Inside the Mind of CT Tigers Manager Mike Rabelo

For the second time this week, I got the chance to interview someone in professional baseball.

Last time at Grading on the Curve, I brought you an exclusive Q & A with the underrated Mets catcher Xorge Carrillo. Today former Detroit Tiger and current Connecticut Tigers manager, Mike Rabelo, discusses the Tigers’ top prospects, most surprising performers, and what it’s like to be a minor league manager.

Quinn B: First, I’d like to know you’re opinion on Derek Hill, who really struggled with the Tigers last season (.203 batting average). What does he need to improve?

Mike Rabelo: He’s young, he’s 18 years old, you can’t really judge the short sample that he showed us.  Don’t forget, he was playing high school baseball two months before that. I didn’t really see enough to make a judgment and even if I saw him all year I’m not gonna jump to conclusions.  He’s 18 years old and he has a lot of predictability in that body and in that swing and in the way he runs.

Quinn B: Did you see any glimpses of talent while you were managing him?

Mike Rabelo: Yeah! He can run and he’s got a bazooka for an arm. We didn’t draft him in the first round by mistake, he’s got talent. And hopefully as he goes through the maturation process he blossoms into the player that we feel he’s gonna be.

Quinn B: On the same note, what did you see out of Joey Pankake and Ben Verlander?

Mike Rabelo: Joey had a good year. All-Star, swung the bat well, really really good clutch hitter. He had a solid year.  Ben repeated the level, he struggled a little bit in Western Michigan and came down to us. He had a big game in Tri-City and he finished up fairly strong for us. 

Quinn B: Were there any players on the tigers that really surprised you with their performance or improvement over the course of the season?

Mike Rabelo: Oh, Steven Fuentes, without a doubt. He had a great year, ended up just under .300, got an opportunity to play. Him and Joey [Pankake] split time at third. He just swung the bat the entire time he was in there. By the end of the year he was hitting three-hole for us. [He’s an] unreal athlete, one of the best arms I’ve ever seen in the infield, young kid, hard-worker, and I was very very thrilled with the way he played.

“He’s an unreal athlete, one of the best arms I’ve ever seen.”

Quinn B: Can you give me a little insight on Chase Edwards; what does he need to improve and what is he already good at right now?

Mike Rabelo: Chase threw the ball well. I believe he set the record for wins on our teams, him and Austin Pritchard tied. Chase is a sinker-baller. If he gets the ball down, gets ground balls, he’s got a chance to pitch. And as a sinker-baller that’s the key, work the ball down in the bottom of the zone. Usually you are a sinker-slider guy, so he’ll develop a slider over time and that’s gonna be his niche.

Quinn B: Do you think that Chase projects more as relief pitcher or as a starter?

Mike Rabelo: He’s been starting for us. He started the year before. Time will tell. A lot of times, players make that decision for you. I watched him pitch, if he can’t get through the lineup a second or a third time, then he might be a reliever.  But, time will tell.

Quinn B: Who would you name as the CT Tigers 2014 Team MVP?

Mike Rabelo: Johan Belisario. Look at his numbers. (0.79 ERA in ’14) You know what, we’ll go two. It’s either him and then for position players, Michael Gerber.

Quinn B: What would say were your most/least favorite parts of managing in your first year?

Mike Rabelo: Oh, best part was just watching these guys play and have fun. You can live vicariously through them. I told them I wish I was 21-years-old again. They had so much fun, the team won, everybody got along.  And, as far as the least part, I had a blast, man. I don’t really have one to be honest with you. I’m sure next year I might, but last year, the group of guys that I had, and the coaching staff that I was with, it could not have gone any better.

Quinn B: Do you have any ultimate goals with the Detroit Tigers organization? Are you working on getting promoted to maybe a higher league or are you happy where you are right now?

Mike Rabelo: I just try not to put too much pressure on myself. I don’t think about any of that; I just worry about the task that is going on right now. And you know right now I am a New York-Penn League manager. I love my job and [I’ll do] whatever they want me to do. This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time”

Quinn B: Do you get to make the decisions as far as lineups and playing time are concerned or are those things predetermined by the Detroit Front Office?

Mike Rabelo: It’s within the parameters of the Tigers, what they would like to see. They give me a lot of flexibility, but I still have to stay within the parameters of what they would like.

Quinn B: You were playing in the minors only a few years ago. What has been the toughest part of the transition from player to coach?

Mike Rabelo: You gotta realize that these guys are young. I started coaching Rookie Ball and I never played that level. You can’t set the expectations too high. You gotta understand some of these guys are right out of High School, they’re learning. I just got done playing the year before, and I played ten years. You can’t get frustrated.

Quinn B: How has being a player helped you coach?

Mike Rabelo: I know the struggles that they’re going through. I’ve been down the road that they’re going down right now, so everything I speak of is from experience. It helps a lot because they’re gonna look you in the eye and know that you’re not just feeding them a bunch of crud because I’ve been in there in shoes. That’s the easiest way to connect with the players.

Quinn B: When you were a player in the Detroit Organization, did the front office ever approach you about potentially becoming a manger in the organization in the future?

Mike Rabelo: I knew at the end of my career, with the injuries and stuff, that this was gonna be my exit plan. So I actually brought it upon some of the staff members. I Said ‘Hey I’m interested in coaching when I’m done playing.’

Quinn B: What was that feeling like when you finally did reach the big leagues, because you were in the minors for such a long time?

Mike Rabelo: It was awesome. Six years in the minor leagues and then now you’re in the major leagues. You’re a part of the team that’s the 2006 American League champions, so it was fun.

Quinn B: As a manger, what skill do you value most in baseball in your ballplayers?

Mike Rabelo: Just work ethic. You gotta stay after it every day. Doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your background is, what country you’re from: nothing is guaranteed. But if you put the work in, you have a better chance at succeeding than just sitting back and letting things not work.

Quinn B: What is your role with the Tigers during the offseason?

Mike Rabelo: I’m home, they call if they need anything. But it’s the offseason for a reason because we work every single day from mid-February until the end of the instructional league. So, right now, I’m just taking care of my two daughters, fishing, taking care of the house, stuff like that.

Quinn B: What was clubhouse atmosphere for your team as it was fighting for a playoff spot?

Mike Rabelo: Oh, it was awesome. I don’t know if you’ve been in there and saw some of those guys, but it was awesome. Everybody got along, every hung out together, everyone was at the field at one o’clock in the afternoon. It was great. It made my job a lot easier.

Quinn B: Thanks for your time, I really appreciate. I hope to make it to Dodd Stadium during the 2015 season!