To say the Charlie Montoyo hiring was a “surprise” would be a colossal understatement. Up until about four days before being named as the team’s manager, even Montoyo himself hadn’t considered managing the Blue Jays. Heck, the man was unseeded on the Blue Jays managerial candidate bracket and somehow won the whole thing.
Compared to rumoured front-runners like Joe Espada and Rocco Baldelli, Montoyo was an eleventh-hour candidate who came completely out of left field. At least, that’s how it played out in public. Behind the scenes, maybe Atkins knew Montoyo was the perfect fit, but he never seemed like a top contender.
At first glance, the decision to go with the 53-year-old Montoyo seemed a bit odd. In an industry where the average age of a manager is getting increasingly younger, the Jays made the shift from a 56-year-old John Gibbons to someone three years his junior. After watching his introductory press conference and listening to a few of his interviews, the new skipper seems to have a similar low-key Gibby personality as well.
In retrospect, Montoyo was the right choice all along to manage this Blue Jays club.
He’s seen it all in the minors
Montoyo might be better equipped than anyone to lead the Blue Jays’ youth movement. He oversaw 18 different rosters over his nearly two-decade-long stint as a manager in the minor leagues. Hundreds upon hundreds of players passed through his door during that time span. Montoyo’s seen everyone from can’t-miss prospects to 39th round draftees to grizzled veterans playing for their last paycheque.
Managing at Triple-A might be even more difficult than managing a 25-man roster in the big leagues because there’s such a diverse mix of ages and personalities at Triple-A. It takes a very special type of person to tie it all together and keep things sane. For 18 years, that was Montoyo’s job in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
The bilingual aspect and connecting with players
There was a lot of conjecture about having a bilingual manager who can speak in the native tongue of the Latin players on the Blue Jays roster. This seemed especially important with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s arrival on the horizon. Truthfully, it’s important not just for Vlad, but the Blue Jays carry a lot of Spanish-speaking players. Nearly one-third of all the players in Major League Baseball are of Latin descent.
Montoyo’s fellow countryman (and new AL East opponent) Alex Cora is also bilingual, as both hail from Puerto Rico. The benefits of having a bilingual manager are readily apparent, but there are some residual benefits as well. Alex Speier was on the Jonah Keri Podcast and explained how Cora connects with his players in their own language.
It’s a huge advantage to be able to have at the top level of your field staff, someone who is able relate to every player on the roster. We’re dealing with a generation of young stars who really can use a coaching staff that’s able to relate to them.
It can only be helpful if you have a guy who arrives in the majors as a 20-year-old to feel like he’s able to connect with everyone he’s able to please.
That player Speier was alluding to? Rafael Devers. Coincidentally, the Blue Jays also have a blue-chip prospect looking to break into Major League Baseball in the very near future. If Montoyo can connect with his players and unlocks something with Vlad or any of the Spanish-speaking players, it will all be worth it.
“Just run” – setting a clear expectation
Montoyo spent the last 18 years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization – one of the most progressive in all of baseball. From a fundamentals standpoint, he seems like an old-school manager. He doesn’t ask very much of his players, other than giving a full effort.
Charlie is very strict about “playing the game the right way”; you run hard to first, you don’t show up players.
If Yangervis Solarte were still on the 25-man roster, I’d say his days were numbered with this team. That one simple directive gives a glimpse into the tone that Montoyo is looking to set with this crop of players. It may sound idealistic, but a player’s effort will be rewarded on this team. Not that it wasn’t under the previous regime, but I think from now on with Montoyo at the helm, there’s a very clear expectation for this team.
John Gibbons didn’t have much of a roster to play with these last few years, but one of his few faults was he had a tendency to ride with the same group of guys for an extended period of time. It was “Gibby’s Inner Circle”; if you were in, you were golden. If you were on the outside looking in, it was difficult to find regular playing time.
That won’t be the case with Montoyo. In this excellent profile by Adam Sobsey at Baseball Prospectus, Montoyo stressed the importance of rotating through his roster so everyone gets a chance. “Everybody plays” he said.
Again, it’s a democratic answer but one which the Blue Jays’ front office must’ve been very pleased to hear. It’s a no-brainer to reward playing time on meritocracy or whichever player is riding a hot streak. It’s much more difficult to spread the wealth around and ensure everybody on the roster gets a shot to be the hero.
This philosophy is especially important on a youth-driven team like the Blue Jays. It sounds cheesy, but I can only imagine this local helps build camaraderie among teammates … making sure everybody gets an opportunity to play, regardless of pedigree.