Van Burkleo Will Preach Patience to Free-Swinging Tribe
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the coaches selected to be a part of Manager Terry Francona’s staff.
By Ronnie Tellalian
Ty Van Burkleo was hired this year as the new hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians. As a player he displayed patience and discipline as well as a strong work ethic. As a coach, he has thrived using that same set of skills. The Tribe hopes Van Burkleo will bring his experience and knowledge to the young roster of the Cleveland Indians.
At the ripe old age of 18, Van Burkleo began his professional career with the Milwaukie Brewers organization. In his first season he appeared in 129 games for the Single-A Beloit Brewers. He hit 22 home runs and batted .240. Something that set him apart in that first season was his patience at the plate. He showed an incredible batting eye and discipline with a .364 on-base percentage and a 15% walk rate.
He toiled at the Single-A level for four more years, from 1983-1986, moving from the Brewers organization to the Angels. In 1985, he batted .276 with a 12% walk rate and in 1986 he again hit 22 home runs with a 16% walk rate. He finally moved up to Double-A in 1987 and batted .328 with 12 home runs and an 11% walk rate. He showed incredible consistency with his discipline at the plate during those first five and a half seasons.
Midway through the 1987 campaign Van Burkleo, along with his wife, Chris, packed their bags for the Far East. The Seibu Lions eyed Van Burkleo for more than a year before finally plucking him from the California Angels’ minor league system. He became the first minor league player signed by a Japanese team that had the specific intention of developing him in its minor league system so he could learn the Japanese way to play baseball.
Van Burkleo flourished with the Seibu Lions. He quickly gained the respect of his manager Masaaki Mori.
“He’s made a very good adjustment to Japanese baseball and Japanese life. His attitude is very acceptable, different from other American players in Japan. He’s open-minded and always listening,” Mori said. “He’s the first American I have seen who writes notes about how he was pitched. That shows his attitude to work hard and be involved.”
His hard work and dedication paid off in 1988. Van Burkleo hit 38 home runs, drove in 90 RBI, and helped lead the Lions to the Japanese World Series Title. At age 24, he was the Lions’ Player of the Year. He would help the Lions to another League Title in 1990 as well.
In 1992, he returned to the USA to resume his play with the Angels. He played the entire season with the Edmonton Trappers, the Angels Triple-A affiliate. He finished third in the Pacific Coast League with 19 home runs, stole 20 bases and batted .273/.379/.489. He hit 21 home runs in 1994 with Colorado Springs. He played in only 14 major league games, but the career minor leaguer enjoyed a good deal of success at the Triple A level. In 444 career games, he hit .275/.376/.476 with 60 home runs and a 14% walk rate.
He began his coaching career in 1996. The Angels were not looking for a full time coach so they made Van Burkleo a player-coach for their Single-A team in Lake Elsinore. In 61 games as a player, he batted .312/.466/.619 with 14 home runs. The team under his tutelage batted .274 and copied their coach’s patience at the plate with a team walk rate of 12%.
The patience and plate discipline would be a theme for teams coached by Van Burkleo. In 1997 he served as the hitting coach for Diamondback affiliate the High Desert Mavericks. The team batted .286/.366/.458 with an 11% walk rate.
He spent 2007-2008 as the hitting coach for the Oakland Athletics—including Nick Swisher—and served under Don Wakamatsu as hitting coach of the Mariners in 2009. Former Indians Russell Branyan hit a career high 31 home runs under Van Burkleo’s tutelage and Ichiro Suzuki hit his second highest batting average of his career at .352.
Van Burkleo brings a run producing approach to his teams. His travels through not only the minor leagues and Japan as a player, but his time spent as a coach as well, have instilled a great deal of experience in him. He was a hard working studier as a player and that same work ethic will follow him to the Indians organization.