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Under the previous executive who was in charge of the New York Mets' farm system, struggling prospects might get a tongue-lashing. One minor leaguer even was derisively asked two seasons ago if his paltry production was the result of drug use -- the performance-detracting kind -- or whether it was simply because he had female anatomy.
In contrast, when Josh Thole stumbled to open this past season at Triple-A Buffalo -- he began the year 1 for 24 -- the catching prospect got a different type of treatment from newly installed minor league field coordinator Terry Collins.
"He was constantly pulling for guys. Very positive," Thole said. "When I was in Buffalo and I was going through that struggle, when he came into town, he was kind of keeping me loose. That's what I noticed about him. And then there's the flipside, where he's a very intense guy. He's an intense person when something has to be done the right way. He's going to pump you full of positive information. He's always going to be there. He's going to have your back. But if you're going to do something, do it right. That's all he asks, pretty much."
Nick Evans, Dillon Gee and Thole -- who all split the season between the majors and minors in 2010 and therefore interacted with Collins -- uniformly praised the man poised to be introduced Tuesday as the 20th manager in New York Mets history. They described him as a combination of fiery, personable and a stickler for detail -- a combination the Mets sorely need.
Collins' qualities match the needs of the Mets for another reason: With the payroll approaching $130 million before any offseason activity begins and with extravagant offseason spending not in the offing, having a "star in player development" -- as new Mets VP Paul DePodesta has labeled Collins -- is the correct call.
"The thing that a lot of us guys in the minor leagues really fell in love with about him was that he had a no B.S. approach," Evans said. "I mean, he told us what he expected of us. He told us where we stood. We never had to question what he thought and what his plans were. He was straight up with us. Everyone really respected that right from the get-go about him."
Said Gee: "You definitely know what he wants. Just by talking to him, you know he's going to expect the best out of everyone and expect everyone to do everything to give him the best. But, at the same time, he does it in a very respectful manner. And he doesn't pull the wool over anybody's eyes. He's very straightforward with what he thinks. He'll tell you what he thinks. You've got to respect that and like that as a player."
If you strolled to the back fields during spring training in March, Collins' hands-on attention to detail was evident on a daily basis. Rather than stand in the tower that oversees four back fields in Port St. Lucie, Fla., surveying the scene, Collins could be found demonstrating to a handful of players how to get proper leads off third base.
By then, Collins already had scored points with the minor leaguers. The Mets had a longstanding policy in which minor league players had to wear their pants legs high, like the old-time players did to expose their stirrups. Collins fought to have that policy ended.
"He battled for all of the players," Thole said. "He went to [chief operating officer] Jeff [Wilpon], and had meeting after meeting with Jeff, just to try to get that rule changed -- just to say, 'Go out and relax and enjoy yourself when you play.'
"He had only a handful of rules: Be on time and play hard. It wasn't difficult. We used to have to use the flip sunglasses, and he allowed us to use the Oakleys. It's definitely minute, petty stuff, but when he got that done for all the minor leaguers, it just kind of showed to everybody, 'Hey, this guy is pulling for us. We're going to pull for him.'"
Will Collins' style translate to a major league clubhouse? Thole thinks so.
"I don't think there should be any conflict at all," Thole said. "He's a guy who is going to have your back, first off. And second, he's going to have control of the clubhouse. I've seen him run the minor leagues for a short time. And that was seven, eight, nine teams. When he's got his own team, I feel like he's going to be very regimented, very organized and very detail-oriented."
Adam Rubin covers MLB for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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