Donegal Fergus wasn’t with the UCSB baseball team very long.
After spending five seasons as an assistant at the University of Washington, Fergus was hired in June 2018 by Gaucho head coach Andrew Checketts to be his associate head coach and hitting coach. Fergus hit the ground running with his new job and promptly transformed the UCSB offense into one of the most dangerous in the Big West Conference last season.
Last week, Fergus was hired by the Minnesota Twins to be the organization’s minor league hitting instructor. It was a hire by the Twins that didn’t surprise Checketts or his players in the least.
“Oh man, I’m very happy for him,” said former Gaucho outfielder Armani Smith, who was drafted in the seventh round by the San Francisco Giants last June. “He put a lot of time and effort into making sure we were good. He deserves that job. He deserves a big-league job, honestly. He knows his stuff. That’s a well-deserved job that he got.”
Smith said Fergus did a lot for all of the UCSB hitters as much from a mental aspect as a physical one.
“Other than the physical adjustments that I made, he kind of helped me remind myself that I can be as good as I want to be,” Smith said. “I think that’s what he did with a lot of players. He builds up your confidence and he kind of gives you a little bit more swagger. I think that’s a huge part of hitting.
“He’s not a coach where it’s his way or the highway. You can converse with him about stuff. You can have a man-to-man conversation like, ‘Hey coach, this isn’t working for me, I don’t like this,’ and then we would just figure something else out.”
Under Fergus last season, the Gauchos finished with a .296 overall batting average and a .321 mark in the pitching-heavy Big West Conference.
It was a significant improvement over the previous season, when UCSB hit .265 overall and .269 in conference.
“We were fortunate to have Donegal here with us for a short amount of time, and we had a great year last year,” Checketts said. “He left our program better than he found it.”
Checketts, too, pointed out how instrumental Fergus was in enabling the players to step into the batter’s box with confidence.
“Donegal brought a different mentality in how they went about their business,” Checketts said. “I think first and foremost was the mentality aspect of trying to drive the baseball and do damage with swings and getting them to play more fearless — getting them to go for it more.
“I think those were the things that really stood out in being able to create that aggressive mentality with those guys and taking the fear out of failing.”
Former UCSB catcher Eric Yang, who was a seventh-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in June, pointed out that Fergus’ approach to hitting was to leave nothing back with every swing.
“He did a lot,” Yang said. “He completely changed not necessarily the swing, but the mindset. He just told us that we’re strong enough to put them out (of the ballpark), and our misses should be in the air, which would potentially lead mishits to be doubles and stuff. He really drilled that into our whole team.
“He was about an all-or-nothing swing. He didn’t want you to slow down bat speed to make contact. He would say, ‘Give your full swing, and if you swing and miss, you swing and miss.’
I’m really happy for him. That’s a big-time job, and he’s the right person for it. He’ll do well.”
Typically, UCSB would have a real problem with Fergus leaving just two months before the start of the season.
But with the signing of Matt Fonteno to the staff following the 2018 season, Checketts is fully confident the offense, with its returning players joining new ones, won’t skip a beat under Fonteno.
“We are fortunate to have coach (Matt) Fonteno in our program,” Checketts explained. “He ran the offense at St. Mary’s before we hired him, and he and Donegal have been working together in that department.
“I feel 100 percent confident with Matt’s ability to lead that group and lead the offense and run the game. We are fortunate to have him in place, so I don’t feel like we’re scrambling. Our offense will be in good hands with coach Fonteno.”
Fergus, according to Checketts, will be able to continue to live in Santa Barbara in his new role with the Twins.
“The Twins are hiring him because they think he’s talented, and I’m glad he’s able to remain here in Santa Barbara,” Checketts said. “I’m not going to be surprised if I see him in the big leagues in the next couple of years as either a hitting coach or a bench coach. He’s got the personality and the skills in terms of teaching hitting to be able to do that job.”