Hitting a round ball with a round bat is arguably the toughest task in all of sports, and there’s nothing easier than blaming a hitting coach when said task isn’t completed at a satisfactory level.
Unlike some fans, LSU coach Paul Mainieri won’t pin a down 2018 campaign on his first-year assistant.
Sean Ochinko will return as hitting coach this season and Micah Gibbs will remain the Director of Player Development, Mainieri announced at his annual summer press conference on Monday. It was “a big decision,” he said, but the coach opted to maintain the status quo on his staff heading into 2019.
“I think that Sean Ochinko has the capabilities of being a great hitting coach,” Mainieri said. “Not a good hitting coach, but a great hitting coach. His personality, his knowledge of the game and so forth.”
Ochinko, a former LSU player and undergrad assistant, assumed the role last January after Gibbs suffered a serious knee injury playing pickup basketball. Gibbs, who was the hitting coach the previous season, has thrived in his new analytics-based role, Mainieri added.
There was a learning curve for Ochinko in his first season on the job, Mainieri conceded, but felt it was largely due to the fact that he got a late start. He wasn’t in the program last fall and thus had to learn the new crop of hitters while adjusting to the job on the fly.
LSU doubled down on getting Ochinko up to speed this summer. First, he spent four weeks on the road recruiting and learning that side of the game from veteran assistant Nolan Cain.
LSU obtained a waiver from the Southeastern Conference to allow Ochinko to recruit while Mainieri coached Team USA. He’d already been certified for a temporary recruiting license, as Mainieri put it, so the staff outlined a road map for the four weeks and sent him off to work.
“He wasn’t in Baton Rouge hardly a day during those four weeks,” Mainieri said. “So not only did he stick by Nolan and go to Atlanta a couple of those weeks, but Nolan basically showed him the recruiting world out there. He also watched some of our incoming players play in their collegiate summer leagues.”
Second, Mainieri arranged for Ochinko to spend time with long-time Major League hitting coach Jeff Pentland, whose track record includes stops with the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners. Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
“This guy has an unbelievable knowledge of hitting and is a great hitting coach,” Mainieri said. “Sean spent a couple of days with him in Arizona and took video of all of our hitters. (Pentland) has a hitting academy, and he watched him do drills with a lot of youngsters out there.
“They talked hitting and analyzed our hitters, so he did a lot of stuff that I think is going to help his development as a hitting coach going into this year. I’d expect he’s going to have a much greater impact this year.”
It probably goes without saying that pitching coach Alan Dunn and Cain, fresh off signing the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, will return in there same roles this season. Same goes for operations director Nate Fury and video coordinator Jamie Tutko.
“I like the way our staff is working right now,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to give it a go and see if we can make some magic happen this year this way.”
There will be one new face on the staff, albeit a familiar one from the not-too-distant past. Former Tiger Jared Foster will serve as LSU’s undergraduate assistant this season, Mainieri announced. Leon Landry, who held the job last season, recently accepted a full-time assistant coaching gig at Southern.