Ivan Pierre Aguirre

MadFriars Q&A: El Paso Chihuahuas Manager Rod Barajas

Rod Barajas became the Chihuahuas manager midyear in 2015, but his first taste of El Paso baseball was as the catcher of the Double-A El Paso Diablos in 1999.

EL PASO, Texas -- MadFriars: This team has a very different profile than last year's club when you had a number of young top prospects. What stands out to you about this year's group?

Rod Barajas: They’re very professional and they know what they’re doing. Most of the guys have played at Triple-A, they’ve played in the Pacific Coast League and they know the grind, the grueling you can have with travel, the ballparks, playing conditions that we have in some of these stadiums. I just think these guys are prepared day in and day out, know what they need to do to get ready.

Last year, I felt that early on, there was a lot more teaching to do about how to get ready for a ballgame. But these guys understand that already and they talk amongst each other. These guys are always talking to each other, trying to help each other out, doing a little bit of my job. They’re working together, passing along information to each other.

How does Franchy Cordero fit into that group?

Rod Barajas: Franchy’s the young guy on the team. Last year, we had a few of them, but this year, he’s the one guy who’s younger than everybody else. I think having Jose Pirela, [Rafael Ortega], [Carlos] Asuaje, who was here last year, having Tony Cruz, those Latin influences around him – and these are all quality individuals. These guys all play the game the right way and they understand how to prepare. Having those type of mentors, of leaders, on this team is really going to help him get to that next level a little quicker.

The work ethic is there, the ability is there, the power is there. He has all the tools that you want from an outfielder, and then some. He hits the ball just as far as anybody on this team, so having a guy with that kind of toolset and guys who are going to teach him how to prepare and how to attack every single at-bat, how to play defense, is going to make that development curve go a little more quickly.

What the conversation with Sam Geaney, Luis Ortiz and the group about moving him up here aggressively to start the year?

Rod Barajas: We need [him] to get better in every aspect of the game. We talked about defense – we felt like defensively, there were a lot of strides he still needed to make defensively. And Double-A or Triple-A, regardless of where you are, you’re going to get your fly balls. You’re going to get your work in. It’s not like anything’s going to be different. If anything, this might be a little tougher league to defend and he’s going to have to adjust quicker. We have Cowgill, who’s probably the best outfielder I’ve had – he and Margot are right up there. Guys who know how to get jumps. And the fact that these two are together, having them around each other day in and day out is going to help his development and make it easier. So defense, for me, he’s going to reps wherever he is.

And then it turned to the bat. How’s the bat going to play. Is he really going to struggle up here, or is he going to be able to make adjustments and hold his own up here at Triple-A. What he showed in spring training was very impressive. I know the big league staff was very impressed with how he went about it, how he performed. He was making in-game adjustments within the at-bat. He’d swing at two bad pitches in the dirt, he’d take the next one, then they’d throw him a fastball and he’d hit the next one for a double into the gap. So, that was on [the big league guys]. Is it going to be a challenge? Yes, it’s definitely going to be a challenge. But we felt like the strides that he made from last year to this year in spring training, it seemed like he grasped what he needed to do a little bit better. Like I said, he’s surrounded by great individuals, guys with experience, guys who have knowledge on how to attack every single at-bat and make every at-bat. So we made the decision to bring him up here and see what happens.

What do you know about this job that you didn’t 22 months ago?

Rod Barajas: I complete forgot about the travel. I played in this league, but the three o’clock wake up calls in the morning to get to the airport by 5:30 for a 6:30 flight. That’s tough. The glamour of the PCL. Last year, we opened up on the road, and the day of the home opener, we had to wake up about three in Tacoma, jump on a plane. We landed here about 3:00, so no batting practice, and the opening game that night. So the travel can be brutal, but baseball here is so much better than what you see in A-ball and even Double-A.

I forgot how good these guys are. These guys are inches away from being big league ballplayers. We saw last year with Ryan Schimpf, a guy who was six-year free agent who got an opportunity. And obviously, he’s a big league player. And last year at this time, not a whole lot of people thought that. So seeing these guys play, seeing these guys get better and helping some of these guys reach their goals is very gratifying. I can’t tell you, bringing somebody into the office and letting them know they’re going to the big leagues for the first time is a great feeling. A very emotional time, and I don’t think there’s been one time I can hold it together. I see the joy and the excitement in their faces. So being a part of that and telling those guys that their life-long dream is about to be fulfilled is the best part of this job.

The flip side, you’ve got Cory Spangenberg, who certainly wasn’t looking to be back out here, being asked to make the change defensively. What do you see in how he’s going about that work?

Rod Barajas: He’s doing everything exactly the way he should do it. You could come down here and could sit here and mope and complain and feel sorry for yourself, and that’s not going to do anybody any good – do us, the organization any good and it’s not going to do you any good. He came down here with the mentality that I’m going to work, I’m going to get better. I’m going to play this new position and I’m going to try to make myself a big league third baseman. And the effort that he gives day in and day out, the questions that he asks. Working with [roving infield instructor Kevin] Hooper, that’s all stuff that he enjoys doing. He wants to be a better player. He’s played second base pretty much his whole darer and for a guy that’s playing a new position this year, he’s made some of the best plays I’ve seen period. He’s been outstanding for us.

The bat’s there. It’s just a matter of him continuing to go out there and prove something. Because he has something to prove without a doubt. When you’ve spent the better part of two years at the big leagues and you get sent down, you want to prove something to some people. And that’s what you do. You go out there and you play. That’s how you prove it. You don’t prove it by sitting in the corner and feeling sorry for yourself. You come out here and you work and you put up the numbers and you put pressure on the guys upstairs to get you back up there. He’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do down here and it’s been a lot of fun to watch him play.

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