By DAVID JONES
SECOND SEASON: Stu Cole is ready to again prepare Tulsa’s Double-A players for higher duty in the Colorado Rockies system.
ALICIA SHRUM for GTR Newspapers
“If you’re in this business to be the winningest manager in the history of Double-A baseball,” says Tulsa Driller manager Stu Cole, “you’re in it for the wrong reasons.”
Not that Cole is averse to winning. As a baseball manager he’d like to win every game. It’s just that as a minor league manager he knows his job is to nurture his players along so that they can reach the Triple-A level and eventually join the Driller parent club Colorado Rockies in the National League.
The 2007 season will be Cole’s 12th with the Rockies organization, the seventh as a manager within that organization and the second as the Driller’s manager.
He is down in Florida now, looking at the not-quite-ready-for-primetime talent and wondering who is going to fill the Driller’s roster for the 2007 season.
“Whoever makes our club probably won’t have the raw power we had last year,” he said. “The kind of power line-up we had at the start of the 2006 season probably comes once in a generation. Instead I think we’ll be faster and have to put a lot of pressure on the defense with things like bunts, hit-and-runs and all that.
“The majority of the guys coming up I haven’t seen yet. If I get some back from last year’s team that would be a blessing.”
The Drillers were nothing if not successful last year in preparing players to play at the highest level. At the end of the season six players had made it to the Rockies roster. A few of them might have been call-ups allowed when the teams expand their rosters Sept. 1, but there is obviously a lot of Tulsa-honed talent high in the Rockies system.
“We are stacked in the Rockies organization with outfield prospects,” says Cole. “How high an individual prospect goes is often determined simply by who is on the roster of the team one level higher.”
If Tulsa does have a great season Cole wants to make sure a lot of the credit goes to the team’s scouts. “About three or four years ago the parent club decided that the team would be best built from within rather than running out and signing up a host of free agents. The scouts have done an excellent job in finding good, young talent. The Colorado system is now full of major league prospects.”
One area the Rockies have mined aggressively is Latin America. According to Baseball America magazine the Rockies may not shell out huge bonuses but they have been enormously active in finding good young players who fill the minor leagues with talent.
The Drillers were, for years, the farm club of the Texas Rangers. The move to having gone to Colorado has, says Driller co-owner Chuck Lamson, been done as smoothly as anyone could have hoped.
“They’ve been wonderful to work with,” he says.
The Rockies have seen to it that the kind of baseball enjoyed by Tulsa fans has been of championship caliber. Last year, for example, the Drillers made the playoffs by having the top team in the first half of the season (taking the division with a record of 41-29). The second half of the season, after a number of personnel were switched around within the Rockies organization, the team record slipped to 31-38. By winning the first half the Drillers managed to make it to the Texas League playoffs but were eliminated in the best-of-five first round, three games to one.
Now Cole is filled with hope that the new players coming up will be more than equal to the challenges posed by the Texas League and will lead the team to another championship playoff.