With long-time Triple-A manager Mike Jirschele being named to the big league KC Royals coaching staff, it was known that there would be coaching changes throughout the minor league ranks. Some I expected, others I did not.
I received the press release email from Double-A NW Arkansas yesterday that they would be announcing their new manager this afternoon and he would be available to the media. That sort of gave away the fact that their manager, Brian Poldberg, would most likely be receiving a promotion to Triple-A.
As expected, Springdale resident Vance Wilson is the Naturals new manager after spending the last two seasons in High-A Wilmington. This upcoming season will be just his fourth year managing and he is a leading candidate for a big league job in the future. I am very grateful to have gotten the chance to cover him and the Blue Rocks over the last two seasons. He was nothing but nice to me and made me fit right in ALL THE TIME. It will be weird to not have him around, but the move gets him closer to the big leagues and it allows him to coach from the comfort of his own home (and keeps him close to his wife and daughter).
Andre David, who was on the big league coaching staff for part of this season, will be his new hitting coach. Jim Brower returns for his second season as the Naturals pitching coach.
Poldberg, who was born in Omaha, is the Storm Chasers new manager with a much-deserving promotion. He has been with the Royals organization for about 30 years (as a player and coach) and was the only manager the Naturals organization had ever known (there over the last six seasons). He played in Omaha from 1983-1985.
He will be reunited with pitching coach Larry “LC” Carter, who was his pitching coach in NW Arkansas from 2008-2012. Hitting coach Tommy Gregg also returns.
With Wilson’s promotion, Darryl Kennedy returns to the helm in Wilmington after spending the last four seasons managing rookie level Surprise. It will be his second tour in Wilmington (he managed there in 2008).
Veteran pitching coach Steve Luebber returns for his eighth season. Justin Gemoll also returns to Wilmington after spending last season in Low-A Lexington. He wore the Blue Rocks uniform as a player back in 2002 (I was still an usher back then) and as hitting coach during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Gemoll will be the bench coach (the first time the Blue Rocks have had more than three coaches). The Blue Rocks new hitting coach is Jose Castro, who served as the Royals minor league hitting coordinator last season. He came over from Seattle, where he spent five seasons.
Lexington is the only level with the same manager, as Brian Buchanan returns. However, he has a new coaching staff. Joining him with the Legends are Steve Merriman (pitching coach), former player Abraham Nunez (who I remember playing in the big leagues a few years back) is the hitting coach, and Glenn Hubbard (bench coach).
The Royals also announced that they will not have a AZL team in Surprise, as they already have two rookie level teams (Idaho Falls and Burlington). In IF, Omar Ramirez returns as manager, as does Tommy Shields in Burlington. Former Blue Rocks hitting coaches Damon Hollins and Julio Bruno are with the Chukars.