Update: The Cubs have officially announced the hiring of Anthony Iapoce as new hitting coach.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 15, 2018
Several names have been mentioned in connection to the Cubs’ recently-vacated hitting coach gig, but one has risen to the top of the list. Sorry, David Ross fans, your grandpa is not the guy. Though the momentum is coming primarily from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, there’s growing sentiment that Anthony Iapoce — not to be confused with Mike Iupati, Mike Iaconelli, or iocane powder — will return to the Cubs as their third hitting coach in as many seasons.
And if you believe Wikipedia, he’s already got the job. The all-knowing online encyclopedia currently lists the 45-year-old as “the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball.” Iapoce (pronounced “eye-uh-poh-see”) initially joined the Cubs in 2013 as a special assistant to the GM with emphasis on player development before leaving after the 2015 season to join the Rangers. Given his connection to the team and his recent work as a hitting coach, he’s certainly a qualified candidate.
The Cubs are still looking to take another step or two forward in the development of their young hitters, something that didn’t happen as hoped with Chili Davis. The prevailing thought has been that the team’s next choice would lean more toward a John Mallee (the hitting coach prior to Davis) style that favored mechanics and launch angle over a more approach-based philosophy. So what kind of a coach is Iapoce?
“His knowledge of the swing, approach and ability to communicate to all different types of people is really special.,” Mallee said of Iapoce when the Rangers hired him. “He will connect immediately with the players and staff and bring knowledge, energy and a passion to win. He will be greatly missed in Chicago. He is ready for this new chapter and should be a Ranger for years to come.”
Perhaps more so than Iapoce’s baseball knowledge, it’s the part about his ability to communicate and connect that should be of interest. It was clear from the displeasure expressed in their exit interviews that several Cubs players simply couldn’t get on the same page with Davis in his year with the club. All the knowledge in the world is no good if it can’t be translated to results.
I think of it as outscoring the other team, whether it’s outslugging them or getting on base, bunting, situational hitting, winning a game 1-0. It’s all about executing a run-scoring culture.
“Everybody wants to talk about hitting and approach,” Iapoce said when he joined Jeff Banister’s staff. “I think of it as outscoring the other team, whether it’s outslugging them or getting on base, bunting, situational hitting, winning a game 1-0. It’s all about executing a run-scoring culture.”
That should be music to Cubs fans’ ears all the way around, since the team could never really seem to find its identity last season. They couldn’t figure out when to slug and when to play situational baseball, at times appearing to be stuck in some sort of limbo. And that, among other things, is what led to 40 games of one or zero runs in 2018.
But just because Iapoce is the hot new name, don’t think of him as some sort of anti-Chili. His general philosophy actually hews close to what the ousted coach preached.
“Just grind out at-bats, team at-bats, pass the baton to the next guy,” told FOX Sports Southwest in August of this year. “Just continue to grind out two-strike at-bats. Guy’s on second base, we gotta find to get him over.”
Compare that to what Javy Baez said about a closed-door meeting between Davis and Cubs hitters back in late June after a funk that led to a four-game sweep at the hands of the Reds.
“But it was helpful, for sure,” Javy explained. “We were just talking about passing it to the next guy and taking our walks when we needed to. Simple stuff.”
Listen, this isn’t rocket science and it’s not brain surgery. It’s not even rocket surgery. What the Cubs are looking for is a guy who’s already somewhat familiar with the players, which Iapoce is from his time with the organization, and who can get even more so in short order. Even more, they need someone who can translate the science of hitting to immediate application.
They probably also want someone who’s going to act more as a sounding board and a mentor than a tinkerer. If Iapoce can come in and find a way to connect with each player on an individual level, he may be better able to help them in accordance with their specific needs. That’s a tall task, to be sure, and one the Cubs are hoping Iapoce can accomplish to a greater extent than his predecessors.
Rogers has been pretty steadfast in his promotion of Iapoce and, while you can’t believe everything you read online, that does appear where the Cubs are going. Don’t be surprised if there are more official reports here soon.