The West Virginia Black Bears have gone through a lot of changes in the last year. The biggest being that the Black Bears are no longer a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Instead, the Black Bears will join five other teams as inaugural members of the newly-formed MLB draft league. With all the changes happening for 2021, on Monday the team introduced someone who is very familiar to the Morgantown area, new manager Jedd Gyorko.
Gyorko, a Morgantown native, University High School graduate and former star for the WVU Mountaineers, was introduced as the club’s newest manager Monday afternoon by general manager Matthew Drayer.
“[Coaching has] always been something that’s intrigued me,” Gyorko told reporters via Zoom. “I always thought that I would be pretty good at it. I’m looking forward to working with some college kids and hopefully help them progress and advance up to the next level. Obviously, it’s not easy to get to the big leagues and I would’ve loved to have had a league like this or something that had been through it to give me advice on what to expect.”
Gyorko is an eight-year MLB veteran, coming off a successful 2020 season with the Milwaukee Brewers in which he set new career-highs in slugging percentage (.504) and OPS (.838). He debuted with the San Diego Padres in 2013 and has also played for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gyorko said he has not officially retired from playing just yet, but wanted the opportunity to stay home in Morgantown for a summer.
“I haven’t thrown the towel in yet, I haven’t officially retired,” Gyorko said. “I wanted to stay home. I had multiple big leagues offers this offseason and my wife and I decided it would be best for me to stay at home. We’re expecting our fourth kid in June. The league was actually gracious enough that if an opportunity presents itself and it’s something I want to do, I can take that and go. It definitely won’t be until the baby is born in June and I’m definitely committed to these kids. I wouldn’t have taken this job if I was planning on jumping ship and leaving them high and dry.
“I’ve never spent a summer with my kids, I’ve never seen them play a baseball game,” Gyorko said. “That’s something that’s really been tough on me and they’re getting to that age where I feel like I need to be around a little bit more. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. It’s a tough decision to not go and play but I was pretty fortunate this opportunity showed up, it allows me to stay in Morgantown and stay in the game of baseball and do something I’ve always thought about doing.”
The MLB draft league will feature college juniors and seniors who are eligible to be selected in July’s MLB amateur draft. Despite having no managerial experience, Drayer said Gyorko’s recent MLB experience and the experience of working his way up the San Diego Padres minor league system made him a good candidate for the position.
“I think a lot has to do with overall experience,” Drayer said. “Major league experience, working through the minors and how he can be more of a mentor to these young baseball players so they know the ropes, the ins and the outs, the good and the bad.”
Gyorko said he does not know what to expect from the new draft league from a manager’s perspective. He said it will be different from playing for a traditional minor league team. Depending on what each player did during their college season will determine what they work on and how they are used by the Black Bears, according to Gyorko.
“It’s going to be unique,” Gyorko said. “To sit here and say I know how it’s going to go would be a blatant lie. We’re going to learn on the fly, this is new to everybody. Once we get the roster we’ll have to reach out to some of the college coaches and look at what these kids have done throughout this year. I’m expecting we’re going to get some pitchers that have pitched a full season that are probably not going to have many innings left.”
While before the Black Bears would only have players in the Pirates’ organization, this new format means the team could potentially have players from any major league team.
“It’s a different concept and we’re really excited about it here,” Drayer said. “With the Pirates, we had one pick per round. Depending on how the players get selected, we could have multiple players that were drafted in the third round, or the fourth round or the tenth round. I think the quality of players will be equal or potentially better.”
The other teams in the MLB draft league are the Frederick Keys, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, Trenton Thunder and the Williamsport Crosscutters. The league is considerably smaller than the New York-Penn League that the Black Bears were a part of until last season but that could be a good thing, according to Drayer.
“There’s only six teams in the league compared to 14,” Drayer said. “That greatly reduces some of the bus time and travel that our players had. I think the new format will greatly improve the quality of life and health and wellness for our team.”
Drayer also confirmed that the Black Bears will allow limited spectators inside Mon County Ballpark to start the 2021 season and hope to add more capacity as the summer progresses. The Black Bears’ season-opener is set for May 24 at Mon County Ballpark against the Scrappers and they are scheduled to play 68 total games.
Gyorko said he is most looking forward to just meeting his players and helping them start their professional careers.
“I’ve been under some pretty good managers and have gotten to learn a lot from those guys,” Gyorko said. “You just take bits and pieces from each guy. You learn as you mature and get older as a ballplayer and hopefully that’s something I can teach these kids. They’re young and they’re fresh and they’re going to be full of energy to get their career started. Hopefully I can guide them in the right direction.”