Edgar Varela likes to focus on mechanics, balance and rhythm as he works with hitters, and that’s pretty much what every hitting coach will say. But one trait that might have resonated with the Twins is how he connects with the players he works with.
The Twins named Varela their new hitting coach Monday. His predecessor, James Rowson, excelled in building relationships with every hitter on the roster and helping them fight through slumps and swing problems. That might be something the Twins see in Varela.
“That’s been a big part of my game as well, teaching players how to handle failure, because it is going to happen,” said Varela, who joins the Twins after two seasons as their minor league field coordinator. “Almost switching the verbiage from failure to opportunity. Something [former Pittsburgh Pirates manager] Clint Hurdle used to say is that it’s a game of opportunity, which it is, it truly is. Finding ways to hunt the good stuff that our guys are doing.”
That gives away some of Varela’s background. Before he joined the Twins minor league staff, he spent 10 years with the Pirates. He launched his coaching career in 2008 with the Pirates rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League. He’s coached and managed in the Pirates system and also was their Latin American hitting coordinator in 2017.
“I started as a hitting coach for six years and I went from the GCL level all the way to the High-A level,” Varela said, “and I got a managing opportunity after that at rookie level for three years.”
Varela, 39, was an infielder who was drafted in the 31st round by the White Sox in 2002 out of Long Beach State. It was there that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, a noted mental skills guru, worked with the baseball team. That’s where Varela began to learn how important the mental approach to the game can be.
Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, spoke of those traits during an interview last week.
“My view of the hitting coach position is that you want to find someone, especially at the major league level, who is understanding of how to prepare a hitter but also, in many ways, is an eternal optimist,” Falvey said. “I think it is one of the most difficult jobs at the major league level because there is so much failure in hitting.”
With the Pirates, Varela worked with prospects as they moved through the system, like Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. So he has some experience as a hitting coach, he just needs to prove he can work with assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez to keep the Twins offense as lethal as it was last season, or at least close.
The Twins belted a major league-record 307 home runs last season and had five players hit at least 30 homers, also a record.
It might have been the confluence of developing players such as Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano finding themselves at the same time veteran slugger Nelson Cruz joined the club as a free agent and added 41 home runs.
However it worked, it worked, and it led to Rowson being hired by Miami as its new bench coach and offensive coordinator.
That left the Twins to search for a new hitting coach. They looked at candidates within and outside the organization, and also received feedback from players before tabbing Varela, who has big shoes to fill.
Varela looks at it another way: He has a lot of players who can make a coach look good.
“Pressure is a privilege,” said Varela, who received congratulatory messages from Polanco and Garver following the announcement. “I’m excited to join this club for the opportunity to be able to work with guys like this. I’m super excited for this opportunity.”
The Twins also announced Michael Salazar as their new head athletic trainer Monday.
Salazar spent last season as the assistant athletic trainer for the San Diego Padres. Before that he spent 19 years with the Cleveland Indians.