Another “tag-team” interview that I did with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph’s Brian Woodson was with the Blue Jays Minor League Field Coordinator, Doug Davis. You’ll see exactly what that job title means as you read the interview. Read all the way to the end where I asked him about friend to Blue Jays from Away, Dunedin Blue Jays catcher Derrick Chung. You can see how fond Davis has become of the young infielder-turned-catcher.
On this interview, I took more of a lead role with Brian jumping in here and there.
Blue Jays from Away: We’re here with Doug Davis, the Field Coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system and he’s here in Bluefield to take a look at some of the players here. So Doug, will you first tell some of our readers what the field coordinator’s job is.
Doug Davis: 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.
BJfA: That covers a lot.
DD: That covers a lot. It does. It covers a lot, yes.
BJfA: So, in terms of actual instruction and actual evaluation, what is your primary concern?
DD: Well honestly for me, I spend more time evaluating up until this year I have been the catching coordinator as well so I spend a lot of time with our catching program and setting that up over the last five years, and still do. I still work with Sal Fasano because that’s kind of my passion on the field. But probably my primary responsibility is monitoring and evaluating our staff. I think that weighs heavily on my shoulders and for the most part all the staff members you see here if they weren’t here before me, I hired them to be here. That’s probably the most important one. But again also our programs that we set up, our team fundamentals, anything that you see happening on the field, the plays that we tend to do, fundamental type work that we get done. I’m responsible for those programs as well.
BJfA: So who have you seen here that’s impressing you or feel that they’re really coming along well?
DD: I think we’ve put a team here that’s full of prospects and interesting players that potentially could be pretty special players within this organization. This is a young group. Just working the way around the field you have Matt Dean who’s repeating at this level who certainly is a fairly high round draft pick and has a lot of potential. Dawel Lugo obviously had a great game last night and is a very good player out of hte Dominican, young player. Mitch Nay was drafted last year, one of higher picks, is also a very good young player and the outfield is full of them, D.J. Davis, Jonathan Davis, D.J. Jones. Players like that and I think the pitching staff also is loaded with guys – Cardona, Tirado, Robson, Labourt. It’s a really neat, I think, group of guys because we have a nice core group of kids that have come out of our Latin American program, but then we also have a good group of guys that have come out of really last years draft or the year before. So this is a fun group to watch and its full of players that I think will be pretty special players within this organization.
Brian Woodson: And the staff you put here with [Bluefield manager] Dennis [Holmberg] and [pitching coach] Tony [Antonio Caceres] and [hitting coach] Ken [Huckaby]. How did you bring these guys together and how do you feel like it’s worked out?
DD: Well, Dennis has done this kind of level and has handled this type of team for a long time with this organization. He’s just great integrating players into the Blue Jay organization – players that are coming from high school programs, college programs, again Latin America – because he’s very attentive to the whole picture. He’s just not interested in baseball and what goes on on this baseball field, he’s interested in how these kids conduct their lives outside of baseball – how they handle being in a hotel, being at The Mountainview [the place where the Bluefield Blue Jays live], how they dress themselves, the way they handle themselves when they’re in a restaurant. He’s very attentive to the whole picture and he does a great job so I think he handles this level extremely well with this type of player.
BJfA: Is there any consideration when hiring and figuring out the staff for a particularly team what the makeup of that team might be going forward whether it’s the age of the players or whether there’s an anticipation that there may be a larger group of Latin American players?
DD: Well I think that the benefit we have with seven teams is I think we, for the most part, have a pretty good idea before we even get started putting players on certain team that we pretty much know the type of team we’re gonna have. We always know that the team in this Appy League is gonna be a young team. It’s gonna be a team that has our prospect Latin players coming here, it’s gonna have some kinds out of the draft so it’s gonna have a lot of newness to it, so Dennis is perfect for that level. When I hire people and Charlie and I kinda work at that together. We’re just looking for good conscientious hard working individuals who have some experience. They certainly all don’t need to have major league league experience but have some playing experience, have an understanding of organized and professional baseball and all that that entails. And then I think also we look for people that have some upside that we know that if things go well they’re gonna be individuals that can move to higher levels and continue to progress their career as well as helping our players.
BW: You were manager of Syracuse for a couple of years.
DD: Yup, a couple of years back in 07/08.
BW: Is it hard to get out of on-the-field coaching?
DD: You know, this job is great for me because obviously I’m in uniform a lot of the time and a lot of the people in my situation or I guess people that would be considered executives don’t get a chance to stay in uniform very much and I do. And that’s a big part of it for me. I enjoy being hands on with the players. I love managing, I really did. But again, I did that for quite a few years in my career and this job is something that gives me the best of both worlds. I have an opportunity to impact a lot of players’ lives I think and a lot of peoples’ lives and I enjoy that and I get to do it again with a uniform on my back at times so that’s a good point.
BW: What about coming from this level. These guys have so much to learn in such a small town. You know, Toronto and the major leagues is a long ways away from here. How do you integrate these guys into this kind of environment . . . these guys come from all over the world.
DD: Well, again, I think we put a lot of emphasis on our staff being able to do those types of things and that’s what they do a good job at. And throughout our organization to various degrees, we deal with the same type of thing. I mean we are in different places. Vancouver is a much different place than Bluefield, West Virginia. It’s a huge city and honestly for players that aren’t all that different from this group. I mean, we have a lot of young players — a lot of young kids – now you put them into a situation where they’re in a city of three or four million people. So it’s a challenging part of hte game but I think our coaching staff has to take a lot of credit on how they’re handling that.
BW: And one other question, you’ve got a local player, Zak Wasilewski right down the road from Tazewell [Virginia, about 20 miles from Bluefield]. What kind of pressure does he face, I mean, they’re selling a shirt with his name on the back, and there’s a lot of fans here from his high school. He’s done real well but there’s got to be a lot of pressure.
DD: I would certainly think so. I think it probably two-fold for him. I’m sure he loves having the opportunity to be home and play in front of some people that he knows, I think that’s great experience and an experience that probably everybody would like to have at some point in their career. I think it’s a challenge for him because he’s so young and it’s such an early part of his career to be here. But again, he’s not playing in front of ten or twenty thousand people, he’s in front of a relatively small crowd but a good vocal crowd and people that are very supportive of his efforts, so that probably helps him out, I think, immensely. So I’m sure it’s tough on one hand but probably makes it a little bit easier on him on another as well.
BFfA: I talked to Kevin Nolan about the same thing playing in New Hampshire.* He enjoyed it, he enjoyed being able to spend a lot more time with his family and he has that support network going for him.
DD: And that’s part of it too that you realize. This will be year 30 for me in professional baseball and you know if I sit back and think about the time that I’ve actually been able to spend at home during those 30 years, it’s not very much, so anytime I think that any of these players have an opportunity to be close to home, to be with family, to experience playing in front of people that maybe don’t get a chance to see him paly very often, I think that’s a special time. It’s neat for players to have that opportunity.
BJfA: I just have one more question going back to catching. I’ve spoken a little bit to Derrick Chung** and I know that he’s become quite a good catcher defensively, but he’s also a guy that got into it very late and I know he didn’t catch very much last year. So what have you seen from him and what were things that he did and he picked up on that enabled him to go from being a utility guy in Vancouver to pretty much the starting catcher in Dunedin.
DD: Well, I think it was first and foremost it was a lack of knowledge from a catching coordinator’s standpoint of the fact that Derrick could actually catch. And he also didn’t emphasize enough to me in my conversations with him last year. He told me “you know, I can catch too” and that’s about the extent of our conversation. And fortunately for him this year when he brought him to spring training, and we brought him really strictly because I knew he told me he could catch and we’re always looking for extra catching help here in spring training because we have so many pitchers there that we’re trying not to wear everybody out. Once we saw this kid behind the plate, it’s like, you know what, he can do more than catch, he can really catch. It was great having spring training because a time when we really have a lot of time to work on things. And Derrick picked things up in a hurry. I mean, he had a pretty good, sound base to work from already but when Sal started to work with him on various things, he really picked up everything very quickly. And he’s got a great skill set, he throws well, his feet move very well, got good hands and you’re right, he’s an older player but a guy that really hadn’t had a lot of catching experience but he’s doing a tremendous job down there in Dunedin. It doesn’t happen very often that you have a guy out of a previous year’s draft that’s gonna end up going to the Florida State League and he’s been able to do it and do it very well.
BJfA: And he seems like a great young man too.
DD: Great kid. He’s a great kid. He could find himself having a pretty good career in this game not just as a player, but you know we’ll see if that’s what he wants.
Stay tuned for two more interviews from Bluefield — former Blue Jays Paul Quantrill and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tim Raines! Also, we’ve got scouting reports on the six starting pitchers that I saw while down in Bluefield coming up this week!
* Nolan is a native of Nashua, New Hampshire. Check out the Blue Jays from Away Podcast Episode 10 for our interview with him.
** Check out our interview with Derrick Chung.