Appalachian League's 2023 managers set to take the helm


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Over the last several weeks, Appalachian League teams have announced their managers for the 2023 season. That group includes four brand-new faces with more than 150 years of combined experience in professional baseball. Former big league manager John McLaren, along with Dennis Cook, Bill Kinneberg and Kevin Boles, will join the league for the first time under its new summer collegiate ball format. The defending 2022 Appalachian League Champion and Manager of the Year, Kingsport’s Mike Guinn, headlines the group of six returning skippers in ‘23.

“We are extremely pleased to have such a quality group of experienced baseball individuals leading our 2023 Appalachian League teams,” Appalachian League Executive Director Brian Graham said.

“For the players, the combination of former Major League managers, Major League players, great college coaches and experienced professional baseball personnel will make the Appalachian League a special place to play.” 

Here’s a breakdown of the Appalachian League’s 10 managers for the 2023 season:

Bluefield Ridge Runners - John McLaren

McLaren began his professional career in the Appalachian League with the then-member club of Covington, Va. He played seven seasons in the Minor Leagues, reaching the Triple-A level after being selected by the Houston Astros in the seventh round of the 1970 Draft. Following his retirement, McLaren joined the Blue Jays as a scout and spent eight years as a manager in the organization before serving as Toronto’s third base coach from 1986-90. He also served as the Boston Red Sox’s bullpen coach (1991), third base coach for the Cincinnati Reds (‘92), bullpen coach for the Tampa Bay Rays (2003-05) and catching/bullpen coach for the Philadelphia Phillies (2016-17).

After coaching for a decade in the Mariners’ organization, McLaren was named Seattle’s manager on July 1, 2007, replacing Mike Hargrove. He compiled a 68-88 overall record in the position and was 2-1 as the Washington Nationals’ interim manager in 2011. McLaren coached the Italian national team in the 2010 International Cup, leading his club to its first-ever Bronze medal. He also managed the Chinese national team in the 2013 and ‘17 World Baseball Classic as well as the 2015 Asian Championship. More>>>

Bristol State Liners - Bill Kinneberg

Born in Sewell, Chile, Kinneberg brings decades of prior coaching experience to the State Liners. After beginning his coaching career in 1981 as an assistant at the University of Texas-El Paso, Kinneberg took over as the team’s head coach in 1985 and guided the team to a 33-win season. He went on to assume coaching positions at Wyoming (1986-92), Arizona State (1993-94), Utah (‘96) and Arizona (1997-2001).

An Appalachian League alumnus, Kinneberg served as the Bristol White Sox pitching coach in 2003-04 before returning to Utah in 2005, where he served as the team’s head coach until his retirement in 2021. During his Utes tenure, Kinneberg compiled 365 wins and was named Pac-12 Baseball Coach of the Year in 2016 after leading Utah to its first-ever Pac-12 Conference title. He served as the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team’s pitching coach in 1999 and managed the team in 2007 and 2010. More>>>

Burlington Sock Puppets - Anthony Essien

Essien’s third season with the Sock Puppets will be his first as a manager. A member of the team’s coaching staff since its inaugural 2021 season, Essien served as Burlington’s interim manager for the last half of the 2022 season, leading the Sock Puppets to a 38-18 regular-season record and East division title before a runner-up finish in the Appy League Championship Game.

Essien currently serves as the pitching coach for Reedley Community College (CA), where he is entering his eighth season. Before that, Essien spent 17 seasons as an assistant coach at Clovis (Calif.) High. As a player, Essien pitched for Mendocino Junior College in 1990 before advancing to Fresno State, where he graduated in 2001 with a degree in Kinesiology. More>>>

Danville Otterbots - Desi Relaford

Returning for his third season, Relaford began his coaching career in 2018 as the bench coach for the Daytona Tortugas, the Cincinnati Reds’ Advanced-A affiliate, where he helped guide the team to a 69-66 overall record and a Florida State League Championship Series berth. In his first two seasons at the helm in Danville, Relaford and the Otterbots produced five Appalachian League All-Stars, one All-Appalachian League player, two MLB Draft picks and three MLB free agent signings. He has developed talent currently represented in the Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Guardians, Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees organizations.

Before starting his coaching career, Relaford was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft. He played 11 Major League seasons with seven teams, including five years with the Philadelphia Phillies. Throughout his career, Relaford hit .243 with 308 RBI and finished the 2001 season with a career-best .302 average, along with eight home runs and 36 RBI for the Mets. He played every defensive position except first base and catcher and accumulated a career .960 fielding percentage. More>>>

Elizabethton River Riders - Jeremy Owens

Jeremy Owens will return as Elizabethton’s manager for the 2023 season after leading the team to a 26-26 record last year. Including his two seasons as River Riders’ skipper, Owens has accrued more than 20 years of playing and coaching experience at the professional level. In 1,975 professional games as a player, Owens hit .246/.325/.423 with 244 home runs, 882 RBI and 399 stolen bases.

A native of nearby Johnson City, the former outfielder was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the eighth round of the 1998 MLB Draft out of Middle Tennessee State University. He played five seasons in the organization, two with the Boston Red Sox, and finished his affiliated career with the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs from 2008-14 before moving into the coaching ranks in ‘16 as the Blue Crabs’ manager. Owens returned to affiliated ball in 2018, his first of two seasons coaching Tampa Bay’s Low-A Bowling Green Hot Rods. More>>>

Greeneville Flyboys - Dennis Cook

An alumnus of the University of Texas, Cook made his MLB debut in 1988 for the San Francisco Giants and played for eight other teams until his retirement after the 2002 campaign. In 15 Major League seasons, Cook posted a 64-46 record and a 3.91 ERA while appearing in 665 games. On five occasions he surpassed 60 appearances in a season, highlighted by a career-high 73 appearances with the Mets in 1998. He received two World Series rings as a member of the Florida Marlins (1997) and the Anaheim Angels (2002) and was the winning pitcher in relief in Game 3 of the 1997 World Series.

Cook coached the Swedish national team in the 2009 World Baseball Cup and the 2010 and ‘14 European Championship and the German national team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers. Most recently, Cook served as the pitching coach for the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League in 2018. More>>>

Johnson City Doughboys - Kevin Mahoney

Mahoney enters his second season as Doughboys’ manager after guiding the team to a 30-24 record and a second-place finish in the East division. Mahoney has more than 14 years of playing and coaching experience at the collegiate and professional levels.

The Miller Place, N.Y., native was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft by the New York Yankees out of Canisius College, where he was twice an All-MAAC selection and the 2009 MAAC Player of the Year. He played five seasons in the Yankees farm system, reaching the Triple-A level in 2014. After completing his playing career, Mahoney spent the next five years coaching in New York’s system, holding positions with the organization’s Gulf Coast League (2015, ‘17), Pulaski (‘16), Staten Island (‘18) and Tampa affiliates (‘19). More>>>

Kingsport Axmen - Mike Guinn

Guinn brings more than 25 years of playing and coaching experience, most recently serving as the manager of the Axmen last year when he led the team to a 37-17 regular-season record and an Appy League title.

A native of South Knoxville, Guinn has amassed 468 wins in 17 seasons as a high school head coach, formerly at Anderson County High School and currently at Pigeon Forge High School. His teams have won 14 district and five region championships, reaching the region tournament every year in each of his 17 seasons. Under Guinn’s leadership, he has led seven state tournament appearances, including a AA state championship in 2013. Along the way, Guinn has aided more than 50 players in signing letters of intent to play baseball at the collegiate level. More>>>

Princeton WhistlePigs - Kevin Boles

Boles brings 20 years of managerial experience to Princeton. He managed the Triple-A Syracuse Mets in 2022 after serving as Double-A Binghamton’s manager in 2019. He also managed the team’s Alternate Training Site in Brooklyn in 2020 and was New York’s minor league field coordinator in 2020-21. Boles previously worked in the Red Sox organization, managing Triple-A Pawtucket (2014-18), Double-A Portland (2011-13), Advanced-A Salem (2010) and Low-A Greenville (2008-09). Boles won the 2014 Governors’ Cup title as the International League champions in his first season with Pawtucket. Following the 2018 season, Baseball America recognized Boles as the International League’s Best Managerial Prospect.

Boles made his managerial debut in 2000 at age 25 with the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League Marlins. He managed the Marlins’ Short-Season-A Utica affiliate the next year and Kansas City’s Rookie-Level Arizona League 2 team in ‘03. Boles then managed in the minors with the Minnesota Twins for four seasons, helming Advanced-A Fort Myers (2006-07), Low-A Beloit (2005) and Low-A Quad Cities (2004). As a player, Boles was a catcher at the University of South Florida before the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the 42nd round of the 1998 MLB Draft. He spent two seasons as a player before joining the coaching ranks. More>>>

Pulaski River Turtles - Clark Crist

Having notched a pair of top-two finishes in the Appalachian League East division in his first two seasons of competition as the manager of the Pulaski franchise, Crist is returning for his third season with the same approach to the game. After winning a collegiate national championship as the starting shortstop for the 1980 University of Arizona team, Crist was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 14th round of the 1980 MLB June Amateur Draft. He spent four seasons in Minor League Baseball, eventually serving as a player-coach for the Mariners' Double-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts, from 1982-85.

Crist’s Major League tenure included scouting roles for the Houston Astros (1985-92), Boston Red Sox (1992-94), Cleveland Indians (1994-95), New York Mets (1995-97), St. Louis Cardinals (1997-2006) and the Cincinnati Reds (2006-15). Crist oversaw the signing of many notable names during his career as an MLB scout, including All-Stars Kenny Lofton and Albert Pujols, Covelli “Coco” Crisp, Mike Leake, Tommy Pham, Chris Duncan and Amir Garrett. More>>>

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