As officially reported on December 10th, Joe Kruzel will be returning as the manager of the Peoria Chiefs (Low-A) for the 2015 campaign. Under Kruzel, the Chiefs had their most wins in a season (72) since 2009 and were just one game out of the playoffs in each half (1st half: 37-32, 2nd half: 35-35) of the season. Prior to becoming Peoria's manager, Kruzel was the hitting coach for the Quad City River Bandits from 2008 through 2012, where, as you will see in his first answer below, he helped coach numerous future Cardinals. Despite already having ample head coaching experience (he began as head coach at Toledo University in 1993), Kruzel is an active student of the game, constantly learning from those around him. You can follow some of his thoughts on Twitter: @j13kruzel.
Viva El Birdos: I don’t necessarily like calling human beings "projects," but which hitter, in your time as a Cardinals minor league instructor, did you enjoy most coaching and watching develop as a professional?
Joe Kruzel: I enjoyed working with all of them. Hopefully something we did together helped all of them reach their potential. Oscar Taveras won a batting crown in 2011, and that was exciting, but I was fortunate to have some talented players come through Quad Cities during my time: Pete Kozma, Greg Garcia, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Tommy Pham, Adron Chambers, Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty, Xavier Scruggs, Cody Stanley, Mike O’Neill, and Colin Walsh, just to name a few.
VEB: How important has Ted Williams's The Science of Hitting been to developing your hitting philosophy as a coach?
JK: I have stolen a lot of information from a lot of great teachers to blend into my style. You have to use different techniques for different players to see what makes each player tick. It may be the same idea but just presented in a different way.
VEB: What do minor league coaches spend more time working with players on: plate approach (mental aspect of hitting) or swing mechanics (physical aspect of hitting)?
JK: This is the chicken or the egg theory. It really is a combination of both. Each hitter will be different because when you get them in your city they are usually at different stages of their development. Most times in Quad Cities (Low-A), it was just getting them to understand the importance of getting ready to hit everyday (first full season for most players) and get into a good hitting position to see the ball.
VEB: What is the hardest part of transitioning from amateur baseball to the minors for a position player?
JK: Mentally getting ready to play every day, understanding the importance of the little things, and being more accountable.
VEB: What is the hardest part of transitioning from amateur baseball to the minors for a pitcher?
JK: Fastball command. Editor’s note: I found this answer especially interesting because I was listening to Leo Mazzone, the former Braves pitching coach, talk on the radio this weekend, and he said Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz spent 80% of their bullpens working on fastball command. Things turned out "okay" for all three of them, I'd say.
VEB: What factors are most important to you when deciding whether to pull a starting pitcher from a game?
JK: The other team tells me when to take a pitcher out. Stress innings will come into play. Pitch count, if applicable, will come into play, but if my outfielders are getting tired, it may be time to put another pitcher in to try and rest the outfielders.
VEB: As a coach, which would you want more in a hitter: Someone that hits a lot of line-drives (30+%) or someone that hits a lot of home runs (30+ per season)?
JK: A line drive can get caught. 30+ homeruns will not be caught!
VEB: Which current St. Louis Cardinals player's swing is your favorite?
JK: They all have good swings that work for them. Jose Oquendo and Chris Maloney can really swing a fungo.
VEB: Which position player from last year’s Peoria Chiefs squad do you feel has the brightest future? Which pitcher as well?
JK: Carson Kelly as a catcher. He really improved quickly after transitioning to catcher earlier in the year. Alex Reyes has some electric stuff with a high ceiling. It will be exciting to watch his growth.
I thank Mr. Kruzel for his time in answering these questions and hope he can continue to be an integral component in the developmental process for future Cardinals. Prospects such as Magneuris Sierra, Malik Collymore, and Jack Flaherty should be on their way in the not-so-distant future, so he will be dealing with plenty of talent.
Lastly, the Journal Star in Peoria produced and published an interesting three-part series with Kruzel mic'd up on game days. Part one of the series can be found here. Part two can be found on their Facebook page, and part three is available here. They are definitely worth your time if you have it.