Chris Widger named 2021 minor league baseball manager of the year

In his second season of management in the affiliated minor leagues, Chris Widger led his Quad Cities River Bandits to the High-A Central Championship.

For the exceptional season, Widger is our Minor League Coach of the Year. The Royals affiliate finished with a regular season record of 77-41, which was the fourth best in the minor leagues but the best among non-Rays affiliates.

After a 2020 season in which no games were played due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Widger and the River Bandits had to go through many obstacles on and off the pitch to make it to the league championship .

It has helped that the 10-year major league receiver has already built a solid foundation with many players he brought to Quad Cities through his previous management assignment with the Royals.

“Widge had built a solid relationship with this team’s core group in Burlington, NC during the 2019 season,” said Alec Zumwalt, director of performance and player development at Kansas City. “His players love to play for him and in turn he creates a winning environment in the clubhouse that is played on the pitch.”

The 2019 season in the rookie-level Appalachian League was Widger’s first managerial position in the Royals’ system. He led the team to the league final before losing to Johnson City, two games to one.

One of the many challenges Widger had to grapple with in the 2021 season was player turnover resulting from various Double-A injuries and promotions. One of the biggest losses was when first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino was promoted to Northwest Arkansas in mid-July.

“He wasn’t just our best player overall,” Widger said of Pasquantino, “but he was the guy players turned to when they had a problem or needed to be picked up.”

Royals hopes Michael Massey, Nathan Eaton and Jimmy Govern were named by Widger after other Quad Cities players who have led by example, playing hard and making it easier to follow their teammates.

It’s not just the performance of its players on the pitch, but also the way they behaved off the pitch that made the difference with this team. Widger credits the Royals’ front office, starting with president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, general manager JJ Piccolo and vice president of player personnel Lonnie Goldberg, for bringing not only good players to the organization, but quality individuals.

“They want to make sure they have good men,” Widger said. “When they pick these right people, it’s easier for us as coaches and player development managers to just work with what they started. .. to be the kind of people we want them to be.

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Widger cites the fact that his Quad Cities players haven’t had a single positive Covid test all season as an example of how players followed protocols and performed both on and off the pitch.

“I guess a lot of it is luck with the way things are going,” Widger said, “but a lot of it is because our guys did it the right way. Followed protocols They got it right, away from the field They stayed away from certain situations they shouldn’t have been in.

Perhaps Widger’s biggest challenge was adjusting to the Royals’ striking development program that the Royals put in place starting in the fall of 2019. This forced the system’s coaches to assimilate the use of the analysis and new ways of teaching and evaluating strikes.

“I was brought up in the old school,” Widger said. “It was a bit of a change, and it was something I just had to get used to… But you see these players joining in or you see how they work at it every day and they cut down on their routines.

“You adopt a more process-based mentality than, ‘Did I have a stroke? They are more concerned with, “Did I go on strike?” Or “Did I hit the ball hard?” “”

Widger successfully met the challenges while still maintaining the solid foundation instilled in him as a player. Adapting to new typing technologies has allowed Widger to grow as a manager. He strongly believes in his ability to combine the new with the old in his coaching methods.

“There was a lot more discussion and communication. . . with the analytics part, ”Widger said,“ trying to integrate whatever this department is trying to do, and then still trying to keep things baseball focused, trying to combine the two. “

What’s next for Widger? The role of a big league manager in the future piques his interest, but for now he is content with his place in an organization he admires.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing,” Widger said. “I like working with the youngest. I like to see them grow up. I like to see them improve. I like to try to keep a bit of the old school and history with these players, so that they know where the game was and where it was, and why we keep certain values ​​in the game.

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