NILES, Ohio — Of all the managerial jobs in the Indians minor-league system, Ted Kubiak has the most unique and challenging.
Kubiak has been a part of the Indians organization for 21 years but this is his ninth managing their New York-Penn League affiliate. For the sixth season that is Mahoning Valley, which is an hour south from Progressive Field. Kubiak’s first stint in the NY-P was with Watertown, N.Y., which was the Tribe’s affiliate before moving here in 1999.
While most minor-league managers get spring training to evaluate their players or have the benefit of coaching them last season, Kubiak doesn’t. Half of the players he has seen via extended spring training but 11 players currently on the roaster joined the organization after being drafted three weeks ago.
"You can look at a guy and see what they can do. From there you want to see how he adjusts to certain pitchers, how he plays defense and runs bases. Then you put your own scouting report together and I tell Cleveland," Kubiak said. "When they leave here they are going to become different players just from the competition that they face."
All of the players on the Scrappers’ roster who were drafted this year spent time in college while those who were signed out of high school are in the Arizona Rookie League. First-round pick Brad Zimmer got to Mahoning Valley last week but has played in only one game but Kubiak said Zimmer is closer to being able to play every day.
In the case of most college players, they have been off for over a month before reporting to their teams. Besides setting a schedule, there is getting them acclimated to playing every day.
"The biggest thing is to let them get their feet wet. It’s not a long season but for some of these college kids it has been a long year and we have to be careful about overusing some of these guys," pitching coach Greg Hibbard said.
Since Kubiak is the first manager in the Indians’ system for at least half of the players, it is an important job. While Kubiak has managed in Double A and Single A, being in short season Class A seems to be his best fit.
"He’s got a great resume that crosses several generations of players," Indians Vice President of Player Development Ross Atkins said. "His experience plus open mind and passion for learning and teaching are a perfect combination. The two most important things he gets across to the players are to focus on work and a belief that one day that are going to be in the Majors."
For Kubiak, the biggest challenge is getting everyone on a schedule and making sure they adjust to it. That means setting meal times, when to lift and for some of the players scheduling English classes. It is an adjustment the first couple weeks but then things kind of fall into place.
It is still early in the season, but Kubiak has been impressed with the maturity level from the group.
Said Hibbard of Kubiak: "He works them, gets them in shape, pays attention to the speed of the game and getting them focused for nine innings. It can be a test of character to see if they can stay focused."
When it comes to on-field adjustments, Hibbard said with the college guys they are pretty hands off at first other than offering them mindset on certain things or how to attack hitters. They want to see them pitch for awhile before there are any adjustments in mechanics.
After the first two weeks, the Scrappers are 5-9 and have lost two straight, including 6-4 to Jamestown in 10 innings on Thursday. Kieran Lovegrove, who went 4 1/3 innings, thinks that the roster is beginning to mesh and that there will be improvement.
"As we play more you’re going to see guys score a lot of runs and the pitching staff go and shut people down," he said. "It’s not all individual. It’s about working together and developing."