Eugene Emeralds Manager Dennis Pelfrey Sets Baseball ‘Gold Standard’ In Successful First Season | Sports
Everyone at PK Park collectively froze on June 22 when they believed the Eugene Emeralds had lost a 4-2 lead with a two-strike triple in the start of the ninth. But it was Emeralds fundamentals coach Lipso Nava who noticed one tiny detail: the runner missed third base.
Manager Dennis Pelfrey wasn’t totally convinced, but Nava was adamant. The Emeralds appealed and, to everyone’s shock, the runner was pulled and the Emeralds won their seventh straight game.
The timing was indicative of a general theme for the Emeralds this year: More often than not, things go their way, and more often than not, they happen in the clutch.
“It doesn’t matter who it is,” Pelfrey said. “He’s someone different usually every night.”
Pelfrey is in the midst of not only his first season in the Giants’ organization, but his first season with an affiliated baseball organization. He led the Emeralds in first place to a 33-20 record, while creating a culture backed by a solid foundation – one based on smart risk taking and success.
Pelfrey joined the Giants’ organization in 2020 after spending nine years as a batting coach and manager of the Florence Freedom of the Independent Frontier League. There he posted a management record 261-218.
“It was one of those things that I wanted to first prove to myself that I could be successful,” Pelfrey said. “And just like a player, hoping someone noticed what I was doing, what my teams were doing.”
Pelfrey’s talents translated well in High-A West, where the Emeralds have lost just one streak all season in a close race with the Everett AquaSox for first place. Despite the increase in talent and competition, Pelfrey’s philosophy since managing his independent ball teams has not changed.
“What I was trying to do in independent ball was develop players, improve them and prepare them so that they would be picked up by an affiliated team, they were perfectly prepared and ready to go,” said he declared. “At this level, it’s really the same concept. I want to develop the players and make sure they’re ready for the next level when they go to Double-A or Triple-A or even the big leagues.
While this team has operated like a well-oiled machine, one of the most notable scenarios of the season has been the number of strikeouts the pitching staff have posted. They lead the High-A West with 582 punchouts in 465 2/3 innings, good for an 11.25 K / 9.
While strikeouts are on the rise not only throughout the league, but across sport, what the Emeralds are doing is undeniably impressive. As of 2005 – as far back as minor league stats go – the highest full-season K / 9 team has been 11.11, established by both the 2018 Quad Cities River Bandits and the 2019 Fayetteville Peaks.
“Talent is what makes it,” Pelfrey said. “And I think the mindset that we give them and… show that we have faith by putting them in great places.”
It wasn’t just one or even a few pitchers who led the charge. Rotation (10.53 K / 9) and bullpen (11.94 K / 9) both had dominant scores, with contributions from players up and down the roster. Pelfrey attributes this to the variety of weapons available to his team.
“We have a lot of different types of weapons, which is really good,” he said. “Different arm angles, different velocities, different best throws for each guy. It really is like a buffet option for us.
Not only do the team have different types of pitchers, Pelfrey likes to mix the use of them and force players out of their comfort zone.
As an example, reliever Tyler Schimpf on June 23. On the night his family was in the crowd to see him play professional baseball for the first time in his history, he recorded a five-strikeout stoppage with three strikeouts to shut the door on the Emeralds. eighth consecutive victory, a peak of the season.
“All of these things made him have a great time,” Pelfrey said. “Come in [the game], it really helped him get through this situation, which was probably the biggest moment of his career, if not for our season.
For Pelfrey, putting different players in different positions is in the name of player development. Their talent has brought them this far, and for a roster full of players who one day want to play in the big leagues, the job they do now is to take the next step to make those dreams come true.
“Me and [pitching coach] Alan Quijano, we’re going to try to put guys in situations they’ve never been in, ”Pelfrey said,“ or a high-leverage situation where they’ve always been a long-relief guy, where we can. close the match. for the guy just to see if he can do it, and to let him know that we trust him to do it. And I think they step up their game when they see that we have confidence in them.
The fear of failure does not come into play in these scenarios, said Pelfrey; in fact, with a game as difficult as baseball, failure can often play a major role in a player’s development.
“Even if they fail in this situation, they will have another opportunity once we sort out what has happened,” said Pelfrey.
This philosophy contributes to the winning culture that Pelfrey tries to create in his first season with the Emeralds.
“There are a lot of good baseball players who play on teams that don’t win,” he said. “I think if we can create guys who have a knack for finding ways to win games, I think it creates a much better environment and a fun season.”
A big part of what contributes to this winning culture is working and tinkering with different things on a daily basis to create the best possible individual players and, ultimately, the best team.
“Every day we try to help a guy with his swing, or help a guy with his grip on his court, or his mentality on the mound,” Pelfrey said. “All of these different things go into a player’s development.”
And despite a few occasional hiccups, such as marches coming back to bite pitchers and occasional offensive droughts, there is a certain resilience that has continued to drive this team and keep them afloat.
“I think they do a really good job of getting back up,” Pelfrey said. For example, in the match on June 23, “we had this sixth round where our defense kind of melted a bit, and basically we just lost our focus for a second and fell behind in that game.” – but we immediately got hold of each other. and I got back into the driver’s seat from that game.
This fits into a general theme that players hold each other accountable, Pelfrey said. He described them as often giving constructive criticism, rather than picking on anyone too harshly. More than anything, these players just have high expectations of each other.
But for Pelfrey, winning isn’t just about scoring; it’s about how they play the game on a daily basis.
“I just want to keep improving,” Pelfrey said. “When I talk about winning, and when the Giants talk about winning, it’s not the scoreboard at the end of the day… it’s more about, when we leave the field that day, if we were basically the better team… a better group of guys are going to fight? ”
But with the Emeralds enjoying a first-place season, the team made sure not to stay too serious and have a little fun in parallel. The atmosphere at PK Park has been energetic, with mascot races, dancing and regular interactions by General Manager Allan Benevides with fans.
“It’s really cool to be with these guys because they’re a bunch of different personalities, they get along really well, they joke around with each other,” Pelfrey said.
The Emeralds are in the midst of their first year as a 120-game club for the full season, so there is still plenty of baseball left, but Pelfrey expects his team to keep their lead all summer long and prove that they are the best team in the High-A West.
“I would really like to win 80 games and really stand out from everyone,” Pelfrey said. “And let everyone know that the Giants, not only in High-A, but our entire organization, from the big leagues all the way down, is top notch, and we are the gold standard in baseball.”