Hillman highlights next wave of potential managers

LOS ANGELES—Trey Hillman and Tim Wallach of the Dodgers. Dino Ebel of the Angels. Miami’s Joey Cora. Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar Jr. Dave Martinez of Tampa Bay, Bo Porter of Washington and Philadelphia’s Pete Mackanin.

In the aftermath of the 2012 season, a number of managerial jobs will likely become available in both the American and National Leagues, and those listed above seem to be the favorites to be the next wave of major league managers.

Boston, Kansas City, Cleveland and Seattle could have vacancies after another year of poor performances in the AL, while in the NL Houston—which has already canned Brad Mills and interviewed Porter—New York and Colorado might fall into the same category. And in a strange twist, the Cincinnati Reds could be in the market for a new leader despite owning an 11-game lead in the NL Central—the largest lead in any division of either league. Dusty Baker is a free agent after the World Series and the Reds haven’t offered him an extension.

Usually a major league manager has had to work his way up from the low minors and then spend years as a coach on the big league level, although St. Louis’ Mike Metheny and Chicago White Sox head man Robin Ventura were both hired in 2011 without any professional managerial experience—ever. And it’s worked out well for them so far, as both teams remain in the races for postseason spots in their league.

Metheny and Ventura, though, are the exceptional exceptions rather than the rule, so I talked to five major league scouts about their thoughts about who should get the next jobs that come open. All asked that their names be kept confidential. The seven men listed at the top of the story were the most-mentioned.

Hillman, currently the Dodgers’ bench coach to manager Don Mattingly, is the only one of the eight to have major league managing experience—in two countries. He managed five years in Japan, leading the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to the Japan Series and Asia Series titles in 2006. The Kansas City Royals hired him to manage for the 2008 season, and in his first year led the team to their best record in six seasons—75-87. The Royals imploded in 2009, losing 97 games, and Hillman was fired just a little over a month into the 2010 season, having gone 12-23. He was named to Mattingly’s staff for the 2011 season, and has been invaluable to the first-time Dodger manager, who like Metheny and Ventura had never managed at any level.

Mattingly feels Hillman will be successful should he get another chance to manage in the show.

“Absolutely,” said Donnie Baseball. “Trey is a great baseball man and he knows how to get along with the (players), which is key, in my opinion. You saw the success he had in Japan, and I’m confident he’ll do it here in the major leagues when he gets another chance.”

You’ll notice that Mattingly said “when” not “if” Hillman gets another chance, reaffirming his belief that Hillman will one day be at the helm of another club. For Trey, though, there’s no rush to leave the Dodgers. None at all.

“Honestly, it’s a wait-and-see proposition for me,” said the Texas native. “I know this is going to sound cliche—and it is—but I just take it a day at a time. I specifically love what I’m doing for Don Mattingly, and there hasn’t been one particular aspect of managing that I can point out and say I really miss it. I promised myself when I took this job that I wasn’t going to think about managing,and—if in God’s time—the opportunity came back up, I would consider it.

“I can’t imagine serving anyone I enjoy hanging out with and being around more than Don Mattingly. I’m not trying to shove my beliefs down anyone’s throat, but I believe that God has always put me where he wants me at that particular time. I’m the only coach on the staff that never played in the big leagues, and when I look at the staff of guys that I get to work with, it humbles me.”

Hillman says he’s confident that Wallach will make an excellent manager when his time comes.

“Man, what can you say about him?” said Hillman, who managed in the Yankees’ system from from 1990-2001. “He’s got a great baseball mind. I’m not surprised at all that the scouts thought enough to rank him high in your survey.”

Mattingly values having Wallach on his staff as much as he does any other coach.

“I’m glad Timmy decided to stay with us when I got the job,” he said of Wallach, who was also up for the position. “He was an excellent player and he’s an excellent coach who will be a great manager in this game.”

So might Ebell, the Halos’ third-base coach, who is considered top managerial talent by many top decision-makers in the game.

He’s been on Scioscia’s staff for seven years after winning 531 games as a minor league manager, and many of the scouts feel that when this winter’s job interviews take place, Ebel will get a number of calls.

Said one American League East scout: “I don’t know Dino personally, but he’s always talked about as one of the best third base coaches in the game and somebody who will get a shot at the top spot someday.”

An opportunity Ebel is definitely looking forward to should it ever be offered.

“It’s always been a goal of mine,” said Ebel, a nine-year manager in the minors. “It’s something I always wanted to do.

“I feel really fortunate that Mike (Scioscia) brought me up to be his third base coach, and I love what I’m doing for the Angels. But one day if the chance comes around, I’d love to do it.”

And he certainly will be helped by Scioscia’s ever-expanding managerial tree, which has already produced Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon; San Diego’s Bud Black and Milwaukee’s Ron Roenicke.

“Absolutely,” Ebel agreed, “and all three of those guys I know very well. I spent time with them, and they’re doing outstanding jobs in the major leagues. And being part of Mike’s staff definitely helps in the eyes of people all around baseball.”

According to some prominent major league scouts, three of the top managerial prospects are with the local teams, but while their teams are fighting for a playoff berth, their focus is on only one thing—helping their clubs get to the World Series.

“Bottom line,” Hillman says, “that’s what this is all about. Whether you’re a player, manager, coach or front office person, it’s all about being the last team standing. Then the individual stuff will come if it’s meant to be.”