On paper it was a manager’s dream – a team stocked with talent and prospects, with young players eager to learn and filled with Major League potential.
But don’t think manager Al Pedrique just had to pen the lineup card each game as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders rolled through to the best record in the International League this season.
If anything, the talent level on his team forced him to become a better manager.
Pedrique won IL Manager of the Year, guiding Scranton, the farm club of the New York Yankees, to an 85-52 record heading into Wednesday’s game against the Buffalo Bisons at Coca-Cola Field. Pedrique has come up through the Yankees system along with the prospects he’s coaching, starting with the organization in 2013 managing Low-A Charleston, then moving up to Advanced-A Tampa in 2014 and Double-A Trenton in 2015.
“Some of these kids I’ve had for the last three years and I guess it makes my job easier when I know them, where they’re coming from,” Pedrique said. “I assume they feel comfortable working with me for the last two years. They know where I’m coming from, the respect I have for the game, the organization. I’m huge about preparation and be able to be the best you can be day-in and day-out.
“But working with players with talent definitely is a lot of fun for a manager because every day I feel I have to prepare myself the best I can so I can provide them with the right information, send a message the right way so they can understand what we’re trying to accomplish. For each guy it’s different. Definitely it’s a challenge.”
It’s a challenge with rewards. Take the development of catcher Gary Sanchez who has blown away Major League Baseball in his first full month with the Yankees. In 24 games since being called up on Aug. 3, Sanchez has been the talk of MLB and the darling of Yankees fans with 11 home runs, a .383 batting average (36 for 94) while driving in 21 runs.
The only thing that surprises Pedrique about the run is how quickly the 23-year-old Sanchez has put up numbers. The ability of Sanchez to put up numbers is something Pedrique noticed last year in Double-A.
When he first worked with Sanchez, Pedrique had just a few scouting reports. So he spent spring training and the first month of the season talking with Sanchez. A lot. And usually in Spanish.
“I had a lot of conversations with him one-on-one because I want to make sure I have enough information about his background in order to work with him on the field, be able to understand how I can relay the message, just to make sure he understands,” said Pedrique, a native of Venezuela. Sanchez is from the Dominican Republic.
“Coming from a Latin country, sometimes we forget that for some of the Latin players it’s hard to understand because of the language. So I think it helps being bilingual. We were speaking Spanish for the most part last year. He has come a long way.
“He’s a kid with a lot of talent. Very smart. When it comes to hitting, I think he was born to hit. He’s special. He knows what he’s doing at the plate. Defensively, he’s getting better. Still room for improvement, but the key is to start feeling comfortable handling the pitching staff, communicating with the pitching staff and be able to be consistent calling the game and earn the trust from the pitching staff. But he’s fun to watch.”
Sanchez is fun to watch in part because he loves the game. Sometimes, for his manager’s sake, he loves the game a little too much.
“He loves to run. He thinks he can steal a lot of bases,” Pedrique said. “He always gives me a hard time because I always gave him the red light and then he’d always give me the signal, ‘Ok I can steal.’ That’s the type of personality he has, very loose. He loves to play the game and like I said a kid with great talent.”
Scranton has been stocked with talent all season. Along with Sanchez, outfielder Aaron Judge is up with the Yankees. Both earned spots on the IL All-Star team. Outfielder Ben Gamel was the IL’s Most Valuable Player, and promptly traded by the Yankees to Seattle on Wednesday for right-handed pitchers Jio Orozco and Juan De Paula. Second baseman Donovan Solano also made the All-Star team.
And the prospects keep coming. Clint Frazier joined Scranton after a trade with the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 1. Currently on the RailRiders disabled list after tweaking his hamstring, Frazier became the No. 1 rated prospect in the Yankees organization after the trade. Through 24 games with Scranton, Frazier is hitting .229 with two home runs.
“In a short sample, this is a kid who has a lot of tools,” Pedrique said of Frazier. “You can tell he has a quick bat, quick hands. How I describe him, for a short, stocky, strong kid, the ball takes off his bat. Jumps off his bat. The sound is different. You can tell that he hits the ball with authority.
“I’m thinking down the road this kid should be able to hit for power, hit for home runs, has a lot of speed, he can run. Definitely the tools are there.”