Brian Esposito caught in the Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, Cardinals, Rockies, Astros and Cubs organizations and appeared in the big leagues with the Cardinals and Astros before joining the Pirates system in 2013. He managed the short-season Jamestown Jammers in 2014, then moved up with some of those Jammers players to the West Virginia Power this year. I spoke with him last week about his work with the Power this season. Here's the transcript, lightly edited for length.
Incidentally, this concludes my series of interviews from the minor leagues. Thanks to the staff of the West Virginia Black Bears. Thanks, also, to Adam Marco of the West Virginia Power, who went above and beyond to coordinate interviews so that I was able to spend my time efficiently. Also, thanks to Tom Bragg of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Todd Murray of the Morgantown Dominion Post for helping me figure out where to go and when.
Bucs Dugout: You played briefly in the majors, and last you were in the minors was 2012. How did you make the transition to coaching? Was that an easy transition?
Esposito: For me, it was an easy transition. [It was] something I was interested in even when I was a player. As a player, as a catcher, I was always in tune on the bench, watching what moves went on and kind of thinking ahead, or thinking along with our manager. It was something that I knew I was eventually going to do. I didn't expect to get into managing this quickly. I figured it might take me a few years to get my foot in the coaching door. But things worked out well here, and here I am.
What kinds of instructions do you get from the Pirates about how best to develop players and keep them healthy?
Number one, we just have a bunch of beliefs and core convictions. We talk about building a man before we build a player. So a lot of what we do is just grow these kids from boys into men, and we hope that along the way, we teach them some baseball. That's the first step is to just get them to be good kids, have a good identity, do the right thing on and off the field, and that's what we do first. That's the main thing, especially at these levels. And then teach them some baseball along the way.
Do you talk to somebody from the Pirates on a day-to-day basis?
No. I stay in touch with all our coordinators in all the areas [and] give them updates, things that are shot out to the organization. So we're in touch with our farm director, field coordinator, all the different rovers in all the different areas. All the managers, see what they're doing, bounce around some ideas. We certainly have a good chain of communication throughout everybody in the organization. I think that's best because it gives one message throughout the whole organization.
You mentioned that turning these guys from boys into men is a big part of it. What percent of getting through the minors at this level is about maturity, being willing to listen, and those kinds of things, as opposed to baseball skills?
I see it now, and I understand it a little better while I'm on this side of the game. It's hard to ask a player to get a sacrifice bunt down when it's hard enough to ask him to shave on a regular basis. If you can get a guy to take care of those simple functions on a day-to-day basis -- shave, wear the collared shirt, whatever rules that we do -- if you can't ask a guy to do that, then it's hard for me to ask him to stay focused for nine innings. If you can hammer those things out first, it's a lot easier to get them to understand what we're trying to do on the field.
Do you think if you were coaching at Double-A, for example, the balance might be a bit different in that regard?
Everyone's different. Everybody processes information differently, everyone develops differently. So just because you're at the Double-A level doesn't mean you have Double-A maturity. There [are] some guys that are in Double-A because of their maturity, [and there are] guys that have a pretty good skill set that could probably be playing up a little bit higher, but maybe the maturity is the issue. If you look around other organizations, that might be a problem. Some guys don't really stress that. Guys go to the big leagues, and then they have to deal with the immaturity up there, and you've got to teach them to play on the fly. We like to have our bases covered while we've got them down here.
Stephen Tarpley threw a no-hitter last week. If it hadn't been a six-inning game, how long would that have gone on?
He would have ran into his [pitch count]. That was it. When he hit his mark, that was it. We're not concerned about the success that player is having in A-ball. We're worried about the big picture and the long term. Throwing a no-hitter in low-A is small potatoes when you're looking at the big picture of trying to develop a pitcher that can help us win a championship in Pittsburgh.
What have you seen from him this year in terms of his development?
He's a competitor. He's done a much better job of controlling that competitive emotion. Right now he has shown the ability to re-channel that aggression back into focus. I've seen him develop from Spring Training to here. He's done a good job controlling his emotions on the mound.
At the big-league level, the Pirates are known for a pretty specific set of strategies, [like] inducing ground balls and pitch-framing. Do you teach those things down here, and if so, to what extent can they be taught?
No question we teach the value of getting ground balls. We preach early contact. We preach pitching in. You have to start developing that here. On the flip side, we're an organization that likes to put the ball on the ground, so we are stubborn in our ways with teaching guys how to defend ground balls. Making a routine play, turning double plays -- these are all things that we hammer out on a daily basis to match what we do as an organization on the mound.
The pitchers on this team are the best in the South Atlantic League at preventing walks. Why do you think that is?
Just because we preach pounding the zone. We preach pitch[ing] to contact. If we punch guys out, great. But [we're looking to] get guys out in three pitches or less. Just attacking hitters and making them put the ball on the ground.
What percent fastballs are these guys throwing?
The majority. Fastball strikes down in the zone -- that's what we preach. I would say probably 70, 80 percent fastballs. That's what's going to get you ground balls.
Yeudy Garcia has kind of come out of nowhere as a prospect. What is he doing that's gotten him so far so quickly?
Big strong boy with a big arm. Throws the ball real hard. It's heavy. Got a good slider coming along. Competes. Good competitor, works hard.
How has Cole [Tucker] managed playing [one of] the most important positions on the diamond while being probably the youngest player out there a lot of days?
Again, he goes out and works. He's big-time mature. He's mature beyond his years. So that has helped him learn how to play baseball. He's able to handle things that might be a little advanced for other people because of his maturity. You're able to give him some ideas and he's able to run with them and get better. He's a baseball player.