After 40 years as a player and coach in the Braves organization, Brian Snitker has been named the franchise’s 14th full-time manager since moving to Atlanta.
“Brian earned this opportunity through his dedication to the Braves and to our players,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said in a statement. “We are excited for the energy and momentum he will bring into SunTrust Park next season.”
Snitker's contract runs through the 2017 season with a club option for 2018.
Snitker stepped in as the team’s interim manager on May 17 following the firing of Fredi Gonzalez and was once considered a long shot to claim the full-time job, but following Atlanta’s strong second half, including an 18-10 record after August, the organization staple rocketed to the top of the front office’s list of candidates. The Braves interviewed former MLB managers Bud Black and Ron Washington for the position along with three additional internal candidates — Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez and Bo Porter — before electing to keep the season-ending winning formula in place.
“I think everything’s headed in the right direction,” said Snitker, who ended his interim campaign with a 59-65 record. “It’s starting to feel like it did back in the day when we were putting those banners up there.”
His optimism is understandable.
The team won its final five series and 20 of its final 30 games. The addition of Matt Kemp and call up of Dansby Swanson completely renovated the offense as it finished sixth in runs scored after the All-Star break. With every significant piece scheduled to return in addition to the potential 2017 call-ups of top prospects Ozzie Albies and Sean Newcomb and money to spend this winter, the Braves move into SunTrust Park with, as Snitker has phrased it on multiple occasions, a “real team.”
The team also announced its new coaching staff, headlined by new pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and Washington at third base. Those roles were left vacant when the team did not exercise its 2017 option on former pitching coach Roger McDowell and as Porter steps into a role as special assistant to the general manager.
The rest of the staff — Pendleton, Perez, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, assistant hitting coach Jose Castro and bullpen coach Marty Reed — returns intact.
Despite Washington, who managed the Texas Rangers to two straight World Series and adds substantial experience to Atlanta's coaching staff, moving from his position as third-base coach in Oakland to Atlanta, Hernandez is the most intriguing element on Snitker's new staff. After moving on from the highly successful McDowell, whose pitchers posted the fourth-best ERA in baseball during his tenure, Hernandez has big shoes to fill.
The 55-year-old served as the organization's roving minor-league instructor in 2016, overseeing the lifeblood of the organization's rebuild.
Hernandez previously served as the pitching coach for the Miami Marlins from 2013 to 2015, helping to groom the likes of baseball's preeminent young ace: the late, great Jose Fernandez. The Marlins posted their two best single-season ERA marks in franchise history under Hernandez's guidance. He's also worked as the bullpen coach for the Indians, pitching coach for the Tigers (coaching another young ace in Justin Verlander) and the Rays.
“Chuck brings a tremendous amount of experience to this role,” Coppolella said in a statement. “He spent the 2016 season working closely with many of our young, talented pitchers who will be such an important part of our future.”
Multiple Braves players endorsed Snitker down the stretch — a factor Coppolella and president of baseball operations John Hart did not dismiss during their exit interviews.
“This game’s about the players. It is about the players. We like our players. We believe in our players. We care what our players say,” Hart said. “I think that is certainly a strong endorsement of Brian from the players. It certainly plays a role. It factors in. No question about it.”
Snitker’s experience in working with young players likely paid dividends for him during the hiring process. The 60-year-old manager has helped groom Braves stars for decades, from Tom Glavine to Rafael Furcal to Dansby Swanson, as a coach and manager at both the minor- and major-league levels.
Given the franchise’s youth movement and his track record in helping mold young talent, it’s not particularly surprising the team entrusted him with its next step.
“We want a manager that understands what it is that we’re doing with our young players, that’s going to have the ability to break in young players as we go through really the next – it started this year, but, you know, you look at next year a little more. And then come ’18 and ’19 and ’20 here comes a lot of young players,” Hart said. “We want manager that’s going to have the ability to do that as well as handle a veteran player.
“ … Brian has sent a lot of guys up to the Braves. He understands when a guy’s ready, when he’s not ready. And in today’s world, like it or not, they’re not always finished off. You have to have a staff that can coach and can teach and can lead and encourage. And you have to have a manager that is that guy. He’s got to be that guy with the young players that come up.”
Snitker becomes just the third Braves manager since Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox returned to the dugout full-time in 1991.