As a headline, fan and player favorite Wally Backman is back for this third season in Triple-A. Backman's players love him and play hard for him. It is still unclear if he has the skills required of successful big league managers including, but not limited to: interfacing with the front office and integrating technical information into a game plan, managing a pitching staff, particularly a bullpen, and performing the daily media relations act with the New York media.
Backman will be joined in the 51s' dugout by Frank Viola, who had a tumultuous 2014 in his first season with Vegas. Viola lost both of his parents in the winter and had open heart surgery that sidelined him for most of the first half of the season while he recuperated. When he returned, he was himself, boisterous, effective, but perhaps with a broader perspective. His own health scare prompted him to attempt to live a little healthier. Viola is a terrific pitching coach who quickly earns the trust of his pitchers, and can diagnose issues, and offer suggestions to improvements for pitchers of all types. It seems like only a matter of time until he picks up a big league job.
The "new" hitting coach in Las Vegas is a familiar face in the Mets organization, Jack Voigt, who will enter his 10th season with the team, replaced George Greer, who turned 70 in October 2014. (Did Greer quietly retire?) Voigt has worked as the team's outfield and baserunning coordinator for the last four seasons. Before becoming a coordinator, Voigt was a hitting coach with both Brooklyn (2009) and triple-A Buffalo (2010). Voigt has done well in the Caribbean, where his Magallanes team advanced to the Caribbean World Series. As a former MLB advanced scout, he really has a feel for what skills and techniques play, and are effective in the big leagues. The coordinator's life is difficult in that it requires nearly eight full months of travel from Spring Training through Labor Day with only a few weeks at home. Travel in the PCL is the most demanding of any minor league, but for most people it is easier than that of a coordinator. Voigt will get to spend roughly half his time in his seasonal "home" in 2015.
In Double-A, manager Pedro Lopez, who led Binghamton to the Eastern League title, will return along with pitching coach Glen Abbott. Lopez, who reached Triple-A as a player, and will embark on his fourth straight season with Binghamton, should probably get a little more recognition from fans outside the organization. He's organized, passionate, and gets the best out of his players. If that sounds a little like what fans like about Wally Backman, it should. Lopez just does not carry the same 1986 sheen as Backman, but does speak better Spanish.
This is the fourth year in Double-A for Abbott. It's a good fit for a guy who's been coaching in the minor leagues since 1985 and has tracked quite literally millions of pitches in nearly three decades on hand-kept spreadsheets. Abbott is particularly adept at teaching young pitchers to think the game. For example, Steven Matz said learning to do scouting reports and understanding his and his opposing batters strengths and weaknesses was almost as valuable as learning a new pitch because it gave him another weapon to use to attack hitters. Mets pitchers are lucky to have Abbott and Viola in the upper levels of the system.
Luis Natera, who was the Mets' assistant Major League hitting coach for part of the season in 2014, returns to double-A for his eighth season with Binghamton. He's taught at pretty much every level of the Mets' system in his 24 years in the organization. His is a patient, calm teaching style. Like Abbott, he mixes mechanics with approach, and seems particularly well-suited to double-A where natural ability is no longer enough for most players to thrive.