WEST SACRAMENTO — New manager, same expectations.
That seems to be the case for the 2013 Sacramento River Cats.
The Cats, winners of the last six Pacific Coast League Pacific South Division titles, will take the field this season under the guidance of Steve Scarsone, who was named the club’s manager in November.
Scarsone has some big shoes to fill — his predecessor, Darren Bush, was called up several months ago to coach the Oakland Athletics’ bullpen — and he isn’t expected to have a whole lot of time to fill them as everyone from the owners to the local fans hopes to maintain Sacramento’s winning ways.
Fortunately for Scarsone, however, he is no stranger to the pressure of professional baseball. He played seven seasons in the big leagues with the Phillies, Orioles, Giants, Cardinals and Royals, and managed five teams at the Single-A and Double-A levels before coming to the River Cats.
“Every year I have pressure on me,” Scarsone told reporters during the club’s annual media day at Raley Field on Monday. “I put pressure on myself, too. That’s what helps you strive and continue to do the work. I mean, my goal is to win this division and move on from there. I don’t think anything less would be acceptable.”
Scarsone also will have the benefit of inheriting many of the coaches and players who have been a part of the recent success that the Oakland A’s Triple-A affiliate has enjoyed.
His two primary assistants, hitting coach Greg Sparks and pitching coach Rick Rodriguez, have both been heavily involved with the River Cats over the years. Sparks is also an old friend of Scarsone.
“Greg Sparks and I have been friends since the early 1990s and (we) played against each other,” Scarsone said. “He’s actually the guy who opened the door for me to come over to the A’s four years ago. So I’m excited about working with him.”
On the field — at least at the start of the season — Scarsone will have a trio of former Oakland first-round picks — Jemile Weeks, Grant Green and James Simmons — each of whom played for the Cats last year. Simmons will be an integral part of Sacramento’s pitching crew, and Green and Weeks are currently competing for the job at second base. However, because both Green, who was named the team’s most valuable player last year, and Weeks present so much value to the River Cats, especially on offense, Scarsone intends to find ways to get both of them on the field.
“Both Green and Weeks will play quite a bit,” Scarsone said. “There’s going to be some (designated hitting), there might be some other positions involved, but the seal of approval hasn’t been on some of those (lineup strategies) yet. We’re going to get them at-bats, we’re going to get them into the game.”
Two other former first-round picks, center fielder Michael Choice and pitcher Sonny Gray, have joined the River Cats this year after stints in Double-A.
“We’ve got a really nice club. A handful of them shouldn’t even be at this level anymore, but it is what it is, and they know that, so we’re going to have a good bunch,” Scarsone said.
Josh Horton, Scott Moore and Andy Parrino will round out the Sacramento infield, while Connor Crumbliss, Shane Peterson and longtime River Cat Michael Taylor will join Choice in the outfield. David Freitas and Luke Montz will see time at catcher.
On the mound, the River Cats will have former Boston Red Sox World Series champion Hideki Okajima and a host of other pitchers alongside Simmons and Gray.
Overall, Scarsone was excited about his roster at Monday’s media day event.
“Every year has got its own special challenges. You’ve got personalities that you’ve got to make sure can play together and not get distracted and be able to get along. (But) I don’t anticipate any of that,” Scarsone said. “We’ve got a good bunch of guys who are all committed toward doing their job and winning ball games.”
He’ll get his first chance to see where they all stand — and kick off his River Cats managing career — on Thursday, when Sacramento plays the Las Vegas 51’s at Raley Field at 7:05 p.m.. The game will be the first of a four-game home series with Las Vegas.
— Reach Will Bellamy at [email protected]