New Era For Black Bears
Saylor takes over Pirates affiliate
GRANVILLE — Friday will be filled with new beginnings — for players and coaches — as the West Virginia Black Bears open their fifth season as members of the New York-Penn League.
As a destination for promising young talent in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, the Black Bears will again feature a mix of personnel familiar and new to the franchise.
One of those new faces is Manager Drew Saylor. The Wadsworth, Ohio native and Kent State University grad returns to the midwest after spending the last four years in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ player development system.
Last year, Saylor was pegged Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year after guiding the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to an 87-53 mark and the California League title.
Saylor and a handful of players gathered Tuesday afternoon at a sunny Monongalia County Ballpark to preview the upcoming campaign and impart their excitement about playing for an organization that has captured quite a bit of attention in Morgantown and surrounding areas since its inception.
“I think it’s ever-evolving,” Saylor said of the team’s roster. “It’s always going to be a fluid environment that the guys are going to find themselves in.”
The Black Bears, the Pirates’ Class A short season affiliate, open the season at 7:05 p.m. Friday night against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. It’s the start of a two-game series that concludes Saturday. The two teams will also play a three-game series starting Tuesday, also in Morgantown.
“Everyone that’s played here in Morgantown, and especially here at this ballpark, has said the fandom is tremendous,” Saylor said, pointing to West Virginia University’s recent hosting of an NCAA baseball regional.
Mountaineers head coach Randy Mazey had a few words with Saylor prior to the start of the media get-together and Saylor had nothing but good things to say about baseball at all levels in the region.
That enthusiasm for the game in this area, along with an opportunity presented by the Pirates, were key in his coming “home.”
“I had an opportunity to fill a dual role and that was attractive to me,” said Saylor, also the Pirates’ assistant hitting coordinator.
Since arriving in the Morgantown area, Saylor said he’s had nothing but positive interactions with everyone, members of the community included.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Saylor, a 2006 13th round Florida Marlins draft pick, said. “It was awesome to be able to talk to a lot of people in the community. We’re really excited to get the season started.”
Players started arriving the last few days and Saylor said he’s eager to get everyone together. While winning is a goal, longterm wants are to see players develop into solid players and great teammates.
“We want to help them learn how to be professionals,” he said. “I think we’re trying to create an environment where not one person has all the answers. Us, collectively, we’ll find the answers to be able to win and to be able to develop. It’s been an ongoing discussion throughout the spring.”
Tom Filer returns for his fourth season as pitching coach, while Jonny Tucker is aboard as hitting coach.
“This is Jonny’s first year,” Saylor noted. “I was actually part of the hiring process in bringing him in. And, the way we’ve interacted has been great.
“Tom has familiarity with the league, so his experience speaks for itself.
“We’ve done a great job gelling with each other and we’ve had great discussions. We’re in a really good spot.”
Michael Burrows sees great things coming from the team this season following 2018’s 32-44, the first sub-.500 record in team history.
“I’m excited to be here,” Burrows, a right-handed pitcher drafted in the 11th round by Pittsburgh last year, said. “I’m happy to be with the Pirates.”
As is another pitcher — righty Alec Rennard. He had a short stint in Morgantown last year after spending part of 2018 with the Bristol Pirates of the Appalachian League.
“Last year, I tried to do everything to impart on them things that would make the team better,” Rennard, a former Michigan Wolverine, said of words he gave to the team at season’s end.
“In the offseason, I had an opportunity to go back home and work out. I ramped up my throwing.”
Saylor is excited about the potential that exists on his team and is eager to start working with the players and helping them reach their full potential.
“That’s the one thing that’s different from the college game and the pro game,” he said. “We can use as many hours as we need to get (the players) ready.
“We had a lot of guys in extended spring training, so they’re up to speed. They’re ready to go. We’ll have a 5-hour simulated game (today) here at the ballpark and probably a 3-inning or so simulated game Thursday and get them ready for Friday night.”