Key to Bucs' chemistry: Location, location, location
Making locker assignments no small task for clubhouse manager Bonnett
BRADENTON, Fla. -- If there truly is such a thing as clubhouse chemistry, the Pirates' master chemist is Scott Bonnett. He is the one who mixes and matches team elements and affects whether the final blend flows smoothly or perhaps blows up into a mess.
Bonnett -- or, as he is known to everyone, Bones -- is the Bucs' home clubhouse manager. As such, it is his responsibility to assign players' lockers everywhere, here at Pirate City, at McKechnie Field when exhibition play begins, and at PNC Park.
"Must be a slow news day," you're probably thinking. Yet Bonnett's assignments are interesting, and consequential. February through September, ballplayers spend more time in that clubhouse than in their living rooms and hang out more with teammates than with families. Having the right guys in their locker 'hood can get them in the zone.
"There's a little bit of rhyme and reason to it," Bonnett said. "Putting certain guys together so they get to know each other. Putting others near someone they can feed off."
Personalities also enter into it. Good idea to avoid combustible combinations.
As a legendary baseball manager once said, "A third of the guys in that clubhouse like me. The key is to keep the third that hate me away from the third that haven't yet made up their minds."
"Scott does his homework," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "We don't psychoanalyze everyone, but as you look at personalities you do get a feel for guys. You got guys who ran with each other before they got here, or you want to keep two guys with opportunities to be impact players in the same posse."
So, on the Minor League side of Pirate City's split clubhouses, top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are in adjacent lockers. A couple of doors down, Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson, conceivably in a match race for the final spot in the rotation, are neighbors -- even though they no longer truly "belong" on the Minors side of the tracks.
"I wanted to put [Cole and Taillon] close together, and put someone near them that they could feed off," Bonnett said.
"I think there's a benefit to it," Hurdle said of Cole and Taillon being thrown together. "And we've got them involved with different [workout] groups so they can watch different guys. That's where leadership-by-example comes in, having people watch how you go about your work."
On the Major League side, you've got the double-play combination of shortstop Clint Barmes and second baseman Neil Walker -- with non-roster outfielder Brad Hawpe between them.
Simple: Barmes and Hawpe were teammates on the Colorado Rockies.
"When Barmes found out we had Hawpe [signed by the Bucs in mid-January], he called me and wanted to make sure he got a locker next to him," Bonnett said.
Bones fields such requests whenever possible, fills in with his own calls, and does need for the manager to sign off on the final arrangement.
"He gives me the final draft to look at, but Bones is mindful of everything he does so I don't have to do much adjustment," Hurdle said. "He's very good at what he does. There's pockets of people he's mindful of putting together."
When the club broke camp last year, it was A.J. Burnett's idea to have all of the starting pitchers locker together in PNC Park, for the obvious purpose of being able to exchange ideas and to push each other. But it was Bonnett's input to have the two catchers, Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry, bookend them on either side.
Similarly, here he has McKenry neighboring new catcher Russell Martin "so they get to know each other a little bit."
Quirky requests always come Bonnett's way, and he honors them if feasible. Last season, for instance, reliever Juan Cruz asked to be all by himself, and total isolation isn't possible in the limited space of a clubhouse.
At least, the accommodations here are a little more spacious than they will be at McKechnie Field, where the club will move in time for next Sunday's home Grapefruit League opener against Atlanta. Of course, having a spot there will mean you're still in big league camp and a step closer to the big leagues, a situation Bonnett uses to ward off complaints.
"If you don't like your locker here," he'll tell the griper, "I can get you one at Pirate City."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.