Pirates hope Derek Shelton can replicate success as minor league manager
Derek Shelton does not have much of a track record when it comes to managing.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, however, might be on to something if their new manager can replicate his success in the minor leagues
Shelton’s managerial experience consists of three seasons in the low minors when he was starting his professional coaching career. He was skipper of the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2000 and ’01 then moved up to short-season Class A Staten Island of the New York-Penn League in ’02.
Shelton’s career record was 121-73, and his teams won their division all three seasons. That works out to a .624 winning percentage, which extrapolated over a full major league season, is a 101-61 record.
Just three major league teams had a better record this year: the Houston Astros (107-55), Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) and Yankees (103-59). Minnesota was 101-61, and Shelton served as the Twins’ bench coach for manager Rocco Baldelli.
The Pirates hired Shelton on Wednesday to replace Clint Hurdle, who was fired Sept. 29 after nine seasons.
In his rookie year, Shelton guided the GCL Yankees to a 38-22 record and the North Division title. Though five of Shelton’s players ended up in the major leagues, Yhency Brazoban was the only one of note.
Brazoban pitched in 122 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks from 2004-11, but he was a light-hitting outfielder when he played for Shelton and was converted to a pitcher two years later.
The GCL Yankees went 36-25 in 2001, which marked the only season Shelton had any players who went on to make an impact in the big leagues
Robinson Cano, then an 18-year-old second baseman, batted just .230/.330/.365 with three home runs and 11 stolen bases in 57 games. Eighteen years later, Cano is still active, getting set for his second year with the New York Mets in 2020 and 16th season in the majors.
Cano has been selected to eight All-Star Games and won five Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. He is at least a borderline Hall of Fame candidate with 2,560 career hits and 324 home runs, though his reputation took a hit in 2018 when he was suspended for 80 games for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Shelton’s primary catcher in 2001 was Dioner Navarro. Then 17 and in his first professional season, Navarro batted .280/.345/.406 with two home runs in 43 games.
Navarro spent 13 seasons in the majors, though his last action came in 2016 with the Toronto Blue Jays. He came out of retirement this year to play for the Cleveland Indians’ Class AAA Columbus farm club and in the independent Atlantic League.
Shelton was again a winner in 2002 at Staten Island as the Yankees’ 48-26 record was good enough to edge the Pirates’ Williamsport club for first place in the McNamara Division.
Again, Shelton was able to win without any future stars. Six of his players went on to the major leagues but only one might be recognizable to Pirates’ fans. Right-hander Eric Hacker made three relief appearances for them late in the 2009 season.
Shelton has since gone on to be Cleveland’s minor league coordinator and a major league hitting coach with the Indians and Tampa Bay Rays as well as stints as the Blue Jays’ quality control coach. He spent the last two seasons as the Twins’ bench coach.
Now, Shelton will get another shot managing, marking the first time he will have made out a lineup in 18 years. The Pirates are hoping he still the touch he showed as a neophyte manager.
John Perrotto is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.