In 2005, one year before the arrival of Joe Maddon, Kevin Cash played in 13 games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. By the time Maddon had entrenched himself as D-Rays manager, Cash was stuck at Triple-A Durham, not returning to the major leagues until 2007 with the Boston Red Sox. Considering Dave Martinez was apparently removed from the Rays’ manager search because he was too similar to Maddon, maybe it was a good thing that Cash only shared a spring training with the Rays’ former skipper. Ironically enough, though, it was with another famous ex-Devil Ray that Cash rose to prominence.
Kevin Cash caught Scott Kazmir exactly once, on July 3, 2005. Kazmir pitched relatively well, allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 4 hits in 7 innings. Unfortunately, Joe Mays allowed only 2 runs in his 7 frames as the Toronto Blue Jays handed the D-Rays one of their 95 losses from that season. Eight years later, Cash and Kazmir were reunited, and their second meeting had much larger ramifications. Cash worked with (fellow ex-Devil Ray) Mickey Callaway to help get Kazmir on track with the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir was far from the only pitcher he helped as he worked with others like Ubaldo Jimenez and Carlos Carrasco.
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The best comparison of all for Kevin Cash’s rise as a manager is how his professional baseball career began. Cash went undrafted out of Florida State University in 1999, but after a strong performance in the Cape Cod League, suddenly the Blue Jays became interested and signed him to a contract. By 2002, Cash was already in the big leagues. Unfortunately, the story goes sour from there–Cash never hit enough to be more than a backup a catcher, and that is why he will be just 37 years old tomorrow. Cash is set to be the youngest manager in baseball and even the four major sports.
After retiring as a player in 2011, Cash was an advanced scout for those same exact Blue Jays in 2012 before becoming the Indians’ bullpen coach in 2013. Now, the same three years after he started, he has risen to the pinnacle. This time, the Rays are hoping for not a man not struggling to keep from slipping off, but rather finding flat ground and enjoying the view. Cash is the anti-Maddon, zooming through the ranks instead of waiting decades for his chance. That by no means makes him better, and his youth will come with a price, but he clearly convinced the Rays that he was worthwhile nonetheless.
There is reason to believe that Cash’s managerial career will be an entirely different story from his struggles as a player. It takes someone knowledgable to be a first-year bullpen coach who veteran pitchers are willing to listen to. It requires excellent communication to go from a relative unknown to being a finalist for the Texas Rangers’ manager job and then the winner of the Tampa Bay Rays’. In addition, Cash’s passion has stood out to everyone to has worked with him from Jays to the Indians, and now to the Rays. It is no coincidence that he has found his way prominence so quickly.
As a player, Cash’s defense was excellent, but Baseball America said even at his peak as a prospect in 2002 that “Cash never has been a great hitter.” This time, Cash has plenty to learn, but there are no questions about his talent. The ingredients are there for Kevin Cash to be a great big league manager, and it will be exciting to see him get his chance with the Tampa Bay Rays.