NOTEBOOK: Twins Hire Bench Coach, Roster Moves, Stelmaszek Passes

On Monday, the Minnesota Twins announced the hiring of Derek Shelton to be the club’s bench coach. Shelton had recently finished a stint with the Toronto Blue Jays as their quality control coach, and prior to that was hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians (2005-09) and the Tampa Bay Rays (2010-16).

The 2018 season will be Shelton’s 14th as a coach in the big leagues. Shelton has worked with big-league managers Eric Wedge, Joe Maddon, Kevin Cash and John Gibbons. Shelton, 47, was a catcher in the Yankees’ minor-league system from 1992-’93 before an elbow injury ended his career. Derek’s father Ron pitched for two years (1966-67) in the Orioles’ system.

Prior to his major-league coaching experience, Shelton managed the Yankees’ Gulf Coast team (2000-01) and their short-season Class-A team at Staten Island in 2002. He also was the hitting coach for the 2011 MLB All-Star team that barnstormed over in Taiwan against the Chinese Taipei National Team. Shelton coached Robinson Cano on the 2001 GCL team and briefly on that 2002 Staten Island team, and also had him on the 2011 team that went overseas.

“We searched throughout baseball, talked to a number of different people around the game for this position,” said Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. “As we worked through interviews and references and the process, Derek’s name had come up very early on and as we got deeper and deeper it became clear that he was the best fit for our organization here moving forward. His 13 years on a major league staff working alongside some of the best managers and coaches in the game has left him with a number of experiences that will prepare him well for this role. But most importantly he is a great fit for our culture, a great fit to help Paul and that key role. He has worked most recently in Toronto, gave him a chance to integrate a lot of information across multiple disciplines, and he has the background prior to that for a long time as a hitting coach with multiple organizations. We are very lucky to have Derek, and we are excited that he is a part of our staff moving forward.”

Shelton said when he was considering coming to work with the Twins, one of the things that appealed to him was the culture that was growing within the club.

“I think you saw it last year in the ballclub and being a playoff club,” Shelton said during a conference call on Monday. “And then sitting down with Derek and Thad and Paul and being able to go over just their vision of the Twins, not only the team but the organization moving forward was something that was very exciting to me, and it was something that I was hoping that at the end of the interview process that I would get to be a part of. I think you are looking at an organization that is definitely on the rise, it is a great culture, it has a good young core of players and that really excites me.”

As noted before, Shelton filled the role of quality control coach with the Blue Jays. In that role with the Jays, it was Shelton’s job to do a number of things that dealt with on-field preparation for that day’s game.

“Derek will oversee our advance scouting process and make recommendations in decision-making and approach to John Gibbons, Pete Walker and DeMarlo Hale as well as individual players,” said the Toronto Blue Jays in a release quoted by John Lott of The Athletic in an article dated Dec. 13, 2016.

“He will also work to complement Brook Jacoby in our efforts to give our hitters the best chance to succeed by providing all of the necessary resources.

“Derek has many strengths but one of them will be synthesizing a lot of evolving information into a digestible and usable format for our staff and players.”

Shelton said he liked quite a bit about that job, and that it was not only a change from his previous 12 years as a hitting coach, but that the job changed day-to-day.

“We started out because it was the first time Toronto had ever had that with some different things in mind, it had a lot of database and analytical (things), dealing with the advanced reports,” Shelton said. “I did some hitting stuff because that was my background, I integrated into the defense more than I ever had at the major league level, and then also just a combination of relationships with the minor leagues going back and forth with the coordinators, with the AAA staff, in terms of development goals. The job itself was ever-changing, and it was definitely something that I look as a growth for me because this was a role, the bench coach role, that I was looking to transition into at some point.

Shelton was also asked about working with Maddon, who is regarded as one of the best minds in the game.  

“I think one of the biggest things I took away from Joe was he never changes,” Shelton said. “Whether good bad or indifferent he was always the same person. He always had the players at the forefront of what he was doing. He is probably, as much as people talk about the way he does things outside the box, he is one of the most prepared human beings I have ever been around. If you ever, he is extremely advanced and very prepared. I think those would probably be the things from being around him, just his calm demeanor and his preparations going into the games.

And of course, things came full circle when Falvey was asked about working with the other Derek in Cleveland.

“I met Derek when I first started with the Indians,” Falvey said. “He was on the major-league coach staff working as the hitting coach. I remembered the interactions right away, very fondly, just the work he was putting in as a hitting guy, as he just mentioned, 24/7 his preparation. I know Eric Wedge and that staff all felt Derek was someone who was highly impactful there and so did the people there. In talking with others he has worked with, whether it is Kevin Cash in Tampa or others down in that group, or most recently the group in Toronto, just learned that he has taken all of those experiences that he has had and continued to build off of those to a place where he gave himself an opportunity to earn something like this, and he certainly did with his preparation and his thoughts around how he could best be a part of our coaching staff.”

On Monday evening, Paul Molitor was named among the final three candidates for Manager of the Year, as voted on by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA). The awards, which were voted on prior to the beginning of postseason play, will be handed out between Nov. 13-16, with the Most Valuable Player on each side wrapping up awards season.

Molitor is in select company, as his fellow finalists are defending AL Champion Terry Francona and reigning World Series Champion A.J. Hinch.

Francona has won two of the last four awards in the AL — including last season — and Hinch’s team won just one less game (101) than Francona’s (102) did this season.

Previous Twins managers to win the award include Ron Gardenhire (2010) and Tom Kelly (1991).  

The roster churn continued for the Twins on Monday as the team prepares for the offseason. Teams are getting their 40-man rosters in order to protect players from selection in the Rule 5 draft — which takes place on the final day of the Winter Meetings, which will be held from Dec. 9-13 at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla — as well as making room for any potential offseason additions.   

Left-handed pitcher Nik Turley was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Turley’s time in the big leagues was absolutely disastrous (11.21 ERA), but the 28-year-old lefty boasts a fastball that can touch 95 with a good curveball. After an absurd start to the season at Double-A Chattanooga — 0.38 ERA, 45-7 K/BB ratio in 24.1 innings — Turley posted a 2.66 ERA as a swingman for the Red Wings with 79 strikeouts and 22 walks in 67.2 innings. His future in the big leagues might be as a long guy, though the Pirates have a reputation for being able to get the most out of guys who fizzled elsewhere.

Left-handed pitcher Ryan O’Rourke was outrighted off the 40-man roster. Since this is the second time he’s been taken off the 40-man roster, he has the ability to refuse the outright. O’Rourke missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery, but hopes to be ready in time for next spring — wherever that may be. The door isn’t closed on a reunion — the Twins could certainly sign him to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training — but he’ll have the opportunity to hit the open market and see who is interested.

O’Rourke has a 4.98 ERA in 47 MLB innings with 48 strikeouts, 25 walks and a 1.26 WHIP. Left-handed hitters have batted just .134/.244/.239 against O’Rourke in his limited MLB time.

Catcher Chris Gimenez was outrighted off the 40-man roster, and will likely elect free agency, as he told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The door is not closed on a reunion, however. Teams just value roster flexibility at this time of year. So before penciling in Mitch Garver as next year’s backup catcher, don’t forget that Gimenez signed a minor-league deal last year and found his way to the MLB roster. It could happen again.

There was sad news out of the Twins family on Monday, as the team announced the passing of former bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek. Stelmaszek was 69, and passed away due to complications from pancreatic cancer.

The Chicago native spent 32 seasons on the Twins staff (1981-2012) under managers Billy Gardner, Ray Miller, Kelly and Gardenhire. Stelmaszek came back to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day — he came out to “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce — and was slated to receive the Herb Carneal Lifetime Achievement Award at the Diamond Awards in January.

The Minnesota Twins are deeply saddened by the loss of Rick Stelmaszek,” the team said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “A true Twins legend, “Stelly” was widely respected throughout baseball. He was a professional who dedicated his life to Twins baseball and instilled a winning culture into generations of Twins players. The club, like many of his friends throughout the game, is thinking of his wife and son, Kathy and Michael, and the entire Stelmaszek family during this difficult time.”

(Special thanks to Cory Engelhardt for transcription assistance.)

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