Phillies hire Don Mattingly’s son Preston to help revamp minor league system
The story, at least the one Dave Dombrowski is sticking to, of how the Phillies found the man they’ll trust to overthrow their minor-league system begins with a phone call and a notepad.
Dombrowski had recently assumed the presidency of baseball operations for the Phillies last December when he heard about “someone I know and respect a lot in baseball.” During the conversation, Dombrowski received unsolicited advice.
“You have to hire Preston Mattingly,” said the person, who will go unnamed in Dombrowski’s story. “He’s a difference maker. I know him and I know you, and this guy will make you better in your organization.
So Dombrowski has done what he does when he wants to make sure he doesn’t forget something. He wrote Mattingly’s name on his trusted yellow notepad. And when the Phillies set out last month to find someone to revamp and oversee their unsuccessful player development system, Dombrowski returned at his friend’s recommendation.
After a month-long search that began with 25 to 30 names and included interviews with 10 candidates, including three internal possibilities, the Phillies this week landed on Mattingly, son of a New York Yankees legend, to be director of player development.
“He’s a very impressive person,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “Dynamic personality and good baseball player. We believe he is a person who will help lead the development of our players and provide the leadership and communication skills that we believe are necessary to put in place.
Mattingly, 34, spent five seasons with the San Diego Padres, including this year as the major league scouting and planning coordinator. Although he hasn’t managed a farming system, he has experience in a number of areas including pro scouting, minor league free agencies, and drafting. He has been an advisor to Padres general manager AJ Preller and a protégé of longtime talent assessor Logan White, who drafted most of the local core from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And then there are the baseball bloodlines. Mattingly’s father Don was a six-time All-Star, American League MVP in 1985 and captain of the Yankees. He led the Dodgers for five seasons (2011-15) and the Miami Marlins for the past six years. His nickname, “Donnie Baseball”, is ubiquitous.
But overthrowing the Phillies’ farming system will be a challenge for young Mattingly.
The Phillies are making sweeping staff changes in a farming system that has produced few impact players at the major league level in recent years. Dombrowski removed assistant general manager Bryan Minniti and minor league manager Josh Bonifay last month and fired top field instructor Chris Truby two weeks ago.
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Years of poor writing and inadequate player development have resulted in a major league core that’s largely built on free agency (Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler) and trades (JT Realmuto, Zach Eflin, and Jean Segura). Among the few local triumphs are Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Héctor Neris and the 2021 reveal Ranger Suárez.
The Phillies have had a Top 10 pick in five straight draft (2014-18), but many recent top picks have been failures (Cornelius Randolph), fizzled out (Mickey Moniak), or reached the majors and regressed (Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard before he was traded in July). The Phillies’ farming system is widely regarded as one of the worst in baseball.
After visiting all four Phillies affiliates this season, Dombrowski concluded that player development was the biggest issue. In recent years, they’ve moved from traditional coaching to cutting-edge data and technology. The result, in Dombrowski’s words: “We don’t have enough people on the same page.
Mattingly’s onus will therefore be to strike a better balance and also to help define an organizational philosophy – a “Phillies Way”, so to speak – that will guide their development as Minor Leaguers.
“He’s got all the qualities we’re looking for,” said general manager Sam Fuld. “He embodies a lot of what we are looking for culturally in that he is humble, empathetic, motivated, open-minded and learns a lot.” .
Fuld said the Padres praised Mattingly’s ability to connect with research and development quants as well as grizzled baseball players such as Chuck LaMar and former pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
“I think there will be a real balance, yes,” Dombrowski said. “But I think one thing we really need to do is make sure everyone is on the same page and understands what this page is.”
Dombrowski said Mattingly will report to Deputy General Manager Jorge Velandia on matters on the pitch and to Fuld on all other issues. Dombrowski believes it will be a more streamlined system than what existed before.
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Mattingly was drafted out of high school in 2006 by the Dodgers with the 31st overall pick, 24 spots after snatching Clayton Kershaw. But he lacked his father’s natural ability as a hitter. He hit .232 with 25 homers and a .611 on base-plus-slugging in 1,846 home plate appearances over six minor league seasons, never advancing beyond the high A level.
After being released by the Yankees at the end of spring training in 2012, Mattingly went to Lamar University in Texas to study corporate communications and played Division I basketball as a guard. 26-year-old freshman. He graduated in 2016 and was hired by the Padres for the 2017 season.
Dombrowski had previously examined Mattingly when the Phillies were in Miami over Labor Day weekend. It was then that he got the advice of Donnie Baseball.
“I said, ‘Tell me about your son. We are talking about a position of director of player development. What do you think ?’ ”Said Dombrowski. “” I said, ‘I know you’re biased. He said, “He’s very frank. He is not afraid to say what he thinks, give your opinion. And as he walked away he said, ‘But he deserves an interview.’ “
And now the Phillies’ farming system is in his hands.