Coats was primarily used as an outfielder early on in the Cubs' farm system, playing in 162 games there before making his debut at short in 2003. Critics are quick to point out Coats' defense as a liability, but the 29 errors at short last season and 36 overall were a slight drop-off compared to '03 at Lansing, and a sign of encouragement.
A native of Fort Benning, Ga., Coats says he came to spring camp early this year to get extra work in. Not surprisingly, the one area of his game that Coats is stressing the most improvement on is fielding.
"That's the top thing," Coats said, "I want to learn as much as I can about shortstop and the infield in general. I'm trying to be consistent with everything from fielding to throwing."
Coats also debuted at third base last year in 22 games. For him, the most noticeable difference was footwork.
"With the way the ball comes off the bat," Coats said, "I don't think you have as much time at third, and you have to stay lower to the ground; I think that was the thing I was overwhelmed with the most. At short, there are a few more things you can get away with."
As for the position he is currently being groomed at, "There's really not any particular one," said Coats. "They're working with me at second, short and third, so there's really no one specific area. I'm trying to get work in anywhere I can."
As for Coats' offense, the 18th-round 2000 draft pick posted a career-high .292 average last season in 418 at-bats. "The first couple of months of the season, I didn't really hit anywhere close to .300," said Coats. "I was frustrated, and I think I just had to get used to the pitching."
He admits it was a little more than he had expected going in.
"We were facing some good pitchers," said Coats. "Richie Zisk (Coats' hitting coach at Daytona) helped me out a lot with my hitting. He worked with me and things started coming around in July."
Through the first three months of the season, Coats was batting just .262, 15 points lower than his final 2003 average. He went on to hit .312 in July, and .370 in August. Coats would finish the year with a 10-game hitting streak, reaching base safely in his last 19 games before Daytona's season was cut short in early September by Hurricane Ivan.
"I just bounced back and got out of that little slump I was in early on," Coats said, adding, "One thing led to another and I ended up with a decent year. I told myself that if I could ever get out of that slump, I'd try to keep myself out of it."
His eight home runs were also up last season from just one the year before. Laughing, Coats says he really doesn't know what to attribute to it.
"There really wasn't anything different that I did," Coats said. "I guess becoming more disciplined and swinging at better pitches ... that's one of the main things you have to do and it's certainly what I did. I had a lot more games last year where I would be more patient at the plate and not swing at so many balls, so I'd have a better pitch to hit. In that scenario, you can hit the ball harder and further."
Coats says his offseason regime is slightly different than most minor leaguers, as he does part-time construction work with his family.
"Yeah, I have a job every offseason that I go home to," Coats said. "I do the construction work and exercise, run, and play a little basketball. When December rolls around, I start trying to get ready. At the first of the year, I'll take a few groundballs here or there and then pick up the bat and start hitting."
Coats hopes to begin the year at Double-A West Tenn. He enters his sixth year in the Cubs' farm system a .275 lifetime hitter in 441 games.