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Saturday Bantering: Tony Fernandez and Blue Jays Minor League Coaching Appointments

Blue Jays legend Tony Fernandez is seriously ill and we are keeping him in our thoughts.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles
Tony Fernandez
Getty Images

Tony Fernandez is very ill—and has been for some time. Socrates Guzmán, Fernandez’s brother-in-law, told reporter Héctor Gómez that Fernandez is critically ill with complications related to his kidney disease; although his condition had improved somewhat by Saturday morning. It had previously been reported that the 57-year-old had been very ill for some time now and has needed a new kidney for at least a year.

Fernandez is a deeply religious man who became an ordained minister after his retirement from baseball. During his baseball career, he played four separate stints in Toronto and is one of the handful of players elevated onto the Level of Excellence. I don’t want this to sound like an obituary so I’ll end it with a quick story of a personal interaction.

Some long-time readers of Bluebird Banter may remember someone with the handle “TonyFernandezSavedMyLife” who was a regular commenter here. TFSML was a gigantic Tony Fernandez fan (obviously), much more than I could ever be. When I got the opportunity to spend some time with Tony several years ago, I just mentioned that it was unfortunate that my friend TFSML was not at the event and Tony asked me to call up TFSML on my phone so the two of them could speak. That action showed me how generous he is with his fans and it totally made TFSML’s day (if not month or year).

Please spend some time today keeping Tony and the Fernandez family in your thoughts.

Yesterday, the Blue Jays announced their minor league staff for 2020. Let’s look at the staff level-by-level.

Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A)

After three seasons managing the Bisons, Bobby Meacham left the organization and is now a major league assistant coach with the Philadelphia Phillies. In his place for 2020 is Ken Huckaby, who served as roving catching coordinator from 2017 to 2019 after stints managing at Lansing and Dunedin.

Joining Huckaby will be fellow former Blue Jays players Jeff Ware (as pitching coach) and Devon White (as position coach) as well as hitting coach Corey Hart and development coaches David Howell and Jake McGuiggan. McGuiggan was in Dunedin last year as their analyst coach, which perhaps hints at what the development role will be. White and Hart were in Buffalo last season whereas Ware, who was the roving pitching coordinator in 2019, will replace Doug Mathis. It would be interesting to find out what that developmental role will be focused on.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double-A)

Mike Mordecai decided leave New Hampshire to return to Alabama to coach the team at Northside Methodist Academy at the end of the 2019 season. Replacing him there is Cesar Martin, who receives his second level promotion in two years after spending 2019 with Dunedin and 2017 and 2018 with Lansing. Martin is a Blue Jays lifer, signing as an amateur in 1998 and playing through the 2002 season before starting his coaching career with the Dominican Summer League team in 2003 where he would spend the next 10 seasons.

The Fisher Cats have an entirely new coaching staff. Jim Czajkowski and Matt Young, who were Martin’s pitching and hitting coaches, respectively, in Dunedin last season, go up the ladder with his manager to replace the departed Vince Horseman (who left the Blue Jays) and Donnie Murphy (who heads to Dunedin), respectively. Young was also Martin’s hitting coach in Lansing in 2018. Chris Schaeffer, who was Bluefield’s position coach in 2019, will replace Andy Fermin (who heads to Vancouver) as position coach. Harry Roberson was hired to be New Hampshire’s development coach.

Dunedin Blue Jays (A-Advanced)

Dunedin also gets an entirely new coaching staff, headed by new manager Donnie Murphy who was New Hampshire’s hitting coach last season and Dunedin’s hitting coach in 2018.

Antonio Caceres, Lugnuts pitching coach in 2018-2019, will serve in that role in Dunedin in 2020, his 21st (!) season in the Blue Jays organization. Former Blue Jay Matt Hague, who served in the organization as a swing analyst in 2019, will make his professional coaching debut as Dunedin’s hitting coach and George Carroll will become the position coach after being in the same role with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2019. Taylor Hill will be the D-Jays’ development coach.

Lansing Lugnuts (Single-A)

Luis Hurtado will be the Lansing Lugnuts’ skipper in 2020 after heading the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2019. Hurtado played sporadically in the Blue Jays’ system between 2006 and 2012 and by the end of his playing career he was an unofficial coach in the system. He served as the organization’s “org catcher” in 2011, serving emergency receiving roles in Vancouver, Lansing, Dunedin, and Las Vegas. Hurtado replaces Dallas McPherson.

Joining “Hurt” will be holdover position coach Dave Pano as well as new arrivals Ryan Wright as the hitting coach and Phil Cundari as the pitching coach.

Vancouver Canadians (Short Season-A)

Managing the Canadians will be British Columbia’s very own Brent Lavallee, who was head coach at LSU Shreveport. He replaces Casey Candaele.

Lavallee will be supported by returning pitching coach Demetre Kokoris and position coach Danny Canellas, as well as hitting coach Andy Fermin.

Bluefield Blue Jays (Rookie)

2019 DSL Blue Jays manager Jose Mayorga moves stateside to manage the 2020 Bluefield Blue Jays. Mayorga’s final game came in 2015 in the Phillies organization but the Blue Jays signed him to minor league contracts in 2017 and 2018 as an unofficial player-coach.

Mayorga will be assisted in his duties by returning pitching and hitting coaches Rafael Lazo and Paul Elliott, respectively. Elliott, an Australian, has been a coach with the Blue Jays organization since 1996. Aaron Matthews, who spent 2017 as the hitting coach in Buffalo and 2017 in that role with the Vancouver Canadians in 2018-2019, takes an apparent step back to become Bluefield’s position coach. Matthews spent 2015 and 2016 as the B-Jays’ hitting coach.

Gulf Coast Blue Jays (Rookie)

The legendary Dennis Holmberg returns as the manager of the GCL Blue Jays in his 41st season (!!!) with the Blue Jays organization.

Joining Homberg at the Bobby Mattick complex will be returning hitting coach Michel Abreu and new hires Cory Popham as the pitching coach and Matt Tracy as the assistant pitching coach. Popham will also serve as pitching programs coordinator and Tracy also has the title of pitching analysis coordinator, whatever that may mean.

Dominican Summer League Blue Jays (Foreign Rookie)

Pablo Cruz returns to the DSL Blue Jays as the field coordinator and will be joined by new manager Dane Fujinaka, who may very well be the first Asian manager in Blue Jays minor league history.

Three coaches return in their same role from 2019: Petr Stribrcky as hitting coach, Yoel Hernandez as pitching coach, and Jose Mateo as position coach. The DSL Jays add another legendary Blue Jay coach, Jesus Figueroa, as assistant coach in 2020. Figueroa was the Blue Jays’ left-handed batting practice pitcher from 1989 through 2015.

Other Player Development Personnel

Matt Buschmann, who was the 2019 major league bullpen coach, will keep that role in 2020 while adding the title of director of pitching development.

Casey Candaele, Canadians manager last year, is the new field coordinator, replacing Eric Wedge.

Dallas McPherson, manager in Lansing last year, is the new skill development coordinator.

Long time Blue Jays minor league coach John Tamargo Jr. was named as the short-season field coordinator.

Former big league pitcher and Blue Jays farmhand David Aardsma was named as the rehab pitching coordinator, replacing Darold Knowles. Aardsma was hired as coordinator of player development in early 2018.

Reed Kienle was hired as minor league hitting analyst.

Zach Stewart returns to the organization as a minor league assistant coach and batting practice pitcher.