Data analysis is important in helping players make the leap from the minors to the majors, L.A. Angels exec Mike LaCassa says, but you can’t lose sight of the human element.
As director of minor league operations for the Los Angeles Angels, Mike LaCassa says that yes, of course, developing players for Major League Baseball is the goal.
“Each time a player moves up a level and especially when they make their Major League debut, it really makes us feel proud of all the work they put in, because none of it comes easily,” the 32-year-old said.
But the job is more than that, he said. “Not all players in our system will achieve that, so it’s also important that we provide them with the experiences and personal growth opportunities to be successful beyond their playing careers.”
LaCassa is in his fourth year in his current role and in his eighth season with the Angels, for which he oversees all aspects of the player development system. “This includes both on-field, our baseball fundamentals and philosophies, and off-field, the cognitive and mental development as well as life skills, for over 200 players across six domestic affiliates and at our academy in the Dominican Republic,” he explained.
When it comes to developing players, there are no absolutes, he said. “Every player is an individual — their bodies and minds are capable of different actions and achievements. We provide the players with all the information and all the tools possible to help them maximize their potential.”
A native of Illinois, LaCassa graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008 and started his career the following year with the Milwaukee Brewers. He moved on to the Texas Rangers in 2010 and joined the Angels in 2012.
He goes by “House,” a nickname stemming from the similarity of his last name to the Italian “casa.”
“If somebody calls out ‘Mike’ in a work environment, I may not even notice,” he said. “During my first week as an intern with the Texas Rangers, I was introduced to Clint Hurdle, the hitting coach at the time. The first thing he said when he met me was, ‘LaCassa! Well I’m gonna call you House.’ I guess those on the staff with the Rangers who had gotten to know me thought it was fitting, so it’s stuck ever since.”
LaCassa was a die-hard baseball fan growing up and played baseball through high school. After graduating from college, he started working for the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago.
“I also attended the winter meetings, and I reached out to individuals from all 30 Major League organizations. I was fortunate to receive a handful of responses, which led to a couple interviews and ultimately I got my foot in the door with the Brewers,” he said. “I’ll be forever grateful to the many people who contributed to helping me get into the game and have and continue to provide mentorship.”
LaCassa said he learned a lot from professional coaches, many former big leaguers. Sports data analysis doesn’t replace the human element, but without data, you don’t know what’s possible, LaCassa said.
“We try to understand the full scope of what’s going on with a player — body, mind, approach, biomechanics,” he said. “However, the more information we have, the more noise there is, and we need to have a process to help our staff find the root of a problem. We want coaches with diverse skill sets to be able to navigate the information.”
LaCassa, who is married and has a daughter, said it’s difficult to be on the road often, away from family, but they are very supportive. “FaceTime helps a lot,” he said.
So, what are his future career goals?
“I want to be able to make an impact on the lives of those I work with, both players and staff, as well as to continue to learn from them all.”
The above appears in the July 2019 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.