It’s not very difficult to find diversity in Rocco Baldelli‘s coaching staff; in fact, for a first-year manager, it almost seems wise for him to have sought after this.
Derek Shelton has been around the block a time or two as a coach with the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. He was considered one of the best managerial candidates last offseason, but fell short in his quest to get a lead-dog role and is reprising last year’s with the Twins as bench coach.
James Rowson is back as hitting coach, and has worked with some very good Yankees and Cubs hitters in the minors prior to what he’s accomplished with the Twins over the last few years. As an African American, he also can provide added perspective — as can first-base coach Tommy Watkins. Watkins, like Rowson, is one of the coaches who have some roots in the organization. Before his extensive career coaching and managing in the system, Watkins was a beloved player in the team’s minor-league system.
He was even dubbed the “Mayor of Fort Myers” by Lavelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Rudy Hernandez is back as Rowson’s assistant, and he provides a Spanish-speaking influence on the hitting side of things. That shouldn’t be overlooked when considering that a number of the team’s most prominent offensive players — Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario and even Willians Astudillo — are native Spanish speakers.
Baldelli said in his introductory press conference that his Spanish was not up to par, and that seeking out coaches adept in the language would be a priority for him as he developed his staff.
That also applies to third-base coach Tony Diaz, who came over from the Rockies system.
Pitching coach Wes Johnson has ascended from the collegiate ranks, and is considered a velocity guru if not a bit of an unconventional hire. However, the results in the early going have been positive.
Jeremy Hefner is a former big-league pitcher who is now donning a uniform after spending last season in the video room scouting, and he’s assisting Johnson in addition to filling the role of a coach out in the bullpen.
But rounding out the staff might be the most unique of characters in the bunch — former Durham Bulls manager and Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays coach Bill Evers.
The current staff checks a lot of the boxes one might expect for a coaching staff: external/internal, analytical/traditional, MLB playing background/none, English-speaking/Spanish and young/not as young.
And in the interest of full disclosure, Evers is….seasoned.
I caught up with Evers at TwinsFest as he chatted with Twins legend Jim Kaat, and his path to joining Baldelli’s staff has been a fascinating one.
In fact, Evers was Baldelli’s manager at Triple-A Durham in his playing days.
Furthermore, Evers is considered hire No. 2 in the Tampa Bay hierarchy — behind Tom Foley, who was hired in 1996 to head the team’s player development department. That was two years before the team began on-field play.
So leaving that organization was not a decision he took lightly.
“It is kind of bittersweet, as you are leaving people you have been with for so long,” Evers said. “But the new challenge ahead, to be at the major league level, is the ultimate one. That is what you are working for, just like players. As staff members, we want to get to the top level. We want to end up winning the World Series. That is the main goal. The main goal is to help the players get better and reach that top level.”
Evers said he really didn’t know much about Minnesota before accepting the role. “Absolutely nothing,” he said flatly, yet with a smile when asked about his knowledge of Minneapolis prior to accepting his new gig.
Yet the opportunity to work with one of his former players proved to be too intriguing to pass up for the 65-year-old Evers, who is a native of New York City who peaked at the Triple-A level in the late 1970s.
“Well, I had no idea that the opportunity would be given to me,” he said, “in that, I congratulated Rocco in getting the job and then three weeks later I get a phone call. He had spoken to the people with the Rays organization, they gave him permission to talk to me, talk with him and Derek (Falvey). Lo and behold I was at the zoo, talking while I was with my grandkids. Within four hours we were all set and I was coming to Minnesota.”
Ultimately, Evers said that the part of the transition that was easiest was his eagerness to meet and work with new people, take on new challenges and see how he can get Twins players to perform to the best of their abilities.
He also just so happens to really, really think Target Field is beautiful.
Working with Baldelli was just the cherry on the top of the opportunity, Evers said.
“It is kind of bittersweet, as you are leaving people you have been with for so long. …But the new challenge ahead, to be at the major league level, is the ultimate one”
“Well, I know Rocco,” Evers said as his eyes narrowed. “Rocco is the eternal optimist and an even-keeled guy, and I think that will bring out the best in the players. He won’t panic; he will allow guys to fail a little bit. Then the players are more receptive to what you have to tell them. And I just think the culture that he will bring to the clubhouse will make for a fun season.”
So what does Evers’ baseball theory look like? We’ve seen and heard that sometimes, well, seasoned baseball personalities aren’t always receptive to the newer wave of analytics that have invaded the modern game.
“Well it has definitely changed,” Evers said about the statistical and analytical landscape over the past 20 seasons. “(Back then), it was more you coached with what you saw.
“(However), the stats don’t lie, and it helps you realize maybe how you can help a player a little bit better. And the use of those analytics and making them feel comfortable in what they are doing or helping them get better by seeing the analytical part of it (is huge). The biggest part is the mental part as well. You have got to play the analytical and the mental part and get the best out of the player.”
Evers is very, very confident in Baldelli’s abilities to lead a team. He’s seen Rocco work at pretty much every level except manager — and this is likely why such a balanced staff should be able to help him weather any of the storms he faces early on — and he likes what he’s seen.
“I certainly do, in that he has overcome a lot of adversity,” Evers said when asked if Baldelli’s issues as a player — both health-wise and just developmentally like all players face — will help him be uniquely equipped to manage this version of the Twins.
“He was a player, and a really really good player. Unfortunately, he had the health issues, but he realized that he loves the game and he has had the ability to go back and do every facet of the game, and that has made him more well rounded and be able to lead the charge to the World Series.”
Evers also agrees that the balance of the staff will be beneficial for Baldelli moving forward.
“Without a doubt,” Evers said. “You can listen to one another and we can all dissect what one another is saying and get the best out of everybody. It’s a matter of collaborating and communicating and allow the player to be the player.”
Ultimately though — and fans will hear this from a lot of people around the game — Evers values just keeping things as simple as possible. This is valuable with young players and catchers alike, as the game can easily speed up on both types of players, let alone those who fall into both buckets.
“Well, I want them to be themselves,” Evers reasoned. “I want them to be a part of the process. In speaking with them, what they feel their struggles are and how I can help them, and we are going to both discuss exactly what they feel they need to do and go from there.”
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