Since the dawn of their existence in Sacramento, the River Cats have maintained an unprecedented level of success in the Pacific Coast League by appearing in the playoffs in 11 of their 13 seasons. For new manager Steve Scarsone, that pressure might drive him more than anything else, despite the thought that winning should take a backseat to developing talent for the major leagues.
"There's a tremendous amount of pressure, especially from within – not necessarily from the A's or the front office here in Sacramento," Scarsone said. "That's what helps you strive and continue to do the work. My goal is win this division and continue to move on from there. I don't think anything less would be acceptable."
Scarsone joins the River Cats after spending the last two seasons with Double-A Midland, where he had a chance to work with a number of players that will start the season on Sacramento's roster. That familiarity with those prospects was a leading factor toward him becoming the fifth manager in team history.
The difference for Scarsone this year – aside from living in a bigger city, having better travel accommodations and not spending entire summers mired in the Texas heat – will be having more experienced players that he doesn't necessarily have to worry about developing. At Triple-A, opposed to the lower levels, players are focused more on consistency than development, making the new skipper's job easier.
"I don't have to start from scratch and teach them everything," Scarsone said. "At this point we need to maintain everything that they already have and continue to add to it so they can be complete ballplayers when they get the opportunity to go up to Oakland."
Scarsone replaces Darren Bush, who was promoted to the major leagues as the A's bullpen coach after winning back-to-back division titles in Sacramento. Managing a Triple-A club is a natural stepping-stone to a major league coaching job. Ask Bob Geren, who was the first River Cats manager and went on to manage the A's for nearly four-and-a-half seasons. Former River Cats' managers Todd Steverson and Tony DeFrancesco also landed big league coaching jobs after managing in Sacramento.
As a former second-round pick and major leaguer for seven seasons with Phillies, Orioles, Giants, Cardinals and Royals, Scarsone has seen pretty much everything in professional baseball. The infielder also spent three seasons in the PCL and is excited to revisit some of the league's cities. Despite his career 410-424 record as a minor league manager, his experience will allow him to have the ears of his young players."He wants to win, and he will win," starting pitching Sonny Gray said. "He's just super fun guy to play for. And he played. He knows what we go through and he knows how to handle it."
Gray wasn't shy in expressing his admiration for Scarsone, who was Gray's first manager he played for as a professional. Gray went directly to Double-A Midland to after being drafted in the first round of 2011. Center fielder Michael Choice is making the same transition from Double-A to Triple-A as Scarsone and already feels the inherent comfort of knowing his manager well.
"Being familiar with a manager can mean a lot," Choice said. "Sometimes guys get nervous just because the manager is watching and they don't know what to expect from the manager."
"But when you can be comfortable … and he knows what to expect from you and you can just do your thing, it makes things a lot easier."
Scarsone, a former infielder, was used all over the diamond during his playing days, which could also help his current group of players, especially at second base, where he spent most of his time.
It's there where two players, Grant Green and Jemile Weeks, will be competing for at-bats and playing time while trying to solidify themselves with the major leagues in mind. Weeks has already seen success at that level, while Green is hoping a shift back to the infield can finally allow his bat a chance to shine in Oakland."That's a big question. We talked about it at length before leaving Arizona," Scarsone said. "Both Green and Weeks will play quite a bit there. You're going to see some DHing. There might be some other positions involved. But the seal of approval hasn't been put on some of those yet. But we're going to get them their at-bats. We're going to get them in the game."