ST. PETERSBURG — After a tremendously successful season in which all five U.S.-based affiliates made the playoffs and three won championships, the Rays made significant changes to their minor-league coaching staff.
Four of the five teams will have new managers, and there are new faces in six coordinator positions, including the return of former big-league infielder and Triple-A manager Jared Sandberg, who will oversee outfield play and baserunning.
The makeover seems to be the result of several factors, including the promotion of three 2022 minor-league staffers to the major-league coaching staff: new third-base coach Brady Williams (who was Triple-A manager), bullpen coach Jorge Moncada (pitching coordinator) and major-league field coordinator Tomas Francisco (catching coordinator). Also, the two 2022 Class A managers, Jeff Smith (High-A Bowling Green) and Blake Butera (Charleston), were open to switching to coordinator jobs, as did three coaches.
Michael Johns, 47, takes over as Durham manager after spending the last five years as a minor-league field coordinator. Rafael Valenzuela, 35, moves up from the Florida Complex League to Bowling Green. Sean Smedley, 32, a former Rays minor-league player, moves from coaching at Double-A to managing Charleston. Class A Frank Maldonado, 47, a former college coach before joining Tampa Bay as a minor-league hitting coach in 2020, makes his pro managerial debut with the complex league team. The lone returnee in the same job is Double-A manager Morgan Ensberg, 47.
“It’s a win-win when you’re able to promote talented staff to fill openings on our major-league staff,” Rays vice president and assistant general manager Carlos Rodriguez said. “We’ve seen our share of that here, and that’s created opportunity for deserving staff to move up within our system.
“At the same time, it presents certain challenges as we strive to build on initiatives from one season to the next without some of the staff continuity we’ve enjoyed over the years. As a result, (minor-league operations director) Jeff (McLerran) and our player development leadership have had the tough task of having to find ways to continue to stay at the forefront of development while creating a stable environment for players and staff to grow.”
Sandberg, a 16th-round pick in Tampa Bay’s inaugural 1996 draft, played parts of three seasons for the Rays and spent 10 as a minor-league manager, including 2015-18 at Durham. The 44-year-old nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg then spent three seasons on the Mariners’ major-league coaching staff before managing San Diego’s Triple-A team in 2022.
The new coordinators slot in like this: Butera, assistant field; Smith, catching; Jim Paduch (who was at Double-A Montgomery), pitching; Alberto Bastardo (Bowling Green), pitching; and Will Bradley (Durham), hitting.
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External hires include Durham hitting coach Kenny Hook, previously with the Angels; Montgomery pitching coach Steve Merriman, from the University of Michigan; and complex league pitching coach Henry Bonilla, who was with a training facility in Fort Myers and previously with the Twins.
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