MINNEAPOLIS — Rocco Baldelli will be the youngest manager in the majors when takes over the helm of the Twins next season.
The 37-year-old Tampa Bay Rays major-league field coordinator is the first managerial hire for the Twins from outside the organization since 1985.
“He’s a great people person,” said Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who played for Tampa Bay from 2013-17, on MLB Radio. “He’s about as down to earth as they come. He’s everything you’re looking at in a teammate, but he’s your manager now. … He’s going to get along really well with guys. I’m really looking forward to seeing his philosophies as a manager because I’ve seen him in just about every other role.”
Baldelli’s list of mentors is an impressive one. He’s played for Lou Piniella, Joe Maddon and Terry Francona. And he was a member of Kevin Cash’s coaching staff with the Rays the past three seasons. After partly gutting their roster last season, the surprising Rays went 90-72 under Cash.
Twins bench coach Derek Shelton, who coached with Baldelli in Tampa Bay, and Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde were the other finalists to replace the fired Paul Molitor.
Baldelli had his second interview with the Twins on Monday. Shelton, Hyde and Twins hitting coach James Rowson also interviewed for the position with Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine.
Baldelli will be two years older than his boss; Falvey is 35.
Ray Miller, hired as manager during the 1985 season to replaced the fired Billy Gardner, was the last man for whom the team reached outside the organization. Tom Kelly was a coach when named to the position during the 1986 season. Ron Gardenhire coached under Kelly until he took over in 2002. Molitor worked in the organization from 2005 until he replaced Gardenhire following the 2014 season.
Molitor got a three-year, $4 million contract after the 2017 season, when he was named the American League manager of the year. The highest paid managers in baseball last year Joe Maddon of the Cubs, the recently retired Mike Scioscia of the Angels and Bruce Bochy of the Giants; all made $6 million per season.
The Twins, coming off a 2017 wild-card playoff berth, were 78-84 last season.
Baldelli’s promising major-league career included numerous stints on the disabled list because of complications from a muscular disorder. He also played briefly for the Red Sox, and retired after seven seasons at age 29 in 2010. He has worked for the Rays since, including four seasons as a first base coach.
Once Baldelli retired, he wanted to get out of the uniform for awhile. So he joined the Rays front office and spent four years in a variety of roles. He ended up focusing on player evaluation, but he also took the time to embrace analytics and how is can be applied.
In a 2015 interview, he was asked how he could use analytics to help the Rays outfielders. His response reflected a balance between using all the information that’s out there while not making players robots.
“There are a lot of ways to use information,” he said at the time. “As a coach, sometimes you can use information to identify strengths and weaknesses in players and therefore know what skills to spend time working on. But in most cases, I think information helps with decisionmaking, who to play, when to play them, where to play them, how to pitch them, etc. … When players are out on the field they are reacting. They are doing what comes naturally to them. So for the most part I don’t think data and analytics should be something that enters the player’s mind very often while they are performing.
“Becoming proficient at the physical/technical aspect of outfield play takes the vast majority of the player’s time and gets them ready to perform in the game. The coaching staff can help put a player in position to succeed (figuratively and sometimes literally) but the player’s physical ability is what has to take over once the pitch is thrown or the ball is hit.”
Baldelli was a first round (sixth overall) pick of Tampa Bay in 2000 out of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., and signed for $2.25 million. An outfielder, he made his major-league debut in 2003 and finished third in the American League rookie of the year voting. After a strong 2004 season, he sat out all of 2005 and never played in more than 100 games in a season again.
Shelton, 48, spent 2018 as Molitor’s bench coach and managed the team for two games when Molitor left the team to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for fellow St. Paul native Jack Morris. Shelton’s 14-year career as a major-league coach included serving as Tampa Bay’s hitting coach for seven seasons.