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  • The New Britain Coaching Situation

    I've been spoiled. This summer, I've been able to watch Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, from right over the home dugout, for $15 a ticket. You might think that having Sano and Rosario on the same minor league team, at the same time, is an affiliate's dream come true. To be sure, I'm confident that ticket sales increased after Sano and Rosario arrived, but the life of an affiliate is much more complicated.

    I've heard it stated that the Twins control everything on the field, and the Rock Cats control everything else. I wouldn't call that a 100% accurate statement, but you get the general idea. Put yourself in the seat of a (relatively) small business owner -- a MiLB affiliate owner, to be precise -- for just a second. It's difficult to imagine giving away control over the on-the-field product, while retaining control only over the relatively ancillary things, such as ticket prices and promotions. (Granted, ticket prices and concession prices go a long way in determining profitability).

    If I was the Rock Cats' owner, I'd certainly want a large say in the roster, but that's not the way that the system works. In fact, if Terry Ryan calls New Britain and says that Angel Morales is going to play every inning of every game for the next week because he's going to be the "minor league part" of a trade, well, that's the way it's going to be.

    Rock Cats' Manager Jeff Smith.
    Courtesy of Richard Messina, Hartford Courant

    Since I've been following the Rock Cats, it's been up-and-down. They will not make the playoffs this year, and fell just short the two prior years. Meanwhile, the Twins minor league system, as a whole, continues to ascend the organizational rankings. As I write this, the overall consensus is that the Twins have a Top 5, and probably even higher, minor league system. Why, then, haven't the Rock Cats been more successful?

    I'm not about to place a large amount of blame on the coaches. Looking at this season only as an example: Alex Meyer (best pitching prospect on the roster) was injured half the season; Trevor May (second best pitching prospect on the roster) under-performed; and Sano and Rosario were only in New Britain half the season. The majority of the rest of the roster (excepting maybe half a dozen guys) are unlikely to play major league baseball for more than the proverbial cup of coffee. In other words, although there were top prospects, the deeper levels of talent might not have been there. Having a few good guys on paper does not a postseason team make.

    But back to the managing. Jeff Smith is in his third year managing in New Britain, after working his way up from Beloit and Ft. Myers. He spent a lot of time in New Britain as a minor leaguer, but never made the majors. I have yet to hear anything on-the-record concerning his managerial skills and I actually do believe that he had the full support of the Twins' organization when he benched Sano last month. But I'm not sure what role the Smith has in the organizational future, and I'm honestly not sure in what regard the current players hold him. Without any particular knowledge base, I'd put both Jake Mauer and Doug Mientkiewicz (today named as manager of the year for the Florida State League) above Smith. I do believe that the Twins are going to go a different direction this off-season with Ron Gardenhire. And I also believe that a Gardenhire decision will have a significant trickle-down effect on the affiliates.

    Much in the same way, I'm not sure what the future holds for pitching coach Stu Cliburn (longtime member of the organization) and new hitting coach Chad Allen. Yep, Chad Allen, the same former Twins player who was named in the Mitchell Report, and who was never a great hitter (not that that is a prerequisite, necessarily, to be able to teach hitting). In short, it's a very interesting mix of young and old that converged this season to coach the Rock Cats. Far be it from me -- or probably anyone reading this -- to speculate with any accuracy whether they did or did not do their jobs, but I can guess that the effect of 3 Twins seasons of 90+ losses is likely to have a very direct effect on the New Britain coaching staff.

    I want to end with this: Is there is something to be said for the fact that Cedar Rapids (definitely), Ft. Myers (definitely) and Rochester (likely) are all headed to the playoffs this season, but the Rock Cats are not? Is it simply bad timing on the Rock Cats' part, or is there something more?

    Coaching is very difficult to judge. I generally agree with the sentiment that managers get too much credit on winning teams, and too much blame on crappy teams. But at the same time, I do think that, in almost any business, change is necessary after a protracted period of losses -- whether that be earnings per share in a Fortune 500 company or a win-loss record in a professional sport. I will be curious to see what happens this off-season. Even if Gardy keeps his job, I expect some change in the Twins' AA ranks.

    Thanks, as always, for reading. I welcome any comments.
    This article was originally published in blog: The New Britain Coaching Situation started by Twins Fan From Afar
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      It all boils down to the starting rotation. The Twins have mixed in their share of minor league free agents, and it seems to be a mecca for rehab. Almost any player who will be a Twins major league guy who goes thru the minors does come thru New Britain. So that is a plus, too.

      I won't fault the coaching staff. Smith seems to be a Twins lifer. Cliburn has been up and down and all around. Chad Allen was an interesting choice. I'm not sure if the next step is Jake Mauer switching places with Smith, or is Smith being groomed for a bullpen job, perhaps.

      The Twins have had a lot of longevity in many of their coaching and mangerial positions in the minors, but seem to be looking outside the organization when a vacancy does happen. I don't see any, except maybe Jake, making the majors. But, who knows. Why Tommy Watkins, the mayor of Ft. Myers, coaches everywhere but Ft. Myers is beyond me.

      New Britain consistently fields decent teams for the Twins. But they are in a tough league overall. Sometimes your guys ARE too young. Sometimes they are TOO worn out.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      When assessing the job of a minor league coach is doing, I would look at are his players getting better at what is being coached. Chad Allen cannot turn Beresford into a power hitter, he can make him a better hitter.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      You do a great job with this affiliate.
    1. Cap'n Piranha's Avatar
      Cap'n Piranha -
      I'm not totally surprised by the Cats not making the playoffs this year, as the core of their roster came from a pretty bad Fort Myer's squad last year. If you look at the affiliates challenging for/in the playoffs right now, all of them are a level above teams that were competitive last year. Rochester--last year NB just missed the playoffs. Fort Myers--Beloit made the playoffs last year. Cedar Rapids--E-Town won the Appy last year.

      If this theory holds true, you should buy your 2014 and 2015 Rock Cat playoff tickets right now.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      They didn't have the pitching they expected to. If Meyer had stayed healthy, they'd be looking at playoffs.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      There is obviously so much more that goes in to evaluating minor league managers/coaches than W-L record. Almost anyone could put up a pretty good record if you give him Sano & Rosario for half a season and Buxton, along with a lot of other talent that rose from CR to Ft Myers the second half of their season.

      But the Twins will, and should, make minor league assignments based on whether they think those staffs are properly developing the prospects they're put in charge of helping to improve. In the process, those managers/coaches are learning how to teach, as well. They're honing their own talents. If they continue to improve, they'll get better assignments either with the Twins or elsewhere. Maybe even MLB jobs, eventually.

      I just don't think wins and losses dictate much as a primary measurement of their performance, at least not until you're in the final year of an affiliation agreement you want to renew.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      I might just add that how the minor league managers/coaches deal with local media probably goes in to their evaluation.

      I've had more than one FO visitor in Cedar Rapids this year ask me how the Kernels coaching staff is to work with from a media standpoint. I'm not sure that's a coincidence.
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Thanks for the comments. For sure, player development is much more important than win-loss records in the minors. It's a much tougher concept to judge, especially since the jury is still out on a lot of guys that have been through New Britain under Smith. I've written about that a little before, but it's worthy of its own post.
    1. MichiganTwins's Avatar
      MichiganTwins -
      Simple sentences only Twins Fan From Afar
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      First of all, hiring a steroid cheater as a coach is a major disgrace on Ryan. Allen should go. Period.

      There are a few things in play for Smith:

      a. Plenty of his former players, currently in the Twins' organization and not, have been loud and clear about how much they dislike him as a coach
      b. Lots of those "Twins' lifers" were Rantz' boys. Now that he has finally retired and there is a new Director of minor leagues, I think that this season was their evaluation season. I do expect several changes in the minors this off-season...
      c. Ask around (off the record) the NB front office about what they think about Smith; you will probably get some really enlightening opinions...
    1. AROG's Avatar
      AROG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      First of all, hiring a steroid cheater as a coach is a major disgrace on Ryan. Allen should go. Period.
      Mark McGuire has done a great job as a hitting coach. He also was in trouble for steroids. The world is about second chances. I am sure glad that my bosses judge me based on who I am today and not decisions I made when I was younger.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Wait, Chad Allen.... Steroids? Is this a joke?
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      Wait, Chad Allen.... Steroids? Is this a joke?
      One year he hit 0 homers. The next year: 4.
      You be the judge.
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