It wasn’t an easy offseason for the Minnesota Twins. They had to say goodbye to their star catcher of 15 years, Joe Mauer, as he retired. Twins EVP and Chief Baseball Officer, Derek Falvey knew he had to make a managerial change, so when he fired Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, it was paramount to find the perfect replacement manager. He was searching for someone who could connect with players and had strong leadership skills.
Falvey had a good relationship with Rays manager Kevin Cash, who raved about Rocco Baldelli’s leadership skills and impact he had on their young players. After Baldelli’s playing career with the Rays, he stayed on as a special assistant from 2011-14, first base coach from 2015-17, and a field coordinator in 2018. Based on his experience and a strong recommendation from Cash, Falvey hired Baldelli as the new manager of the Minnesota Twins.
At 37-years-old, the first year manager isn’t that far removed from his playing days and still speaks the same language as some of his players. Playing in Tampa Bay offered an experimental playground for Baldelli to roam around in. He was exposed to a vast number of experiences ranging from Lou Piniella’s loud tirades to new analytically-driven tactics from young GM Andrew Freidman. He also learned from some of the best managers like Joe Maddon and even Terry Francona during his one season with the Red Sox in 2009. For those who played and coached Baldelli, there wasn’t a doubt in their minds that he would be a perfect candidate for an MLB manager position.
According to the Star Tribune, Baldelli started the 2019 season tied for the second best start for a first year manager in the history of the Twins franchise. The only one better was Billy Martin, who went 19-9 to start the 1969 season.
According to USA Today, Baldelli wanted to personally get to know all of his players before spring training, so he traveled to the Dominican Republic just to meet Twins slugger Miguel Sanó. His calm demeanor and a streamlined alignment with the Twins analytics department has helped the pitching rotation become one of the best in the AL. Starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi hasn’t given up run in his last 20 IP. According to The Athletic, the Twins starting rotation is 17-5 with a 3.09 ERA. The staff has also averaged at least six innings pitched for each start during their last 25 games.
He’s always striving to create a more comfortable place for his players so they can relax and be themselves. A strong advocate of recovery, Baldelli along with the front office recently created a “nap room” for their players.
Latin American players make up 48 percent of the Twins clubhouse, according to The Athletic. Shortly after Baldelli was hired, he sought out to bridge the communication and culture gap between his Latin players and the rest of the team. He hired Tony Diaz as the Twins third base coach and reassigned communications assistant/translator Elvis Martinez to the coaching staff. In this new position, Martinez would be able to interact and assist the Spanish-speaking players from the dugout on a more consistent basis. Along with assistant hitting instructor Rudy Hernandez, Baldelli ensured that he had at least three staff members who could help their 12 Spanish-speaking players in order to reduce miscommunication and maximize efficiency.
During one of his first team meetings, he preached two main things: respect the game and have fun. With an AL leading 26-15 record, it appears the Twins are having a blast.