FORT MYERS, FLA. – Kyle Gibson didn’t know what to expect when he entered a meeting with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine at the beginning of Twins training camp.
But quickly Gibson was told he was not far from being a top major league pitcher.
“It was an encouraging meeting, for them to have so much confidence in what I can do,” Gibson said.
Brian Dozier, whose 42 home runs formed one of the few bright spots for a 59-103 team last season, liked the concept of having every player meet with Falvey and Levine — the team’s new bosses — and manager Paul Molitor to discuss objectives.
“We’ve joked how many times they have used the word ‘collaborative,’ ” Dozier said. “That’s what we want to see from the brass — because everyone is in this together.”
Falvey was named Twins chief baseball officer and Levine became senior vice president and general manager in early November, leading to a general belief there would be a flurry of offseason activity.
Instead Twins players, from the minors to the majors, have gotten a taste of the duo’s vision of a productive organization. As the 57th season of Twins baseball begins Monday, their plan is being implemented.
There has not been a makeover of the roster, although it might eventually happen. But there was an inside-out build at work in Fort Myers that will sweep through the minor league system and end up at 1 Twins Way.
Falvey and Levine are working over the baseball infrastructure. The player meetings — Levine joked that they were “speed dating” — are just one aspect. Scouting, development, training, nutrition, sleep, game-planning and other areas are all being addressed by the new administration.
No, the two did not make an impact trade or drop a nine-figure salary on a top free agent. But this part of the plan is directed at helping players throughout the system improve. In their eyes, it means more than just bringing in new players.
“I’m totally appreciative of the fact that it doesn’t pay immediate dividends for the fan base, and that’s what they’d demand out of these positions,” said Levine, who joined the Twins after 11 seasons with Texas. “Hopefully this will lead us to making better decisions that will impact a 25-man roster.
“Ultimately when we make those decisions it will heighten the chances that those players will not only succeed but they’ll overachieve based upon some of the resources we put around them. Our focus was to build those resources first and then address the players more specifically.”
An odd couple?
Falvey, 34, and Levine, 45, can’t remember the first time they met. They just remember seeing each other through the years when their respective teams played, at winter meetings and dinners. They developed a mutual admiration for one another through the years.
“Thad is a real respected guy around the game,” Falvey said. “Not just from his baseball acumen, but just the way he connects. I knew I had connected with him the number of times I met him.”
Falvey is a former college pitcher who got into baseball by volunteering his services at the Cape Cod League and turning it into an internship with Cleveland. Levine, also a college player, gained marketing experience with Coca-Cola, Reebok and Rockport before working for the Rockies, then joining the Rangers.
Mark Shapiro, the current president and CEO of the Blue Jays, was Cleveland’s GM when a young Falvey joined in 2007 and also has provided career counseling to Levine through the years.
Falvey’s vision and patience, Levine said, belie his age. Levine is the quick-witted wordsmith who, Falvey says, is trying to help the boss tap into his humorous side.
During a Rangers-Indians series in August — before they knew they’d be working together in Minnesota — Levine was chatting with Falvey when Cleveland slugger Mike Napoli, a former Rangers player, came over to greet him.
“I tried to convince Derek that it would be a good idea for them to give us Mike Napoli,” Levine said, “and he cordially declined.”
Falvey’s strengths are scouting and development, especially when it comes to pitching. Levine oversees contract negotiations and trades and provides statistical and financial analysis.
Both are neutral in the “analytics vs. scouting” debate, embracing a blend.
“They take the old school and collaborate it — ha, ha — with new-age baseball,’’ Dozier said, “and they find what’s best.”
The Twins fired longtime executive Terry Ryan on July 18 and spent the rest of the summer hunting for a new leader. With the help of search firm Korn Ferry, the Twins zeroed in on Falvey, a relative unknown — even among the baseball cognoscenti.
After Falvey was named chief baseball officer on Oct. 6. his search for a GM brought him to Levine.
“It was really easy to see we were well-aligned on the details,” Falvey said.
Falvey brought the player-meetings concept with him from Cleveland, and it will be an annual event, a way for players and staff to get on the same page. Falvey and Levine also spent more time in the clubhouse than predecessor Ryan — a growing trend in the industry. They want to be accessible if players want to speak with them.
“It makes for a better environment when you have a close relationship with your bosses,” righthander Phil Hughes said. “You probably see that more and more these days.”
A different direction
Their work over the past five months has produced some bullet points.
• Communication is important to the new regime. Since Falvey and Levine have taken over, the annual scouts’ summit has evolved into a hitters’ summit and pitchers’ summit, where the coaches from the majors through the minors fortify their philosophies.
• The scouting department met with the development department to share ideas on what to look for in prospects. This will be key as the Twins head into the June draft with new leadership and a new scouting director in Sean Johnson, who embraces analytics.
• Zane McPhee was hired as a full-time baseball researcher as the buildup of that department goes on.
• Every minor leaguer will meet with his manager, coaching staff and training staff to create a personal development program. Both parties will sign off on objectives and goals, making sure the player has a vested interest in his outcome. The program will be reviewed during the season.
• Answering what Twins players have requested for years, a full-time massage therapist will travel with the team.
• The club hired a nutritionist/dietitian who has overhauled the menu in the dining room. Healthier meals, including some tailored for the Latin players, are prepared. Soda has been banned. If bacon is on the menu, it’s turkey bacon. Clubhouse attendants on the road will be sent a list of food the Twins want to eat during their stay.
• Jeremy Hefner, who pitched for the Mets in 2012 and 2013, joined the club as an advance scout. He will be a bridge between the front office, analytics department and on-field staff.
Time for change
“We are starting to see the vision that Derek outlined for us during the interview process,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “When Thad came on, it was accentuated further that they had a vision of how they wanted to build out this organization.”
Nothing excites a fan base — and sells tickets — like a splashy player transaction. That has been lacking. Falvey and Levine prefer to put in play plans to help developing players improve but would like to augment the roster with talent down the road.
They are being given the time — and resources — to build their vision.
“We owe them a little more runway,” St. Peter said, “and I assure you that’s how ownership sees it.”
If last year was, in the words of ownership, a “total system failure,” this year is a reboot, with the implementation of new approaches to Twins baseball.
“I was hoping to implement Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels,” joked Levine, referring to stars who helped Texas stay strong, “but I haven’t been able to figure that out just yet.”