LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Rick Eckstein, the hitting coach for the Washington Nationals for five seasons and most recently the player information coach for the Los Angeles Angels, has been hired as Kentucky’s new assistant coach, it was announced on Monday.
Eckstein (pictured) joins the UK staff after serving as the player information coach for the Angels during the 2014 season. Eckstein previously spent 2009-13 as the hitting coach for the Washington Nationals. Eckstein has spent the last six seasons in Major League Baseball and has been in professional baseball since 2004 after a three-year stint as an assistant at Georgia.
“I am thrilled to join the staff at Kentucky,” Eckstein said. “Having had the opportunity to work with coach Henderson when I was a player and assistant at Florida, I was excited to rejoin his staff. I want to thank Mike Scioscia and everyone with the Angels for a wonderful opportunity to work with a first-class organization. The opportunity to return to the nation’s best collegiate baseball league, the Southeastern Conference, and work at such a well-respected program is very exciting and I can’t wait to get to work.”
UK head coach Gary Henderson and Eckstein reunite after spending three seasons together at the University of Florida, where Henderson coached and recruited Eckstein for the 1996 season before Rick joined the staff as the volunteer assistant for the 1997-98 teams. Florida posted a historic season in 1996 – Rick’s final season as an athlete – with Henderson serving as the pitching coach as the Gators advanced to the College World Series.
“We could not be more thrilled to bring Rick into the Kentucky baseball family,” Henderson said. “Rick is one of the most respected minds in baseball and his teaching skills and baseball knowledge will be a great asset to our program. Rick has experience at all levels of baseball and will bring a unique big-league experience to our student-athletes. I have had the pleasure of working with Rick as a player and colleague and know the kind of positive impact he will have on our program. With Rick joining Brad Bohannon and Keith Vorhoff on our staff, we will continue to have an outstanding coaching staff.”
Eckstein joined the Angels coaching staff for the 2014 season, with an official title of player information coach, also functioning as assistant hitting coach and an advanced scout. During his time with the Angels in 2014, Los Angeles has been positioned squarely in the American League Western Division title hunt. Eckstein has worked with Angels hitters that include former UK All-America outfielder Collin Cowgill, and stars Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton.
Before joining the Angels coaching staff, Eckstein served as the hitting coach for the Nationals for five seasons, from 2009-13. During his time with the Nationals, Eckstein helped direct the club to a first-place finish in the National League Eastern Division under manager Davey Johnson in 2012. During that 2012 season, Eckstein’s offense ranked among the NL’s top five in homers (194, second), slugging percentage (.428, third), doubles (301, third), OPS (.750, fourth), average (.261, fourth), hits (1468, fourth) and runs (731, fifth). Washington set a new franchise record with its 194 homers.
Individually, Eckstein’s impact on the Nationals could be seen in six Silver Slugger Award winners, including Adam LaRoche (2012), Ian Desmond (2012, 2013), Stephen Strasburg (2012) and Ryan Zimmerman (2009-10). In addition, Bryce Harper (2012-13) and Desmond were named to the NL All-Star teams, with Harper winning the NL Rookie of the Year. From 2009-12, Washington’s offense belted 497 homers, ranking fifth in the NL during that stretch.
Before joining the Nationals coaching staff in 2009, Eckstein spent the 2005-08 seasons in the minor leagues, while also serving a crucial role with USA Baseball. Eckstein served as an assistant coach for the Montreal Expos double-A team in 2004 and its extended spring, rookie league roster in 2005.
In 2006, Eckstein served as the bench, third base, hitting and infield coach for the Nationals triple-A affiliate, before serving as the St. Louis Cardinals triple-A hitting/infield coach in 2007. He was called up as the assistant hitting coach in September of 2007 with the Cardinals.
After his season in the Cardinals organization, Eckstein transitioned back to the Nationals, serving as the triple-A hitting, bench, third base, infield and outfield coach in 2008. He was called up to the Nationals big-league roster in September of 2008.
During the 2008 fall, Eckstein served as the hitting and infield coach for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League, before opening his five-year tenure with the Nationals as the MLB hitting coach for the club.
Among the honors during Eckstein’s last decade in professional baseball include serving as the NL bullpen catcher for the 2005 All-Star Game.
Eckstein’s most recent collegiate experience was as an assistant coach with the University of Georgia from 2002-03, serving as the hitting, third base and infield coach. Before joining the Bulldogs, Eckstein served as the minor league strength and conditioning coordinator for the Minnesota Twins in 2001, after spending four months as the bullpen catcher for the Twins during the 2000 season.
In 2000, Eckstein served as an assistant coach at Seminole Community College, where he played from 1991-94. He also functioned as the bullpen catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays double-A affiliate in 1999, in addition to serving as a high school teacher and assistant coach at Oviedo High School. He also served as the Oviedo men’s and women’s bowling coach in 1998-99.
Eckstein opened his college coaching career immediately after concluding his career at Florida, as the Gators volunteer assistant and first base coach during the 1997-98 seasons. Eckstein concluded his playing career with UF in 1996, earning a degree in sports management from the UF College of Health and Human Performance. The Gators had one of the finest seasons in their history in 1996, advancing to the College World Series and finishing third in the nation.
Before joining the Gators roster as a student-athlete, Eckstein played for Brewton-Parker College in 1995. He opened his collegiate playing career at Seminole Community College, taking a medical redshirt in 1991, before playing on the team in 1992-94. He graduated from Seminole High School in 1991.
Eckstein’s brother David had a 10-year MLB career after playing for Henderson at Florida, seeing time with the Angels, Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres. David won the 2006 World Series MVP after leading the Cardinals to the title. He finished his career as a two-time All-Star selection (2005-06) and a two-time World Series Champion (2002, 2006), totaling a .280 average with 35 homers and 392 RBI in his career.
Eckstein and his wife, Caroline, have a daughter, Isabel (15 months), and the couple will reside in Lexington.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT ECKSTEIN
“Rick Eckstein has one of the most creative baseball minds I have been around. His knowledge of fundamental baseball, combined with his passion to achieve, will allow him to connect with players in a special way. Players will not only prosper from his knowledge at the collegiate level but will be better prepared for professional baseball.”
– Los Angeles Angels Manager Mike Scioscia
“The guy doesn’t get outworked by anybody. He has an incredible work ethic, not just on the field but off the field. He knows baseball. He knows how to be a hitting coach and he knows how to teach kids. He has a gift of being able to break things down in a way that people can understand them. There is nothing more important as a hitting coach, than being able to explain something to someone that is going to make them understand it and be better for it. That is the best kind of coach you can have. As far as Rick goes, that is him. He can explain things and show people things in a way that they are so easy to understand and digest. He is a guy that just eats up baseball.
“He’s been a hitting coach in the big leagues for 10 years or so. He felt like he could really get in touch and connect with the college age group. He is going to have so much information that is going to be so much more beneficial for players at that age, players that can be sculpted early in their development so much easier. Where at this level, you usually have an extremely solid educational foundation and there is only so much you can build on. But when you have 18-year old players coming in fresh out of high school and coming into the SEC, Rick is going to be so good at helping them reach their potential.”
– Los Angeles Angels outfielder and UK 2008 first-team All-American Collin Cowgill
“The University of Kentucky is really lucky to have Rick. He is an extremely hard worker and very dedicated. I’m not sure I’ve ever been around anyone who knows about hitting as well as he does. He is a player’s guy. You feel like he is in the batter’s box with you all the time fighting to get a hit. He’s been a big-league hitting coach and has worked with some of the best in baseball. He is coming from Anaheim and I know Albert Pujols, he had some experience with him in St. Louis, and Albert thinks a lot of him as well. That kind of speaks for itself, where he has been and the players that he has worked with. It is a great hire and it’s exciting for the program.”
-- Former Washington Nationals, 12-year MLB Outfielder and Lexington High School star Austin Kearns
Photo Credit: Washington Nationals Media Relations