The Mets usually don't announce their new coaching staffs to close to the new season, but it's my educated guess that they are already looking around for a new batting coach in St. Lucie.
Benny Distefano coached at St. Lucie in 2012 after holding down the same spot in 2011 for the Savannah Sand Gnats. It only took one welcome luncheon in Savannah to see that he was already developing a special relationship with two of the future hitting starts of the organization, Cory Vaughn and Darrell Ceciliani. The two of them ate their lunch at the bar with Benny hovering behind them almost as friendly protector (don't get me wrong, Distefano is one of the nicest men you will ever meet in minor league baseball).
The problem is the attachment seems to develop into almost an obsession, where other players were coached and handled at a far less level that Vaughn and DC, but let's go back to Savannah for a minute.
Ceciliani developed a hamstring problem during spring training in 2011 that prevented him from playing in the home opener. Hamstrings, like groin problems, take a short time to almost heal 100% and a very long time to complete the process. And, the only person that can eventually diagnose whether or not it is fully healed would be the player himself. You'll know when you plant yourself in the batters box and take that first swing at a fast ball. You'll know.
Well, it took 1.5 seasons for the hammy to finally go away, mainly because Ceciliani kept managing to get Distefano to allow him back in the game. First, in Savannah and then, the following year, in St. Lucie. Was this the same injury left unattended to in the off-season? Did DC white lie his coach or did the coach rush back a favorite player?
In Vaughn's case, it's his swing, or lack of it. No one in baseball that has ever watched this kid carefully walks away in love with this incomplete way of trying to hit a baseball. Do 20+ baseballs go over the fence in fair territory every year? Yes, but does that same swing produce enough other hits to warrant a 3-4 slot in the lineup?
Reports are that Vaughn steadfastly defends his swing and will have no part of developing a new one, but is that his choice if you are being paid to play the game by a professional baseball team? No, it was DiStefano's job to get this done and he hasn't.
There's been increased rumblings throughout the season that this special bond has created a division between them and the other field players on the team. Let's face it, a lot of guys went in the wrong direction, hitting wise, in 2011, and they could have used the kind of one-on-two attention Vaughn and Ceciliani got every day pre-game from DiStefano.
Look for DiStefano to exit the Mets system, Ceciliani to be held back in St. Lucie, and Vaughn to move on to Binghamton. There will be no more troika in the batting case.
One also has to wonder about the fate of Savannah's pitching coach Frank Viola. The team could not compete hitting wise in 2012 and fell short of the playoffs, but they also led in just about every pitching category in the Sally League.
Yes, Viola had the talent there (some say he couldn't put his best pitchers in the rotation sometime because there were too many), but he obviously was a huge step ahead of anyone this organization has seen in years at this level and one has to make a case of him moving up with his "kids" which look to be the core of the rotation come 2015-2018.
(Yes, before we get too excited... we did feel these vibes many times before... remember the class that produced Mark Cohoon and Eric Beaulac?)
AA remains the test of all minor league pitchers and I would hope the Mets recognize that this is where Viola deserves to be someday.