The Tigers announced yesterday that Tom Brookens would be the new first base and outfield and base running coach. Brookens is an organizational soldier and it’s nice to see him get the opportunity to don the Old English D again. But it does raise the question about the qualifications or importance of positional coaches.
Brookens of course knows baseball. The former 4th overall pick in the 1975 draft had a 12 year big league career and has managed in the Tigers organization at Oneonta, West Michigan, and Erie. But very little of that career came in the outfield. Very little.
I know that you don’t have to have been a great hitter to be a good hitting coach, and the same is true of pitching. There is clearly a difference between having the knowledge and communication skills and having the physical talent to carry that out. But hitting coaches still typically were hitters and pitching coaches still typically were pitchers. Brookens was primarily and infielder. Brookens himself addressed his lack of experience in the outfield in a conversation with Jason Beck.
"I think handling all those facets in the minor leagues will help me some," Brookens said. "Certainly my playings days didn’t take me to the outfield much. I know plenty about the fundamentals of the outfield, [such as] footwork, release points, and that’s a lot of what it comes down to, really. I’ve always considered myself a good baserunner. I don’t foresee any real problems with any of those."
Brookens did presumably pick up a great deal of experience coaching outfield in the minors. Managers at that level need to be a jack of all trades. But is there any value in having a coach who can share insights about reading the ball off the bat or subtleties of positioning that come from years actually playing the position? I don’t know. I’m just asking the question.
None of this is meant to discredit Brookens in any way. That same article from Beck mentioned that Brookens is viewed as a great communicator. Because he has spent the last half decade in the Tigers system, he probably brings with him some valuable insight into many of the players who the Tigers will rely on over the next couple seasons.
As for whether or not this move signals Tigers are grooming Brookens to become the next Tigers manager, that remains to be seen. I think Leyland has pretty much total control over his coaching hires. I do agree the Tigers have been promoting him through the system with that possibility in mind, but I don’t know that this promotion changes it at all. What it may mean though is that Leyland is trying to position his successor.