San Juan Looks to Baseball’s Past as the New Future: Smallball

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Updated: May 8, 2018

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GM Mike Best. Finally settling on a sound method or gone crazy?

There has been a transformation in the San Juan front office this offseason. There are more offices designated for scouting and a new one studying strategy. On the top of the file stacks are manila folders of 17 and 20-year olds; one needing to sift much deeper to get to the ones detailing current free agents and prospective trade targets.

With the Coqui owning a treasure chest of draft picks -17 in the first six rounds – the team’s focus has turned to the future. And based on recent airline bookings, General Manager Mike Best might be spending more time watching the Club Deportiva Zaragoza Toros (IHS) and the Wicked Witches of Central Florida (USCBA) than Imperial League opponents. And it makes sense. While Best would never admit it publically, the Coqui aren’t going to be good this year.

The change goes deeper though. San Juan is going smallball and the organization is being set up to develop players who fit with the philosophy. Earlier this week Best confirmed this.

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32-year old Shane Reynolds, a .272, .342 OBP hitter in 612 AAA games is one who will get a shot in the PEBA this season. He has 221 steals in the minors and is a great bunter.

We hit .245 last year and there were still three teams worse than us in our league so I don’t know what we are holding onto by waiting for a big inning. Teams only scored an average of 3.39 runs last year – at least earned ones. It’s a pitchers’ league now. And I don’t see it changing. Kids coming out of high school these days just can’t hit,” he said.

While the last sentence made its way into media headlines, it is true that PRTC Stadium at least has not been kind to hitters, including veterans who’ve had success elsewhere. In conversations in the past, Best has said he wanted to build a new hitter’s park in San Juan but he knows the money isn’t going to be there for that any time soon. Apparently having given up that thought, he has now done a 180 and turned to a philosophy of scrapping for runs. It is not exactly a popular notion in the age of sabermetrics but he pointed out that last year San Juan was losing 2-1, 3-2, 1-0 far too often.

“We just need a couple more runs is all,” he explained. “It’s not just smallball. It’s pitching, defense and speed. We are not going to be asking guys to swing at bad pitches on excess hit-and-runs. Getting on base is still key. It’s just when they are there we want them moving where singles and fly balls can still score us runs.”

It was actually former Manager Jesús Gilbert that put the idea in Best’s head. In Gilbert’s lone year at the helm in 2025, the Coqui stole 128 bases in 183 attempts and also had guys, even slow ones, successfully taking extra bases. The play excited fans and won games and the brass was disappointed when he retired afterward.

That team had more talent though. In 2027, with its feeble roster, the only way San Juan is going to get players into scoring position might just be a steal…or a bunt. The team has even less power than the squad that slugged a mere .363 last year. Entering spring training, only one player on the roster had a slugging percentage above .406 last season. But it will be faster. The team has brought in some scrappy base stealers and will likely let them loose more than they have seen in their pro careers.

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Dean Walden tops all players on the roster with .308, 20 HR, 76 RBI last year

Look this isn’t going to happen overnight. We need better players,” said Best. “So we can’t judge this in one year. But we are rebuilding right now and if we are patient, these draft picks will pay off.”

Best said he has no plans to trade the high picks believing the more he has, the better the chance of landing a difference maker. On the other hand, he doesn’t have the funds to bring in someone who can play now anyway, particularly with the high draft budget needing to be set aside.

The GM also joked he wasn’t giving up his quest for a cleanup hitter, something that has eluded the team since even before he arrived three years ago. In a perfect world, Best said, the team’s current top hitter Dean Walden would be batting second and be more of a setup guy than an RBI one. And more than once, team personnel have walked into Best’s office and caught him looking at film of Rob Raines. But after freely spending on free agents that flopped or wound up on the disabled list the last couple seasons, the Coqui don’t have that kind of cash.