Make no mistake, the Mariners’ farm system will undergo major changes under new director Andy McKay’s plan to stress the game’s mental aspect among players and staff.
"It’s called player development," he said, "but it’s coaching development as well. Coaches have to get better. Coaches have to improve. Coaches have to be coachable.
"If you’re working in our department, we’re all a work in progress. Everyone has to get better, and everyone will get better."
The Mariners confirmed Wednesday that McKay had been hired to replace Chris Gwynn as their director of player development. McKay, 44, spent the last three years as peak performance coordinator for the Colorado Rockies.
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McKay estimates that only the 10 percent of players can separate themselves through sheer ability. The rest, he contends, require constant attention to maintain proper focus.
"The game really does become 100 percent mental for those players," he said. "Their ability to focus on the right thing at the right time, and their ability to get through a long season without losing focus (is paramount)."
McKay spent 14 years as a coach at Sacramento City College before joining the Rockies in September 2012. His duties amounted to serving as a mental-skills coach to players at all levels of the Colorado organization.
"It would be hard to find anyone who has read more on the topic of performance psychology than I have," he said. "I’ve been able to take a huge volume of literature and whittle it down into a usable program."
That approach apparently struck a chord with new general manager Jerry Dipoto in his efforts to overhaul the Mariners’ underperforming farm system.
McKay is already stressing a need for everyone — players and staff — to embrace what he acknowledges is a culture change from the industry norms regarding player development.
"A lot of learning happens just through experience," he said, "but I’d like to take the idea that we can formalize that process and hold people accountable for their continuous growth and a never-ending improvement process.
"In my opinion, there’s nobody who is doing it well. I think everyone is doing it OK. I think there is an enormous gap between where we are as an industry and where we can get to."
McKay said he’s "never been satisfied" with the status quo.
"Where we are today, " he said, "is not where we’re going to be tomorrow. There’s always a better way to do it. Even when you’re doing it really well, there’s a better way.
"I’ve always connected to people who share that thought process and who have that intellectual curiosity to challenge themselves and ask questions that maybe no one else is asking.
"To get better answers, you’ve got to ask better questions. A lot of times, those questions are asking about ourselves and how we’re doing our jobs."
Those questions are likely just starting.
"If you get lost in the other aspects of the job," McKay said, "you just end up with a group of people following orders. You’re not going to be great (by) doing that. It’s a culture thing, and I’ve got to build a culture.
"I feel confident that I can do that."