Humble Varela Excited to Work with Twins Hitters
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Twins minor league catching coordinator Michael Thomas)Edgar Varela grew up in Southern California. He was drafted by the Tigers out of high school but chose to head to college. Four years later (2002), he was the 31st- round pick of the Chicago White Sox out of Long Beach State. He spent parts of five seasons playing for three organizations.
In 2008, he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization where he spent a decade in a variety of coaching roles. He was a hitting coach at several levels. He spent three seasons as a minor league manager. He also spent a year as the organization’s Latin American hitting coordinator. The variety of responsibilities may have made him an ideal candidate for his next job.
The Twins hired him before the 2018 season to be the Minor League Field Coordinator, a role he held the last two years.
“It wasn’t something I saw myself doing when I was with the Pittsburgh organization because I had a hitting background and did some managing. When it came about, it was an opportunity to move forward and help create development opportunities for staff, but also putting a vision together with Jeremy (Zoll) and Alex (Hassan) in moving the organization forward. What we were looking for and how we could continue to combine those processes and how it can lead to the major leagues.”
In the role, he was also responsible for minor league spring training, a remarkable task when you consider that involves more than 170 minor league players at more than a half-dozen affiliates. “My goal was to have a functional spring training where everybody was getting an opportunity to develop, not only on the player side, but on the staff side as well. That starts with building relationships.”
Success! The Twins saw several players throughout the minor league system take big steps forward in 2019. Several of those players even got to the big leagues, and they contributed when they got there.
In addition, minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson (Yankees) and minor league hitting coordinator Peter Fatse (Red Sox) got major-league jobs this past offseason.
Varela is the third Twins minor league coordinator to get a big-league job.
“I’m a people-first person. Everybody has dreams, so when I’m given an opportunity, I want to do the same for others as well.”
Shortly after Rowson left for Miami, Varela received a phone call from Twins Chief Baseball Operator Derek Falvey. “He said they wanted to give me an opportunity to interview for the position. It was truly humbling in itself after what they did last year.”
He then went through the interview process. On a Sunday afternoon, he was outside of his house doing some yard work. He had just turned on his air blower when he received a phone call. He looked at his phone and saw that it was from Rocco Baldelli.
He answered the phone, and then realized he’d better turn off the blower. Baldelli told him that he wanted him on his coaching staff. Water began welling up in his eyes.
At that time, Varela’s wife came out of the garage door. “I had woken up our daughter from having the blower on. She was kind of mad at me.”
That anger dissipated pretty quickly when Varela mouthed, “It’s Rocco!” and pointed to his phone.
“She started crying. It was a special moment.”
It was a great moment for the 39-year-old Varela. It was a long-time goal.
“It’s always been a dream of mine. As you’re in a system in player development, it’s about being able to make an impact at the highest level. It became the dream and then a goal. Coming over here two years ago, Jeremy Zoll and Alex Hassan gave me an opportunity to be with a special group.”
Shortly after the Twins announced Varela as the new hitting coach, they also announced that they were removing the word “assistant” from Rudy Hernandez’s “assistant hitting coach” title. So, the two of them will work together. They started having conversations shortly after Varela was hired.
“I’ve been picking his brain on what they’ve done in the past. I want to be prepared, and make it as seamless a transition as possible.”
They will work with a very talented group of hitters. The 2019 Twins hit an MLB record 307 home runs and were clearly one of the top lineups in all of baseball. DH Nelson Cruz and catcher Mitch Garver won Silver Slugger Awards. Cruz, Garver, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler all hit more than 30 homers.Jorge Polanco was the starting shortstop for the American League in the All Star game. Luis Arraez hit .334 in 92 games as a rookie.
And they added Josh Donaldson to the mix this offseason.
“What an opportunity!” Varela continued, “I’m excited and humbled to be here. I’m going to be able to learn from these guys as well. I think J-Row and Rudy did a (great) job last year, obviously, setting all the records that they did. I`m here to continue that. I’m not here to switch it all up. It’s not about me. I’m here to be there for them. They’re the ones that are playing. As best we can, continue the philosophies that J-Row and Rudy put together last year. There’s going to be little tweaks here and there. It’s not going to be major stuff. Communication with Rocco has been tremendous. Even last year, being able to communicate with him and Shelty (former bench coach and new Pirates manager Derek Shelton) throughout the course of the year was great.”
In addition, his two years in the Twins minor leagues system could be helpful to him, but also to the players. He can be somewhat of a liaison between the minor leagues and the big leagues. He has worked in the last couple of seasons with the likes of Royce Lewis, Brent Rooker, Alex Kiriilloff and Ryan Jeffers.
“I relate that to something we’ve done really well in the organization over the past couple of years. We send our coordinator group and coaches to the Dominican so that when our young Latin players come to the States, I know this guy. I do know these guys, so I relate it to that. When these guys do come up and help us in the big leagues, it’s more of a comfort level. They already know who's there. He knows who I am. He knows what makes me tick. All the little intricacies that, not just the swing.”
Baseball is hard enough to play, so making the other aspects of the big leagues easier helps.
He also understands that he has veterans on this roster who can help as well. “I think some of the older, veteran guys, the Nelson Cruz’s, and you’ve heard Josh Donaldson say it already. He wants to help out the younger players, stuff like that. When it’s peer to peer, it’s extremely valuable.”
As you can tell from his answers, Edgar Varela is very humble and excited to work hard with the Twins hitters.
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