The Tampa Bay Rays announced several changes to Manager Kevin Cash’s coaching staff Tuesday afternoon. Former third base coach — and former manager of the Triple-A Durham Bulls — Charlie Montoyo will take over the role of bench coach, replacing Tom Foley, who will transition to a new, unspecified position with the club. Assistant hitting coach Jamie Nelson will not return to his role as a Major League coach, and a new role for him within the organization is being explored. Finally, the biggest news of the day, the Rays and pitching coach Jim Hickey have decided to part ways after 11 seasons. Former Durham Bulls pitching coach Kyle Snyder has been promoted to Major League pitching coach in Hickey’s wake.
I am so grateful to Fo, Hick and Nelly for all of their contributions to our major league club. They are tremendous coaches and even better people, and they’ve had such positive impact throughout the Rays organization, said Cash. I’m glad that Fo and Nelly will have new opportunities to help the Rays, and I will always appreciate my time with Hick and wish him the best. At the same time, I’m excited for what Kyle will contribute to our staff, and for the wealth of experience that Charlie will bring to his new role.
This decision came as a shock to many fans, who believed that — in spite of the Rays third consecutive losing season under the tutelage of Cash — much of the coaching staff would remain unchanged going into the upcoming season.
With a year remaining on Hickey’s contract, it felt like foregone conclusion that he would return next season. Not only is he considered to be one of the best pitching coaches in baseball, but Hickey also has been with the team for over a decade. The decision was said to be mutual, and as Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) — who broke the story this afternoon — put it, the likely spin will be that both sides felt it was time for a change.
The team and Hickey had a difference of opinion on the direction the team was going, one that could not be resolved.
Going forward we probably had a little bit of a difference of opinion on the strategies employed to get the most out of our pitchers, Hickey told Topkin on Tuesday. I only had one year left on my contract and I wasn’t 100 percent on board with the direction, so we simply agreed to mutually part ways one year prior than we probably would have anyway.
If body language in the dugout speaks to anything, Cash and Hickey’s relationship appeared to be tense at best, and acrimonious at worst … although that is an matter of opinion, based on the few mid-game broadcast shots of the two of them together.
Hickey, 56, joined the organization in 2007, and led the Rays pitching staff to the playoffs four times in six years. He is known for his ability to resuscitate the career of veteran relievers — such as Fernando Rodney (who performed to a 0.60 ERA in 2012 under Hick’s watchful eye), Joaquin Benoit, Rafael Soriano, and most recently Sergio Romo to name a few — as well as his impressive work to help acclimate young pitchers to the big leagues.
Many of the Rays starters had nothing but complimentary words for Hickey:
Hickey is one of the most intellectual people I know. He’s also one of the best people persons I know. The combination of his ability to analyze and apply information, as well as communicate to his players is what causes him to enhance pitchers careers, young and old, said Chris Archer.
From him helping me prepare prior to every major-league start I’ve made to our wide ranging chats after practice, on the plane, over a meal, I’m going to miss many many things about Hickey and his influence on our organization.
Odorizzi made note of his appreciation for Hickey:
Hick was the best pitching coach I have ever been around. He helped me grow a lot as a pitcher over the time I was fortunate to work with him. So a lot of the pitcher I am today is because of him and the work he put in with me. … I know wherever he goes next that team will be getting a great leader to their pitching staff.
Free-agent Alex Cobb was effusive in his praise for the mutually ousted coach:
I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.
In a late afternoon conference call, Kevin Cash lauded Hickey, but also acknowledged that with the influx of young pitchers in the Rays system, he felt Snyder “could make a huge impact” on them.
Topkin reached out to the new pitching coach, Kyle Snyder, who said it’s been a whirlwind day but he’s extremely grateful and excited by the challenge. Snyder also called it “a daunting task” to replace Hickey, and he hopes to build on his success and philosophies.
As for the other moves, Cash said that Foley was “invaluable to the organization and instrumental to me as a manager,” however, he felt that Montoyo will be an asset with in-game decision-making as the bench coach .
The Rays PR Department wrote about all the moving pieces in a press release, which you can read below:
Foley will step into a new role in 2018-his 23rd season in the organization-and remain heavily engaged with the major league team. In doing so he concludes a 16-year tenure on the Rays major league coaching staff, the longest in franchise history. Foley served as bench coach for the last three seasons (2015-17) following 13 seasons (2002-14) as the third base coach. Only three other coaches in the majors have a longer tenure with their current team than Foley did: San Francisco’s Ron Wotus (since 1998) and Dave Righetti (since 2000), and Alfredo Griffin (since 2000) of the Los Angeles Angels.
Hickey served as the Rays pitching coach for 11 seasons (2007-17), more than half of the franchise’s existence. Only one American League pitching coach had been at his post as long: Chicago’s Don Cooper (since 2002). During Hickey’s tenure, the Rays led the AL with 127 shutouts (tied with the Angels), .247 opponents’ batting average and 1.28 WHIP, and ranked second with a 3.95 ERA and 13,988 strikeouts. Meanwhile, 96 percent of those games (1,709 of 1,783) were started by pitchers under the age of 30. The Rays have had at least one pitcher make the All-Star Team in each of the past eight seasons, and none of those eight pitchers had ever been an All-Star prior to working with Hickey.
Nelson spent the last five seasons (2013-17) as a major league coach. He began his professional coaching career in the Rays organization in 2000, and that time includes five seasons (2003-07) managing Rookie-level Princeton.
Montoyo, who turns 52 later this month, enters his 22nd season in the Rays organization. He becomes the ninth bench coach in club history, following Frank Howard (1998-99), Bill Russell (2000), Hal McRae (2001), Billy Hatcher (2001-02), John McLaren (2003-05), Bill Evers (2006-07), Dave Martinez (2008-14) and Foley (2015-17). He served the last three seasons as the Rays third base coach after 18 seasons managing Rays affiliates at every level in the minor league system. He compiled a 1,266-1,142 (.526) record as a minor league manager, including a 633-515 (.551) mark at Durham. In eight years (2007-14) as the manager at Durham, he guided the Bulls to seven International League South Division titles, a league-record six trips to the International League finals and two Governors’ Cup championships (2009 and 2013).
Montoyo played 10 seasons (1987-96) professionally as an infielder in the Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos and Philadelphia Phillies organizations, and spent 27 days in the majors with Montreal in 1993.
Snyder, 40, becomes the eighth pitching coach in franchise history, following Rick Williams (1998-2000), Bill Fischer (2000-01), Jackie Brown (2002), Chris Bosio (2003), Chuck Hernandez (2004-05), Mike Butcher (2006) and Hickey (2007-17). He began his coaching career in 2012 and has spent all six of those seasons in the Rays organization, the last three as the pitching coach for Durham. In 2017, the Bulls pitching staff set a minor league single-season record with 1,421 strikeouts. In three seasons under Snyder, Bulls pitchers combined for a 3.61 ERA. Prior to that, he served as minor league pitching coordinator in 2014, pitching coach for the Class-A Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2013 and pitching coach for Short-A Hudson Valley Renegades in 2012.
Snyder pitched parts of five seasons in the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals (2003, 2005-06) and Boston Red Sox (2006-08), appearing in 93 games with 29 starts. In 2007, his only full major league season, he compiled a 3.81 ERA over 46 relief appearances and was named to Boston’s World Series roster. He was originally drafted by the Rays in the 27th round of the 1996 June Draft out of Riverview High School in Sarasota, but did not sign. After pitching three seasons for the University of North Carolina, he was selected by Kansas City in the first round (seventh overall) in the 1999 June Draft.