PAWTUCKET — As Arnie Beyeler has learned this winter, coaching in the major leagues with a defined role is best not entered into lightly.
Since finding out a few days before Thanksgiving that he would mark his 10th season in the Red Sox organization as Boston’s first-base coach, Beyeler has been busy absorbing information pertaining to his primary duties under new manager John Farrell. Making an appearance at McCoy Stadium Thursday afternoon prior to heading up to the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, where he would take a bow as skipper of the 2012 Governors’ Cup champion Pawtucket Red Sox, Beyeler remarked that when it comes to working with big-league outfielders and baserunners, it’s best to leave no stone unturned.
One of Beyeler’s greatest assets is his eagerness to reach out to baseball folks and solicit advice and/or opinions. The 26 seasons he spent as a minor-league player, coach and manager has provided the 48-year-old with a Rolodex that’s beyond reproach.
Talking with two members of Farrell’s coaching staff seemed like a good place for Beyeler to start. Ex-PawSox manager Torey Lovullo and Brian Butterfield broke into the big-league coaching ranks as first-base lieutenants before rising to their current ranks of Red Sox bench coach and third-base coach, respectively.
Tom Goodwin, Boston’s minor-league outfield/baserunning coordinator, has been another resource Beyeler has tapped on more than one occasion. Remembering when he assisted former Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale with the outfielders during one spring training when the two were working for the Texas Rangers, Beyeler had yet another soundboard that would allow him to gain a deeper perspective of what awaits him.
“I’m just trying to get some guidance and different ways of doing things,” said Beyeler while sitting at a table inside one of the third-base suites at McCoy. “When it’s all said and done, Torey (Lovullo) is familiar with what John (Farrell) likes and what he wants, but I wanted to cover my bases and have something if I was asked and be well informed. “I just want to be the best I can be and know as much as I can know so that I can be a resource for the players,” Beyeler continued.
When Beyeler flew to Boston for his interview with Farrell, he was told to be prepared to answer questions related to outfield play, baserunning and bunting. Considering that his areas of coaching expertise include hitting and infield play, Beyeler made it a point to become proficient enough with outfield and baserunning tactics so that he could bring an aura of confidence that those on the interviewing committee could see.
“I never picked up a ball and hit a cutoff man, got behind a fly ball or robbed someone of a home run,” said Beyeler, primarily a middle infielder during his six-year minor-league playing career. “My winter has been about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on outfield play by taking the simple approach I used in the past when going out each day for drill work. It’s about making sure that if they have a question, I have an answer for them or the resources to find out.
“Now I’m expected to run a department in one specific area and not the broad perspective from a managing standpoint,” added Beyeler, who piloted the PawSox to consecutive playoff appearances during his only two seasons with the franchise. “My goal going into spring training is to know the strengths and weaknesses of our guys. “
What does working with MLB outfielders specifically entail? In general terms, the focus is getting them positioned correctly based on who’s at the plate and making sure which base they’re throwing to based on how many runners and outs there are. There’s also the awareness aspect in making sure who is responsible for backing up his fellow outfielder on balls in the gap and understanding what Farrell requires for his no doubles defense.
Above all else, Beyeler has learned that all theories and strategies start and end with personnel.
“What I’m researching is seeing what works better with Jacoby (Ellsbury) or what (Jonny) Gomes and (Shane) Victorino like,” Beyeler said. “These guys are big leaguers; they know how to catch the ball, but it’s about putting a workable program together that (Farrell) likes and is comfortable with. The same goes with the players and utilizing what they bring to the table.”
The same principles also serve at the root of what Beyeler seeks to accomplish when he’s positioned in the first base coaching box with a Red Sox runner aboard.
“I’ve got to study pitchers and pickoff moves, which we did (in Pawtucket), but up there (in Boston), things are a little more magnified,” Beyeler stated. “It’s important to stress the little stuff to keep runners in order, getting good jumps and taking the extra base.”
Since Jan. 1, Beyeler has ramped up his study program to include the entire American League and National League opponents on Boston’s 2013 schedule. He’s found Red Sox video coordinator Billy Broadbent to be an invaluable resource in addition to comprehending the advance metrics that will enable him to not rely exclusively on hunches.
“It’s getting out of my comfort zone and figuring out what works,” Beyeler said. “I don’t have to worry about writing out a lineup. My expertise now is supposedly going to be outfield and coaching first base, and I need to be good at that.”
While new PawSox hitting coach Dave Joppie says he’s looking forward to continuing and building upon the relationships he first developed in Portland, the 47-year-old Michigan native anxiously anticipates the moment when it’s revealed that a player in Pawtucket’s clubhouse is heading to the big leagues for the first time.
Whether that hopeful player is catcher Dan Butler or outfielders Bryce Brentz and Jeremy Hazelbaker, chances are the recipient of said good news will have strong ties to Joppie, who spent the previous five seasons as the Sea Dogs’ hitting coach.
“When Josh Reddick jumped (from Portland to Boston in 2009), we were in Harrisburg and he was going to Baltimore. I was in the gym and I didn’t have a chance to say bye to him,” recalled Joppie.
Much like Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina referenced during his introductory press conference last month, Joppie touched upon the art of communicating with his fellow Red Sox minor-league hitting coaches and how touching base with Rich Gedman (Portland) will benefit the organization’s hitters in the long run.
“All of us are on the same page,” Joppie said. “Just maintaining the same message throughout the organization or going to work with (a hitting coach) they may have a history with, no question it can only benefit the hitter.”