Frigid January temperatures have swept across the Front Range, but another piece of news on Thursday began heating up anticipation for Sky Sox fans throughout the region.
It is official: as of January 26, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox announced their 2017 coaching staff.
With the Milwaukee Brewers announcing the staffs of all their affiliates, this season of excited anticipation has a little more substance behind it. The 2017 Sky Sox will be led by an experienced quartet of coaches—some that will be familiar to Sox fans, some new to the Centennial State.
In total, the coaching staff has a combined 84 years of coaching experience (that doesn’t include the 23 years of experience from the trainer and strength coach), proving that the Sox will be in solid hands when the Omaha Storm Chasers cross the border into Colorado for the season opener.
The experience factor starts with the man in charge, the former International League Manager of the Year in 2008 and 2009. Twenty-seven years sounds nice. Having the same manager at the Triple-A level for three straight years is notable.
The more impressive stat, however, is when you consider that Manager Rick Sweet has logged about 15,652 miles throughout his managerial career, starting in Bellingham, Wash., in 1987 and has crossed the country upwards of six different times (including a stint in Canada).
Now, also note that this figure does not include his six-year playing career for the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners, nor does it include all the road trips in the eight different leagues of which he’s been a part. That’s a lot of bus trips, a lot of chain hotels, a lot of fast food restaurants and–most importantly for Sky Sox fans—a lot of baseball experience.
Pitching Coach Fred Dabney has not logged quite as many miles, but 14 years in the Milwaukee Brewers system alone implies experience and familiarity. Dabney is the only member of the Sky Sox coaching staff that has major league coaching expertise with Milwaukee, having served as the Brewers’ interim bullpen coach for exactly one month while Stan Kyles underwent surgery in April 2010.
Containing the potent offense that can erupt from games played in the altitude of Colorado Springs would be a challenge for any pitching coach, but Dabney has proven that he can lead prolific pitching staffs before. In 2005 and 2009, the Class A-Advanced Brevard County Manatees led the Florida State League in earned run average.
Following a promotion to Triple-A Nashville before the 2012 season, the Sounds owned the lowest ERA (3.85) in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Dabney also tutored back-to-back PCL Pitchers of the Year, with Nashville’s Johnny Hellweg and Jimmy Nelson earning the award in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
The first new addition to the Sky Sox staff is coach Al LeBeouf, who inherits an offense that finished fifth in the Pacific Coast League in batting average. The eight-year veteran of the Brewers system previously spent eight seasons in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, where he posted a .270 career batting average.
Soon after he retired from baseball, he became a coach in the Phillies system. During his six seasons as a manager in Batavia (Class A-Short Season), Clearwater (Class A-Advanced) and Reading (Double-A), he posted winning records in four straight years, and matched Sweet with consecutive back-to-back Manager of the Year awards in Clearwater and Reading in 1996 and 1997 respectively.
Rounding out the 2017 coaching staff is a name that should be familiar to Brewers and MLB fans alike. Ned Yost IV, son of former Brewers and current Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost, comes to Colorado Springs for his first season with the Sky Sox. Sure, his dad may have the notoriety across the major leagues, but NY4 has made a mark on the minor league circuit over his decade-long coaching career.
Before spending five seasons at Class A-Advanced Brevard County, Yost began his coaching tenure in 2008 as an assistant coach at Rookie-level Helena. In 2010, he helped lead the Baby Brewers to a Pioneer League Championship, the fifth time in team history that the Montana capital city had hosted a championship-winning team.
Believe it or not, we are a day shy of 10 weeks away from the beginning of the 2017 campaign, when Colorado Springs opens their season at Security Service Field on April 6 for a 6:40 p.m. contest against the Omaha Storm Chasers. In about three weeks, the Milwaukee Brewers will report to Spring Training in Arizona and by March, the Sky Sox roster should begin to come into focus.
What’s clear now, though, is that an experienced and talented coaching staff will take the field to lead the 2017 Sky Sox in pursuit of their first PCL American North Division title since 1995. Stay tuned for more updates as we move closer to Opening Day 2017.