‘They all want to be better, man’ – Boston Herald

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Marcus Thames has worked with some of the best players in baseball, including Aaron Judge, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.

“Sometimes people think the top athletes on each team don’t want to get better,” Thames said during a video conference call last week. “But those guys, they want to be coached, and it was fun. It was fun to be around them and being an extra set of eyes for those guys and making sure I gave them everything that they needed.

“Guys all across the league, they all talk. And they all want to be better, man.”

The Chicago White Sox are in vital need of offensive improvement. And Thames will look to do his part after being named the team’s hitting coach on Nov. 7.

“The endorsements for Marcus Thames were impressive,” Sox general manager Chris Getz said at the MLB general managers meetings last week. “Whether it be players I spoke to, coaches that worked with Marcus, just glowing.”

Thames, 47, comes to the Sox after spending the 2023 season as the Los Angeles Angels hitting coach.

“I love the vision they’re trying to do,” Thames said of the Sox. “They’re trying to reshape the team. I heard (Getz’s) interview and he’s trying to make some moves to make the team a little more athletic and get some guys to put the ball in play a little bit more. And I like that vision.

“The game has come to a point where situational hitting has been a lost art until the postseason, and then you see teams trying to bunt and hit-and-run and stuff like that during the postseason. We’re going to start hitting that in spring training and we’re going to change our identity a little bit, and I like that vision of what they’re trying to get done.”

The Sox offense is led by 2023 Silver Slugger Award winner Luis Robert Jr. and also features first baseman Andrew Vaughn, third baseman Yoán Moncada, left fielder Andrew Benintendi and designated hitter/outfielder Eloy Jiménez (a Silver Slugger winner in 2020).

“I’ve seen those guys from across the other way in another dugout, but I’ve got to get to know these guys,” Thames said. “That’s my number one thing, that’s how I am. I’m a good listener first and then I’ll attack the obvious.”

In his one season with the Angels, the team ranked third in the American League in home runs (231), fifth in slugging percentage (.426) and seventh in OPS (.743) and walks (548).

The Sox tied for 11th in the AL with 171 home runs in 2023 and were 12th with a .384 slugging percentage. They were 14th in the AL in OPS (.675) and last in the majors with 377 walks.

“We certainly need to have more competitive at-bats,” Getz said. “You look at whether it be our ground-ball rate, our chase rate, we’ve got some work to do offensively and that’s certainly why we made a change, brought in Marcus and Mike (Tosar) now focusing more on the hitting (moving from major-league field coordinator to assistant hitting coach).

“It’s something that’s a focal point for us and it’s really putting together quality at-bats. It’s nothing profound. It’s understanding how pitchers are attacking you. Having a distinct plan to attack the pitcher that night.”

Thames was the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins in 2022 and for the New York Yankees from 2018-21. He was the assistant hitting coach for the Yankees in 2016-17.

“He’s coming in with a plan,” Sox manager Pedro Grifol said during a video conference call last week. “He knows our deficiencies, he knows our chase, he knows how I really want to improve the situational hitting aspect of our ballclub. He had a plan for that.

“We need to improve there. Plain and simple. I’m not saying, ‘Go out there and draw walks,’ but we need to take them when given to us and understand that there is a walk or two around every crooked number that’s put on the board. He had a plan for all of this. And he’s got a strong presence.”

Thames was one of five coaches the Sox added to the staff, along with first base/outfield coach Jason Bourgeois, catching coach Drew Butera, assistant pitching coach Matt Wise and major-league coach Grady Sizemore. Each played in the majors.

Thames appeared in 640 games during parts of 10 big-league seasons with the Yankees (2002, ’10), Texas Rangers (2003), Detroit Tigers (2005-09) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2011). He homered in his first career at-bat off future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson on June 10, 2002.

“I remember but I don’t like talking about it,” Thames said of that home run. “It’s for me and my kids and my family. Right now, it’s about those hitters that we bring into the locker room with the White Sox.”

His focus is on getting more out of a group that finished last in the majors with a .291 on-base percentage in 2023.

“I don’t think you are who you are. I think some guys can get better,” Thames said. “But if you look at some of those guys, they have four years, five years in the big leagues. Sometimes it takes three years to really get going.

“We’ve really got to educate these guys and make sure that they’re prepared before the game, and I think that’s going to be the huge difference. A lot of guys worry about their swing so much in this game now, they forget about the approach side of things, and I’m really heavy on being prepared and the approach side of the game and that’s going to help clean up some of it.

“You’re not going to change it drastically. But when we have guys that are swinging at pitches on the fringes, getting early outs, and you applaud them for not swinging at those pitches, it starts getting contagious. And that’s what we’re going to start building in that clubhouse.”

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