Al Pedrique will tell you quickly what the most important thing on his mind is as he takes the reins of the Double-A Trenton Thunder.
“We’re here for the players,” the 54-year-old native of Valencia Carabobo, Venezuela, said. “We’re here to make them comfortable and help them improve. There are guys who go from Double-A to the majors, skipping Triple-A.
“We need to stress, that to play in the majors, they have to do things consistently every day.”
Pedrique takes over for Tony Franklin, who led Trenton teams to three Eastern League Championships, the last in 2013, in his eight years at the helm. He will be blessed with several of the top Yankees prospects to start the season in right-hander Luis Severino, right-fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, who likely will cause Eastern League opponents headaches.
He will also have up-and-coming outfielder Jake Cave in his clubhouse.
“You never know,” said Pedrique, who served on major-league coaching staffs in Arizona, Kansas City and Houston, and as the Diamondbacks’ interim manager in 2004. “In the minors, you can have a team with a lot of stars that doesn’t win, or one (like Franklin’s 2013 club) which just comes together.
“We’re looking for both. Development is the key, but winning can be nice as well. We all have to be on the same page. I’m the manager, and that is my responsibility.”
Pedrique’s major-league experience – he appeared in 174 games as a shortstop with the Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers from 1987-89, batting .247 (111-for-449), but committing just 16 errors in 1,001 innings – will come in handy with the Yankees’ Double-A players.
When a player arrives in Double-A, part of his game is usually deemed big-league ready, while other parts need improvement. Pedrique and his staff will constantly be working on those facets with players to move them on to Triple-A Scranton and the Yankees in what is an improving farm system.
“One thing I can tell the players about the major leagues, as a player and as a coach and manager, is you have to really be at the top of your game every day because the competition is just so demanding,” he said. “They need to learn that at this level.
“When any player moves up, it takes time for him to be comfortable at that level. The player wants to show he belongs, he can play at that level. That’s why we’re here.”
Pedrique first came to the Yankees system in 2013, directing the Class-A South Atlantic League Charleston RiverDogs to a 75-63 mark. He then led Class-A Advanced Tampa to 71-68 Florida State League record and will be aiming for his third straight winning season in the system.
There were be some things familiar.
“I will know most of the players because I have had a lot of them the last two years,” Pedrique said. “I know their tendencies.”
Another is former Thunder fan-favorite P.J. Pilittere, who helped lead both the 2007 and 2008 clubs to Eastern League titles as a catcher. The Yankees are high on the 33-year-old native of San Dimas, Calif., whom they see as a future minor-league manager and maybe more.
Pedrique is thrilled to have Pilittere as his hitting coach.
“P.J. definitely is a future manager,” said Pedrique. “He has it. He knows how to relate to players and communicate well with them. When I found out he was going to be with me again (as the last two seasons), I was really pleased.
“He is a big help both to me and the players.”
The new Trenton skipper is also familiar with new pitching coach Jose Rosado, 40, whom he knew from the Royals organization. Rosado was 37-45, 4.27 and pitched in two Major League All-Star Games between 1996-2000. His career ended prematurely due to a rotator cuff injury.
“Jose was always a hard-working, good guy when we were with the Royals,” said Pedrique. “Glad to have him as well.”
Former big-league catcher Michel Hernandez completes in the in-uniform coaching staff.
Arm&Hammer Park features some of the finest facilities in the minor leagues. The manager has a spacious office, while his coaches have their own office. The clubhouse is similar in space to a big-league counterpart, while the players have a private lounge and video room.
“In talking to Tony, he told me how much he enjoyed working in Trenton because of the facilities,” said Pedrique. “We also talked about the crowds. It’s nice to have 5,000 people watching you every night. It’s a lot easier to motivate than when there are 150 or 200 people in the stands.”
Pedrique is on the mend from back surgery he had in November, but figures to be back in top shape by mid-summer, continuing another tradition Franklin participated in – taming the area’s many golf courses.
“During the season, that can be relaxing,” said Pedrique.
Bienvenido a Trenton, Al Pedrique