I had the chance to talk with Drew Saylor, manager of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes right after the Dodgers traded five minor league players for Manny Machado, four of those players were coached by Saylor and his staff. We talked about that and some other thoughts about what he and his coaching staff tries to do with their players.
How do you handle all the trade talk, your players are on social media, they hear the names, what can you do to manage that distraction?
“I think that my job is to be able to have consistency,” Saylor said, “I talk to all the guys every single day, a little five minute check-in, see how their doing, see how their family is, and I really just provide an atmosphere where they can share their frustrations, their excitement and sometimes, some of their trepidations of what’s going on in their lives.”
“And really for me it’s to be able to get them to focus on today, and the more that they focus on today, it’s going to enhance and brighten their future.”
“And it’s very very challenging in this game because when it comes down to trades like your entire world (snaps his finger) can flip around in a second, Saylor said.” “And we all experienced that with Rylan Bannon. And we had Dean Kremer here and Zach Pop. Yusniel Diaz, we’ve had him in this clubhouse before.”
“Really for me, our job as a staff is to get them, draw them back to what they can control right now but also talk very positively, pour energy into them and be able to as best we can allow them to be able to focus on what they can control.”
Can you describe how big an adjustment it was for Yusniel Diaz to go from Cuba to United States and then be expected to play baseball?
“It would be like us being abducted by aliens and taken to their world and then okay now, go be like them, Saylor said, “it’s such a dramatic change, I think it is very difficult for us to be able to empathize with them, the best we can do is sympathize and it is very big culture shock, not only just with the fact you went from a socialistic environment, a communist environment where you were told what to do, when to do, why to do it, how to do it to now you do whatever you want.”
“You also get thrown into a game, their games over in Cuba are like four hours, catchers can pick out what ball whenever there’s a foul ball, it’s heavy off-speed mix, the entire game changes.”
“And I think that year was a big transition year for [Diaz]. And you saw the player he can become in ‘17 especially in that month and half stretch here when he was hotter than a pistol. He’s exciting dynamic player and more important, I like his energy, his positivity he brings, it was definitely for me one of those ones, it’s almost like watching your kids graduate and they go on to college.”
“There’s almost like that sadness a little bit, because you know that what you experienced in the relationship you had is going to changed, it is going to be forever changed. It’s like life, a chapter closes, a new one opens, there’s going be some sadness, you are going to run the gamut of emotions.”
Bannon, Kremer and Pop were not players you might have identified last April as potential parts to such a big deal, how did you and your staff develop them into players that could be included in that trade?
“I think first and foremost, being able to see players that had certain skills and tools, and then see them grow, I think a lot of that credit has to goes to [the players], Saylor said.” “Because they have to put in the sweat equity, they have to have trust and believe in us as coaches that we know what we’re doing, we’re telling them the things that is going to improve the things that they do.”
“And on top of that, their own personal beliefs of what they can do. All three of those guys really embody those things tremendously. And in conjunction with that, a big tip of the cap goes to [pitching coach Connor McGuiness, hitting coach Justin Viele and coach Pedro Montero] because they had a vision that they wanted their players to grow into individually by the end of the year.”
“And I think that those three guys, we can say were ahead of schedule by a fairly wide margin. And again it goes to all parties involved. It goes into the culture that is in here, it goes to the other 25 guys that are in that room over there.”
“There’s a lot of guys that need to be happy, one about the trade and what we got but also to see those guys grow and be able to hopefully to be able to see them in Baltimore Orioles jerseys and in the near time future and help them turn their ship around.”
Can you now use that trade as an example of how it isn’t just the “top” prospects that are being scouted, everyone is a potential target?
“Big time, big time,” Saylor said, “I’ll say it from time to time, you have an on-field interview today. There are another 29 clubs that are coming to look at you guys to see if you can be one of those pieces to get them into a better position to win.”
“Not only are you auditioning for us, you are auditioning for them too. It is an everyday thing. And I think that the more the guys understand that, the better they tend to perform but they also have a little bit more calmness and demeanor, it’s not just us, it is about the other 29 clubs that can get you to the majors.”
Is it also reminding them that they are being observed every moment they are at the ballpark?
“I feel that my role, is like 90% has nothing to do with baseball and 10% has to do with baseball,” Saylor said, ”a lot of my reports, a lot of my observations is about human behavior, how they interact with teammates, how they interact with fans, how they interact with our front office here, how they interact with the scouts, how they interact with the coaches. And then all of those things, how are they interconnected.”
“And it is, there’s not one specific thing that takes majority precedent over everything. Because if you don’t build a strong and efficient man, you are not going to build a strong and efficient baseball player. I think that you build the man first and then baseball couples on to that.”
“And that’s a vision that Gabe Kapler talked about when he came over here and it has been consistent with [Brandon Gomes] taking the helm.”
“And I think again, the reason why our culture is so strong because we all truly and authentically believe in that and our players believe in it. You can have mantras and billboards and words everywhere but really what that only enables us to do is when you make it part of your verbiage, when you make it part of your actions on a day-to-day basis.”
“You have to live it, you can’t just post it up on a board and go okay, now we’re good, we have nothing else to do. Our work is everyday.”