Meulens cherishes AFL coaching experience
Giants batting coach values time working with league's top prospects
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Anybody can coach mediocre players. It's harder to coach talented ones. Egos can clash, or stubbornness gets in the way.
This is partly why Giants batting coach Hensley Meulens always will appreciate his experience with the 2005 Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. As the Saguaros' hitting coach, Meulens dealt exclusively with top prospects, performers who despite their youth could absorb and apply what they learned at an accelerated level.
"It was kind of a breaking of the ice for me," said Meulens, who's in his fifth season with the Giants.
But Meulens didn't alter his style to fit a player's reputation or perceived status. Some of those Saguaros became above-average players; some became journeymen. Regardless of whom he tutored, Meulens maintained consistency.
"He seems like he knows what works for you," said Giants catcher Guillermo Quiroz, who played on that Peoria team. "He had the same theory he has right now about hitting -- staying inside the ball, trying to hit the ball middle-in away, trying to drive it into the gaps."
Of the 15 position players on that Peoria club, 12 reached the Major Leagues. One had even already received a September callup -- Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
"You could tell defensively and with the bat that he was very polished," Meulens said of the future National League All-Star.
Mets outfielder Chris Young, Indians outfielder David Murphy, A's first baseman Brandon Moss, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, Toronto first baseman Adam Lind and Cubs utilityman Ryan Roberts were among others Meulens coached with Peoria who proceeded to thrive in the Majors. The bond he established with them was enduring.
"It was a fun league, just to work with guys from different organizations," said Meulens, who then was a coach in the Pirates organization. "You stay in touch with the guys, have a relationship with them and every time you see them they come up and say 'Hi.' It's pretty cool. I think that's a pretty cool thing in baseball."
Meulens' pupils impressed him with their diligence, which probably explained why so many of them became Major Leaguers. The Saguaros compiled a .284 team batting average, which ranked fifth in the hitter-friendly six-team league. It also wasn't enough to overcome the pitching staff's 6.90 ERA. Though many of the players were highly touted, Meulens said, "Guys still worked hard, trying to make it. It's not like it was a prima donna type of thing."
Meulens diversified himself by multitasking. Manager Eddie Rodriguez had him serve as the Saguaros' third-base coach, a responsibility Meulens had held only once before, when he coached the Dutch team in the 2004 Olympic Games.
"It was an excellent experience," Meulens said of his AFL stint. "I'm happy that the Pirates chose to send me that year. I got to work with really good players who are still solid players in the big leagues."