Braves tab Walker as new hitting coach
Fletcher also added to staff to assist hitters, scout opponents
ATLANTA -- Coming off a disappointing conclusion to this past season, the Braves are ready to move forward with Greg Walker as their new hitting coach -- and the belief that they no longer need to send an advance scout to Major League cities to prepare for upcoming games.
Along with hiring Walker as his new hitting coach Friday afternoon, Braves general manager Frank Wren revealed Scott Fletcher has been hired to serve in the new role of advance coach/assistant hitting coach. Fletcher will assist Walker and also serve as an on-site advance scout who will gather data via games viewed on television and the computer.
"The combination of the two, we believe, will give us a very dynamic coaching staff from the hitting perspective," Wren said.
This isn't the first time Walker and Fletcher have worked together. They have maintained a friendship since first playing together with the White Sox from 1983-85.
"I think the needs of these hitters -- with where we're at in baseball, you're going to need two guys," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm really excited to have Greg and Scott on board."
One week shy of the one-year anniversary of hiring Larry Parrish as his hitting coach, Wren introduced Walker as Atlanta's third hitting coach in a span of three years. Parrish was the only member of the coaching staff dismissed after the Braves won just nine of their final 27 games and lost the 8 1/2-game lead they owned in the National League Wild Card standings entering September.
Walker, a native of Douglas, Ga., was one of three candidates to have a formal interview. He spent the past 8 1/2 seasons as hitting coach with the White Sox.
"We were all impressed with Greg, not only with his experience and his knowledge of hitting, [but also the] record and reputation he has in the game," Wren said. "It was very apparent to us after that interview that he would be a good fit for us."
Walker drew great praise from White Sox veterans A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko during his long tenure in Chicago. But this past year, he was unable to get Adam Dunn going and also took exception to some things general manager Kenny Williams said about former University of Georgia standout Gordon Beckham. This led to a heated exchange between Walker and Williams in a tunnel at U.S. Cellular Field.
Long before Ozzie Guillen made the jump from Chicago to take over as the Marlins' new manager, Walker seemed to know his time with the White Sox was complete. He thought about not coaching in 2012 until he learned the Braves' job opened up after Parrish was dismissed two days after the end of the season.
While Walker grew up rooting for the Braves, the White Sox have been his family for most of his professional career. Walker played all but 14 games of his nine-year Major League career for the South Siders.
"I'm thrilled to be a part of the Atlanta Braves family," Walker said. "It's pretty humbling that the team you grew up with actually trusts you to work for them and do an important job like the hitting coach ... I'm thrilled to be on board. Being a part of the Braves organization has been a lifelong dream of mine."
Wren said the search for a hitting coach led the management team to look for candidates with recent Major League experience at the position, the ability to communicate and a philosophy that matched what they want their hitters to do in the future.
In other words, they were attempting to avoid some of the problems they encountered this past year. Parrish had never previously been a Major League hitting coach and he never seemed to grow comfortable enough to communicate with the players.
At the same time, the Braves seemingly went from one of the game's more disciplined clubs to one of its least disciplined. After leading the NL with a .339 on-base percentage in 2010, they ranked 14th this past year with a .308 mark.
"When we talked to Greg, we immediately knew he understood the swing and he understood the communication necessary," Wren said. "He understands how hard it is to hit a baseball. He understands exactly what Major League hitters need on a daily basis. We felt very comfortable from early on in our conversations that he could bring a philosophy we were comfortable with."
Parrish, who is expected be rehired by the Tigers organization in some capacity for the 2012 season, has told friends that he believes one of the primary reasons he was dismissed was the fact that he was unable to provide the Braves with confidence that he had a plan to fix Jason Heyward, who struggled mightily this past summer, batting .227 with a .708 OPS.
Wren and Gonzalez both said addressing Heyward's needs was viewed as a vital part of the interview process.
"Jason is a priority for us, but that was not the priority in hiring the hitting coach," Wren said. "The hiring of the hitting coach was more about getting somebody who is well-rounded and understood the swing and understood the mental aspects of hitting and could convey that to Major League hitters. We felt like if we got somebody with experience, Jason is somebody they could help."
As he prepares for his role as Walker's assistant, Fletcher already knows the Heyward family quite well. His son began playing youth baseball with Heyward around the age of 12.
Along with handling his advance scouting duties, Fletcher, who resides just outside of Atlanta in Peachtree City, Ga., will serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for Walker, who also worked with an assistant throughout his coaching tenure with the White Sox.
"One of my fears as a hitting coach is that I don't want to miss anything," Walker said. "It's just too important. We've got a lot of things at stake. Having another set of eyes is a big deal."
With Fletcher set to handle the advance scouting duties from the clubhouse, highly-respected advance scout Bob Johnson will move into a new role. Instead of focusing on upcoming opponents, he will key on certain organizations and the players within those organizations.
In the past, Braves advance scouts have often gathered data from an opponent based on one series. Using video, Fletcher is expected to gather his data while likely focusing on at least three of the most recent series played by an upcoming opponent.
"You can make more in-game, in-series adjustments, because the person who is intimately aware of what the other team is trying to do is in the clubhouse," Wren said. "When you've got an advance scout in the next city getting ready for the next series, he's not really seeing what is happening this series. I think you have a chance to have more information, and more timely information."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.