The Orioles' Single-A Delmarva affiliate will certainly have an experienced manager this year when Luis Pujols skippers the Shorebirds in his first season in the O's organization.
A native of the Dominican Republic, the 57-year-old Pujols has spent 13 seasons with Detroit and San Francisco as a major league coach, and in 2002 he was named interim manager of the Tigers six games into the season after Phil Garner was fired. A young Tigers squad, with 13 players making their big league debuts, went 55-100 the rest of the way. When Pujols replaced Garner, he became the second Dominican-born manager in major league history, following Tony Pena of Kansas City.
This followed a 15-year pro career where he spent nine seasons as a backup catcher in the majors with Houston, Kansas City and Texas. He hit .193 with six homers and 81 RBIs in 850 career at-bats.
Pujols also has three years under his belt as a minor league manager, all at the Double-A level. He managed Erie for the Tigers in 2001 and Corpus Christi for Houston in 2008-09. He will soon head to spring training with his new club and eventually to a dugout in Salisbury.
"I'm very excited," Pujols said. "I was at the Delmarva Hot Stove Banquet and it was a tremendous turnout. I had the chance to meet some people with the team and it seems like the people in that town really know their baseball.
"It's an opportunity for me to teach them how the game is played and try to develop as many players as we can. Not everyone will make it to the big leagues, but we want the players to learn how to play and get better from day one."
Pujols becomes the 12th manager in the 18-year history of the Shorebirds. He replaces Ryan Minor, who after three years with Delmarva, will manage at Single-A Frederick this season.
Pujols will be joined by pitching coach Justin Lord and hitting coach Butch Davis, who managed the Shorebirds in 1999. The new coaching staff has 17 years of major league playing experience, 28 years of minor league playing experience and more than 40 combined years of coaching experience.
Pujols was a catching instructor in the Montreal farm system when Dan Duquette was the general manager of the Expos. The two kept in touch over the years and Pujols sent Duquette a text last summer expressing interest if any minor league jobs became available. The Orioles sent him to instructional league for a day last September to meet some of the staff and out of that came the chance to manage Delmarva, which was first reported on MASNsports.com in November. His addition became official Jan. 25.
Pujols will now spend the next few weeks getting to know his new organization and new players.
"I will be learning how the organization wants to get things done and at the same time learning about all the players," he said. "I know Brian (Graham, the Orioles' director of player development) will be providing me a lot of input, as well. I've got a great feeling about this season. They have been doing some things right there. I'll go in with an open mind.
"I think you have to work harder with minor league players and repeat what you are teaching each day. Minor league systems I have been in in the past, and I know it's the same with Baltimore, you do a lot of extra work and you need the time. You can't get tired of teaching."
And yes, Pujols brings a famous baseball name to the Orioles - he is Albert's cousin.
"When people hear my name they ask if I am related to Albert. I say yes, but also that I played in the big leagues before he did," he said with a laugh," he said.
Delmarva note: For the fourth consecutive year, the Shorebirds will play an exhibition game against Salisbury University. The seven-inning game against the nearby Division III power is scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch on Tuesday April 2 at Perdue Stadium.
The teams have played the annual exhibition since 2010 and the Shorebirds have won all three games. Last year, the Shorebirds beat the Sea Gulls 2-1, in front of 2,241 fans in Salisbury. On April 4, Delmarva opens the season at home against Hagerstown.
Note: Baseball America has released its top 100 prospects list, and it includes two Orioles. Dylan Bundy was ranked No. 2 and Kevin Gausman was No. 26.