Nevin Has Big Shoes to Fill

Phil Nevin has some big shoes to fill. The Erie SeaWolves new manager is entering a situation where a lot is going to be expected of him due to the precedent that his predecessors, Matt Walbeck and Tom Brookens, set while managing the club.

Walbeck, who is now the manager of the Altoona Curve (Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates), used Erie, where he was named the Eastern League manager of the year in 2006, as a stepping stone to the Major Leagues where he was briefly a member of the Texas Rangers managerial staff.

Brookens has also used his time in Erie to ascend to the major league ranks where he will become the Tigers first base coach next season. Brookens is thought so highly of by the organization that he is considered by many to be a strong candidate to become the Tigers manager when Jim Leyland decides to step down.

As for Nevin: In his one season managing the Orange County Flyers in the Independent Golden Baseball League, he led them to a 20-19 record. It will be no small task, but Nevin is eager to embark upon this new challenge.

"I am extremely excited about this upcoming season and having the chance to help these kids that are going to be here," Nevin said. "I want to help them become good major league players for the Detroit Tigers."

His first task will be teaching them how to become more patient and selective at the plate. Over the winter, general manager Dave Dombrowski announced that he would be having meetings with his staff about discipline at the plate and how to improve it throughout the entire organization. "We have to realize there's been an adjustment in the game the last couple years," Dombrowski told reporters in October. "I don't think you can live and die with the home run all the time."

This should come as music to Erie fans' ears. Last year they watched SeaWolves players strike out 1,186 times, the most among all Eastern League teams. Portland was second with 1,114, while Harrisburg came in third with 1,019.

Erie ranked sixth in on-base percentage at .334.

Nevin warns that drastic changes shouldn't be expected, though. He feels that players can improve in the plate discipline and pitch recognition departments as they advance in their careers, but states that the Tigers will not be telling their players to lay off of good pitches or to work counts.

"Some organizations preach taking a lot of pitches—that's not what we do," Nevin said. "You see a fastball early in the count, our philosophy is to hit it. There's nothing wrong with swinging at the first one you see."

Throughout his career Nevin wore many different caps and played several different positions. The Astros made him the first overall pick in the 1992 draft, five spots ahead of Derek Jeter, and he played for seven different teams over his 12 year career, including parts of three seasons with Detroit from 1995-97.

His best season came in 2001 while playing with the San Diego Padres. That year he hit .306/.388/.588 with 31 home runs and 107 RBIs. It was the only time in his career that he was selected for the All-Star team.

Though he was drafted as third baseman, by the time his playing days were over he had transitioned into a utility man, playing first base, third, catcher and both corner outfield spots.

Nevin feels that having to fight for playing time and make several different transitions to stay on the field helped prepare him for a career as a manager.

"I feel like I can relate to a lot of different players because of this," Nevin said. "From the so-called superstars to the 25th guy, I've been there."

And now he's here, as the unlikely manager of the Erie SeaWolves. Hopefully he has one more transition left in him.

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