If Al Pedrique moved on from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders — to the New York Yankees’ big-league staff or to another organization — Double-A Trenton Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell knew where he wanted to be.
Back in Triple-A. At the very least, he wanted the opportunity for a promotion.
It had been almost eight years since Mitchell managed at Minor League Baseball’s highest level — 2010 with Salt Lake in the Pacific Coast League — but he felt it was time. And when the Oakland Athletics announced in early December that Pedrique would join the organization as its new first base coach, Mitchell knew 2018 could be his year.
Then, on Wednesday, the RailRiders made it official. Mitchell was named the new manager of the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate.
“I’m really excited. During the offseason, I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen,” Mitchell said. “Once Al left I thought there might be an opportunity. So I’m just happy to get that opportunity and looking forward to the season.
“To tell you the truth, I would have been disappointed (not to get the RailRiders job), but I would have just gone on and gone to Trenton and done whatever I needed to do and help the organization out the best I can. I didn’t really worry about it (this offseason). Like I said, I was on hold for a little while to see what would happen.”
Mitchell takes over for Pedrique, while Tommy Phelps remains as pitching coach. Phil Plantier joins the staff as the new hitting coach, replacing P.J. Pilittere, who is joining the Yankees’ big-league staff as assistant hitting coach.
Doug Davis returns for the 2018 season, but moves over to the role of bullpen coach, a position that was vacated by Tyson Blaser. Travis Chapman, who has been coaching infielders within the Yankees organization, slides in as defensive coach. Chapman played 134 games for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 2003.
This will be the second year for Davis with the Yankees organization and sixth for Chapman.
Both Darren London and Brad Hyde are returning. London is back for his 26th year as athletic trainer, while Hyde returns as strength coach for his eighth season.
“We’re very excited now that we know who’s coming,” RailRiders team president and general manager Josh Olerud said. “To get a good core with who’s coming back, with Tommy and the other guys, and, obviously, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Bobby. His resume speaks for itself. Speaking with some guys who have played for him the past couple years, he just comes highly regarded as a good guy to work with, just as Al was.”
Mitchell joins the RailRiders after spending the past two seasons managing the Thunder to a 179-103 record and a pair of Eastern League Championship Series berths.
This season will mark Mitchell’s 10th managing in the minor-league ranks. He accumulated a 229-202 record and a postseason appearance during his three-year tenure with Salt Lake. The 62-year-old has managed to a 609-508 record in his 10-year career.
His teams in Trenton were known for their aggressiveness, stealing 199 bases in his two years at the helm. The RailRiders registered 179, finishing no higher than sixth in the International League, over that same stretch.
“I think it’s fun for the players,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s also fun for the fans to watch because, really, there’s no more exciting play than maybe a triple or going first-to-third or scoring from first on a base hit. It’s just really entertaining.”
“It’s going to push me to make sure I am taking that extra base whether it’s stealing or I don’t get content just sitting on first base waiting for somebody to hit me a ball in the gap to score,” RailRiders outfielder Mark Payton, who played for Mitchell in Double-A, added. “He’s very knowledgable on the bases and that’s great to just sit and learn.”
Phelps is entering his third season as the RailRiders pitching coach. He led the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching staff to a franchise record in strikeouts (1,249) and IL bests in ERA (3.33), WHIP (1.19), hits (1,079) and home runs (101) allowed in 2017.
Mitchell was in the Montreal Expos organization when the team drafted Phelps in 1992.
“It’s such a good opportunity to have that comfortableness — with your pitching coach, especially,” Mitchell said. “You work so closely with all of them, but during games, you and the pitching coach become one pretty much, and share ideas and so forth.
“I have a lot of respect for Tommy, just knowing him from the past and having to get to know him from a personal standpoint is really helpful.”
Plantier, who played parts of eight seasons in the bigs, comes to the RailRiders after spending three seasons as the San Diego Padres hitting coach, from 2012-14. He has also spent time as a manager, hitting coach and hitting coordinator in the Seattle Mariners minor league ranks.
“Phil, his resume and everything speaks for itself. I’m really anxious to see and work with him,” Mitchell said. “His experience will hopefully help me and I’ll learn from him a lot.”
Having managed the majority of the RailRiders expected roster, Mitchell believes the team can pick up right where it left off in 2017.
While winning isn’t the top priority in the minors, he believes it plays a critical role in a player’s development.
“I stress respect a lot,” Mitchell said. “Respect for each other as players, respect for staff and players, respect for the game, even respect for the opposition. I think that’s the cornerstone of how it should be. I think everything goes a lot smoother if that’s the way it is and I think that’s what I’ve actually learned and run into.”
Payton, who played for Mitchell in each of the last two seasons, is excited to be reunited with his former manager and for what’s in store this season.
“I’m really happy that he’s getting this opportunity,” Payton said. “It was good because both managers I played for — Al obviously moves up and gets a big-league job and a great manager in Bobby takes his place. Bobby’s great to play for. He understands his players. He understands what kind of team he has. He cares about the little things, whether it’s stealing bases, laying down bunts or making sure defensively you’re not giving up (too many) extra outs.”