Greg Riddoch's Eugene squad went 20-13 down the stretch to tie for the Northwest League division lead, losing out on the tiebreaker scenario. New manager Jose Flores guided his AZL Padres team to a 19-9 mark in the second half, falling two games shy of reaching the championship game. Flores is a disciple of Riddoch, as his first year as a coach in any capacity came in 2007 when he was the hitting coach in Eugene.
Bill Masse took over San Antonio in his first year in the system and took the squad to the playoffs, winning two more games than the season before when they won it all. The Missions were, however, swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Lake Elsinore didn't improve upon their record from the season before but qualified for the playoffs with Carlos Lezcano at the helm. They made it into the second round before being eliminated in the rubber match of a five-game series.
Talent certainly played a part in how each team played. Eugene and the AZL Padres netted the league MVP.
"If one team has the MVP of the league, he should be disqualified from MadFriars.com's Manager of the Year award," one contending manager lamented with a laugh.
San Antonio had the best pitching staff – a known fact coming into the season. Lake Elsinore boasted the best hitting squad – another known quantity prior to the year.
The draft was the baseline for a quality Eugene team, built around the Padres focus on hitting in the early rounds of this year's draft. They did improve on the pitching front through the season, a mark of a solid staff. Fort Wayne had a lot of raw players with youth on their side trying to adjust to full season ball for the first time, making them difficult to judge.
Portland was a mix-mash of youth and veterans, players who came down from San Diego and many who used the Beavers as a springboard to time in San Diego – as witnessed by the 14 players who made their major league debuts for the Padres, many of whom began the year in Portland.
The DSL Padres were a year older than last season but remained the youngest team in the division. With a DSL Washington1 team that won a DSL high 55 games in their division with a roster that consisted of the oldest team in the circuit – 20 of the Padres 42 losses came facing that single team, as they managed to win just four of those contests pitting the two teams against each other.
The AZL Padres were perhaps the biggest unknown quantity. They had one top round pick dotting the roster – the eventual AZL MVP – and a smattering of players drafted late or making the transition from Latin America to the United States for the first time.
When it came down to the decision, the work of Flores in the AZL became much more impressive given the talent base he was dealt. While the AZL Padres benefited from players making rehab assignments in the desert, that could also be a detriment, as hitters regained timing on their swings and pitchers worked on recovering the command and feel of their arsenal.
Plus, Flores worked three undrafted free agents into the lineup, seeing two of those players excel, and began integrating the philosophy into the squad – have a patient approach for the hitters and work ahead in the count and induce ground ball outs for the pitchers. He succeeded on both accounts; his squad led the league in walks drawn by more than 100 over the closest competitor, and the pitchers issued the fewest walks in the league while also pacing the circuit in ground ball to fly ball ratio.
"Challenges, I would say just to see how the pitchers would perceive me," Flores acknowledged as his toughest assignment. "Just because I've always been a position player who never really gave too much thought on the pitching side.
"Just being able to communicate with them at all levels instead of just being a hitting coach. You know, I can talk to them about pretty much anything regarding the game of baseball, not just on the pitching side. So, to me that was a challenge."
Falling two games shy of the playoffs was a testament to the first year manager's ability to get the most out of his players and see improvement through the year.
He, along with his staff, is the introduction to professional baseball for many of these young men. Their instruction on how to make the assimilation into the professional ranks sets the tone for future years. To have his team perform so well in key categories that the Padres emphasize is a testament to the teaching skills that Flores and his staff employed.
With that, MadFriars.com makes it official by naming Jose Flores as our Manager of the Year for 2008.
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