Dusty Wathan wasn't a homegrown player in the Phillies organization, having originally been signed by the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent, but he's become a homegrown manager for the organization and they're glad to have him. Wathan is following the path that the Phillies like to set their young managers on, having them start with managing the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters in the New York - Penn League and then move up the ladder step-by-step.
For Phillies Assistant Director of Minor League Operations, Steve Noworyta, Wathan's progression from a player to a manager isn't surprising. "You saw it as a player that he had the leadership qualities to come on to be a manager; in baseball, you see a lot of good managers that are former catchers," explained Noworyta. "When he came into the player development side, you could see that it came quickly to him and each level that we've put him at, he's had success."
For Wathan, deciding to move into the manager's office was an easy decision. Wathan was in his 14th season as a minor league player and playing for the Phillies Triple-A team Ottawa in 2007. It was the season before the franchise would fold and the Phillies would move their Triple-A team to Lehigh Valley. Even though Wathan was still putting up respectable numbers as he had throughout his minor league career, he walked into manager John Russell's office and said he was done. Wathan announced he would play out the rest of the season before retiring as a player and starting a new career as a minor league manager. "I just figured it was time," recalled Wathan. "There wasn't any one thing that I could point to or anything, I just knew that phase of my career was ending."
From that point on, Russell, who would later go on to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates, took Wathan under his wing. Wathan recalls Russell taking him out onto the field early one day in Ottawa and teaching him how to be a third base coach, showing him where to stand and what to watch for. Those early instructions convinced Wathan that he had made the right call. The next summer, Wathan was managing the short-season Williamsport CrossCutters to get his feet wet as a minor league manager. While his team finished just over .500, Wathan garnered rave reviews from the players and front office members for his work with some of the youngest and rawest players in the system.
If 2008 was successful, 2009 was far beyond anyone's imagination when Wathan guided the Low-A Lakewood BlueClaws to the South Atlantic League title. That performance garnered Wathan another promotion and he would spend the next two seasons at the helm of the Clearwater Threshers.
Now, with a move up to the Double-A level, Wathan will keep his star rising and will also continue to manage many of the same players that he's had through his descent in the organization, which could be a big advantage. "Camaraderie with players can help greatly. What happens is that as a player, you want to trust your manager and trust your coaches and I think I've already built that trust with a lot of the players, so there's not really a feeling out process. So we'll have that trust factor right away and I think that's the big advantage of it," said Wathan.
That group of young players that will move along with Wathan will include some of the best young pitchers in the system, so Wathan will have a chance to keep using some of his abilities to handle pitchers that he learned throughout his playing career as a catcher. The surplus of young pitching has Wathan thinking that things will go well in Reading in 2012. "It will be an exciting time for us this year, with the starting pitching that we have coming along," beamed Wathan at his introduction.
It should be noted that the job in Reading opened when Mark Parent, who managed the R-Phils in 2011, was hired as a major league bench coach with the Chicago White Sox. Parent had continued the winning in Lakewood when he also guided the 'Claws to the South Atlantic League title the year after Wathan left. With that history, Wathan is moving himself closer and closer to the goal of being a major league manager, but he's not letting himself get too caught up in that. "Just like when I was a player, as you move through the system, you start to realize that you're getting there, but there aren't any guarantees and I learned that as a player," laughed Wathan, who played in just three major league games in his career.