Photo credit: USA Today

The sustained success from the Guardians is a minor miracle. According to StatMuse, since 2013, when Terry Francona took over as manager, they have put together a .554 winning percentage over 1,495 games 

That is good enough for fourth in all of baseball.

We all know that the ratio of spending to success is completely inverted in a positive way for the Guardians. Fans write that off under the umbrellas of “Tito”, “Chernoff and Antonetti”, or simply “scouting and development.”

The true answer is that this success comes from the ground up in the organization, through functional practices that are in place, but more importantly by the people that implement and uphold those standards. 

Junior Betances is one of those people. He is the hitting coach for Double-A Akron, and a mainstay in the organization whose role in development keeps the wheels turning within the franchise. Over the past few years, there have been a number of hitters who have seen a breakout of sorts in Akron. From Oscar Gonzalez, Steven Kwan, Will Brennan, Alex Call, Trenton Brooks, Micah Pries, Bo Naylor’s bounceback season, Will Benson and more, there have been some good developments among Cleveland hitters that saw a step forward in Akron where Betances has been. And this year, he threw to Jose Ramirez in the 2022 Home Run Derby in Los Angeles.

Born in La Vega, Dominican Republic, Betances says he first picked up a bat at around 10 years of age. From that point on, he devoted his life to the game, and was drafted by Milwuakee, before being traded to Cleveland.

Though his career was over before eclipsing the Double-A level, Betances was not set to leave the game.

“For me [it] is not a job,” Betances said. “It’s the thing I enjoy, have a passion [for] and I love.”

He jumped into coaching within the Guardians organization, holding various roles in the Guardians Dominican Academy, which included a managerial stint with their team in the Dominican Summer League. 

“I love to help people, so when I see players, like rookie ball or here,” Betances said. “I enjoy and I love to help them to make their goal.”

He coached this way up the ladder, stopping in Arizona and Lake County before becoming Akron’s hitting coach in 2020. In that time, Betances crossed paths with a variety of baseball minds that helped him grow as a leader. 

“I’ve been close to Minnie Mendoza … ” Betances said. “I played together with [Blue Jays General Manager] Ross Atkins, he is my friend … ”

Having all those faces gelling within the organization is something Betances believes contributes toward sustained success.

“I think the cooperation we have from the top to the bottom. We just got one goal, that we make a big-league player and develop people. Not just players,” Betances said. “I think that is huge with the organization. Everybody’s together, and the player can see that.”

As for the players specifically, Betances is not concerned about any front office budgeting in trades or the free agent market. He and his colleagues simply work with the players they have.

“I think we just work to help the player get their goal. We have a lot of good scouting, they bring players with a lot of tools,” Betances said. “I think the scouting department, the development department are together.”

Betances firmly rejected the premise that stingy spending from ownership limits the team’s ability to succeed. He feels that responsibility falls upon himself and his fellow coaches, and that they live up to that task.

“We develop a lot of good players. We know we can sign [Juan] Soto, but we got a lot of good players,” Betances said. “We got a lot of good players that have the opportunity to be all-stars in the major leagues.”

As for that development process, Betances believes that the potential can be seen as much off the field as on it.

“[I look for] how he’s thinking, how his confidence is,” Betances said. “There are a lot of things outside of the field.”

And once the connection is made, Betances says that “trust, confidence, getting respect, getting discipline and getting that urgency to be a good player in the major leagues” are key to a player’s growth.

Any skeptics of Betances’ impact within the organization are encouraged to note the connections with players that he keeps, even when he is no longer their coach. In July, Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez called up Betances and asked him to be his pitcher in the Home Run Derby, something that Betances said was a “great, great experience” and a ton of fun.

Personal connections are crucial to Betances’ coaching philosophy. He feels that the players’ lives off the field informs their play.

“I’m close to them, especially with the Latin guys. We come from the same culture,” Betances said. “I try to help them inside the field and outside the field.”

Betances’ having traveled a similar path to many of his players helps cultivate the empathy he exhibits. He says he wants players to mature as people just as much as players, and leave as “grown-ups.”

“This organization is my family,” Betances said. “I come here from [the Dominican Republic]. I was like 21 years old, I signed with the Brewers, and I got traded to Cleveland. I didn’t have anything like a girlfriend or anything.”

“I think they can see me like his father. I help them not just in the field but outside the field with their family and everything,” Betances said. “I love to do that. I love to help people, not just playing.”

With 25 years of experience in the organization, and many more to come, Betances experienced his own growth, and now shares that experience to mentor his players.

“Everything that I have, that I learned, that I do, I learn from Cleveland,” Betances said. “So, this is my family. I see Cleveland like my home, my family.”

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