By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
(AP) — The Minnesota Twins hired Rays assistant coach Rocco Baldelli as their new manager Thursday, seeking a young voice to help revive a struggling team.
The 37-year-old Baldelli replaces Paul Molitor, who was fired after four seasons with a 305-343 record . Baldelli will be the youngest manager in the major leagues, the first skipper ever born in the 1980s.
Baldelli spent the last four years on the staff of Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. For four seasons prior to that, he was a special assistant in the front office of the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2000 out of high school in Rhode Island. Baldelli debuted with the Rays at age 21 in 2003, finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year award voting after batting .289 with 51 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases.
Injuries hounded him for most of his career, however, and a rare disorder that caused muscle fatigue ultimately forced him to retire after the 2010 season. The only year as a professional he spent apart from the Rays was 2009, when he played in 62 games for the Boston Red Sox.
After three years as first base coach, Baldelli’s title in 2018 was major league field coordinator. He assisted Cash and bench coach Charlie Montoyo during the game, worked with the outfielders and focused on the continued development of the team’s young players.
Those were the magic words in Baldelli’s bio for Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine. They were effusive with their praise of Molitor for his acumen, character and flexibility, but the closest Falvey and Levine came to articulating a specific reason for Molitor’s dismissal when they announced it was a desire for deeper connections with millennial players in hopes of more productivity on the field.
Whether or not Molitor was responsible, the 2018 season was a mess for center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, the two players long anticipated as franchise cornerstones. The 24-year-old Buxton was again affected by injuries but struggled anew at the plate, so much that he spent the last four months in the minor leagues. The 25-year-old Sano also had a career-worst season.