BOSTON—After two years in the Angels front office, Gary DiSarcina had a mission in 2013 in his return to the Red Sox as manager of the organization’s Triple-A Pawtucket affiliate.
“We’re here to get you out of here,” DiSarcina said of his approach to working with players on the doorstep of the big leagues. “Use us.”
It was an approach that made DiSarcina a valued member of the Red Sox player development staff from 2007-10 as a manager for short-season Lowell (2007-09) and as a roving infield instructor in 2010 before he was hired by the Angels. And in his return to the Sox, the 45-year-old had the opportunity to help a number of familiar prospects he’d seen earlier in their development.
This time, the conversations were different. Whereas DiSarcina had largely been trying to help players like Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts develop a foundation, this time he proved a critical contributor in the latter stages of their apprenticeships.
At a level of the minors where it can prove challenging to maintain a positive clubhouse attitude, DiSarcina kept sometimes-frustrated players focused on productivity.
“DiSar is a really loose and upbeat personality, one who connects with a lot of different types of people well ,” Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said of DiSarcina, who left the Red Sox after the season to become the Angels’ third-base coach. “It was impressive the way he took charge, got guys’ respect quickly but also managed different egos—both older players and younger prospects.
“He really did a nice job of dealing with challenges as they appeared.”
Perhaps the most significant instance of that attribute came in the management of Jose Iglesias, who was admittedly disappointed after being sent to Triple-A following a strong start in early April, at a time when Stephen Drew was on the disabled list. Iglesias struggled not just offensively but also with his effort level in Triple-A, failing to run out grounders on multiple occasions.
DiSarcina pulled Iglesias in the middle of a game after one such incident, and the shortstop sat out of the next three games. But DiSarcina presented the approach not as a benching or a punishment, but instead an opportunity for Iglesias to catch his breath, to return to playing with the energy and joy that are often associated with the 23-year-old.
Iglesias did just that, while also taking well to his introduction to other positions as he started to take grounders at third and second base with DiSarcina. Iglesias’ adaptation to third proved critical, as he became the Sox’s everyday third baseman for a key stretch in June and July, not only becoming a key contributor to the Sox for that two-month stretch but also restoring his trade value to the point where he could turn into the key cog in a deal that landed the Sox righthander Jake Peavy.
Iglesias, of course, deserved the lion’s share of the credit for putting himself in the position to thrive in the big leagues, but team officials felt that DiSarcina’s approach in managing the player had an impact.
DiSarcina guided Pawtucket to first place in the International League’s North Division with an 80-63 record and the Governor’s Cup championship round in the playoffs. He likewise received praise for his handling of Middlebrooks when the Opening Day third baseman was sent down, his work in getting Bogaerts prepared to play a relatively new position (third base) in the big leagues and his counsel for Jackie Bradley after the 23-year-old struggled in his first exposure to the big leagues at the start of the season.
“You never want to throw in a player’s face what his weaknesses are,” he said. “You encourage them to come out for work, say, ‘Hey, let’s go work on this,’ ” he said. “Players are different nowadays. This isn’t back 30 years ago where you could be rough and gruff with their guys, get in their faces and say, ‘You need to work on this,’ have that stern attitude.
“When the players realize you’re in it for them, just trying to get them to the big leagues with no other agenda, they’ll come out and work on their weaknesses because they feel a connection to you and they feel the organization wants them to do well. It’s not just to get to Boston. Ultimately, what we want to do is to get these guys to the big leagues. It may be with the Dodgers. It may be with someone else. But if they feel you’re in it for them, they’ll come out and work on anything, so long as you’re coming from a genuine place.”
Front-office personnel and members of the big league coaching staff likewise came to rely on DiSarcina’s candor and precise insights. In part because of his range of experiences that spanned the front office and work both as a manager and a rover, DiSarcina was far more than a steward of talent in Pawtucket.
The Sox considered his evaluations invaluable, the equivalent of having a front-office member sitting in the dugout on a day-to-day basis, as when the team was trying to make a determination about the relative big league readiness of Middlebrooks and Bogaerts in August.
“To me, what stood out the most was that when you pressed him, ‘I need to know this,’ there was never any wavering,” Red Sox big league manager John Farrell said. “It was clear, it was concise and as accurate as it could be. What we saw come to life was spot on. When it came to specific guys we were considering, his first-hand evaluations, his first-hand involvement, his experience with the individuals, he knew more than what maybe just what an evaluator’s eye would see from the stands.
“It was critical. When you talk about a guy, how they might handle the major league environment for the first time, what the shortcomings might be, how we can best address and help that transition, he’s got such a good feel for people and obviously a lot of first-hand experience himself. His recommendations were spot on.”