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Dodgers new hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc has had an unorthodox rise up the ranks

Dodgers new hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc has had an unorthodox rise up the ranks
Dodgers teammates congratulate Justin Turner during a sixth-inning rally in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

At a time when baseball’s decades-strong traditional thinking is constantly besieged and the unorthodox routinely becomes orthodox, Robert Van Scoyoc’s short path to Dodgers hitting coach — completed six days after Thanksgiving — defies convention.

Van Scoyoc went one for 10 at the plate his senior year at Hart High in Newhall in 2005, though he batted .314 his junior season, according to the school’s online archives. In a conference call with reporters on Friday, he said he played at Cuesta College in 2006 and 2007. His playing career ended there. He called it “very mediocre.”

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“It was very clear that any future I was going to have in baseball was as a coach or something else,” Van Scoyoc said.

His ascension in baseball began working alongside Craig Wallenbrock, who had been scouting and coaching for decades, out of a small warehouse in Santa Clarita. The duo tutored major leaguers during the offseasons. They emphasized lifting the ball in the air and getting the bat on plane in the hitting zone for as long as possible, concepts widely practiced in the majors today.

Van Scoyoc said their clientele expanded through word of mouth. After the 2013 season, it included J.D. Martinez, who immediately transformed from a player on his way out of the majors into one of the sport’s most feared sluggers.

In 2016, the Dodgers hired Van Scoyoc and Wallenbrock as consultants for the Dodgers. Two years later, Van Scoyoc joined the Arizona Diamondbacks as a “hitting strategist.” The role was broad. His duties included scouting, player development, and draft preparation. On Nov. 28, the 32-year-old Van Scoyoc was named the Dodgers’ hitting coach, replacing the 53-year-old Turner Ward, who played parts of 11 seasons in the majors. Van Scoyoc is the majors’ youngest hitting coach. He is confident his lack of experience, both coaching and playing, will not hinder him.

“At the end of the day, players want to be good and they don’t care if you had a playing career,” Van Scoyoc said. “All they care about is if you can help them be better.”

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, emphasized Van Scoyoc won’t work alone. The Dodgers also employ Brant Brown, whose title changed from assistant hitting coach to hitting strategist, and assistant hitting coach Aaron Bates for their hitting department. Friedman explained he spots an opportunity to counter the run-prevention advancements made across the sport in recent years — advancements that have led, among other noteworthy developments, to a record number of strikeouts — with the trio.

“Let’s think about this differently,” Friedman said. “Let’s ask different questions. Let’s be open-minded to ways we can possibly combat that. And I think between those three guys — their perspectives, experiences, ability to relate and connect to players and how their skill sets complement each other — I think it has a chance to be a really dynamic hitting environment.”

Friedman said how, exactly, the club plans to deploy the three is unclear. Bates will spend time working with minor leaguers, ensuring the team’s philosophy, language and process are uniform across the organization. And while Van Scoyoc is officially the team’s hitting coach, Friedman insisted there isn’t a hierarchy.

“Less of the ‘master coach’ dynamic,” Friedman said, “and more of a collaborative environment.”

The Dodgers are not a team in obvious need of a philosophic overhaul after finishing atop the National League in runs, home runs, and on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2018. They had seven players hit at least 21 home runs. Scoring runs wasn’t a problem. But they’re giving something different a try, starting with their hitting coach.

No replacement for Zaidi

Friedman said the Dodgers will not hire a general manager to replace Farhan Zaidi, who left the organization to become the San Francisco Giants’ president of baseball operations last month.

“This offseason has been too chaotic on a number of fronts to be able to slow the game enough to focus on that,” Friedman said. “We got a really talented group of people in the office and everybody’s kind of stepped up and done a little bit more.”

Friedman added the team will announce front-office structural changes imminently, but the general manager position will be addressed next offseason.

Nationals owner doesn’t expect Harper back

In a radio interview Friday morning, Washington Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner strongly indicated that Bryce Harper, considered the top free agent in baseball, will not re-sign with his club.

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“I don’t really expect him to come back at this point,” Lerner told 106.7 The Fan. “I think they’ve decided to move on.”

The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300-million contract before the end of the regular season. It would’ve been the largest free-agent deal in North American sports. Harper declined. Now it appears he’ll play elsewhere starting next season.

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