We recently spoke with Bisons manager Casey Candaele on a wide range of topics. Candaele, who starred with the Bisons as a player in 1995 and 1997, discussed everything from the Bisons being based in Trenton, this season's Triple-A schedule, the use of analytics, the success of some of the Bisons current stars, and what a return to Sahlen Field will be like for the team.
You’re the manager of the Buffalo Bisons, but you’re playing your home games in Trenton, New Jersey. So my first question has to be how has the adjustment to playing in Trenton been?
It was pretty interesting at first. But the players, they just wanted to play. Be somewhere and play. So it was good. Obviously we wanted to be in Buffalo because that’s where we’re supposed to be based in and that’s our fan base. So that’s a little different because we’re playing in Trenton. The staff there has treated us tremendous. But we still get a lot of Philly fans and New York Yankee fans and Mets fans. So whoever we’re playing we seem to still be an underdog with the fan base. But other than that it’s been great. We just miss being in Buffalo.
Do you feel that there is any added uncertainty or stress by the fact that you’re not sure where you’re going to be playing in a month from now?
We are in a unique situation I think from anybody else. But our players have handled it outstanding. They were more concerned with just playing a season and being able to compete than they were with where they were going to be. But like I said, we’re based out of Buffalo so it would be great to be there but they just kind of took it in stride that this is what we’re going to do. The most stressful thing is me trying to figure out the numbers to all the jerseys that are different from the Bisons jerseys to the Trenton jerseys.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that.
(laughing) Yeah, I screw them up everyday because they have different numbers. But you know, I think our players have adapted well. I mean we never really talked about it much. We just kind of showed up and said ‘OK, let’s start playing.’
The Triple-A schedule is a lot different this year with a six game series, then an off day, and then another six game series. What benefits or challenges do you see from that schedule?
The challenge is seeing one team for a long period of time. Sometimes tensions can flair and things can happen. But it’s been pretty good. The one day off a week I think is really great for a minor-league season because it is a grind. Usually in the past, players don’t get this kind of time off. So, it’s been really beneficial I think for the players’ health and for their well-being as far as knowing they play six games and then have a day off. It’s kind of a recouping period and a regrouping period and they can kind of get back on the field on Tuesdays and get playing again. So I think there are benefits to it. The downside is sometimes you see the same team over and over because we’re only playing the East. That can get a little redundant and old but other than that it’s not been too bad.
Candaele leading the Herd. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
With analytics becoming a bigger part of the game and affecting in-game strategy, how would you describe yourself as a manager? More of an old-school or new-school manager, or a combination?
Yeah, I mean you have to be a combination. You have to take into consideration all the data and all the information and all the knowledge that comes from the analytics and everything and you have to incorporate that into your coaching style. You can still coach and manage to play the game hard and play the game the right way. That has nothing to do with numbers. That has to do with a person’s heart and what their character is. So, basically if you want to be old school, that’s kind of the way that I look at old school is to play the game hard and go out and leave it out there as much as you can every day and compete. So, that’s totally separate from the numbers and the data and all that.
In our organization we do a great job working with the R and D department (Research and Development) and high performance and player development and combining them all and making it something that’s relevant for the player to use in all aspects of it. So if he wants all those numbers and he wants to delve into it that deeply he can. Pitching wise or hitting wise or defensively we have it. If they’re not really that into it, it’s not forced upon them. I think as far as we’re concerned, it’s all there and available.
Now setting up defensively and how we pitch people, it’s very important because you’re basing it on percentages. If you go through the percentages and this is where percentage wise they’re going to hit the ball, then it kind of helps how you’re going about it. So we do it in a really good way of combing everything and using it all and not forcing it, but it’s there. And using the relevant parts of it.
You guys are obviously playing well right now and climbing up in the standings. How would you describe the current Bison team and how the season has gone so far?
They just battle every day. We kind of hovered around .500 for a while. I think we were 17-17. I don’t even really want to know what our record is now. We played hard when we were 17-17 and we’re coming out and playing hard now.
We’re not out of any games. We’re scrappy. They get after it and they put together quality, professional at-bats. Our pitchers attack hitters and we concentrate on defense. From the beginning of the season we stressed competing and getting better, but also stressed being successful as a team which comes in victories. It’s important to us throughout the organization. That (winning) along with development are two things that are important to the organization so we’re trying to stress them both.
I just wanted to ask about some specific players and what you’ve seen from them. Kevin Smith – How do you feel his season has gone so far and how do you feel he’s improved this season?
He’s made some tremendous adjustments. He’s always been a really good defender – he’s made strides there also. And he’s moving around and playing some different positions, which can only help in his versatility and his value at the major-league level... Offensively he’s really simplified things and kind of gotten back to where he was in 2018 where he was swinging the bat really well. He’s just more confident at the plate and like I said, he’s made some adjustments and getting good pitches to hit and being more patient. It’s been a big turnaround for him and he continues to get better. It’s been fun to watch – really good player.
Bisons shortstop Kevin Smith. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Your young catchers – I know Kirk hasn’t been here very long – but Riley Adams and Alejandro Kirk, how have you seen them develop this season?
They’re doing well. They’ve been up and down (between the Blue Jays and the Bisons) and Kirk was hurt for a while. They still have work to do – and they know that. But they’re developing well. They’re working on all aspects of their game – the receiving part, offence. The most important part is the game calling and running a pitching staff. Being a young catcher, that’s kind of the part that you have to get into and learn to do the most because it’s the hardest thing to do and it's probably one of the most important things to be able to do as a catcher – relate to the staff and be able to call the game. It helps that we have great pitch recs and we give them that and they can have some help in that aspect. But really learning how to maneuver a pitcher through a lineup. That’s probably what they’re going to learn the most this year at Triple-A, at this higher level. And they’re doing a great job.
The Herd's young backstops, Alejandro Kirk and Riley Adams. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Thomas Hatch had another good outing the other night. What do you see from him that has impressed you so far?
He’s got great stuff. Breaking ball, changeup, fastball – all of it is above average and close to elite. He continues to get better and better with his command and the usage of his pitches. He’s very in-tune with what he’s doing and what he’s trying to accomplish out on the mound and I think he’s getting to where he wants to be. It seems like each outing is getting better with what he’s doing and what he’s thinking and going about his business out there. It’s fun to see and it’s fun to watch.
Thomas Hatch warms up. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Could you give an update on Nate Pearson’s injury situation and what you think he needs to do to get back to the level he was at last year?
Nate is going through a tough time and he’s going to rehab and try to get back to what he was doing before. I think in that aspect he’s going to do the things he needs to do to get better and he will work as hard as anybody – there’s no doubt about that – to get to where he was before. And I’m sure that he’ll accomplish that. He’s gone through some adversity and he’s a pretty tough kid because he always comes back and works his tail off and doesn’t get discouraged – he deals with it and comes back. He’s going to be fine. Hopefully it’s a speedy recovery and he gets back here.
Ryan Borucki pitched the other night in a rehab outing – How did he look to you?
Good. Good velocity, his slider looked really good. He went after people. It was the first time he’s been in a game in a long time, so we kind of talked to him about that. He was really excited. But he did a great job. He’s got good stuff. Again, a fierce competitor. A guy that gets after it and wants to do well and wants to help the team. I’m sure that in his next outing he’ll be even better than he was last time.
The Bisons haven’t played a game in Buffalo since August 29, 2019. As a former player who knows how much the team means to the community, have you thought about how special that first game back in Buffalo is going to be?
Yeah, it’s funny – I’m here (in Rochester) and I see Bison fans that come here to watch the games – and it’s like man this is really cool. They have a major-league team there now and yet I saw a couple of Bison fans in the stands here yesterday wearing their Bison jerseys. I was excited to go to Buffalo when I took this job. I kind of knew that maybe I wouldn’t get back there right away, but as they start talking about it and the possibility of us going back – regardless of how much time it is – I get excited about the possibility of walking into the stadium again. I know with all the renovations they made it’s going to be much nicer (laughs). It’s exciting. I hope we get to do it. It’s kind of cool. If we keep playing well, we could be playing for the league championship when we get there – whenever we get there. I hope that happens, but that remains to be seen.