Just this week, it has been leaked that Jose Oquendo, after a medical leave from the organization, will return in a new role as special assistant to general manager John Mozeliak. Especially during the height of off season personnel acquisitions, it could be extremely easy to overlook the immense implications of such a move.
Just last week, the Cardinals made a splash in the free agent market with their signing of Dexter Fowler. With high profile acquisitions such as this, all fans are engaged, understanding and excited regarding the possible effect such a star player could have on the club.
With coaching, things are drastically different. Besides manager changes (and maybe the occasional hitting coach), fans rarely attend to shifts or changes. It becomes more or less an assumption that all assistants are more or less a reflection of the manager, rather than individual coaches who supply unique and valuable contributions. Honestly, such an approach is understandable. Fans watch baseball for players, not coaches. Such an assumption explains why fans are so quick to criticize, and more hesitant to praise.
Especially at the Minor League level, coaching is an after thought. Fans care about a select few “golden” prospects, only checking in with the players that have a strong chance to transform the franchise somewhere down the line. In reality, however, coaching, in the purest form of the word, is perhaps the most valuable at this level. Minor league players, obviously more than big leaguers, are in need of development on a daily basis. In this way, coaches play a bigger role, frequently shaping the players in their system, thus increasing the likelihood for MLB success. In contrast, at the Big League level, coaches serve more as tacticians, strategic captains if you will.
Put simply, Minor League coaching matters, and we should probably pay more attention.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) December 13, 2016
Enter Jose Oquendo. Formerly the Red Birds third-base coach, Oquendo was forced to take a break from the game due to chronic knee injuries. Now, however, feeling healthier and more mobile, he has decided to return to the organization. Instead of returning to his position as third-base coach, however, Oquendo will now serve as a special assistant to John Mozeliak. On the surface level, this seems like a small move, a “transitional” phase to simply get Oquendo back around the game. As I see it, however, this move could have major implications for the entire organization. Put generally, there are three reasons for this argument: Playing experience, coaching experience, and location.
Oquendo was a successful and unique MLB player. After signing with the New York Mets in 1979, he spent two seasons in the organization before being traded to St. Louis. For the Cardinals, Oquendo had a truly one-of-a-kind career. Nicknamed “The Secret Weapon” by then manager Whitey Herzog, Oquendo played every single position on the diamond over the course of his career. Most notably, he set the record for fewest errors in a season by a second basemen, committing only 3 throughout the entire 1990 season.
With such a versatile positional track record, along with truly spectacular infield skill, Oquendo has the potential to be an invaluable instructor for all players under his umbrella of development. Furthermore, Oquendo was a switch-hitter. Such experience gives him the unique ability to relate to, and teach professional hitting and tactics from both sides of the plate.
Perhaps more than anything, Oquendo has the potential to be a stellar mental coach, well-versed in the adversity of professional development. A short-stop for the majority of his development, Oquendo was forced to adjust when he faced the impossible task of overtaking the legendary Ozzie Smith. Instead of folding, however, Oquendo became incredibly versatile, a trait that ultimately defined his career.
Although his coaching experience is not as interesting as his playing experience, Oquendo still brings phenomenal value in this realm. Coaching under the Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, he has learned from one of the best to ever do it. Moreover, Oquendo actually holds experience in the minors, as well. Specifically, he served as both a field instructor and manager at different points in the late 1990s. Lastly, it is worth noting that Oquendo served as manager for the Puerto Rican in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.
In summary, Oquendo is no stranger to coaching and instruction. He understands not only how to be a successful player, but how to relate and instruct players from the opposite vantage point. Although this may be assumed by some, not all former-players have this ability to shift perspectives and share their knowledge with younger generations.
Although this seems like an unusual “reason” for paying more attention to Oquendo’s new role, it is perhaps the most important of the three. Oquendo will carry out his role at the team’s Florida Complex, making himself accessible to all levels, year-round. Being able to access both the Florida State and Gulf Coast Leagues, Oquendo will have the ability to affect and mentor players for perhaps the entirety of their developments. Also, Oquendo will play a role in both offseason workouts and Spring Training, making himself accessible to (hypothetically) any player who seeks his guidance.
Although it is tough to tell exactly, Oquendo could have a large role in shaping coveted prospect Delvin Perez. In the same vein, he has the opportunity to polish the already successful Aledmys Diaz, as well as second-basemen Tommy Edman.
As demonstrated above, this move by John Mozeliak cannot be overlooked. Oquendo has the chance to coach players’ physical and mental skills, perhaps transforming career trajectories, and the franchise at-large.