Despite the club announcing the hire of new skipper Tony La Russa nearly a week ago, the Chicago White Sox are still looking for a new pitching coach.
Last weekend I wrote about some internal options that include current bullpen/assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler and current Double-A and former Tony La Russa pitcher Richard Dotson as candidates, but some outside names are now emerging.
The first outside option that surfaced was Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter.
Fetter has held his current position in Ann Arbor for the last three seasons but has garnered interest from multiple MLB clubs. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants have all expressed an interest in him the past few years, according to The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen.
Fetter, a Michigan alum — like White Sox GM Rick Hahn — has been credited with revamping Michigan’s pitching program with the use of TrackMan, Rapsodo, Motus, and other pieces of cutting-edge pitching development technology.
After pitching for the Wolverines from 2005-2009, Fetter was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB Draft. Like many players that go on to be great coaches, scouts, and executives, Fetter’s playing career fizzled out after four years in the Padres system.
The Indianapolis, Indiana native took a job first as a pitching coach at the Double-A level in 2013 before working with the Los Angeles Angels as a minor league scout, to Ball State’s pitching coach, and then served as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league pitching coordinator in 2017 before taking his dream job at Michigan.
In Fetter’s first season in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines posted a 3.46 team ERA, which ranked third in the Big Ten and twenty-third in the country. Michigan pitchers allowed a Big Ten best 7.64 hits per game in 2018, good for twelfth best in the NCAA during Fetter’s first season. Four of Fetter’s Wolverine arms went on to the pros after that 2018 season.
In 2019 Fetter’s pitching staff led the Big Ten with a 3.46 ERA (10th in NCAA) and helped Michigan win a whopping 50 games on their way to a trip to the College World Series. Juniors Tommy Henry, Karl Kauffmann, and Jack Weisenberger were all drafted in the 2019 MLB Draft that summer.
Fetter’s Wolverines lost much of their 2020 campaign to the COVID-19 shutdown this past March, but junior starter Jeff Criswell was still drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft.
Here’s a look at Fetter’s Michigan pitchers to go pro since he took the job prior to the start of the 2018 season:
- Jeff Criswell (2020): Round 1 – NYY
- Benjamin Keizer (2020): UDFA – NYY
- Tommy Henry (2019): Round 2 – ARZ
- Karl Kauffmann (2019): Round 2 (Competitive Balance B) – COL
- Jack Weisenberger (2019): Round 20 – OAK
- William Tribucher (2018): Round 14 – COL
- Jayce Vancena (2018): Round 31 – DET
- Alec Rennard (2018): UDFA – PIT
- Troy Miller (2018): UDFA – TOR
In each of Fetter’s three seasons at Michigan the Wolverines’ pitching staff saw their numbers climb, their wins climb, and their draft choices climb in volume and in being selected higher in the draft. With Steven Hajjar (3-0, 2.70 ERA, 24 K, 20 IP) and Blake Beers (2-2, 3.13 ERA, 21 K, 23 IP) returning to Michigan for the 2021 season, Fetter could very well send two more pitching prospects into the pro ball ranks next summer.
Fetter has the Wolverines in a good place and has turned down multiple MLB jobs since returning to Ann Arbor three years ago, so while he’s quite the intriguing name to consider, prying him away from Michigan will be no easy feat for the White Sox.
The most recent name to surface this week is Ethan Katz.
Katz, unlike Fetter, is already working in Major League Baseball, currently as Gabe Kapler‘s assistant pitching coach in San Francisco. He’s got ties to the White Sox, however, by way of his former player at Harvard-Westlake High School, Lucas Giolito.
Katz was the pitching coach at Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, California back in the spring of 2012 when he had a future major-league trio of Giolito, Max Fried, and Jack Flaherty on his pitching staff.
Giolito (R1, P16 – WAS) and Fried (R1, P7 – SD) both went in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, and Flaherty did the same in 2014 when the Cardinals selected him 34th overall after his junior season at Harvard-Westlake.
After working with the trio of first-rounders at the prep level Katz took a job with the Los Angeles Angels in 2013, spending time with their Rookie and Class-A affiliates until the end of the 2015 season. Katz worked for the Mariners from 2016-18 and was named Coach of the Year in 2016 while serving as the pitching coach for the High-A Burlington Bees.
2020 was Katz’s first season on a major-league staff after he served as the Giants’ assistant minor league pitching coordinator in 2019.
Before White Sox ace Lucas Giolito was throwing no-hitters and staring Game 1’s in playoff series’, he was statistically one of the worst pitchers in Major League Baseball in 2018 before he turned to his old Harvard-Westlake pitching coach Ethan Katz for help.
Despite Giolito insisting that he never turned away from the White Sox and former pitching coach Don Cooper by working with Katz, Giolito credits Katz, his friendship, and continued tutelage with helping him turn into an All-Star in 2018 — and the bonafide ace we know him as now.
Giolito isn’t the only former pupil to credit Katz’s methods with some degree of his current major league success. Katz’s current boss, Gabe Kapler, reached out to one of his former pupils when considering Katz for his current job. Max Fried said that Katz, “opened my eyes into preparation and ‘what it takes.’”
Katz is a part of some pretty forward-thinking in San Francisco, where they have multiple pitching coaches contributing to Kapler’s staff. Brian Bannister and Andrew Bailey are both listed as pitching coaches, while Katz is the assistant pitching coach, and Craig Albernaz is the bullpen coach.
“I think it’s been really exciting to not just bring the information and ‘technology’ to the guys this year, but really customize the communication of the information in a way that resonates with each guy,” said Katz. “Otherwise we are using technology for the sake of technology, and with such a diverse group as you’ll find in baseball, it’s been great to focus on the players understanding their strengths and weaknesses and getting the most out of each guy. I also really love that everyone is getting the information and attention, as opposed to waiting to see who emerges and then focusing on them.”
We saw the Texas Rangers pivot in a similar direction last week, and White Sox analyst Steve Stone has spoken about the benefits of having multiple coaches working in one position as a way of the future with the rapidly evolving way that data is used within the dugout and on the field.
While both Fetter and Katz sound like the type of minds that White Sox fans would love to have to lead the glut of young talented arms in the organization, there are still a few hurdles in the way.
First, both Fetter and Katz have jobs as of today. While Michigan and the San Francisco Giants probably wouldn’t block the two budding stars in the pitching development game from taking a promotion elsewhere, we don’t even know that they’d want the job.
Fetter seems quite content in Michigan and Katz is working as an assistant pitching coach for the Giants on the west coast, a place he’s spent most of his life.
Then there’s the ever-worrisome fact that the White Sox can’t seem to get out of their own way when it comes to hires like these, further evidenced by the hiring of Tony La Russa last week.
Personally, I would be thrilled at the idea of either of these candidates coming into the fold here in Chicago. It would likely soften the sting of the manner in which Tony La Russa was hired, which has so many White Sox fans feeling betrayed by the organization as a whole.
Featured Photo: San Francisco Giants