Erik Pappas joined the Springfield Cardinals coaching staff as hitting coach in December of 2013. He succeeded Phillip Wellman, current manager of the Arkansas Travelers. Though Pappas is only at the midway point through his second season with Springfield, he is the longest-tenured as the only returning coach from the 2014 staff. Working his way up the coaching rungs of the system, the former St. Louis catcher began his Cardinals coaching career with the Class-A Peoria Chiefs in 2013.
So far this season, “Pappy” and his high-contact offense rank in the middle of the pack among eight Texas League teams in batting average with a .263 collective mark, just one point below the Midland Rockhounds (OAK) for third place. The offense also has the second fewest strikeouts of any Texas League team, just one punch out more than the San Antonio Missions (SD). In addition, they rank fourth in OPS.
Though two of Springfield’s offensive standouts are speedy leadoff hitter Charlie Tilson and strapping third baseman Patrick Wisdom - the latter who has reclaimed himself as a top prospect within the organization - I focused on several lesser-known regulars in the discussion that follows.
In the following exclusive interview, Pappas discusses the experiences he took away from his playing days to his coaching, his simplistic approach when opposing pitchers adjust to his hitters, advantages of working with another former big-league catcher in manager Dann Bilardello, along with individual impressions of some of his hitters.
I would like to thank Pappas for taking some time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.
Derek Shore: This is your second season as the hitting coach for Springfield. What do you take away from your big-league experience to your coaching?
Erik Pappas: “Not so much my big-league experience; all the years I’ve played in pro ball. I really have an idea as far as an approach for these guys (hitters), how to approach them as far as hitting, and I think that’s a combination of myself being a hitter and a catcher. I think I get a lot of insight on a catcher's point of view of what we look for.”
Derek Shore: What adjustments do you help your hitters make after pitchers adjust to them?
Erik Pappas: “It’s always about getting a good pitch to hit. I don’t try to think too much and put so much in their head, to be honest with you. It’s really about getting a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it.”
Derek Shore: What are the advantages of working alongside another big-league catcher (manager Dann Bilardello)?
Erik Pappas: “The best thing is we're both on the same page. When you’ve got a guy who has been through the ropes like you, usually everything will be on the same page. It’s not like being with somebody who’s never played the game, it’s hard to relate. He might not see things that I see and vice-versa.”
Pappas on Ohlman: “He’s obviously a big kid, got a great arm, great body on him, he’s shown he can be pretty valuable with the bat, and he’s getting better and better as far as back behind the dish.” More on his defense - “Every day he’s learned as far as calling the game. Dann and I are really on him about his pitch selection, his thought pattern as far as what to throw next, how to work hitters, how to get pitchers through seven innings, and he’s definitely getting better at that. As far as receiving, he’s starting to receive pitches better that we didn’t see, working a lot on this footwork and throwing. All-around, he’s a much better player than he was in April.”
On Diaz: Pappas mentioned the shortstop has scuffled for most of the season but is really starting to come on of late. Pappas says, “I think it is inexperience, coming from Cuba. They were a great team (Naranjas de Villa Clara, the Cuban team Diaz spent his first five years with as a pro), but I don’t think they played the caliber of teams that we see in the consistency of the players that he’s seeing. Last year was unfortunate that he got hurt because it would have been nice for him to have a complete year. This is really only his second year in pro ball at the Double-A level and I think he’s just learning that it’s a lot tougher than he had expected. He’s very up for learning, he’s very open-minded, and he’s getting better and better.”
On Rodriguez: I noted that Rodriguez has been fairly streaky at the plate this season and when he is hot, hits come in bunches. Pappas agreed. “Yeah, J-Rod’s a good hitter. Some guys have that DNA of being a good hitter and he’s always been a good hitter. A lot of it is just getting a better approach. I think once we get to his level, it’s more about a better approach.”
On Valera: “With Breyvic, it’s really about his approach. He’s got great hand-eye-coordination, and really has a knack of hitting the ball. Doesn’t strike out much. I think it’s gotten him in trouble when he sees the ball he just swings at it. He is going to have to be more selective at the plate. Once he does that, he’ll get back to his old form of hitting for a high average.”
On Gibson: “I don’t know much about Derek. I’m just going to let him play. He has only been here a week, and it will be unfair for me to judge him right now.”
On Caldwell: “I find Bruce to be a very gifted offensive player. I think he’s got a gift as far as his swing. I think he can hit for power, hit for average, and I’m really kind of intrigued by him to see how far that can take him.”
Derek Shore: Thanks for your time! Best of the luck the rest of the way.
Erik Pappas: “Alright. You're welcome and thank you!”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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