Twins counting on new coaches to help turnaround
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Though coaching changes have been infrequent in Minnesota Twins history, a second straight last-place finish precipitated a shakeup on the staff last fall.
When spring training starts next week, manager Ron Gardenhire — who returned for the final year of his contract — will have only pitching coach Rick Anderson back in the same role as before. The players on the field always have the biggest impact how a team fares, but the Twins are counting on some fresh perspective and insight from these new assistants to help spark a turnaround.
“They have a ton of experience. I’m excited. I’m excited for them and for this organization and for our players,” Gardenhire said at the team’s annual fan festival last month. “As tough as the other side of it was losing my friends and my coaches that have been with me and been successful ... I’m moving on. My other coaches are moving on, and we’re moving right on to a new thing here.”
Scott Ullger moved from bench coach to first base coach. Joe Vavra was switched from hitting coach to third base coach. Third base coach Steve Liddle, bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek and first base coach Jerry White were fired. Tom Brunansky (hitting coach), Bobby Cuellar (bullpen coach) and Terry Steinbach (bench coach) were hired.
Though Brunansky and Cuellar were promoted from the minor league system and Steinbach has been a guest instructor at spring training, the workouts in Fort Myers, Fla., this month will mark the first team this revamped staff will all be together in the same place at the same time.
The two guys who once played for the Twins, Brunansky (1982-88) and Steinbach (1997-99), will have two of the most important jobs. Steinbach, the native of New Ulm, Minn., who will be a full-time coach for the first time, will work closely with the catchers. Brunansky, a key member of the 1987 World Series championship team, will continue the relationships he’s forged with some of the young players in the minors.
Gardenhire and Steinbach traveled together last month on one of the legs of the team’s winter caravan around the region.
“He’s going to be very valuable, being able to communicate with these guys and talk about game preparation and planning on hitters and all those things,” Gardenhire said.
The two of them sat at a table recently talking with reporters about the upcoming season as the caravan was about to begin, and Steinbach told stories about lessons learned from Oakland manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan when he was a young catcher with the Athletics. Steinbach could hit, but the defensive side of his game had to come around.
“I was 3 for 4 one game, and all of a sudden the clubhouse guy taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Tony wants to see you.’ I’m thinking, being a rookie, he wants to tell you how good you’re doing,” Steinbach said. “So I walk into Tony’s office, and he says, ‘Hey, close the door.’ So Tony probably doesn’t want everyone else to hear what a good job I’ve done. So I pull up a chair and sit down, and he goes, ‘If you ever call as crappy of a game that you called today, you’re out. We’ll send you down out of here so fast.’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’ I thought if you hit, you stay. But it was a good teaching situation, because in catching there’s much more to just swinging the bat. So it was kind of an eye-opening experience.”
Gardenhire laughed as he thought about Steinbach tutoring All-Star Joe Mauer.
“I can’t wait until you call Joe into my office so I can rip him,” Gardenhire said.
Responded Steinbach: “I said I have to learn the guys.”
“He goes 5 for 5, and you call him in and say, ‘You stunk,’” Gardenhire said, still chuckling. “I’ve got something to look forward to already.”
Kidding aside, Steinbach was eager for the opportunity once the Twins approached him, with his children now full grown.
“I’m excited about getting back into the game at the major league level. I enjoyed, when I was catching, the mental part of the game,” Steinbach said. “Game calling, setting up hitters and going with your gut feeling and trying to pick up on what the hitter might be tipping off, what they’re trying to do, what the situation is.”
Brunansky joined the Twins organization as a hitting coach in 2010. He served in that role with Double-A New Britain in 2011 and Triple-A Rochester in 2012.
“He’s a good fit here. He has a lot of energy, a lot of ambition and a lot of knowledge, and I think people will gravitate toward him,” general manager Terry Ryan said. “He’s a good man. He’s a good worker. He cares.”