By: Brian Frank
It’s easy to sense the optimism in Bison manager Casey Candaele’s voice as he talks about the upcoming season. Candaele enters his third year as Bisons manager after spending the end of last season as the Blue Jays interim bench coach. Candaele spoke with The Herd Chronicles after the Bisons first workout at Sahlen Field since coming north from Dunedin.
Looking at how guys were being used in spring training on the big league side, it looks like you’re going to have a more traditional starting rotation this year as opposed to having so many openers, like last season.
Yeah, who knows how it shapes up, but it looks to be that way.
Do you know who some of the guys are that are likely to get starts early in the year?
Right now (Casey) Lawrence will start, Zach Thompson, Bowden Francis...
Is (Yosver) Zulueta going to be in the rotation to start?
It’s not positive but that’s the tentative plan.
You have a lot of good arms in the bullpen, do you plan on using someone as a closer, or is it going to be more of a bullpen by committee?
It shapes up that way sometimes, but it will probably be three maybe four guys honestly depending on how it works out and if we're like – hey, we want to see this guy more here or whatever. Really my view is to throw them in all different scenarios and then when they go to the big leagues they’re not thrust into something that they’ve never seen before or been involved in. It’s not a knock on anyone’s talent, but if a guy is closing in Triple-A and they end up getting called up to the big leagues, and it’s not because the closer got hurt, then they’re not going to close. So, you might as well pitch in the sixth, seventh, eighth, and the ninth, and just get used to all that too, because it’s what they’re going to be doing when they go to the major leagues.
Is the plan for Nate Pearson to be a multi-inning reliever?
Right now I think it’s kind of looking like that, but I mean they’ll all pitch in different scenarios – an inning, maybe two innings, maybe open one day. Like I said, it’s really about what the needs are at the major-league level and the possibilities of what they might do if they go there. So, really, having them prepare for anything that may arise at the major-league level is the biggest part.
Last year, Nathan Lukes led the team with eleven home runs. He was the only guy in double digits. When you look at the roster makeup this year, do you expect to have more power?
I don’t now. I don’t know if it’s really the power part. This is a tough league to hit in during April. Then there’s some parks that are hard to hit in at certain times of the year. A lot of times I think the power numbers come in the big leagues. Having a team that competes at the plate, puts the ball in play when needed, hits home runs when needed, moves guys over, and does situational hitting – I think those are all going to be important for guys at this level, so that when they go to the big leagues they’re able to do. So, I don’t know if we’ll have more power. We probably look on paper like we have more power, but who knows how it all shapes up.
Candaele watches the Bisons first Sahlen Field workout of the 2023 season. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
I wanted to ask you about some of the new players on the team this year. Addison Barger came up to Buffalo for about the last week or so of last season. What impresses you about his play?
He just works hard and he’s got a lot of talent. Strong kid. He plays good defense, runs pretty well. He can really do all facets of the game, it’s just putting it all together and let’s see how it works at this level. He got a taste of it last year, so he’ll be thrown into the mix and he’ll get out there and he’ll compete. I look forward to watching him.
And Wynton Bernard. I know a lot of Buffalo fans are familiar with him because he played at Niagara University. What can we expect to see from him?
He plays good defense and puts together good at bats. I mean these guys are all guys that play the game the right way and they play it with a passion and play it hard. So they’re fun to watch. They’re fun to watch preparing for the game and see their readiness to play. I think that’s the biggest thing, they just like to compete.
Rob Brantly was red hot in the spring at major-league camp with the Blue Jays, what does he bring to this team?
He’s passionate about the game and about how he goes about his business. He really takes pride in his catching and working with pitchers – and that’s big. That makes a big difference. He’s a good leader in the clubhouse. He keeps people on the right track for what we’re here for and what we’re trying to accomplish. He gets his work in and he’s a pleasure to be around. I knew him from Seattle when he was there, and he’s still the same guy. That’s why he’s been in the game for as long as he has been, and why he gets opportunities, because he’s a quality player and he’s a quality individual. It’s good to have him.
A few questions about the rule changes. Last year was the first year using the bigger bases and the new pickoff rules. Two years ago, you guys stole 117 bases. Then last year you stole 173. Do you think that increase was in part due to the rule changes or was it because of personnel?
We had the personnel – but I mean we ran. We weren’t a power hitting team so we had to do a lot of different things. But we’re aggressive and given the opportunities with the guys that we have – we’ve got some guys who can run – so we’ll probably utilize that again as one of our offensive weapons. I’m usually okay with guys running on their own and choosing good spots to run in. We kind of let that go and then talk to them if it gets out of hand. But as long as they have a good stolen base percentage and they’re doing it at the right time, I want them to run.
I don’t like putting constraints on players like choosing when we want to run, only in certain situations. So I let them pick. I think as a rule base stealers like to pick their spots to run, they don’t like to be told when to run. That goes the same with any other player, even if he’s not a base stealer. It’s like, if I feel right and I feel good about this time that I’m going to go, then I’m going to run. So we don’t really put a lot of steals on.
That’s really a credit to our players that we stole 173 bases last year because they picked the times to go. The times that we put it on was very, very rare. Jake McGuiggan did a great job at first picking up things from pitchers and helping guys get reads on them and jumps and stuff. He’s really good at that.
There’s also the new ABS system coming in for balls and strikes this year. Do you have any concerns with it?
I haven’t even dealt with it anywhere, so I really don’t know. You probably can’t yell at the umpires anymore about balls and strikes. But I don’t know. I mean, if pitchers start walking a massive amount of guys because they're missing by that much, it’s kind of weird isn’t it? But if that kind of thing takes place, then maybe they should make the plate wider or something, you know? I don’t know. But walks are boring. They’re about as boring as strikeouts. If they’re looking to get the game going and make the game more exciting, walks are not the way to do it.
PitchCom, with the catcher calling the pitches from a device on their wrist, is that something you see as being easy for guys to adjust to?
Yeah. They’ve done it. Most of them have done it. I can’t fathom why we do things in the big leagues that we don’t do in Triple-A. That’s baffling to me. But, you know what, I’m not in charge. I get trying things out in Triple-A, but once they’re doing it in the big leagues (like PitchCom), I’m not sure why you wouldn’t do it here. Why they (MLB) had it last year, but we didn’t have it in Triple-A was kind of baffling to me because then every pitcher or catcher that went up had to use it. Why wouldn’t you let guys use that at the Triple-A level?
Have you looked at how not having shifts will affect certain hitters or even certain pitchers?
Oh, it’s going to help hitters… but I don’t know. I saw Billy Ripken on TV a while ago talking about how the shift hasn’t changed any of the statistics. So who knows. But you know what – we’ll find out.
And one final question – Why should Buffalo baseball fans be excited about the team this year?
They’re going to play hard. There are a lot of competitive guys. We have a lot of good players. We have fourteen guys who I think could be starters anywhere. So finding playing time and rotating them in and out at different positions. They’re all guys that want to play and all guys that play hard, so it will be fun to watch. They’ll play hard every inning of every game.