TRENTON, NJ – Bobby Mitchell, who piloted the Double-A Trenton Thunder to an 87-55 mark and an Eastern League Division Series triumph over the Reading Fightin’ Phils, was not named Eastern League Manager of the Year for 2016.
The 61-year-old Salt Lake City native finished second in the voting for that honor, but he certainly can take personal satisfaction in executing the best managerial job in the EL this season, piloting the Thunder to both the second-best record in franchise history and the Eastern League Championship Series.
Such baseball honors, and the voting that brings them, are strictly arbitrary. Reality is Mitchell accomplished more with the roster given him than any of his peers, many of whom were superb in their positions themselves.
“I was really lucky in a lot of ways with the group I had this year,” said Mitchell. “Everybody in our clubhouse was always picking each other up, helping each other, never getting too high with success or too low when things got tough.
“As a manager, you don’t always get that.”
Mitchell has had such success before. His work with the Thunder produced his fourth playoff appearance in nine seasons of managing in MILB and a Triple-A Pacific Coast League title with the Salt Lake Bees in 2008. He has that winning managerial and clubhouse style that is a carbon-copy of former Thunder manager Tony Franklin, who won three EL titles with Trenton.
“Bobby has just been great to play for, he and the whole staff,” said Thunder shortstop Tyler Wade. “We really came together as a team and got better.”
Mitchell is always one to praise the work of pitching coach Jose Rosado, who directed an ever-changing pitching staff to league-bests in ERA (3.12), shutouts (15), least amount of home runs allowed (65), strikeouts (1,239) WHIP (1.21) and saves (50). Hitting eoach P.J. Pilittere helped outfielder Dustin Fowler to a season in which he drove in 88 runs, and first baseman Mike Ford to drive in 26 runs in 47 games.
Bullpen coach J.D. Closser handled many former starters who were made relievers and a changing cast as well.
“I can’t credit my coaches enough,” said Mitchell.
That is the way any organization hopes it works, but there were other circumstances that easily could have upset the equilibrium in Trenton.
– The 2016 Thunder had 163 transactions this season, yet players moving up were always congratulated and wished well, while their replacements were welcomed in the clubhouse and always seemed to fit in.
– Every team expects promotions, but, during the season, the Thunder saw starters Jordan Montgomery, Dietrich Enns and Brady Lail go to Triple-A Scranton, Vicente Campos traded to Arizona for Tyler Clippard and Chance Adams shut down. Mitchell and his coaches built a new starting rotation with Ronald Herrera, Will Carter, newcomer Justus Sheffield, Caleb Smith and Kyle Haynes for the playoffs after Dan Camarena was also promoted.
– In the bullpen, closer Jonathan Holder, now with the Yankees, went to Scranton, as did Matt Wotherspoon for periods. Tyler Jones, signed out of the Atlanta system for 2016, J.P. Feyereisen, obtained from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trade, and Travis Hissong have molded into an outstanding group that can change a game.
– Much of the club’s power, including first baseman Tyler Austin, now with the Yankees, and catcher Kyle Higashioka, now with Scranton, departed. The team played a hustling, aggressive style with an occasional home run helping the cause.
“No doubt pitching and defense has been our strengths, along with how this group has really stuck together,” said Mitchell. “We’re real happy for Austin and Holder with the Yankees, and how Kyle, especially, has contributed in Scranton, We want to see these guys to go up and be successful.”
Mitchell and his staff also integrated youngsters such as third baseman Miguel Andujar, infielder Abiatal Avelino and Ford into the mix as key contributors.
“A lot of first-year guys at this level have really come in and helped us,” said Mitchell.
That’s because Mitchell and his staff have a knack of putting players in situations in which they can succeed. Trenton will open the Best-of-5 ELCS Tuesday night in Akron. The Ducks will also host Game 2 Wednesday, with the series then shifting to ARM & HAMMER Park.
Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and a team which is three wins away from its fourth championship since 2008 has to have exceptional leadership that takes things as they come in perspective.
Which is a major reason why Trenton’s Bobby Mitchell has put together a managerial resume unmatched in the 2016 Eastern League.