Picture by Todd Johnson
The Chicago Cubs are blessed with a lot of talented players. Some of them are going to make it to the major leagues, but most of the current group of 250 will not. However, some of them will surprise us here in the next few years and become part of the coaching staff in the minor leagues and/or major leagues. There is a group of current Cub players who, when their playing days are done, could end up continuing their baseball career in the coaching ranks.
One of the unique aspects that I have gotten to watch the last few years covering South Bend is just exactly who takes on a leadership role with the club. I tend to get to the ballpark about two hours before the games begin. Normally at that time, as the visiting club, they’re just getting going on warming up, stretching and then beginning BP and infield, depending on the day. Pitchers are going through their throwing program and some pitchers are doing side sessions in the bullpen. It is in those moments two hours before the game that you can see who is really setting the tone for the team and who is talking players up and taking charge of learning situations, getting ready, and getting better..
In addition, I’ve witnessed a lot of things in the dugout that I don’t report for good reason but there’s also a lot of learning moments that happened to show which players have leadership qualities.
Here are a few guys who stand out for their leadership qualities that could be coaches and managers one day in the system.
Disclaimer – Right now, most of these players are still trying to fulfill their dream of playing Major League Baseball and are surely not ready to hang up their glove and cleats yet.
There has not a more likable teammate that I’ve seen in the past five years than Payne. Pitchers love him, catchers love him, and even coaches love him. He’s got a great personality, his head is always into the game, and he actually can hit pretty well. He just doesn’t get a lot of playing time even though he was at Iowa in 2022. He did get called up for a few days in 2021 and he did re-sign with the Cubs. At 30-years-old, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer he continues his dream of being a player before he hangs it up and steps to the other end of the dugout.
As a 26-year-old father of two. Remy looks like he stepped out of a Time Machine from 1976 as a young minor league manager. It’s rare for pitchers to become MiLB managers, but Remy could do it. He’s a very affable guy who values hard work and is extremely well liked by his teammates. I got to see him bust his ass every day at South Bend for a year and a half before he went up to Tennessee in 2021. He struggled this year, but I’m sure the Cubs are going to give it another year. If it doesn’t work out, he’s the kind of guy that has the perfect temperament to be a manager because he’s going to emphasize working hard every day because that’s what he did as a player.
One reason for South Bend’s championship run was the leadership of Caleb Knight. He was not a superstar prospect, but you could tell that he was one of the guys that everybody respected in the clubhouse, on the field, and in the dugout. He’s always trying to motivate guys getting ready for the game and to keep them focused on what they were supposed to do in warm-ups and in the game. As a catcher, he really didn’t put up with a lot of junk from his pitchers. He knew how to say things in a certain way to motivate guys or to get them focused and back on track in a game. I could see him as a future pitching coach or even a manager in the system.
Probably the most underrated player on South Bend this year was Jonathan Sierra. He started out the year on the development list and actually didn’t see action until late May. He did his best when he saw plenty of time in June and early July, but Sierra‘s leadership behind the scenes was invaluable to South Bend’s run. For one, his ability to speak fluent English and Spanish really put him another step above almost everybody else. He was known this year for helping to keep a lot of the young Latin players focused on what they had to do every day at the ballpark and how to function in American culture away from the ballpark. Throughout a game, he was talking baseball and strategy in both English and Spanish to everyone. I love that guy!
When I first saw Catcher Harrison Wenson in the Quad Cities last year, he stopped a bullpen session dead in its tracks. It’s rare that it happens from the catcher. Usually, if the session is stopped, it’s either the pitching coach or developmental coach making the adjustment. But Wenson took charge of the situation and had Jose Alberto to make a couple of adjustments right then and there. I used to call him the “pitcher whisperer” because he really takes charge of everything in all aspects of the game experience whether it’s the bullpen, in the dugout, or a mound visit. I’m not privy to what he says on the mound, but knowing Harrison, it’s probably pretty colorful. And everybody respects him for being who he is.
There’s some other guys I think would be good bets to be managers or coaches one day. Bryce Windham is so mentally tuned in to the fundamentals of the game it is not even funny. He is the walking textbook of how to play the game at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. He is the king of fundamentals. However, if Bryce ends up coaching, it will more likely be basketball, his other love, than baseball. In fact, that is what he does in the offseason. Still, he would be good as a baseball guy when that day comes.
I’m noticing a theme here that these are all catchers with one pitcher and one outfielder. But what they all have in common is they all have great communication skills with their teammates and that’s really the job of a manager is to be a great communicator. Whether it’s between the coaches and the manager, or the players and coaches, or even the organization. There’s a lot of things happening back-and-forth.
I am curious as to who will make that leap someday. Not right now, but in the future.