Mark Minicozzi picked a heck of a time for what he calls his “first rodeo.”
After 12 seasons of professional baseball as a player at several minor-league, foreign leagues and independent ball, the 37-year-old Pennsylvania native is embarking on his first managerial job with the West Virginia Power as the Charleston-based club ventures into its inaugural season in the independent Atlantic League.
It comes at a time when the Atlantic League is at the forefront of experimental rules changes that could alter the future of Major League Baseball.
Those rules changes, imposed by MLB through its partnership with the Atlantic League, are numerous, including the use of an automated strike zone, larger bases and, starting with the second half of the 2021 Atlantic League season, adding 12 inches to the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate, which was detailed in this space last week.
There’s one particular change, though, that will test the managerial chops of Minicozzi and his Atlantic League counterparts more than any other. It’s been called the “double-hook” rule, which states that when a starting pitcher is removed from the game, the reliever who replaces him is inserted into the batting order, replacing the starting designated hitter.
So, if the starting pitcher gets hurt, or needs to be replaced for any reason, the DH is lost for the remainder of that game.
Minicozzi, a self-described “old-school” baseball guy, loves the challenge presented to Atlantic League managers.
“I think it’s a pretty cool rule,” Minicozzi said. “It adds ‘strategery’ to your game planning and roster building.”
Now, instead of simply writing out the starting lineup and preparing how to use his bench and bullpen, Minicozzi will also have to consider, on a daily basis, how to deal with the inevitability of the double-hook rule.
“You will definitely have to make decisions that you really didn’t have to consider before,” Minicozzi said. “In a perfect world, you’d love your starting pitcher to go as long as he can go and leave it to the back of the bullpen to finish the game, but that’s all changed. You’ll have times where a starter gets hurt in say the third inning, and you have to have a plan on where to go from there.
“It will play out different ways at different times, but you have to be prepared for a lot of different circumstances. It’s a cool experiment. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.”
Minicozzi believes the double-hook rule will work to the Power’s benefit, primarily because the team has been stressing versatility — having players who can be used at multiple positions and pitchers who can serve in different roles — while putting together its still-developing 25-man roster.
“We have multiple guys that can play three or four positions, infield and outfield,” Minicozzi said. “Teams that have a lighter bench and less flexibility, that can really hurt them. It won’t be a problem for us.”
One Power signee cited by Minicozzi for his flexibility is Eleardo Cabrera, a 25-year-old from Venezuela who originally was signed by Tampa Bay as an outfielder in 2014 but was converted to pitcher in 2019. A right-handed thrower and a left-handed swinger, Cabrera has been effective in both roles, batting .311 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs in 60 games for the Princeton Rays of the Appalachian League in 2016, then posting a 3.11 ERA in nine relief appearances, also with Princeton, in 2019.
“He can throw 95 to 97 [miles per hour] and he can hit,” Minicozzi said of Cabrera. “He said he’ll do whatever [the team needs]. It gives us versatility having a guy like him with the double-hook rule in place. He could be the guy who can pitch in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning and we don’t lose anything by having to have the pitcher bat.”
It may take some getting used to, but it’ll be a brave new world of baseball at Appalachian Power Park this summer.