The players walk out of the Portland Sea Dogs’ clubhouse with their heads up. The workout begins and Hadlock Field is a picture of motion.

There is chatter, smiles and hustle.

Amidst the bustle, Carlos Febles strolls about, a fungo bat in his hand. The first-year Sea Dogs manager will stop to joke with one player, then offer instruction to another.

“This is a team that not’s winning, and you wouldn’t know that by the way he goes about it, and by the way his staff goes about it” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. “I think that trickles down to the players.”

Following Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss in Trenton, the Portland Sea Dogs feature one of the worst records in the minor leagues at 27-50.

Yet, Crockett continues to sing praises for his Double-A manager.


“Carlos does a tremendous job,” Crockett said. “He’s a great communicator. He’s a really detailed teacher of both infield play and the fundamentals of the entire game.

“He’s got a really good rapport with the players. He can be tough when he needs to and he can keep it loose, without putting pressure.”

In the major leagues, when a team is struggling, fans call for the manager to put more pressure on his team – MAKE them play better. Major league success is only defined in wins and losses, and most managers with too many of the latter are soon unemployed.

Consider that Febles, 40, who began his minor league managing career in 2011, has yet to have a winning record. Yet Febles has moved up from short-season Lowell (2011), to two seasons in Class A Greenville and two more in advanced Class A Salem.

One reason for the losing seasons is simple: The players Febles has to work with. While the Red Sox minor league system is considered strong, Febles rarely has enough top prospects to compete.

Febles took over in Salem in 2014, a year after Billy McMillon’s Salem team won the Carolina League championship. But when Febles came in, most of those players – including Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart – moved with McMillon to Portland. The 2014 Sea Dogs won a franchise-record 88 games.


As if to prove the managers’ overstated influence on winning and losing in the minors, McMillon managed the 2015 Sea Dogs – this time without prospects – and Portland set another franchise record, for fewest wins (53).

Recently, Febles received some of Boston’s prized prospects, second baseman Yoan Moncada, center fielder Andrew Benintendi and shortstop Mauricio Dubon, as well as some veteran bats (Nate Freiman, Ryan Court and Cody Decker).

But at the same time, Portland’s two most reliable starters (Aaron Wilkerson and Justin Haley) and its best reliever (Chandler Shepherd) moved up to Triple-A Pawtucket, as did Court.

“We’ve been in this game long enough,” Febles said, “that we all understand that sometimes you don’t have the personnel to win a lot of games.

“But, at the same time, we bring it every day and try to make them better.

“A lot of things have to click to win a lot of games. We don’t get caught up in that. We come in and have fun and just try to help the guys the best we can.”


Having fun can be interpreted a lot of ways. Febles’ way does not mean screwing around.

“We tell the guys to play the game hard and have fun. At the same time, you have to play under control and be smart,” Febles said.

“It’s a fine line there. To me, keep loose, go out there and play free, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

Playing “free” is a huge theme for Febles. A player who is too tight will not let his talent come out.

That is how Febles learned to play when he came up through the Kansas City Royals’ organization as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic. He went from a 19-year-old in rookie ball to making his major league debut at 22 during a September call-up.

“I came up in an organization that allowed me to be myself,” Febles said. “Play the game. When I made mistakes, they’d approach me and say ‘Carlos you shouldn’t do this.’ It wasn’t like ‘don’t do this and don’t do that.’ It was ‘go play the game and we’ll teach you as you go.’ That’s the way I operate, too.


“I jump in whenever I have to. Other than that, it’s like, just do it.”

And when Febles reached Kansas City that September of 1998, he played free and batted .400 in 11 games, the start of a six-year major league career.

When Moncada arrived in Portland last week, Febles noted that “he plays free.” Moncada, like everyone else, will make mistakes. Febles believes those will be corrected. For now, it’s more important to play relaxed – and hard.

“Carlos keeps it loose,” said catcher Jake Romanski, in his third season with Febles. “He keeps us good. He doesn’t think about the negatives. He keeps us positive.

“He shows up to work every day and he’s working for us. It’s really awesome to learn from him.”

Febles jokes around, but he does have rules.


“Simple rules,” he said. “To me, you have to be on time. No reason for players to be late. That’s my No. 1 rule. No. 2 is come ready to work every day and work hard. No. 3 is play the game hard. Give me everything you have night in and night out.

“I make it real simple for the guys. If you can’t follow those three simple rules, you got problems.”

This Sea Dogs team is losing, yet Febles calls it a good season.

“I think the winning and losing is not showing it,” he said. “But so far it’s been pretty good. On the personal side of things, I have a good staff that works their tails off.

“If your main goal is to develop the players and make them better, it’s easier (to deal with losses). When you’re thinking about yourself, it’s hard. Of course, we’re competitive. We want to win games.

“But we’re here to prepare them, to see them in the big leagues. That’s our goal.”

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