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Sports >  Spokane Indians

Zach Osborne brings hands-on approach as Spokane Indians hitting coach

Aug. 11, 2021 Updated Wed., Aug. 11, 2021 at 8:59 p.m.

Spokane Indians hitting coach Zach Osborne isn’t much older than the players he coaches.

Osborne’s minor league playing career ended in 2016 with a 64-game stint with Double-A Hartford, so the 31-year-old knows what the Indians position players are going through.

“Hitting is hard,” he said. “I don’t forget that, and I try to keep these guys as positive as possible.”

His age helps him see eye-to-eye with his hitters.

“I think that’s a benefit,” he said. “Five years ago I was in their shoes playing, so I still remember what it’s like. You know, that grind every day, coming to the park when you’re not feeling great.

“It’s a mental grind that you have to go through.”

From the beginning

Like many players, Osborne’s career in the game started in Little League. Unlike most though, he got to play on the big stage in those early years.

In 2002, Osborne helped lead his Louisville, Kentucky, team – coached by his father Troy – to the Little League World Series championship game, where it beat Japan 1-0.

Osborne hit three home runs in the LLWS and struck out 11 while picking up the win as a pitcher in the U.S. final that put his team into the championship game.

“It’s a long time ago now, but yeah, back in 2002 we were just a bunch of kids from the neighborhood and we ended up being pretty good and making it to the World Series,” he said.

“It was an unbelievable experience. And luckily, we were able to win it. We went there to win, and that’s what we did.”

He still keeps up with his old teammates.

“I do, from time to time, when I’m back home,” he said. “There’s a local gym I used to go to and I think at one point, we were kind of huddled around talking and I stepped back and I counted like, there’s four or five guys from that team.

“I don’t get to see them very often with what I do, traveling a lot, but it’s definitely good to see those guys.”

After a solid career at Tennessee, where he hit .291 over two seasons, Osborne signed with the Colorado Rockies as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and played parts of five seasons with eight affiliates – including 44 games with then-short-season Tri-City.

After retiring as a player, he spent two years as hitting coach at rookie-level Grand Junction. He was scheduled to move up to Low-A Asheville in 2020, but the pandemic wiped out the season.

The high level of competition in college helped prepare Osborne for his coaching career.

“I think so,” he said. “The SEC is a high level of play and you see a lot of good talented guys come out of there. They move on to big leagues all the time. I definitely think it helped me when I got to pro ball. It definitely helps me in coaching now. It was a great experience.”

Intro to High-A

Osborne is in his first year at High-A with Spokane and he’s enjoying the new challenge

“Things are going great,” he said. “A little bit of adjustment early on in the season, but guys are doing well now. They continue to work hard and get better.”

Several hitters, notably Michael Toglia and Willie MacIver, have been promoted this season. Osborne takes that as a source of pride.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “As a coach , you want these guys to succeed and move on and ultimately make it to the big leagues. Our job is to try to help them get better and work with them every single day and when they succeed and move on, that’s a big win in our world.”

Isaac Collins didn’t start the season in Spokane, but he’s been one of the team’s best hitters since joining the club on June 1. He was named High-A West player of the week two weeks ago and his .319 average over 51 games leads the league.

“He’s doing a really good job,” Osborne said. “Every time he gets in the box, he’s competing. He had a couple games there where he struggled a little bit and then he came to me one day and he’s like, ‘I want to make the adjustment,’ and he did, and he’s been tearing it up ever since.”

Collins is a natural contact hitter, but Osborne said there’s a fine balance between natural skill and being coachable.

“Obviously, there’s drills and things we do in the cage,” he said. “A big thing for Isaac is he loves the fastball machine. He likes to do it right before he goes into the game, so being able to see that velo(city) just kind of gets his timing right and gets them ready to hit the baseball.”

Osborne is a big fan of outfielder Brenton Doyle, too.

“Brenton Doyle, he’s a special player,” Osborne said. “He can do a lot of things on the baseball field, and do them well. I think he’ll be special one day.”

Custom coaching

Some players rely on feel, others are more about their mechanics. Osborne tries to help each hitter with their particular strengths while encouraging them to explore other options.

“I try to find a balance,” he said. “I love being in the cage and grind with them, I guess. These guys are good group of guys to do it with. They work their butts off. It’s paying off right now.

“Especially during games, I try to talk more approach. A lot of times if we take our focus more external, the mechanics will come.

“These guys have unbelievable natural ability. When you’re stepping in the box and you’re thinking about where your hands are, or your how your lower half is moving or whatever it might be, a lot of times it’s gonna take away from their natural ability and that’s what we don’t want.”

In High-A, coaches and players take move advantage of scouting reports of the pitchers in the league, rather than just hunting fastballs.

“We get a lot of information nowadays on these guys,” he said. “Early on in the season, it was difficult to have that information because you know the COVID year has changed so much during the year that it was difficult.

“But now we’ve actually got a good amount of reps so we have some information on these guys.”

Osborne found during spring training that many hitters were fairly rusty from the time off last year and regaining timing was a challenge.

“We took so many swings, it felt like it was necessary because they were off all year,” he said. “Some guys had their own workouts and they were able to face some pitchers, but it wasn’t the same and they missed out on a full year of at-bats.

“That’s huge as a hitter. Those games early on, we struggled a little bit and just needed to make the adjustment and I think we have. They’re doing really well now and hopefully we’ll continue that going on.”

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