— Mizzou Baseball (@MizzouBaseball) September 16, 2014
When Mizzou Baseball season starts up in February, fans will see some new faces on the coaching staff. Well, actually, that's not really so. Yes, there's a new hitting coach and a new pitching coach, but no actual new faces. So what are we to make of the Chinese fire drill (is that an insensitive thing to say these days?) running around the old MU Baseball jalopy?
Matt Hobbs: Gone to Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons announced last week that Matt Hobbs was jumping from Mizzou to Wake to be their pitching coach. Switching from a lower-tier SEC team to a mid-tier ACC team looks like a mostly lateral move for Hobbs. Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game reported that Wake Baseball "made a strong commitment to him". That probably means he has a multi-year contract with a nice paycheck.
That commitment had to look good for an up-and-coming pitching choice with a wife and child to support, considering the uncertainty that hangs over Mizzou in Tim Jamieson's final year on his contract.
I was dubious when Tim Jamieson hired the former Tiger pitcher to replace Tony Vitello, mostly because I remembered Hobbs as a bit of a flake when he was a pitcher. I've been pleasantly surprised, though. Given the difficulties of stepping in right when Mizzou headed into the meat grinder of the SEC, he has done a pretty good job with the pitching staff.
Henter Mense Hired as Full Time Hitting Coach
Not too many major college head coaches would lose a pitching coach and replace him with a hitting coach. Tim Jamieson has a history of hiring the coaches he wants, regardless of where they fit into the grand scheme. When pitching coach Sean McCann left Mizzou for Kansas State, Jamieson left a lot of fans scratching their heads when he promotoed graduate assistant Tony Vitello to the role of full-time Pitching Coach. Vitello was a middle infielder as a player, not the usual stepping stone to pitching coach.
Vitello did well as a recruiter and a motivator, and is credited by guys like Max Scherzer and Aaron Crow for playing a bit part in their success.
So, it's not too surprising that Jamieson would think outside the coaching box to hire Mense as a hitting coach after losing his pitching coach. Dan Pietroburgo served as the hitting coach last season as a graduate assistant. Coach Pietro has moved on from Mizzou and is working for an investment company in Illinois.
The other factor, of course, is that same unsettled situation for the whole team this season. With uncertainty on whether Tim Jamieson himself will be around after this season, it would have been difficult to find an outside candidate willing to come in for what could be a one-and-done year with the Tigers.
Hunter Mense was already part of the program, he's #MizzouMade, and, oh by the way, a pretty good hitting coach. He had an impressive career as an outfielder and hitter for the Tigers. He has the experience, having spent several years bouncing around every level of the minor leagues from Rookie ball to Triple-A and back down to the independent leagues. He's been working for the past few years toward a master's degree in sports psychology. And he's proven an ability to relate well to the players.
Plus, Hunter will no doubt be one of the most quotable coaches Mizzou Baseball has ever had on staff.
Coach Jamieson on Hunter Mense: We are really excited to add Hunter as a full time hitting coach. He is a dynamic, young coach.
— Mizzou Baseball (@MizzouBaseball) September 16, 2014
Tim Jamieson Assume Role of Pitching Coach
The remaining fulltime Assistant Coach on the staff is Kerrick Jackson, who has always been more of a recruiter and an all-around bench coach than a hitting coach. Jackson was actually a pitcher during his playing days, but wsa never considered a pitching coach at MU either. Tim Jamieson was a catcher during his prep and college days. He has always kept a strong hand in directing the pitching approach for MU. As the Mizzou press release says,
Coach Jamieson will now handle the pitchers, a role that has been a specialty for the Tiger skipper, who has mentored the likes of American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and other current Major Leaguers Aaron Crow (Royals), Kyle Gibson (Twins), Nick Tepesch (Rangers) and Matt Stites (Diamondbacks). Scherzer, Crow and Gibson were all first-round draft picks under Jamieson's tutelage. Crow was an All-Star pick for the Royals and Gibson has been one of the best pitchers for the Twins this season.
And here's where that uncertainty factor enters in again. IF the upcoming season doesn't herald a giant leap forward in the Tigers' competitiveness in the SEC, it seems unlikely that Tim Jamieson's contract will be renewed. In the event TJ has to go looking for a new job for the first time in decades, he'll want to have spent this year highlighting what has always been seen (by many) as his strong point: the development of what has become known as Pitcher U.
Some would argue that recruiters like Vitello and Jackson, as well as pitching coaches like McCann, Vitello, and Hobbs, were the driving force behind the production of major league pitchers.
Either way, it will help Jamieson's job hunting if he can highlight that success in interviews.
So, the deck has been shuffled. The fall practice season is ready to shift into high gear. It will be an interesting season to watch, both on the field and off. But, as always, I have to agree with this student's sentiment:
My favorite part of Mizzou is the baseball team
— Abbey Lind (@Abbey_Lind) September 15, 2014