The 2013 Vermont Lake Monsters' roster benefited from plenty of experience from their coaching staff. Manager Rick Magnante has 12 years of minor league managerial experience and decades of experience scouting amateur talent. Hitting coach Lloyd Turner and pitching coach Craig Lefferts both had long careers as players in professional baseball before turning to coaching.
Turner was the A's 16th-round pick in 2002. The utility player was in the A's system from 2002 through 2007, reaching as high as Triple-A Sacramento. From 2008 through 2012, Turner played in the independent Atlantic League for the Lancaster Barnstormers and the Camden Riversharks. In 2013, he officially hung up his cleats and re-joined the A's organization as a hitting coach.
Lefferts was a ninth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1980. He would make his big league debut with Chicago in 1983. That was the start of a 12-year major league career for the left-hander. In 696 big league games, Lefferts posted a 3.43 ERA for the Cubs, Padres, Giants, Orioles, Rangers and Angels. Lefferts pitched against the A's in the 1989 World Series while with San Francisco and also pitched for the Padres in the 1984 Fall Classic. Lefferts was the winning pitcher in the 1980 College World Series title game, earning the win for Arizona.
Lefferts has been coaching in the A's system since 2003, serving as a pitching coach at the Double-A, High-A and short-season levels. The 2013 season was Lefferts' first with Vermont.
Donald Moore spoke with both coaches during the Lake Monsters' final roadtrip about their coaching philosophies and their thoughts on the 2013 season.
Lloyd Turner, Hitting Coach
Donald Moore: How do you feel this team's offense did this year?
Lloyd Turner: I think it was spotty. I think we started out kind of slow. Actually it started here in Tri Cities and then we did hit a span of eight games where we were swinging the bats pretty well. And then the next thing you know, kind of just fell off again. These guys in their first year are trying to get to know themselves, experiences and failure, and one of the things I'm learning as a hitting coach for the first time is that – how to get everybody to be just more even keel. When things aren't going so great, not to get too high or not to get too low.
Again, I think it was up and down for the most part. If you've got to have some failures, I'd rather them have it now, where they can learn a little about themselves and get ready to go into the off-season and/or the Instructional League and go in there with the mindset that there are some things to work on so that next year when they have their first full season, they'll be better prepared.
DM: What is the biggest challenge teaching young hitters at this level?
LT: I think it varies. You know for a lot of them, I think the biggest challenge is when a guy goes for 0 for 4, can they put it behind them so they can be ready to play with the right mindset the next day? In college, they'll play three or four games a week and they are just spread out as well. You are looking at a midweek game and then a weekend series, whereas here, it's everyday, especially for the guys in the lineup everyday. If you don't have the mentality to be able to put things behind you, that has to be one of the biggest challenges for them.
So being able to get them to understand that this is today. We do a lot of traveling and from when I played, these guys are in the weight room a little bit more than what we were, which is a good thing, but at the same time just learning how to balance out their careers. That process has to start now, so being able to try to teach them how to keep their composure, be able to come back the next day and be consistent with the daily routine.
DM: What skillset do you look for in a hitter at this level?
LT: Whether he's patient, and when I say patient, I don't mean passive. We want a hitter to be aggressive, but at the same time, aggressive to his zone, to the pitches that he can be successful with. What I look for in a hitter is: do you know who you are as a hitter and do you have patience at the plate and do you hit the pitches you want to hit? And being able to swing at strikes.
DM: What do you like best about being a coach in the minor league level?
LT: Just the fact I get to interact with young hitters and I get to interact with them everyday. When I was playing, I was one of those guys who was just constantly questioning my coaches and managers about the game, because I was hungry to learn. I was one of those guys that wanted to go to the big leagues and I felt that the only way to do that, besides the talent I had, was to get as much information that I possibly could. So now that I have that information, I just want to give back that information to the players I coach. That's where I get my greatest joy and excitement is to be able to coach now.
DM: What are your off-season plans?
LT: I've got instructs, so again, usually when the season is over, I just go home and hit the gym. But now with this job, it's a year-round job to me. I'll go back to Arizona where I live and do Instructs. After instructs, I may do some lessons around the community and give back a little bit to some kids.
I know Skip [Rick Magnate] and Lefty [Craig Lefferts] go to South Africa every year and I just actually put in a resume to try to get to go down there with those two guys and broaden my horizons a little bit, to add something to my resume and being able to say, "I've done this". And continue to see the rest of the world and help kids fulfill their dreams as baseball players.
DM: Thank you so much for your time and the best of luck to you.
LT: Thank you Don, my pleasure.
Craig Lefferts, Pitching Coach
Donald Moore: How did the team's pitching staff perform this season?
Craig Lefferts: Well, the pitching staff has done a very good job. A lot of young kids, new kids. You've got the guys out of the draft, we got the young Dominican players that are coming into the system in the States for the first time and then some of the guys from last year's draft. It's been a good group. They've worked hard, they've taken some instruction and ran with it and really showed me they are able to pitch, change speeds, locate. Overall, I give us a very high grade on the execution that the pitchers have accomplished this year.
DM: What challenges do you have as a pitching coach, teaching young arms to pitch in this level?
CL: Well, I don't want to teach them to pitch at this level, I want to teach them how to pitch in the big leagues, so that's my thought process. First thing they need to do is they need to learn who they are, what type of pitchers they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, so they can use their strengths and work on their weaknesses. Secondly, we want to teach them to be able to make adjustments, because that's what the biggest key is for a pitcher. When you're out in a game, it's really not often you feel great, you feel strong and everything is working. It's not the norm. So you have to be able to figure out ‘how I'm going to win when I don't have my best stuff, or I don't have my best control?' You have to be able to calm yourself down, be under control mentally and make adjustments with the feel of the release point. So, we talk a lot about feel and how they're feeling and what they are feeling so that they can make the proper adjustments.
Because when you're out there pitching, you don't want to over-think things. When you're thinking too much, your body kind of gets paralyzed. You want your body to be free and easy and allow your talents to come out, so you have to clear your mind. You have to have an approach, you have to think about what you want to accomplish, and then you do it. And then you feel, ‘well was it good? Was it bad? Now how do I change that? What little thought do I have to fix that feel?' and then you build on that. In doing this over time, these kids learn how to be their own pitching coach out there, pitch by pitch, instead of walking two guys and then having me go out there and tell you, you're doing this, and this is what you need to do. They need to be able to feel that and make those adjustments, and that's what the big leaguers do.
DM: Is there a specific pitching philosophy that you teach in this organization?
CL: We do have a philosophy in terms of maintaining always our health. We have a throwing program, a strength and conditioning program, a delivery maintenance program, shadow work. So we have these different programs that are the philosophy of the A's that we implement. And it gives them a routine and the consistency that they need to build on to get better.
DM: As a former professional player and now a coach, what kind of skillset do you look for in your pitchers?
CL: Well, obviously, you like to see a quick arm, but not everybody has a quick arm. I think the best skillset that a pitcher can have is to be mentally tough and confident. Confidence is the key to everything. If I believe I can do something, then I'm going to give my best effort. If I have a little bit of doubt, if that confidence wavers, it becomes very difficult, so for me, that's really the key for these kids to learn that they are good and to believe in themselves and to take that out there, day in and day out, no matter how they are feeling. So that's a challenge.
DM: What do you like best about being a pitching coach?
CL: Well, I tell you, I love spending time with these kids and giving them some of my thoughts about what I know, and what's happened to me and hopefully it helps them. And then they can attain their goals. I live the dream. I played 12 years in the major leagues. I pitched in a couple World Series. I've had a great baseball career, and I continue to as a coach.
Now I see these kids like the A.J. Griffins and the Dan Strailys, who I coached a couple of years in the minors leagues and how they are doing at the major league level and just to know I may have said something that clicked in their mind that helped them on their path. You know, that's really the neat thing. To see Sean Doolittle go out and strike out the side. To see these things happen after you put in the time with these guys and obviously you know as a coach, we put ourselves out there to give them some information and advice and they have to internalize it, and make it real in their game. And then they become the best player they can be. And so, we are just there as a facilitator. It's fun, especially when you see the success down the road.
DM: Any off season plans?
CL: I've been working with Rick Magnante on coaching the South African team. So we are going to be traveling down to South Africa during this off-season doing a major league baseball developmental elite camp for young kids on the continent. [The kids are] 15 to 18 years old, and hopefully they will develop some major league repetitions and skills down there and work with the coaches down there to help bring the game of baseball along in Africa. So, that's exciting. We'll be going down there in December.
DM: Coach, thank you very much for all your time.
CL: I really appreciate it. Thank you, Don.