Last week we introduced you to Rob Marcello Jr., Tacoma’s new pitching coach whose intense coaching style and overwhelming knowledge of the game has gotten him from coaching JV college ball for $5,000 a year to a Triple-A gig after only a few eventful years. This week, get inside the mind of the young pitching coach and learn about how Rob approaches analytics, a “juiced” baseball, launch angles and new wave technology that makes players at this level better than ever.
Rob Marcello Jr. joined a Seattle Mariners system in 2019 at a promising stage for the organization’s prospects. Hitters like J.P. Crawford, Shed Long, and Austin Nola raked in Tacoma and competed at the highest level. Their success trickled down to prospects including Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, whose stock shot into the stratosphere.
But what about the pitchers? There’s more than a handful of arms who the organization sees as key pieces to the future. Guys like Justin Dunn, Logan Gilbert and Justus Sheffield could be household names in the next five years. Marcello Jr. sees those up-and-coming hurlers as diamonds in the rough.
“I think they’re extremely under the radar,” Marcello Jr. said. “We have a staff that wasn’t built on a lot of high picks. Our scouting staff did a great job at evaluating players. Our pitchers are hungry to learn that new information that’s out there to get better.”
That new information Marcello Jr. references ranges from analytics on how to approach each hitter in an opposing lineup to technology that measures the spin rate on a pitcher’s fastball. The former Philadelphia Phillies prospect has a strong grasp on those facets of modern baseball, which is part of how the 29-year-old has earned a two-level jump from Advanced-A Modesto to Triple-A Tacoma for the 2020 campaign.
Marcello Jr. made his Minor League coaching debut in 2019, and did so as one of the youngest coaches in the organization, so the 29-year-old knows the promotion to Tacoma wasn’t handed to him.
“I can’t say enough about the staff in Modesto and guys like [Director of Player Development] Andy McKay,” Marcello Jr. said. “In the beginning, they were skeptics about me. I’m very intense; I want things done a certain way; and I want guys to be really good. I have high expectations and I think guys thrived off that.”
And thrive they did. In an eight-team California League, Modesto’s pitchers ranked second in ERA (3.68) and strikeouts (1,479). They also allowed the fewest home runs in the league (74), which is a challenge in today’s game as more players buy into launch angles and the baseball just flies a little bit different. The impassioned Marcello Jr. couldn’t be bothered by trends, inflated home run numbers, or talks of a “juiced” baseball.
“Let’s stop using it as a crutch,” Marcello Jr. said. “It’s a baseball. Everybody throws with it. Let’s learn how to use it, and let’s learn how to be effective with it. I think that’ll be the common voice from me. ‘Hey, everyone throws with this ball. It’s OK. The numbers might be a little inflated, but everyone has to throw with it.’”
Marcello Jr. doesn’t see the boosted home run numbers as justification to change his coaching style. In fact, after using the new baseball for a full season, he thinks Triple-A pitchers will go into 2020 with a healthier mindset.
“I think this year will be different,” Marcello Jr. said. “Going into it, pitchers know that stats will be like this. Now let’s go back to pitching instead of worrying about that.”
A short conversation with Rob is enough to confirm that he does have a straightforward, brutally honest approach to the game.
“Some players fought it,” Marcello Jr. said. “But they know I’m thinking about years down the road, not just right now. I’ll ask them, ‘What are you eating when you go home?’ or ‘What’s wrong today?’ ‘Is something wrong at home?’ [Modesto manager] Denny Hocking taught me a lot about that. I took bits and pieces from him and put it in my own coaching style and just said, ‘Let’s try things. Let’s be innovative and cutting edge to get guys to big leagues, not just be really good in High-A.’”
Pumped to be back with the @Mariners for the 2020 season. Headed up to @RainiersLand for the 2020 season. #Tickets pic.twitter.com/aabaPDHK62
— Rob Marcello Jr. (@RMarcelloJr) November 1, 2019
That no-holds-barred, confident coaching attitude is something McKay took notice of, and is a trait that Marcello Jr. will need in Triple-A. It’s a level that he never played at, and he’ll be coaching some guys who are older and have Major League service time on their résumé.
“Andy McKay called me and said, ‘We want you in Triple-A because we know that you’re going to do the job that we want you to do and you’re not going to sway away because these are Triple-A guys. You want guys to get better no matter where they are.’ That’s just something I need to stay course with. I don’t care who you are. You need to get better to win for Tacoma and the Mariners.”
It’s safe to say Marcello Jr. won’t take it easy on anyone, whether they’re a 22-year-old getting their first taste of Triple-A ball, or a 10-year MLB vet who’s fighting to stay in the game. With that demanding persona comes a yearning to see his guys be great; to see them fulfill lifelong dreams.
“I’m excited to tell a guy he’s going to pitch in the big leagues. I look forward to doing that.”
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About the Tacoma Rainiers
The Tacoma Rainiers, Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, will begin their 26th season, and the 61st season of professional baseball at historic Cheney Stadium, on Thursday, April 9. Tacoma has been a member of the Pacific Coast League since Cheney Stadium opened in 1960, and has been a Mariners affiliate since establishing the Rainiers moniker in 1995.
The most up-to-date news and notes about the Tacoma Rainiers and Cheney Stadium can be found at WeRTacoma.com, or by following the Rainiers on Twitter (@RainiersLand), Instagram (@tacomarainiers) and liking the team on Facebook.