Tuesday, April 23, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood skipper Mike Micucci

Mike Micucci, image- Jay Floyd
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This season Mike Micucci took over as the 13th manager of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.

A draft pick of the Cubs in 1994, Micucci played six season in the professional ranks and has been coaching or working in the developmental ranks virtually since that time.

Recently, I sat down with the BlueClaws' new skipper to get to know him a bit.  He chatted about his local ties, his family and several of his players, including last year's Phillies first round draft pick Alec Bohm.  Read ahead for that interview.

-Firstly, I want to ask you about Alec Bohm.  Some people are surprised he landed at this level, on this roster.  What have you seen from him?

I mean honestly, we had talked a little bit. He basically showed up to our group on the last day of spring training. So, we haven’t even seen much of him. Obviously, we’ve heard a lot about him, read a lot about him. Basically, after a week, he lives up to everything you’ve heard. He’s very athletic. Kind of a student of the game. Very good at bats. There’s big time power in there with the upside. So, he’s obviously everything you would look for in a player.

-Do you think you would you be included in the group of people, including fans, media types and others, that were surprised Bohm was assigned to Lakewood?

Yeah, I would. But I’ve seen other things happens as well, so it doesn’t shock me. I’ve seen other organizations do similar type things with guys. But, for me, one of the things we talk about is you’re playing where you’re playing and you’re starting where you’re starting, but for the most part just go out and do your job and play well and you’ll be where you’re supposed to be. Whether that’s here or whether that’s in Clearwater or whether he ends the season in Double-A, you know, so we’ll see.

-What’s your coaching background before here and how do you land with the Phillies at this level?

So, that’s a pretty long list. I started with the Cubs as a player and then got into coaching fairly young over there after playing for seven years. Was a hitting coach. After there, went to Texas with the Rangers to manage. Managed in their system for four years, then moved to field coordinator with Texas in ’10 and ’11, when we went to the World Series. From there we left to go to the Angels to be a field coordinator-- I managed my first year there, then moved to field coordinator for three. From there to Seattle to be director or coordinator of instructional or whatever it is. You know, I really wanted to get back into managing, get back to being with younger players. I enjoy being with younger players. I enjoy being with the Latin players and the overall foundation of developing.

I knew Matt Klentak from when we were with the Angels together, so I kind of just reached out to him and Josh (Bonifay) called me and this opportunity landed, which, honestly is interesting because I moved away from this area about nine years ago to go to Texas. But we found a nice area in Texas to raise our family, around Dallas, a city called Frisco, Texas and we moved there. But it’s kind of funny because I grew up in North Jersey, went to Montclaire State, my wife and I got married and we lived in Manahawkin. Yeah, so this is like a home run, both from a professional standpoint to be with the Phillies and be with a great ownership group and being here in New Jersey. Back in New Jersey, where I have some roots.


-What’s the family situation? How many children do you have?

I have two kids. Yeah, married. My wife, (we’re) going on 19 years. My daughter Isabella’s 12. My son Andrew will be nine in May.

-How are they with the career movement and the job taking you all around?

It’s tough. Fortunately, my wife’s a teacher. So, they come out in the summer. They’re excited about that. They’re gonna see grandma and grandpa, all their cousins, aunts and uncles and stuff. So, it’ll be a really nice summer from that standpoint there. So, then the off-season’s nice. You’re around all the time there. And then there’s really probably that three-month window from when spring training starts to the time they get out of school that makes it tough, but they get a week off for spring break, so they were able to come out for spring training. The Phillies give us time off and we try to match it up to kind of put it in the middle, so it’s like four weeks or five weeks and then I’ll take my vacation and go home and see them and then (afterward) it’s another four weeks and then they come out for the summer. So, we always try to break it up where we never go more than four or five weeks apart.

They kind of know how to do it. The coordinator job’s a little different, ‘cause you're going to all the affiliates and then you get to go home. But they’re looking forward to it.

-Some members of the roster come back for a repeat with Lakewood.  Will you look for those types of individuals to take some leadership roles?

Yeah, I mean I think I try not to look at what happened last year or where guys played last year. I don’t want to have sort of a preconceived notion of what to expect. I want to come in and, from speaking with the staff as well, have kind of a blank canvas. But, yeah, if you look in the club house I think you have your pockets of leaders. Some of the returners and you have some of the younger guys, when you look at (Luis) Garcia and (Jonathan) Guzman. Those guys play in the middle and you see they have, like, leadership skills and leadership abilities, with the language barrier, amongst their group and their peers. We definitely see them doing it and we encourage them to kind of stand out and do it a little bit more. Obviously, I think Marchan behind the plate (is doing it too). And then the pitchers. I think there’s little pockets of leaders and something I think is also our job, is trying to show them how to play the game and what we consider the Phillie way, but also to learn how to be leaders, both in the clubhouse, on and off the field.

-I meant to ask earlier...how are your skills with Espanol?

Very limited. But the understanding of the culture is very good because I spent a lot of time in the Dominican at the academies and in the country. The understanding of what they’re going through…I think I make up for it in those other areas, what I lack in the actual interpretation. That’s why we always have somebody on staff that can really do that stuff.

-Your backstops, Rafael Marchan and Abrahan Gutierrez, what do you see from those two thus far?

I tell you what, that’s an impressive group. Both from the ages that they are and the level that they’re playing at. But not only their physical skills, but also, they’re both really smart and they have that grasp of the calling the game, the working with the pitcher, the game planning and stuff like that. So, big upside on both of those guys. I think it’s a nice problem to have.

-Do you have any pitchers assigned or targeted for specific roles out in the bullpen?

No. We don’t…it’s something that we don’t really—it’s not a philosophy of ours to have a setup/closer type of guy. It’s more trying to get guys to pitch in different situations. So, sometimes they will pitch in the back end. Sometimes that pitcher will pitch in the middle. But, basically, you’re looking for high leverage situations, get out, then you’re looking for to put everybody through that experience. Then somebody will come to the forefront of who’s the guy that pitched in the highest leverage situation and that could happen in the 7th inning. That could happen in the 9th. That could happen in the 5th. So, we’ll look to it more like that. And we also are going with more of a tandem type pitching staff, so we’ll see a lot more like a four-inning, one-inning type, where two guys will eat up the majority of the game.

-Back to your coaching staff, Christian Marrero I covered as a player. Matt (Hockenberry), same thing. Can you share some thoughts on your staff?

Yeah, they’re young, passionate, intelligent. They’re a great group to be around. I really enjoy the difference and I believe, also, that my experience can kind of help them as well. So, they’re good. They pepper me with questions. I know Josh (Bonifay) has really talked a lot about helping that group out. It’s a great place to be because not only are we trying to develop players, but develop young coaches as well.

-I talked to Matt last season, mainly about players, but I was also interested in his progress as a coach and he just seemed really hungry and passionate about it and I know he takes great pride in (being fluent with Spanish).

He’s impressed me a lot. Like, all of a sudden it just kind of rattles out of there and it’s pretty cool to see. It’s awesome.

-Thanks for all the time.  Before I let you go, I want to ask about Cole Stobbe. He was here last year and didn’t get to enjoy the success that this team had last year (going to the postseason). Are you hoping for big things from him? Do you see it coming?

Well, right now what we’re doing, is, as you can see, our team needs to be pretty versatile. You’ve got the two young guys in the middle (Jonathan Guzman and Luis Garcia), which need to move around, so you’ll see them flipping back and forth. Alec (Bohm) will play third base, but he’s also gonna play first base. Stobbe will play third base. He’s also gonna play first base.  He's also gonna play the outfield, he'll be in either of the corner positions.  We really believe deeply in the versatility.  That's kind of what we're focusing on right now is getting him to where he's comfortable on the field.  Any time you're putting somebody in a new spot, there's all those things that are going on in their head, but yeah, we're excited for him.  I've been focused mostly on the defensive stuff and getting him up to speed with some of the things he's gonna do.  I we just feel like at times, you just throw somebody over at first base.  First base can be a pretty tough position to play, from all the footwork standpoint, to just being around the bag, making sure you're protected.  Number one sometimes those throws go up the line, you see guys reaching across.  Obviously, he's in a position where he feels comfortable to make some plays there.

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