Darnell Coles, 59, spent the past three seasons as the hitting coach for the Arizona D-backs, and before that the 14-year major league veteran, who was a teammate of Dave Martinez in 1992 with the Cincinnati Reds, and was a member of the World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, was the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers between 2015-18, after serving as the assistant hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers in 2014, in his first job in the big leagues.
Coles, who was introduced as the Nationals’ new hitting coach on Monday afternoon, spent four seasons in Washington’s organization between 2006-09, working as a, “[roving] hitting instructor (2006), [as the] manager of short-season Single-A Vermont (2007) and Single-A Hagerstown (2008), and hitting coach at Triple-A Syracuse (2009),” as the Nats noted in the press release on their latest hire.
Now he’s back in D.C. as Martinez’s second hitting coach, taking over after four years with Kevin Long in the role in the nation’s capital. Long signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies last week.
“We are very excited to add Darnell Coles as our hitting coach,” Martinez said in the press release. “We align on hitting philosophy, process, and focusing on the here and now. He’s not only an outstanding hitting coach, but a great baseball man. Darnell has a great rapport with both veterans and young players and brings a thorough understanding of the analytics that we would like to incorporate.”
How did he end up getting the job on Martinez’s staff?
“Well, I talked to him last week, and just the thought of — it’s an organization that I know, I was born and raised in that organization, worked my way up from the bottom,” Coles said, “managed in the minor leagues, was a roving hitting guy in the organization, so I knew the organization well, and obviously when you get an opportunity to come home, so to speak, it’s always nice, but me and Davey go way back. We played together in Cincinnati, we’ve always talked hitting, you know, when you’re sitting around you’re always talking hitting, trying to figure out what the best approach is off certain guys, and what their thought process is when they’re attacking you and your thought process is when you’re attacking them, so we’ve always been aligned in that way. We’ve always — for the most part during the winter, I mean, we see each other, we’d always talk, we played on different teams and all the other stuff, so you kind of share information, but I think that as we got older and started coaching, we’ve always wanted to figure out a way to kind of be with each other, kind of align things, and see how that would go, and luckily enough this is a great opportunity with a great organization coming off a world championship a couple years ago, it allows me to come in and see some of the best hitters and best players in the game.”
Coles said all the right things too, especially when it comes to Juan Soto, and working with the 22-year-old, who finished up his fourth big league season with a .313/.465/.534 line, 29 home runs, 20 doubles, 95 RBIs, 111 runs scored, and 163 wRC+ in 151 games and 654 plate appearances, over which he was worth 6.6 fWAR.
“I think with Juan Soto — what I’ve dug into there, is that nobody under any circumstances is to mess with his swing,” Coles said. “He is the epitome of what a great major league hitter is, he understands the strike zone, he pays attention to detail, he understands what they’re trying to do, he does his homework, he doesn’t let the moment get too big for him, he stays to the middle of the field. His best quality is that he can basically get a hit whenever he wants to, to the opposite field, which is tough to do. So, I think a lot of people in baseball understand the kind of player he is.”
Coles also crossed paths with Ryan Zimmerman, now 37, early in his pro career, after the Nationals picked him with their first first-round pick back in 2005, and the new coach for the Nats said he would try his best to get Zimmerman to come back for a 17th season in Washington.
“Watched Ryan Zimmerman when he just signed, and then obviously evolved into a world class player and world class person off the field,” Coles said, “so my hope is that I can talk him into coming back — I don’t know if that’s possible — but if that’s possible, believe me, that’s on the table, I will try with everything I have, because he is a huge part of this organization, from top-to-bottom, first-class guy, first-class family, he does so much off the field, his presence in the clubhouse is something that is immeasurable, so having him there would go a long way to reassuring that veteran presence that makes a lot of sense when it comes to evolving as a young team.”
And what is it about the Nationals’ skipper that made him want to work with the manager, who is, as he explained, a personal friend from back in both of their playing days?
“We lived a quarter of a mile from each for about 15 years, so we always saw each other, we always hung out for the most part, families hung out, kids were about the same age, so we’d go on family vacations and that sort of thing,” Coles said, “but I just think Davey is an ultra-positive person like I am. He wants the best for each individual player. He understands the ups and downs of games when guys are struggling, again, because he’s done it. He’s gone through the struggle, he understands it, and he knows that hitting is not easy, he knows that guys are throwing harder and guys are elevating, and now you’ve got the whole launch angle era going on, so he understands all that, but at the end of the day, he also wants us to understand that when we step in the batter’s box, one, we have a plan, two, we have an understanding of how you’re going to be pitched, and three, we want to make sure most importantly that you’re swinging at the right pitches and making good decisions, and I think that we’ve always been aligned in that aspect.
“I think that he’s going to allow me to put my stamp, so to speak, on the offense, and make the adjustments that are necessary, but he also is going to be involved, he wants to be involved. We’ll sit down a lot, talk hitting, what he sees as a different set of eyes, and all that, but at the end of the day, he’s allowing me to go out and do my job so that these guys know that any and everything that these players are going to want and need will be taken care of and I mean taken care of pronto.”
What does a team with Coles’ stamp on it look like? In their press release on the hiring, the Nationals highlighted the fact that in his first year with the Diamondbacks in 2019, the club, “... matched a club record with 220 home runs,” which was, “... an increase of 44 home runs from the previous season,” and, “that season, Arizona had six players with at least 25 home runs, tied for second-most in Major League Baseball.”
When Coles was, “the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers from 2015-18,” they added, “under his leadership, the Brewers recorded two of their top four single-season home run totals in their history.”
And with Detroit, in 2014, “the Tigers led Major League Baseball in batting average (.277) and ranked second in runs scored (757), on-base percentage (.331), slugging percentage (.426) and OPS (.757).”
“It’s let’s dominate the strike zone,” Coles said of his approach. “And how do we do that?
“That’s we’re controlling the strike zone so that we make good decisions, that’s game planning, understanding what the pitcher is trying to do so that now you can make adjustments in-game or pre-game, however we do it. Again, we’ve got to make them just based on how the game flow is, sharing information, and then lastly being situationally aware, understanding that the scoreboard is going to tell you everything you need to know, and you’ve got to understand, once you get guys out on the bases, we’ve got to figure out a way to get them in. We’ve got to get them on first, get them over, get them in, and but most importantly at the end of the game I look at the stat, the left on base. How many guys did we leave on base? If we left an enormous amount of guys on base, then that means that we’re not doing very well hitting with runners in scoring position, so we’ve got to clean that up and make sure that each and every run we score, preferably early, allows our pitcher to relax and go out and pitch.
“The consistency of our offense showing up every night is not going to be based on home runs, it’s going to be based on us going out and battling every night and not giving pitches away, not giving at-bats away, trusting in the guy next to you, so that if I don’t get the job done, he’ll get the job done.”