State of the Twins Coaching Staff: Who's In, Who's Out, Names to Watch
"In my opinion, a staff is not just a manager and a bunch of guys," GM Thad Levine told The Athletic. "We hope to put together the best staff we possibly can."
The Twins reportedly vetted up to two dozen candidates in their managerial search, so there's no question they'll turn over every stone in surrounding him with the right pieces. Let's get up to speed on what the coaching staff currently looks like, and who to keep an eye on for the open spots.
Last Thursday, the Minnesota Twins formally introduced Rocco Baldelli as the franchise's 14th manager. He brings with him many likable traits and attributes, but not a lick of experience. At 37, Baldelli is the youngest man in MLB to hold the job, and he has never managed at any pro level. (His titles with the Rays after retiring from playing: roving minor-league instructor/special assistant to baseball operations, first base coach, major league field coordinator.)
As such, it makes sense to offset this deficiency, so we'll presumably see the Twins bring in seasoned perspective with at least some of their coming hires – especially at bench coach, where the front office is envisioning a highly collaborative, almost symbiotic relationship.
Incumbent Derek Shelton was a finalist for the manager nod before falling short of Baldelli, who must have blown away Falvey and Levine because the two top execs raved about Shelton's performance while interviewing.
Shelton now appears to be one of the top choices for Texas' managerial opening, but if he misses out, Falvey and Levine are clearly hoping he'll return to his previous gig. And while the 48-year-old may not be jazzed about returning to bench coach duties after coming so close to the top job. twice, the Twins are trying to make it as appealing to him as they can.
Said Levine: "The analogy we presented to (Shelton) that we truly believe in is, (Falvey) and I are tackling the role of general manager together. We are hopeful that he would be open-minded about tackling the leadership in our clubhouse with Rocco Baldelli.”
Baldelli's bench coach will be instrumental in helping the rookie skipper acclimate to a new organization and a new world of responsibility. Shelton, who managed for three seasons in the minors before coaching in various capacities for three major-league teams, is ideally suited for the task, especially because of his existing relationships in the locker room (not to mention with Baldelli, from their days in Tampa).
I think the odds are strongly in favor of Shelton remaining as bench coach. But if the Rangers pluck him away, the Twins will need to pivot elsewhere.
Both James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez were kept on, as perhaps the only ones to survive this exodus (pending Shelton). Rowson interviewed for the manager job so evidently the front office views him highly. Hernandez has strong rapport with the Spanish-speaking players on the team.
In terms of on-field results, the instructional duo doesn't have a ton to show; Minnesota took significant steps backward in key offensive categories this year. But in so many cases – Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Jason Castro, Brian Dozier, etc. – there were deeper issues at play. And we did see some successes, most notably rookies Jake Cave and Mitch Garver.
So, I'm good with these two being kept on. They'll have plenty of new colleagues.
Garvin Alston's tenure with the Twins lasted just one season. The team is quickly changing gears after bringing in the former A's bullpen coach one year ago, even though the pitching staff was altogether solid in 2018.
It sounds like the new manager will have significant influence over this decision. Per Dan Hayes of The Athletic, a "source suggested that Baldelli might want to bring in his own guy at pitching coach, a position he will likely rely upon heavily in his first season as the club’s manager."
One name that's been brought up (again, by Hayes, who's been very tuned in and is a must-follow on Twitter) is Charles Nagy. He brings the experience, both as a pitcher (he spent 14 seasons in the majors) and as an MLB pitching coach (three years with the D-backs, three years with the Angels). He has recent ties to Falvey, having spent the 2015 season as Special Assistant to Player Development for Cleveland.
Nagy spent the last three seasons in Anaheim before being ousted along with manager Mike Scioscia in a purge of the Angels coaching staff. But he has a solid reputation around the game. He's credited with helping left-hander Patrick Corbin (a potential Twins offseason target) develop during his time in Arizona.
Considered a laid-back type and an excellent communicator, Nagy seems stylistically similar to Rowson, and his breadth of experience would surely be invaluable to Baldelli. This match would make a lot of sense.
But if it doesn't happen, another name to keep in mind is Carl Willis, who has twice interviewed for Twins pitching coach vacancies (losing out to Alston and Neil Allen). The Cleveland connection is present there as well, obviously.
In terms of people with connections to Baldelli, Stan Boroski is the Rays bullpen coach and has been for seven years.
After four years in the position, Eddie Guardado is out. It's anyone's guess where the Twins might go now. As the nature of major-league bullpens evolves before our eyes, presumably Minnesota will opt for a new-school mind, capable of preparing his staff for experimental usage patterns and non-traditional roles.
Stu Cliburn seems most likely among internal candidates. Currently the pitching coach at Triple-A Rochester, Cliburn is a well-known commodity in the organization with nearly three decades of tenure. But despite his entrenchment, the 62-year-old is not closed-minded.
In his feature for the Offseason Handbook, Parker Hageman described how Cliburn helped sell Rochester's pitchers on the merits of the "Opener" strategy. This quotes from the piece feels relevant:
“Routine adjustment is going to be big,” Cliburn said regarding what the biggest challenge is for his players. “Sometimes routines can get disrupted for different reasons, rain and whatnot, but you just have to learn to adjust your program.”
He'd be a solid anchor of familiarity on a staff that figures to be crowded with newcomers.
Pete Maki, the former Duke pitching coach who took over for Erik Rasmussen as minor-league pitching coordinator a year ago and led the charge with implementation of the opener method, is another possibility from within.
A potential sleeper to watch: Matt Belisle, who was essentially serving as pseudo-bullpen coach for much of this season.
The Twins are moving on from both first base coach Jeff Smith and third base coach Gene Glynn.
If you're looking within, Tommy Watkins stands out as a great option. He managed the Double-A team this year and is currently managing the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.
"I am humbled that the Twins trust me with this role," Watkins told our Seth Stohs last month. While the Twins have severed ties with holdovers at almost all levels, Watkins just continues to rise. He is extremely well liked within the organization.
One thing to consider is that first and third base coaches tend to have specializations in terms of player instruction. Smith often worked with the catchers, and – given the rawness of Garver – it's only logical the Twins will seek out an individual who can teach at that position. I've got a feeling about clubhouse favorite Chris Gimenez.
Another consideration in this search: Baldelli stated during his introductory presser that he's "looking for a very diverse staff."
"One of my best friends, who was just named manager of the Blue Jays [Charlie Montoyo], I’ve seen him relate to players in ways that I can’t. Although I would try very hard in some ways, I see him just step up and do things."
The Twins will have at least one Spanish-speaker on the staff in Hernandez. But it wouldn't be surprising to see them add another in one of these important roles. Jose Molina, currently the minor-league catching coordinator for the Angels, would check both of the last two boxes mentioned.
If the front office is aiming for experience and elder statesmanship, they could look toward Edwin Rodriguez. The 58-year-old started his post-playing career as a scout with the Twins back in 1989. He's managed all over in the minors and is currently doing so at San Diego's Class-A affiliate. Rodriguez was interim skipper in Miami for a spell back in 2010.
Oh, and he was also manager of the Appalachian League's Princeton Devil Rays in 2000, when a teenager by the name of Rocco Baldelli was breaking into pro baseball for the first time.
QUALITY CONTROL COACH
This is a relatively new position around the league, and it doesn't technically exist on the Twins' staff, but seems to be the rough equivalent of what Jeff Pickler was doing under the bland title of "Major League Coach." Pickler won't be back in that capacity, though there are rumblings he'll land in Minnesota's front office.
It's not clear the Twins will fill this position, but I'm guessing they will. The choice could very well end up being someone most of us have never heard before. One name to keep an eye on is Mark Kotsay, currently the quality control coach for an Oakland team that blew everyone away with its quality this year. Kotsay and Baldelli were teammates in Boston back in '09.
(Big shout-outs to Seth Stohs, Tom Froemming and John Bonnes for helping chip in ideas and names to mention in this rundown.)
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