BY MATT LaWELL
JUPITER, Florida | When Andy Haines received the opening night roster for his Jupiter Hammerheads earlier this week, he looked at it and saw one familiar name after another. There was Michael Brady, his old closer. There were Marcell Ozuna and Mark Canha, his young sluggers out in right and in at first. And there was Christian Yelich, his leftfielder and the top prospect in the Miami Marlins organization, a star in the making.
In all, Haines had already managed 19 of the 25 players on the Hammerheads’ opening night roster. What makes that number more impressive is that Haines managed 17 of those 19 players — a list that didn’t include Yelich, who opened the season on the seven-day disabled list with a reportedly minor elbow injury — just last season, when they all won the South Atlantic League championship with the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
“We didn’t dominate the league,” Haines says. “We just got hot at the end, which we kept thinking we would because we liked our team. Obviously, it’s a credit to those guys.”
Those guys played well, especially during the second half and the postseason. The led the league in only four categories — attendance, fielding percentage, passed balls and wins. The last number, of course, was the only one that really mattered. They rallied their way into the playoffs and survived game after game. They won one game in 15 innings, another in 11 innings. They pitched and hit and learned how to win.
“This year, I want to see them use that first season to improve. That means the slumps and the losing streaks will be there, but they’ll be shorter." — Andy Haines
Then almost all of them climbed up one more rung along with Haines.
“Getting promoted is nice,” Haines says. “As a staff member, a manager, a coach, I think what you look for the most is too whether your organization trusts you, gives you responsibility, things like that — as it probably is in any business. That’s certainly a good feeling, knowing that they trust you with several of our top prospects.”
What the Marlins opted to do, promoting large groups of players together from one level to the next, is not uncommon among Major League organizations. Successful recent examples include the Milwaukee Brewers, who bundled top prospects like Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and the recently departed Prince Fielder, letting them play and win together for years in the minors.
But it is somewhat more uncommon for managers or coaches to go up with those players. Some organizations subscribe to the practice, others ignore it totally. The Marlins opted for some consistency in keeping Haines, a young manager who turned 35 earlier this week, with a young group.
“I think familiarity is a good thing if you have a good relationship,” Haines says. “If it’s something where it wasn’t good chemistry or it wasn’t a good relationship, then that probably wasn’t a good thing. But I think the chemistry’s here. I’ve gotten to know them and what makes certain guys go and what doesn’t. As a manager, that’s helpful and, for them, they know my personality traits, and some of the things I like and some of the things I don’t.”
Ozuna, for instance, knows that Haines wants everybody to keep some sort of routine, especially in regard to conditioning and stretching, batting practice and infield. “We do the routine every day to get to the big leagues,” Ozuna says. “I feel I can get it because I play hard, I have my routine every day.”
The Hammerheads have started well — 2-1 in their first three games of the season, all of them against the Palm Beach Cardinals, their Roger Dean Stadium partners — and though months of baseball remain, most of the players already know how to win together. They know how to improve together, climb the ladder together.
Haines says moving up is far more important for players than it is for him and his coaches — “I’m not a believer that a manager has to go to every level, there’s not a template,” he says. “They want you somewhere, they’ll put you there.” — but he has done just that ever since the organization hired him as a hitting coach for its Gulf Coast League team. After a season there, he managed the Jamestown Jammers of the Low-A, short-season New York-Penn League, then received another promotion to the Low-A, full-season Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Now, here he is, all of three games into his first season with the Hammerheads, where he has no specific goals other than helping his players move forward, a little bit more every game.
“Last year, a lot of them were in their first full season,” Haines says. “This year, I want to see them use that first season to improve. I think that means the slumps and the losing streaks will be there, but they’ll be shorter and, mentally, the players will handle them better.
“It’s almost incredible when you get to July, you just see them grow and get better.”
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