TigsTown: For our readers that may not be familiar with your role in the Tigers organization, can you describe your responsibilities as the Tigers infield coordinator?
Kevin Bradshaw: My responsibilities are to go around from team to team, to all the minor league teams – even the teams in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic – and evaluate the infielders. I give them extra work when I come into town. With the manager and the hitting coach having the daily responsibilities of running the team, my job is really to come in there and help them for a few days. I might pick out maybe the first basemen on the first day in, and give them a lot of extra work, and then evaluate them during the game, watch them closely, even film them during the game, and really just see what they might be doing wrong. Then a lot of time I'll have the second basemen or middle guys out early for double plays, and again watch them closely and film them. Then I just keep going around the horn, working with everyone.
TT: Do you find working at the different levels, whether it be the rookie leagues or higher levels, do you find that you are consistently working on similar things with players, or is there a wide variance in what you get to work on?
KB: It's a lot of the same stuff. You have a little bit more of it in say rookie ball than you do in Triple-A, but we work on a lot of double plays, and ways we can really help the pitchers out. The older guys really have a routine of what they are doing each day, and they know how to get prepared for the game. In rookie ball, those guys are still trying to put that routine together, so I am there to help guide them through what they need to do during BP and stuff.
TT: When I talked to Mike Rojas earlier in the off-season, one of the things he mentioned that he and Glenn Ezell and others really try to stress is playing the game the right way. How does that mentality translate to your role working with the player's defensive abilities in the infield?
KB: You think of playing the game the right way, and to me on the infield it is being prepared on every pitch, and hustling for everything. It's playing the game hard, and expecting the other team to play the game hard. You can't take a play off or get lazy with your footwork. For me, it's really about getting these guys more mentally ready for every pitch, and getting them to know that every pitch could determine the outcome of the game. We've got to play every pitch hard. We've got to go after every ball hard. We've got to communicate. Really, all the things you were taught in Little League.
TT: I had a coach one time that stressed not just the idea of being ready or assuming the ball would be hit to you on every pitch, but that you need to assume that you are going to have to make the best of play of your life every time the ball is pitched. Is that something you would buy into?
KB: Sure, sure. We often, even on our groundball routines during spring training, we will create that situation where the game is on the line and the fastest guy in the league is running and the ball is hit to you; what do you need to do right here? How are you going to do your footwork? What are you going to do it it's a hard hit, or a slow hit? That's absolutely correct. You have to be prepared every pitch to make that great play.
TT: Having worked in this role for four years now, if you have to look at the guys come through, who would you say are some of the better fielders in the organization right now?
KB: Right now, the first guy that jumps out at me is Cale Iorg. I've seen him for a couple of years, and he was out in Arizona with me this past year. Even though he struggled offensively, he has done exactly what we've asked him to do once he puts on that glove. He has made outstanding plays. I think he has played big league level shortstop on a Double-A field that is kind of rough. He has stood out defensively. Audy Ciriaco is another one. You look at his error total and he's made some errors. He made forty errors at West Michigan, then thirty at Lakeland; hopefully we can get that down to twenty errors this year. He's a kid that is a big shortstop and still has very good range. One of the things I do when I go around from team to team is check with the pitching coaches. I ask them how the infielders are doing, because the pitching coaches, they'll let you know real quick! You know what, at every level I've been to, you hear the same thing from them, the middle guys are doing an outstanding job. That's good to hear!
TT: You mentioned talking to the pitching coaches and that triggered something else with me. How much of your time is spent talking to pitcher and/or pitching coaches about working quickly on the mound to make sure they keep the defenders involved in the game and on their toes?
KB: We address that all the time. We had a kid in West Michigan two years ago that I got so frustrated sitting up in the stands watching him. You could see the infielders get back on their heels. You could see balls that maybe we should have gotten to, and you don't know if maybe the pitcher working slow is the reason for that. We addressed it, and then I went back in town the next time and he was pitching again, and instead of 20-30 seconds between pitches, he was down to about 11-13 seconds. You could just see the infielders having a lot more fun out there and being more prepared and ready to go.
TT: Jumping back to some of the guys that stand out to you as defenders, you mentioned that you go down to the Dominican and Venezuelan complexes as well. Two guys that have gotten a fair amount of publicity are Javier Azcona and Dixon Machado. How would you compare and contrast them defensively, and how do you think they could stack up eventually?
KB: They are good looking, young defensive players. They have range, their arms are getting stronger. I think they are going to be right up there with some of the top fielders we have. Like most young kids do, they sometimes over-charge the ball and maybe don't read the hops like some of the older guys, but they are going to be just fine. Its fun going down there to see these young – and I mean young – kids, and see the talent that's down there.
TT: Last one about a specific player for you here Kevin, and it is a question that pops up a lot because he's slated to take over at second base in Detroit this year. There's a lot of debate about whether or not Scott Sizemore has some work to do defensively, whether he's an average defender, etc. What's your take on his defensive ability at second?
KB: You know, that's a good question. I think he's going to be just fine. The interesting thing this year, he gets a little careless on some throws, but I tell you what, he's going to be just fine. I think he'll be in the big leagues, maybe concentrating a little more than he was last year. Overall he makes the routine play. He turns a good double play. I'm really looking forward to watching him and seeing him. Is he going to be a Polanco? I don't think so. If he can stay within the eight to ten error range, I think we'll be just fine.
TT: Looking back at your career here a little bit, you were a manager for quite a while before your current role, working at a whole bunch of levels. Was it a conscious decision on your part to get away from managing or was it just a situation where the organization approached you about the opportunity?
KB: The organization approached me. Rafael Landestoy was the infield coordinator for years, and he was fortunate enough to get a better position with the Mets. I think inside the organization knew that I would be interested in the infield job, so once he left to go to the Mets, that position became available, and I was fortunate enough to get it.
TT: Do you miss managing the game everyday?
KB: Yeah, you know, after managing for so long I needed the break, but it's much different going to a town and working with the guys, then going to shower and sit up in the stands; it's a lot different. You get a different perspective, and you get to watch the other managers on other teams, and I think it made me a better manager going out to Arizona. Whenever the time comes to manage again, I'll be ready, and I think I'll be a lot smarter, and hopefully I can do a good job.
TT: You mentioned managing out in Arizona and two years ago you managed out in Hawaii Winter Baseball, what were the differences between those two leagues that you noticed?
KB: You know what, there wasn't much difference really. You had good hitters in Hawaii and in Arizona. You had good pitching both places. You had better starting pitching in Hawaii than we did in Arizona, but our relief pitching in Arizona was very good. You still handle both teams and leagues the same way. If Hawaii had the ballparks that the Arizona Fall League had, it would have been great! The Japanese players we had out in Hawaii were outstanding! I still follow them somewhat, and a lot of them play in the big leagues over there in Japan right now.
TT: Speaking of the Japanese players you had in Hawaii, how much of a difference did you see in the approach they took to the game, as opposed to the American or Latin American players?
KB: There was a difference. They are a lot more serious. I was fortunate enough to have one of the Japanese coaches out there, and in talking to him, the things they go through and the time they spend practicing is just unbelievable. Failure was just not in their vocabulary! If that meant taking soft toss at the hotel or at their condo at night, they were going to find a way to make the adjustment and improve.
TT: With respect to your managerial career in the minor leagues, what were some of the highlights of your 14 years as the skipper?
KB: Most of it was spent in rookie ball, and the highlights for me have been when you are there when they first sign a guy and then you turn on the TV and see a Trevor Miller still pitching, or a Daryl Ward who I had when he first signed. It's not really the wins or losses, or even a specific game, it's just seeing these kids that were so raw when you got ‘em but you could see they had ability, and they just found away to keep playing and improve. I think as a coach or a manager, you're always wanting your players to succeed and do well. We had championship games, playoff games, and those come and go.
TT: Maybe you're being modest on me here, but in 2000 when you were named the Tigers Player Development Man of the Year, the Dwight Lowry Award, what kind of an honor was that for you?
KB: That was a great honor. I was very fortunate to know Dwight very well, and to know what kind of man he was and how hard he worked, and how he wanted to make players better. When I was named that, it was just outstanding. It was an honor to get that award.
TT: Looking at the start of your coaching career, Kevin, you obviously retired from playing after the Achilles injury. Was it always a dream of yours to get into coaching after you were done playing?
KB: I got hurt on Mother's Day, and I needed like nine hours to get my degree. I was living in Jacksonville at the time and went to school not knowing what was going to happen in spring training the next year. My first thought process going into spring training was that I had to try and make a team. My foot just wasn't prepared yet, and at that time, Bo Schembechler had taken over and he made so many changes in a short period of time. People don't really know all the things he did, but he did so much for this organization. One of the things he did was put three coaches at each level; a manager, a pitching coach, and a hitting coach. When I was playing we just had a manager and he threw out the bats and balls and we went and got ‘em. The time was perfect, my foot wasn't heeled, and I couldn't make a team, so they were either going to release me or put me on the DL, and it just happened to come up that the needed a hitting coach at the Double-A level. As soon as they approached me, I said yes. It was time and I was honored to get into the coaching ranks.
TT: You've spent your entire career within the Tigers organization. Would you ever consider leaving the Tigers organization, or are you a Tiger for life?
KB: This will be my 25th year. I'm 46 years old, and if they gave me a 15-year contract, I'd sign it in a heart beat. I'd love to stay a Tiger for life, and hopefully that will happen. You're always hoping your name gets out there as you manage things like the winter leagues in Hawaii and Arizona, and the obvious goal is to make it to the big leagues, and I hope and dream that will happen with the Tigers. If it was to come up and some other team was to invite me to come to join the big league staff, I'd have to take it. But, I'd love to stay a Tiger.
TT: What is it about the Tigers that makes them such a special organization in your mind? KB: Well, I'll tell you what, throughout the years I can't ever think of a time when I would complain about being mistreated. We've had some turnover, but even in those times, they've treated people fairly. They've treated me fairly. They've thought about my family. They've just stuck by me. I think any person that works in any environment, wants his boss to have support for them, and they've done that.
TT: As I always do, I open the floor to the interviewee for the final word. With that, I'll turn it over to you to close things up today.
KB: I just thank the good Lord for giving me the passion, maybe not the ability, but the passion, to play and be part of the game of baseball. I thank the Tigers as well. Hopefully all the Tiger fans will see that we've got some good young kids coming up in the system, and some good instructors that are really trying to teach the fundamentals. I think we're really going to see some good things out of the Tigers in the future.
TigsTown would like to KB for taking some time out of the little remaining down time he has before the season really kicks off with pitchers and catcher reporting to Lakeland. We wish him the best of luck in 2010, and safe travels to and from all of the Tigers minor league affiliates, and hope we can see him in a Tiger uniform for the rest of his career.