Broward High School Baseball
HSBN Prospects

New Manager Aguilar Brings Direction To Plantation

The Colonels are a young team still learning one another as they come together as a team in 2014.

Manny Aguilar has taken to keeping some facial hair these days. The new Plantation manager does this so he will stand out amongst his team and not blend it to appear like just another player. Yet although the 27-year old Aguilar may look young, he brings an experienced baseball pedigree to a team in need of leadership and direction.

Aguilar is an accomplished man who exhibits the right example for the young team he looks to guide. He played high school baseball and graduated from South Miami High, before going on to play some college baseball at Jersey City University and then earning both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Florida International University. After serving as a volunteer intern for FIU, Aguilar spent four years as an assistant at Varela under manager John Barbados before earning the opportunity at Plantation.

It had been a rocky fall for the Colonels team, as Aguilar became the third manger the school had hired to replace former skipper Neil Androli. Two coaches came and went in quick fashion during the fall, but after Aguilar saw the opening listed on the school’s website he met with the assistant principal and they gave him a shot for his first lead coaching position.

“From day one it has been something exciting and truly different,” Aguilar said. “It has had its ups and downs so far, and we’re trying to work out the kinks and build a family here. That is our number one thing is to be one team, one family. They love the fact that I’m so young and they appreciate that I know baseball and have played high school baseball before. It’s a very young team and we’re embracing that.”

After taking over, Aguilar sat down with the team and shared things about himself with his players. He understands that trust will not come immediately, especially in the wake of the two previous coaches who passed through rather quickly in the fall. But the players know he commutes from Miami everyday and still manages to be the first guy on the field and the last guy off the field each day. Aguilar is preaching to his players to buy into his vision, and the players are coming around.

As the lone senior and also a team captain, Matt Costa will be relied upon to lead the team.

“I sat them in here and told them that I need you guys to become men right now,” Aguilar recalled. “They’ve embraced it. I put the pressure on them and they are still working towards it. They are still we behind the ears, but come spring I need ballplayers. They are coming along.”

The Colonels may be one of the youngest squads in all of Broward County, with just one returning senior on the roster in shortstop Matt Costa. Fortunately for the club, this leader is their best player and team captain. Costa hit .488 in 2013, with seven doubles, 15 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and 17 runs. He also mans the most integral position on the defense.

Aguilar intends to build the roster around Costa and let his star player set the tone for the entire team. It is an honor not lost on the senior, and he is buying into his new coach’s system while working to bring the rest of the guys on board.

“It’s good to actually have someone who we know is going to be here with us in the spring,” Costa said of his new coach. “Before, it was all uncertain. But no we know what we’re going to have, we know who we’re going to deal with and we know how to work with him. I started here as a freshman and every year the experience helped. I’m the only one left really with any experience, so I’m just trying to help get them game-ready. I know how the actual games are in the spring, because right now these guys don’t know what we are going to see.”

The bulk of the players are getting their start exactly Costa did years ago, coming on as freshmen to start right away on the varsity team. The team understands there us a learning curve that comes with that, particularly on the defensive side of things, but they are working to grow together quickly. Costa has extolled a lot of effort to get them ready for the unknown, to prepare his team to be ready when the games begin this spring.

“It’s a matter of confidence,” Costa said. “The more you play the better you adapt to the game. You know situations and are more confident to make some plays. The shortstop is the top position on the field and you need to be able to basically be the quarterback of the infield, and really the qb o the entire defense. It’s about positioning the other players and try to share any insight about what could happen, how to practice for it. It’s just to have them know what they are going to do before the ball is hit to them.”

The majority of the roster will not be determined until just before the start of the spring season, as players are being tested in different positions to see how each will fit best in Aguilar’s scheme. The offensive approach will be geared towards small ball, since most of the guys are so young and undersized. The winter involved a lot of conditioning working to build muscle mass, and the spring brings a fast-paced Spring Training environment to accelerate the preparation for the season ahead.

Aguilar has many unique approaches to his style of play, and these options are making the young players more excited to be a part of it. One such aspect is that he prefers to let his catchers call the games, rather than rely on a coach to call the pitches. As a former catcher himself, Aguilar likes to leave this responsibility in the hands of the backstop. The team will groom as many as three catchers for the season, with Chris Montes given the opportunity to earn the starting job ahead of a pair of promising freshmen.

Despite a difficult 2013 campaign in which the Colonels were just 2-17, the offense still hit a respectable .286 on the season. Even with the turnover, the team is fortunate to return its top hitter from a year ago in outfielder Tyler Price. The junior hit .448 and had a .500 on-base percentage, which led to 12 stolen bases and 15 runs. Price has the chance to lock down the coveted role in center field.

Another of the team’s few returners will also boost the outfield defense, with junior Jeremy Bishop likely to win a spot at one of the corner positions. Bishop enters his second varsity season after seeing limited action as a sophomore last season, where he made four starts and saw 20 at bats for the year.

The Plantation players wait out a rain delay by playing some football in the outfield prior to a fall contest.

Even though the team is so young overall, it enjoys the comfort of having key contributors in the most important positions. The last cog in that wheel comes on the mound, where the Colonels will lean heavily on their only returning hurler in sophomore Connor Jones. The right-hander pitched but 15 innings as a freshman in 2013, but posted strong numbers with 12 strikeouts and only three walks in seven appearances. Now he goes from the new guy on the staff to the main guy on the hill.

“Connor Jones is our ace right now,” Aguilar said. “He is a great kid who can also hit the ball, and he also plays first and third base. He hits for average, but we really see big things from him on the mound. We are building the pitching staff around him. He knows what he has in front of him, and he’s growing and developing and starting to realize the mound is going to be his number one position. He’s still a sophomore so we want to build off of him in the three years we have with him.”

The remainder of the Colonels pitching staff is being built on a committee basis, as young arms learn to handle the workload of varsity competition. Like everywhere else, it is a work in progress for a team looking at a long-term process. Aguilar is trying to build the mindset that if they take care of the little things on the field big things will happen.

It is a challenging start for a young manager in his first lead gig, but it is also an opportunity for a mature baseball veteran to helped mold young men in need of a proper leader. Aguilar has succeeded in his life both with sports and as well as in academics, and he is excited to help guide his players to find the best future they can in their lives.

“Winning doesn’t prove anything. My success is measured on how many guys I can get to the next level, be it through academics or through baseball,” Aguilar said. “I keep telling these guys I’ve been in your shoes before and I know what it’s all about. It’s all about grades and writing the next chapter in your life. In essence you’ve got to be a man and make something of your life. I see bright things with these guys.”

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