09/27/12 11:48 AM ET
Optimistic Porter is prepared for this moment
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
These are characteristics that will serve Porter well in his new job as manager of the Houston Astros, who are being rebuilt from top to bottom. Patience is required. Teaching is vital.
Porter has prepared for this moment from the moment he played his last game in 2003. When he realized one goal wouldn't be realized, he focused on another and has been fortunate enough to be around some of the best in the business.
Porter has worked for three distinctly different Major League managers. He has marveled at Kirk Gibson's intensity, Davey Johnson's calm and Fredi Gonzalez's essential decency. From these three smart, successful men, Porter has learned the importance of details and of putting players in a comfort zone that's as much mental as physical.
He has studied the game from every angle -- player, instructor, Minor League manager, coach. He has filled out lineup cards and thrown batting practice and served meals and ridden buses and worked with players of all shapes and sizes.
Porter played 10 seasons in the Minors, including six at Triple-A. He held onto a dream, kept working, kept grinding. He got just 126 Major League at-bats out of it, so he understands how difficult the game is and the array of things players go through.
As a coach with the Marlins, D-backs and Nationals, Porter has studied gifted players like Hanley Ramirez and Bryce Harper. He has also seen the clubhouse influence of a veteran presence like Mark DeRosa.
He was an All-State star in football, basketball and baseball at Weequahis (N.J.) High School. He earned a Bachelor of Communications degree from the University of Iowa.
Now Porter becomes a critically important building block in the reconstruction of a franchise that has had back-to-back 100-loss seasons. The Astros are committed to doing things right. They've vowed not to take shortcuts. That means, pouring resources into player development. Once the Astros are competitive again, they believe they'll be competitive for years to come.
General manager Jeff Luhnow did a tremendous job during eight years working in the Cardinals' farm system and came to Houston with a plan and with the commitment of Astros owner Jim Crane to give him the patience and resources to do things right.
Over the next couple of years, Astros fans will get a glimpse of the future: outfielder George Springer, infielder Delino DeShields Jr., pitcher Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and a long list of others.
There's no timetable on young players. Some arrive quickly. Some never do. Porter's job will be to make those young guys feel comfortable once they arrive in the Major Leagues and to nurture them and put them in position to succeed.
When the Astros began searching for a new manager, their objective was to find someone with a background in player development. They also wanted someone comfortable being the face of the franchise and to be able to communicate the organization's goals.
Porter's challenge will be to stress the positives when things get tough, to not allow those young guys to get discouraged when they hit the various walls they're bound to hit.
Luhnow also wanted a guy from the Joe Maddon mold. Luhnow has put together a staff of data-driven analysts who have volumes of material available for the manager if he's willing to listen.
Some managers are not open to this stuff. They've done things a certain way for most of their careers, and that's that. Maddon, on the other hand, has a voracious appetite for data and has used it to construct lineups, defensive alignments, etc.
As a general manager with another organization said recently, "It comes down to having an open mind and having a reason for doing things."
Porter told the Astros he would take advantage of every tool the front office can provide.
Beyond the data, though, Porter's job will be about dealing with players and challenging them and supporting them. He must be honest with them and convince them he always has their best interest at heart.
It has been 19 years since the Cubs made Porter a 40th-round draft pick and put him on the road to this place. He has an array of experience at every level of the game and has earned this opportunity.
A couple of years from now, the Astros hope they're able to look back and see this as one of the most important days the franchise has had. They're confident it will be.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.