BEEK'S BLOG: Colorado's minor league eye-in-the-sky

Posted by Brian VanderBeek on June 4, 2013 

— The blogs I have planned for today and tomorrow might run a little long, but I hope you find them interesting.

As people who follow the Colorado minor league system know, the Rockies did away with roving instructors this season and created a new position at every level - the development supervisor.

Fred Nelson, who spent 27 years in the Houston organization before accepting the development supervisor role in Modesto, was supposed to join the Nuts in spring training. But Nelson had back surgery just a few weeks before the camps broke, and it wasn’t until this week that he’s been well enough to join the Modesto staff.

We’ve known about this position since last fall, but except for a rather formal statement issued by Colorado, very little was known about the responsibilities and duties of this new guy - a fourth member of the field staff. I tried on three occasions to reach Jeff Bridich - Colorado’s player development director - to get some information on the post, but the calls went unreturned.

Here’s the statement released by the Rockies about the position.

"The role of Development Supervisor is new to the Rockies organization and is a leadership role that is highly responsible for the oversight and implementation of the Colorado Rockies development philosophies and practices. The Development Supervisor will be a team-builder who will create synergy among staff members so that they may generate and evaluate best practices on a daily, weekly, monthly and season-long basis. The Development Supervisors will serve as leaders in communication, so that consistency and continuity of organizational philosophies, execution, standards and expectations exist from level to level. In addition, the Development Supervisors will creatively seek out solutions to issues and challenges, so that we establish a foundation of winning with a focus on the professional and personal development of our players. The Development Supervisor will travel with their respective club."

The single question I wanted to ask Bridich was this: aren’t all these tasks within the job description of the manager?

So, with Nelson having settled into his office this week, I had the chance to sit down with him and ask him how the responsibilities of the new supervisorial position in Modesto mesh with and complement those of manager Lenn Sakata.

The second half of what Nelson had to say during our chat will be featured in tomorrow’s blog entry.

“It’s an extra set of eyes,” Nelson said. “Quite a few clubs have started to go to a fourth staff member. Dan’s (Colorado general manager Dan O’Dowd) vision was not only to get baseball people in this role, but people who could look at the big picture as opposed to being in the dugout, tied to every pitch, and in doing so really missing things that are important to the young player.

“To some degree I’m responsible for this club, but Lenny is the manager and I don’t make out the lineup. I can discipline the players, but that’s not my role - that has to be Lenny’s role or else you’ll get guys trying to play mom against dad. The players can come to me with their concerns, but they won’t get a lot of answers. If they want an opinion on how they’re doing as a player and what they need to do to get better, I’m all in on that.

“The concept is to add another set of eyes and an addition member of the work staff, which should make a difference. Things can get neglected - outfield play, baserunning, bunting programs. I can take some of that workload off the rest of the staff.

“The idea is to stay focused on what the organization wants in general. Things get passed downhill in any organization, and whenever there’s a regime change at the top, then changes trickle down. That part of it is not a unique concept, but it gets lost in translation. Having somebody here to look at that on a daily basis, to think about what we haven’t worked on in quite a while, or maybe there’s a position player who is a good offensive player but we never work with him on his defense. That would be something I could remind Lenny we need to address.

“I was with the Astros and Dan called to ask if I’d be interested in this job, and it sounded perfect for me. I wanted to get back into player development. I spent the last two years as director of player development after being out of it for eight or nine years. I’d missed being on the field. I’d been a teacher all my life and coached 14 years in college. When I became the farm director I was on the field at the start, but as things expanded I took on more office roles. Once you start doing contracts and start talking to agents, players avoid you - you’ve lost their trust. I come in here as a clean slate. I’m not a front office guy. I’m not evaluating them and I’m not the guy who will be doing their contracts, or releasing them. I’m here to help them get to the big leagues.

“The kick that Lenny gets and Dave Burba gets when their players progress and play at the big league level - that’s the carrot in place for all the minor league grinders.”

In tomorrow’s Part Two, Nelson discusses parts of his position that may be outside the normal responsibilities of the manager, such as fostering the relationship between the people in uniform and the minor league front office.

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