More Changes In Store For Cyclones In 2003?

The 2003 season is a critical one for the Brooklyn Cyclones' organization. Unlike the 2001 inaugural campaign, the aura of the first season of Brooklyn baseball is no longer a major draw, and next season, there will be no championship afterglow to attract fans.

It has already been established that Brooklyn fans expect better from the Cyclones next year. Fairly or not, the impetus now is on the Mets organization to start doing a better job in drafting talent.

The 2001 draft saw 13 of the team's first 25 picks play important roles in the Cyclones' success.

This season, only Blake Whealy (13th round), Chase Lambin (34th) and for the last two weeks of the season, lefty sensation and No. 1 pick Scott Kazmir made any significant contribution at Brooklyn.

Though several team meetings were held to discuss the shortcomings of this year's draft, including the injury-riddled seasons of fourth-rounder Bobby Malek and fifth-rounder Jonathan Slack, Mets director of minor league personel Kevin Morgan insists 2002's draft success — or lack thereof — is a story yet to be told.

"It's tough to judge in the first short-season (of play for these guys) whether this draft was successful or not. It's unfortunate that those injured players got hurt, and we didn't get the chance to see them in that environment (Brooklyn)," Morgan said. "There's no question it's a high-profile situation, (last year's team) had a nice mix of draftees and players that had been in the system, and guys were healthy overall. If we can continue to put teams together like that, we hope to be successful again next year."

Cyclones fans are hoping that the record-setting crowds — over 316,000 fans visited KeySpan Park this season, an average of more than 8,350 per game — doesn't stop the team from trying to field the best team possible next season.

The also much discussed and speculated about subject, a possible switch to Double-A baseball, is a question that is treated like a military secret by the Cyclones organization.

No one wants to answer any questions about the possible move — which of course, is filled, with dozens of logistical problems — but such a switch could, at the very least, give the fans of Brooklyn the full-season, highly competitive level of baseball they expect.

New Skipper?

The worst kept secret over the last two weeks in Coney Island is the fact that Howard Johnson will not be back as Cyclones manager next season.

"It was a real good experience, I have to say," said Johnson, "A lot of fun. There's a lot of things that met my expectations."

Though satisfied overall with this year's effort, Johnson's first season as a manager at the pro level was tough to judge.

For sure, the Cyclones showed moxie, battling back from a poor start to get themselves close to a wild card spot, trailing by just two games with 11 to play. Whether they felt the pressure, or were simply overmatched, the Cyclones dropped nine straight games, and 10 of the final 11 to end the year, hardly a ringing endorsement for Johnson's future as a skipper.

" "Even though we have a goal to win, development has to come first," Johnson said. "It's hard when you have guys coming in their first year…having to play well in front of 8,000 people every night."

"We got to see a lot of guys this year, that's what important," he added.

Though the early word has former Met and current minor league roving infield instructor Tim Teufel being named as a favorite for the job, there may be another candidate or two out there.

Current pitching coach Bobby Ojeda certainly has the personality and baseball knowledge to do the job, but may have had enough of the bus rides to Jamestown and Batavia.

An excellent choice would be hitting coach Donovan Mitchell, who according to the players is as compassionate and understanding mentor, as well as an expert in breaking down flaws in a slumping player's swing.

He's had just about every job in the Mets organization, and despite his lack of a "name," certainly has the resume to warrant a look.

In 2000, Mitchell was the hitting coach for the Capital City Bombers (A) of the South Atlantic League. In 1999, his first year with the Mets organization, he was the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast Mets' championship team.

As a seven-year minor leaguer in the Astros' organization, Mitchell can certainly identify with his young charges, and can perhaps give them a bit more perspective on dealing with the here and now of minor league baseball and hometown fans' perspectives.

Mitchell's profile is very close to that of Edgar Alfonzo, who won a title in 2001 while managing Brooklyn, which is also a factor to consider. An unassuming, pleasant guy used to riding buses, and a solid, professional approach to the game.

Teufel is a solid choice, and will do well at Coney Island if he indeed is the choice, but the Mets might be better served by taking a chance on Mitchell.

Reprinted with permission of Brooklyn Skyline. This article was published on 9/1002.

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