For the first time since an extra coach was allowed on major league teams in 2013, the Nationals will have two hitting coaches on one staff in 2016. Rick Schu returns as the Nationals hitting coach and will have help in the form of assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones, who spent 10 years in the majors as a lefty-hitting outfielder and has spent the past several years as a minor league hitting coach.
Jones, a San Diego native and Southern California alum hit .300 in two of his seven seasons with the Twins. In 2002, his best season as a major leaguer, Jones hit .300 with 27 home runs, 85 RBI and posted a .852 OPS while playing left field on a division-winning team. Jones spent two seasons with the Cubs, where he became close with new-Nationals Manager Dusty Baker. Jones retired after the 2008 season, finishing as a .277 career hitter with four 20-homer seasons.
Jones, now 40, said he considers Baker “like a father,” and interviewed with Schu for the assistant hitting coach position. Jones became the Class A hitting coach in the Padres minor leagues in 2012. He moved up through Class AA. By 2014, he moved up to the Class AAA hitting coach in El Paso. He resigned midway during the season and he said he spent the 2015 season away from coaching to be home with his kids. This offseason, he felt an itch to come back.
“I enjoy coaching, I enjoying teaching, I enjoy talking the game,” Jones said. “I enjoy being around it. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
Asked to describe his coaching philosophy, Jones offered a simple answer: “Get the ball out in front, man, and do damage.”
Beyond Baker and Chris Speier, Jones doesn’t know many of his fellow Nationals coaches but said he is “really excited and looking forward” to his new job. He has never been to Nationals Park and doesn’t know many of the players personally, simply what he has watched over the years from afar.
The Nationals have “lots of pitching, especially when they’re healthy, they’re really good,” Jones said. “And a lot of hitting. They were third in runs scored in the league last year. I’m just looking to come in and kinda see what I can see and help the guys where I can.”
Not just the stadium and players will be new for Jones but the job, too. Many teams across baseball have used two hitting coaches. The Nationals filled the seventh uniformed coaching position the past two years with Mark Weidemaier, the team’s defensive and advance-scouting coach. But a hitting coach is often so busy, they can become overwhelmed by working individually with players on their pregame routines, any issues with swings and in the batting cages.
“The hitting coach job is such a labor-intensive job,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said earlier this month. “It takes so much. The players are swinging more and more. Really, the assistant hitting coach is a guy you rarely see because he’s in the tunnel from the second inning really until the end of the game, preparing hitters to hit in the game.”