When a major league player is sent down to the minors on a rehabilitation assignment, the goal is to get their work in and prepare to return to the majors. However, something that is often overlooked is the impact an MLB player can have both positive and negative on the young minor leaguers that he plays with during the rehab process. Most MLB players realize this and try to do whatever they can to help further the development of the younger guys at the minor league level.
This past week Angels veteran pitcher Jered Weaver spent a couple of days with the Angels Single-A affiliate the Inland Empire 66’ers. While Weaver was with the 66’ers he did what he could to pass along the knowledge he has gained in his 10-year big league career, so that it might help motivate and teach the 66’ers players what it takes to make it to the major leagues.
“I told our guys to watch a guy they know and respect in Weaver,” 66’ers pitching coach Matt Wise a former Angels pitcher said. “See how focused and how much of competitor he is, and watch how he executes.”
The first thing you saw in reaction to Weaver being on the mound was nerves. In the first inning of Weaver’s first rehab start last Thursday 66’ers catcher Michael Strentz threw the ball well over the head of Cody Eaves allowing Bakersfield’s Tim Lopes to go to third. Then on the next play 66’ers centerfielder Bo Way caught a fly ball and while attempting to throw out Lopes threw the ball 10 feet over Strentz’s head allowing him to score easily.
66’ers manager Denny Hocking was asked how he tried to prepare his players for Weaver’s starts. “They were nervous tonight for sure,” Hocking who played 12 years in the majors said. “I told them to go out and play crisp, relaxed baseball. It’s a totally different mindset when you’re in the minors to rehab as you are just trying to focus on yourself and doing what you need to do to get back to the majors. These guys playing here are trying to impress people every day.”
Weaver said he did his best to talk to the players when he arrived in the locker room. “Well I tried to, I was just kind of joking around with them trying to break the ice a little bit,” Weaver said of his initial conversation with the 66’er players. “When I walked in no one really said anything, I think they may have been a little nervous. So I just played around with them a little bit.”
66’ers catcher Michael Strentz after catching Weaver’s 1st rehab start.
So what were the players impressions of Weaver while he was there with 66’ers. “It was pretty cool to catch for him,” Strentz said. “I didn’t get nervous until the first pitch. He was really cool when he talked to us, he didn’t big league anyone and he just tried to make us feel comfortable.”
66’ers reliever Alex Blackford who pitched in both of Weaver’s rehab starts and was outstanding going 8.1 innings allowing just 5 hits, 1 earned run, walking 2 and striking out a staggering 13 batters said there was a noticeable difference between Single-A players and Weaver. “He just looked like a big league pitcher out there, just his mental focus and the way he executed his pitches,” Blackford who got the win in relief in Weaver’s 2nd rehab start said. “There is a reason why we are here and he’s up there in the majors. I was a little nervous warming up after he got taken out. Once I threw a few pitches I was able to relax and slow the heart rate down and then it was just like a normal game.”
So the big question is what did Strentz and Blackford learn from watching Weaver.
“It’s different catching him as he can hit any spot, any time,” Strentz said. “You could see how locked in he was right from the start. ”
Blackford reiterated Strentz’s thoughts about Weaver. “The biggest thing was watching him warm-up. He wasn’t nervous. He was just focused and had a routine that you can tell he uses every time he pitches,” Blackford said. “It was cool to watch him pitch.”
One other thing Blackford said he noticed was the way Weaver pitched when he was in trouble. “He just got even more locked in when he got in a jam,” Blackford said. “Major league pitchers are very good at limiting the damage and not falling apart when things get tough.”
Not all major league players who do minor league rehab assignments take the opportunity to mentor the young players on the team, but Weaver embraced it and even got a little nostalgic when asked about his memories of the time he spent in the California League in 2005.
Jered Weaver (36) with 66’ers 1st baseman Eric Aguilera (24) and 3rd baseman Tyler Palmer (13) just before National Anthem was sung prior to Weaver’s 2nd rehab start.
“Definitely good, especially with T-Bone Boykins here (Ty Boykins Angels Roving Outfield and Base Running Coach) who was my manager at the time when I was here. We were kind of reminiscing 11 seasons ago I was in this situation. So, It’s kind of weird how it has gone so quick. Lot of good memories, had a good time, a lot of good guys I met in the minors who I still keep in contact with today,” Weaver who was 4-1 with a 3.82 ERA in seven starts for Rancho Cucamonga in 2005 said. “It’s cool to come back here and see these guys, being able to talk to them and try to give them a little bit of wisdom every now and then, hopefully they’ll respond to it.”
Maybe ten years from now it will be Blackford or Strentz’s turn to come back to the minors and pass on some advice to a new crop of young minor leaguers the way Weaver did for them. All in all Weaver’s rehab time in San Bernardino was beneficial to everyone. The 66’ers fans got to see Weaver up close and personal (Weaver spent about 10 minutes after each start signing autographs for the fans who gathered outside the clubhouse entrance). The players got to watch and learn from one of the good guys in the game in Weaver. Finally, and most importantly Weaver was able to get himself prepared to return to the Angels rotation where he will be a welcomed addition. Good luck Jered you will have a lot new friends and fans from the Inland Empire rooting for you when you take the mound again in Anaheim.
Weaver celebrates the best game of his career, a no-hitter. Hopefully for the Angels, Weaver will recapture the magic on his return to the rotation (Image: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)