Phillies’ Dave Dombrowski makes first big front-office shakeup

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Dombrowski hits minor-league operation hard in his first big shakeup originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Eight months after taking over as Phillies president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski made his first significant personnel changes when he announced a shakeup at the top of the team’s player-development department Tuesday.

“I’ve been observing for the year and it’s time to make some adjustments,” Dombrowski said. “You have to make sure the people who are running things for you are the people who are going to correct it. I just thought it was appropriate to make some changes.”

Assistant general manager Bryan Minniti, who had overseen scouting and player development since September 2017, and Josh Bonifay, the team’s director of player development since October 2018, were removed from their roles.

Jorge Velandia, who became an assistant general manager when Dombrowski was hired in December, will oversee player development until Dombrowski makes a hire.

Another assistant general manager, Scott Proefrock, was moved out of his role. Proefrock’s time with the Phillies dated to the team’s run of division championships that ended in 2011. He joined the organization shortly after the 2008 World Series championship as top lieutenant to new general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Under Amaro, Proefrock focused on big-league matters, from trades and player negotiations to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He was influential in the additions of Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee in the summer of 2009, two moves that helped get the Phillies back to the World Series, and led the charge to re-sign Lee as a free agent in December 2010.

A number of Proefrock’s colleagues from the team’s glory run had previously moved on as the organization has changed. Some have landed in other organizations or in other jobs in the baseball industry. Proefrock is well equipped to follow suit, though both he and Minniti will remain as consultants to the Phillies through 2022. Bonifay has been offered a position on the professional scouting staff.

Assistant general manager Ned Rice, who joined the Phillies shortly after Andy MacPhail came aboard as team president in 2015, received a two-year contract extension last winter and remains in his role, which Dombrowski described as mostly “administrative.”

The Phillies’ amateur scouting and player development operation has come under fire in recent years as the Phils have missed on a significant number of high-round draft picks and failed to turn others into contributing major-leaguers.

The team’s farm system in recent seasons has been consistently ranked among the worst in the game. Baseball America currently ranks the Phillies’ system 28th out of 30. MLB.com ranks the Phils’ system 27th out of 30.

Over the past year, there has been no bigger critic of the Phillies’ scouting and player development failures than owner John Middleton, who spoke at length about those issues when he fired Matt Klentak as general manager in October. At the time, Middleton said he would seek someone who had succeeded in both areas to replace Klentak. That someone became Dombrowski. 

Dombrowski on Tuesday made a point to say he believed he had the right guy leading amateur scouting in Brian Barber, who joined the organization from the Yankees two autumns ago and recently presided over his second draft.

Now, Dombrowski will go after someone he believes will be the right guy to oversee player development.

“If we're going to be the club we need to be, we need to be better at getting players over the hump and producing good players from within the system,” he said. “That's mandatory. I mean, you have to be able to produce your own players. We have to do a better job at getting more players to the big leagues that are good players.”

Dombrowski said his initial concerns about the scouting and player development operation revolved around too many areas reporting to one person, Minniti.

With Tuesday’s changes, Barber will report directly to Dombrowski, and a new hire will run player development.

After determining that the structure of the department -- “Who’s responsible for what?” he said -- needed to change, Dombrowski said he realized the personnel needed to change, too.

“I realized I was in a position where I wasn’t satisfied with some things on the player-development aspect from observation and past history,” he said. “For me, the best thing to do was to approach it from a fresh perspective and get a fresh start. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to hire someone to align the department for us.”

And, presumably, someone who can unite and build a staff that can develop talent and consistently send contributing players to the majors.

The word “unite” is key. For several years now, traditional methods of instruction have clashed with new, data-driven methods of instruction in the Phillies’ system. Outstanding baseball men with traditional backgrounds and successful resumes have been run off and replaced with those who favor new ways of doing things. Once upon a time, line drive swings were taught and honed. Now, launch angle is the thing. Once upon a time, sound deliveries and command ruled pitching instruction. Now, it’s all-velocity all the time.

Dombrowski would not say whether he believed the Phillies’ system had tilted too far toward technology, data and all the things that make up the new school, though plenty of people have probably said it to him.

But he made it clear he wants a blend of traditional and modern approaches.

“I don’t think we were in a spot where it was combined as much,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t think we have enough people on the same page. I think it’s going to be imperative that if we’re going to be as good as we can be that you buy into the way we do it or not be here.”

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