TigsTown: First off, congratulations on your new job as third base coach with the Rangers! Would it be fair to say that you and your family are quite excited?
Matt Walbeck: Very much so, yeah! It's a good opportunity, and I'm going to be closer to my family and back in the big leagues. It's really an honor, and I'm just grateful to the Tigers for nurturing me along through their system, and giving me the opportunity to leave the organization.
TT: Was there a prior interest on your end to go to the Rangers, or was it a matter of taking the opportunity that came along for advancement?
MW: I had no idea that they were interested in pursuing me. I found out last Wednesday that they wanted to fly me to Texas for an interview on Friday, which went very well. I was caught completely off-guard by it. It was just something that worked out, and I'm grateful that they looked me up.
TT: The Rangers have some young talent to work with, guys like Ian Kinsler, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and others. As a result, do you think your recent experience with minor league players will benefit you in relating to them right off the bat?
MW: You know, I do. I think it will certainly help having worked with the minor leaguers for four years. It comes down to coaching, and listening, and finding out what makes the players tick. I think it's going to be a real good fit.
TT: Many times I had heard you referred to as an energetic, motivating, ‘player's kind of manager' while in the Tigers system. Is that a fair characterization of your style, and how do you feel your style will play with veteran Major Leaguers?
MW: It's something that I'm going to have to see what works with them. I think most of all, just being myself; people generally like to be around energetic and positive people no matter what they do. I think it will work. Obviously, it's my job to be a third base coach, and working with the catchers, and I'm also going to be coordinating spring training; so certainly some energy is going to be needed for all three of those. I think its good anytime someone has energy, and it's positive, I think that's usually a good thing.
TT: Looking back a bit at your time in the Tiger organization, much is made of the jump from A-ball to AA for minor league players; does it apply to coaches and managers as well?
MW: Yes, for sure. Without a doubt. It was a lot more time consuming at the AA level. The AA player needs more attention I think, in explaining his role as a player, and fine tuning his skills. Where in single-A, its more getting used to the system so to speak; teaching them how to be a professional. There was less time for me to really do certain things. It seemed like it was a lot of time spent with the players; more reports, talking to scouts, and more interviews with people like you, Mark, because of the prospects and that sort of thing.
TT: Over the last four years, you've been down to spring training and had the opportunity to interact with guys like Alan Trammell and Jim Leyland who were holding down the managerial post in Detroit. What are some things you were able to glean from each of them when you interacted?
MW: Well, in particular Alan Trammell was definitely a player's manager, and a true professional. He went about it as a strictly business sort of style. It was his first year managing when I had him. Obviously, his people skills speak for themselves. With Jim Leyland, I didn't really get to know him very well because I was just there for spring training. He was very organized in spring training, and very to the point. He went about his business and wanted to get something done the right way the first time. It's just good to be around them. They're both energetic in their own ways, and they have certainly carried on the Tiger tradition.
TT: A couple tough questions about some of the players you managed; who was the most talented position player you had the opportunity to work with in the Tigers' system?
MW: Cameron Maybin!
TT: I kind of figured that would be the case. Did he kind of blow you away a little bit?
MW: Yeah. As everybody knows he has off the charts makeup, with the ability to make adjustments at the plate as good as anybody. He does things that veteran players do; looking for pitches, having that intuition at the plate, knowing what to look for, getting jumps on balls in the outfield. The way he treats people; whether they are fans, or teammates, or opposing players, he is very professional. It seems like he got better every single day; just a tremendous attitude.
TT: How about the same question with respect to the most talented pitcher?
MW: I would have to say Jair Jurrjens. For a 21-year old, a very good fastball and breaking stuff too, to compliment it. He was very talented. And then Burke Badenhop was another one of those guys that just went about his business and found a way to get guys out. Our pitching was really spectacular for each of the years that I managed, which certainly made my job much easier. And then you have Claggett and Whelan who we traded to the Yankees; they were special as well.
TT: Any regrets about not getting the chance to work with Justin Verlander at the minor league level?
MW: Well, it just so happened that our paths didn't cross. I got to see him a little bit in spring training and watch his bullpen sessions, and he was really a fun one to watch. But that's just how things work.
TT: Thinking about your team in Erie this year can you identify one position player and one pitcher from your team this year that Tiger fans should watch out for in 2008?
MW: I think Dallas Trahern as a pitcher would be someone that Tiger fans can look for. An exciting player at first base is Jeff Larish. His power numbers and on-base percentage were very good this year. Also, the outfield that we had; on top of Maybin who was only there for a week. Matt Joyce, who in my opinion is going to be one of the better outfielders in the big leagues. His arm accuracy and his jumps on balls are things that you just really can't teach; things you don't find very often. Also, Clete Thomas is an exciting player in center field; and then Michael Hollimon has turned himself into quite a nice utility player with great makeup, and is another player that fans can really look for. There's a lot of guys in the organization, and I was fortunate enough with the few that I mentioned there, to watch play everyday and that was really exciting. And also a young player that was coming up late in the year, Danny Worth. He was a lot of fun to watch. He filled in late and got to play for us in the playoffs; a solid arm and a nice bat too.
TT: You worked with AJ Sager extensively during your time in Detroit, what would you say Tiger fans can expect from him next year at Toledo?
MW: He's from Toledo, or that's where he resides. His ability to communicate with pitchers is as good as I've seen. For the last two years he has led the pitching in fewest walks allowed. You're gonna see his pitchers going right at hitters low in the strike zone, getting a lot of swings, very few walks, and AJ has a very good presence about him. He rarely loses his composure, which the pitchers kind of mirror that.
TT: Do you see him joining you or following your path as a Major League coach at some point in the future?
MW: Yes, I do. I do. If I'm ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to select someone, he would certainly be at the top of my list.
TT: Starting to wrap things up here; any dreams of returning to the Tigers in some capacity down the road?
MW: Well, I think it's something I don't ever want to rule out. The Tigers have been a great organization for me and my family, and have helped me learn a lot about the game. And certainly the tradition in Detroit; it's a great sports town, and something I'm proud to be a part of. For now, it's hard for me to answer that, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. I mean I have a lot of fond memories of the City of Detroit and the organization. It's been a lot of fun, and I'm very proud to have worn the ‘Old English D.'
TT: You have always been ambitious with your personal goals as a coach; given your new position in the big leagues, what kind of ideal timeline would you be setting for yourself to be sitting in the Manager's seat with a Major League team?
MW: Boy, I really can't answer that because I've got so much on my plate now with coordinating spring training and the third base coaches job, I think it would probably be something that I should at least digest before I start thinking about that next move. This one right here is something that I really need to focus all of my attention on.
TT: I always give people an opportunity to close their interview with a parting thought. Any final thoughts or words as you leave the organization, to those Tiger fans out there reading this?
MW: Oh boy. I think just what I mentioned to you about the ‘Old English D' and my feelings about Detroit, and it being a great sports town. The organization, the way the minor league system is run. I mean, Glenn Ezell and working for Dave Dombrowski the General Manager; you're talking about a lot of class people. Jim Leyland and his staff. Having been to the World Series a couple years ago; it's a good time to be a Tiger. It's a good time to be a Tiger or a Tiger fan.