Rays set '23 Minors staffs, with new Triple-A manager

January 24th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays announced staffing assignments for their domestic Minor League affiliates on Tuesday, featuring four new managers, a handful of new-look coaching staffs, the return of Jared Sandberg and several other notable additions.

With former Triple-A Durham skipper Brady Williams promoted to the big league staff as third-base coach earlier this offseason, Michael Johns will take over as manager of the back-to-back Triple-A national champions. Johns, 47, spent eight seasons (2010-17) managing across four levels of Tampa Bay’s system, then served as a Minor League field coordinator for the Rays each of the last five years.

“We are very excited to welcome Michael to the Bull City,” Durham general manager Tyler Parsons said in a statement. “The Bulls have been incredibly fortunate to have a legacy of winning managers with Charlie Montoyo, Bill Evers, and, most recently, Brady Williams. We look forward to working with Michael and the rest of his staff for what should be another exciting season in 2023.”

Morgan Ensberg is set to return for his fourth season managing Double-A Montgomery. High-A Bowling Green will be managed by Rafael Valenzuela, who is coming off three seasons in the same role with the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Rays. Valenzuela, 35, is replacing former Hot Rods manager Jeff Smith, who is now the Rays’ catching coordinator.

With Blake Butera moving from Single-A Charleston manager to assistant field coordinator, Sean Smedley will step in as the RiverDogs manager. Smedley, 32, spent last season as Ensberg’s bench coach with Montgomery and previously worked as Charleston’s bench coach in 2021. This will be Smedley’s first managerial assignment at any level, although he had been slated to manage Rookie-level Princeton before the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League season.

Frank Maldonado will take over as manager of the Rookie-level FCL Rays. The 47-year-old spent 2021 as the FCL hitting coach, then served as manager of hitting development last year. Before joining the Rays in 2020, he had more than 20 years of experience at the collegiate level, including stints locally as an assistant coach at the University of Tampa (2006-10, ’15) and the University of South Florida (2011-14).

The Rays filled a few more Minor League coordinator roles internally. Pitching coordinators Jim Paduch and Alberto Bastardo spent last season as pitching coaches in Tampa Bay’s system -- Paduch in Double-A, Bastardo with Bowling Green. Will Bradley, formerly Durham’s hitting coach, is now a hitting coordinator. And Scott Thurston, previously an athletic trainer in Triple-A, was named complex medical/rehab coordinator.

Additionally, the Rays brought back a familiar face in Sandberg, who rejoins the organization as the outfield/baserunning coordinator. Drafted by Tampa Bay in 1996, Sandberg spent parts of three seasons with the Devil Rays, began his coaching career with the club and spent 10 seasons as a Minor League manager. He was on the Mariners’ big league coaching staff from 2019-21 and managed the Padres’ Triple-A club last season.

From outside the organization, the Rays hired Kenny Hook as Durham’s hitting coach, Steve Merriman as Montgomery’s pitching coach, Henry Bonilla as an FCL Rays pitching coach, Braxton Martinez as a seasonal development coach in the FCL, three conditioning coaches (Steve Chase in Triple-A, Austin Teets in Double-A, Giovanni Caraballo in the FCL) and FCL athletic trainer Kyndell Crowell.

Hook spent the last three years as a hitting coach in the Angels’ system. Merriman comes to the Rays from the University of Michigan, where he was pitching coach for the last two seasons. Bonilla was most recently the director of pitcher development at the Velocity Sports Warehouse training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., after coaching in the Twins’ system from 2012-18. Martinez played two seasons in the Angels’ system after serving as a player/coach for the Frontier League’s River City Rascals in 2019.

Among the Rays’ other notable organizational changes for the 2023 season: Bench coach Frank Jagoda moved from Charleston to Montgomery, pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein from Charleston to Bowling Green, bench coach Ronnie Richardson and pitching coach Levi Romero from the FCL to Charleston, and former outfield/baserunning coordinator Chris Constantine now a coach for the FCL Rays.