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Would the Twins Make a Shakeup at Hitting Coach?
Nick Nelson posted an article in TwinsNormally, I would say it is way too soon to viably have this conversation, knowing the tendencies of this Twins front office and baseball operation. They tend to not make rash, reactive decisions. Firing the hitting coach, who was handpicked by this same regime only 18 months ago? That would certainly qualify. However, there are a few different factors in play here that, from my view, at least raise this possibility as a somewhat realistic one. For example: David Popkins doesn't have a much of a track record to fall back on. Much like they did with Wes Johnson when they plucked him out of college (or Pete Maki when they elevated from from an analyst role, for that matter), the Twins based their evaluation of Popkins more on projection and potential than concrete proven experience. When the Twins hired him after the 2021 season to replace Edgar Varela, Popkins had been the hitting coach for Los Angeles' Single-A team. That was his highest level of coaching experience. Popkins is only 33 years old and frankly there seems to be a reasonable chance he's in over his head, based on the evidence. The offense did not perform particularly well last year, in his first season on the job, but that was pretty easy to excuse amid the onslaught of injuries. There were some decent signs for Popkins, such as the improvements certain hitters made during the season, and the (related) positive reviews he was getting from players. This year, it's a very different story so far. There aren't many excuses for the ongoing struggles of the offense. No one could reasonably fault Popkins for failing to elevate an absolutely ravaged lineup in the second half of last season. The greatest hitting coach in baseball history isn't going to weaponize an outfield comprising Mark Contreras, Gilberto Celestino and Jake Cave. This year, however, the Twins have been quite healthy – at least in terms of keeping players on the field. When you've got a batting order filled with established quality hitters who are all getting lost in these ongoing funks, failing to find answers or step to the plate with confident plans, it doesn't reflect well on the guy charged with guiding them through it. This is especially striking in a few specific cases. Young talented hitters are getting completely overwhelmed. To be clear, I'm writing this article from the standpoint that Popkins could be on the hot seat, not that I necessarily think he should be. But this is probably the biggest factor that would compel me to consider it a valid course of action. Seeing Trevor Larnach, Jose Miranda, and Nick Gordon all just completely fall flat on their faces has been really tough to watch. Developing these kinds of emergent MLB-ready bats – helping them navigate challenges and combat adjustments that come along with the sport's harshest transition – strikes me as one of the most vital responsibilities of a hitting coach. Based on results, it's hard to see how Popkins could be faring worse in this regard. In many of these cases, there are seemingly clear flaws holding these hitters back, be it Larnach's susceptibility to offspeed pitching or Miranda's hitchy swing that beckons opponents to blow him away with high fastballs. I'm not saying these are easy things to fix, but ... they're not getting fixed. At all. None of the issues plaguing hitters throughout the lineup seem to be getting addressed in a meaningful way. And while it's still early in the season, it's not THAT early. We're coming up on the quarter-mark, and ... This team has high expectations and heavy pressure to perform. I perceived the past offseason as an emphatic statement from Twins ownership and executives: We're going to pump money into this franchise – ambitious rebranding, ballpark enhancements, Correa – now we better see some results that make a clear impact on the fanbase and revenue. So far the crowds have been fairly sparse at Target Field, owing partially to cool spring weather but also to a product that is failing to energize and erase lingering skepticism from last year. The Twins are leading a hideously bad AL Central and hanging above .500, sure, but the bar is higher than that. It needs to be. And right now this underperforming offense is the clear and undeniable culprit in keeping them short of it, as the pitching staff continues to go above and beyond. Now that Miranda's been sent out, there aren't really any remaining roster changes to be made at the moment. The Twins' lineup kind of is what it is for the time being. The question is whether they'll stick with the status quo or seek to shake things up and bring in a new voice. That would beg the question of "who," which of course is really the burning question here. Finding a new coach at this point of the season is not easy, though I suspect they have some candidates they like internally. Moving on from Popkins would not necessarily be an admission that the Twins were wrong to believe in him, but perhaps that they were a little early on him. There is risk attached to the upside of targeting up-and-comers and pushing them right into the big chair (e.g. Wes Johnson). Popkins is one of the youngest hitting coaches in baseball. He hasn't had a whole lot of time to establish himself and find his footing. In some ways it feels very unfair that this discussion is even taking place. But it feels like a pivotal time in the Twins' high-stakes season: ascend to the top tier or trudge toward mediocrity. Much is on the line and things are trending badly. Right now Popkins is a simple, semi-credible scapegoat, which puts him at risk. Such is life with the most volatile job in baseball.
Final Leg of Twins Winter Caravan Makes Stop in Rochester
Theo Tollefson posted an article in TwinsROCHESTER – The premier Vikings Bar in the city of Rochester became a Twins Bar for the night as the Twins Winter Caravan’s final leg made a stop at Whistle Binkies on the Lake Monday night. Featured on this leg were Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, pitcher Louie Varland, hitting coach David Popkins, former Twins reliever and current Special Assistant to Baseball Operations LaTroy Hawkins, and radio play-by-play announcer Cory Provus. Popkins joined his first-ever Winter Caravan for the Twins on this leg and embraced more frigid temps than he had grown up with in San Diego. He joined the leg to spend more time with and bond with Baldelli as Popkins only joined the Twins in 2022. “We’re getting to be more comfortable here and our relationship is building to be pretty strong,” Popkins said. “The feeling-out period is over and now it's in that family period, which is where the fun stuff really happens. It's been a pleasure to get closer to him and he's an incredible person so we look forward to a pretty fun environment.” It had been 20 years for Hawkins since he had last been a part of a Twins Winter Caravan. Coming back to the Twin Cities for Twins Fest and hopping on the Caravan was just another round of trips that Hawkins has had all off-season. His latest trip before coming back to Minnesota was to Arizona for the MLB Dream Series. “It’s a three-day event over MLK weekend every year. We talk about baseball and show the kids that there are other jobs in Major League Baseball that you can get; umpiring, front office, content management, and just about anything with an organization,” Hawkins said. Another trip that Hawkins took this offseason was around his 50th birthday in December, an adventurous story he shared with the crowd at Whistle Binkies. “Through 2022, I had this notion that I wanted to go to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, and I wanted to summit it on my 50th birthday. I thought that would be the coolest thing. I spent two weeks in December in a village teaching young boys and girls baseball, a sport that they had no clue even existed, and that was the highlight of my 50th birthday,” Hawkins said. Before sharing his story on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and teaching kids about baseball for the first time in the country. Hawkins, Popkins, and Baldelli each shared their best advice on what parents can teach their own kids in the Rochester area about the game. “It's not actually about reaching the top of the pyramid, it's about learning all those good values that go into it,” Baldelli said. “It's not all cake and easy. But being positive and really having that determination inside you that you're never going away, you're never quitting. It's hard to beat someone that never quits.” One Twins pitcher that exemplifies those qualities is Varland, who provided the crowd and his coaches with a great perspective on how he approaches his roster situation for spring training. “I'm heading down to spring training, and I'm eager to learn but also very eager to compete. It's gonna be a really competitive spring training. My job is to make it really hard on Rocco and the decisions he will have to make,” Varland said. “Honestly, that is exactly the answer that you want to hear from one of your young players,” Baldelli responded to Varland. “This guy is going out there to compete. And he worries about the things that he can worry about.” The Twins crew made not only one but two kids' nights during the event as nine-year-old Noah Struss had the opportunity to ask the first question of the night and was invited to sit next to Varland for the rest of the night. Noah’s opening question for the panel was, “What is your favorite subject in school?” Varland was the only one to answer the question, and his answer was science. Noah only got the one answer as Provus invited him up to meet Varland and get a picture with him. “That was even more meaningful to see since my dad is a huge Twins fan and brought me to TwinsFest for many years,” Leah Struss, Noah’s mom said. “Oh it was so exciting to see,” added Bryan Struss, Noah’s dad. “He did such a great job. The other kid who had their night made was eight-year-old Emma Landherr, who had a pressing question about the team mascot “Can T.C. Bear talk?” she asked. This was the first time the Landherr attended a Winter Caravan stop as her dad Adam Landherr shared, “We're big Twins fans and usually get up for two or three games a year. We watch and listen all the time these two [Emma and her older brother] are a little older we’ll get to more each year.” The Twins Winter Caravan makes its final stop in Mason City, Iowa, tonight at Music Man Square.
Twins Hire Jayce Tingler as New Bench Coach
Nick Nelson posted an article in TwinsTingler, who turns 41 later this month, previously served as a coach in the Texas Rangers system. In 2016, when the Twins hired away Thad Levine to become one their general manager, Tingler moved into an assistant GM role with the Rangers. He was hired to become manager of the Padres in October of 2019, but lasted only two years on the job. He was fired last month after San Diego came up well short of expectations following an active offseason. Tingler fills a role on the Twins staff that has been vacant since its previous tenant, Mike Bell, passed away tragically last spring. The news that David Popkins would be the Twins next hitting coach broke a couple of weeks ago on Twitter. The 31-year-old had been the hitting coach for the Great Lakes Loons, the Dodgers' High-A affiliate. While Tingler is a Missouri native who was the San Diego manager, Popkins is a San Diego native who played at UC-Davis before spending three seasons in affiliates ball (Cardinals) and then three seasons in independent baseball). He was going to be the Dodgers' Arizona League hitting coach in 2020, but then the minor league season was cancelled, and he moved up to High-A in 2021. Tingler played at the University of Missouri and then was a tenth round pick of the Blue Jays in 2003. He played four seasons in the minors before becoming a coach in the Dominican Summer League, and then he managed the team. He become a Coordinator (of Instruction) in 2011, and then the Rangers minor league Field Coordinator for three seasons. We'll have more details about the new hire here shortly. Stay tuned and share your initial thoughts below.