes his theory to hitting as “selective aggression” — was one of six candidates to interview. Several were then invited to come to Chicago for the next round, and Steverson was offered the position the same night he met with the team.
The White Sox hope Steverson can lend a new voice to a revamped offense that slipped to 15th in the American League in runs scored in 2014, a season after it finished fourth. The 99-loss White Sox were also last in the AL in doubles and walks and finished 14th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging. The poor performance led to Jeff Manto’s Sept. 27 dismissal after two seasons as hitting coach.
“(Steverson) was our unanimous choice,” Hahn said. “(Having a new voice) can help reset the priorities for the offense and reset the goals of the offense. ... We also feel he’s going to be able to, along with the rest of us, unleash some of that upside in our players that we weren’t able to access last year.”
How does Steverson plan to tap into that potential? What message will he have for Dayan Viciedo, Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Gordon Beckham and Co.?
“You want to have an educated plan of attack when you go to the plate,” Steverson said. “Hitters want to put yourself in a good solid position to recognize strikes, pitches and have the ability to lay off balls and continue the at-bat. ... You want to be aggressive with your pitch in the zone, have the ability to recognize the pitch and execute it. Hitting is a confidence, a belief with the ability to react and execute accordingly. The No. 1 thing is to believe in what you came up there to do.”
The White Sox believe part of the reason for the A’s success — the two-time reigning AL West champs — over the past decade is they have maintained a consistent approach at the plate.
When the White Sox visited Oakland in May it was commonplace to hear the team’s pitchers or manager Robin Ventura discussing how good A’s hitters were at waiting out a plate appearance until they got their pitch.
The White Sox, whose .302 on-base percentage in 2013 was the club’s worst since 1967 and is tied for the eighth-lowest total in franchise history, would love for their hitters to adopt a similar style.
“(Oakland) doesn't go out and sign the top guy every year, but yet they are very accomplished at putting together a good offense and approach,” Ventura said. “Todd has been through that through the minor leagues, at the major league level and managing at the AAA level. You find things you like around the league, hopefully you can bring some of that back to your team.”