By Todd Brommelkamp/KGYM Radio
The Minnesota Twins have a new manager, literally and figuratively.
Rocco Baldelli was introduced as the club’s 17th manager Thursday, assuming the helm of a club that went 78 and 84 and finished second in the American League Central in 2018.
Baldelli, the sixth overall pick in the 2000 MLB Draft, has as much managerial experience and you and me. I take that back. Bruce Kimm still lives in the area and could be reading this. Otherwise, the point stands.
Gone are the days where managers paid their dues in a team’s minor league system, working their way up to a big league job. Jim Leyland got his first managerial gig in 1972 with the Clinton Pilots and wouldn’t grace a major league dugout until he was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986.
Baldelli becomes the latest new hire to get his first taste of managing at the big league level. He won’t be the last.
In this day and age of analytics over all else, it’s easier and easier to understand why. Teams appear to be looking for young, open-minded managers who can connect with the clubhouse and the front office on different levels. Older managers who are set in their ways are gradually giving way to new-age thinkers like Philadelphia’s Gabe Kapler and Kevin Cash in Tampa.
Like those two, Baldelli is a former big league player. He won’t feel out of place in Minnesota’s locker room. In fact, Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who pitched in Tampa when Baldelli was on the coaching staff, said he finds the former outfielder extremely relatable.
That’s not to say you need to have played in the major leagues to hold a team’s attention. Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s playing career topped out in the California League, one level above the Midwest League. Yet he’s successfully led both the Rays and Cubs to postseason success.
Maddon, coincidentally, is one of three well-known managers Baldelli played and learned under. Prior to Maddon’s arrival, Lou Piniella was the skipper of the team then known as the Devil Rays. Near the end of Baldelli’s career he spent 2009 playing in Boston for Terry Francona. It’s safe to assume a bit of each man rubbed off on a player who has long been rumored to have harbored managerial asperations.
Now, Baldelli will get his chance. The AL Central should be wide open in the coming years. Sure, Cleveland is at the top now but teams like the Twins and White Sox have promising young players set to serve as the core of their big league teams for years to come. Baldelli isn’t like his pal Charlie Montoyo, who left his job as Tampa’s bench coach to lead Toronto against the likes of New York and Boston in the East.
Will the Baldelli experiment work at Target Field? Only time will tell, of course. The Twins relatively new front office inherited Paul Molitor and took its time in evaluating the organization from top to bottom. Derek Falvey and Thad Luh-veen have begun to bring the Twins’ baseball operations department into the 21st century and in Baldelli they have the new face of those efforts.
By the way Twins fans, Opening Day is only 153 days away.