Because a Triple-A manager's primary job is to develop players for the major league affiliate, winning is viewed as a bonus. RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco, though, believes winning is part of the process, a message players have embraced the past decade.
The RedHawks open the Pacific Coast League playoffs on Wednesday night, hosting Omaha at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Game 1 of a best-of-five series. It's the seventh time the past 10 years DeFrancesco has led a PCL team to a division title.
“We want players that end up in Houston to not only be used to winning but expect to win and believe they're going to win,” said Astros general manger Jeff Luhnow. “The success that Tony has had, and the success this team has had, is going to lead to that result.”
DeFrancesco, 50, has been more successful than any Triple-A manager the past decade. His teams are a combined 175 games above .500. He even went 15-15 the final 30 games last season as the interim manager of the Astros, a team that lost 107 games.
Even though Luhnow hired Bo Porter to fill Houston's managerial vacancy, Luhnow said DeFrancesco is vital in a rebuilding phase that's starting to produce quality players.
“Tony's role is one of the most important roles in our entire organization from top to bottom,” Luhnow said. “He's the one who has to evaluate these players and tell us when they're ready. He's also the one to help them maintain their confidence and inspire them.
“I think that experience last year with us in Houston helped give Tony give an even better perspective of what it takes to succeed at the big league level. He's clearly a winner. He has a track record of winning.”
DeFrancesco led Sacramento to six division titles, including three PCL titles (2003, 2004 and 2007). The River Cats also reached the PCL finals in 2009.
One of DeFrancesco's best assets is he finds ways to keep players motivated throughout a long, grueling season.
“Over the years there have been some teams we've played against that have checked out (mentally) the final month or so, they just ride it out,” DeFrancesco said. “That's one thing I remind them, there's not going to be any early vacations (mentally).
“If you're here for the long haul, your goal may be to earn a September call-up or prove you can play at the Triple-A level. I feel winning helps keep players focused on the big picture.”
Triple-A managers face challenges ranging from losing top prospects to the majors to the big league club requiring he throw a certain pitcher on a certain night.
So how does DeFrancesco consistently win at a level where rosters constantly change throughout a 144-game season?
“He doesn't put pressure on you. He lets you go out and play,” said center fielder George Springer. “At the same time, if something goes wrong, he teaches you. That's something you really appreciate. He knows how to walk that thin line between a teacher and letting you play.