St. Louis Cardinals Triple-A manager Mike Shildt of the Memphis Redbirds has long been an advocate of player development at the professional level. HIs first two high-level baseball gigs outside of that realm came as an associate scout (or “Bird Dog”) for three years for the Major League Scouting Bureau and a five-year stop coaching for University North Carolina Charlotte and UNC Asheville.
In 2004, Shildt received his first opportunity with the Cardinals as an area scout and player development instructor that continued for four seasons. The 47-year old also served as a hitting coach during that timeframe (2004-2008) with short-season teams New Jersey, State College, Batavia and Johnson City.
The 47-year began his managerial career in 2009 with the Johnson City Cardinals and guided the club to back-to-back championships in his first three years as a professional manager. Shildt was the recipient of The George Kissell Award in 2010, and he was also promoted to manage the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, where he spent three years at the helm (2012-2014). In his first season, Shildt helped Springfield to their first and only Texas League championship in franchise history with a club that was recognized as Baseball America's Team of the Year.
2015 marked Shildt's 12th season in the Cardinals organization, seventh as a manager and first with Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. This season, the Redbirds (73-71) played competitive baseball throughout the season and finished five games out of a Pacific Coast League playoff berth. Following the season's conclusion, Shildt worked with Mike Matheny and the big-league staff in St. Louis in the month of September.
Shildt took time out of his hectic schedule to answer my questions in the following interview. In Part 1 of a two-part discussion, he covers a wide variety of topics that include the Memphis Redbirds' position at season's end, impact player movement had on the everyday clubhouse, prepping players in at multiple positions, and much, much more below.
Derek Shore: In the first season of the newly-renovated AutoZone Park, the Redbirds posted a respectable record. Obviously player development is the primary goal, but were you satisfied with your team’s position at season’s end?
Mike Shildt: "Yeah Derek, like you mentioned first and foremost equivocally is the development of our players and then being in a healthy developmental situation to be ready for the call to St. Louis. That's the reason we are there obviously --- there's a scoreboard on and we like to compete --- the scoreboard is the winning effort.
"We had a great, great group of guys on our club that competed the right way and went about that every night in a real professional manner. Our staff was first class as well. I felt really good from a competitive standpoint how the season finished out."
DS: 2015, in particular, was a year in which player movement was significant, especially due to injuries to key players at the big-league level. How do you approach a clubhouse of new faces virtually every week?
MS: "It is outstanding to be able to have the opportunity to, first of all, to allow guys to play in St. Louis at the big-league level and then the residual impact is the opportunity that creates when guys leave. Not only does that create more opportunities for guys on the club, but they get more of a role in innings or at-bats and so-forth.
"Typically, there's some push-up from our Double-A club in Springfield. To have those guys get a chance and come up and see what they can do and gain experience is really great. I enjoy it quite a bit and it's a challenge for everybody to get guys in a position that they will have to prove."
DS: What's the preparation process about having players work in at multiple positions as part of getting a call-up to St. Louis? Stephen Piscotty was an example of this before his call-up.
MS: "Good question. That's why we’re there, we are there to provide the experience and opportunities for guys to be able to learn and do things to prepare them to go to St. Louis for when they are called upon to do those things.
"Stephen (Piscotty) is a good example. He came into the organization as a third baseman; then quickly realized that the outfield was the best opportunity for him to move forward quickly and develop. He played right field mostly up until this year, then realized there are different peripheries that make some sense for him to play --- some left field and even center field --- he got some opportunities there as well and did a nice job.
"As the season progressed, based on things that happened at the big-league level and Stephen to his credit; ability to play the outfield as well as he was able to play it regardless of position, it allowed the opportunity to explore, learn to play, and work at first base. Our infield coordinator Pop Warner came in, worked with him, kind of caught him up to speed and get him work so when he went up he would have an understanding of what the expectations were. I think it helped him out a ton when he got up there."
DS: This was your seventh season of managing at the professional level in the books, first at the highest level of minor league baseball. How do you feel about your development as a manager from year-to-year?
MS: "It is a real tremendous opportunity I've been given with the Cardinals. We have done a nice job. It's our primary job to develop our players, obviously. One thing dating back to Mr. Kissell, George Kissell, as you know he was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame after serving the organization for over 66 years - was the development of the staff.
“I'm a product of the development of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, guys like Mark DeJohn (field coordinator) has done a tremendous job, Gary LaRocque, and, of course, our big-league general manager, John Mozeliak. It's a well-run organization - they've allowed me the opportunity to move forward and give me the tools every year to improve and they spend energy and time to understand what is expected and helping me grow. It's been a real blessing."
DS: You had the opportunity of being around the major-league staff this last September. Do you have aspirations of perhaps managing or coaching at the big league level someday?
MS: "They are very, very secondary. I'd be less than honest to say that I wouldn't want to have the opportunity to manage or coach at the big-league level. Obviously, at our big-league level we have a manager, Mike Matheny who is as good as they come, should be Manager of the Year, and (could) already won it a couple of times.
"There's unreal expectations desired to manage our big-league team. Again, it is very, very secondary and whatever goals I have, is not as narrowly as important as the development of our players. Mark DeJohn as I've mentioned earlier, gave me some really good advice early on in my career and it's true. I've repeated it: ‘I can't care more about my career than the career of our players.’
"What is more important in there is that I have to care more about what's best for the organization. So, would it be nice? It'd be great, but if I never get to the big leagues as a coach or have the opportunity, then that would be just fine. In my pocket, I will make sure the development of our players to the level of expectations continues moving forward."
DS: What advantages do a scouting background give you on a daily basis?
MS: "It's a good skill-set. I wouldn't say on a daily basis. That's an interesting question that I would probably reflect more about. That background is the discipline of evaluation and it's important in our job.
"Having a scouting discipline for four years in an organization with some really, really good evaluators has served me well in everyday evaluating and communicating with our organization. How I think a player could improve, but also the expectation of could he potentially contribute at the higher level."
DS: The Cardinals organization have implemented a fourth coach position in the system. Memphis's fourth coach -- Vance Albitz, a former player of yours -- do you see him falling into the player development or scouting side of baseball?
MS: "That's a question for Vance. The fourth coach program has been a really effective opportunity. Obviously those coaches have been real active for the organization. Very well thought-out and I applaud the organization for doing it and executing it."
“Specific to Vance, he's a talented guy and whatever he wants to do, he'll be really good at because he's got a lot of skill-sets, an ability to be proactive, the heart, and work ethic to execute. I'm not sure what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, but to grow with what he does, I'm sure he'll be good at it."
There’s more on the way!
Check back soon for Part 2 of this interview as Shildt talks about a number of the Cardinals prospects he has coached.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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