Kimberly Contreras

MadFriars Q&A: Padres Minor League Instructor Ryley Westman

In scouting parlance, Ryley Westman has a "good motor." After spending his first year in the San Diego Padres' system as the minor league catching coordinator, his new title in 2016 is Coordinator of Instruction. We talk to him about what that means and the scope of his responsibilities.

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MadFriars: I'm pretty sure your current title is unique in the game right now. Can you tell us what your job actually is?

Ryley Westman: Yeah, I think it took me a little bit to figure some of it out too. Basically, coordinator of instruction is where I’m going to be a lot more involved across the board defensively. Last year, I was specific just to the catching, where this year I’m going to come in and be able to get more involved with team defense, get involved with the outfield play, infield play. I’ll still be involved with the catchers to a great degree, it’s where a lot of my passion is, but be involved with the pitchers as well. [That will] also let me grow and learn with our coaching staff, so I think there’s some emphasis to get involved there as well.

When you say get involved with the staff, is that about how you all focus on developing players?

Ryley Westman: Exactly. I think, similar to some of your best players have a great idea of what they’re doing, I think our coaches are the same way. And often times, some of those players need a pat on the butt when they’re doing it the right way, and a reminder when they get away from some of our standards.

I think here in spring training is a very unique time to have all of our staff together and for us to agree on, ‘hey, when we get out into our affiliates, these are some standards, some routines and some drills that we want to take with us, and this is what we’re going to stick with as Padres.’ And when we break out to the affiliates, it’s easy to get into the grind of the season and start doing your own thing. I think to have somebody come in occasionally and say, ‘that’s exactly what we talked about in spring training, great job executing that team fundamental,’ and hopefully give a lot of positive reinforcement. And then, when there are times that we’re kind of straying away from what our plan was, give that helpful reminder to get back on track, because we all do that. Because the season is long, and it’s like, ‘oh, you know what, I forgot about that team fundamental that we need to be doing together,’ or to realize that we did discuss a way to address a situation a different way. So I think involved with our coaches in that way.

When you were in the Rangers organization, you were doing catching instruction there as well, right?

Ryley Westman: Correct. I started out in the Dominican Republic and spent a number of years out there, and then I bounced through the lower levels quite a bit as an assistant in Arizona and a little bit in short season, and then I finished up being an assistant coordinator under Hector Ortiz.

How much does the experience from the catching side translate into the instruction side for you?

Ryley Westman: I think you have to be aware of everything that’s going on in the game. So as far as being an instructor, when you’re going over bunt defense, cut and relay, first-and-third situations, as a catcher, you truly have to know where everybody on the field is going to be and know everyone’s responsibilities on the field, because your reads are keyed off of them. So it does correlate into coaching because, as a coach, you have to know all the player responsibilities. And the other thing that’s helped me a lot, quite honestly, is as a catcher, you have to associate yourself with all those coaches. You have to have a good rapport with the pitching coach, you’re working every day with the hitting coach, and you’ve got to be on the same page with that manager. So having done that as a player, and trying to push my catchers in that direction, it’s really forced me to develop those relationships, be on the same page with those guys, which greedily, has really helped me out as well.

[As we talked, pitching coordinator Mark Prior began circling his golf cart around us. Without breaking for a breath, Ryley continued with this thought]

Ryley Westman: We’re getting a victory lap run around us. The coaches are always having fun. We’re lucking to have a tremendous group out here. Baseball can be very vanilla. I think a lot of fans show up to the game and there’s a million things that are going on that fans sometimes don’t notice. And when those times can get a little dull, it’s an environment where it’s important to keep it loose. So it’s a pretty fun group.

In the course of 13 months here, you all have built a program that looks very different than a lot of programs. How much did you have a sense that was going to be the case when you got here, versus how much has just been built as you’ve been together?

Ryley Westman: Honestly, I think our leadership group in AJ Preller, Josh Stein, Fred Uhlman, Andy Green and his staff, Louie Ortiz, it’s people who are extremely passionate about what they do. And they are very open to trying new things. At the end of the day, I think a lot of people are traditional in the fact that they say, ‘hey, this is the way the industry does it, so this is how we’re going to do it.’

I think we have a group that has decided that if we think there’s a better way, if it’s looked at as weird or out of the ordinary, but we truly think it’s going to impact the player and make the organization better, those guys have enough confidence to say, we’re going to rally together and act upon it. So yeah, there are some things that we’re doing different, but I think it’s because that group is in constant pursuit of best practice. And I’m not surprised, because if anyone’s come in contact with those [guys], they’re passionate and intelligent people, and they’re always looking for a better way.

Is there one thing – one drill or one approach - that when it was implemented, you weren’t really sure about it, but as it’s been in practice, it’s grown on you?

Ryley Westman: Honestly, we sit up in that conference room a lot and we’re debating different things we want to try. And we’ll ask if that’s pushing the envelope too far with those guys. And I think that’s healthy, to be honest. When you’re in a room where everyone’s agreeing with each other, nothing’s being accomplished and nothing’s being challenged. So there have definitely been some where our coaches have said ‘I don’t know if we can implement that just yet’ or questioned if our players were ready, but at the end of the day, we have tried to be aggressive or push the envelope on some things. I think a couple days in, or after we can think about it, we’re walking away from these meetings and we feel like we’re right about it. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything that’s been too off the wall for me, but some of the discussions will start in one direction and all of the sudden, someone will shed some light and I’ll think, okay, that makes sense.

On the flip side, is there one thing that you brought in that’s been pushed through the organization that you’re particularly glad to see?

Ryley Westman: I wouldn’t say there’s one thing that I’ve been able to bring in on my own. There’ve been some ideas I’ve shared and guys have helped grow some of my ideas. I think we put a big focus on what our effort level is and what our focus level’s going to be throughout the course of practice. And that could be my idea or someone else’s idea, and that’s never going to be executed unless everybody’s on board. We’ve all shared some good ideas. I’d say the level of practice we want and the standard we want to keep, I’ve had some input on that. But as a unit, I think we’ve really brought it to where we want it to be and we’re all enforcing it together.

Once players get out to the affiliates next month, what does your role look like? Will you be traveling or will you mostly be here?

Ryley Westman: I’ll be hitting all our affiliates, and I’ll definitely be here. We’ve got some young, exciting talent that will be here in Arizona. So when we do break camp, I’ll give it a couple days for those managers to lay the foundation and look around that room and say, ‘look guys, this is our group and we’re together for the year,’ and after they make that environment theirs, we’ll get all our coordinators out and about. But I’d say that 20 to 25 days in the month will be out on the road, and then you’re able to bounce back home for about 5 days. It’ll be a lot of time spent with our boys out on the road. And we’ve got our Dominican program too, which is exciting going there as well.

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