At 32, Peter Fatse will be younger than some of the players he will work with as assistant hitting coach of the Red Sox next season. He also will be in uniform for the first time since 2012 when he was playing for the Florence Freedom in the independent Frontier League.
It might seem like an unconventional path to a major league coaching staff. But the Red Sox are among the growing number of major league teams who are seeking coaches from the private sector or college baseball to fill roles once all but closed off to candidates from outside of pro ball.
It’s not who you know anymore. It’s about what you know and how well you can teach it.
Fatse spent nine years as a private hitting instructor, starting his own company and eventually earning the trust of players such as Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed. The Minnesota Twins hired Fatse as their minor league hitting coordinator last year and he quickly made a big impression on that organization.
That was enough for the Red Sox, who wanted to add a younger, more analytically inclined coach to the staff under hitting coach Tim Hyers.
“I wasn’t trying to get to a major league team. For me it was learning as much as I could,” Fatse said. “I took ownership of the path I was on and took in all the information that I could. The target was to dominate the space I was in.”
A native of Holyoke, Fatse played at Minnechaug Regional and the University of Connecticut before the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in 2009. He lasted two seasons before going to independent ball.
After his playing career ended, Fatse turned to teaching as a way to stay in the game.
Ahmed, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, cut down on his strikeout rate and improved his isolated power and adjusted OPS three seasons in a row working with Fatse.
That caught the attention of Twins farm director Jeremy Zoll, although Fatse didn’t know it at the time.
“The opportunity with the Twins came out of the blue,” he said.
But ultimately it was the same job.
“It’s player development. A coach is a teacher, it’s a dual definition,” Fatse said. “You need the communication skills and an emphasis on building relationships with people when you teach. I take pride in that.”
The Yankees took a similar route in hiring Matt Blake as pitching coach.
Blake grew up in New Hampshire and played at Holy Cross before coaching at Lincoln-Sudbury High and with Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League.
He worked as a private pitching instructor and with performance guru Eric Cressey, building a good reputation along the way.
The Indians hired Blake as a minor league coordinator four years ago, then he became assistant director of player development.
When the Yankees dropped 65-year-old Larry Rothschild as pitching coach after last season, they turned to a 33-year-old with no prior on-field professional experience.
“When I went into the marketplace I was looking for someone who was well-versed in the new-world order of technology,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Other teams feel the same way. The Twins hired Wes Johnson from the University of Arkansas as their pitching coach last winter.
Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson was at Vanderbilt before the Cubs hired him as a minor league coordinator.
Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter is on the radar of a number of major league teams.
Gender is not an issue, either. The Yankees hired 32-year-old Rachel Balkovec as a minor league hitting instructor. She is a former college softball player with a background in strength and conditioning and experience working with Driveline Baseball, the data-driven training center in Seattle.
The Cubs named Rachel Folden as the lead technician for their hitting lab and as a coach for their Arizona Rookie League team. She was hired the same day Balkovec was and also had a background in softball. Her experience is with analytics and biomechanics.
“Honestly, I think it should have happened a while ago,” Folden told the Chicago Tribune.
Folden, 32, was one of eight minor league coaches hired by the Cubs this offseason. Five came from the private sector or college programs.
“There used to be two separate paths, either college ball or pro ball. But that’s changing,” said Boston College coach Mike Gambino, a former Red Sox minor leaguer and coach who became a college coach in 2003.
“Technology is a big factor. Professional coaches used to fight against technology. But now teams are searching for talent on the development side to do whatever you need to do, and that’s increasingly with data.”
Most major conference college teams have high-speed cameras or tracking devices to measure pitch velocity, spin rate, exit velocity, horizontal and vertical break, launch angle, and other data points. That has created a generation of coaches with the skills major league organizations covet.
“College baseball is teaching and player development. We do that every day,” Gambino said. “Analytics are an important part of that and we try to be out in front of that. What we’re doing is comparable to the lower levels of the minor leagues.
“We’re not playing as many games. But when you look at the talent in a conference like the ACC, we’re working with similar levels of players and trying to accomplish the same things.”
UConn coach Jim Penders, who had five of his players in the majors last season, isn’t sure whether it’s a positive trend for the college game.
“I’ve noticed a sea change in the last year or two. But it’s a one-way street,” he said. “We’re losing some fantastic coaches.”
Penders, who has coached the Huskies for 16 seasons, believes the advances in analytics and technology play to the strengths of college coaches.
“We’re teachers at our level,” he said. “I’m not recruiting somebody who can’t hit even if he has a great exit velocity. But we know now to use the data in player development. It’s one thing to understand and another to be able to use it in developing a player.”
That the Red Sox hired Fatse didn’t come as a surprise to Penders.
“It’s a small pond of people who have those skills and that kind of personality,” he said. “They’re in demand.”
Fatse grew up in Hampden with a replica Fenway Park in his backyard for Wiffle ball games.
“My mother even let us put in a warning track,” he said.
Fatse has fond memories of the 2004 Red Sox, and second baseman Mark Bellhorn in particular because they played the same position.
“There’s no denying what it means to me to work for that organization,” he said. “I grew up going to Fenway. I’m extremely eager to get started.”
Fatse has talked to new chief baseball office Chaim Bloom and is getting to know manager Alex Cora.
“A.C. has been extremely welcoming. There’s a great level of communication,” Fatse said. “It reminds me of Minnesota, how close-knit everybody is.”
Fatse is reaching out to players and will soon travel to meet with several of them in person. He and Hyers will split up those duties.
“The players have been great. They’re interested in developing as hitters and taking advantage of what we can give them,” Fatse said. “I want to lay that foundation and build a relationship before spring training starts.
“It’s a learning curve, but I’ll dig in on the players now and when the season starts we’ll be ready to compete.”
That he’s never had a major league hit doesn’t matter.
“It never came up in Minnesota,” Fatse said. “Nobody asked me about that. You build up the relationships and do the work. It’s about being prepared every day with quality information for each player. That’s what is important to those guys.
“I’m here to help them and to listen and work to make them better. It’s a piece of the puzzle.”
Still long road for Pedroia
That Dustin Pedroia has not given up on playing again made news during the general managers meetings this past month.
But it’s not that simple. The most optimistic projection for Pedroia would be playing for the Sox in late May or June, several major league sources said. While his left knee is feeling stronger, the second baseman is a long way from major league-level intensity.
If Pedroia joins the Sox in spring training, it would not be with the idea of making the team out of camp.
The Sox lose nothing by letting Pedroia try. The $25 million remaining on his contract is guaranteed and can’t be converted in any way to keep from counting against the luxury tax.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ It seemed odd that Brian Johnson went unclaimed on waivers and the Red Sox outrighted him off the 40-man roster.
Johnson struggled last season but had a 4.20 ERA in 43 games over the 2017-18 seasons and was used in a variety of roles, including as a starter.
A versatile lefthander would seem to have value, and Johnson is healthy and into his offseason throwing program. Former first-round picks almost always get second chances.
One evaluator said Johnson being out of options limited his value as teams are prioritizing roster flexibility.
■ Monday is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players.
The Red Sox have eight players to make a call on and the only potential non-tender is backup catcher Sandy Leon, who is projected for a $2.8 million deal.
Leon had a .548 OPS last season and started 50 games behind the plate, his fewest since 2015. Leon’s defense is valued, but the Sox can likely find a cheaper alternative.
Leon hopes to get some at-bats this winter in the four-team Colombia Winter League. His in-laws are Colombian and he spends time there in the offseason.
The Venezuelan Winter League would be preferable, but Major League Baseball made the league off-limits to affiliated players because of the civil unrest there.
■ Ryan Westmoreland announced on Twitter that he would be a member of the UMass Dartmouth staff next season under coach Bob Prince.
Westmoreland, 29, was a top prospect with the Red Sox when his career ended in 2010 because of brain surgery.
■ J.D. Martinez had an interesting vacation. He went on a safari in Tanzania for two weeks with his parents, one of his sisters and her husband, and their three kids. The same group went to Thailand last year.
■ Matt Barnes donated $50,000 to the UConn for its new ballpark, which opens this spring, and the home bullpen will be named in his honor. Barnes played for the Huskies from 2009-11.
Pomeranz lands his megadeal
Drew Pomeranz was 2-6 with a 6.08 ERA and 1.77 WHIP for the Red Sox in 2018. It cost him millions of dollars in free agency.
The Giants signed Pomeranz for one year and $1.5 million. The lefthander was 2-9 with a 6.10 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 17 starts for San Francisco. He was sent to the bullpen on July 22, his career very much in trouble.
A little more than four months later, Pomeranz signed a four-year, $34 million deal with the San Diego Padres. It became official on Wednesday.
“A lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!!” Pomeranz wrote on Instagram.
Especially considering how it came together. After failing as a starter, Pomeranz made 29 relief appearances, four with the Giants and the rest for the Milwaukee Brewers after being traded at the deadline. He struck out 53 of the 116 batters he faced and allowed only 17 hits.
Pomeranz then pitched two perfect innings in the National League wild-card game against the Nationals.
Those 30⅔ innings of relief were enough to get Pomeranz a better deal than Joe Kelly landed with the Dodgers last season.
As a reliever, Pomeranz used only a fastball and curveball, dropping his sinker and cutter. His fastball velocity, 92-93 miles per hour as a starter, climbed to 95 in September and 96 in the playoff game.
“We’re banking that he’s found a role that really fits for him,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said.
Pomeranz was an All-Star for the Padres in 2016 before he was traded to the Red Sox for Anderson Espinoza, who has not pitched since 2016 because of injuries.
Success came at a cost for the Minnesota Twins. Along with Peter Fatse going to the Red Sox, bench coach Derek Shelton went to the Pirates as their manager. Hitting coach James Rowson is the bench coach of the Marlins. Assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner became pitching coach of the Mets and minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson went to the Yankees as the major league quality control coach . . . Even if he never plays again, Jacoby Ellsbury has a career major league record that may never be broken. Ellsbury has reached first base by catcher’s interference 31 times in his career. Pete Rose is second with 29. Rose had 15,890 plate appearances and Ellsbury 5,375. Josh Reddick is third all time with 18, tied with Dale Berra and Julian Javier. It seems like a quirk, but not really. Ellsbury has always tended to set up as far back as he could in the batter’s box to give himself a chance at a pitch with late movement. That often led to him talking an emergency swing and the catcher’s glove getting in the way. He had 10 of his catcher’s interferences with the Red Sox. No other player in team history had more than two . . . This is weird: The Dodgers will have two Sundays off this coming season, March 29 and July 12 . . . There were 11 openings for managers and general manager-level positions this offseason. The only minority hired was new Mets manager Carlos Beltran . . . Happy birthday to Red Sox lefthander Bobby Poyner. He’s 27. Herm Winningham is 58. The speedy center fielder was with the Sox in 1992 and played in 105 games for Butch Hobson. It was his final season in the majors. The last hit of his career was a single to drive in Tony Pena.