Montoyo prepared to manage young Jays

Ex-Rays Minor League skipper has perfect skill set for Toronto

Charlie Montoyo will manage the Blue Jays after spending 21 years with the Rays organization. (Danny Wild/MiLB.com, Frank Gunn/AP)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 11, 2018 8:01 PM

LAS VEGAS -- By definition only, Charlie Montoyo will be a Major League rookie manager when he starts with the Blue Jays because it's his first gig at baseball's highest level. But Montoyo, who was hired after a three-year stint with the Rays as third-base coach and bench coach, won't even entertain the notion. After all, he'd managed in the Tampa Bay Minor League system from 1997-2014 -- the last eight of those years with Triple-A Durham.

Charlie Montoyo is no rookie manager.

"You know what's funny? When I first got the job to coach third base, somebody asked me, 'Are you ready to coach third base in the big leagues?'" the new Toronto skipper said. "And I said, 'Well, yeah, I've been practicing for 18 years.' So it's kind of the same feeling."

In many ways, Montoyo might be the perfect candidate to take the helm in Toronto.

He's gained experience working under Kevin Cash with the Rays, but he also knows first-hand what it's like to handle young phenoms climbing the ladder as he did during his days with Durham, where he posted a .557 winning percentage and won Governors' Cups in 2009 and 2013. Top overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. already has Triple-A experience and is, by all accounts, ready for the Majors. No. 2 prospect Bo Bichette should get his first taste of Triple-A Buffalo early in 2019. Fellow highly ranked prospects like Danny Jansen, Sean Reid-Foley and Anthony Alford already have debuted in The Show, while Cavan Biggio and T.J. Zeuch shouldn't be too far behind. 

When this wave of prospects arrives in Toronto, it'll be welcomed with open arms by a manager who knows what it takes -- and how hard it can be -- to break through to the ultimate level of affiliated baseball.

"The Triple-A level is not that easy," Montoyo said. "It's a lot of communication. At the big league level, it's the same way. You've got to be talking to guys all the time. At the Triple-A level when you call somebody up, I already know I have to talk to somebody else because he's not happy he's not going to the big leagues. The big leagues is more or less the same way. You've just got to communicate. Everybody's on the same page. That's what I'm going to be doing, talking to those guys all the time."

Of course, there's one player Jays fans hope Montoyo will shepherd most closely, and that's the 19-year-old third baseman who's been the talk of the Minors for each of his first two full seasons in pro ball. Guerrero was the MiLBY winner for Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 after leading full-season Minor Leaguers with a .381 average, .636 slugging percentage and 1.076 OPS to go with 20 homers and a 37/36 strikeout/walk ratio in 92 games across three levels. He built on that by hitting .351/.409/.442 in 19 games in the Arizona Fall League. It's widely believed the right-handed slugger will be one of the game's premier young talents for years to come, even though he's yet to debut in the Majors.

Because of service time rules, that first time in the Major League limelight isn't likely to come until early April. Montoyo and his new coaching staff -- which includes fellow Minor League managers in field coordinator Shelley Duncan, first base coach Mark Budzinski and Major League coach John Schneider -- will get time to gauge his readiness for the first time this spring, but the new manager already has some ties to the future stalwart at the hot corner. Montoyo played with Guerrero's Hall of Fame father and namesake during their days together  at Double-A Harrisburg in 1996. ("If Vlad Jr. is half of what his dad was, that's going to be fun for us to watch," Montoyo said Tuesday.) As a visitor with the Rays, he watched the younger Guerrero take batting practice in Toronto soon after signing in July 2015. Traveling from his home in Tucson, Montoyo made sure to visit the sweet-swinging third baseman in the AFL. 

He's seen enough to have high hopes.

"From what I hear, from the moment he gets there, he could be one of the best players in baseball. That's exciting," Montoyo said. "Again, being in the Triple-A level for eight years, I know that doesn't sometimes translate to the big leagues. But what they say about Vlad Guerrero, it's going to translate, and he's going to be one of the best players when he starts playing [in the Majors]. That's exciting for me to hear. I'm looking forward to seeing him play every day."

Offseason MiLB include

When he does arrive, Guerrero will have more than just a manager who understands the weight of being the next big thing in Triple-A. Montoyo was born and raised in Puerto Rico and was a full-time Spanish speaker until attending Louisiana Tech. He'll be able to communicate with the native of the Dominican Republic in his preferred language from the start, and that'll only ease the transition to the big stage.

"I think it helps a lot, not so much for me but for him," Montoyo said, "for him to talk Spanish and tell me his feelings because I know what it's like. When I first came to the States, I spoke no English, so I know that feeling. For him to come in Spanish and tell me how it feels, I think that's going to be great for those kids."

The Jays' youth movement isn't based solely around Guerrero, of course. As things stand with the Major League roster, Jansen could have the inside track on being the club's starting catcher, while Reid-Foley and Alford will compete for roles on the rebuilding club. Toronto's decision to release Troy Tulowitzki on Tuesday clears the way for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to take over right away at shortstop, as he did down the stretch in 2018, and for Bichette's path to be just a little clearer. It's enough young talent that's close to the Majors to get the organization and fans excited. The new manager has a little bit more in mind than just general excitement.

"What this team reminds me a little bit of is Boston about five years ago, when Mookie Betts and all those guys were young and they finished last," Montoyo said. "Then all of a sudden, look who they are now. So that's my hope that we become the Boston team they have now with Mookie Betts and all those guys, that Vlad Guerrero and all those kids become players like that. That's my hope, and I think that's what's going to happen."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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