Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Making adjustments
TODAY'S professional baseball managers have enough data and video on players to fill up a social network. They have a field staff, minor-league roving coaches, coordinators and hands-on helpers around every corner.
While those resources are an important part of player development, they should not get in the way of allowing players to - get this - play the game.
"With all the stuff we have going on and (stats), sometimes that's the best answer. Keep it simple," first-year Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson said on Wednesday as the Fisher Cats wrapped up the homestand, defeating Trenton, 6-3. "There are going to be times when you have a prospect and there's a situation when you might want to pinch-hit for the kid, but how's he going to learn how to hit if you do that?"
Allenson pointed to the case of Red Sox No. 1 pick Greg Blosser, selected 16th overall in the 1989 draft. Blosser, a lefty hitter, had trouble against southpaws while playing for Allenson at Double-A New Britain in 1991. The manager kept penning Blosser's name on the lineup card even when it lessened the team's chances of winning.
"As a hitter, you need to learn how to make adjustments. Same thing for pitchers. Too many times they are looking for help when they need to learn for themselves how to work out of jams," said Allenson, who played six seasons with the Red Sox and one season with the Blue Jays in 1985.
In the fifth inning, the manager gave starting pitcher Marcus Walden some wiggle room, keeping him on the mound after giving up back-to-back hits and tossing his 80th pitch. Walden walked the next batter, Tyler Austin, before Allenson called in Matt Wright from the bullpen. Wright gave up a single and an inherited runner scored, but he put out the fire, creating a happy ending for everyone involved.
Since the Fisher Cats arrived in 2004, we have watched a delicate balance between winning and player development. The first-ever manager Mike Basso guided the Fisher Cats to an Eastern League championship by rolling out the baseballs - at least it seemed - and letting them play.
Basso rarely ever pinch-hit for players, and he allowed a previously unknown lefty named Gustavo Chacin to work deep into games. Chacin won 16 games for the Fisher Cats and finished the season with the Blue Jays, along with righty Brandon League.
Allenson has been told by Toronto management to keep specific position players within the top six spots in the batting order. He declined to name those players, but they are most likely Kenny Wilson, Kevin Pillar, Ryan Schimpf and perhaps one more. Those are the so-called "priority" players on the roster.
They have a high ceiling, according to the Toronto brass, and they will have every opportunity to reach the majors. The manager, however, must squeeze every ounce of talent from all 23 men on the roster.
"You can make yourself a priority guy," Allenson said. "I started out in Triple-A (Pawtucket) in 1978, batting eighth, and five weeks into the season I was batting third. You never know. That priority stuff can be overrated."
ERROR WATCH: The Fisher Cats already have committed 13 errors, including a franchise record-tying five Es in a loss against Reading. In the series finale, the Fisher Cats were cruising with a 5-2 lead until a John Tolisano throwing error opened the door for Trenton, which scored an unearned run against Clint Everts.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Fisher Cats hit the road for a seven-game road trip beginning at Binghamton tonight. Righty Deck McGuire (0-1, 5.79 ERA) takes the mound for his 33rd career start for NH.