It didn’t take Jose Nieves long to get a sense of what makes the Dayton Dragons organization successful.
Walking around Fifth Third Field on Friday, seeing the facility and meeting the people who make the franchise go, the new Dragons manager marveled at the opportunity in front of him.
“If you had never had the privilege of being in the big leagues,” Nieves said, “this is the closest thing to being in the big leagues.”
Nieves was introduced to the media 34 days before the Dragons’ first spring training game, 55 days before their Midwest League opener and 62 days before the home opener on April 11. The native Venezuelan and former infielder for the Cubs and Angels is the seventh manager in the 14-year history of the Dragons.
Nieves will take over a team that should be stocked with talent. The full roster won’t be known until April, but the Reds Director of Player Development, Jeff Graupe, who was on hand for Friday’s press conference said the amount of signing bonuses paid to the players projected to be on this year’s Dragons roster was $7.5 million. Last year’s team, which finished last in the Midwest League Eastern Division at 60-78, had total bonuses closer to $2 million.
“I’m very excited about the potential roster we’re talking about internally right now,” Graupe said. “Last year was a tough year with the win-loss record. With the ebb and flow of minor league talent and how rosters come together, this has a chance to be a special team for Dayton.”
Nieves knows many of the players who will end up in Dayton because he managed the Reds’ Arizona League club in Goodyear the last two seasons. He joined the Reds organization in 2010 as the manager of the Reds affiliate in the Venezuelan Summer League.
“We want our team to win,” Nieves said. “But it’s always going to depend on the character, not the talent. If you have players with passion and character, who play with abandon and give everything possible, good things are going to happen.”
The Dragons won a franchise-record 83 games two years ago. Graupe said he expected last year’s team to do better, but it didn’t have a first-round pick on the team until the second half when pitcher Robert Stephenson joined the Dragons. This year’s team could have several first-round picks, Graupe said.
“We try to stress winning, but we’re not willing to sacrifice development,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get your work in and develop players when the team’s winning. Everyone’s happy. They want to get to the yard. They want to get their work in. They’re feeling good about it. That’s not always easy when a team is losing.”