Rockies assistants both in first year of coaching in the minors
One toiled several years in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system until his shoulder said, “No more.”
The other knocked around the minor leagues for two big-league organizations, and after he shelved his bat as a player, a Colorado scout suggested he bring it back out — to coach.
Meet Ryan Kibler and Drew Saylor, the assistant coaches of the Grand Junction Rockies.
Grand Junction Rockies manager Tony Diaz is used to coaching players in their first year of professional baseball. It comes with the territory of the Rookie League.
Perhaps it’s fitting his assistants are in their first year of coaching in the minors. Regardless, it doesn’t faze Diaz.
“I don’t really put a lot of weight in first year,” Diaz said. “We all at one point had our first year, right?
“It boils down to communication and to have clear goals, what you want to accomplish, and stay consistent with those goals. Communication is huge and to know exactly what’s expected, it’s huge as well.
“I’m gonna do my best to make sure that we are on the same page and that we are always keeping the players as our best interest, which I think that will be the case.”
Pitching coach: Ryan kibler
Kibler was a second-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1999 and made it to Double-A ball before shoulder problems ended his playing career.
As a result of his time in the organization, he said, “I feel I know the Rockie way, the way to go about things, and I think it’s tried and true, and I believe in it.
“I’ve seen all the levels, seen Rookie ball level, seen the Double-A level, had the opportunity to go to spring training with the big-league team. It’s not my first go-around.”
Kibler’s return to Rookie League ball as a coach reunites him with Diaz, who was the hitting coach when Kibler went to Rookie ball as a player. Hence, Diaz knows what he’s getting.
“He can relate to anybody, regardless of where they’re from or what background they have,” Diaz said. “He brings a great work ethic and a lot of patience, which is required at this level. He’s got patience. The competitiveness that he’s got, I think that’s gonna rub off on our guys.
“A guy that can work hard, be competitive and be patient, I mean, there’s no reason for you not to have success when you have a pitching coach of that caliber.”
Kibler is clear, too, on what his primary job is as the pitching coach.
“At this level, I’m looking to get these guys to throw their fastball and getting them to throw their fastball down in the zone,” he said. “Be able to repeat that at will. And you do that by making sure they have correct mechanics, repeatable delivery to where they can throw that pitch, or that foundation, which is the fastball, middle of the plate, down in the zone. That’s the No. 1 priority at this level.”
Pitchers will be allowed to throw their curves and sliders, too, but it’s fastball first in Rookie ball.
“Yeah, they can throw all of their pitches and learn to pitch at the same time and when to use those pitches,” Kibler said. “But the fact that the fastball down in the strike zone makes their other pitches better is the reason we always keep reverting back to that fastball down in the strike zone.”
Hitting coach: Drew saylor
Saylor spent five years in the minors, and toward the end of that run, even as he was playing, he got involved in collegiate coaching, helping at Cleveland State University. He said he’d been at the University of Akron, which is near his hometown of Wadsworth, Ohio, for three months when the Grand Junction Rockies’ job materialized.
Saylor said he became friends with a scout who once tried to sign him to the Colorado Rockies, and the two remained in contact after Saylor bid adieu to playing. That led to him seeking the Grand Junction Rockies job.
Diaz says Saylor benefits from being the son of a coach. He grew up around baseball and loves the game.
“He brings a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, very optimistic, and a wealth of knowledge,” Diaz said.
Describing himself as hitter, Saylor, a right-hander, said he was “a gap-to-gap guy with occasional pop. I was a doubles guy.” But he also “had to handle the bat a little bit, know the small game.”
Saylor looks at the left-field corner at Suplizio Field, sees that 302 sign and knows one of his challenges will be to keep the right-handed hitters from taking constant aim.
“We try to stay in the middle of the field, just so we can get some good extension and obviously make some good solid contact with the ball,” Saylor said. “But, yeah, 302 does look pretty nice over there. I know as a hitter I’d be a little bit leaning towards that side.”
Diaz added, “Yeah, we want them to hit them that way (the 302 sign) by accident. That would be the best-case scenario.”
The middle and the gaps is where Saylor wants to get line drives falling.
“I definitely can tell there’s going to be a lot of triples, especially looking over in the left-center gap,” he said. “Right-center, not so much. But I think the balls that can go around there can rattle around the corner a little bit. So, I think it’s going to be a good ballpark to watch our guys run in. We’ve got some guys who can run on this club.”
Coaching the coaches
Diaz knows his main job is to groom professional baseball players, but he also expects to be a mentor to his new coaches.
“Just as a leader, you want to develop everybody,” he said. “Our main goal is to establish and develop winning Major League players. But with that being said, I was also mentored and developed by a great coach who I worked under for a few years. So, I look at that, and to me it’s my obligation to also make sure they grow as much as they possibly can as coaches.”
The mentor Diaz referenced was former Casper Ghosts manager P.J. Carey, whom Diaz worked under as the hitting coach.
“Again,” Diaz said, “tremendous mentor who not only taught the players but taught everybody involved — staff, scouts — and he did it with tremendous work ethic, passion, and by just being clear and letting you do your job without you feeling you have to look over your shoulder.”