Q&A with Jacksonville Suns manager Andy Barkett
April 3, 2012 – 09:22pm
Andy Barkett begins his second season as manager of the Jacksonville Suns, after spending three seasons as manager of Class-A Lakeland with the Detroit Tigers organization. Barkett guided the Suns to a 70-70 record in 2011, but the Suns failed to make the playoffs after winning the Southern League pennant the two previous seasons. Jeff Elliott met with Barkett on Tuesday for his thoughts about the coming season, his progression as a manager, what type of team the Suns will field this year and more.
What did you learn about the Southern League last year in your first season at this level?
I had heard if you’re an exceptional player in the Southern League, you can play in the big leagues, and I saw that. It’s not that I didn’t know it, but I saw it with my own eyes. Being able to manage in the All-Star Game and watch the caliber of players that we have in the league, it’s definitely a league where there’s a lot of stars and a lot of great players that you’re going to watch on TV one day.
It’s tough for players to make the jump from Single-A to Double-A — is it equally tough for a manager?
Somewhat. I think there’s some managers better suited for different levels based on personality and the way they run their teams. In A ball, you have to be a little more stringent, a little more sergeant-like, where here, they need to start growing up. There are maybe 100 A-ball managers but only 30 Double-A managers so it probably is harder to get to this level.
How much more comfortable are you at the Double-A level now that you’ve got a year’s experience behind you?
Much more comfortable, more comfortable and confident going into this season. I know what to expect as far managing a game. I went through many situations including a ton of extra inning games that we had last year. So I was actively managing a lot of the time which was great experience for me. In baseball, there’s something new that happens every 24 hours. I feel I’m better prepared for those things as they come to me this year. Just knowing now about the other ball parks and what you can expect there, the hotels, etc., there was a little anxiety last year because we’ve never been there before.
How important is it to have John Duffy returning as your pitching coach?
Coming into a new organization, you’re always a little apprehensive about who can you trust, who can you build a relationship from. Duff and I were from two different backgrounds, two different heritages, but we’re both baseball guys and we really care about players. So we had that common ground and with that common ground, builds a friendship and a trust. So he knows how I operate and I know how he operates. He knows normally what I’m thinking and how I want to manage a game. He works his tail off and takes care of things that I don’t have to take care of. I’m happy and blessed to have him.
It’s your first year with hitting coach Kevin “Smoke” Randel. What’s your background with him?
I don’t really have any. So we’ve gone through a familiarity process getting to know each other throughout spring training and talking baseball philosophy.
Will your approach as Suns manager be any different this year?
I want to be a little more active in the instruction of my club. Last year coming into a new organization, I wasn’t really familiar with the hierarchy of work. I was a little bit timid with how I wanted to run my team. With this organization, managers manage; hitting coaches serve as hitting coaches and they don’t cross each other’s lines. Not necessarily in a bad sense so that the hitting coach can implement the program. But this year, I feel there is a little bit more freedom for me to run it how I want to run it and I plan to do that from Day 1. I’m going to use the organization’s manual, but at the same time, I’d like to be more active in how we run the club and how we teach and everything.
As a collective group, how would you describe this year’s pitching staff?
I would say we have late-in-the-game arms. I don’t think we have a glaring star in the whole group. I think guys like [Evan] Reed and [AJ] Ramos are definitely on the radar and will be watched closely just like the rest of them will be. But they’re moving through the system quickly. Our starting pitchers are durable guys, they’re workhorses. Our pitching staff will keep us in games I believe. If we can get five innings out of our starters, I can get some guys in there that will get us to late in the game.
Same question for the hitters, how would you describe the group of position players?
I would say question marks, not necessarily in a negative fashion, but more the fact that we could go a number of different ways offensively. We have a lot of players who have the ability to hit very well in this league. But several are unproven at this level and some are repeating this level but didn’t really dominate it. We have a lot of guys who are “in the frying pan” offensively. We have a lot of potential in the group, potential for a big year if guys can be what we think they can be. But there are a lot of question marks. Will the new guys at this level respond offensively? We’ll find out and we’ll know soon, maybe by the end of April when they’ve had 100 at-bats or so.
Will the Suns have the same kind of speed they’ve had in the past?
We don’t have a lot of speed. We’re going to have to hit the ball in the gap or over the fence. We’ve got singles hitters so it’s going to take three hits to score them. We’ll have to hit doubles or homers to win games. It’s a little different going into this season, unlike last year when we had a guy [Kevin Mattison] who could fly.
Kyle Skipworth was a former No. 1 draft pick of the Marlins who struggled in his first season at the Double-A level last year, hitting .207. Are you expecting bigger things from him this year?
I said at our organizational meeting, April through July last year, I was hitting my head against the wall [about Skipworth's play]. But in August, I saw the makings of a baseball player, a big-league player, for the first time. It was flashes, it wasn’t every day but it was there a lot more than it was the first four months. He has a plus-tool that he can the ball way over the fence that not a lot of people can do. Even when he mishits it, he can still hit it over the fence. This spring towards the end of camp, he really showed progress. But he knows he has to limit his strikeouts and put the ball in play with two strikes. I think if he maintains his approach, we’re going to see big things out of him. I believe in him, but he’s got to believe he can do it. When that happens, the sky’s the limit.
This is the third time in four years that Graham Taylor has been with the Suns. He’s pitched at the major league level. Is this the year for him to get back there?
No question. If he pitches like he did in spring training, he’s got a chance to pitch a few more years and get to the big leagues. He’s in the best shape of his life and is pitching as well as he ever has. If he can carry that into the season, we may have a great story here.
Were you comfortable with your objective of getting players from last year’s team to advance to Triple-A or the big leagues which is what the Marlins are looking for?
Yes, I’m very proud of what we were able to do last year. We got a couple guys like Luke Montz and Kevin Mattison, both of whom barely made our roster coming out of spring training last year. Both have moved up and Mattison is now on the Marlins 40-man roster. Chris Hatcher, Sandy Rosario, Brad Hand, they all went to the big leagues last year. Skippy [Skipworth] started looking like a baseball player. Some others had the best season they ever had. From a development standpoint, I believe we definitely did our job and we did it well.
Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/sports/baseball/2012-04-03/story/qa-jacksonville-suns-manager-andy-barkett#ixzz1r7Yem1E2