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Phillies hire Don Mattingly’s son Preston to help revamp minor league system

Mattingly’s charge will be to help define an organizational philosophy -- a “Phillies Way,” so to speak -- that will produce more homegrown players.

Preston Mattingly, son of New York Yankees great Don Mattingly, was hired Wednesday as the Phillies' minor-league director.
Preston Mattingly, son of New York Yankees great Don Mattingly, was hired Wednesday as the Phillies' minor-league director.Read moreLynne Sladky / AP

The story, at least the one that Dave Dombrowski is sticking to, of how the Phillies found the man they will trust to turn around their minor league system begins with a phone call and a legal pad.

Dombrowski had recently taken charge as president of the Phillies’ baseball operations last December when he heard from “someone that I know and respect in baseball a great deal.” In the course of the conversation, Dombrowski received unsolicited advice.

“You need to hire Preston Mattingly,” said the person, who shall remain nameless in Dombrowski’s tale. “He is a difference-maker. I know him and I know you, and this guy will make you better in your organization.”

So Dombrowski did what he does when he wants to make sure he won’t forget something. He jotted Mattingly’s name on his trusted yellow legal pad. And when the Phillies embarked last month on a search for someone to revamp and oversee their broken player development system, Dombrowski circled back to his friend’s recommendation.

After a month-long search that began with 25 to 30 names and included interviews with 10 candidates, including three internal possibilities, the Phillies landed this week on Mattingly, son of a New York Yankees legend, to be director of player development.

“He’s a very impressive individual,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “Dynamic personality and a good baseball person. We think he’s a person that will help lead our player development and provide the leadership and communication skills that we think is necessary to put in place.”

Mattingly, 34, spent five seasons with the San Diego Padres, including this year as their coordinator of major league advance scouting and game-planning. Although he hasn’t run a farm system, he has experience in several areas, including pro scouting, minor league free agency, and the draft. He was an adviser to Padres general manager A.J. Preller and a protégé of longtime talent evaluator Logan White, who drafted most of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ homegrown core.

And then there are the baseball bloodlines. Mattingly’s father, Don, was a six-time All-Star, the 1985 American League MVP, and a Yankees captain. He managed the Dodgers for five seasons (2011-15) and the Miami Marlins for the last six years. His nickname, “Donnie Baseball,” is ubiquitous.

But turning around the Phillies’ farm system will be a challenge for the younger Mattingly.

The Phillies are in the process of making sweeping personnel changes to a farm system that has yielded few impact players at the major league level in recent years. Dombrowski removed assistant general manager Bryan Minniti and minor league director Josh Bonifay from their positions last month and let go top on-field instructor Chris Truby two weeks ago.

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Years of poor drafting and inadequate player development have resulted in a major league core that is largely built through free agency (Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler) and trades (J.T. Realmuto, Zach Eflin, and Jean Segura). Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Héctor Neris, and 2021 revelation Ranger Suárez are among the few homegrown triumphs.

The Phillies had a top-10 pick in five consecutive drafts (2014-18), but many of their prospects have been busts (Cornelius Randolph), fizzled (Mickey Moniak), or reached the majors and regressed (Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, Alec Bohm, and Spencer Howard before he got traded in July). The Phillies’ farm system is widely panned as one of the worst in baseball.

After touring the Phillies’ four full-season affiliates this summer, Dombrowski concluded that player development is the biggest issue. In recent years, they pivoted from traditional coaching to cutting-edge data and technology, investing heavily in Driveline, a data-driven laboratory in the Seattle area. But the pendulum swung too far to the latter, with greater emphasis on study than actual coaching.

The result, in Dombrowski’s words: “We don’t have enough people on the same page.”

Mattingly’s charge, then, will be to achieve more of a balance and also help define an organizational philosophy — a “Phillies Way,” so to speak — that will guide their development of minor leaguers.

“He has all the qualities that we’re looking for,” general manager Sam Fuld said. “He embodies a lot of what we’re looking for culturally in that he’s humble, he has empathy, he’s driven, he’s open-minded, and he learns a lot.”

Fuld said the Padres spoke highly of Mattingly’s ability to connect with research-and-development quants as well as grizzled baseball people such as Chuck LaMar and former pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

“I think there will be a true balance, yes,” Dombrowski said. “But I think one thing we really need to do is make sure everyone’s on the same page and understands what that page is.”

Dombrowski said Mattingly will report to assistant general manager Jorge Velandia about on-field matters and Fuld with regard to all other issues. Dombrowski believes it will be a more streamlined system than what existed previously.

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Mattingly was drafted out of high school in 2006 by the Dodgers with the 31st overall pick, 24 slots after they plucked Clayton Kershaw. But he lacked his father’s natural ability as a hitter. He batted .232 with 25 home runs and a .611 on-base-plus-slugging in 1,846 plate appearances over six minor league seasons, never advancing beyond the high-A level.

After getting released by the Yankees at the end of spring training in 2012, Mattingly went to Lamar University in Texas to study corporate communications and played Division I basketball as a 26-year-old freshman guard. He graduated in 2016 and was hired by the Padres for the 2017 season.

Dombrowski had already looked into Mattingly when the Phillies were in Miami over Labor Day weekend. It was then that he got Donnie Baseball’s input.

“I said, ‘Tell me about your son. We’re talking about a director of player development job. What do you think?’” Dombrowski said. “‘I said, ‘I know you’re partial.’ He said, ‘He’s very outspoken. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, give you his opinion.’ And as he walked away he said, ‘But he’s worth an interview.’”

And now the Phillies’ farm system is in his hands.