Who Might Lead The Pigs?

John Russell is finally getting a shot at managing in the majors, which is well deserved. His exit though leaves an opportunity at the top level of the Phillies minor league system.

At one point, John Russell was on the fast track to managing in the majors. He was the Minor League Manager of the Year and followed that up with a job as the Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach. It was thought that would be a short stay because he would soon be tapped for a job as a Major League manager. Instead, Russell found himself out of a job and wound up back in the Phillies organization as their Triple-A manager at Scranton.

Russell spent a season at Scranton and then followed the Phillies Triple-A team for their season in Ottawa in 2007, one in which Russell was faced with a huge challenge and responded well. Dave Montgomery was one of Russell's better references when the Pirates called to ask about him. Montgomery reportedly told the Pirates that while Russell was named the Minor League Manager of the Year in 2006 because of the Red Barons division title, he was even better in 2007 with Ottawa. Montgomery cited the lack of talent on the club and the adverse conditions of playing in Ottawa, but said that Russell was able to keep the team focused and on track even with the distractions.

So, Russell is gainfully employed, but where does that leave the Lehigh Valley IronPigs? The 'Pigs will take over as the Phillies Triple-A affiliate in 2008, in what will be the team's inaugural season. Russell figured to be at the helm until the job with the Pirates pulled him away. Just who might step in to fill Russell's shoes?

P.J. Forbes, who has managed the Double-A Reading Phillies for the past two seasons, would seem to be a likely choice. Forbes has been a rising star in the organization and has done a good job with what he's been given at Reading. If he doesn't move up now, it likely won't be long until he does move to a higher level with the Phillies or some other organization. Forbes' hitting coach at Reading, Greg Gross, has a Major League track record as both a player and hitting coach for the Phillies. The Phillies might consider giving Gross a shot at managing, but it's likely that they would put him at one of the lower ranks of the minors rather than starting him at the top level.

What about a return to the manager's office for Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt? Schmidt managed the Clearwater Threshers, but quit after one season, saying that it just wasn't his cup of tea. But, would he reconsider if he was at a higher level? It's not out of the question, but as with Gross, not likely that the Phillies would put him at the highest level without having more of a track record as a minor league manager.

Russell has finally gotten the opportunity that he deserves and there will be a number of options to find a manager for the 'Pigs. Whether it's the easy move that would see Forbes move up the ladder or a stretch to bring someone else to the Lehigh Valley, there are options for the Phillies.

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