Minor League Insider: Rangers farm skippers shape winning attitude

06/21/2014 7:42 PM

11/12/2014 6:16 PM

The development of prospects, not wins and losses, is the No. 1 priority in the minor leagues. That will never change.

But having a winning environment around the prospects can pay dividends later on, which is why the Texas Rangers can’t be more pleased with the success of Double A Frisco and High A Myrtle Beach to this point.

“The expectation here in Arlington is to win, so you want those guys to have the mentality of winning at the minor league level,” said Mike Daly, the Rangers’ senior director of minor league operations.

“There is also something different about the pressure of trying to close out a victory. A ground ball in the eighth inning is a little different in a one-run game than if a team is down 10-4. The at-bats mean more when you’re trying to win late. So winning absolutely makes a difference.”

Instilling a winning environment starts first and foremost with the managers of the clubs and each have new faces leading their respective teams. Frisco manager Jason Wood is in his first year after having three successful seasons at Myrtle Beach, leading the Pelicans to the postseason in each of his three seasons.

And Joe Mikulik, a Keller resident, has taken over the reins in Myrtle Beach and has them off to an impressive start.

Wood led Frisco to a 40-29 record in the first half of Texas League play, earning a playoff berth, and Mikulik did the same at Myrtle Beach, going 44-24 in the first half.

“Those are probably the youngest teams in each league, so just tremendous work by those guys and their staffs,” Daly said. “And a big credit to their players. … What’s also really great is none of the development of the players was ever sacrificed.”

Wood, who spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues, said the key to success has been simply making the ballpark an enjoyable environment for his players. He remembers the job Joe Girardi did when he played with the Marlins in 2006 and wanted to emulate that if he became a manager.

Wood called Girardi a players’ manager and just respected how he went about his business.

“He wasn’t afraid to talk to each one of us individually, not only about baseball, but life itself,” Wood said. “He was a guy you wanted to compete for each day.”

Mikulik aims to do the same thing, although he might have a slightly different approach than most. Mikulik managed 13 seasons in the Rockies organization and is known for his intense and fiery demeanor managing ballgames. At times, it doesn’t sit well with umpires and leads to ejections.

But it’s never mean-spirited. It’s just Mikulik’s competitive nature, growing up with two brothers in Schulenburg. He also watched the likes of Earl Weaver and Billy Martin as a kid.

“That’s the way this game is, this game is intense, it’s full of energy, it’s full of life,” Mikulik said. “It’s not a boring game. A lot of people call it a boring game, but if you look back, one call can turn the game around.

“It’s no disrespect for anybody when I get fired up. To me, it’s part of the game. The fans love it. And, when I go through the clubhouse, the players know I have their back. That’s what’s most important.”

Each manager has their own style, and it’s rubbed off the right way on their teams so far. The results say it all.

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