Monday, September 12, 2011
Evaluating the Coaching Staff
I think it is fair to say that the 2011 Twins season has been incredibly bad. In fact, if you factor in preseason expectations, an argument could be made that this is the worst Twins season ever. The Twins have a lot to evaluate over the course of the offseason. They will have their organizational meetings in Ft. Myers in early October. In those meetings they will discuss and evaluate every single player in the organization from the big leagues down to the Dominican Summer League.
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall at those meetings when discussing any other changes to be made. Late last week, the Twins made the decision to fire Rochester’s manager Tom Nieto and hitting coach Floyd Rayford. Nieto had only been in the organization the past three years. Rayford has been around longer. The other managers in the system have been around longer and have more of a path to the big leagues set up. So, I would be surprised if any more get fired. However, there will likely be some rearranging. Could Jeff Smith make the next move, up to AAA? Would Jake Mauer move to AAA or AA? Tom Brunansky joined the organization’s coaching staff a year ago in the GCL. This year, he was the New Britain hitting coach. Would he want to manage? Bill Smith mentioned potentially going outside the organization for a manager. Do you think that the Twins could talk Mike Redmond out of the Blue Jays organization after being named the Midwest League Manager of the Year in his first year as a manager? Last year when I interviewed Elizabethton manager Ray Smith, he said that now that his daughter is out of school, he could potentially manage/coach somewhere other than Elizabethton for the first time since 1987.
Speaking of Elizabethton, it was also announced that their pitching coach, Jim Shellenbeck, was going to retire. He has been the pitching coach in the Twins organization since 1978, including being the Twins pitching coach in 1983. He has been the E-Twins pitching coach since 1984. He pitched in parts of nine big league seasons, including five games with the Twins in 1977. He will turn 68 years old in November and is ready for retirement, so best wishes to him!
I think that the Twins will try to make some room on the big league coaching staff for Paul Molitor. Personally, I think the best role for him would be as Ron Gardenhire’s bench coach. Molitor is very smart. He has not done well in his limited duty as a hitting coach in the big leagues, and I think that he could be a manager or general manager down the line, if he wants to. But the perfect set up for that is to be on the bench by the Twins manager for a couple of years.
So, the Twins may need to either fire one of their coaches, or encourage one of them to retire, or to take a roving instructor job or something. Here is a quick look at the Twins coaching staff:
RON GARDENHIRE – Manager – Age: 53.
The Good – Well, in his nearly ten full seasons as the Twins manager, he has an overall record of 862-743 (0.537). Six division titles in ten years. Finally won the AL Manager of the Year award in 2010 after finishing runner up five times previously. Is terrific at managing a team over the marathon of 162 games. Keeps the club loose, but behind the scenes, he can be tough. He is loyal and is willing to back his players. Doesn’t always go by The Book. As a former big leaguer, who struggled to get to the big leagues and stay there, he understands how difficult this game really is. He has been coaching in the Twins system since 2008. Led his teams to the playoffs all three years that he was a minor league manager before becoming the Twins 3B coach in 1991. Learned from Tom Kelly.
The Bad – His teams have struggled in the playoffs. He can be tough on young players while giving veterans with track records some leeway (this is not a bad thing). At times, he may be a little too loyal to ‘his guys.’ (again, all managers are) Doesn’t always go by The Book.
RICK ANDERSON – Pitching Coach – Age: 55.
The Good – Was a pitching coach in Twins minor leagues from 1989-2001 (from GCL for a year through AAA for seven years). Been the Twins pitching coach since 2002. Pitched in the big leagues, so he understands show difficult it is to pitch in the big leagues. Credited with turning around the career of LaTroy Hawkins. With the manager, they have typically taken good care of the starting pitchers and the bullpen. Encourages “Pitch to Contact.”
The Bad – There seems to be a perception that Anderson can fix pitchers and help turn them around, but Juan Morillo, Jim Hoey and Jose Mijares might disagree. Encourages “Pitch to Contact.”
STEVE LIDDLE – 3B Coach – Age: 52.
The Good – Advanced to AAA in 1988 with the Twins. Was manager in Twins minor league system from 1989-1994. Hitting coach for AAA in 1995-1996. GCL Twins manager in 1997-98. Twins Minor League Field Coordinator from 1999-2001. Twins Bench Coach from 2002-2010. Third Base Coach this year. Was instrumental in the development of the Twins core that came up in the late-‘90s.
The Bad – Doesn’t wave runners around 3B very well.
SCOTT ULLGER – Bench Coach – Age: 55.
The Good – Played 35 games for the Twins in 1983. Managed in the Twins minor league system from 1988 through 1994. PCL Manager of the Year in 1993. Became the Twins 3B coach in 1995. Was the Twins hitting coach from 1999-2005. Was Twins 3B coach from 2006-2010. Became Twins bench coach in 2011. Is the Twins acting manager whenever Gardy gets ejected, which is quite often. Many believe that he could make a good manager.
The Bad – Wasn’t a very good 3B coach. Wasn’t a very good hitting coach.
JOE VAVRA – Hitting Coach – Age: 52.
The Good – Advanced to AAA with the Dodgers. Minor League Manager in Dodgers system from 1989 through 1997. Twice Manager of the Year. Worked in Dodgers system from 1998-2000 as a Minor League Coordinator, Roving Coach, etc. Twins Minor League Field Coordinator from 2002-2005. Became Twins hitting coach in 2006. Although Torii Hunter said he couldn’t listen to Vavra, he later admitted that Vavra helped him get better. When Delmon Young actually listened to Vavra, he had his best year. When he did his own thing (or listened to his dad), he struggled. Mauer and Morneau have had MVP seasons and won Silver Sluggers. Mauer has won batting titles.
The Bad – Twins offense this year is pretty bad. He hasn’t had enough time to work with the young hitters yet. If some want to blame him for the struggles of the likes of Mauer, Morneau, Span, Kubel, and other veterans in 2011, he has to be credited with their successes in recent years too.
JERRY WHITE – First Base Coach – Age: 59.
The Good – Spent parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues. Spent two years in Japan. Coach in Twins system from 1994-1996. Tigers first base coach from 1997-1998. Twins first base coach since 1999. Also works with the Twins outfielders and with base runners.
The Bad –
RICK STELMASZEK – Bullpen Coach – Age: 62.
The Good – Spent parts of 1971-1974 in the big leagues, playing for the Washington Senators (for Ted Williams), the California Angels, the Texas Rangers, and the Chicago Cubs. Player/Coach in 1978 with Twins A-Ball team in Wisconsin Rapids. Managed that team through 1980. He has been the Twins bullpen coach since 1981.
Obviously the Twins’ brass will look at much more than the Good/Bad I did above. They are much closer to it than any of us, but this is just a start for discussion.
This group has been together for the last six seasons when Joe Vavra joined the group that had all been in place since Ron Gardenhire in 2002. As you can see, for the most part, the coaches played in the minor leagues into the late 80s when they became coaches or managers in the Twins minor league system. While there, they all played a role in the development of those players that became the Twins’ core in the early 2000s. Aside from Michael Cuddyer, that group of players has been gone for a few years. These coaches had the utmost respect of those players because they grew up with them. Are these coaches reaching this new group of players? Johan Santana gave a lot of credit to Bobby Cuellar. Tom Brunansky did a terrific job with the hitters in New Britain this past year. Jake Mauer and Jeff Smith are well respected by minor league players. Jim Dwyer’s career as a player and now as a minor league hitting coach speaks for itself.
This is a solid group of coaches that work well together. 2011 has been a tough year, so I don’t think that it makes much sense to over-react to the struggles. It isn’t as is this coaching staff was any different in 2011 as it was in those six division title years. But I do think that it would be wise to start interjecting some new blood into the coaching staff. The coaches are all in their mid-50s to low-60s. I think that it would be good to put a few younger coaches into the mix so that as the older coaches retire or move on, there won’t need to be a complete, 100% change.
For 2012, I would like to see the following: Manager – Ron Gardenhire, Pitching Coach – Rick Anderson, Hitting Coach – Joe Vavra, Bench Coach – Paul Molitor, First Base Coach – Steve Liddle, Third Base Coach – Jake Mauer, Bullpen Coach – Ray Smith.
Molitor and Mauer would replace Stelly and Jerry White in 2012. You may wonder if Mauer is too young to start coaching in the big leagues. He will be 33 years old in 2012, the same age that Tom Kelly was when he became the Twins 3B coach. Gardenhire will likely manage another 3-4 years, and Mauer can take over as manager at that time, about the same age as Kelly when he took over. Of course, Molitor, who is already 55, could also manage for a few years. If Ray Smith is willing to be a member of the Twins coaching staff, he would be a great addition. If he isn’t interested at this time, then Bobby Cuellar should take that bullpen coach job.
I think that Bobby Cuellar needs to be ready to take over as the Twins pitching coach, if he wants to. I’d like to see Jeff Smith and Tom Brunansky move up to Rochester, along with much of their 2011 New Britain team. I would love to see the Twins find a way to bring in Mike Redmond and have him manage that New Britain team. I think that the Twins should have Nelson Prada take over as the manager in Ft. Myers. I also think that the Twins need to hire more Latin American coaches. Prada is really the only one in the full-season leagues. With so many young players from the Dominican, Puerto Rico, Venezuela in the organization, I think it is important. I’ve heard great things about GCL Pitching Coach Ivan Arteaga. The Twins should re-hire Rick Knapp in whatever role he’d like, maybe as a roving pitching instructor for a year or two again.
Nieto and Rayford took the fall so far, but I do believe that there should be more changes coming in the offseason. I don’t think it needs to be a major overhaul, but I do think that they need to reward the top developers among their minor league coaches and put them in positions where they can help the most players succeed and be ready to succeed for the Twins.
If you have any questions, comments, links, or anything, please feel free to ask in the Comments section.