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Mike Redmond Remembers the Young Stars He Played With and Managed

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Redmond has been up close and personal with a lot of high-profile players, some of whom arrived on the scene at a young age. As a big league backstop from 1998-2010, Redmond caught the likes of Josh Beckett, Johan Santana, and Dontrelle Willis, and he played alongside Miguel Cabrera. As the manager of the Miami Marlins from 2013-2015, he helped oversee the blossoming careers of José Fernández, Giancarlo Stanton, and Christian Yelich. With the exception of Santana, who was by then a comparative graybeard at age 26, the septet of stalwarts were barely into their 20s when they began playing with, and for, Redmond.

Now the bench coach of the Colorado Rockies, Redmond looked back at his experiences with the aforementioned All-Stars when the Rockies visited Fenway Park last summer.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with José Fernández, who was just 20 years old when he debuted. Just how good was he?

Mike Redmond: “I mean, yeah, he was a phenom. The plan was for him to be in the minor leagues for one more year, but because we were so thin pitching wise we had to bring him to the big leagues. We didn’t have anybody else that year.

“I’d seen José, because I’d managed in the Florida State League when he was there the year before. Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto were on that team, as well. I was with Toronto, managing Dunedin, so I got to see all of those guys in the minor leagues. With José, you could just tell. The stuff, the confidence, the mound presence… it was just different. It was different than the other guys in that league, man.

“I got the manager’s job with the Marlins, and I remember being in spring training that first year. [President of Baseball Operations] Larry Beinfest and I were talking about José, and he goes, ‘Hey, don’t get too excited. You’re not going to get him just yet.’ I was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ Sure enough, José ended up breaking camp with us because of injuries. We had him on a pitch count, and he’d always give me a hard time about it, because he wanted to throw more. I would be like, ‘Hey, listen, you have 100 pitches. How you use those 100 pitches is up to you.’ I would say that he used them pretty effectively. He was nasty. Great slider. And again, he was very confident in his abilities. He was a competitor. I mean, he reminded me of some of the great pitchers I’d caught in the big leagues, like Josh Beckett and Johan Santana. Guys who just dominated.”

Laurila: Beckett was 21 when you caught him in his first season. How did he and Fernández compare in terms of stuff?

Redmond: “Josh threw more of a conventional curveball, almost a 12-6. José’s breaking ball was what we now call a sweeper. It started at your hip and ended up a strike. He could throw it at different speeds — a harder one or a softer one — and he could throw it for strikes pretty much whenever he wanted to. He loved to strike guys out, so he went to that slider a lot.

“The mentality of both of those guys was elite. As a manager, you knew that when José was pitching, or Josh was pitching, you had a chance to win that night. Mikey Lowell and I used to talk about that all the time with Josh, how we always felt good on the day he was pitching.”

Laurila: What do you remember about catching Santana?

Redmond: “That was in Minnesota in kind of the middle peak of his career. Same thing, man. I mean, just the minds of those guys sets them apart, the way they think the game. Santana obviously had the devastating changeup. With him it was a located fastball, a little bit of slider, and that devastating changeup. In the years I was with the Twins, he was as good a lefty as I’ve ever seen.”

Laurila: Another pitcher you caught early in his career was Dontrelle Willis.

Redmond: “D-Train. He was another competitor, a plus competitor and a good athlete for a big guy. Unconventional delivery, right? He had the big leg kick, almost up over his head — probably not the type of mechanics that you would teach, but it worked for him. I used to always laugh at our pitching coaches. It was like, ‘Man, if this guy struggles, how do you help him?’ The mechanics were so unorthodox. But he never really struggled, not until a little later in his career. He was a huge spark to us when we won the World Series in 2003.”

Laurila: What was his stuff like?

Redmond: “He threw a fastball and a slider pretty much. There was an occasional changeup, but he was basically a two-pitch guy. And it was mostly fastballs. He’d throw them at a couple of different speeds. There was just so much deception there with the way the ball… I mean, if you were breaking it down now, you would say that his fastball played up, probably because of the spin. I don’t know what the spin was, but he got a lot of swings and misses and a lot of foul balls. He didn’t have a four-pitch mix like some guys do, but while it was pretty simple. It was also very effective.”

Laurila: Jumping from pitchers to positions players, you played with a young Miguel Cabrera. I believe he was 20 when he broke in with the Marlins.

Redmond: “Yes. I was actually on deck when he hit his first home run, in his major league debut. That was cool. And then I was there when he got his 3,000th hit — we were playing against him — which was also cool. I mean, it was easy to see how good he had a chance to be. I think we all knew that he was special as a hitter, and as a player. Anybody that can come up to the big leagues as a third baseman and then start in the World Series as a left fielder is pretty impressive. That doesn’t happen all the time.”

Laurila: I don’t recall him doing that, to be honest.

Redmond: “Yes. Jack McKeon showed a lot of faith in him, playing him in the outfield. I remember the World Series game against Roger Clemens when Roger threw one up under his chin. He knocked him down, and then Miggy took him to the opposite field in Miami.

“He was a huge part of that team. I mean, I think we all knew that he was a game-changer. Did we know at the time that he would end up getting 3,000-plus hits? No, but it wasn’t all that surprising that he did. He was such a polished hitter, a smart hitter. Then I got to play against him when he went to Detroit and I was in Minnesota. His game plan was next level. He could really set up pitchers. Another thing is that he was always smiling. He enjoyed playing the game. He still loves it today.”

Laurila: Giancarlo Stanton is another young player you managed in Miami.

Redmond: “Raw power. He struck out a lot. Had a lot of trouble hitting that low-and-away breaking ball. At the same time, you could make a mistake to him and he would hit one of the hardest balls you’ve ever seen. I saw him hit a high fastball down the right field line in Miami for a homer that was one of the hardest balls I’ve ever seen hit. Very talented, very strong. Not many guys are built like Giancarlo. It’s kind of crazy that he and Aaron Judge are on the same team.”

Laurila: You mentioned Christian Yelich earlier. We should touch on him as well.

Redmond: “Yeli was 21 when he came up. Having seen him in the minors, I knew that he was going to be a special player. Did I think he’d win a batting title? I didn’t. But I knew he’d hit. I also thought he would hit for power. It just took a little bit of time, like it does for a lot of younger guys. It’s been fun watching him, from his major league debut all the way up to now. He’s had a good career. He’s worked really hard at it. All of the guys we’ve been talking about worked hard at it. It’s been a pleasure to manage, and to play with, so many talented guys.”

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