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'Chill' Shelton connecting with Bucs players

January 26, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Calling a meeting, Derek Shelton said Friday afternoon, is a little bit like yelling. If you only raise your voice every once in a while, you’ll capture people’s attention. But … “If you yell a lot,” Shelton said, “then it becomes, ‘OK, he’s just yelling.’” Shelton will take

PITTSBURGH -- Calling a meeting, Derek Shelton said Friday afternoon, is a little bit like yelling. If you only raise your voice every once in a while, you’ll capture people’s attention. But …

“If you yell a lot,” Shelton said, “then it becomes, ‘OK, he’s just yelling.’”

Shelton will take that mentality heading into his first season as the Pirates’ manager. He doesn’t want to subject his relatively young roster to endless meetings. He doesn’t want to enforce a strict dress code on team flights. He doesn’t want players to emphasize the quantity of their work over its quality. As All-Star first baseman Josh Bell put it this week: Shelton doesn’t want “eyewash.”

If you’re expecting a draconian taskmaster in the Pirates manager’s office, well, you don’t know Shelton. Based on their reaction while speaking at PiratesFest on Saturday, players eagerly welcome Shelton’s easy-going style.

“I think it’s huge. You’re not standing around wasting time. You’re going in, you’re getting your work done, take care of what you need to do and get better that way,” second baseman Adam Frazier said. “You’re going to be held accountable for your own self and not just be there to be there. We’re pretty excited about that.

“Josh said it pretty well: 'No eyewash.' Get done what you need to get done, get better and move on.”

The Pirates know they need to get better, even if their 2020 is shaping up to be a year built more for evaluation than postseason contention. The core of last year’s 69-93 club is set to return, and most of that core is under control for the next few years. Those players want to prove to management that they’re worth investing in and building around.

“Right now, we still have a pretty solid core intact,” rehabbing starter Jameson Taillon said. “And for me, personally and selfishly, I want to pitch with Trevor [Williams] again, I want to pitch with Joe [Musgrove] again, I want to pitch with [Chad Kuhl], I want JB and Frazier behind me. And I feel like we’ve still got some work to do and some stuff to do together and accomplish together.”

Isn’t that better motivation than a meeting?

“The coaching staff and the front office, they can do so much to put us in a position to win and be successful, but ultimately, we’re the ones who go out there and have to get the job done,” Musgrove said. “The energy from the new staff this year is incredible. We haven’t had a chance to get on the field and physically put any work in yet, but the preparation and the leadership that we have so far is incredible.”

The Pirates’ oldest player, at the moment, is 31-year-old Chris Archer. All but three players on their 40-man roster (Archer, Starling Marte and Jacob Stallings) were born in the 1990s, when Shelton (now 49) was in his 20s. There’s a generation gap at play, but Shelton has quickly forged relationships with his players by heeding the advice he received from longtime manager Jim Leyland: “Be yourself.”

That means making fun of shortstop Cole Tucker’s flowing, helmet-repellent hair or letting pitcher Steven Brault soliloquize about his favorite Broadway songs. That means continuing the “Dads Trip” the players came to love over the past few years under former manager Clint Hurdle. More than anything, that means leading the way that comes naturally.

“You hear from players that had him -- Arch had him in Tampa Bay. Arch was an American League pitcher, never hit and [Shelton] was their hitting coach, and he said he had a great relationship with him,” Tucker said. “I think that is a testament to what kind of guy he is. Everything we’ve heard since being here, being around, he’s just excited for us to be better, to lead us to be better and to have a ton of fun. … He’s got some feel. He’s chill.”

Catcher Luke Maile, who crossed paths with Shelton in Tampa Bay and Toronto before reuniting in Pittsburgh, said Shelton is “really good at being who he is” and “who he is, he kind of works best in a laid-back atmosphere.” With the Rays, Shelton worked under famously laid-back manager Joe Maddon. Maddon was known to essentially only have one rule -- run hard -- while calling only three team meetings per year: before the season, after the All-Star break and before the postseason.

Suffice it to say the Pirates had more than three per year over the past few seasons.

“In years prior, it’s been team meetings all the time. Not necessarily specific to you,” Bell said. “But it’s a lot easier to chime in, to focus in and to have a shorter meeting if it’s one-on-one and spread it out over the course of Spring Training. That’s my vision for it. I think the guys are going to really enjoy that as well.”

None of that means there won’t be work done. Pitchers are already studying Rapsodo data to break down with pitching coach Oscar Marin, who’s been watching video since the day he was hired. Players can request individual meetings with their position coaches and analytics staff. Shelton, bench coach Don Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff have plotted out a course for Spring Training.

When they yell, in other words, they want players to listen.

“We’re going to be specific on how we’re doing it, what we’re doing and going about it. It’s going to be different, because of the fact that that’s how I am,” Shelton said. “I’m probably a little looser. That’s the [way] I want it to be. I want it to be a fun environment.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.