AFL Interviews: Max Kepler and Taylor Rogers

The Salt River Rafters made the trip across to the west side of the Phoenix area to Surprise, Arizona, on Wednesday to take on the Surprise Saguaros and, prior to the game, Twins prospects Max Kepler and Tyler Rogers took the time to answer a few questions.

Kepler takes a .289/.385/.422 slash line in to Thursday night’s game in Salt River, which is respectable for any hitter in the Arizona Fall League, but is perhaps even more impressive for a 21-year-old with no experience above the Class A level.

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

He’s happy with his performance, so far.

“I think I’m playing consistent ball,” Kepler said. “I’m playing solid outfield defense. Yeah, doing everything I can right now.”

Players in this league have been playing ball since minor league spring training started at the beginning of March, and Kepler confirmed that the wear and tear on the body starts to catch up with them this time of year.

“Yeah, it has (been a long year),” Kepler admitted, but he quickly added, “It’s been an awesome year, though.”

This is Kepler’s second year in the Arizona Fall League and he said he’s definitely seeing a difference in his game this time around.

“I’m more confident. I feel more confident against the pitchers,” Kepler reflected. “Last year, coming out of low-A ball, I just felt like all these big names were throwing at me and I was just a little guy in the big ocean. (They were) big dudes. Now I just feel like I can handle it.”

Kepler has been part of two minor league championship teams in his past three years of minor league ball, winning titles with Elizabethton in 2012 and in Fort Myers this past season.

Max Kepler diving back in to first base on an attempted pick off

Max Kepler diving back in to first base on an attempted pick off

In between those championship seasons, Kepler spent 2013 split between rehabbing an elbow injury during the first half of the season and spending the second half of the year with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

He had some good moments with Cedar Rapids, including an opposite field home run in his first home game as a Kernel, that stands out in Kepler’s memory (“I remember that short porch really helped me out that first game”), but his thoughts on that season are admittedly mixed.

“The fans are unbelievable (in Cedar Rapids),” Kepler said. But at the same time, recalling his efforts to overcome the injury, he added, “It was rough, but I’m glad I got to stick with that good group of guys and I hope we can move up together because we’ve got chemistry on that team.”

That “good group of guys” that Kepler played with in Cedar Rapids formed the core of this year’s Florida State League championship team. That team was managed by Doug Mientkiewicz, the former Twins first baseman who has been prominently mentioned as a finalist for the Twins’ managerial job this fall.

The speculation has been that, should Mientkiewicz not get the Twins job, he may move up to manage the Class AA team that will be playing their first season in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“That would be awesome,” said Kepler, of the possibility of playing a second year for Mientkiewicz.

Kepler also provided some insight in to what it’s like to play for Mientkiewicz.

“He’s wild,” Kepler said, while laughing. “I’d say he’s a little unorthodox, but it sure worked for us. We kind of went through a lot of ups and downs this year, but when we won, we won a bunch. And then when we lost one game, Doug would get on us, and I mean hard. But when he did, he fixed it and it worked for us. But, yeah, he sure was tough on us when we weren’t doing well and weren’t focused, but the rest of the year, he was a fun guy to be around. He was just like one of us. Yeah, I loved him.”

Once the AFL season wraps up, Kepler will take a little time off then begin getting ready for 2015.

“The offseasons are getting shorter and shorter,” he said. “But I’ll do as much as I can with my three months of workout.

“I’ll travel the states for a little, go to Texas for Thanksgiving,” Kepler said of his immediate plans after AFL finishes. “I’ll be going home (to Germany) for Christmas and the holidays.”

While Kepler has been playing several days each week in Arizona, pitcher Taylor Rogers has been not much more than a spectator during the games.

Rogers, a 23-year-old lefty who pitched at Class AA New Britain in 2014, was injured in the third inning of his first AFL game when a batted ball was lined off his shoulder.

Rogers1

Taylor Rogers

Since then, he’s been sitting.

Taylor said Wednesday that he’s hoping that’s about to change.

Rogers said that he is, “finally getting back to square one almost – back to where I can toss a little bit. Hopefully I can get a few more innings in here before the season ends.

“It’s something I want to do. You sign the contract to play here so I want to finish this thing out and see what I can do. We’ll probably going to see how these bullpens go.”

Rogers, along with Kepler, Byron Buxton and Jake Reed, is a Cedar Rapids Kernels alum.

Though, unlike the others, Rogers’ time in Cedar Rapids barely was long enough to register on his minor league stats line. He struggled a bit during his three games for the Kernels in a very cold April of 2013 before being promoted to Fort Myers, where he had a very good season for the Miracle.

“Yeah, you know what, funny what warm weather can do for you,” Rogers said, with a smile, then added, “No, it was fun those 14 days or so. It was nice to get out of the cold, but I’m sure if I would have stayed in Cedar Rapids, it would have been a fun year.”

The weather in Cedar Rapids may have been chilly, but Rogers recalls the warm greeting he and his team mates got upon arrival.

“I thought it was really cool how that was the first year of the Twins being there (as an affiliate). What I remember was the fans really welcoming us. That was just really nice to see. Something like that you don’t see very often. They were excited to have us there and we felt very welcomed.”

AFL Interview: Jake Reed

A year ago, Jake Reed was beginning intrasquad workouts in Eugene, Oregon, as he prepared for his junior year at the University of Oregon. In the subsequent 12 months, the Twins’ prospect has seen a lot of the U.S.A. while pitching for the Ducks, then the Twins Rookie level team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, followed by the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and a trip to Fort Myers for instructional league. Now, he’s a member of the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.

Reed was the Twins’ fifth round draft pick back in June, which means you won’t find him on any of last offseason’s “Top Twins Prospects” lists. You won’t likely have to look too far down this year’s lists to find his name, however.

JakeReed1

Jake Reed

After signing with the Twins, he made four appearances in Elizabethton before being promoted to Cedar Rapids. Between the two stops, he put up a 0.29 ERA over 20 relief appearances. He struck out 39 batters, while walking just three.

That kind of work earned him a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League where, as difficult as it may be to believe, he’s actually improved his ERA to a perfect 0.00 in his first six appearances for the Rafters.

As you might expect, Reed is pretty happy with how his professional career has gone, thus far.

“It’s been just a great experience,” Reed said on Tuesday, before the Rafters beat up the Glendale Desert Dogs 14-2. “Just from the time I got drafted, with my parents there in Eugene with me, to sitting here now in Arizona. To still be playing in the fall, it’s pretty special. It’s been a great ride. I couldn’t have wished for a better first half-season.”

Reed was one of two Twins prospects, along with outfielder and top Twins prospect, Byron Buxton, who were named to represent their team in the AFL’s “Fall Stars Game” this Saturday. Not bad for a guy who was surprised when Kernels manager Jake Mauer and pitching coach Ivan Arteaga gave him the news that he was headed to Arizona this fall.

“When {Mauer) called me in, there was a couple weeks left in the season. I knew the Miracle were going to be in the playoffs, so I thought I was maybe going to be going up there to help them,” Reed recalled. “But they sat me down and originally Ivan kind of played a joke on me and asked if I wanted to go play (winter ball) for him in Venezuela. I was like, ‘oh yeah, make four grand a month,’ and I said, ‘absolutely.’ He said, ‘No we were just kidding. We’re sending you to fall league.'”

Most AFL players have at least reached Class AA, but organizations are allowed a very limited number of roster spots for players who have not reached beyond Class A ball. That says something about how the Twins view Reed.

Mauer and Arteaga told Reed that the Twins minor league director, Brad Steil, had contacted them and asked whether they thought Reed was ready for AFL, where he’d be facing a number of the top prospects in baseball.

“They thought I was,” said Reed. “They asked me if I wanted to and obviously I wasn’t going to turn that down.

“It was a big surprise for me. I was pretty shocked. I’m not saying I don’t think I deserved it, but with the guys that come out here normally, it’s the bigger prospects and it’s my first half season, so in that aspect, I didn’t expect it much.”

Jake Reed gives a helping hand to a grounds crew member who took a corner a bit sharp

Jake Reed gives a helping hand to a grounds crew member who took a corner a bit sharp

Often, organizations are cautious about sending pitchers to Arizona the year they were drafted due to the number of innings they’ve racked up on their arms, between their final college season in the spring and their first partial season of professional ball in the summer. That wasn’t an issue for Reed, however.

“I’d started my first two years of college so I was accustomed to going 100 innings a year and I threw 40 maybe in college and 30 in the summer, so I was only at 70. I had more in my tank. The inning limit hasn’t been an issue at all.”

It’s not like they overtax the arms in Arizona, anyway. Each club carries about 20 pitchers to make sure none of them are overworked. Even relievers, like Reed, typically will pitch an inning or two and then get a couple days off before their next appearance.

Fall League is an opportunity for Reed to show what he’s got in front of a large group of scouts from literally every organization in professional baseball, but it’s also a chance to hone his craft. Reed was told the Twins wanted him to work on his change up, on “tightening up” his breaking ball and on stopping the running game.

Of course, his 0.75 WHIP means he’s not getting many opportunities to work on controlling that running game this fall.

“I haven’t thrown a change up much,” Reed admitted, “but my breaking ball, at times, has been a lot better than it has been. I think the biggest thing, though, is just maintaining the command that I had all summer. Getting ahead of guys, not walking guys.

“As long as I keep throwing strikes, I think I’ll keep doing alright.”

While Reed and half a dozen other Twins farmhands have been toiling in the Arizona sun, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has been looking for a new manager. Reed and the others are following that story closely, as you can imagine.

“Absolutely,” Reed confirmed. “Ultimately, that’s where we want to end up and ultimately, we want that to be our manager. Right now it seems kind of far-fetched, but hopefully, that’s the guy we’re going to be playing for eventually.

“Yeah, we all follow everybody on Twitter, so we all see what’s going on. We keep up with it. All the Twins are next to one another in the locker room. Whenever we see a new Tweet about another guy, we’re always talking about it. But you know what, we trust Terry (Ryan), we trust everybody else in our organization to get somebody that will turn this thing around for us. We hope to be a big part of that, especially the young guys in our organization.”

Jake Reed watching team mate Vincent Velasquez (Astros) warm up

Jake Reed watching team mate Vincent Velasquez (Astros) warm up

Reed and the others are getting a little taste of what it’s like to be treated like a big leaguer during their time in Arizona. Games are played at Major League spring training facilities and Salt River plays their games at the complex shared by the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Rafters use the D’Backs’ big league clubhouse.

It didn’t take Reed long after arriving to figure out he was no longer at the Twins’ minor league facility in Fort Myers, where he had been working during his time in the postseason instructional league.

“The facilities in Ft. Myers are great, don’t get me wrong, but going from a big locker room with hundreds of lockers to the big league locker room at a big league facility, it honestly kind of took my breath away,” Reed said. “There’s twelve TVs in there, I mean everything you can imagine in a locker room. Unbelievable. Then obviously, getting to play here every day, it doesn’t get old, for sure.”

Reed had a chance earlier in the summer to get another glimpse of what it means to be a Major Leaguer. Joe Mauer and Rick Nolasco had concurrent rehabilitation assignments in Cedar Rapids and that experience stands out in Reed’s mind as a highlight of his time with the Kernels.

“When Joe and Ricky came, that was pretty special. Joe Mauer is such a great guy, and Ricky is, too, but just having him in the locker room was pretty special. Just seeing him go about his work and how he respected the game when he was playing and how he talked to other guys on the other team when they’d ask him questions. Just a great guy.

“On his way out, before he left, he went around the locker room and shook everybody’s hand. So that was unbelievable to me, a guy of that stature being able to take the time to shake every single person’s hand in the locker room was pretty special.”

The Twins are already showing signs that they may be rebuilding their big league bullpen in 2015. Reed’s performance at all levels this year has him in position to be fast-tracked by the organization if he can keep performing.

Reed’s success has even altered his own expectations of himself heading toward 2015.

“It’s definitely different now than it was when I signed and playing in Cedar Rapids,” he acknowledged. “I don’t know what’s out of the picture for next year, because I haven’t had the chance to talk to Terry or anybody else in the organization. They want to see guys excel in the minor leagues and prove that they’re ready for the big leagues, but I’m not sure. I’m sure I’ll have a better idea here pretty soon. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see where I go for spring training. There’s just a lot up in the air.”

Reed has not heard, yet, whether he’ll be getting an invitation to the Twins’ big league spring training camp.

“No, that’s the thing, too. I think I’ll have a better idea here pretty soon, because it’s kind of important when you want to get your body ready for a certain time, you want to be in shape for a certain time. So hopefully I find out soon.”

Reed started to say he would not be disappointed if he doesn’t get the invitation to the big league camp in February, but then smiled and corrected himself.

“I will be disappointed,” he admitted, “but I’ll understand. Ultimately, it’s not up to me, I just need to keep pitching well and hopefully it works out in my favor.”

But that’s a matter for another day. Right now, Reed has a couple more weeks of pitching in the Arizona heat and then a well-deserved break.

“I’ve literally been pitching for over a year straight,” Reed said, alluding to having started his workouts at Oregon a year ago. “I’m starting to kind of feel it now. A break off of throwing would be nice.”

Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers by mid February, so it may not be a very long break for Jake Reed.

Arizona Fall League Videos

I’m in Arizona this week catching a few Arizona Fall League games. This afternoon, I shot a couple of videos of Twins prospects Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler.

First, we have Eddie Rosario beating out a swinging bunt, followed by an RBI double.

Ignore the umpire calling Rosario out at second base. The call was overturned on appeal to video.

Here’s Max Kepler beating the Desert Dogs pitcher to 1B to reach on an E3. Kepler had a stand up triple later in the game but I was not shooting video at the time. There’s a picture after the video of his triple swing anyway.

Max Kepler triples for Salt River on October 28, 2014

Max Kepler triples for Salt River on October 28, 2014

Couple of other things.

Salt River won the game 14-2, yet the game was completed in less than three hours. We may not like to admit it, but the speed-of-play rules may be working.

– JC

And Then There Were Three

Immediately after the Minnesota Twins’ 2014 season ended, General Manager Terry Ryan announced that longtime manager Ron Gardenhire would not be returning to his job in 2015.

That was three and a half weeks ago and we still don’t know who will be guiding the Twins on the field next season.

But we’re getting closer.

Lovullo

Torey Lovullo (AP Photo)

After considering, by my count, at least seven or eight candidates during the first two weeks of the offseason, Ryan set aside the managerial search while he holed up in Fort Myers with his staff for their annual week of postseason organizational meetings (though reports are that he did find time for a second interview with Doug Mientkiewicz while in Fort Myers).

Coming out of those meetings, media reports indicate that several candidates have been informed they are no longer being considered and, while the Twins are characteristically tight-lipped on the subject, it appears that the list of potential skippers has been whittled down to three: Paul Molitor, Doug Mientkiewicz and Torey Lovullo.

Looking at them, it would appear that there isn’t a lot of difference. All three are white, middle-aged men. Mientkiewicz is the youngest, at 40; Molitor the oldest at 58. Lovullo splits the difference at 49.

There’s not a lot of “diversity” readily apparent by looking at them, so if Ryan is going to make good on his pledge to add more of a Latin presence on the staff, it will need to come from among the coaches that he and the eventual manager hire.

But when you dig deeper, you see that there are plenty of differences between these three gentlemen and if you’re the Twins, you have an opportunity to make a statement with this hire concerning what traits are most important to you, as an organization. The question is, what kind of statement are you looking to make?

Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor (Knuckleballs Photo)

If you’re looking to say, “We have a youth movement brewing and we are going to do what we did when we hired Tom Kelly – hire a manager that has already spent time watching, evaluating and coaching the young players who will form the core of the next generation of Twins players,” then your first choice is Mientkiewicz. He has had two successful seasons in Fort Myers while managing Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and the rest of a very talented “class” of minor leaguers currently rising up through the ranks.

Paul Molitor gets a few points in this category, too, however. He spent time as a roving minor league instructor prior to his one season on the Twins’ major league bench, so he also has a lot of familiarity with these rising stars.

If the statement the Twins want to make is, “We want the most qualified man for the job of managing a Major League baseball team,” the decision becomes a bit murkier.

Molitor does not have a single day of experience as a manager at any level of professional baseball. If managing only involved the work required between the time you fill out a line-up card and the final pitch of the game, I don’t think experience would be an issue for Molitor. It’s hard to imagine any circumstance arising that he has not prepared for during his Hall of Fame playing career and his time on coaching staffs at various levels. Anyone who has had even a short conversation with him about baseball will likely tell you that his baseball IQ level is off the charts. Also (and this is important), he apparently understands that he can always learn more and is open to doing so.

But game management is not all a manager has to do. There’s media relations and public relations and front office communication and clubhouse relations… and… and…

It’s a big job and while I don’t think it’s impossible for someone who has never managed at any level before to be successful, I do think that having some amount of experience in a managerial position is helpful. Without it, Molitor would very much be “learning on the job” when it comes to off-the-field aspects of the position for a year or two.

For whatever reasons, family or otherwise, Molitor has chosen not to take opportunities to get that experience by managing at the minor league levels. Should that disqualify him from consideration? Absolutely not. Should he get a free pass on this factor if other qualified candidates have emerged who HAVE that experience? No. He made the decision not to take that route and if that turns out to be a determining factor in him not getting the job this time, so be it.

If the Twins had narrowed their choices down to Mientkiewicz and Molitor, I would not consider the former’s two years in the Fort Myers dugout to be much, if any, of an advantage. Other managers in the Twins organization, such as Gene Glynn (AAA), Jeff Smith (AA), Jake Mauer (low A) and Ray Smith (rookie) all have far more minor league managerial experience than Mientkiewicz.

Yes, Mientkiewicz has had successful teams both years in Fort Myers, but take a look at his rosters those two years. If you can’t win a few games with those guys, you really are in the wrong line of work.

Personality-wise, you have very different men. Molitor seems to bring a cerebral intensity to the game, while Mientkiewicz is all about the fire and he doesn’t even pretend to contain it.

Both would bring a familiarity with the Twins organization to the job, without the baggage of being one of “Gardy’s boys.” There are various reports and rumors out there concerning how well (or not well) these guys got along with the Twins’ former manager, but it’s probably safe to say neither would be prone to adopting any approach to managing simply because that was the way Ron Gardenhire would have done it.

So, depending on what he decides is the most important quality in a manager, Terry Ryan has an acceptable internal choice in either Molitor or Mientkiewicz.

Want someone who will get in the face of players and umpires? Doug’s your guy.

Want a brilliant baseball mind? I doubt you could do better than Molitor.

Want someone open to utilizing more advanced analytics? Molitor appears so inclined, though there are indications Mientkiewicz is more of a “gut feel” kind of guy (though, to be fair, the amount of detailed analytics available to minor league managers is limited and their job is more to develop talent than to win games).

Want someone who has the credentials as a player to garner respect among the troups? Molitor’s a Hall of Famer and Mientkiewicz has a World Series ring and sufficient MLB experience to give him plenty of credibility.

If you want someone familiar with the players who are moving up through the organization and are preparing to arrive at Target Field over the next two or three years, both men have that familiarity, though in somewhat different amounts.

The only thing neither man has would be the, “fresh set of eyes,” that some would consider helpful, if not critical, to this organization.

Which brings us to the third finalist for the Twins managerial job, Torey Lovullo.

Lovullo has nine years of experience managing in the minor leagues, including time at both the AA and AAA levels, which neither internal candidate can say. There is little doubt that, of the three, he would be the most prepared to handle all aspects of the job on the first day he’s in the position.

Lovullo has experience as a “second-in-command” bench coach at the big league level. Molitor was part of Tom Kelly’s bench staff for a time and was a hitting coach for the Mariners for one year. All of that experience is at least a decade old, however. He was on Gardenhire’s bench this past season. Mientkiewicz has not held a field manager/coach job above Class A.

From all accounts, Lovullo has a baseball mind and eye for detail that may not be quite on par with Molitor’s, but isn’t all that far behind it.

He not only is “open” to new ideas, he has a history of actively seeking them out.

Based strictly on a managerial/coaching résumé, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that Lovullo is more qualified, right now, to be a big league manager.

But we all know this choice doesn’t just come down to that factor. We knew it when Terry Ryan told the media that he would be looking at both internal and external candidates, that what was important was finding the “right” person, but that, “ideally,” that choice would come from inside the organization. We’ve known it all along.

Here is what Lovullo does not have:

  • Experience as a Major League manager
  • Significant successful Major League playing experience (Lovullo was, in today’s parlance, a “replacement level player,” who saw big league time as a utility infielder in eight seasons, but played in over 100 games just once, putting up a .224 career batting average)
  • Direct experience within the Twins organization

The first two points are really not factors at all. None of this group of finalists has big league manager experience and I think history has pretty much borne out that experience as a player in the majors is not predictive of success as a manager. He successfully climbed the ladder and reached “the Show.” That should be all the credibility he needs with a group of young players who have been doing the exact same thing.

But then there is the final bullet point.

And really, that’s what we knew it would come down to all along, isn’t it?

An objective look at the qualifications of these three guys (albeit an outsider’s look, given that we aren’t privy to information in background checks or reference checks, etc.) would seem to tell us Torey Lovullo is the most qualified of the group to manage in the Major Leagues.

But will Terry Ryan and the rest of the Twins’ leadership really be comfortable turning over the manager’s office to an outsider – someone who they have absolutely zero experience dealing with outside of a job interview that reportedly went extremely well?

If Mientkiewicz doesn’t get the job, he’ll almost certainly remain in the organization, either back in Fort Myers or in Chattanooga, most likely.

But if Molitor doesn’t get the gig, there is probably some serious doubt as to whether he would remain in the Twins organization at all. Make no mistake, he has been a valuable resource in the roles he’s played with the Twins, whether as a roving minor league instructor or a coach with the Twins. Passing him over may cost the organization that resource, altogether.

Given the competition he’s up against, I don’t see Mientkiewicz getting this job. I think it’s down to Molitor and Lovullo.

When it comes right down to making that decision, I don’t think Ryan and Jim Pohlad will give the position to even a highly qualified outsider. I think we’ll be seeing Paul Molitor named the manager within the next week or so.

If that’s the case, I’m fine with it. I like Molitor and I think he could be successful in the role, given the right coaching staff and resources (both in terms of players and technology) to compete.

Choosing Lovullo, on the other hand, would not only surprise me, but give me a little extra optimism that things at One Twins Way are actually changing and while I already have considerable respect for Terry Ryan, making this sort of choice will significantly raise that level of respect.

It would be an uncharacteristic choice. It would be a bold choice.

It also, I am coming around to believing, would be the right choice.

– JC

Twins Organizational Meeting To-Do’s: Players

This is Part 2 of 2, concerning the work to be done this week by the Minnesota Twins staff at their “organizational meetings” in Fort Myers this week.

Reports have estimated that as many as 100 members of the Twins staff may participate in the meetings this week. That’s a lot of people, but then it’s a big job.

In Part 1, we covered the manager and coaching staffing issues. In Part 2, we look at roster matters at the Major League and minor league levels.

As indicated in Part 1, over the coming days, weeks and months, the Twins need to

  • Hire a new manager for the first time in over a decade.
  • Work with said new manager to assemble a seven-person big league level coaching staff.
  • Assign manager and coaching duties to every level of minor league affiliate.
  • Determine which, if any, of their minor league free agents to attempt to retain.
  • Determine at which minor league level to place a significant number of their top young prospects to start 2015.
  • Determine whether to offer arbitration to a few members of their current big league roster.
  • Identify potential MLB level free agents and/or trade targets to pursue once the World Series is completed.

ToDo ListSome of the items on that to-do list are not common tasks for this organization, but even for some of those that are on the list every postseason, the stakes this year have risen significantly.

Concurrently with their efforts to identify and put in place big league and farm system managers and coaches, the Twins also have some work to do on the player front.

Filling out the roster(s)

When the subject of filling out the 2015 roster comes up among most Twins fans, the discussion generally focuses on which of the current Twins will/should be back with the club and who potential acquisitions might be that Terry Ryan should seek in the free agent and/or trade market.

Granted, those are important considerations.

But, given that 2015 is looking more like a bridge to the next era of competitive baseball at Target Field than it is a destination itself, the make-up of the organization’s minor league rosters may be equally important to that of the big league roster, if not more so.

For the past couple of years, as the farm system has been being restocked, even the most optimistic fans of the organization have conceded that most of the Twins’ most promising prospects have been in the low minors, multiple years away from being of any help to the parent club.

Sure, it was fun to watch Byron Buxton put on a show for the Fox Sports North audience in 2013 when the cable network televised one of Buxton’s Cedar Rapids Kernels games. But while the distance between Cedar Rapids and Target Field can be traversed in less than five hours, the time it takes for a prospect to progress from the Class A Kernels to the Twins is much longer – frustratingly so, in some cases.

The 2012 Elizabethton Twins won the Appalachian League championship. In 2013, many of those same players made up a Cedar Rapids Kernels playoff team that went 88-50. This past season, largely the same crop of prospects contributed to Fort Myers’ Florida State League championship team.

In 2015, that group should largely fill out the roster for the first season of the Twins’ new AA affiliation with the Chattanooga Lookouts.

No problem, right? Move them up there. Challenge them. A player who masters Class AA is generally considered a candidate to skip AAA and move up to the Big Club if a need for someone at his position presents itself and that player is deemed to be a more promising solution than whoever fills that position in Rochester.

The thing is, you don’t have to stretch your imagination far to find 30 or more players who, arguably, should be starting their season at AA. That’s a problem when you’re only allowed 25 players on the Lookouts’ roster.

Jeremy Nygaard maintains an excellent database at Twins Daily that includes a variety of important information concerning every player in the Twins organization. For example, did you know that the Twins also have 23 minor leaguers in their system eligible for free agency this offseason – or that 21 of them are already at Class AA or higher?

They also have a similar number of players eligible to be selected by another organization in the Rule 5 draft if they aren’t added to the Twins’ 40-man MLB roster by December.

Granted, few of those potential free agents would be viewed as potential lynchpins on future Twins teams and even fewer of the Rule 5 eligibles are likely to be lost in that draft, but with the promising class set to move up to Chattanooga, the front office does have its work cut out for it this week when they sit down to fill out preliminary rosters for their AAA and AA clubs.

Finally, there’s the minor little project to assemble a Major League roster.

And, by “Major League roster,” I mean a roster of players who have either demonstrated that they possess a talent level worthy of being on a Major League roster or, at least, have shown potential to be elite big leaguers in the not-so-distant future.

Of course, this topic can (and certainly will) warrant entire articles devoted to it all on its own. For purposes of brevity here, suffice to say that the Twins need to identify big league talent to fill the following positions:

  • A starting pitcher worthy of being a #1 or #2 starter for a competitive big league team.
  • Multiple bullpen spots.
  • A Major League center fielder.
  • A Major League left fielder.
  • Any other position that may open up due to trades.

That’s a pretty substantial shopping list. Some of these needs may be filled from within the organization, some via trade and some via free agency. What they all have in common is that, at the end of 2014, the Twins did not have an incumbent that you would definitively declare to be a legitimate everyday Major League talent.

When you consider all the work to be accomplished this week – paring down the manager options, looking at coaching candidates for both big league and minor league positions, and assembling rosters at multiple organizational levels, not the least of which is for the Twins team itself, I’m not sure 100 people in Fort Myers is going to be enough.

Of course, I have some vacation time coming if Terry Ryan would like me to come down and offer some ideas. I’m just a phone call, email or Tweet away.

– JC

Twins Organizational Meeting To-Do’s: Management

The Minnesota Twins are holding their annual “organizational meetings” in Fort Myers this week. As newsworthy baseball stories go, that bit of information ranks quite a bit below the MLB postseason games and their seemingly nightly extra-inning games and walk-off finishes.

What exactly are the organizational meetings? Well, in Hollywood’s version of Moneyball, you may remember seeing Brad Pitt as Oakland General Manager Billy Beane gathering a few guys around a table in a room and tossing out names of players they might want to pursue acquiring for the following season. That may have fit screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s needs, but it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of a real life professional baseball organization.

ToDoListReports have estimated that as many as 100 members of the Twins staff may participate in the meetings this week. That may seem like a lot of people, but the Twins have a lot of work to do.

The Twins hold these meetings every October, but this year’s gathering could be the most critical such gathering in years.

Over the coming days, weeks and months, the Twins need to

  • Hire a new manager for the first time in over a decade.
  • Work with said new manager to assemble a seven-person big league level coaching staff.
  • Assign manager and coaching duties to every level of minor league affiliate.
  • Determine which, if any, of their minor league free agents to attempt to retain.
  • Determine at which minor league level to place a significant number of their top young prospects to start 2015.
  • Determine whether to offer arbitration to a few members of their current big league roster.
  • Identify potential MLB level free agents and/or trade targets to pursue once the World Series is completed.

Some of the items on that to-do list are not common tasks for this organization, but even for some of those that are on the list every postseason, the stakes this year have risen significantly.

First order of business: Identify and hire a new manager

When it comes to deciding who should manage the Twins in 2015 and beyond, a seeming significant majority of fans agreed on one thing – it shouldn’t be Ron Gardenhire. OK, that group (which included me) got their wish. Gardenhire will not manage the Twins going forward.

There is far less of a consensus concerning who SHOULD manage the Twins and, obviously, that’s a far more important question than simply coming to an agreement on who should not.

A fair number of fans seem to feel that anyone the Twins could pick would be better than Gardy. I beg to differ.

Say what you will about the man who managed the Twins for the past 13 years, every year there were MLB managers who were worse at their job than was Ron Gardenhire. Some of those managers were newly hired by their organization. Some were getting their first opportunity to manage at the big league level.

Of all of the confirmed candidates, both internal and external to the Twins organization, that have been identified by the media, exactly one of them would not be making his MLB managing debut on Opening Day 2015 if he is hired by the Twins.

The Twins have had just two managers since Ronald Reagan second term as the US President wrapped up. That can lead fans to feel a certain level of complacency, as if it’s unlikely or even impossible for the Twins to make a bad hire. But they can and they have. Ray Miller, who preceded Tom Kelly in the job, managed just 239 games for the Twins before being axed.

As was the case when Miller was hired back in 1985, the Twins are widely viewed as being on the cusp of a new era of competitiveness, with a number of highly touted young prospects nearing completion of their minor league apprenticeships. Making a bad hire could dangerously impede the club’s reemergence in to relevancy in the American League Central Division.

I agree with Terry Ryan. It’s not important if the new manager comes from within the organization or from the outside; whether he has prior experience or not; whether he is multi-lingual or struggles just to speak coherent English.

What matters is that the choice is the right choice. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know with certainty whether that’s the case immediately (though I think we can pretty much be certain that a significant – and vocal – segment of the fan base will think it is not the right choice, regardless of the final decision).

Assembling a big league coaching staff

While not as highly visible as their selection of a manager, the final make-up of the Twins’ MLB coaching staff is arguably as important. The manager has to run the clubhouse and make out the line-up card and deal with the media and be the public face of the team. But it’s his coaching staff that will spend far more time working with directly with the next generation of Twins players.

When you look at the names of the players likely to wear Twins uniforms for the next several years, it’s not hard to project that as many as one-third of them in any given year will be Latin American natives. Some of them speak passable English. Many do not. It’s easy to say, “they should be learning English,” and – over time – they will. But even above the obvious need for coaches who can communicate with these players in their own language, it’s equally important to have coaches familiar with the culture from which those players have come.

I hope the next Twins manager is more open to using advanced metrics in his game-day decisions (or at the very least, is far less openly dismissive of the idea). But let’s be honest, no manager has the time to pour over all of the information that’s going to be available to him and determine which is helpful how to apply it every day.

That makes it just as critical to have coaches who have experience doing exactly that and, where they don’t have such experience, they have minds open to learning and applying new things.

Finally, Tom Brunansky certainly appears to have done a good job as hitting coach and if the Twins don’t move quickly to retain him, I think they risk losing him to another organization. I would hate to see that happen.

Minor league assignments

For the past few years, the Twins have pretty much nibbled at the edges when it comes to making adjustments to their staff of minor league managers and coaches. They’ve moved a couple guys around every year, but largely there has been a fair amount of consistency at every level, from non-complex rookie ball at Elizabethton through AAA in Rochester.

That’s normal when you have stability among the big league staff and, given the highly acclaimed status of the Twins minor league organization, you would perhaps like to see such stability continue.

But when there are eight spots at the big league level open, it’s hard to imagine we won’t see some of those openings filled from within the current minor league managing/coaching ranks.

Ray Smith has been managing at rookie level Elizabethton for 13 consecutive years (21 years overall) and is likely to continue there, but it would not be hard to imagine Gene Glynn (AAA), Jeff Smith (AA), Doug Mientkiewicz (hi-A) or Jake Mauer (A) in the Twins dugout next season. Two of them, Glynn and Mientkiewicz, have interviewed for the manager vacancy, an indication of how highly the Twins think of both men, while Smith and Mauer have each been managing in the Twins organization for longer than Glynn and Mientkiewicz, combined.

If the Twins hire a manager from outside the organization, that manager is likely to bring in a few additional outsiders with him. If the Twins hire from inside the organization, one might hope that they similarly insist that the new manager include some outside blood among his staff.

But in any event, given the Twins’ history of rewarding loyalty, it is almost impossible to imagine a Twins big league coaching staff without the presence of some number of coaches from within. That may well include one or more current minor league manager or coach, especially considering that they all will be familiar faces and voices to most of the Twins prospects due to arrive in the big leagues over the next couple of years.

By and large, most of the field managers and coaches in the minor league organization look to advance up the organizational ladder, just like the players do. When there are wholesale coaching changes made at the big league level, it would be at least mildly surprising if there were not similar adjustments to the minor league assignments.

Just as is the case with players, some of the staff may move up, some may look at the new landscape and decide their paths to the big leagues might be more open in another organization and, unfortunately, some will not be retained by the Twins, as minor league hitting coordinator Bill Springman and Fort Myers pitching coach Gary Lucas have already found out.

Some fans have become so disgruntled with the Twins’ lack of success at the big league level that they will be satisfied with nothing less than a clean sweep of every manager and coach in the Twins’ system.

That’s not going to happen, nor should it.

The Twins may indeed have become too insular and every organization benefits from adding quality people from the outside. Organizations also benefit from identifying and promoting quality people from within.

The Twins are in a unique situation this offseason in that they have room in the organization to do both.

– JC

Buxton and Sano: Maybe the Time is Now

It’s the offseason, so that means we are already deep in thought and discussion concerning 2015 roster construction for the Minnesota Twins.

I reserve the right to change my mind, of course, but my preliminary thought on the subject has resulted in a conclusion I wasn’t expecting.

Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano should both be Minnesota Twins on Opening Day 2015.

True, General Manager Terry Ryan has some time before he has to give much thought to such an un-Twins-like idea.

Ryan can spend October finding a manager, gathering with his staff for organizational meetings in Florida and putting together a minor league field management organization.

But when the final out is made in this year’s World Series, it’s time to get serious about this roster. When he does, maybe Buxton and Sano should part of his plan.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

My thoughts aren’t firmly in place yet, but it occurs to me that, if we’re all so certain that the Twins’ GM needs to think a bit differently than he has in the past when it comes to hiring a manager and coaching staff, maybe it’s time to think a bit differently about how he treats his future superstars, too.

So, even if you think I’ve lost my mind (and I may ultimately conclude the same thing), hear me out for a moment.

I think most Twins fans would like to see improvement in two specific areas next season.

First, as seems to always be the case, we want another top-tier starting pitcher. Maybe Ricky Nolasco will bounce back or maybe he won’t. If he doesn’t, Phil Hughes is going to need help at the top of the rotation. Even if Nolasco does rebound, I’d love to have him as my #3 starter rather than my #2, if I could land a bigger fish in the offseason.

The second area of relative consensus is that the outfield must improve.

The Twins scored enough runs in 2014 to be a competitive baseball team. They simply didn’t keep opponents from crossing the plate nearly enough. If the starting pitching was problem number 1A, the outfield defense was certainly 1B.

Fixing the starting pitching is easy enough. You shell out the money to lure one of the top free agent starters. If you’re not willing to do that, you might reach for another Phil Hughes-type, but I’m not enthused about that approach. I think you go for the top guys or you just load up Trevor May and Alex Meyer to go with Hughes, Nolasco and Kyle Gibson and get Jose Berrios ready for an early call-up when it becomes necessary.

As tired as we all are of losing 90 games, making a managerial changes takes a little bit of pressure off in terms of the 2015 season. For the first time in about three years, you don’t enter the season with the staff coaching for their professional lives.

So, if you can’t (or won’t) add a true difference-maker to your rotation, you can simply accelerate the advancement of those minor leaguers that you feel are closest to being ready.

Which brings us to the outfield dilemma.

The outfield situation is only a dilemma because of Byron Buxton. Without his presence looming, you could address the outfield just like you do the starting pitching – go out and get the best guy you can buy or trade for on the market.

But Buxton’s presence means (a) the Twins won’t add someone on a high-dollar long-term deal that would “block” Buxton, and (b) no centerfielder on the free agent market with designs on a long-term deal is going to want to come to Minnesota, anyway.

That appears to leave the Twins with two options. Either they identify a short-term solution they can sign/trade for or they keep the status quo, using Jordan Schafer or Danny Santana until Buxton is deemed ready for prime time.

With expectations dampened and a new manager in the dugout, however, maybe it’s time to just say, “screw development,” and throw Byron Buxton out there right from the start.

And while you’re at it, do the same thing with Miguel Sano.

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano

These two guys are going to be the cornerstones of the Twins for years to come, so why not just get them in the game right now? Sure, they’ll struggle. But if they don’t arrive until 2016, you have to assume they’ll struggle some, then, too.

Okay, I know, we can think of a number of reasons NOT to do this. They both essentially lost their entire 2014 seasons to injury and there is no assurance either player is really ready to face Major League pitching.

The specter of Aaron Hicks’ two years of near-abject failure, after being pushed up to the big leagues prematurely, looms over the organization. And he came up after spending almost twice as much time as Sano at AA, a level Buxton hasn’t technically completed a full game at, much less a season.

You certainly wouldn’t want to damage the psyches of Buxton or Sano by having them fail miserably.

But you know what? From what I’ve seen of these two guys, I don’t think we have to worry about their psyches. Both players know what their destinies are and they aren’t going to let a little bit of a learning curve keep them from getting where they know they belong in this game.

We have seen how they address new challenges.

They see. They learn. They adjust.

Then they dominate.

So, maybe the Twins should just skip the whole, “what do we do to improve the outfield until Buxton gets here,” era and put the guy in centerfield.

Maybe you take them aside and say, “Guys, if you’re healthy in April, you’re going to be Minnesota Twins. You may perform like Kennys Vargas or you may look more like Aaron Hicks, but you’re going to stay in Minnesota. You will not be sent back to the minors. From this point forward, you are Major League baseball players. Now get to work and act like it.”

The thing is, you can’t wait until spring training to make this decision. It wouldn’t be fair to Trevor Plouffe.

If Sano is going to step in as your primary third baseman, Plouffe needs to spend some time this winter learning to play left field. Maybe he and Joe Mauer could learn together.

For that matter, I’d tell Sano to go out there and shag some fly balls, too, because I’m not convinced the Twins won’t discover they’re better off defensively with Sano in the outfield and Plouffe at the hot corner.

But one way or another, maybe Buxton and Sano should be in the Opening Day line up.

Imagine for a moment:

Buxton CF
Dozier 2B
Mauer 1B
Vargas DH
Sano LF/3B
Arcia RF
Plouffe 3B/LF
Escobar/Santana SS
Suzuki C

I’d buy tickets to see that line up, no matter who the starting pitcher is. I bet a few other people would, too.

-JC

Picking a Twins Manager: Get it Right

Over a week ago, I wrote about what I would do if I owned the Minnesota Twins, including giving my GM instructions to fire his manager. Obviously, Jim Pohlad not only read my article, but took it to heart because less than a week later, Ron Gardenhire was out as manager of the Twins.

GM Terry Ryan

GM Terry Ryan

In the days since that announcement, speculation has been rampant concerning who the next manager might be.

For his part, General Manager Terry Ryan said he would cast a wide net. He indicated he would look inside and outside the organization and that “diversity” would be a factor, both for the manager position and, ultimately, for the Twins’ coaching staff (further evidence that my advice, which included instructions for adding more Latin American coaches, was being followed almost to the letter).

It occurs to me, now, that I may have done a disservice to the Twins GM in my earlier article. I honestly didn’t expect Twins ownership to follow my advice. Heck, I didn’t even know Pohlad was one of my loyal readers.

Had I known how quickly he would take my advice to heart and act on it, I would have included advice to Ryan on how to go about replacing Gardenhire. But I didn’t. My bad.

But today, I’m going to rectify that oversight. Better late than never, right?

The Twins are a tight-knit organization. Rare is the case when something involving the internal workings of the front office reaches the public until the top dogs in that office want it to.

How do you know when they want the public to know something? Just assume that if you’re reading it, they want you to know it. You’ll be correct 99% of the time.

So here’s what the Twins want us to know about their manager search, so far:

Paul Molitor and Doug Mientkiewicz have been interviewed, Molitor more than once. Both are serious candidates for the job. Gene Glynn will be interviewed. Ozzie Guillen will not. That’s about all of it.

You know what? Molitor, Mientkiewicz and Glynn would all, in my opinion, have the potential to be excellent choices. If Terry Ryan introduces one of them as the next manager on Monday morning, you won’t find me yielding a pitchfork and marching on Target Field.

But it would be wrong.

To explain, allow me to digress briefly and talk about Iowa Hawkeyes football – specifically the head coaching job at Iowa.

A lot of Hawkeye fans love long-time coach Kirk Ferentz. A lot of Hawkeye fans would like to see Ferentz replaced. But, a good number of those fans have an unrealistic view of the Iowa program and the kind of coaching candidates the Iowa job might attract. Iowa is not Alabama, USC or Ohio State. You would not get top tier coaches tripping over themselves to take over the Iowa program. You would have to either hire from within or hire a lower tier outside candidate who has not yet proven himself.

In other words, when you talk about replacing Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, you’d better be careful what you wish for.

But here’s the thing: The Minnesota Twins are not in that position.

Sure, they’ve had 90+ losses for four straight years. That might seem like the kind of thing that would relegate the organization to a position where they have to be satisfied with the left-overs after the good teams in Major League Baseball decide who they want as their manager.

However, “good” MLB teams already have their managers in place. It’s not like there are going to be teams in the postseason immediately letting their managers go the day after their seasons end.

Manager candidates are being interviewed in a number of locations across baseball, but each of those teams has one thing in common – they played bad baseball in 2014.

Currently, there are three managerial openings: the Texas Rangers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Twins. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Milwaukee Brewers added to that list in coming days, but as things stand right now, the Twins’ 92 losses are the fewest among teams currently interviewing for a new manager.

The Minnesota Twins should be choice number 1 for anyone with designs on landing a big league manager’s job in 2015.

Texas and Arizona have had front office disruptions in recent years. In Arizona, your new General Manager was a player agent a couple weeks ago and will be reporting to an executive who was a Hall of Fame caliber manager. In both locations, the manager is going to have multiple bosses looking over his shoulder, all of which likely believe they could do your job better than you do (and in at least one case, he’d probably be right).

Arizona and Texas don’t have terrible talent. They have some guys who know how to to play baseball and they have minor league organizations considered to be at least average in terms of the talent moving through the pipeline. (It’s that dreary farm system of the Brewers that anyone considering a run at a potential Milwaukee opening should be wary of.)

Arizona is going to be rebuilding and trying to compete in a division with the Giants, who field perennial championship level teams, and the Dodgers, who are clearly committed to leaving the New York Yankees in the dust when it comes to being willing to spend money to buy championships.

The Rangers “only” have to deal with the Angels and A’s, I guess.

The Twins, on the other hand, had one of the top ranked farm systems in baseball heading in to 2014 and have a General Manager about whom their owner has stated that he’d be the GM for as long as he wants to remain in the job. That GM leads an organization that has demonstrated loyalty (to a fault, some might say) to managers.

The Tigers are aging and the Royals’ postseason run assures that they’ll retain Ned Yost as manager, which virtually assures that you won’t be viewed as the worst manager in your division, no matter what.

Who, in his right mind, would prefer one of the other open positions over the Twins’ job?

Which, finally, brings us to this advice for Terry Ryan:

You need to get this right. That’s not only the most important thing, it’s the only important thing, in this process. And here’s the process:

Step 1 – Talk to those in baseball you respect and ask them who they believe are the top 3 potential managers in all of baseball not currently under contract to manage another MLB team. Then make your own list of the top half dozen names or so.

Step 2 – Interview everybody on that list and identify those that not only are likely to succeed in 2015, but have a, “you never stop learning,” approach to life in general and baseball in particular, which you can envision allowing him to lead your team to success for the next decade. Ask each of them to tell you what they’ve learned about the game of baseball in the past two years that they didn’t know before. Anyone who can’t give you a number of ways in which they have expanded their baseball knowledge in that time should immediately be crossed off your list.

Step 3 – Rank your candidates after interviewing all of them, and not before.

Step 4 – Hire the name at the top of your list.

It’s really that simple.

Don’t get lost in a quagmire of details like how many years of experience they have as a manager at the big league level or at the minor league level or as a coach in the big leagues or whether their players liked them or not. Everyone who has coached/managed at any level has players who liked them and players who didn’t. Every one of them has success stories – and has failed at something.

Just act like you are the General Manager offering the best managerial opportunity in baseball and you are entitled to hire the best managerial candidate. You deserve that. The Twins deserve that.

Twins fans deserve nothing less.

– JC

Twins Manager Search: Update No. 1

Yesterday, in the hours following Ron Gardenhire’s ouster as manager of the Twins, I put up a post briefly discussing each of what I considered possible internal candidates to replace Gardy.

Shortly after that post went up, Gardenhire and Twins General Manager Terry Ryan held a press conference where some additional information was shared concerning the thought process that went in to the decision and the envisioned process for identifying and hiring a replacement.

Much has been written/said about the possible candidates in the meantime and there appears to be some small amount of clarity taking shape.

First, Ryan indicated that the search for a replacement would include both internal and external candidates. This is good.

He also indicated that “diversity” would be a factor in the decision making process, not only for the manager, but also for the subsequent decisions regarding the rest of the big league coaching staff. This is very good news.

Ryan also indicated that he was not overly concerned about the age of potential candidates. He isn’t looking only at “young” potential managers, nor only at veteran managers. I think this is good AND it may give a clue as to Ryan’s thinking going in to the process.

The GM also may have slightly tipped his hand when he first indicated that there was a “preference” for an internal replacement, then backtracked and said something along the lines of how the preference is for the “right” candidate, regardless of internal or external, but that ideally he would come from inside the organization. It’s splitting hairs, I know, but I think it does indicate some level of preference for an internal replacement, so long as that person can also be defended as being the “right” person for the job.

As a result, I’m already prepared to revise my list of most likely candidates.

Paul Molitor hitting ground balls to Kernels 3B Travis Harrison in 2013

Paul Molitor hitting ground balls to Kernels 3B Travis Harrison in 2013

Yesterday, I said I thought Terry Steinbach and Doug Mientkiewicz were likely the top couple of internal candidates. I kept Paul Molitor off that list for two reasons.

First, I thought Ryan would, “go younger,” and Molitor is roughly the same age as Gardenhire. Second, I felt Molitor, given his longer history of employment with the Twins than either Steinbach or Mientkiewicz, would be considered too much of a Twins insider to satisfy everyone, inside and outside the organization, that his hiring would not simply be a continuation of the Gardenhire regime with a different figurehead.

A number of stories have since popped up from writers/columnists with connections to the team’s front office pointing out that Molitor was (1) forced on Gardenhire a year ago, and (2) pretty much ostracized by the manager and his inner circle during the season.

One does have to wonder why the same writers weren’t all over that part of the story DURING the season and one conclusion might be that they are just now finding this information out. “From whom?,” you may ask.

We could speculate that the information is coming from sources inside the front office who may have an interest in softening the ground for the ultimate naming of Molitor as the new Twins manager.

What’s more, as various media sources have pointed out, the Milwaukee Brewers may well be considering a change in the manager’s chair. If so, one would expect Molitor to be on a list of likely candidates for that job.

It certainly would not look good to a lot of Molitor supporters to see the Hall of Famer stolen away by the Brewers while the Twins go another direction.

Of course, you could say pretty much the same thing about the chances Steinbach could be hired by Arizona while the Twins go through a more thorough process of screening applicants.

Whatever the reason, there already seems to be a groundswell of support and speculation focused on Molitor that goes beyond, even, what existed previously. In this case, I choose to believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and Molitor may well already be Ryan’s preferred choice IF Molitor wants the gig.

I add that condition because we probably can’t totally discount the possibility that he would prefer to get the Brewers’ job, for example. Though, given his in-depth knowledge of the talent coming up through the Twins’ farm system, this would seem unlikely, to me.

I’d be fine with a Molitor choice. I had the opportunity to interview him during June of the 2013 Cedar Rapids Kernels season and “impressed” doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I came away with.

(You can read that interview by clicking here.)

Molitor is one of those guys that anyone with a mind for baseball would just love to get the opportunity to sit and talk with for an hour. I felt genuinely fortunate to get 20 minutes of his time over the course of a couple of days.

He doesn’t have the folksy charm of Ron Gardenhire. But, I found him to be friendly and open during our discussions, and his love for the nuances of the game and teaching young players the right way to play it certainly came through.

In any event, I do believe Ryan will conduct interviews with several internal and external candidates, including Steinbach and Mientkiewicz. (A number of external candidates have been tossed around, but my favorite is Rays coach Dave Martinez.)

In the end, however, Molitor looks like the leading candidate today.

We’ll see how long that indication holds.

What about Jake Mauer?

I mentioned Kernels manager Jake Mauer as a possible internal candidate, along with some thoughts as to why he probably would not be considered at this time.

Let me just say that, selfishly, I’d love to see Mauer return to Cedar Rapids, along with his coaches Tommy Watkins and Ivan Arteaga. That said, if I were to predict Mauer’s 2015 assignment (which obviously I’m about to do), I’d say look for him to be named the manager of AA Chattanooga.

It was Mauer that the Twins tabbed to be the first manager in Cedar Rapids when that affiliation was getting off the ground. He is a hard worker with his players, great with the front office, great with fans and great with media. In other words, the perfect manager to make sure a new affiliation gets off to the best start possible.

He could easily be given the same assignment in Chattanooga, where the Twins are moving their AA team in 2015. Mauer would also then be reunited with many of the players he managed in Cedar Rapids during 2013-14.

It would also be one step closer to a big league coaching assignment for Mauer and he’s more than deserving of being considered for that opportunity in the near future.

If that move opened up an opportunity for Watkins to get the manager job in Cedar Rapids, that would be a good thing, too.

– JC

Gardy out as Twins Manager. Who’s Next?

It didn’t take long for the shoe to drop after the Twins’ season ended with another 90+ loss season on Sunday. That shoe landed on the heads of manager Ron Gardenhire and his entire big league coaching staff.

Gardenhire has been dismissed with one year remaining on his contract. The coaches’ contracts all expired at the end of this season and reportedly all were notified their contracts were not being renewed. The Twins front office apparently wants to give their new manager an opportunity to have input concerning his coaching staff, which certainly makes sense.

A press conference has been scheduled by the Twins for 3:00 pm. Both Gardenhire and General Manager Terry Ryan are scheduled to attend.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky  (photo: Knuckleballs)

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Knuckleballs)

Gardenhire likely received more credit than he deserved for the Division Championship seasons during the first several years of his time in the manager’s office and more blame than he deserved for the past four years of futility at Target Field. That’s hardly uncommon for a Major League manager. It would not be surprising to see him managing another team in 2015, nor would it be surprising to see him be successful with that team.

Even so, it’s hard to argue that the time for a change in the Twins clubhouse had not come. Sometimes, a team that is transitioning to a new generation of players can benefit from a new figure at the top.

Now the question turns to, “who will that figure be?”

The Twins are not real experienced at the process of identifying and hiring a new manager for their Big League team as Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire held down the position for most of the past three decades.

Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach gets mic'd up before 2013 Twins Caravan stop in CR

Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach gets mic’d up before 2013 Twins Caravan stop in CR

It would seem un-Twinslike for Ryan to look outside the Twins organization for a new manager, but the dismissal of the entire Major League coaching staff could signal that the GM will broaden the search.

If Ryan stays inside, there is no shortage of candidates.

Terry Steinbach’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate to join the new Arizona Diamondbacks organization and could equally be considered a candidate to lead the Twins.

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League spring training fields

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League spring training fields

Paul Molitor’s name is often brought up as a potential manager in Minnesota. Molitor spent several years working with the organization’s minor leaguers as a roving instructor before joining the Major League coaching staff this season. Molitor is roughly Gardy’s age, however, so he would not exactly be viewed as a young coach for a young new group of players.

Tom Brunansky spent time as a hitting coach in the minors before taking that role with the Twins. He worked with many of the organization’s up and coming young hitters, but he has not managed at the professional level.

Several current minor league managers could also be considered.

Gene Glynn has had a lot of success in Rochester with the oranization’s AAA club, however, like Molitor, age could be an issue if the desire is to bring in someone younger.

Jeff Smith, at AA, has had detractors inside and outside the organization. However, many of the issues have dealt with Smith supposedly putting winning games ahead of player development. That would not seemingly be an issue if he’s elevated to the big club. Smith was named by the Twins to manage a team in the Arizona Fall League last year, which would seem to indicate that he’s held in high esteem by the front office. If the Twins feel it’s time to move away from the “players manager” model, Smith might be an option.

Doug Mientkiewicz finished his second year as manager at high-A Fort Myers this season with a Florida State League championship. He’s seen as an up-and-comer by many and would certainly bring a fire to the role. Mientkiewicz was disciplined during his first year for his involvement in an on-field brawl during a Miracle game. Mientkiewicz originally asked to be assigned to a Florida team for personal reasons related to the health of a family member. Whether that situation has since been resolved or whether it would preclude a big league position is unknown.

 Jake Mauer works with Travis Harrison in 2013

Jake Mauer works with Travis Harrison in 2013

Jake Mauer, older brother of Joe, has led teams at the Gulf Coast League rookie level, high-A Fort Myers and, for the past two years, at low-A Cedar Rapids. As with the others, he’s worked with most of the young players moving up through the system. He is not as intense, perhaps, as Mientkiewicz, but he’s also not as laid back as his younger brother is reputed to be. Still, unfortunately, fans’ perceptions may be that any hiring of Jake as manager would be a case of nepotism. After watching Jake work in Cedar Rapids for two years, I would love to see him get a shot with the Twiins, but with Joe’s own popularity waning with much of the fan base, that could put Jake in a no-win situation before ever managing a game with the Twins.

For my money, the most likely internal choices would be Steinbach and Mientkiewicz. Either could do a good job, but I’d hope that the Twins would also consider candidates from outside the organization.

Perhaps even more interesting than the choice of the new manager, to me, will be to see what the make up of the big league coaching staff is after the new manager is named.

In any event, it will be an interesting spring training next year, as the Twins get to know just their third manager since 1987.

– JC