There is no prototypical “Mike Scioscia guy.” The USA Baseball manager figures he’s attracted to the same types of players who would catch any skipper’s eye. The kind who play hard, play with pride and bring a lot of talent to the table.
Those are the players Scioscia wants to bring with him to Tokyo next month, when he will try to guide the United States national baseball team to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t know if I’m much different than any other manager,” Scioscia told The Japan Times. “I think everybody is really drawn to those players that understand the game, play it right, have the talent to be able to go and do special things on the field.”
Scioscia knows those players when he sees them. He had plenty during his long tenure as manager of the Los Angeles Angels, where he won the World Series in 2002 and, more recently, managed Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout.
Now he’s on the lookout for players who can help the U.S. reach its goals in Tokyo. It’s likely some of the players who make the Olympic roster will be holdovers from the team Scioscia led at the recent Americas Olympic baseball qualifier. The U.S. earned its Olympic berth with a 4-0 run through that event.
Scioscia’s team featured a mix of young players like Luke Williams, who had six RBIs, and veterans such as Todd Fraizer, a former MLB All-Star who had a pair of homers and five RBIs in the four games.
“I think we’re all very happy with the way we played,” Scioscia said. “We played aggressive baseball on the basepaths, we had a deep lineup that helped us to get some clutch hitting. Then on the pitching side, we had some young guns that were out there starting and a bullpen full of some guys, mostly veterans.
“They did a terrific job in Florida and that will have to happen in Japan if we want to reach our goal.”
With the Olympic berth secured, Scioscia’s focus has shifted to earning a gold medal.
The Americans won their only Olympic gold at the Sydney Games in 2000 and also have a pair of bronze medals. As well as the U.S. hit during the qualifiers — Team USA outscored its opponents 29-10 — Scioscia says pitching will be the key in Tokyo.
“We have to pitch,” Scioscia said. “Any team that wants to reach their goal has to have a good starting rotation and definitely a bullpen that can hold leads. That will be our priority, to try to put that together as we take this month to get ready.”
The Olympics baseball tournament will feature six teams, and the U.S. team will face stiff competition from other traditional powers such as Japan and South Korea. Those nations will mostly be sending their best players to the games. The U.S., however, will not have any player who is on the 40-man roster of an MLB team, since the league is not pausing its season for the Olympics like the domestic leagues in Japan and South Korea.
So while Japan will not have its MLB stars either, manager Atsunori Inaba will still have the best and brightest from NPB.
Scioscia, meanwhile, has to put together a roster of potential players while also planning for the possibility of someone being called up by an MLB club, something that happened before the Olympic qualifiers.
“Obviously you had to pivot and make some adjustments,” Scioscia said. “We are trying to have our depth chart deep right now. We have a month before we start training, but it can happen quickly, so we want to be prepared for that.”
Scioscia is also preparing for an Olympic tournament which, unlike a 162-game MLB season, will have little room for error.
“It’s kind of like what we were faced with in the qualifiers,” Scioscia said. “You need to play well and play well now, and our guys did and they’ll have to do it in Japan.”
Scioscia has had a long career in baseball. He was a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 13 seasons and part of teams that won the World Series in 1981 and 1988. He managed the Angels from 2000 to 2018 and added another World Series title and was also named AL Manager of the Year in 2002 and 2009.
Even with all he’s accomplished, he views managing the U.S. as a special honor.
“I think that’s the great privilege we have,” he said. “I think the great draw that the players felt, they felt this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put on the USA jersey and go for an Olympic gold medal.”
When Scioscia arrives in Japan, he should already be familiar to many Japanese fans, as his tenure with the Angels coincided with Ohtani’s arrival in 2018.
“Shohei Ohtani is the most dynamic player I’ve ever been around, because of his two-way ability,” Scioscia said. “He can go out on the mound and shut down the best lineup in baseball with his stuff. At the plate, he’s such a dangerous hitter. With his speed, he can change a game on the basepaths. There’s so much that he can do.”
Ohtani has emerged as one of the most exciting players in MLB. He currently has 17 home runs and 45 RBIs at the plate in addition to nine stolen bases. He’s also 2-1 as a pitcher with 68 strikeouts and a 2.85 ERA in nine starts.
In Ohtani, Scioscia sees a player who could be special for a very long time.
“I think he’s got much more upside on the pitching mound,” Scioscia said. “I think that’s going to start to develop if he stays healthy. He was set back a little bit when he came over, had an injury and needed surgery on his elbow. But he’s such a dynamic pitcher I know he’s going to make a huge contribution there.
“On the offensive end, the adjustments he made were incredible. On the fly, quick adjustments he made to major league pitching, how they were pitching him, what he knew he needed to do to have a better chance to hit these pitches hard, and he did it.
“So, when you combine everything with Shohei, his upside is still there. He’s going to be an MVP candidate for a long time.”
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