Rays manager Kevin Cash said to have sharp baseball mind

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2013, file photo, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, and bullpen coach Kevin Cash watch during spring training baseball in Goodyear, Ariz.  Cash was hired as the new manager of the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) NY160
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2013, file photo, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, and bullpen coach Kevin Cash watch during spring training baseball in Goodyear, Ariz. Cash was hired as the new manager of the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) NY160
Published December 6 2014
Updated December 7 2014

Rays officials have their reasons for not being concerned about hiring a manager who has never actually managed a game at any level.

Kevin Cash, they figure, will benefit not only from his own playing, scouting and coaching experience but from the culture that exists in their clubhouse, the base of veteran players and the support of the returning coaches as well as the data and guidance the front office provides in terms of lineup construction and strategy. (Implied is that game managing is not considered the top priority of the job, and maybe not necessarily even be that difficult.)

But there's another reason, others say, that the 37-year-old just three years removed from playing won't have any trouble making the transition from bullpen coach to manager. They say that after all the talking and relationship building he does, and behind the humble front and self-deprecating sense of humor he puts up, is a very sharp and smart baseball man.

"Cashy is not afraid to say what he doesn't know, and he's probably the quickest learner you'll ever find," said Indians manager Terry Francona, his former boss. "He'll surround himself with good people. He's open to information and he will use it. He will be terrific."

Veterans who played with him have been impressed.

"Kevin Cash is smarter than what people think he is," Boston DH David Ortiz said Friday in the Dominican Republic. "We played together and he was a guy that, his knowledge about the game was beyond guys that play the game every day. That's what kept him playing as long as he played — his knowledge, the way he approached the game, the way he looked at the game."

As are those he coached.

"He's got an unbelievable baseball mind," former Rays and Indians C Chris Gimenez said. "He is very quick-witted, and what impressed me the most was his baseball savvy. He would sit down in the pen and call (Francona's) moves before they happened. He has a very good sense for the game and his players."

Though a good student through his time at Tampa's Gaither High with admittedly "very, very average" grades at Florida State, Cash definitely has baseball smarts.

And that's why Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman is comfortable trusting him with a team they feel can contend for the playoffs.

"He's managed the game mentally as a catcher and a coach for a long time, so I don't expect the speed of the game will be an issue," Silverman said Saturday. "The challenge and the place where he will be applying a lot of practice is in the communication with the coaches and with the players throughout the game that is necessary while you are making decisions.

"He understands the challenge ahead of him, and he's very focused doing everything he can this offseason and during spring training to make sure he is as prepared as possible when we open the season."

BENCH WARMER? Silverman said there is no specific timetable to hire a bench coach to complete Cash's staff, "but sooner rather than later is the focus."

He said they haven't gotten down to specifics yet in terms of criteria, much less names. Nor had they ruled out shuffling the current staff to fill the bench coach job and hiring someone for another spot. They will talk further with Cash about it at this week's winter meetings in San Diego, and he will talk by phone with the returning coaches.

Though it would seem managing experience would be a prerequisite — and maybe an older, former manager the natural fit — for the bench coach job, the Rays aren't necessarily thinking that way. A Spanish speaker might also be a good idea, as the departed Dave Martinez was fluent and Joe Maddon conversational; Cash doesn't speak Spanish.

NEXT MAN UP: Maddon didn't seem overly surprised at the selection of Cash, remembering him as a player in their 2006 Devil Rays spring camp who was "wide-eyed" and a great listener and had a calm demeanor. "I don't know enough about his background at this point to get to this level, but everybody I've spoken with speaks really, really highly about him," Maddon said.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Cash isn't just youngest manager in the majors but younger than any head coach in the NFL, NHL and NBA. (Celtics coach Brad Stevens is 38.) … LHP Drew Smyly and his father bought a Beef 'O' Brady's franchise in their home state of Arkansas. … RHP Michael Kohn declined the Rays' outright assignment to Triple-A Durham and signed a minor-league deal with the Braves. … The Rays may not be the only team Derek Jeter is rumored to have interest in buying into: He reportedly met last week with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and toured the stadium. … Andy Freed and Dave Wills will host a winter meetings wrap-up show Thursday 7-8 p.m. on 620-AM.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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