The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders will have — at the very least — both a new manager and hitting coach when they take the field for the season opener on April 6.
With RailRiders manager Al Pedrique departing the organization to join the Oakland Athletics’ big-league staff earlier this offseason, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitting coach P.J. Pilittere will join the New York Yankees’ big-league staff as the assistant hitting coach alongside new hitting coach Marcus Thames.
Yankees radio color analyst Suzyn Waldman first reported the coaching staff shakeup during a radio spot on WFAN on Thursday.
The coaching changes haven’t been announced by the organization, yet.
“Obviously really excited for the opportunity and the challenge,” Pilittere said. “There’s so many people to thank and some many people to attribute to me getting the opportunity. First and foremost, it starts with me being blessed with a massive amount of talent when it comes to players that have come through the system that I’ve been privileged to work with.”
Pilittere spent one season with the RailRiders, leading the Yankees Triple-A affiliate to some of the top offensive marks in the International League. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre led the IL in batting average, home runs, RBI, runs scored and total bases in 2017.
He was also thought of rather highly in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre clubhouse.
RailRiders outfielder Mark Payton called him “the greatest of all-time” and Clint Frazier credits Pilittere in helping his swing during their short time together.
“I didn’t really stand on my legs a lot last year and I think that the two hamstring pulls in my right leg were to blame for me using my lower half as much as I could, so he’s really helped me build a firm foundation from the ground up,” Frazier said this past season.
This season marks Pilittere’s seventh year in coaching.
After being drafted by the Yankees in the 13th round in 2004, Pilittere went on to play in 470 minor league games in eight seasons with the organization before retiring after the 2011 season. He quickly entered the coaching ranks, joining Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees the next season.
Pilittere moved up to Single-A Charleston in 2013 as the team’s hitting coach, a title he has carried ever since. The former catcher and first baseman spent 2014 with High-A Tampa and the next two seasons with Double-A Trenton before joining the RailRiders in 2017.
Aside from being blessed with a deep and talented farm system during his time coaching the Yankees’ top minor league talent, Pilittere has always worked on having strong relationships with his players. And it shows.
“With him, it’s always a good conversation,” former RailRiders utility man Cito Culver added. “You tell him how you’re feeling. He throws some stuff at you. You take what you need, you don’t take what you don’t need and he’s not offended by anything you say to him. He doesn’t take offense to you questioning him, like ‘Why do you think?’ Or, ‘Why do I need to do this?’ It’s always an open conversation, so it makes it a lot easier.”
While Pilittere already has strong relationships with some of the Yankees’ top talent, like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird, he’ll focus a lot of his early efforts early on building relationships with some of the Yankees he hasn’t been around as much. Like Giancarlo Stanton.
“I’m still always thinking about the players,” Pilittere said. “I think about the great group of guys that played in Triple-A last year that have been added to the 40-man roster and guys that’ll definitely be getting their shot at some point in the big leagues. That’s going to make their transition so much easier, to have myself and Marcus — guys that are Yankees with deep roots and guys that have good relationships with these guys — it’s going to make for a really, really solid work environment.”
While Pilittere’s day-to-day duties won’t change all that much now that he’s in the majors, one element of his job does.
“The thing that doesn’t change is it’s still about players, and players still want to get better,” Pilittere said. “The good ones and the best ones and the ones on our roster want to get better until the day that the uniform is taken away from them, and I think that is what creates a championship atmosphere and I think that’s what we want to promote around the clubhouse. I know that’s what we want to promote — is always looking to do better and always doing what it takes to help the team.
“The only thing that I think that slightly might change a little bit is that it still is developing guys at the big-league level and getting the most out of our players, but that only thing that does change is at the end of the day it’s about getting the win a 7 o’clock. It’s, ‘What can we do to win ball games. What can we do to have a championship season in 2018?’”
Now that Pilittere knows what his future entails, he can start to settle in.
He was already in Tampa with new Yankees manager Aaron Boone and the rest of the coaching staff for a meet and great and some planning. Now back in Buffalo, Pilittere plans to head back down to Tampa in a week as he gets ready for spring training.
With lots of excitement and high expectations surrounding this Yankees team, Pilittere’s excited to get the ball rolling.
“It’s really exciting. It almost makes you want to pinch yourself a little bit. You’re in the big-leagues now,” Pilittere said. “I’m sure it’ll become a little bit more real once I get to Tampa and playing games and get the season kicked off. But once we start going, it’s still baseball and they’re still players. Regardless of accolades and how good they are, they’re still players and they still want to be coached.”
But that doesn’t mean he we’ll forget his Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roots either. Because he won’t.
“It was a great place to go to work every day,” Pilittere said. “A beautiful ballpark and a beautiful part of the world and I’m going to miss that for sure.”
The RailRiders haven’t announced their coaching staff for the upcoming season yet.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle