The Interview Vault: Mike Micucci

micucci interview vault.jpgOf all the interview subjects I’ve had over the years, nobody has joined me on the pregame show more times than Mike Micucci.  The one-time Chicago Cubs minor-league catcher managed the LumberKings during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and always offered me great insight into his prospect-laden team and his own approach to the game.  As the wildly successful 2008 campaign winded down, Micucci himself became known a hot coaching prospect.

It was late August, and the first-half West champs were molding a new identity as the playoffs closed in.  All-Star pitchers Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz were already long gone to double-A Frisco.  The table-setting abilities of Renny Osuna and RBI production of Ian Gac were now aiding the high-A club in Bakersfield.  Mitch Moreland, Jonathan Greene and Tim Smith were more than shouldering the offensive load, while Blake Beavan and Michael Main were establishing themselves as front-line starting pitchers.  Roleplayers like Matt Lawson, Davis Stoneburner, Ryan Tatusko and Michael Kirkman were stepping up in new ways as well. 

Then, along came the switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak, the Rangers’ first-round pick in the recent June draft and the new centerpiece to the who-do-you-pitch-to LumberKings’ lineup.  All of Texas and much of Minor League Baseball turned their attention to Peoria when Smoak made his professional debut against the Chiefs on August 18, a 1-for-3 performance in Clinton’s slim 6-5 loss.

Shortly after Smoak’s arrival, Micucci was able to steal back some of the spotlight. 

Baseball America named Micucci the top managerial prospect in the entire Midwest League in their annual “Best Tools” issue.  Maybe it was the league-best 70-54 record at that point in the year, maybe it was back-to-back first-half playoff berths, maybe it was the fast rise of core prospects like Holland and Feliz.  Whatever the reason, Micucci found himself outshining both established veterans (Great Lakes’ Juan Bustabad, Dayton’s Donnie Scott, South Bend’s Mark Haley) and the league’s biggest coaching name, Peoria’s Ryne Sandberg.

It was at this moment in time, with all these plotlines intersecting, that I recorded today’s feature interview.  In it, Micucci speaks about hype well deserved in Smoak, Moreland’s path to an MVP-like season (he calls him the “backbone” of the club), Holland and Feliz’s fast rise, the honor of the BA award (which he credits to the team’s success and his coaching staff) and more.

Listen: 
Manager Mike Micucci (2008).mp3

So what’s happened with Mike since the interview?  The LumberKings bowed out in just two games to Cedar Rapids in the first round of the playoffs, but his coaching stock didn’t drop one bit.  The Rangers gave him the Holland/Feliz treatment, sending him straight to the double-A Frisco bench where he managed to RoughRiders in 2009. 

Micucci would again manage 22 of his former players from the previous two years in Clinton, helping Moreland and Smoak repeat their ’08 success, guiding Craig Gentry and Chad Tracy into breakout offensive seasons and teaming with pitching coach Joe Slusarski to develop the arms of Beavan, Kirkman, Kasey Kiker and Omar Poveda.  The ‘Riders were competitive all season long — finishing second in the Texas League South division with a 72-68 record — but missed the postseason.

Micucci’s ability to groom prospects did not go unnoticed by Nolan RyanJon Daniels and the Rangers.  Prior to the 2010 season, he was promoted to the Minor League Field Coordinator position, where he joined former Clinton pitching coach and newly-named Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark as the men in charge of the entire system.

While he would probably again defer the credit to his players and support staff, there’s no doubt that Micucci’s own success aided the Rangers in their rise to relevance.  His outstanding two-year run as the LumberKings’ manager should not only be remembered by the fans here in Clinton, but should also be looked at as a vital component of the Rangers’ ascension to the 2010 American League pennant. 

-DL

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