(Editor’s note: I bumped this post to the top. Don’t miss today’s Down On The Farm, which is just below.)
We’ve been round and round about how the Reds have treated Edwin Encarnacion (benched repeatedly, demoted twice, pulled from a game, etc.). I have my theory, too, that Jerry Narron isn’t especially suited to working with young players.
Rather than rehash that story, I thought I’d take a look at how another team does it. I live in San Diego, where the Padres spent the first month suffering through the struggles of rookie 3b Kevin Kouzmanoff. The Padres traded promising (and popular) young 2b Josh Barfield (.280, .318, .423, 21 SB last year) to Cleveland in exchange for Kouzmanoff (over 1000 OPS at two levels last year). That, obviously, put a lot of pressure on the 25-year-old, and he really struggled. Kouzmanoff “hit” .121 .178 .209 (387 OPS) in his first 101 PAs.
San Diego fans are pretty patient; the team is winning; and Kouzmanoff’s defense has been better than expected. That said, people started beefing about Kouzmanoff. it didn’t help that Russ Branyan, the primary alternative, has been drilling the ball (.224 AVG, but .356 OBP and .531 SLG – in Petco).
Manager Bud Black and GM Kevin Towers stuck with the rookie, though, and he’s come around nicely. In the 8 games heading into Thursday’s game, (starting when the Reds came to town), he’s hit .522 .586 .957 (1,543 OPS), and has 2 game-winning hits and that walk-off walk against the Reds.
The S.D. Union Tribune looked at the situation Thursday:
Kouzmanoff is appreciative. “Obviously, they had a lot of patience,” he said.
Said Towers: “We always tried to keep a long-term outlook because we really thought the guy was our third baseman of the future.”
During the final homestand in April, the club, in fact, discussed demoting Kouzmanoff. But Russell Branyan, the team’s other third baseman, was on the bereavement list, and Kouzmanoff began to show modest improvement before going on a tear this month that includes a towering two-run homer in the seventh inning last night.
Towers said Kouzmanoff’s stellar results in the minors led the Padres to believe that he would improve. Further, “there weren’t a lot of viable options” at third, Towers said, adding: “He never let his offensive woes affect his defense. And to me, he never looked beaten, even though he was struggling at the plate.”
This is the most important part, to me:
Speaking generally, shortstop Khalil Greene said a youngster’s development can hinge on several variables.
“The one thing you want to do as a young player, more than anything, is feel like you belong here and fit in,” Greene said. “That’s more difficult if you’re looking over your shoulder and feel like if you don’t have a good game, you’re gone.”
“Third baseman of the future”. . . “stellar results in the minor leagues” . . . “not a lot of viable options” . . . those sure sound familiar. Unfortunately, so does “looking over your shoulder” and worrying that one bad game will lead to demotion.