Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Joe Vavra, who served as hitting coach, first-base coach and third-base coach under Ron Gardenhire, will remain on new manager Paul Molitor's staff as bench coach, the Twins announced on Tuesday.
Vavra was hired in 2006 as hitting coach, and held the position until Tom Brunansky was appointed to the post for the 2013 season. The Menomonee, Wis., native, whose two sons play in the Twins' minor-league system, joins Brunansky as holdovers from Gardenhire's staff.
The Twins also announced the previously disclosed hirings of Neil Allen as pitching coach and Eddie Guardado as bullpen coach, putting the team's pitching staff in the hands of a pair of former closers who have impressive reputations among their pupils, but no major-league experience in their new jobs.
Allen, an 11-year big-league veteran, has spent eight years working with pitchers in the Rays' system, the last four at Class AAA Durham. And Guardado, who pitched for 17 seasons in the majors including a dozen in Minnesota, has helped tutor relief pitchers at the team's spring camp for the past two seasons.
They join hitting coach Tom Brunansky, assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez and third-base coach Gene Glynn on new manager Paul Molitor's coaching staff next season. The team has yet to hire a first-base or bench coach.
The Rays' pitching staff has been generally strong for the past half-dozen seasons, and Allen, 56, helped develop Tampa Bay's pitching staff from the Triple-A level. Pitchers like Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi, each of whom won at least 10 games for the Rays in 2014, were pupils of Allen's at Durham.
Allen pitched 11 seasons in the major leagues from 1979-1989 with the Mets, Cardinals, White Sox, Yankees and Indians, posting a career 3.88 ERA with a 58-70 record and 75 saves. He was a teammate of former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire with the Mets.
Guardado, 44, was elected to the Twins Hall of Fame in 2013 for posting 116 saves during his career in Minnesota. He retired in 2009, but was enlisted by Gardenhire to help coach the team's pitchers each spring in Fort Myers, Fla.
By La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller
Neil Allen, who helped shepherd the pitchers who form the nucleus of one of the American League's best pitching staffs to Tampa Bay, has been hired as the new pitching coach of the Twins, three sources with knowledge of the hiring confirmed on Saturday.
Allen, a coach in the Rays' system since 2007, including the past four seasons as pitching coach at Class AAA Durham, was informed of the Twins' decision on Friday night, the sources said. He was the pick over former Cleveland and Seattle pitching coach Carl Willis, the other finalist.
Unlike Willis, Allen has no major-league coaching experience, making him an interesting choice for new manager Paul Molitor, who has never managed at any level before. But he is well-regarded for his work in the minors, helping Tampa Bay consistently field an above-average pitching staff built largely from within.
One source, who did not want to be identified because the Twins have not announced the choice, said of Allen, "He's a smart guy with some really interesting ideas. And his pitchers work hard for him."
Allen did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
With the Triple-A Bulls, Allen worked with young pitchers like Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi, each of whom won at least 10 games for the Rays this season, and hard-throwing closer Jake McGee, who saved 19 games.
Allen, who turns 57 in January, is a native of Kansas City who now lives in Sarasota, Fla. He pitched 11 seasons in the major leagues from 1979-1989 with the Mets, Cardinals, White Sox, Yankees and Indians, posting a career 3.88 ERA with a 58-70 record and 75 saves. A right-handed pither, he was drafted by the Mets like his predecessor as Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson, though he reached the major leagues six years earlier.
Asked to describe his pitching philosophy, Allen said in a 2010 interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune that "I attack the zone. I'm not a guy, as you well know when I was a closer -- I'm not a guy who picks and feels my way. I'm not afraid of contact. I don't want them to be afraid of contact, I want them to put the ball in play. I don't like base on balls."
He's come to the right place, because the Twins issued nearly 700 fewer walks than any other team in baseball during Anderson's 13-year tenure under manager Ron Gardenhire. The Twins also struck out fewer batters than any team.
Allen joins a staff that already includes hitting coach Tom Brunansky, assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez and third-base coach Gene Glynn. Eddie Guardado is reportedly the team's choice as bullpen coach, but the Twins have not yet announced that hire. A bench coach and a first-base coach are still to be hired.
Four of the Twins' brightest prospects were added to the team's 40-man roster on Thursday to shield them from next month's Rule 5 draft. Now the question is: When will they become part of the 25-man roster?
Third baseman Miguel Sano, second baseman and outfielder Eddie Rosario, right-handed starter Alex Meyer and left-hander Jason Wheeler became part of the major-league team on Thursday, the deadline for setting rosters before the Rule 5 draft.
All were easy and obvious choices for the Twins, since they are considered among the best prospects in Minnesota's system. Sano, 21, who has 90 home runs in his minor-league career, is one of the best power-hitting prospects in minor-league baseball, despite missing the 2014 season after elbow surgery. Rosario, 23, is a talented left-handed hitter who recently batted .330 in the Arizona Fall League and helped lead Salt River to the championship.
Meyer, 24, was acquired from Washington for Denard Span and struck out 153 batters in 130 innings last season for Class AAA Rochester. And Wheeler, 24, an eighth-round pick in 2011, posted a 2.67 ERA at Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain last season.
All four players will come to spring training with the Twins and have a chance to make the major-league team, although Meyer is considered the only player expected to do so right away. But all four are likely to be in Minneapolis at some point next season or in 2016.
Players with five seasons of minor-league experience, or four seasons if they were signed after turning 19, are eligible to be drafted by any team if they are not on a 40-man roster.
For the Twins, that means players like Levi Michael, their first-round pick in the 2011 draft, and Sean Gilmartin, a left-hander and former first-rounder acquired in the Ryan Doumit trade last year, can be drafted.
The Twins needed to make no cuts to their roster to add the four players. Their roster now stands at 40.
Tom Brunansky, who served as the Twins' hitting coach under Ron Gardenhire for the past two seasons, will hold the same position on Paul Molitor's staff next year, the team announced Thursday.
Under Brunansky's direction, the Twins ranked fifth in the AL in runs scored and in OPS last season, scoring 101 more runs than they did in 2013, when they ranked 14th.
Like Molitor, who was hired as the Twins' new manager on Monday, Brunansky is a former Minnesota player, though they were never teammates. Brunansky served as hitting coach for the Twins' Gulf Coast League team in 2010, and spent two seasons in the same position at Class AAA Rochester before being promoted by Gardenhire to the Twins in 2013.
Brunansky is the first coach to be named to Molitor's staff. The rest of Gardenhire's staff remains in limbo as the new manager considers new hires.
After nearly five weeks spent looking for a manager, the Twins appear to have settled on the first candidate they interviewed.
Paul Molitor, a Twins coach and a Hall of Fame player who interviewed for the job just two days after Ron Gardenhire was fired last month, appears to be the team's choice. Sources with knowledge of the Twins' managerial search indicate to Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse that Molitor could be hired early next week, barring a last-minute change of mind by the team's owner and front office.
Torey Lovullo, Red Sox bench coach under John Farrell, was the other finalist, and Twins owner Jim Pohlad flew to Lovullo's home in Los Angeles last week to meet him. But all indications are that Pohlad continues to prefer Molitor, a St. Paul native, as the team's third manager in 29 seasons. General manager Terry Ryan, who fired Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager, could make the hiring official as soon as Monday.
Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz has been informed he will not be Gardenhire's successor, though the former first baseman is expected to be promoted to one of the Twins' top two farm clubs. Mientkiewicz became a finalist after leading the Miracle to the Florida State League championship in September.
Byron Buxton's broken finger required surgery to repair, but the procedure to insert a pin to reinforce the bone went without a problem and the Twins' top prospect is expected to be ready for spring training next February.
Buxton fractured the middle finger on his left hand on Monday while diving for a ball during an Arizona Fall League game. The injury was originally diagnosed as a dislocation, but a hand specialist discovered the fracture.
Buxton and the Twins had hoped the fracture would heal without operating, but after additional consultation, Twins' minor-league director Brad Steil confirmed Friday, the decision was made to place the pin inside the finger, a procedure which took place Thursday morning in Arizona.
The damage wasn't as bad as doctors feared, which could speed up his return. Buxton has been told to rest his left hand while it heals, which will limit his ability to swing a bat this winter. But doctors expect him to be able to resume training for the 2015 season by January, well before Twins' camp opens in February.
The 20-year-old center fielder appeared in 13 AFL games with the Salt River Rafters, hoping to salvage some playing time after an injury-plagued 2014 season. He was batting .263 with five stolen bases when he was injured.
It's the third injury that Buxton has sustained while diving for fly balls this season. He severely sprained his left wrist on a similar play during the end of training camp last March, costing him nearly three months, and he suffered a concussion during a collision with another outfielder while playing for Class AA New Britain in August.
Buxton, rated the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the season, also suffered a sore shoulder, bruised toe and bruised right wrist during the season, limiting him to just 31 games.
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