Jose Nieves gets it as the Dayton Dragons manager. Groom potential talent, wave goodbye to the best players at the most inappropriate times and win ball games.
“Of course, we play to win and do something collectively in each league that we manage or play for,” Nieves said Monday from his Arizona home. “But at the end, what we look for is just to develop individuals who in the long run can help the big team in Cincinnati.”
Nieves, 38, on Monday was tagged to do that again with the Dragons, the Reds’ low Class A minor league baseball team that mostly is known for packing Fifth Third Field with sell-out crowds. Pitching coach Tony Fossas also was picked up for his fifth season and former Dragon Luis Bolivar (2003-04) was named the team’s new hitting coach.
The Dragons will open spring training in early March at the Reds’ Minor League Complex at Goodyear, Ariz. Camp will end on March 29. They’ll open their 15th season at Dayton with a home opener on April 3 vs. West Michigan.
Two-year stints as a Dragons manager is the norm; five of the seven all-time Dayton managers were in place for that duration, including Donnie Scott who served separate two- and three-year stints.
The Dragons slumped through a 28-40 first half of the Midwest League last season and posted a respectable 37-33 mark in the second half. Injuries to key players and the usual late-season call-ups to key personnel undermined postseason hopes.
Like usual, the roster will be made up of recent high draft choices, promising teens and twentysomethings that the parent club hasn’t given up on. The goal for everyone – including coaches and players – is to advance to the next level, as quickly as possible.
A native of Venezuela, Nieves is a good fit for the many Dragons’ Latin American players who will be playing in the United States for the first time.
“The expectations this year are fully high,” said Nieves, who also has served as the Reds’ Venezuelan Summer League manager (2010) and the fall Reds’ Arizona League affiliate manager at Goodyear (2011-12). “Not that it wasn’t before, but this year they’ll have me for the second time and it’ll be a little easier that way.”
Like Scott, Fossas also is in his second stay with the Dragons. His stock jumped after Dragons pitcher Robert Stephenson was named the Reds’ 2013 minor league pitcher of the year. Fossas also was in place when the Dragons staff set Midwest records for most strikeouts and lowest team ERA in 2011.
Bolivar, a former infielder, spent nine seasons at various minor-league levels of the Reds. He began his coaching career last season with the Reds’ Arizona League rep. He also was a volunteer assistant coach with Vandalia-Butler High School in 2012.
Bolivar replaces Alex Pelaez, who will retain that role with the parent club likely at a minor-league level but not at Dayton.
ALL-TIME DRAGONS MANAGERS
2013-14: Jose Nieves
2011-12: Delino DeShields
2009-10: Todd Benzinger
2007-80: Donnie Scott
2006: Billy Gardner, Jr.
2004-05: Alonzo Powell
2001-03: Donnie Scott
2000: Freddie Benevides