Earlier today, the Yankees General Manager, Brian Cashman and Senior Director of Player Development, Kevin Reese met with the media in announcing Rachel Balkovec as the manager of the Yankees Low-A affiliate, the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were previously led by former Yankee David Adams for the 2021 season.
Balkovec previously served as the hitting coach for the rookie-level Florida Complex League Yankees, where she helped the team not only win the North Division, but they led the league in runs scored (366), home runs (65), RBI (312), slugging percentage (.465) and OPS (.843). The FCL Yankees finished the 2021 season with a 36-16 record (.692) and a +92 run differential.
She will lead a Tarpons team that had similar success in 2021, winning the North Division and ended their season with a 73-43 record (.629) and a +220 run differential.
Newly promoted VP of Player Development Kevin Reese stated that David Adams is still with the Yankees, but was unable to disclose other coaching moves at the moment.
When I asked how easy it is in relating to the players given her knowledge of Spanish, she said:
“It’s been so smooth, both from developing relationships and… look, I think for the world this is new, but this is my tenth going on eleventh year of baseball, and you walk in, you turn on some dembow, turn up the music, show a little salsa moves and they forget that you’re a woman, you know. It’s like they’re… this gringa gets it. It’s really not as difficult anymore. And they’ve just really been extremely open to me, and I really have had, I hate to make it seem so simple, but I haven’t had any problems developing relationships with players I feel like.”
“As far as just implementing the system that the Yankees have and have had for a couple years now, I think that it’s been smooth because it’s testament to what they’ve built over the past few years there with Kevin Reese being at the helm of it and being extremely supportive of the coaches and the coordinators that we have in place, and then Dillon (Lawson) I feel like is a genius and he has made things so simple that you can’t even forget out slogan “Hit Strikes Hard”, so it’s almost too easy, maybe! So I think it’s been so smooth with him creating a true system that is very user friendly, easy to implement, easy for the players to understand, easy to communicate. So it’s been extremely smooth, and again, that’s probably that’s just top down, you know? It’s Kevin Reese, overseeing the minor league system and hiring the right people and those people hiring the right people, so it’s been really smooth.”
Speaking with some players that have worked alongside her in Tampa, they all have positive words on her work ethic and the patience she has with the players, which echoes what Cashman also mentioned during the press conference.
Andres Chaparro told me, “She helps you understand the why’s and how’s of things. She has the patience and charisma to work with, and I think that makes working with her fun. She was working with me on my swing and was one of the ones that motivated me and told me that I always have to keep improving, that it doesn’t matter of not the result but the process I had at the time, which was to improve my launch angle and make good decisions.”
Chaparro was invited to the Arizona Fall League this past fall, and posted a .267 batting average in 2021 along with an .849 OPS in 101 games between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley.
Anthony Garcia told me, “She is very good at explaining and being patience in the process. She likes to work on the difficult things to help make the game easier on the field.”
Garcia posted a .306 batting average in 2021 along with a 1.122 OPS in 39 games between rookie-level FCL and Low-A Tampa.
Aldenis Sanchez told me that he didn’t work with her too much, but that “She is professional in what she does and from what I could see is that she always looks for a way to help.”
Sanchez posted a .368 batting average in 2021 along with a .753 OPS in 28 games between rookie-level FCL and Low-A Tampa and was featured in a recent piece.