Producing a successful MLB team can be broken down into two oversimplified steps: 1. Acquire quality talent. 2. Properly developing quality talent to produce consistently.
These two steps obviously contain multiple different processes only attempted by the games sharpest minds. The majority of the time even those who’ve lived and studied baseball prove futile in their talent development skills.
It is now widely accepted the Kansas City Royals have out done the other 29 MLB organizations in acquiring quality talent. Not only the best group of talent gathered the last few seasons, but maybe ever.
There is a distinct difference between prospect talent and MLB proven talent. Over the last decade Royals fans have come to know prospect talent, but haven’t seen a group of MLB proven talent. For the purposes of the argument, it doesn’t matter what type of talent you acquire (prospect/MLB).
Essentially, as long as talent is present and combined with proper player development coaches/staff, the coaching staff will be able to mine the talent for production. The development process lands on the shoulders of every coaching staff from the Royals throughout the farm system, even spilling over to the front office.
Most of those roles will go unnoticed, with the burden falling on a few public figures for fans to assess daily. There has been scrutiny surrounding GM Dayton Moore’s ability to acquire talent, but over the next few summers it will shift onto the shoulders of Ned Yost.
Yost will be expected to turn top tier talent into wins.
Yost’s past offers an increasingly common path, through Atlanta, for Royals player and personnel. His playing and managing career seem like a “catch 22” for Royals fans.
Yost was the seventh pick of the 1974 MLB Amateur Draft, by the Milwaukee Brewers. Yost, of Eureka, California, broke into the big leagues six years later at 25. He spent four seasons in Milwaukee, mostly as a backup catcher. As a Brewer, Yost hit .233, 10 HR, 39 RBI.
His next stop was in Texas. As a Ranger in 1984, Yost played his most games in a season in his career, 80. In 1985, Yost played five games with the Expos and then was relegated back to the minor leagues for the next two seasons. After splitting 49 games between AA and AAA in 1987, Yost ended his playing career at 32.
While Yost’s talents as a player didn’t turn out as expected, the things he learned in 14 professional seasons as a catcher provided a more promising career. Nearly 3,000 professional at-bats, combined with six seasons of living in the bullpen gave Yost a unique knowledge to fallback on.
The Atlanta Braves were the first to take a chance on Yost as a coach. In 1991, Yost signed on as the Braves bullpen coach. Bobby Cox had taken over the helm during the 1990 campaign and added Yost to his staff to begin his first full season in Atlanta.
Yost acted as bullpen coach from 1991-98, then took over as third base coach from 1998-2002. In his 12 seasons with the Braves, Atlanta won their division every season expect the strike shortened 1994. The Braves also made nine NLCS and five World Series appearances during the 12 year span.
On October 29, 2002, Yost was named manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2003, Yost inherited a Brewers club built around Richie Sexson, Eric Young, Jose Hernandez, and Geoff Jenkins. The squad tanked in 2003 and 2004, finishing last in the NL Central.
After 2004, the roster began to change drastically, allowing Yost the chance to mold his own contender. The Brewers slowly climbed the NL Central finishing third in 2005 and second in 2007.
By 2008, the Brewers were relying mostly on Prince Fielder (24), Rickie Weeks (25), J.J. Hardy (25), Ryan Braun (24), Corey Hart (26), Manny Parra (25), and Carlos Villanueva (24). Every one of these players made their MLB debuts under Yost, not to mention the talent waiting in the wings, including Alicides Escobar (21), Mat Gamel (22), and Yovani Gallardo (22).
It was late in the 2007 season when Yost first came under fire in Milwaukee. While the turn around was impressive, the front office was more focused on the late season collapse. The Brewers owned an 8½ game lead over the Cubs three weeks into June, but fell two games short of winning the division.
After a four game sweep at the hands of Philadelphia, costing the Brewers the wild card lead on September 15, 2008, the Brewers announced third base coach Dale Sveum as Yost’s replacement.
The Brewers won the NL wild card during the remaining 12 games. The Phillies came back to finish the job, taking down the Brewers 3-1 in the NLDS, eventually winning the World Series.
As the manager of the Brewers, Yost went 457-502. His choice of lineups, bullpen, and bench use ultimately caused his demise in Milwaukee.
A MLB manager’s duties are a laundry list. While in-game decisions are usually the most dissected, they are only a small part of what a manager does. His biggest responsibilities lie in properly handling the media, player’s health/ego/etc., as well as developing players on the Major League level.
Jeff Zimmerman, of Royals Review, recently took a look at Yost’s in-game strategies. Zimmerman maps out some of Yost’s tendencies in Milwaukee and Kansas City against league averages.
The numbers are interesting, Yost proved to be much more aggressive while managing the Brewers. This could be caused by many different factors; managing in the NL vs. AL, differences in roster, and sample size.
The stats pertain only to sacrifice bunt, sacrifice hits, and steal attempts. It still offers a good gauge of Yost’s tendencies.
Jorge Ortiz, of USA Today, posted a piece on February 1, 2011, taking a look at a continuing trend in MLB baseball, managers getting their second chance at success. Yost is in a growing group of “retread” managers; Clint Hurdle (Pirates), Fredi Gonzalez (Braves), Eric Wedge (Mariners), and Terry Collins (Mets).
Ortiz talks about managers being able to find a comfort zone the second time around. Yost was quoted in the piece about his thoughts of a managers duties and being better equipped to handle them with expertise:
“I think managing is … being able to deal with the press and to be able to deal with your players,” said Yost. “And then manage the game. But it’s being able to handle the whole thing.”
The experience acquired by breading an extremely young and talented nucleus of players in Milwaukee to success is one of the main reasons Moore extended Yost during 2010.
Baseball has recognized the Royals ability to complete the first step in the formula to success. The talent will eventually only be as good as the men developing them.
Yost’s player development skills have been well honed, but his ability to transform talent into sustained playoff success will ultimately determine how he will be remembered in Kansas City a decade from now.