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Andy Furillo: New River Cats manager’s main job is to keep players ready for Giants

New River Cats manager Jose Alguacil made his reputation in the minor leagues coaching infielders.
New River Cats manager Jose Alguacil made his reputation in the minor leagues coaching infielders. The Associated Press

The Giants’ adjunct in Sacramento will have a new manager this year, and if baseball fans around here lack familiarity with Jose Alguacil, they can sleep well knowing some of their favorites on the big club do not.

Even some players Giants fans don’t like anymore learned from “Augi,” including a panda named Pablo Sandoval. You remember how much he improved as a third baseman for the three-time World Series champions, before he moved to Boston to take pot shots at his old club. Sandoval looked like a 260-pound ballerina before he left, and it was Alguacil who put the twinkle in Pablo’s toes.

Alguacil made his reputation in the minors coaching infielders, and the players in those positions for the Giants came up under the tutelage of the señor from Venezuela. Matt Duffy at third, Brandon Crawford at short, Joe Panik at second, Brandon Belt at first, utilityman Ehire Adrianza – Alguacil drilled them all on footwork and first steps.

Last year, Alguacil managed the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels. In his first season, he led the Eastern League in ejections with six. Some of the difficulty came because the Squirrels lost 17 of their first 20 games, and the manager had to show he had his players’ backs in tough times. Alguacil also felt compelled to lecture Double-A umps on how they could improve their games, too. On occasion, he emphasized a point by removing a base from its moorings and giving it a fling. It’s a trick that hopefully will make for fond memories this summer at Raley Field.

“When it happens,” Alguacil, “I’ll make sure to put on a good show.”

Alguacil will have an interesting infield crew to work with in Sacramento. The River Cats projected starters include 6-foot-6, 265-pound first baseman Kyle Blanks, who will cast a shadow on the Tower Bridge and inflict dents on the Bell Brothers sign beyond the left-field party zone at Raley Field. Second baseman Grant Green is a former first-round pick of the A’s. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee will show how much fun it is to watch baseball in South Korea, where infielders dive and dash and flash speed that gets into the heads of hitters and baserunners.

In the lower minor leagues, the skipper’s job is primarily to teach. In Triple A, Alguacil will have players just 85 miles from stardom, many with major-league experience. He must make sure they are ready on a pulled-hamstring’s notice.

“You get some more mature guys – you have to treat them as big leaguers,” Alguacil said in a telephone interview this week from a snow cave in Reston, Va. “Some of these guys are going to get called up to the big-league club, and that is the priority we’re going to do this year, to get these guys ready to play in the big leagues.

“When we arrive in Sacramento, I will tell the 25 guys right here, everybody has a job to do. It’s all business. You’re a phone call away from the big leagues. We’re here for a reason. We’re going to work. I’m going to get you ready to achieve your goals. Their goal is to play in the big leagues. I don’t want guys to be happy to just play in the big leagues. I want guys to stay in the big leagues.”

Alguacil, 43, played for 10 teams over eight minor-league seasons in the Giants and the White Sox organizations. He became a minor-league coach for the Nationals in 2002, when they were still the Expos. He got his first job on the recommendation of one of his winter-ball bosses, Manny Acta, who later managed the Nats and Indians and is now the third-base coach for the Mariners. With the Nats-Expos, Alguacil worked with kids like Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman. He also came under the influence of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the manager of the big club, who taught him to treat every player as an individual.

Switching to the Giants organization as an infield instructor in 2007, Alguacil found his mentor in Joey Amalfitano, the special assistant for minor-league player development. Their relationship covers both infield play and life. “When I have confusion in anything,” Alguacil said, “I call Joey.”

For additional advice, he contacts Giants legend and former manager Felipe Alou. “He is another big supporter of mine,” Alguacil said.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy also phones in advice.

“Last year, we struggled at the beginning, and Bochy called me, and spoke like between a half-hour and 45 minutes on the phone with me, telling me how to bounce back,” Alguacil said. “It’s great when you have this type of people behind your back, to support and try to guide you.”

River Cats fans can meet Alguacil at the team’s Hot Stove Banquet Thursday at the California Auto Museum, along with Dave Dravecky, the motivational speaker and former Giants pitcher. Start the countdown after that, to Feb. 17, when the Giants pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale, Ariz., where Alguacil will find the spring weather preferable to where he is still digging out of snow in Reston.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo