Baseball America Q&A: Ricky Meinhold
This offseason, the Mets hired Ricky Meinhold as their new minor league pitching coordinator. Meinhold comes to the Mets from the Cardinals, where he served as a minor league coach, a pro scout and a pitching analyst from 2013-2019. He's also worked to develop pitchers for USA Baseball and was the pitching coach for Coker College in South Carolina.
Baseball America spoke with Meinhold recently about his background, philosophies and his early impressions of some of the pitchers he'll be working with in his new organization.
When you got the job, what’s the first thing you did to get acquainted with the system?
I wanted to reach out to the pitching coaches. Here’s the thing: There’s 100-plus pitchers in the minor leagues with us, so I need to create relationships with the guys that I’m going to be working with and that are going to be influencing these players, so I wanted to get their opinions on people before I really dove in a little bit. Granted, I could only get video looks and look over the data, but you can only do so much with that, so getting the one-on-one, "What’s this kid’s personality like? Is he pretty open to things," I wanted to learn my guys and learn our system and what our pitching coaches feel like they’re good at and what our pitching coaches feel like they could grow at.
At the end of the day, my job is to coach the coaches and they’re going to influence the players way more than I will, so I wanted to figure out where their headspace was first and then kind of build the systems around them. I can have all these bright ideas and I could have all these good systems and processes, but if we can’t connect with the players, it really doesn’t matter, so my biggest thing was reaching out to the pitching coaches and started that, then I reached out to almost every single pitcher in our system just to kind of let them know who I am and where I’m coming from.
I’m here to help them and serve them and get them to where they want to go. Obviously everybody wants to get to the big leagues, so we’re going to try our best to get that to happen the best we can. Obviously not everybody gets there, but if we can get them better daily, that was my goal. It was a huge sales pitch I was giving them. I felt bad every time I was talking to them. I was like, ‘I know this sounds really dumb and sales pitch-y,’ but that’s all I can do from afar right now, is promise that when we get to spring and we get going, you’ll see it from us daily that we’re practicing what we’re preaching and we’re going to serve you guys and try to help you every way we can … Those first few days of full camp we had before we all got booted out, I thought we made pretty good progress on those relationships with those kids.
What sense did the pitching coaches give you about the state of the system?
I feel like they had a pretty decent foundation on the analytical side but they were not confident in it, so I wanted to build that confidence in them. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t get this job because I’m fairly decent with analytics and tech. I mean, I'm a baseball guy first and foremost and I realized a long time ago that if I didn’t learn this stuff I was going to be pretty much useless. I never played in the big leagues and so I wanted to challenge myself, and that got me to where I’m at now.
I wanted to breed that in those guys by saying that I’m cut from the same cloth as they are, I just realized a lot earlier than they might have that this was important and something that we needed to focus on. I asked them their strengths, and their strengths were their connection with players, their willingness to work and their openness to grow. That was huge for me because you go in and you don’t know anybody and you’re just trying to fast-forward relationships really quickly. I just wanted them to be honest; I wasn’t going to judge them one way or the other if they weren’t first in analytical models or data or TrackMan data or tech, I was there to teach them.
That’s kind of the first part, and I think we’ve grown together so far in the short amount of time. If you asked, to a man, the pitching coaches, they’d say they’re constantly challenged and they’re constantly learning, which is something I want to be able to do on the daily with these guys to make them better, because I feel like if we become stagnant our players won’t get better and, and the end of day, we won’t get guys to the big leagues to help us win (the) World Series.
I asked for their honesty, and they gave it to me. I think I’ve been working to build on the things they want to build on and me as well, I don’t know everything. That’s one thing I told them, I didn’t want to come across like I’ve got it all figured out, because I definitely don’t. I’m continually learning and I learn from them just as well as they learn from me, I’m just trying to give them a better understanding of what I know that they might not know yet.
It’s been fun. We’ve had meetings on meetings on meetings and spring training just to help percolate conversation, just to get people curious, and that’s led to really deep discussions. I’m not a big official meeting guy, but at the same time I want to talk and discuss and I want people to tell me what’s on their mind. From how a player is challenging them to be better or how they’re challenging themselves to be better, so I just kind of opened the floodgate to being open to not knowing everything and being open to being vulnerable, and that’s brought about some really great discussions, which I think has helped them grow as pitching coaches, which in turn has influenced our players pretty well.
How do you convince all your pitchers that the philosophies you’re teaching are the way forward?
I think part of it is just letting them know that you’re human and that you don’t have it all figured out, but you’ve got a pretty good idea. Then you try to figure out where their headspace is, what’s their knowledge, where do they get it from, that kind of thing.
It’s interesting. I said it when I was with St. Louis and I say it now even more: You can say you know tech, you can say you have an understanding of data, but people interpret it differently. So you’ve got to get on the page that they’re on, and if they’re completely off-base, then you’ve got to tell them why you feel that’s the case and then go back and forth and learn from each other.
I’d be lying to you if I said a player has never taught me something. They teach me something every day, so it’s good to see where their headspace is on it and who they learn from and kind of see where that goes and then to just start a conversation.
I was told this last year from a guy in St. Louis and it’s so true: We have these guys for seven months or more and then they go to their facilities where they work out in the offseason and they have the tech and data there. There’s a pitching coach that I had in St. Louis who told me something that I’ll probably never forget that’s something that I lead discussions with, with guys who are not skeptical but unsure about what they can do in tech and data, and that is, “I don’t want to be on the mound and feel naked in front of these players. They know it, so I’ve got to know it.”
That just struck something with me. It was like, "Hey, we’ve got to humble ourselves and be vulnerable to know that we don’t know everything, and that the players might know more than us,” and that’s totally fine. If we can learn from each other, that’s going to be huge.
That’s going to be massive to our growth both individually and as a unit in our pitching department with the Mets. Players definitely play a huge role in teaching us and also play a huge role in challenging us to be our best and to learn new systems and to understand the tech at a different level. The buy-in is there.
I’ll tell you this: I haven’t had much kickback from it, like players being defiant toward it. They’re more open than even my generation of players. I’m not that old, but there are guys who grew up when I grew up that wouldn’t be open to it as much, but when you kind of show them the facts and show them that it’s just a tool, it’s not the end-all, be-all of what makes a pitcher, but it’s a tool to help explain what a pitcher can be a little bit deeper. If they come with that headspace and understand that, then we’re on to something, but the player buying in is paramount. If we don’t have that, then we’re screwed.
When you do get to show guys that data and maybe teach them something about themselves that they wouldn’t have otherwise known, how rewarding is that?
Huge. They’re curious. The thing with players is: They want to know this, they want to go talk to their buddies about this. We’re doing a system where we’re going to profile guys, and I printed off a presentation for the Spanish speakers and had it translated into Spanish so they could understand and I put it on the board in English for the rest of the guys, and they were super awesome.
I thought it was going to be a 15-minute PowerPoint … because it’s pretty quick and self-explanatory, but there were so many good questions and so much curiosity that it bred into like an hour and a half … That’s what I want. I want guys to be curious enough to ask questions and be open to not knowing or learning something new. Everybody knows how to throw a baseball, but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of the data and tech and how we can see things we haven’t seen in the past, that’s huge, so for them to be open to it and curious, that’s everything.
It’s been impactful to me, impactful to our coaches and impactful to our organization as a whole, because it’s not just the players and the coaches, there’s people throughout our front office in there supporting this and learning from us and we’re learning from them as well. So it’s pretty awesome.
Different organizations tend to have different mantras or slogans in their development departments … What’s yours?
We’re here to serve you. Wherever that may be, we’re going to serve you in whatever capacity you need. We obviously got hired for a reason and we’re going to give you our knowledge and expertise to a point, but we’re here to make every player just a little bit better. Whether that takes data and tech to help that player or just conversation and drill packages that can help them create a feel and understanding, we’re going to be there for them. We’re just trying to push the envelope forward to make sure every player knows that we’re there to serve them in any capacity they need and just be there for them. I think if we’re present and we have the knowledge and expertise that we have, I think we’ll impact players in a positive way.
There’s no cookie-cutter response to that. It’s individualized. We’re here to serve them and make sure that we can get them better daily.
Minor League Transactions
Minor league maneuvering for all 30 organizations for the period March 1 to April 1, 2020.
You’ve worn a lot of different hats in your career. Who are the people who have helped build you as an instructor?
There’s a lot of people. From when I played to when I first started with the Cardinals, the list is very long. There’s multiple, multiple, multiple people that I’ve learned from. I feel like I’m a pretty decent listener … but there’s been a lot of people who have been impactful to me. With the Cardinals specifically, I’d say Tim Leveque, Paul Davis, Cale Johnson, Randy Niemann, Jeff Ishii and Mike Juhl have been challenging me to be better. Matt Slater on the evaluation side, challenging me to trust what I see and understand that I see things a little bit differently.
And then Gary LaRocque, he gave me my first opportunity to be a coach in the Cardinals’ system with (John Mozeliak) and (Michael) Girsch being the ones who allowed it. And then the pitching coaches themselves: Jason Simontacchi—who’s now with the Royals—he was impactful to me; Jason Isringhausen, whether he realized it or not, I was listening when he was talking; and then Mark DeJohn, he’s not a pitching guy, but he taught me a lot about leadership and about serving players. The list is long—Chris Swauger, Joe Rigoli, John McMichen, too.
And then people in other organizations, I’m fortunately on the same team with a couple of them now, which is kind of ironic, but Jaymie Bane—a scout with the Mets who used to be with the Red Sox—he’s super impactful to me; Rick Williams with the Braves, he’s been super impactful to me, the list is extremely long. I’m just a person who likes to hear people’s opinions and then I filter through what is impactful to me. There’s a lot of people that I’ve crossed paths with that have challenged (me) both professionally and personally that I’m super grateful for.
My college coaches Byron Hagler, Mark Stratton, Scott Nasby, the list is extremely long and I don’t have the time in the day to tell you all of the people, because there’s been multiple, multiple, multiple layers of people who have helped me gain some sort of knowledge to be in the position I’m in.
Emily Wiebe with the Cardinals, she was impactful. There’s so many different layers of people who have been kind of hidden in the shadows who have been beneficial to me.
During that answer, you mentioned that you see things a little bit differently. Can you explain how you see things?
Yes and no. I never knew I saw things differently, but people have always told me, "Wow, there’s something about you that’s different," and I don’t know what that is, to be honest with you. I always asked my parents, "When you took me to games at a big league stadium, what did I do? Did I go chase foul balls or what?" and they said "No, you sat in your seat and watched the game," and there’s something to that.
I like to take in my surroundings and understand what’s going on. I don’t know how to explain it, to be honest with you. If I did, maybe I’d be able to teach it. I just try to pay attention. I listen a lot, and when I listen I hear it, and then I see things. I just try to put guys in the right spots and think about movements and bodies and how the body moves. I have a kinesiology background, K-matics is something that I’ve been educated on and I did in college and after college. I don’t know how to explain it, to be honest with you.
When you got to take a look at the system, who are some guys who stuck out to you?
I get to be around Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, those kind of guys, Jeurys Familia, Edwin Diaz. Then, shifting over to the minor league side, guys from Stephen Gonsalves to Matt Allan to Josh Wolf to Junior Santos, Jose Butto. The list is long. We’re fortunate to have some talent. It’s fun to be able to have conversations with those guys who can hopefully be the future of the Mets organization.
What do you see from guys like Matt Allan and Josh Wolf and Jose Butto?
Just true talent. They’ve got arm talent and they’re good kids. They’ve got good heads on their shoulders and they’re open and they challenge you. I think that’s the fun part—they’re not just OK with being good right now, they want to be great. The conversations we have to help them just get a little bit better every day, it’s fun.
Obviously in this hiatus we’re having text message exchanges and phone calls and all that stuff, and it’s just good that they’re asking thoughtful questions and they’re willing to ask questions and challenge me. I think the openness of them is the fun part, but they’re all super talented—they have X and Y pitches and their stuff and their mentality and the work ethic and all of that stuff is all-encompassing. They’re just fun to work with because they care and they want to be good and they want to be great. They don’t want to just get to the big leagues, they want to thrive, and that’s impactful. You don’t want guys who just want to get there—you want guys who want to get there, stay there and be great.
What about guys like Franklyn Kilome and Jordan Humphreys, how are they coming along?
They’re on the doorstep. Both coming off Tommy John and injuries that kind of put a delay in their growth, but those are great people. They got a lot of time in big league camp and were just sent down so I haven’t gotten much time with them on the minor league side. Kilome’s first side (session), I was paired to work with him and we’re just trying to get him better. I saw him when he was 18 (with the Phillies) and he was extremely talented. We’re just trying to maximize their potential and maximize their ability to attack hitters with their best stuff and try to have them think a little differently but also maximize what their bodies are allowing them to do. Both of those guys have had injuries and we’re trying to put them in position to be healthier and move better so they can not put their arm or their bodies in stressful situations. Those guys are definitely on the doorstep and I’m really excited to see their growth over the next year or whenever we get started. They’re both open to growing. They’re not satisfied with where they’ve been or where they’re at. They’re motivated, that’s for sure, and I’m excited to be a part of it with them.
Another guy who popped up last year is Kevin Smith. What does he do that makes him so effective?
He’s an old-fashioned guy. He just wants to attack hitters and get outs and that’s refreshing, to be honest with you. He’s got feel and understanding of how to get hitters out and he’s open. He’s another one of those guys who wants to get better and is not satisfied with where he is, and that’s super impactful for me because I can help him realize how good he can be and not just keep him saying, "Oh, I had a good first year, a good first full season, I’m satisfied." No, he wants to get to the big leagues and he wants to be great, so the ability to kind of foster that is something that I’m excited to work with him on. He’s a lefty who can get both lefthanded and righthanded hitters out and he’s got an older school-type of mentality, but he’s pretty good and I’m excited to see his maturation over the next year or so.