CLEARWATER, Fla. — Pedro Guerrero, the Phillies’ new assistant hitting coach, is 28 years old, one of the youngest coaches in Major League Baseball, and he would like to make his own way and his own name in the majors, if he can. It’s just that the route he has already taken and the name he already has have often made his journey more challenging and exasperating than necessary.
Take, for instance, his first and only other coaching job in professional baseball. In 2016, the Dodgers hired Guerrero to be the bench coach for one of their Rookie-level affiliates, the Ogden Raptors in Ogden, Utah. He had been an infielder in the Dodgers’ minor-league system for eight years, batting .236 over 411 games after they had signed him out of Sor Ana Nolan High School in the Dominican Republic. His playing career had ended in 2013, and for the subsequent two years, he had worked for a construction company near Salt Lake City, climbing cell towers to install containers that enclosed and protected the processors, the receivers, and the other equipment. “It was cold,” he said.
To say that he welcomed the opportunity to coach, then, would be to understate the degree of his joy, and over his first several weeks with the Raptors, Guerrero threw himself into his work. He was so consumed with coaching, in fact, that it took him a while to notice something: He wasn’t getting paid. No checks. No direct deposit. Nothing. He called the Dodgers to find out what was going on, and they revealed to him their embarrassing mistake. The money had been going to the guy who had hit 171 home runs and been a four-time National League all-star for the team from 1978 to 1988. The Dodgers had been paying Pedro Guerrero. They had just been paying the wrong one.
“He gave the money back,” said the Phillies’ Pedro Guerrero, who is no relation to the elder Pedro Guerrero. “He was awesome.”
Once the offseason rolled around, though, the confusion reversed itself. The younger Guerrero started receiving pension statements from Major League Baseball, even though he had never spent a day in the big leagues. (The Dodgers eventually sorted out that problem, too.) Over the last few years, he said, he’s gotten roughly 30 baseball cards in the mail annually, Topps and Fleer from the 1980s, with requests for autographs and notes telling him that he was their favorite Dodgers player of all.
“This year, I’m definitely going to break the record,” he said Monday. “It’s been only 12 days, and I have almost 20.”
A new approach
In his role on manager Gabe Kapler’s coaching staff, Guerrero doesn’t need to have been an accomplished major-league player. He can examine a player’s swing plane and make suggestions and recommendations, sure, but he is here as much to be a counselor, to foster a good working environment, to be one of the many and diverse resources that Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak want to make available to players.
A snapshot of that philosophy: On Tuesday at Spectrum Field, hours before the Phillies’ game against the Tigers, former manager Charlie Manuel was behind the batting cage, talking with Alex Nakahara, a former systems engineer at the aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman, whom the Phillies hired last year to be a senior quantitative analyst. Nakahara, like Manuel, wore a red Phillies jersey. Guerrero blends within that tapestry.
“I see him as incredibly vibrant — very, very mature,” said Kapler, who met Guerrero while the two of them were in the Dodgers’ organization. “Have you seen a better smile on anybody? He lights up a room, and he lights up a room with his character and his integrity and his work ethic. A guy like Pedro, he radiates positivity. He’s always looking for the good angle on everything.”
Does his age help him connect with players?
“It’s not really my age,” Guerrero said. “It’s more where I come from and what I’ve been through. On the Latin side, I can speak Spanish. You’ve got to be a man since you were 17, in a foreign country. A lot of times, we take that for granted. You’re so young, and you go to a different place where you don’t speak the language. You don’t know where to eat. Everything’s different. I can relate to that.”
If these kinds of considerations come naturally to Kapler and Klentak, they still mark a pretty stark break from the old-school methods of the Phillies’ recent past. “It’s something you’re not used to in this organization, but it’s cool at the same time,” outfielder Roman Quinn said. “He’s kind of still a veteran guy, a veteran player. He’s a guy I go to all the time.”
‘I want to be there for the players’
In Ogden, Guerrero said, he thought about the best managers and coaches he’d had throughout his career, considered what qualities they had shared, and asked himself how he might emulate them. In 2012, playing at single A for little money, he was sending half his paycheck home to his wife and two daughters, and a complication with a host family forced him to find an apartment and cover his own rent. P.J. Carey and Joe Shoemaker, two longtime Dodgers coaches, helped him navigate that rocky, stressful period.
“I want to be there for the players,” said Guerrero, who aspires to become a major-league manager and whose uncle is Mariners bench coach and former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta. “You can be struggling, and you can be struggling because that’s part of the game. But when you’re struggling because of something else — there’s a problem back home, any kind of personal problem — and that person can notice that, it can impact you a lot. Those are the people I wanted to be like.”
In this game, he figures, it’s the best way to make a name for himself.