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Spending sixteen years in the Major Leagues playing for some of the smartest coaches and managers, being teammates with dozens of All-Stars and Hall of Fame players and playing a position in catcher-which tends to translate into having a strong baseball acumen-Chad Kreuter has a ton of knowledge to share.
Since being drafted in the fifth round of the 1985 Major League Draft by the Texas Rangers, Kreuter, 55, made sure he absorbed as much knowledge and information as he could. A student of the game, Kreuter’s belief was that he could never have enough tutelage as it would be something that could either enhance his game, or, something to steer clear of.
After playing for seven different organizations primarily as a backup catcher from 1988 to 2003, Kreuter has taken what he’s learned over his career to aid the next wave of talent who are trying to turn their dreams into a reality.
Since 2017, the former switch-hitting catcher has been the manager of the Mets’ Class A Advanced team, the St. Lucie Mets. Bringing prior managerial experience from stops with the Modesto Nuts (the former Class A Advanced team of the Colorado Rockies) and four years as head coach at USC, Kreuter has been entrusted with helping to shape the young prospects in the Mets organization.
From Tyler Bashlor to Jeff McNeil to Pete Alonso, Kreuter has seen several of his former players move up the minor league rungs to reach their ultimate goal of playing in the majors.
In his first season at the helm of St. Lucie in 2017, Kreuter had two current Mets stars on his roster in Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso. Listening to Kreuter speak about his two former players is akin to listening to a proud father rave about his sons. Kreuter offers honest assessments of what the pair needed to work on to better accentuate their strengths on the field during his time with them.
Player development is crucial, and so too is having a manager that understands how to relate to players and teach them the proper fundamentals and baseball IQ. Having the patience and realization that not all players progress at the same time, and understanding that what works for some players doesn’t for all is something a minor league manager must balance when handling prospects with various skill-sets. Kreuter takes pride in his ability to impart his baseball wisdom on the next generation of players, and takes his responsibility of playing a role in their development seriously.
Kreuter’s professional career, which spanned nearly two decades when you include the minor leagues, gave him plenty of time to develop a wealth of knowledge and instruction to assist young players.
For his career, Kreuter appeared in 944 big league games, posting a slash line of .237/.335/.357 with a career caught stealing rate of 36 percent, ranking in the top-five of caught stealing five different times (1992-94, ’97, ’00).
His career was nearly derailed after a brutal home plate collision with Johnny Damon in July 1996, in which he broke his left shoulder. Just a few days after the collision, Kreuter suffered internal bleeding caused by stomach lacerations, putting his shoulder surgery on hold. The doctors told Kreuter that the odds were extremely low that he’d ever be able to play baseball again, though he knew this was not going to be the way his career was going to end.
Working tirelessly in rehab, including incorporating his own routine like water workouts, Kreuter made it back to the majors the following year, signing with the Chicago White Sox in the offseason. He went on to appear in 493 games from 1997-03, which seemed nearly impossible given the doctor’s initial prognosis after his injury.
Kreuter brings that strong will and ingenuity to his work as manager for St. Lucie. The 2020 season will be his fourth year as manager, and he hopes that the experience will help him rise through the ranks with the ultimate goal of one day managing in the majors.
I had the privilege of speaking with Kreuter in early November where we discussed his lengthy career, working back from a near career-ending injury and his thoughts on some of the players he’s managed with St. Lucie.
MMO: Who were some of your favorite players growing up?
Kreuter: I studied the catchers. I grew up in the Bay Area and I would go to the Giants and A’s games. I’d go to wherever I could get to on the weekends whenever they were playing.
I used to go early and walk in with the players and watch batting practice and all of that. Early on I remember watching Gene Tenace. And I’d watch all the catchers that came through like Johnny Bench when he’d come and play the Giants, along with Carlton Fisk and Bob Boone.
As I started understanding more parts of the game I really liked watching George Brett and Robin Yount, and then I got to play with and against those guys when I broke into the big leagues.
Mainly I learned the game by watching the catchers because that’s what I was and I wanted to know how they moved and how they caught the ball. I copied that and made it my own.
I really never had a catching coach, just myself watching and mimicking the different guys and styles I saw.
Photo by Ed Delany, MMO
MMO: At what point during your youth and development did you start primarily catching?
Kreuter: I started catching when I was around eight-years-old. I remember one of my first Little League games they rolled out the catcher’s gear and the coach asked, “Who wants to catch? It’s one of the quickest ways to the big leagues.” I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ So that’s how it started.
I really never played anything else. I did play shortstop, pitched and played some third base here and there. But I was good behind the plate. I could always throw guys out, was always quick and could always block the balls so it was just a natural fit for me.
MMO: Did you have any notion that the Texas Rangers were looking to draft you prior to the 1985 MLB Draft?
Kreuter: Not at all. Back then there was no social media. You knew scouts were watching and I really thought the Cubs were going to draft me because those were the guys who talked with me the most. But I had no clue that the Rangers were even around or who the Rangers’ scouts were at the time.
It ended up being a scout who just passed away recently, John Young, and he’s the one who drafted me and got me with the Rangers.
MMO: You had a breakout year in 1993 with the Detroit Tigers, setting career highs in games (119), HR (15), RBI (51) & OPS+ (130). Was there anything physically or mechanically that you changed or altered to have such great success that season?
Kreuter: I think it was a matter of getting an opportunity to play and watching guys hit at the big league level. When I signed as a pro player in 1985 I was a right-handed hitter, I was not a switch-hitter. I was a right-handed hitter with a bad downward plane swing and when I got to the big leagues I had my lunch handed to me by all the righties.
As I got into pro ball I could make a lot of good contact but it was hard ground balls; it wasn’t the line drives or the fly balls that you’re seeing today. I certainly was strong enough to hit some home runs but I had a bad swing path. It took a while to change.
Then about a year and a half into my pro ball experience, I was messing around in the cage hitting left-handed and the front office said they wanted me to start doing that. I actually started switch-hitting in High-A in Salem, Virginia, in 1986 and I did it until I got to the big leagues. I did so in the ’87 season, ’88 season in Double-A and then I got called to the big leagues. I made the big league team in ’89 and got sent back down. They turned me back around to just right-handed and so I went that rest of the year and the following one all right-handed.
I went down to winter ball and the manager there was Tom Gamboa, who used to be with the Mets and other clubs. And he said, “You have a great left-handed swing. I think that you should continue (switch-hitting) because if you’re a switch-hitting catcher it’s going to open more doors for you.” So I went back to hitting left-handed.
After my ’91 season, I became a free agent and that’s when the Rangers called up Pudge (Rodriguez) right in the middle of the season. I got sent down, I actually went to Triple-A and was playing every day and doing well. I was then told I was going to be on the bench as a backup, I was kind of getting pushed out. I asked if I could go to Double-A to play everyday and I knew they didn’t have a catcher there that was an everyday guy. So I went down and played every day in Double-A and then right after the season was over the Tigers signed me and made the big league club in ’92.
MMO: I didn’t realize you started switch-hitting so late into your career. That certainly seems like a rarity in the game.
Kreuter: It was a rarity and I think I was a good enough athlete that I was able to do it. The unfortunate thing for me was after I got hurt in ’96-when I got run over by Johnny Damon at home plate-I broke my left shoulder and I was never supposed to play again because of the injury. I didn’t have the strength or the explosive quickness from either side of the plate to have any offensive numbers at that point anymore.
I changed swings again and really concentrated on putting the bat head on the ball, being a tough out and not being a guy to try and drive it because I didn’t have much power in that time.
MMO: You mentioned your injury from 1996, and July 19 must be a date that’s always ingrained in your mind because of it. Can you talk a bit about the injury and your ensuing complications from it?
Kreuter: There were a lot of complications. I broke the glenoid and the scapula: the glenoid is the joint in the shoulder and the scapula is in the back of the shoulder. Those were broken like a pane of glass. I think the glenoid was in three pieces and the scapula was in over fifty pieces that were visible. I have two six-inch plates, seven one-inch screws and nine staples that are still in my shoulder and muscle that put everything back together. The doctors called me Humpty Dumpty (Laughs)!
The scary part of it was I got hurt on a Friday night in Chicago, and the team immediately tried to best asses where I could be served by surgery and see what they could do. They sent me to L.A. and when I went out there I was feeling terrible.
On Saturday night and Sunday I wasn’t in the hospital but I went in the hospital for all kinds of tests and they had me stay at a hotel at night. Monday morning I woke up and I just felt terrible. My wife called the doctor and told them I was pale and not feeling good. I tried to get in the shower thinking that I would feel better getting in there and the next thing I knew I woke up in an operating room.
What happened was I had lost a third of my blood supply into my stomach and I was bleeding internally. Nobody had caught that on Saturday and Sunday so I lost a third of my blood supply and my body was in its last gasp of trying to survive. It put me into convulsions and I was in the shower at the time. I fell out of the shower and got wedged between the shower and was flopping around like a trout on the floor. I pulled the shower curtain down and my wife was actually on the phone with the doctors at the time it happened, and was able to call 9-1-1.
The ambulance was driving by the hotel at the time so they were up to me within two or three minutes she said. They were able to get tubes down my throat; apparently they weren’t even able to get a pulse. I was almost done at that point in time. I was rushed in and they attended the wounds that I had and had to cauterize down in my esophagus because I was bleeding into my stomach.
MMO: It’s pretty incredible that after such a terrible injury and a terrifying medical scare that you were able to make it back to the big leagues.
Kreuter: Yeah, yeah. After I came to I had lost so much blood they couldn’t do the surgery. They were supposed to do the surgery on Tuesday and this was Monday, so they canceled the surgery and told me they had to get me blood and I had to build some of my own blood.
My wife donated blood, my brother-in-law and father-in-law donated, they all had the same blood type. I got enough blood and then I got some plasma, and by the next Tuesday or Wednesday, I had surgery. It gave the doctors a better window and game plan because they were able to consult around the country on how they were going to do it and what they were going to try to do. Then they went in and tackled the surgery.
Initially, they didn’t want to do any surgery, it was just basically hang with ’em. And that wasn’t an option for me. I’m not that type of guy that’s just sit around and do nothing. I’m not that guy, I don’t want to be that guy. At least let’s go down trying. If we’re going to crash and burn let’s try. They asked me if I was sure and I told them I wanted them to go in and try and do it and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it works, it’s going to be God’s hand in there.
When I came out of surgery they told me it went well but we’ll have to see. They said my rehab was now going to be the key to this whole thing. I did my rehab outside the box the whole time; I’m an outside the box thinker. I don’t conform real well to a whole lot of things. They basically tied my arm to my chest and said, “Don’t move for the next six weeks.” To me that didn’t make any sense because I looked down at my arm and I looked down at my wrist and I’m already atrophied; it looked like I had a young girl’s arm after I came out of surgery.
I knew that I had to do something so when I got discharged from the hospital-it took about a week to get discharged-I had my wife stop at Home Depot on the way home and I bought all types of supplies. She was like, “What are you doing?” I told her I had a plan.
When I got home I had to be propped up to sleep because there was no laying down. I had a tube in the back of my shoulder that was draining. What I ended up doing was putting a pulley up to my ceiling and figured out a way where I could strap something to my wrist and pull my arm up and down just to get some movement while I sat and watched TV.
From there it went to doing water workouts where my wife would put duct tape and cellophane on my back to cover up the eight-inch incision and the tube that was coming out of my back so no water could get in there. I’d try to put my arm up as high as I could because out of the water I was paralyzed, there was no movement.
But in the water, I could manipulate some movement with using the floats and the buoyancy of the water. I did that every single day and I was in the water for eight to ten hours, plus I was doing some rehab with a physical therapist that was basically stretching to try and break up scar tissue. There was nothing I could do physically initially other than just start stretching and trying to break up scar tissue around the breaks. I progressed to just doing pull stuff underwater.
I got hurt on July 19 and by December 24 I had the White Sox come and see my workout and they signed me that night for the next season. That was my Christmas present to myself. I was able to get myself in good enough physical condition to trick everybody, let’s put it that way (laughs).
MMO: So without the surgery, there was no way of you getting back into the game? And even then the doctors didn’t like your chances?
Kreuter: Yes. That was the only option and it was a long shot at best. They said it was like a 99 to one long shot to be able to have any movement. But see, they didn’t count on me doing anything underwater. The first couple of times I went back to the doctor for checkups-every seven days I would have to go back-they’d ask me where my brace was and where’s all the stuff we gave you? I told them I threw it away and they’d chew me out. They’d give me a new one and as I walked out the door of the hospital I’d throw it away again. I let my arm hang and it hurt, it hurt like hell.
What I learned was how far I could push my body and how your body responds to stuff like that. I figured if I could bounce back from that I could do anything. And that’s kind of how I am. I was going to push through it and I was going to grind through it, and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work, but at least I tried.
I wasn’t going to give anything less than 100 percent and then hang my hat on it when it was all said and done.
MMO: Wow! You essentially saved your career with all the extra rehab work you put in. That’s an incredible story of perseverance!
Kreuter: Yeah, it really was. I willed my way back and I was a smart enough player. But I’m going to tell you: I shouldn’t have played in the big leagues at that point in time. I was not skilled enough to play in the big leagues. I was not strong enough, I wasn’t physically capable of being a guy who could be an everyday guy or potentially an everyday guy.
I would catch balls and it was painful, I’d have to wince and nobody knew I was wincing. If someone came and slapped me on the back of the shoulder, I mean, I would basically buckle to my knees. That’s how much pain there was for the first year or so.
When they opened up the back of my shoulder, picture curtains in a hotel room, you pull back the curtains. That’s what they did to all of my muscles; they pulled those muscles back and separated them so they could get into the scapula and put the pieces back together. And all of those muscles sat there pinned back for six-plus hours.
Lost all their blood, lost all their size and then they put them back and they were just a wreck. It takes forever for those things to build back. You could actually walk behind me and you could touch the screws, you could see where the screws were initially, because there was no muscle. It was just bone and skin.
After about a two year period I started getting some development back and it started growing back. It was just grinding away. I used to be a scratch golfer, I haven’t played much golf since because it wasn’t time to play golf. It was time to lift and create some strength in my shoulder on an everyday basis. It was spending six to eight hours a day developing my shoulders.
The good thing was I did it on my right side too, and I had a great arm before I got hurt. My arm was even better after I got hurt! The scapula is directly related to the strength of throwing, so when I did all the scapula exercises to get the movement back, I did it on the right side and it helped me get stronger and throw better.
MMO: That’s right, you had a terrific throwing arm. You finished in the top-5 in caught stealing percentage five times in your career (1992, 93, 94, 97, 2000). Were there certain drills you worked on for arm strength and exchange?
Kreuter: Everything has changed, film has changed everything. Even though we had film, it wasn’t accessible. You couldn’t view it the same way you can now and break it down in slow motion and see little key things. Or go into a 3-D motion lab and see actual movement where the kinetic link is broken.
It was a lot of feel and I played a lot of long toss, a lot of catch. I learned to do that initially as a caddie to Nolan Ryan in 1989 when I was a rookie. I was his catcher and my assignment basically was, Nolan wants to go play catch? Go play catch. When he’s ready to throw a bullpen, go throw a bullpen. When he wants to lift, go lift with him.
He would go out to ungodly distances and throw and my arm would fall off the first couple of weeks. As I was getting in better shape I understood how to play catch, and what he was doing. That’s how he played, he was so far ahead of the game that way it was amazing.
Photo by Ed Delany, MMO
MMO: You brought up Nolan Ryan as someone who was an early influence. Throughout your 16-year Major League career, were there one or two pitchers who you felt like you had the best rapport with?
Kreuter: I had a great rapport with Nolan. He was very complimentary, I felt like he didn’t shake me off much. We went over game plans.
One of my mentors early on was Charlie Hough. He was a knuckleball pitcher obviously, but he could prepare you. One of the things we’d do on the road was I’d meet him for breakfast every day, and I was the backup catcher, but he prepared me. We’d pull out the lineup as we’re going into New York to face the Yankees and you’re going to face Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and all the different guys on the team. How are you going to pitch them with Nolan? And then he asked how are you going to pitch them with Kevin Brown? Jeff Russell? Paul Kilgus? All the different guys that we had and so he taught me that you don’t pitch everybody the same. It’s not cookie-cutter, it’s all about angles. Guys hit angles, guy hit different pitchers and that’s why you see certain guys rake against some guys and they can’t hit other guys. He taught me that and said you have to learn these things.
When I caught Nolan it was one of those things where we tried to get Nolan’s best stuff and if he didn’t match up then we would pitch around certain guys. Nolan would do that and so it was fun and I had a great learning experience there with Charlie and Nolan. It was really fun.
MMO: At what point did you realize that you wanted to get into coaching/managing?
Kreuter: When I was with the Dodgers in 2000-02, Davey Johnson and Jim Tracy were my managers and Jim Riggleman was the bench coach there. I think at that point in time it was you’re getting up there in age, and I was hoping to play until I was 42. I was done at 38. The uniform was taken away from me at 38.
In hindsight, I probably should’ve tried to play a couple more years but I was at the point where I needed to be with my kids and my family and that was outweighing the grind of getting on the flights and all of that.
I think at that point I was starting to see that there was a career after playing, and this is what it can be (managing). I didn’t necessarily pursue it to pro ball right away. When I was done after the 2003 season, I took 2004 off and then I went to USC and helped out my father-in-law, Mike Gillespie, who was the head coach there. I went over to help him as a volunteer assistant. After one year there the Rockies courted me to go manage and I turned them down umpteen times before they finally convinced me to come over there.
When I was managing in Modesto, USC fired my father-in-law and offered me the job. I didn’t want to take it. With the Rockies, we had talked about working myself up the managing chain, and they had talked about trying to promote me and trying to do stuff within that organization.
But my father-in-law convinced me, he called me and told me I needed to take this job. He told me it would be a great job, that it was twenty-years for him and it could be twenty-years for me and that my kids could go there. And he’s a Trojan, he went to school there. I was thinking about my kids and family and I did it.
In hindsight, it wasn’t a good move. I was there for four years and I hadn’t gotten my full recruiting classes in. I had probably too good of an eye on some of the guys because I committed guys like Mike Moustakas, Giancarlo Stanton–who was Mike at the time-and Tim Beckham. A ton of guys that were going through and I lost in the Draft and in that point in time the Draft was kind of a free for all. Those guys could get drafted in the fifth or sixth rounds and still be offered big money.
I was losing guys late. I almost got Moustakas, he signed in the umpteenth hour. Stanton was a late sign. I had a lot of fun but by the time I got fired, it was because the athletic director, Mike Garrett, got fired, and they brought in a new athletic director who wanted his own new guys. I understood that. I felt like I needed to get my class in, and in that incoming class, I had Joc Pederson moving into his dorm the day I got fired, along with Shawon Dunston’s son, and a couple of other guys in that caliber. They were moving into their dorms and ended up signing the next day with their teams because I got fired. And obviously you’ve seen Joc and what he’s done.
There was a whole group of guys and we figured it out and we just didn’t get those guys into the classes. Then it took a little bit to get back into pro ball after that because once I jumped from the pro side to the college side I think everyone thought, what’s to stop him from doing it again? But I learned my lesson. I don’t want any part of that college ball anymore.
The way I looked at it was, I’m more pro-development rather than win now at the cost of the kids, which is kind of what college baseball is. It’s win at all costs and not so much develop the guys and let them develop. Their mindset is let them develop in pro ball. But I’m the opposite, I was like, I’m going to develop them here and if I have to take my lumps for a year with a guy because we’re revamping his swing or fixing his mound mechanics, that’s alright. I’m not going to get him up there and blow out an arm trying to just let him throw hard.
MMO: It’s interesting, I interviewed Dennis Cook for Mets Merized, and he was coaching in the Cape Cod League a few years back. He mentioned how many of the players didn’t have routines before starts. He was in shock that so many players from big schools weren’t being properly prepared on the development side of it.
Kreuter: I get it, as a coach your job hinges on 17-18-19-20-year-old players. You’ve got to get them in lockstep and in line, and they’ve got to do what you want them to do and can’t deviate off it. There’s a lot of cookie cutting with guys. And I find that hard to do, everyone is an individual and going to develop at different times.
It’s the same thing here in St. Lucie. I’ve got Hansel Moreno; he’s going to develop at a different time than Andres Gimenez. Even though they’re both extremely talented, their timeline and when they’re going to develop is totally different. We can’t force Hansel to develop right now. Sure, we’d love him to develop right now, but you can’t force him to do that. So it takes a little bit of time, and when his time arrives and he figures it out it’s going to be oh yeah, oh wow! But can you wait until he’s 26? I don’t know. It’s what’s the system going to see? Is it win now or is somebody else going to come and replace him?
Talent is amazing but you have to be able to put the talent together and you have to be able to have some patience with the talent. And other times you push the talent a little bit more. You push a Pete Alonso because he’s showing that he can do this and he can push through it with not all the right movements and all the fluidity of being a great fielder, but doing things he’ll be capable of.
You drive him through the system and look what he does. The best thing the Mets did this year was put him in the big leagues and not start him in Triple-A. That sparked him to have a great year. If they would’ve started him in Triple-A he probably wouldn’t have had that type of year. His confidence would’ve been a little bit lower, dejected a little bit. But that decision was a great one to do it.
MMO: You brought up Pete Alonso, who you managed in 2017. What did you see from Alonso early on, and what kind of work did you put in him with that year?
Kreuter: He was a train-wreck in some areas and he was an amazing talent in others. My job as a manager, along with all the other coaches, are to eliminate those weaknesses and then to start accentuating those strengths. He was not mentally ready for pro ball at that point in time and that was part of his demise early on as a player. And I say that because he wasn’t ready for the grind and he wasn’t realistic in how he was trying to approach the game.
He was trying to do too much and when you try to do too much in this game it becomes overwhelming for the player. And so what we tried to do was break it down, take one at-bat at a time and don’t give away at-bats. We revamped his swing a little bit and gave him a plan; he didn’t have much of a plan on an every pitch-to-pitch basis.
It started from the time he got to the clubhouse, walked into the cage and took his swings in the cage. He didn’t have a plan doing that, he didn’t have a plan when he went out for batting practice and he didn’t have a plan when he got into the game. All of his plans was more of an unrealistic one of how he was going to go about his business.
It was pulling in the reigns, slowing it down and saying hey, here’s how we’re going to do it. You’re going to be fine but let us not be in such a hurry to get things done. Understand how we’re going to put your swing path and make more contact. Understand that we’re going to create a plan so you don’t give away pitches. Understand that we’re going to have this plan where you don’t give away pitches, plus you don’t give away at-bats.
It just kept building and building and building and you saw his first 100-150 at-bats were not very good, and then his next 200 or so were amazing! He went from us to Double-A and kept it going and obviously started out the next year even better. He was able to take the plan that we gave him and take those little tweaks and make them his, implement them on an everyday basis and believe in them.
He bought in and that’s the biggest thing for guys is to buy in.
MMO: I spoke with Alonso at the end of the 2017 season for the site, and he spoke highly of both you and Luis Natera on helping him develop a plan and get out of the early slide he was in after coming back from an injury. He spoke about a contact drill and some tee work you guys did with him.
Kreuter: Yes, and that’s exactly what we did. A Hall of Famer and a should-be Hall of Famer taught it to me when I was in Seattle in Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez. Edgar showed me some drills and Alex was already doing them and talked about it.
Edgar is one of the top right-handed hitters ever, I mean, he was amazing as a right-handed hitter. I’ve always been a student of the game, I wanted to learn. I learned from shortstops, I learned from outfielders, I learned from first basemen, I learned from catchers, I learned from pitchers and the coaches around me. I was always soaking up anything I could and when Edgar spoke it was like, this is something important and I need to remember. It’s either something that could help me or I can help somebody down the line with.
When I saw Peter’s swing and what he was doing, we talked about the approach and the way I teach is I’m a hodgepodge of everything that’s been thrown at me, good and bad. You take the good stuff and you keep it, and the bad stuff you try not to repeat it. I’ve tried to take a lot of stuff from guys like Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Sparky Anderson, Lou Piniella and all the different guys that I was with throughout the years and roll it up into something that could help somebody.
Some days you have to speak a certain way to one player, but you say the same thing a little bit different to another player so he can understand it. It’s communication and you have to learn to communicate with guys like Pete and make it real so that they buy in and believe in what they’re doing.
The belief system in baseball when you fail seven out of ten times and you’re still really good, people don’t understand that failure just grates on your psyche. And if you’re failing seven out of ten times in a regular job or asking a girl out, you’re beside yourself, you’re without a job. In baseball that’s what’s so weird is you have the best hitters in the game doubting themselves at times because they’re in that rut of running through eight times without a hit or twelve times without a hit and all of a sudden here comes four in a row! That changes everything. Those times that you don’t get the hits really weigh on you.
Photo by Ed Delany, MMO
MMO: You also got to manage Jeff McNeil in your first season in St Lucie. I read an article that said one game he collected two hits but was still upset and in a bad mood after the game, so you gave him an Angry Orchard so it would “sweeten him up a bit.” Could you tell early on what kind of competitor McNeil was?
Kreuter: He is the ultimate competitor and trash talker. He’s taking BP and he’s saying that’s a double, that’s a single, that’s a triple. He’s telling you every time what it’s going to be and he’s going to trash talk before he gets in his first at-bat and saying I’m going to hit a home run here. And you’ve got to love it as a coach and as a manager. I love that spirit and fight that hey, I’m not going to give up.
But for him, he was a little too salty at times and a little too bitter where I thought it was going to affect him long term. I’ve gone through the slumps; I set a hit-less record when I was with Kansas City in ’99. I was going from hitting great and all of a sudden I hit the skids and then I wasn’t so great. So I understand failure and I understand how it can make you bitter and salty.
I had him in my office lots of times or talking to him at his locker and it was just a matter of trying to say let’s see the big picture here. You didn’t get any hits but you hit the ball hard. That’s a win-win situation there. The pitcher knows you beat him and his mother knows you beat him because you smoked the ball. It just happened to go right to the right fielder or was caught at the wall. That’s the way you have to go at guys like him and then you take away the bite or the sting of not getting the hit.
I was so proud and happy for him last year and what he did when he got called up and how he hit. And then you see what he did this year and it’s just amazing, it’s like one of your children. After they play for you I’m just rooting for these guys because they’re part of your family. In our clubhouse we create a family, we try to create and I try to create a bond that’s with those guys that is going to transcend beyond the game for years to come.
MMO: It must be so rewarding to see the guys that you had come through go on and have such success like they have.
Kreuter: It is and I understand that most of the guys that come through our clubhouse are not going to play a day in the big leagues. But they have to go about their business the same way as guys like Alonso, McNeil, (Tyler) Bashlor and the guys that have gotten their opportunities have and they have to believe in themselves the same exact way.
What we try to create is if they don’t make it-it goes back to my injury and that type of mentality-they have nothing to be ashamed of when it’s all said and done. There’s no pointing fingers, nothing to say except I did my best. I was given my opportunity, I either didn’t do it, I wasn’t good enough or that guy was better than me and he’s going to be given that opportunity. There are no excuses and that’s the way we handle our business.
MMO: And how did you come to secure the job as the St. Lucie Mets manager prior to the 2017 season?
Kreuter: In 2016 I interviewed for pitching coach at Brooklyn. Which was a dual role as the field coordinator for extended spring and the pitching coach. And within my background, I feel comfortable being a pitching coach obviously being a catcher I was in-tune with all of our pitchers and sat there and could like a parrot mimic what our pitching coaches say. I knew if they were talking to Joe Magrane what to say to Joe Magrane as opposed to Chuck Finley. I knew what to say to those guys based on the pitching coaches spoke to them and what they said, and so I feel very comfortable.
I interviewed for that and the group that was there thought I’d serve better as a manager. They said, “We think you’d be a manager. We’re looking for a guy that would be long-term in this position.” So I was passed over on it and I thought too bad and moved on. The next year I get a call from Ian Levin and they offered me the job. In that prior interview Ian was in on that and it brought me to that manager position that I’m in now.
MMO: As a minor league manager, how do you handle player development and winning games while knowing there will be constant movement of players throughout the course of a season?
Kreuter: It’s changed. My first two years here you’re just developing, you’re not trying to win any games. If you win that’s great, that’s because you’ve got pretty good players. But there wasn’t much strategy involved; you’re not hit and running, bunting or doing things that are conducive to winning.
This last year with our new front office, things changed. We were allowed to bunt, hit and run, run and hit, match up a little bit more with the pitching in the in-game management. Just as long as that wasn’t abused on the pitching part, which we basically had guys available on a daily basis. If you pitched tonight, you can’t pitch tomorrow. So we have to manage those guys but we were able to say I want this guy or Blake Taylor’s coming in to face the lefties here in the eighth. So he’d come in to face the lefties where before I had to throw certain guys in certain roles throughout the game and you weren’t necessarily allowed to match up like that.
For us this year, at one point we were 16 or 17 games over .500 and we were a team that I think our top average was .270; we didn’t have a whole bunch of guys hitting over .300 or a whole bunch of home runs. We were scrappy, if we had a man on first and second and no outs we bunted. We put them second and third and we emphasized driving the ball in with second and third with the infield back/infield in, hitting the fly ball whatever it is. And we capitalized on that.
We pitched really well and so we were able to move a lot of guys, I think we ended up moving about 17 guys to Double-A throughout the year. But I know at the end of the year Binghamton’s whole starting lineup was St. Lucie’s starting lineup. But it was fun to see.
We had a losing streak at the end of the year and we were running on fumes at the point in time but we were able to hold our heads above water and put together a great second half. And we kept sending guys like (Quinn) Brodey, (Luis) Carpio, (Jeremy) Vasquez and all the guys we sent to Double-A, and all the pitchers we sent up there. It was fun, it was really fun.
MMO: Are there certain players Met fans should be looking out for in the system?
Kreuter: I think Moreno is one. You start looking at our roster at the different guys that we had and I’m thinking Jeremy Vasquez is probably not a guy that’s on the radar to be their prospect, but I’m pretty sure he’s a guy that’s going to start knocking on the door. He’s like the little engine that could; he puts the bat head on the ball and he keeps on driving balls and moving forward.
David Thompson was a big one that came through here. Ali Sanchez as a catcher. Quinn Brodey, we’re hoping that Quinn does a lot of good things. Luis Carpio showed some promise here. Patrick Mazeika came through here and had a great year, struggled a little bit in Double-A but he’s very serviceable as a catcher now and a left-handed hitter. There’s a lot of different guys that you think about.
Kevin Smith, the left-hander, I like Kevin a lot. I like Blake Taylor a lot, too. Tony Dibrell had struggles when he left us but there’s something in there. I love Gimenez, I think that he’s a talent and he’s pretty special. If he doesn’t arrive this year then it will be there in 2021. But he’s pretty special.
MMO: Are you returning to manage St. Lucie in 2020?
Kreuter: I am.
MMO: You played Rick Peterson in Moneyball, and I also read that you trained Chris Pratt in helping him play Scott Hatteberg for the film. Can you talk a little about the work you did with Pratt and getting to work on the film overall?
Kreuter: I started out on that film doing the tryouts at USC. They wanted to do the tryouts when I was the head coach at USC, and we started out doing that. Then they asked me to kind of be the baseball technician, or baseball adviser. We went to Long Beach and filmed down there for a spring training scene. That day it started out as come in and check out the locker room to see if it looks like Oakland’s locker room. See if this is what their spring training locker room would look like. I went in and I’m in full uniform because I’ve been hitting fungoes and throwing batting practice while they’re filming.
I go in the locker room and Brad Pitt’s in there, the guy playing Ron Washington was there (Brent Jennings) and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And Bennett Miller–the director–says to me, “Have you ever watched a scene?” I told him no and he told me to sit over there and come meet Brad and Philip, and sit in the room and watch.
They filmed the scene and after it was all said and done I was walking out and Bennett asked where I was going. He told me I was going to be in the scene! I’m like, uh, no (laughs). He told me I was going to be in the scene and to go grab one of my coaches and he was going to put us in the scene so it was going to become more organic. I went back into the scene and they ended up filming it where they’re talking about different players and strategy and stuff with Brad Pitt. They did it for about six hours!
After that we filmed the baseball stuff on the field and I thought it was all said and done and I got a call a few days later and they said Brad wanted to know if I could come to Oakland and film there. I went to Oakland and filmed from 6 AM to 6 PM during a week when Oakland was out of town. I basically set up all of the scenes and made sure everything looked right with all of the baseball players. A lot of the guys we hired ended up being former minor league players that were done. The guy that looked like David Justice was actually right-handed, so we had to get him to look right when he went for the ball left-handed in the corner, and then they’d cut away when he actually threw the ball.
With Chris Pratt, I started out teaching him at USC and then my son Cade, who was at USC at the time, started doing more of the lessons with Chris; teaching him how to hit, hitting him ground balls everyday and hitting left-handed because Chris didn’t hit lefty. Cade worked with him exclusively in trying to teach him how to hit left-handed and all of the swings that he took were actual swings.
It ended up being a long-term project because Brad asked for me. It went from being on the field to into the studio and all the different scenes that were written for Brad he’d come to me and ask, “Does this sound right? Is that a run and hit or a hit and run? How do you say all the different lines?” I helped out with all that different stuff and really made sure it was baseball quality, which was fun. Plus, I got to play a couple of parts where I was actually in the movie.
It was rewarding, but I was nervous at first because obviously with Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman they are huge movie stars and now I’m with them. And especially in that first scene I was like, what am I even going to say here? But I knew that baseball timeline of what they were talking about and I knew the players.
Philip was great because he would just throw stuff out there and say, “Hey Rick, what do you have on this guy? What do you got on (Jason) Giambi?” I would fill in what I knew about Giambi. And Brad would ad-lib from there and they’d cut and he’d use the same thing I would say in his next scene. It was basically so those guys could have a conversation that looked real.
The fun thing is I knew Billy Beane and I was able to consult Billy on a lot of things and call him up on set and tell him they’re doing this on set, are you okay with this? And he’d say ask them not to do that or let’s do this, and we were able to get feedback right away on different things.
MMO: Thank you so much for your time, Chad. It was great picking your brain and for you to share so many great anecdotes from your career.
Kreuter: My pleasure, take care.
Follow Chad Kreuter on Twitter, @ChadKreuter.