Rocco Baldelli is the first manager the Minnesota Twins have hired from outside their organization since Ray Miller in 1985, and just the fourth manager employed by the Twins in the last three decades. By bringing in Baldelli, the Twins have finally jumped into the modern era. With Derek Falvey (35), Thad Levine (45), & Baldelli (37), management of the club is now the youngest it’s been since Andy MacPhail (then 33) & Tom Kelly (then 36) started running the team together in 1986. Twins fans don’t need to be reminded of the accomplishments of that tandem of baseball minds (for others: two World Championships in five years).
At the same time, youth alone is not a guarantee of success. The Padres under A. J. Preller (hired at 36) have been dreadful, inconsistent, & unethical. Firing Bud Black (then 59) & hiring Andy Green (then 39) hasn’t mitigated the Friars’ disaster. Meanwhile, Black has piloted his new club, the Colorado Rockies, to back-to-back postseason berths despite questionable roster construction by the Rockies’ frint office. Youth can serve as a proxy for fresh thinking, which the Twins certainly needed when Falvey & Levine were brought in to run the organization’s baseball operations. The early results have been uneven. In some ways, the team is still recovering from Bill Smith’s disastrous tenure as GM, which was compounded by Terry Ryan’s return to the helm and his refusal to consider other possibilities.
Falvey & Levine inherited Paul Molitor, an incumbent manager with strong ties to the club going back to the tail end of his playing days. By every indication, Molitor (60 at the time his new bosses were hired) embraced a new approach to the game he knows in his marrow. To some, Molitor might seem fated to have been a transitional manager. Consistent with league-wide trends, Molitor’s pre-managerial coaching career did not include lengthy service in the minor leagues or coaching apprenticeships under managers with a track record of developing future managers. He was hired by one of the last old-school GMs, and retained (likely at ownership’s insistence) by one of the youngest new-school Chief Baseball Officers. Molitor was something of the insider’s outsider, a Hall of Fame player & hometown guy without a long track record for the gig he held. He was open to the new ideas in baseball, but they weren’t ideas that were organic to his understanding of the game.
Baldelli will be notable for his youth — he is now the youngest manager in the major leagues. What is more important, however, is what Baldelli brings with him. Baldelli was the sixth overall pick in the draft class immediately preceding Joe Mauer’s, the one in which the Twins drafted Adam Johnson (a significant bust) second overall. Baldelli was a dynamic young outfielder whose career was derailed by injuries, ultimately forced into retirement by mitochondrial channelopathy. Along the way, Baldelli received the Tony Conigliaro Award and played for two organizations — the Rays & Red Sox — known for fresh thinking. His ability to translate his experience into effective support struggling players will be vital to the futures of Byron Buxton & Miguel Sanó. Baldelli’s coaching work in Tampa Bay, particularly his last two years as field coordinator, will give data-driven baseball decisions an organic voice in the clubhouse. Should current bench coach Derek Shelton remain on Baldelli’s coaching staff, the Twins will double-down on Rays coaching alumni; Shelton, hired last year, can help his former & new colleague get familiar with the terrain of the clubhouse.
After years of ossified thinking, which produced mediocre results that were simply excruciating to watch, the Twins are completing a turn into the future. Rocco Baldelli might be the most exciting Twins manager hired in my lifetime.