Until Drew Saylor is introduced by Tri-City Dust Devils’ public address announcer Patrick Harvey at today’s Northwest League opener at Gesa Stadium, fans may have trouble telling him apart from the players around him.
At 29 years old, Saylor is the youngest manager in professional baseball and, at first glance, looks as if he could sprint onto the diamond to take on the Vancouver Canadians alongside his (slightly) younger charges.
While the Colorado Rockies appreciate his youthful energy, they are more interested in Saylor’s vision and patience when it comes to helping guide a club full of first- and second-year players getting accustomed to the daily grind of pro ball.
Fortunately, Saylor has enough of both to last a lifetime.
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“This being my maiden voyage, it’s a great opportunity to go out and show what I can do,” Saylor said. “More importantly, I want to help get these guys prepared every single day and help them understand what it takes to be a professional. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
His philosophy comes from a blend of his own experience in baseball and a strong family upbringing. So far, the Dust Devils players and coaches have been impressed with how he has adjusted to his first year at the helm.
“He’s really good. He’s got everyone on point, making sure they’re doing things the right way,” said Tri-City pitcher Ryan Warner, who spent last year with Saylor — then a hitting coach — at the Rockies’ rookie-league club in Grand Junction, Colo.
Jeff Popick, an outfielder who spent the last week training with the Dust Devils, also spent his rookie year at Grand Junction working with Saylor.
“He’s got tons of energy and always has a positive attitude. He keeps pushing you and wants to see you put your best effort forward,” said Popick, a Pioneer League All-Star last season. “He’s not afraid to get in your face or challenge the team. He wants players to try for more, and usually guys respond well to that.”
Saylor, a native of Wadsworth, Ohio, admits he can be fiery at times, but says underneath it all is a deep understanding of the challenges that players go through at the lower levels of minor league baseball. A former NCAA All-American at Kent State University in 2006, he grew up respecting the game and the effort it takes to improve.
“I was a gritty player, and that’s what I want out of my guys. Not everybody is going to be a superstar, but everybody for damn sure can put forth great effort,” Saylor said.
Just as important as effort each player brings to the ballpark each day, Saylor explained, is the willingness to build relationships and be a part of the community on and off the field.
“My philosophy is two things: Developing trust and developing relationships. If you show the player you care about them as a person, beyond whatever happens here, they’re going to trust you. Once you gain their trust, they’ll run through a wall for you,” he said. “My job is to make them better men, better sons, better friends and better teammates.”
Saylor is part of a new wave of Dust Devils coaches serving their first season with Tri-City, along with pitching coach Frank Gonzales and hitting/infield coach Warren Schaeffer. The Rockies added a new role — Development Supervisor — at each of their minor league stops. Ron Gideon, who managed the Dust Devils from 2002-2005, took on that role, which is geared toward giving players every chance to achieve his goal of reaching his potential.
By all accounts, the system is working seamlessly so far.
“It’s almost too good, really. Sometimes, I think, ‘God, are the people in the organization really this solid?’ ” Gonzales said. “Drew is young, but he’s got a lot on his plate and he’s handling it well. Schaeffer is comfortable in his skin, he’s played a lot of baseball with the Rockies. Being one of the old guys — I think Giddy is a bit older, so I’ll put that on him — I’ve done a lot of coaching.
“But I think this team we have here is really going to mesh.”
Eric Brown, a right-hander out of Thunder Bay, British Columbia, will get the Opening Day start for Vancouver. He’ll go against Tri-City right-hander Peter Tago, a former first-round pick by the Rockies in 2010.
The first wave of the Rockies’ 2013 draft class began hitting town Wednesday, starting with pitchers Jerad McCrummen (23rd round, Texas Tech), Matt Pierpont (26th round, Wintrhop), Alex Rodriguez (16th round, Indian River State College) and Konner Wade (7th round, Arizona). They’ll be joined by infielder Michael Benjamin (13th round, Arizona State) and outfielcder Mike Tauchman (10th round, Bradley).
Several more should be arriving over the next few days.