Seeking a fresh voice for their underachieving young players, the Minnesota Twins have made Rocco Baldelli the youngest manager in the major leagues.
The Twins hired Baldelli, 37, on Thursday, the first job as a manager for the former Tampa Bay player, assistant and coach. He replaces Paul Molitor, who was fired after four seasons with a 305-343 record. Baldelli will be the first major league manager born in the 1980s.
Baldelli spent the last four years on the staff of Rays Manager Kevin Cash, the first three as first-base coach. His role for 2018 was a new position called major league field coordinator, helping Cash and the bench coach Charlie Montoyo with in-game strategy, working with the outfielders and focusing on the continued development of the team’s younger players.
Later Thursday, the Toronto Blue Jays chose Montoyo, 53, to be their new manager.
When the Twins’ chief baseball officer, Derek Falvey, and General Manager Thad Levine announced Molitor’s dismissal about three weeks ago, they expressed a desire for deeper connections with young players in hopes of more productivity on the field.
“Today’s player is increasingly demanding on coaches and managers relative to relationships and motivation and those sorts of things,” Levine said at the time. “We need to continue to try to put the resources around them that can service them, in this new generation of player.”
Whether or not Molitor, 62, could have done more, the 2018 season was a mess for center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, players who had long been groomed as franchise cornerstones. The Twins finished 78-84 after making the American League wild-card game in 2017.
Before joining the Rays’ coaching staff, Baldelli was a special assistant in the front office of the team, which drafted him sixth over all in 2000 out of high school in Rhode Island. Baldelli debuted with the Rays in 2003 at 21, finishing third in the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award voting after batting .289 with 51 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases. He picked up the nickname Woonsocket Rocket for his birthplace city and his speed on the field.
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. In 2008, he drove in the go-ahead run for the Rays in Game 7 of the A.L. Championship Series against the Red Sox and homered for the Rays in Game 5 of the World Series the following week.
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 Twins under Falvey and Levine over the last two years have dived much more deeply into the data-driven era, with a particular admiration for what the Rays have pioneered. They hired the Rays pitching analytics expert Josh Kalk as a senior analyst before the 2018 season, during which the Twins began copying Tampa Bay’s experiment of starting games with relief pitchers to maximize matchup advantages.
In Toronto, Montoyo will succeed John Gibbons, who was let go after the Blue Jays finished 73-89.
Montoyo, who is Puerto Rican, has a three-year contract with a club option for 2022. He is scheduled to be introduced at a news conference Monday.
Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said in a statement that Montoyo was “a highly regarded leader” with “a superior ability to connect and relate.”
Montoyo will be responsible for the development of the top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is expected to join the Blue Jays in April.
Before joining the parent club, Montoyo spent 18 seasons managing in the Rays’ minor league system. He won seven International League South Division titles and two Governors’ Cup championships with Class AAA Durham. He also worked with the Puerto Rican team at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
A second baseman who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987, Montoyo spent 10 seasons in the minors. His only major league experience was a four-game stint with the Montreal Expos in 1993.
Gibbons went 791-787 in 11 seasons during two stints managing Toronto, leading the team to A.L.C.S. appearances in 2015 and 2016. Toronto had losing records in 2017 and 2018.