Winter Ball Provides Valuable Experience For Managers
While the Major League Baseball postseason holds the attention of baseball fans in the fall, many players begin preparing themselves in early October to begin playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
The winter ball season goes through late January and provides a unique opportunity for players to learn and compete while testing themselves against players of all different skill levels. Managing those players, however, provides different challenges compared to leading a team in the minor leagues.
Just like minor league teams, the Dominican Winter League clubs have an array of coaches on their staff. The manager has to decide his lineup each day with a roster often twice the size of those in the minors. For years, the protocol was to make changes on a day-by-day basis to the active 25-man roster, but it has become a weekly format. Managers have to make sure to consistently communicate with players and rally around them to ensure that their confidence stays up throughout the winter.
“With such large rosters, you have to learn how to manage so many different personalities," Rodney Linares said.
Linares is fresh off his first season as Tampa Bay’s third base coach. Having managed at every level of the minors, he felt coaching winter ball has helped him effectively communicate with players.
“You obviously abide by the guidelines that the player development staffs give you, but this is a very competitive league and guys want to win," Linares said. "You have to balance the analytics with how baseball is in a traditional sense."
That is a daunting task, as DWL teams have just recently begun using analytics to help choose players. Even with teams making use of more information, there are still old adages that often apply.
“I’ve been a bench coach and had managers turn to me and say, ‘Man, should I bunt here? I might get fired if I don’t,'" Linares said.
With a short 50-game season, owners have been quick to move on from managers if their team gets into a rut. This can sometimes cause teams to pay multiple managers at the same time if their contracts aren’t up.
“I’ve seen a team recently have three managers on their payroll, but only one was in the dugout because the other two were fired after being given two-year contracts," Linares said.
This financial miscalculation has caused teams to not be so quick to change managers in recent seasons, understanding that a new face in the dugout may not have much effect on a four-game losing streak.
Winning is the main goal in the Dominican Republic, and the expectations are always high, providing a good opportunity to motivate coaches and players.
“You don’t do well, you go home. That is just how it is—its pressure to perform well. Even the vets and stars, you go with the guys who step up. You play the hot hand," said Bobby Magallanes, who has experience coaching in both the minors and international circuit. “The season is so short, every game is important… it’s a playoff atmosphere there," he said.
Winter ball allows players to test their game while learning from those at different levels. Linares feels playing Winter ball is a good test for players because its fast-paced nature and intense atmosphere provides a valuable experience.
“It is good for their development—you can work on stuff," Linares said. "Plus, you get to see the way that other guys work."