D-backs' Matt Williams honing managerial skills in Fall League; Rockies, Blue Jays show interest.
By JACK MAGRUDER FS Arizona
PHOENIX — Matt Williams would like nothing more than to be a major league manager, and his time might be coming.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' third-base coach appears to be one of the leading candidates to replace Jim Tracy in Colorado and is also a potential replacement for John Farrell in Toronto.
Williams, who is managing the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League, talked with Rockies assistant general manager Bill Geivett late last week, a conversation that could be a precursor to a formal interview.
“I had a conversation about philosophy, about my thoughts about the game, and what I would do if I was in that position. We talked about situations, what my thoughts were as far as a team. Offensively, defensively, pitching, all of that stuff,” Williams said.
“It wasn’t necessarily, 'What would you do with our (Rockies) guys?' It was, 'What are your thoughts on this or that?' It may have been a feeling-out (meeting). It may have been just an informational talk.”
While the Rockies consider their options, the Blue Jays have sought and been granted permission by the Diamondbacks to interview Williams regarding their managerial vacancy.
There might be few people outside the Colorado organization as well-versed on the Rockies as Williams, who played against them for 10 seasons while with the Giants and the D-backs and worked as a special assistant in the D-backs’ front office for five seasons before joining the team's coaching staff in 2010. Williams almost joined the Rockies in 2002, when a proposed trade involving Williams and Larry Walker fell through.
The Arizona Fall League is known as a finishing school for top baseball talent, and while the players get most of the attention, the list of successful managerial graduates includes Dusty Baker, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona and Don Mattingly.
Williams, who is his second stint in the fall league after filling in for Chip Hale during the D-backs’ run to the 2007 NLCS, figures the on-the-job training can only help.
“You jump at the opportunity. You get as much experience as you can,” Williams said. "It (managing) is what I want to do. Who knows if it will ever happen, but if you are never prepared. . . . It’s like taking B.P. or taking extra grounders. There may be an opportunity one day. There are not many of them. You want to be prepared if it does happen."
Williams has the requisite on-field credentials. He was a five-time All-Star third baseman and won four Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards in a 17-year major league career spent mostly in San Francisco and Arizona. He had 378 home runs and is still the only player to homer in the World Series for three different teams.
One fall league scout said he has been impressed by the Rafters’ aggressive style of play, which follows Williams’ persona. He believes you win with pitching, defense and a solid situational approach. The Rafters lead the league in stolen bases.
“I think I am aggressive by nature, in all aspects of the game," Williams said. "Pitching, aggressive within the strike zone, aggressive with fastball command. On defense, running bunt plays or turning the double play. You need to be aggressive on the field. I think that’s important.”
Williams’ managerial style is a melding of what he learned not only from playing the game but also from former managers Baker, Buck Showalter, Bob Brenly and current D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. Williams has been Gibson’s third-base coach the past two seasons. All four have been named Manager of the Year at least once, and Baker and Showalter had their teams in the playoffs this season.
“I’m trying to bring a little bit of everybody that I know," Williams said. "Each guy teaches you something different. It’s important to use all that is afforded to you. One of Gibby’s most important things is controlling the opponents’ running game. I try to learn as much as I can from him on that.”
“I take preparation both from Gibby and from Buck. I take how to relate well to your players from Dusty. Dusty has always been known as a players’ manager, but those guys will run through a wall for him. I try to take some from that. And then 'B.B.' (Brenly). He was a master at letting his guys know where they stand and how he was going to use them.”
Williams considers the player/manager relationship critical, and he works on it every day. He watches video with his hitters, talking through situational strategy. He also tries to get to know the player as a person.
“We’re all on the same end of the rope here. I just happen, in this situation, to be the manager here,” Williams said.
“It’s important to know every guy and to know what makes them tick. Know when something is bothering them or when they are happy. It takes time. You have to be available. It takes sitting down. Knowing their goals. Knowing their fears. Knowing their strengths. Then you can let them be free out there playing and put them in a situation to succeed.”
The Rafters have noticed.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Rockies outfield prospect Kent Matthes, who is hitting .302 with two home runs and eight RBI in 11 games. "I feel like he is a good communicator. He knows so much about the game from a player’s perspective. His type of game, to be a right-handed power hitter, I’ve learned a lot from him in just these last three or four weeks.
“We’ve talked about things like mind-sets in the box. The mental part of the game. Pitchers’ tendencies and stuff like that that. When he’s had a career like he’s had and put up the numbers that he did, it’s nice to get some information and pick his brain a little bit."
Of Williams potentially joining the Rockies, Matthes added, "I think it would be a good fit. I’d really enjoy having him on that side.”