Mattingly, Simmons among AFL managers
Skippers look to use Fall League as MLB proving ground
The Arizona Fall League is known as a "finishing school" for baseball's top prospects, and for good reason, with over 1,800 alumni reaching the big leagues. While the players understandably get most of the attention, it should not be forgotten that the AFL has also been a proving ground for future Major League managers and coaches.
There have been 26 Major League managers who have come from the AFL ranks, something the six men named Fall League skippers on Tuesday are sure to be aware of. Two of them already sit in big league dugouts, waiting for their turn to pilot a team.
Don Mattingly, currently the Dodgers bench coach, is frequently mentioned as the most likely successor to Joe Torre. This fall, he'll get some time to hone his managerial skills as the skipper for Phoenix Desert Dogs. The pressure will be on for the six-time All-Star as he tries to return the Desert Dogs to AFL dominance. They had their five-year championship run ended by the Peoria Javelinas in 2009.
Ted Simmons, an eight-time All-Star, is in a similar position to Mattingly, though without as clear a path to a job in the future. It has been reported that the Padres bench coach will be considered for the Florida Marlins managerial post, along with interim manager Edwin Rodriguez, when the season is over. Perhaps the Marlins will keep tabs on the job Simmons does piloting the Peoria Saguaros this fall.
The other managers headed to Arizona are Casey Kopitzke (Mesa Solar Sox), a former AFL player who is now the manager of the Peoria Chiefs, Class A Midwest League affiliate of the Chicago Cubs; Randy Knorr (Scottsdale Scorpions), currently the manager of the Harrisburg Senators, Double-A affiliate for the Washington Nationals; Mike Sarbaugh (Peoria Javelinas), manager for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in the Cleveland Indians organization; and Mike Guerrero (Surprise Rafters), skipper for the Double-A Hunstville Stars in the Milwaukee Brewers system.
"This is going to be an outstanding group," AFL executive director Steve Cobb said. "There's a real nice blend of former Major League players that have not managed that will be given an opportunity, such as Mattingly and Simmons, and a nice blend of former Fall League players that are now getting the opportunity to serve as managers, pitching coaches and hitting coaches."
In addition to Kopitzke, there's quite an alumni network among the field staff. Garvin Alston and Jamie Dismuke, who will serve as Mattingly's pitching and hitting coach in Phoenix, played in the AFL as well. Alston played for Scottsdale in 1995 and 1998; Dismuke suited up for Peoria in 1994. Alan Zinter, who will serve as Scottsdale's hitting coach, was an AFL player for Tucson in 1993 and Tempe in 1994. Javelinas pitching coach Kevin Walker was on the Peoria roster in 1999, while Surprise pitching coach Brad Holman played in Chandler in 1992. Along with Kopitzke (Mesa, 2003), that's six former players serving as coaches in 2010.
"It's happened more frequently [recently]," Cobb said. "Off the top of my head, though, this would be the most former Fall League players to serve in that capacity."
This season's coaching staffs include 18 managers/coaches with 106 seasons and 6,947 games of Major League player experience.
The AFL begins its 19th season on Tuesday, October 12, and concludes with a championship game on Saturday, November 20. The annual Rising Stars game is slated for Saturday, Nov. 6. The club alignments for the six-team league, owned and operated by Major League Baseball, are as follows:
Mesa Solar Sox: Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates
Phoenix Desert Dogs: Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics
Scottsdale Scorpions: Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals
Peoria Javelinas: Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays
Peoria Saguaros: Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays
Surprise Rafters: Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.