Opening day approaches
Scrappers set to start with new manager
NILES — At first glance, Luke Carlin looks like he might be a Scrapper himself.
Clean-shaven, with what some might call a baby face, the 36-year-old hardly looks his age. He acts it though.
The first-year manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers is only a rookie when it comes to managing. The former catcher spent a good portion of the last 13 seasons in the minor leagues, with three brief stints at the MLB level — including two with the Indians. He spent last season on the Akron Rubber Ducks’ staff before being named the Scrappers manager in January.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a while, so I’m excited to get going,” Carlin said. “I enjoyed my time here as a player, and it’s beyond what I expected as a player-development staff member as well.”
Not many people know the challenges and fortunes of development better.
Carlin was drafted by the Detroit Tigers as a 21-year-old in 2002. He spent time with the Padres, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Indians, Angels, Athletics and Cubs over the next 13 years. Maybe of more importance is that he competed at all levels of the minor leagues, including a Dominican winter league where he learned Spanish.
Carlin is fluent in the language when it comes baseball talk, which is critical because being able to properly communicate with young players from other countries can be an essential tool for a manager at the Class-A level. The Scrappers, for instance, have seven players from the Dominican Republic on their roster, which will continue to grow as more draftees arrive in the Mahoning Valley.
“From a Spanish standpoint, I played several years in the Dominican, so I’m fluent in Dominican Spanish,” said Carlin before further explaining his understanding of the language. “I couldn’t say that I am fluent in the correct Spanish, but I’m able to get my point across for the most part, and our young Latin players have been patient with me.
“Hopefully I get the point across, and they’re doing a great job trying to learn English as well, so we try to meet in the middle as well.”
Communication is only part of what Carlin and the Indians’ organization believe has him ready for this role after only one season as a coach.
Like many catchers before him, playing that position required Carlin to know the many nuances of the game. He also learned from several current and former MLB managers, such as Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria, Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black and former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, just to name a few.
Finally, there was Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who Carlin said he spoke with a couple times over the last week as he readied himself for the Scrappers season, which begins Monday in West Virginia.
“I had a lot of great people (influencing me) and made a lot of really great relationships, so hopefully I can pull from some of their experiences,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for this job for the last 10 years. Being a catcher grooms you for these types of roles just because of the relationships you have to make and the connections you have to have, not only with the (pitching) staff but with the other players as well.”
The key point he took from all of his preparation is that development comes first, and winning is often second.
Carlin’s job isn’t necessarily to win a New York-Penn League championship. It’s to foster the success of his players and then send them away to the next level of the minor league system. Many of the Scrappers players are just 19 and 20 years old and are still learning the rigors and patience of the professional lifestyle, and the sooner Carlin can stimulate their learning curve, the more productive he’ll be as manager.
“The more guys we can send up, the more successful we’re going to be,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s our goal, is to get these guys performing well so they can get out of here. That being said, there is a path of development that involves some failure, and we understand that, and the men understand that. And winning also is important, so it’s not just one or the other, it’s a balance of all those. But at the end of the day, we want to be sending players out of here.”
The more he does that, the quicker Carlin himself might be moving up.