James Rowson rolls out innovative batting drills to power up Yankees bats

Yankees' hitting coach James Rowson is with Anthony Rizzo in Tampa, Florida, on March 4, 2024.

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Even Aaron Judge, renowned for his relentless work ethic throughout his career and college days, is finding himself pushed by a new force: James Rowson, the Yankees’ hitting coach.

James Rowson has introduced a novel twist to batting practice. He splits the hitters into teams and throws challenging game situations at them. These scenarios could involve baserunners on second and third with one out and the infield drawn in. Each team gets five swings to execute the task successfully, creating a competitive atmosphere while replicating real-game pressure.

This innovative drill accomplishes two goals simultaneously. It fuels friendly competition among teammates, fostering camaraderie and pushing everyone to perform at their best. More importantly, it simulates the high-pressure situations the Yankees will face during the regular season, allowing them to refine their approach and make crucial adjustments before the games that matter most.

Judge remarked on how the practice sessions with James Rowson prompt them to mentally engage, ensuring they’re well-prepared for game scenarios. He mentioned on Thursday, “It helps us get accustomed to various game situations, so when we encounter them during actual games, it feels familiar because we’ve already practiced them numerous times.” He also emphasized his enjoyment of the competitive aspect of the drills.

Yankees prioritize situational hitting under James Rowson

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The Yankees’ focus on situational hitting has intensified under the leadership of new hitting coach James Rowson. Pre-game routines are being tweaked to emphasize this aspect of the game, an area where veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu anticipates increased scrutiny.

Last season, the Yankees’ offensive struggles were well-documented, with situational hitting being a glaring weakness. Under previous hitting coaches, Dillon Lawson and Sean Casey, the team’s performance with runners in scoring position was particularly abysmal. Their collective batting average in such situations was a meager .227, with an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of just .677. These numbers landed them near the bottom of the league in both categories, highlighting the need for a significant improvement.

The Yankees are desperate to rediscover their clutch-hitting mojo. They haven’t ranked among the top teams in batting with runners in scoring position since their explosive 2019 season. Back then, they led the entire league with a .294 average and a .890 OPS in those crucial situations, translating into a league-best 5.82 runs per game average.

New hitting coach James Rowson brings a promising track record in this area. During his stint with the Minnesota Twins from 2017 to 2019, his teams consistently excelled in clutch hitting. They ranked within the top ten in batting average with runners in scoring position for all three years, finishing 9th (.268), 3rd (.283), and 2nd (.292) respectively.

The Yankees are hoping that James Rowson’s expertise in crafting run-producing offenses can rub off on their hitters and rectify their struggles with runners on base. His past success suggests he has the tools to elevate the team’s performance in these high-pressure scenarios.

James Rowson highlighted that while the title may be “hitting coach,” the ultimate objective is to score runs. He emphasized that every aspect of their training and discussions, including situational hitting drills, revolves around advancing runners and bringing the team closer to scoring. James Rowson stressed the importance of always considering how they can generate runs, recognizing that some days runs may come easily while on other days they may be more challenging to attain. Therefore, he emphasized the necessity of seizing opportunities to score runs whenever they arise.

James Rowson ensures the Yankees are ready for those moments during batting practice. It serves as both an enjoyable activity and a method to prevent hitters from relying solely on instinctive swinging, he explained. James Rowson believes that the emphasis on situational-hitting rounds has diminished somewhat in recent years within the game. However, he still considers these rounds important.

James Rowson’s familiarity with Judge benefits Yankees

Aaron Judge is at a Yankees practice season in 2019 at Tampa.
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The Yankees’ enthusiasm for James Rowson extends beyond his coaching philosophy. His pre-existing connection with Aaron Judge from their days together in the Yankees’ minor league system is another contributing factor. This established rapport has translated smoothly into their current dynamic, fostering a sense of trust and open communication that can prove invaluable for player development.

Judge expressed his excitement about having him return to the team, stating that he was quite thrilled to have an individual with a knack for motivating players and maintaining high energy levels.

The Yankees captain isn’t the only one impressed with new hitting coach James Rowson. Judge particularly appreciates the hitting coach’s ability to tailor his approach to each hitter. He readily communicates with them and offers insightful swing analyses upon request, ensuring personalized attention that addresses each player’s specific needs.

DJ LeMahieu, who had the opportunity to work with James Rowson during offseason training sessions, echoed this sentiment. He emphasizes Rowson’s commitment to maximizing each player’s potential, ensuring they have the tools and guidance necessary to thrive.

Manager Aaron Boone chimed in, commending James Rowson’s ability to build strong bonds with his players. He highlighted the coach’s talent for fostering open communication, actively listening to player feedback, and translating that input into effective strategies that can elevate the team’s overall performance. This collaborative approach is likely to resonate well with the Yankees and contribute to a successful season.

Boone described James Rowson as a valuable team member, emphasizing his ability to foster unity within the team. Additionally, the manager noted his patience and adeptness in understanding and communicating with players, which reflects his experience in the role.

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