by: Chris Harris
The Jackson Sun
First-year Mariners Minor League Director Chris Gwynn is happy with the progress of the 2012 Jackson Generals.
Gwynn was hired by Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik on Nov. 1, 2011. Previously, he was the Director of Player Personnel for the San Diego Padres in 2010 and 2011, capping a 15-year run in the Padres baseball operations department.
Chris, the brother of Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn, played in the Major Leagues with the Padres, Dodgers and Royals after being the 10th overall selection of the Dodgers in the 1985 draft out of San Diego State.
Gwynn makes periodic visits to the affiliates throughout the Mariners’ organization checking on progress and player development. Gwynn was in Jackson during the Generals’ previous series with the Tennessee Smokies.
Gwynn has inherited one of the most coveted Minor League systems in baseball, and it has been a challenging process the first few months on the job to learn the personnel.
“I explained it to someone that it was like going 50 MPH down the road and sticking your head out the window,” responded Gwynn with a smile. “It slowed down a little bit in spring training when I got to put the bodies with the names, and at the end of spring training I felt more comfortable. Now, I feel like I know the kids and want to see how they react in game situations.”
The Generals are 17-8 on the season and leading the Southern League North Division by three games. Currently, the 17 wins are the second-most in all of minor league baseball.
“I am happy that (the Generals) are having success. I want to make sure that they keep progressing. Success on the field in terms of wins and losses is a great thing because they learn to close games out, get big hits and make great defensive plays. I want them to keep their heads on straight though,” said Gwynn. “I know that I kind of sound like a dad.”
Gwynn works closely with Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik dealing with player personnel. Zduriencik is credited with helping to re-stock the Brewers minor league system through the draft as a member of the front office in Milwaukee before coming to Seattle in 2008. Zduriencik understands the importance of building a franchise from within.
“(Zduriencik) has let me do a lot of the things that I wanted to do when I came in which is making sure the players have a road map as far as getting better,” said Gwynn.
As Minor League Director, Gwynn, along with Zduriencik will make decisions on movement with some of these talented Generals players. Taijuan Walker is 3-0, with the second-best ERA in the Southern League at 1.64. Danny Hultzen has the fifth-best ERA in the league at 2.08 and James Paxton ranks fourth with a team-best 31 strikeouts. Relievers such as Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Brian Moran and Moises Hernandez are off to great starts as well.
“We have had nice discussions on why they are here and how they are going to move from here. Those ingredients are to work hard, prepare and try to execute,” Gwynn replied.
This Generals team is not a normal minor league squad with four top 100 prospects in baseball and ranked at the beginning of the season by Baseball America as the most talented minor league club. Gwynn wants to keep these talented young Mariners accountable.
“There are guys here that are coveted, but you want to make sure they get the job done,” Gwynn said. “Each player is on their own timetable. We have a plan and they have done what they are supposed to do so far. Just like I told the guys, you just never know what is going to happen. Just enjoy the time you are together. In baseball moves are always being made.”
Many current Generals are considered to be a big part of the future of the Mariners franchise. Keeping them together and playing for same team as opposed to different levels is important.
“When you can watch someone that has a similar ability to you and see how they go about things; it can only help you,” Gwynn added. “That does not mean that is how you should subscribe to doing things, but at the end of the day the more information you gather the better player you become.”
The Generals are on pace for 97 wins this season, which is a bit premature to even speculate knowing how movement and promotions occur in minor league baseball. I asked Gwynn if it were possible to keep this squad together for the entire season.
“Now that’s above my pay grade,” said Gwynn after a brief laugh. “I can’t promise this roster will be here all year, but what I can promise is that whoever is in Jackson is going to play hard.”
The Generals are traveling to Pensacola today on the first day off of the season. The Generals open a five-game series tomorrow night at Blue Wahoos Park, located right on the coast of Pensacola Bay. First pitch is set for 7:00 p.m.
Jackson General’s tickets may be purchased by phone at 988-5299 or online at jacksongeneralsbaseball.com