The Twins are looking at Boston’s Carl Willis and former Tampa Bay coach Jim Hickey among several candidates to become their next pitching coach, according to sources with knowledge of the search.
Willis, who interviewed with the club Monday, spent the past two-plus seasons as the Red Sox pitching coach after replacing Juan Nieves in May of 2015. He’s still under contract with Boston, but the future of the staff is up in the air after the firing of manager John Farrell following the Red Sox’s playoff defeat to Houston.
Twins fans will remember Willis, nicknamed “Big Train,” for the five years he pitched in Minnesota, including the 2.63 ERA he posted in 40 games as a reliever for the 1991 World Series champions.
Wills, 56, had stints with Cleveland (2003-2009) and Seattle (2010-2013) in addition to his time in Boston. C.C. Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Felix Hernandez (2010) and Rick Porcello (2016) won Cy Young Awards on his watch.
And Willis was a finalist the last time the Twins searched for a pitching coach, losing out to Neil Allen following the 2014 season. With Allen being let go at the end of three-year stint, the Twins are taking another look at Willis as they look to take their pitching to another level.
Hickey and the Rays parted ways after 11 seasons, a period during which David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Matt Garza, Chris Archer and other starters thrived. Hickey, who turned 56 on Thursday, was the pitching coach in Houston from 2004 to 2006. He presided over two staffs that reached the World Series, the 2005 Astros and the 2008 Rays.
Allen was a minor league pitching coach for the Rays during Hickey’s time in the majors.
Several other candidates are being considered as the Twins seek someone who can lead the major league staff and set the tone for pitching throughout the organization.
Young righthander Jose Berrios went 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA in his first full season in the majors, and the 23-year old’s development is critical. The Twins also have well-regarded starting pitching prospects in lefthander Stephen Gonsalves and righthander Fernando Romero who are close to contributing on the major league level. There also is a group of young relievers that includes lefthander Taylor Rogers and righthanders Tyler Duffey, Trevor Hildenberger and John Curtiss. Tapping into their potential is just as important.
“I think, collectively, we decided that we are going to try to pursue someone in that role that will help push our pitching forward,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said Oct. 10 at a news conference to announce his three-year contract extension.
Scribe to scout
John Manuel, editor of Baseball America and well-known in baseball circles as a writer/columnist for that publication since 1996, will join the Twins in their pro scouting department on Nov. 1.
Manuel posted the news on his Facebook page Tuesday, saying he pitched himself as a candidate when Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey called looking for advice.
Wrote Manuel: “Last spring, the Wall Street Journal featured all the BA alumni who work for the Cleveland Indians, and Derek Falvey was the one who started that. Derek called me as a reference for Matt Forman back when he was hiring Matt as an intern in the Tribe’s baseball operations department. Derek and Matt went on to bring in more BA alums — five others so far — to Cleveland’s scouting department. So when Derek inquired to me about candidates to pro scout for the organization he now leads, the Twins, I couldn’t help myself. I asked him, ‘What about me?’”