Approach by hitting coach is blue-collar
NILES — Brand new Mahoning Valley Scrappers hitting coach Pete Lauritson spent 13 years coaching junior college baseball, and the Iowa native will bring his blue-collar approach to the Scrappers this season. In fact, despite one level being amateur and the other professional, Lauritson sees many similarities between JUCO ball and Class A minor league baseball.
“(In) junior college, if you think about it, you’re coaching somewhere where the players don’t really want to be,” Lauritson said. “It’s kind of an interesting thing. They want to get better so they can get out of there, so they can get drafted or play Division I baseball.
“Here at the lower (minor league) levels, it’s the development which is kind of the same stage. They’re here to get better and develop, but they really don’t want to be here. They have a chip on their shoulder, they want to advance, they want to move on.”
Minor league baseball, especially at the Class A short season level, is about developing players first and foremost. Lauritson will be tasked with building better hitters, including 2016 Cleveland Indians first- and second-round MLB Draft picks Will Benson and Nolan Jones, both of whom are still just teenagers.
For Lauritson, the process he wants to put his players through is not about pure statistics, but simply getting better everyday. “Our main thing is getting these guys to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and we’re going to use the data,” Lauritson said.
“My main thing (for them) is fall in love with the preparation. Especially at this lower level, don’t get caught up in being 3-for-3 or 0-for-10. Fall in love with the preparation. That’s gonna be my main job every day, making sure that we are in love with that process and how we go about that, instead of getting caught up in the results.”
Lauritson himself was a walk-on baseball player at the University of Iowa, before becoming the Hawkeyes’ student-manager. That’s when Lauritson really began falling in love with the idea of coaching, and it quickly turned into an opportunity at the junior college ranks with North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC).
For 13 seasons (2004-16), Lauritson was on the Trojans’ coaching staff, first joining as a hitting coach and then taking the role of offensive coach and recruiting coordinator for his final four years, before briefly returning to the Hawkeyes this past season.
His early teams led their conference in hitting four years in a row, and ranked in the top 10 nationally on three different occasions in the years that followed. He also coached or instructed 30 MLB draft picks, including four Major Leaguers — Dan Jennings (Miami Marlins), Ryan Goins (Toronto Blue Jays), Brandon Bantz (Washington Nationals) and James Jones (Seattle Mariners).
After many years at the college level, however, Lauritson wanted a new challenge.
“When the opportunity came up to coach at the highest level — and also, the way this organization views hitting — I thought it was the perfect opportunity just to try something new,” Lauritson said.
“When I made the transition to the University of Iowa, we were doing a lot of new advanced stuff with the HitTrax at our indoor facility. So we had all the newer data and we were doing a lot of different stuff training-wise with that. That’s how the conversation started with Alex Eckelman, one of the player development guys for the Indians.”
Through those conversations with Eckelman, which were just purely conversation at first, the two began picking each other’s brains. As the two began to realize that they had a lot in common, and as the Indians’ organization realized they wanted to implement Iowa’s baseball technology, it made perfect sense for the Indians to hire Lauritson.
Lauritson has gotten the chance to build relationships with this year’s crop of Scrappers down at spring training and extended spring training in Arizona. For the past two months, Lauritson and the rest of the Scrappers coaching staff have begun building trusting relationships with their new players. Lauritson himself believes that the training, and arugably, bonding, period, are crucial to a young minor leaguer’s success.
“That was really huge getting to know these guys early,” Lauritson said. “The improvements have been pretty drastic, quite honestly. To throw them into the wolves, just right into the fire of a full season — some of them are just not ready for that.
“Talent-wise, they’re there. But, the preparation side, the mental side, knowing how to go about it, to stick to their strengths, to face professional pitching — they’re not at that level. The extended spring training was a really big deal, almost like a fall period for a college team, where you can just get a couple months and get better.”
As long as Lauritson is around with the Scrappers, you’ll always know that the team is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.