After nine seasons in a number of different roles within the Blue Jays organization to follow a seven-year minor league career with the Cleveland Indians, Clayton McCullough accepted the position of minor league field coordinator with the Dodgers this off-season, leaving a void within the Toronto franchise.
"It was the biggest loss for us on the development side, along with [pitching coordinator] Dane Johnson," director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson said of the winter. "We lost two main cogs.
"Clayton, to sum it up in one word, was outstanding. He was a great person, he’s a great coach, he has the ability to relate to young players, to teach, and to instruct, which is a gift. He knows the game really well."
The 35-year-old joined the Blue Jays in 2006 as a coach with the organization’s rookie Appalachian League affiliate in Pulaski. He got his first chance as a professional manager the following season in the Gulf Coast League, before moving onto two years as manager of the Lansing Lugnuts in the Class-A Midwest League.
The former catcher followed that up with two years as the skipper of the Class-A Advanced Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays before leading the short-season Vancouver Canadians to two consecutive Northwest League championships in 2012 and 2013. He also helped the Canberra Cavalry to a Claxton Shield victory in the Australian Baseball League and an Asia Series win after one winter in the circuit.
Last season, McCullough was promoted to the position as the roving coordinator of instruction down on Toronto’s farm before taking on his latest role.
"In his time with us – not only as a manager and a hitting coach, and of course in his year as a rover and the coordinator of instruction – he was invaluable," Wilson said. "He coaches the young coaches in addition to all of the players. He touched a lot of guys and made a lot of guys better. He brings enthusiasm every day, is professional, hardworking; just a true Blue Jay.
"So I’m delighted for him that he gets the opportunity but it’s a tough loss for us."
McCullough’s hiring came under Gabe Kapler, a former big-league outfielder who took the position of the Dodgers’ new farm director earlier this off-season. While the Blue Jays are sad to see such a valuable asset go, the opportunity is huge for the native of North Carolina.
"Clayton not only was a great worker and employee for us, but he was a really good friend," Toronto’s assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish said. "It’s a great opportunity for him. In this game it’s difficult to have continuity within not just our coaching staffs, but front office and scouting departments and development. And that’s part of the business."
The bittersweet goodbye for Toronto and for Tinnish saw him lose a great contributor within the ball club they shared, while watching a friend continue to climb the ladder within the sport. He is confident McCullough will find similar successes no matter where he is.
"The people who are very talented in this game are going to move up or they’re going to have opportunities to move on, and you only hope the best for them," Tinnish said. "The Dodgers made a great hire. He’s a great guy, he’s a great worker, he’s got a lot of energy, he has a great eye for talent, and he does a nice job of developing players."