When the International League's 135th season opens on April 5, seven of the circuit's fourteen teams will have a new manager leading the quest to capture the coveted Governors' Cup trophy. Four of the seven new skippers are making a return to the circuit, while three will be managing their very first season at the Triple-A level.
From last year's postseason field, only Governors' Cup champion Jared Sandberg of Durham is back in the League this season. Sandberg guided the Bulls to both the IL and Triple-A national titles in his third season at the helm. Also hoping to hoist the Governors' Cup trophy for a second time are Kevin Boles, whose Pawtucket club won it all in 2014, and Columbus manager Chris Tremie, who delivered a championship to the Clippers in 2015.
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In Norfolk, the IL's longest-tenured manager Ron Johnson is back for a seventh campaign with the Tides. Three clubs, however, are bringing back a skipper who debuted in 2017. Mark Grudzielanek in Charlotte and Damon Berryhill in Gwinnett will both challenge Johnson and Sandberg for supremacy in the IL South Division, while former Buffalo infielder Bobby Meacham takes another crack at winning the formidable six-team IL North.
One of the League's new managers in 2018 is no stranger to his new club. Randy Knorr managed Syracuse in 2011 before moving into a series of other roles within the Nationals organization, in addition to having played for the Chiefs in the 1990's. The new man at the helm in Rochester is Joel Skinner, who has managed in the IL with both Buffalo (where he claimed the 2000 IL Manager of the Year Award) and Charlotte. Pat Kelly assumes the reins in Louisville, arriving with a lengthy resume that includes stops in Indianapolis, Ottawa, Syracuse, and Richmond. Former Pawtucket skipper Gary Jones, who last managed in the IL in 2001, will pilot the Lehigh Valley IronPigs this year.
Two of last season's division winners will be under the guidance of new managers in 2018. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre welcomes Bobby Mitchell to town after he led Double-A Trenton to the 2017 Eastern League championship with honors as the EL Manager of the Year. Meanwhile in the West Division, Brian Esposito will try to get Indianapolis back to the playoffs in his debut season as a Triple-A manager. One man trying to stand in his way will be Doug Mientkiewicz, new field manager of the Toledo Mud Hens in his first season in the Detroit organization.
The men charged with developing their major league affiliate's top prospects this season bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge, having combined to win well over 10,000 games in the minors. Four of this year's group - Boles, Johnson, Jones, and Kelly - are among the top twenty winningest managers active in the Minor Leagues. Meanwhile there are also eight IL skippers with fewer than 250 career wins at the Triple-A level, all hoping to be the one destined to have his name etched onto the Governors' Cup trophy when the 2018 season concludes this September.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.