For the fifth and final installment of Managing the Future of the Toronto Blue Jays, we’ll take a look at the Minor League Coordinators and Roving Instructors. For a recap, here are the links to the previous installments of this series: Part 1: Buffalo Bisons (AAA), Part 2: New Hampshire FisherCats (AA), Part 3: Dunedin Blue Jays (FSL) & Lansing Lugnuts (MWL), Part 4: Rookie Level. For this piece, I’ve selected some key positions. It does not cover EVERY minor league coordinator position. But, it does touch on some of the potentially impactful ones. So, without further ado, here is what some of the minor league coordinators bring to their coaching positions.
Field Coordinator: Doug Davis- the 51 year old from Pennsylvania was drafted by the Angels in 1984. Between 1988-1992, Davis got himself into a total of 7 games for the Angles and Texas Rangers. His playing career also included 12 seasons in the minor leagues where he compiled a fielding percentage of .985. In 1996, Davis started his managerial career in the NY-Penn League in the NY Mets organization. From there he worked his way up the minor league ladder. He moved all the way up to the Syracuse Chiefs (then Toronto’s AAA affiliate). In the middle of this minor league experience, Davis got a stint in the Majors as the bench coach for the Marlins in 2003-4. For a more in depth look at the role of Field Coordinator and to get to know Doug Davis, take a look at an interview with him conducted by Jay Blue at Blue Jays From Away (and Brian Woodson from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph) in July 2013. It’s a good read! In that interview, when asked about the Field Coordinator position, Davis describes his job as follows:
“You know, you started off the most difficult question in baseball. I guess, from my standpoint, I am somewhat in charge of everything that happens on the field and our programs, players, staff, anything again that is associated with our on-field type endeavours with the Toronto Blue Jays in our minor league system.”
So, there you go. A somewhat vague, yet almost overwhelming answer. The Blue Jays have put a lot of stock in Doug Davis.
Pitching Coordinator: Dane Johnson- The 51 year old Florida native was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1984. Johnson pitched in the minors for 13 seasons with affiliates of the Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins. In 1990 and 1991, Johnson played in Taiwan. He saw a total of 63 games for the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland athletics from 1994-1997. In those 63 games, he pitched a total of 67 innings and compiled an ERA of 4.70 and a 6-2 record. On May 3, 2013 Johnson spoke about his work with Ricky Romero and how ready Ricky was to come back to the majors. He said he was looking for Romero to have a great start that night for the Jays. It wasn’t bad, but…Romero went 4 innings giving up 3 walks, 3 hits, a homerun to Kyle Seager and striking out 4. As luck would have it, Ricky was matched up against Felix Hernandez who threw an 8 inning shutout. Was Ricky ready? Johnsons said “Yes”. Results said “No”. Romero was a project that Johnson was assigned to fix, but we shouldn’t judge Johnson too harshly on that. At this point, I’m not so sure if anything or anyone can “fix” Ricky Romero.
Hitting Coordinator: Mike Barnett- Barnett was a catcher at Ohio University who suffered a career ending shoulder injury. With his playing career cut short, Barnett obtained a degree in sports administration. He became a coach at the University of Tennessee from 1988-1989. In 1990, he joined the Chicago White Sox organization as a hitting coach. The next 6 years saw him make coaching stops in the Florida State League (1991-92), the Southern League (1993-95), South Atlantic League (1996), the Gulf Coast League (1997). In 2002, Barnett joined the Toronto Blue Jays as the hitting coach until 2005. In 2006, he was the Kansas City Royals’ hitting coach. In 2009, he held the minor league position with the Houston Astros until he moved up to the big league club in 2011. In 2012, with the team in danger of setting a new record for losses in a single season, Barnett was part of a mass coaching overhaul by the Astros. While Barnett’s playing career was not extensive, the experience he has gained throughout his minor league coaching positions should prove to be a benefit to the Blue Jays young players.
Infield Coordinator: Mike Mordecai- Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1989, Mordecai made his MLB debut in 1994 as a 26 year old. He had a 12 year MLB career with the Braves, Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins. In his 12 year career, Mordecai has played EVERY position on the diamond, except pitcher. He won a World Series while with the Braves in 1995 and again with the Marlins in 2003 in limited roles. Mordecai became manager of the Jamestown Jammers (Marlins affiliate) in 2004. In a classy move, the Marlins brought him up as a player to allow him to reach 10 years of MLB service. In 2005, he started coaching at the Houston Academy, a high school in Alabama. In 2009, he became infield coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator: Tim Raines- “Rock” was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 5th round of the amateur draft in 1977. The FIFTH round! Considering his career, it is hard to believe he lasted that long. As a 19 year old, he made his debut for the Expos. He went on to become one of the best leadoff hitters ever. He enjoyed a 23 year career playing for the Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics with stops in Baltimore and Florida at the end of his career. According to Baseball Reference, from 1981 through 1984, he led the league in stolen bases with 71, 78, 90 and 75. He finished his career with 808 of them, which puts him 5th on the all time list. Raines also led the league with a .334 average in 1986. Baseball Reference has a very in depth profile of Tim Raines’ career here.
Raines managed in the FSL in 2003. He was a coach for the White Sox from the 2004 through 2006 seasons, including being first base coach on the 2005 World Series championship team. He held a managerial position with the Newark Bears (Atlantic League, then Can-Am Association) in 2009 and 2011. In 2012, he took on a larger role as the Director of Player Development for the Bears. He joined the Blue Jays in 2013 as the baserunning and outfield coach in 2013. Is there a better choice than Raines to coach baserunners?
Catching Coordinator: Sal Fasano- The man with one of the greatest moustaches in the history of MLB was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 37th round of the 1993 amateur draft. He had an 11 year catching career with 9 different teams including the Blue Jays in 2007. In 2010, Fasano became the manager for the Lansing Lugnuts. In 2011 and 2012, he managed the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. 2011 was a very successful year for Fasano and the Fisher Cats. They finished in first place and went on to win the Eastern League Championship. In this interview with NextLevelBallplayer.com, Sal talks about what makes players great and successful. He really stresses the mental side of the game; the grit and toughness needed to win games. This includes embracing failure, putting young players in pressure situations, “perfect practice”, etc. This interview shows the value Fasano brings to young players. It explains why he has had success with the teams he’s coached. In the coming years, look for Sal to be rewarded with a big league job.
Pitching Rehab/Roving Pitching Instructor: Rick Langford- The 61 year old was signed as a free agent in 1973 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched a 11 year career mostly for the Oakland Athletics. His W-L record is not that impressive at 73-106 and his career ERA is 4.01. But, check this out: In 1980, he pitches 28 COMPLETE GAMES!!!!! At one point he had 22 CG in a row! He totaled 290 innings! I had to do a double check on that. He followed that up the next season with 18 CG and 15 the year after! For his career, Langford pitched a total of 85 complete games! This statistic is mind blowing. Considering the state of the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff, I’d be happy with 5 and thrilled with 10 from the entire staff.
To put it in context, in 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays had 4 complete games (R.A. Dickey-3, Mark Buehrle-1). The kind of durability required to have 4 200 innings pitched seasons (1977, 1979, 1980, 1982) is something that is desperately needed in these parts. While durability has a lot to do with the physical side of a player, there is also something to be said for the experience that Langford brings. He can surely pass on how a pitcher can stay healthy, prepared and last through the rigors of a season of pitching.
Hitting Instructor: Steve Springer- Springer was drafted by the New York Mets in 1982. he played 4 games with the Cleveland Indians (1990) and 4 games with the Mets (1992). He played 14 seasons in the minor leagues with 11 of those at the AAA level. He became a player agent after he retired, but moved to scouting for the Blue Jays in 2008. Toronto utilizes him as a hitting coach who works on the mental side of hitting. In fact, Springer has set up a business where he sells baseball hitting drills videos. You can check out Qualityatbats.com for different instructional products available to purchase. Here’s a promo video:
The homepage of Springer’s website offers several ‘testimonials’ for the effectiveness of Springer’s instruction. I am one of those who think that what has been lacking in recent years is a mentally tough, team first approach to the plate among Blue Jays hitters. It would be great to see if young Jays players came up to the big league club with this kind of approach already engrained in them.
Conditioning and Health:
Athletic Training & Rehab Coordinator: Jeffrey Stevenson
Asst. Athletic Training & Rehab Coordinator: Jose Ministral
Strength & Conditioning Coordinator: Donovan Santas
Asst. Strength & Conditioning Coordinator: Scott Weberg
Rather than profile each of these positions, I will speak to their value. Actually, I’m not so sure that is even necessary. With injuries playing such a large role in the hideous season the Jays had last year and the year before, it goes without saying that strength, conditioning and rehab positions are among the most important and vital in the organization. The Toronto Blue Jays need to figure out a way to keep players healthy and help them recover quickly and permanently when the inevitable injuries occur. Injuries are going to happen. But, with the right programming we can minimize the likelihood, severity, recovery time and recurrence of injuries.