For the better part of the last two decades, Bobby Magallanes has coached or managed in many different facets of minor league baseball, as well as having coached with the World Team of the 2011 MLB Futures Game. Combined with his experience as a player, which includes being selected in two different years in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the Los Angeles native has spent the last 40 years in minor league baseball. Magallanes became the Gwinnett Stripers’ fourth hitting instructor since the franchise moved to Gwinnett County in 2009 this offseason, and he’s already had a major impact, judging from the results. The Stripers currently lead the International League in team batting average (.275), total hits (339), home runs (59) and OPS (.847) and is second in the league in runs scored (221) and RBIs (188) through their first 37 games. He recently spoke with staff writer David Friedlander about those results and the impact he’s had on them, his evolution as a coach and several other subjects
DF: I’ve talked to a number of the position players so far this season, and not only do all of them drop your name in the conversation, they just rave about the influence you’ve had on them. Obviously that has to make you happy, as well as the results they’ve had at the plate so far. How do you think you’ve been able to get through to them and have such a major impact so quickly?
BM: I think it all starts in relationships. You get to know the players and let them have ownership of their work. And really, it’s partnering up with them. It’s making (hitting) their own style, making it their own drills that they want and what helps them. That’s the biggest thing, like I said, just establishing those relationships. They’ve put in the work. I’m more of a resource for them. I’ll do whatever I can to help them out and to get them in a good spot where they feel good (about) what they can do with their talents and their strengths.
DF: Take us back to when you made the transition from playing to coaching. What do you think you’ve brought most from one to the other?
BM: Obviously, you get a lot of experience by playing. Really through all my struggles as well, what I tried to figure out and things I wish I would’ve learned back then or someone would’ve told me back then, I kind of try to bring that to my coaching to these players. ‘If I would’ve learned this back then,’ or ‘If someone would’ve taken the time to explain this to me, it would’ve made a big difference.’ That’s probably where playing experience comes in. We’ve actually been there and done that. We’ve been in those situations and we can impart that experience.
DF: Not to belabor this point much, but looking at your career playing stats, let’s just say it was a rough experience. Then again, some of the best coaches or managers have had playing careers in which they didn’t have much success. Do you think there’s something to that theory?
BM: You know what? I was that guy that struggled. It took me years to mature mentally and kind of got to know myself as a hitter and what I could do and my strengths. As I went and played in Mexico, that’s really when it clicked for me. … A lot of stuff was mental. A lot of stuff was putting pressure on myself and worrying. If it’s something that I could go back and say, ‘OK, what’s one thing that you would do different?’ Probably the first thing is, I would’ve worried less. You worry so much about one at bat, one game, one series, and it just keeps snowballing — the worrying, the anxiety. When we look back, psychologists say something like 85 or 90 percent of what we worry about never comes to pass. So I would’ve worried less, and I try to tell the players that to try and keep them positive and keep them good mentally.
DF: Looking at your coaching career, you’ve done a little bit of everything — from hitting instructor to bench coach to a lot of years managing at different minor league levels. How much do you think that much diversity has helped you in all of your areas of coaching?
BM: I’ve managed more, I think, than I’ve been a coach. … But in terms of helping me as a coach, it does help out. There’s so many areas as a manager that helps you with the whole entire sides of the team — the offense, pitching, baserunning, lineups, all that. But yeah, I think that experience has helped me as a hitting coach.
DF: One of the more interesting assignments you’ve, at least from the outside looking in, was your work with the World Team at the 2011 MLB Futures Game. While the United States team was really stack, so was your team. I saw (Houston Astros infielder and former American League MVP) Jose Altuve and other future stars like Yonder Alonso, Starling Marte and (Atlanta Braves pitchers) Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino on that team. So you got to work with some guys who went on to big-time major league careers. How cool was that, and do you feel like you picked up something working with such talent?
BM: Yeah, that was a great, great experience. To be with those players and not only that, to coach with a really good coaching staff that to this day, I still say in touch with some of them, It was fun. To watch Altuve, yeah, he was a good one because just watching that game, he went off for us, but I didn’t really see a lot of power, and now I see he’s hitting for power. It’s interesting to see how it develops later (in some players). Again, to see those guys at that age and to see them now years later, it’s like, ‘OK, they do develop that.’
DF: Altuve is also proof that you don’t necessarily have to be 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds to be able to hit for power, since he’s kind of a small guy.
BM: Yeah, it’s all the body parts working together. It’s knowing how to maximize your strengths — whatever it is you can do as a hitter and applying it.
DF: Fast-forwarding to now, you’ve got to love the results this year’s team has responded to what you’re teaching them. You’re leading the IL in a number of different categories and are second in a couple others. Are there one or two guys you think you’ve particularly gotten through to in your time her so far?
BM: You know, I think they’ve all made strides. When you look at these guys, it’s like, ‘Man, they’ve improved so much.’ What (third baseman Austin) Riley is doing in his last 13 or 14 games, … that’s impressive. Very few times in my career have I seen a two-week stretch have I seen what he’s done. So he comes to mind because of that. But they’ve all improved, every single one of them. Their slugging percentage, their OPS, have been higher. They’re impacting the baseball, their exit velocities, that’s another thing our team has really done a good job of.
DF: Yeah, I was going to ask you about Riley, since he’s clearly raising the most eyebrows among the IL and even major league circles these days. When you look at him now compared to when you first laid eyes on him in spring training, can you really even measure how far he’s come?
BM: He’s maturing. That’s the thing. He’s staring to make those adjustments. He’s starting to recognize what pitchers are doing. What are they throwing for strikes? He’s starting to kind of increase his zone and pitch recognition, which is important to hitting, and those are the strides I’m seeing with him right now because when you swing at strikes, obviously, the swing looks good. So he’s swinging at more strikes, which is making a big impact with him.
DF: Since you mentioned exit velocity, it kind of illustrates just how much analytics have really entrenched itself in baseball over the past decade or so. And since you’ve come of age as a coach during the rise of analytics, how much have they influenced what you do as a coach?
BM: Analytics is a tool — a huge tool for teaching hitting. I don’t think analytics is a coach. It’s a tool. So now, we can take all that to help the player. But when you look at that, exit veto has always been there. It’s just now they’re tracking it. Now there’s technology to track it and before, there wasn’t. So it’s always been there. … Now it’s tracking the miles per hour (off the bat), and you can have better results (if you hit the ball harder). So let’s practice hitting the ball harder. It’s not rocket science. Launch angle is another thing. Every swing has a launch angle. Every contact has a launch angle. It’s either going to be negative, even or positive. So I think that’s really blown out of proportion. You want to hit line drives, so if you hit it at this exit velo at a line drive going at that direction, you have a chance for a double or home run. So it’s not really complicated.