Independent Baseball Insider – Vol. 12, No. 8, April 24, 2014
By Bob Wirz
Every baseball manager is naturally eager for a new season to start, but I cannot imagine anyone more excited than first-time skipper Steve Montgomery, who has the task of getting Sioux City into the playoffs for only the second time (2008) in American Association history and the fifth overall for the Iowa city, which was one of franchises when Independent play started in 1993.
Montgomery has pretty much finished what he calls a “monster procurement effort”, and now is counting down the days until players report in about a week. “My anxiety was high when I took the job (December)”, two months before his 40th birthday. “I knew there was a need to turn over a lot of the roster (from last year’s league worst 38-62 record), and I wasn’t sure I could do it (fast enough).”
A highly successful pitching coach the last 10 years under Manager Doug Simunic at Fargo-Moorhead, the current Florida resident knows how “I want to blueprint the team”, which is by using the veteran slots for position players who will on the field every day, and surround them with “young arms with the ability to get more than a strikeout per inning. And I want guys who are hungry.”
Montgomery says it took four or five years to develop his pitching philosophy with the RedHawks after a playing career that got him briefly as high as Triple-A and included 1995 at Johnstown in the Frontier League and his final three seasons (’01-03) at Fargo, where he became the career leader in saves.
“The last few years they (Fargo, where he says Simunic is “like a father figure to me”) let me (even) do some of the acquisitions.” It paid dividends for both the team and Montgomery since he was part of nine playoff teams, three championships and a pitching staff that led the league in five of his 10 seasons.
Montgomery is placing “all my trust” in veteran catcher Todd Jennings’ ability to “call the game” as he did at Fargo the last three seasons, and banking on the likes of former Minnesota farmhand Mark Sobolewski “to be in the middle of the batting order” and play third base, three-year Atlantic League veteran Andres Perez to handle second base and recent Milwaukee Class AA outfielder Rene Tosoni for “leadership in the clubhouse and on the field.”
He has 15 pitchers lined up to compete for what Montgomery expects will be an 11-man staff on a 21-player roster, with the hopes starters will give the team five or six innings before turning to a potent bullpen. An example could be former Colorado minor leaguer Patrick Johnson, the first pitcher to work off the mound in the new College World Series stadium in Omaha (for North Carolina), who Montgomery described as a “bulldog competitor with a chip on his shoulder” because scouts often dismiss 5-foot-10 pitchers.
Established returnees like Chris Bodishbaugh and Jimmer Kennedy will be in the ‘pen with the likes of draft-eligible Alex Pagano, a 22-year-old who hit 97 miles per hour in a tryout and Rob Wort, who struck out 262 hitters and allowed only 157 hits in 205 innings over five seasons in the Washington National farm system.