The Philadelphia Phillies coaching staff is set for the 2016 season, and we’re beginning a series here at TBOH to introduce each of them to fans.
Each season at TBOH we introduce fans to the Phillies coaching staff. Here in 2016, Ryan Gerstel and I will take a look at each of the 11 coaches on this year’s staff in a series that will run a couple of times every week all throughout spring training.
Today, I’ll be highlighting catching coach John McLaren, who begins his first season on that Phillies’ staff. McLaren was added just a couple of weeks after the end of the 2015 regular season. The 64-year-old brings 23 years of prior coaching experience in Major League Baseball.
McLaren was a player in the Houston Astros farm system from 1970-76, but never reached the big leagues. Following the completion of his playing career, McLaren bounced around within the Toronto Blue Jays farm system as manager of their rookie league Medicine Hat club (1978 and 1980), short season A-level Utica affiliate (1979), A-level Kinston affiliate (1981-1982), and their AA Knoxville affiliate (1983-1985).
Beginning in the 1986 season, McLaren finally reached the big leagues, serving as the Blue Jays third base coach, a position he would hold until 1990. From there, McLaren spent the 1991 and 1992 seasons coaching with the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds, respectively. He then moved on to the Seattle Mariners organization in 1993, where he worked for a decade on their coaching staff.
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When former Mariners manager Lou Piniella took over as Tampa Bay Devil Rays skipper in 2003, he brought McLaren with him and named him his bench coach. McLaren spent three seasons in the role of Piniella’s right-hand man, and then one as a scout in the Devil Rays organization before returning to the Mariners in 2007 as the club’s bench coach.
McLaren would assume the position as Seattle’s manager in mid-season 2007 following Mike Hargrove’s firing, and led the team to a 43-41 record the rest of the way, good for a second place finish in the American League West. He returned as the Mariners’ manager in 2008, but went 25-47 to start the season and on June 19th he was fired.
In 2010, Jim Riggleman, who took over for McLaren in wake of his firing in Seattle, named McLaren his bench coach with the Washington Nationals when Riggleman was given the reins to the Nats on a full-time basis following his success as an interim manager during the 2009 season.
Unable to successfully negotiate a contract extension, Riggleman abruptly left the Nationals on June 23rd, 2011. McLaren was named as the interim manager, and served for three games in that role before Washington hired Davey Johnson to be their permanent manager.
Before the Phillies hired him last October, McLaren had been a scout for the Oakland Athletics since 2012. In 2013, McLaren served as the manager for Team China’s entry in the World Baseball Classic. He had previously served as 3rd base coach for Team USA back at the first WBC in 2006.
The Phillies didn’t employ a catching coach at all last season, but McLaren’s experience could prove to be pivotal in the development of the organization’s young catching prospects.
At the major-league level, McLaren will be in charge of helping 27-year-old Cameron Rupp become more comfortable as the full-time starter at the position. Rupp will likely begin the 2016 season as the team’s starting backstop, as veteran Carlos Ruiz assumes more of a backup role in his final year after a decade holding down the position with the team.
While in spring training, McLaren will also get his first look at prospects Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro, both of whom have the chance to make their MLB debuts at some point in the coming 2016 season.
Rupp is one of the more advanced defensive catchers in the Phillies system. Both Knapp and Alfaro are each deficient in that area, but possess strong offensive games. The Phils hope that McLaren’s expertise will go a long way towards developing the two youngsters into more well-rounded players.