‘Nev knows the game.’ How Phil Nevin has built trust as Angels start fresh
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This spring training has given Phil Nevin, fully entrenched as the Angels’ manager, a lot of firsts.
There was his first news conference in Tempe, Ariz., after pitchers and catchers reported to camp. There was his first Cactus League game, in Peoria, at the helm of the team. There was his first speech to the team before the first full-squad workouts.
“I suppose I’ve only been thinking about that one for about 20-some odd years,” Nevin said jokingly of that moment. Nevin was the third base coach for the Angels when he was promoted to interim manager in June after the firing of Joe Maddon. In October, he was given a one-year deal for the job for 2023.
A stadium tour guide for fans planning to attend Cactus League spring training games in Arizona ahead of the 2023 MLB season.
There were glimpses of what the clubhouse was like when Nevin took over in the middle of last season. Starting off fresh this year, though, it’s clear what the foundations of his team are in the hopes of forming the next winning era of Angels baseball.
“The record was what it was at a certain point,” Nevin said of last season, “but you walked in that room … they were practicing to play, they expected to win every day. Playing .500 the last 60-whatever games. It’s a credit to what that room is. That room is going to be even stronger this year.”
The Angels went 46-60 under Nevin, splitting their last 60 games.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing it grow,” Nevin said of the team culture, “watch those relationships be created, and that room’s gonna be a heck of a lot of fun and winning’s obviously also fun too. So it kind of goes hand in hand, but even last year that room was a lot of fun. Through ups and downs, nothing affected them … and I’m proud of that fact and it’s not going to change.”
The foundations of Nevin’s clubhouse for the 2023 season are unity, camaraderie and communication, traits indicative of the players in it.
Take, for example, new veteran pitcher Carlos Estévez. General manager Perry Minasian said in the offseason that the reliever’s skills were intriguing but his personality made him a good fit for the clubhouse. During spring training, when he’s not taking part in baseball activities, Estévez can typically be seen mentoring or joking with the other pitchers in his group or even other players near his locker.
The players all share a loose but focused way about them, words infielder David Fletcher used to describe the clubhouse. They don’t all work in the same groups regularly because pitchers and catchers have different schedules than position players, but they all seem to be friends.
It’s a symbiotic energy. And it’s reciprocated not just by the players but also by the manager who spent 12 years in the major leagues, having had so many other coaching and managing mentors and friends — like Cal State Fullerton coach Augie Garrido (who died in 2018) and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone — in his life who helped shape his style.
“He’s definitely a player’s manager,” infielder Jared Walsh said of Nevin.
Nevin truly cares about his players and not just in the moments seen on TV when he jogs out of the dugout to check on an injury.
Nevin invited to spring camp a number of former Angels players — Tim Salmon, Troy Percival and Darin Erstad, among others — to help mentor and inspire his current team. He texts his players when they’re away, like in the offseason, to check on them to make sure they are doing OK.
At camp, he’s never just around his starters. He is constantly moving around to observe and talk to all of the players, some who are there for development, some who are trying to land a major league spot.
Top catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe — who made his debut with the Angels toward the end of last season and is aiming to break camp with the big league team this year — described the manager as someone who tells players not what they want to hear but what they need to hear.
It’s not berating. It’s just being real.
“He’s more strict,” third baseman Anthony Rendon said, comparing Nevin as a third base coach to Nevin as a manager.“ He’s holding us accountable, and I think that’s awesome.”
Or as bench coach Ray Montgomery said: “If we’re going to preach doing winning things, if we’re going to preach trying to win today, tomorrow, next week, then it starts with the stuff we’re doing here.”
That’s where the focus comes into play. Rendon spent most of his offseason in Texas trying to get ready for the spring. Jo Adell never took a day off after the end of last season and has been in Arizona since then.
Most of the players on the spring training roster arrived before the final report date for position players. At camp, everyone knows exactly why they’re there. To work.
Arte Moreno has a long to-do list and not much time to convince the Angels fan base that he is the right owner for one of this market’s crown-jewel franchises.
When Nevin was named manager for the 2023 season, players endorsed him.
Outfielder Mike Trout said they trusted Nevin. “Nev knows the game. He worked hard to get here. Means a lot to him. Means a lot to us,” he said. Catcher Max Stassi called him the “right man” for the team. Two-way star Shohei Ohtani said Nevin “gave his all” after being thrust into the manager‘s role under difficult circumstances.
The respect and trust he has wasn’t just given, it was earned, and it continues to be earned from the newcomers to the clubhouse and coaching staff.
“While he has a loose, kind of experiential player’s way about him,” Montgomery said, “I think there’s also that point where they see the competitive side of him, how he cares and how he wants to win games and he wants to have fun doing it.
“I think he can toe that line pretty well.”
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