FORT MYERS, Fla., 12 June - By the time the alarm clock goes off for many players and coaches in Minor League Baseball, Jason Pospishil has already been at work for hours, working out, educating himself, and molding the future of the Minnesota Twins.
A former Twins farmhand, Sydney native and Blue Sox assistant coach Pospishil is in his first season helping out with the Twins at Minnesota’s extended spring training program in Fort Myers, Florida. In the earliest dog days of summer, Pospishil and a small legion of Twins coaching staff members head an army of the youngest players in the Minnesota system, giving them, in most cases, their earliest instruction in professional baseball.
Just 29 years old, Pospishil, who was on the inaugural Sydney Blue Sox coaching staff in 2010/11 as well as last year, has also been at work for years longer in a coaching capacity than the limited number of other professional coaches in the US minor leagues in their 20s. After a two-year playing career in the Twins organization in the early 2000s, “Pops” came to a crossroads.
“The main goal I had was that if I wasn’t going to make the big leagues as a player, there was the potential that I could make it possibly as a coach,” Pospishil said of his decision to give up professionally playing the game he loved in his 20s. “People wonder why I would stop playing at 29 years old and go into coaching. Having played professionally, I knew what it was going to take to make the big leagues, and I was always going to be a step short there. The next step was to possibly get there as a coach.”
TAKING A NEW ROAD
Following his final pro season on the fields of the Appalachian League in 2003, Pospishil kept in contact with Howie Norsetter, now Minnesota’s International Scouting Coordinator and a Melbourne resident, about a future career on the coaching side of the game. After a stopover playing ball in Croatia in the mid-2000s, “Pops” decided his future outside the lines was the one that deserved his full attention.
“I think [the Twins] wanted to wait for me to age a little bit, in a good way,” Pospishil said of his contact with his former parent club. “They said there was an opening this year for me to come over and coach in extended because it’s such a large roster of players. So I thought this is too good of an opportunity not to take it considering it might open up some other good opportunities down the track.”
Extended spring training isn’t exactly the lights and fans and promotions of the glamorous minor league fields of full-season ball, but without “extended,” the rest of the minor league world wouldn’t be what it is. It is here, on the well-manicured grounds of major league clubs’ spring training facilities, that the youngest players in professional ball cut their teeth with hundreds of hours of weight training, conditioning, practice, and games from the conclusion of spring training in March-hence the name-to the start of low-level Rookie ball and short-season Class A circuits in June, their introductory-level baptism by fire into pro ball.
That’s where Pops comes in.
“I’ve got a couple of different roles. I share the hitting coach duties with [former major leaguer] Milt Cuyler,” Pospishil said of the crowded camp. “Down here at the moment, we have 25 positions players still in extended spring camp, so imagine just one hitting coach looking after 25 guys...I do a lot of the video analysis. I take video, and Milt and I look at it and work with different guys on different things that we see. That keeps us pretty busy. I also do some work with the infielders.”
A former infielder himself who signed with the Twins as a teenager out of New South Wales in 2000, Pops also saw action as an outfielder in the Minnesota minor leagues in 2003. A spongelike approach in a willingness to learn different positions during his playing career has already aided Pospishil as a coach.
“I was a utility player,” he said. “I played everywhere, so I suppose as a utility player, you need to know the game in so many different aspects. That helps with the coaching, too. You need to know about outfield play and infield play, hitting and baserunning and team fundamentals. That gives you a pretty good base as a coach if you’re a utility player.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE
A typical day in extended starts at 6 in the morning for Pospishil who proudly boasts he performs “van duty” every morning, driving players from the team hotel to the Twins’ facility in Fort Myers-“That was an adventure,” he reflected on his first time driving a van full of minor leaguers on the right side of the road. While players get ready for the morning with breakfast, Pops hits the workout room before his 8 a.m. staff meetings.
Shortly thereafter, he’s on the field with dozens of the brightest young performers in the Twins’ ranks for 9:00 early work with stretching, throwing, and position-specific defensive exercises. Pospishil mostly works with the infielders during those defensive drills along with Gulf Coast League Twins manager Ramon Borrego, who will take many of these extended players for his own GCL squad beginning in mid-June. The pair educates their young infielders in the ways of rundowns, cutoffs and relays, bunt defenses, pitchers’ fielding practice, and more. Batting practice follows defensive work, and then the coaches and players hit an 11:15 lunch just in time to be back on the field for games at noon virtually every day.
In Florida extended camps, teams usually play games against other extended squads from nearby major league organisations. In the Twins’ case, that generally means the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. During games, Pops, who managed his first team at any level when he was just 20 years old in Sydney, calls the shots. Borrego and Cuyler, the GCL Twins’ hitting coach, observe their future Rookie-ball roster members while the Aussie takes the reins. Having worked on staffs with former major leaguers Glenn Williams and Chris Oxspring in Sydney as well as absorbing coaching input from others like Adelaide Bite manager Tony Harris and Melbourne Aces skipper Phil Dale, Pospishil possesses a managerial mind far wiser than his 29 years, and his fellow Twins’ staff members are content to let him handle the head job.
“It’s been a fantastic experience getting to see the way that different organisations do things,” Pops said of his first professional managerial experience. “Watching the players grow is the most rewarding thing. You see guys making adjustments and improving on parts of their game that you’ve been working on with them in your morning workouts. Extended spring is not about the win-loss record. It’s about seeing players develop and get them ready for the upcoming season. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
This year, he’s already experienced some other unique things such as a rehab appearance by Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford in a game against the Twins’ squad. Pops even managed his pitching staff to a combined perfect game on May 30, an extreme rarity in Rookie ball. More than anything, though, he keeps in perspective the real purpose of his job and that of his fellow coaches: the development of their players.
“It’s almost like they’re starting their schooling again. It’s just it’s the school of baseball, so to speak,” Pospishil adds. “You play so many different roles [as a coach]. You’re a psychologist, you’re a planner, you’re an instructor, sometimes you’re a shoulder to cry on. A lot of these kids are only 17 or 18 years old living away from home for the first time. It’s easy for me to relate to what they’re going through because I was there in 2003.”
The adage that Minor League Baseball isn’t about wins and losses but about the growth and improvement of players isn’t a cliché to Pospishil. It’s at the forefront of the Sydney native’s mind. Somewhere in that Twins camp with Pospishil is one or two or a handful of future major leaguers. When they break into the bigs someday, their foundation will have been laid, in part, by a rising star in Australia’s coaching ranks.
“Whatever guys are doing now in the big leagues and in Triple-A is what they learned down here in rookie ball, five, six years ago.
“It’s not just learning how we do things but why we do things.”