Regarded as one of the best minds in Major League Baseball, Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty will have a hand in developing the Pensacola Blue Wahoos' inaugural team during the franchise's debut season in 2012.
During his tenure as general manager in St. Louis from 1994-2007, Jocketty's Cardinals won seven NL Central Division titles, two NLCS titles and one World Series championship in 2006. He has been named Major League Baseball's Executive of the Year three times - 2000, 2004 and 2010.
Jocketty, who joined the Reds in 2008, was in town last week to visit the city and construction progress at Community Maritime Park. After a news conference at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze on Friday, Jocketty sat down with the News Journal to discuss the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Reds' Double-A affiliate in the Southern League, the team's farm system and the recently completed winter meetings.
Q: How excited are you about the relationship between the Cincinnati Reds and Pensacola?
A: We're very excited. If we were looking for a Double-A affiliate, this couldn't have been a better situation. Real solid ownership, real solid leadership with (team president) Bruce (Baldwin) and his staff, a great community, a brand-new facility. It's a great league with good travel, a lot of things you look for when you're trying to plan an affiliate, especially at Double-A.
I haven't had a chance to see much of the city, because we flew in (Thursday) night. I saw a little this morning, so I'm anxious to see more of it. I think it's going to be a great, great situation for us and hopefully for a long time.
Q: How big was it to land Jim Riggleman as the first manager for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos?
A: I think this is an extremely important position for this franchise and for the Wahoos. You get a guy of his stature, the quality of person that Jim is - he's managed almost 10 years in the major leagues and has been very successful. His strength is player development and teaching and that's why he wanted to come back at this level. He loves to manage and he loves to teach, and it's hard to do that at the major league level sometimes. I think the Wahoos and the community here are fortunate to have him.
Q: Do you feel fortunate to almost have him land in your lap during this coaching search?
A: It's funny because I ran into Jim in Denver in September when I went there with our club. He was scouting for the Giants and we sat down and talked for a while. I asked him what his plans were for this year. He said he wasn't sure, but he was looking around to see what was available.
He didn't want to scout. He said he'd like to get back into player development, even managing possibly. He was aware of the fact that we were moving in here this year and he said if for some reason David Bell isn't back, I'd be interested in that opportunity there.
We talked about it, and I talked to our staff about it, and we ended up moving David Bell to Triple-A to (manage) Louisville and it ended up opening a spot here and we brought him in here. I wanted to get him in the organization. I just think that this will be fun for him and great for our organization.
Q: How excited are you about the minor league prospects the Reds have right now in their farm system?
A: We have some really quality prospects. We've moved a lot of guys up to the major league level the last couple of years, so Triple-A will not be as strong prospect-wise, because most of them are in the major leagues. But we're going to start seeing this next year, and the next two years, a lot of our quality young kids coming up to Pensacola to play.
Some of them are very exciting players like Billy Hamilton and Ryan LaMarre and Didi Gregorius, Henry Rodriguez, Tucker Barnhart. There's a lot of good-looking prospects that we will enjoy seeing play here that will one day play in the big leagues.
Q: How did you feel coming out of winter meetings?
A: For us, it was very frustrating. We tried to do a lot of different things. We still have a lot of things pending. We spent a lot of time and effort trying to get some deals done. We're looking mainly for pitching, so I think we made enough progress that we may be able to do some things in the next few weeks, next few days.
Q: Do you feel pretty good about something happening in the next few weeks?
A: There are two deals we can do right now, but it would probably take a lot of our top prospects and I'm always a little nervous about doing that. So I'll spend a little more time analyzing that.
Q: Are you happy to see Albert Pujols out of your division?
A: I'm thrilled. It's great for our division. It's a blow to the Cardinals. I thought he would go back there. I know there were some problems with the negotiations. It's going to seem really strange to see Albert in an Angels uniform and not a Cardinals uniform.