Durham Bulls pitching coach Xavier Hernandez left the Rays organization following the 2010 season to become an assistant at Houston Baptist University, leaving behind a very important position for the 2011 season. The Durham pitching staff is likely to feature a pair of the Rays top prospects in Alex Torres and Alex Cobb, both making their final stop before the big show. Jake McGee and Aneury Rodriguez also could be a part of the picture if Rodriguez is returned from the Astros who selected him in the Rule Five, or McGee does not begin the season in the Rays' pen. Who did the organization turn to as these fine young men begin their final rites of passage? That would be Neil Allen, who has been promoted from Class A Charlotte.
Neil Allen joined the Rays organization in 2007 where he served as the pitching coach at Class AA Montgomery until last season. During his stay with the Biscuits, Allen worked with David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jake McGee. In 2010 Allen moved closer to his Sarasota home; working with the impressive rotation of the Class A+ Charlotte Stone Crabs featuring Matt Moore, Nick Barnese, and Joseph Cruz. Prior to serving in the Rays organization Allen was a pitching coach in the Yankees' farm and served one season as the New York bullpen coach. He has been credited with teaching Chien-Ming Wang his trademark sinker.
Allen pitched for five organizations from 1979-1989 amassing a record of 58-70 with 75 saves, an ERA of 3.88 and a FIP of 3.77. Despite a moderate level of success he may be most well-known for being on the wrong end of a lopsided trade when the Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets in 1983 for Allen and pitcher Rick Ownbey. Allen was sold to the Yankees during the 1985 season while Hernandez would finish in the top 10 in MVP balloting over the next 3 years, while winning gold gloves from 1983-88.
As for Allen's pitching philosophy, I recommend this interview from last season with the Herald Tribune:
What is your pitching philosophy?
I attack the zone. I'm not a guy, as you well know when I was a closer, I'm not a guy who picks and feels my way. I'm not afraid of contact. I don't want them to be afraid of contact. I want them to put the ball in play. I don't like base on balls. I want them to command both sides of the plate with their fastball. If they can command both sides of the plate with their fastball in A ball, then the other stuff will come along, the changeup and curveball. That will come along during the course of the season. I've got to get them out of the gate to believe in their fastball to both sides of the plate. Attack the zone. Don't be afraid of contact.
Steve Watson, formerly of the Marlins organization, will take over as the pitching coach of the Stone Crabs.