After 2,113 minor league games as a player, coach or manager, Jeff Smith’s big break finally has come.
Smith was named the first base coach on a revamped Twins staff. Smith also will work with catchers as the club seeks to modernize roles in finalizing the coaches Wednesday.
“Being with the Minnesota Twins, this will be my 20th year as a player or coach, managing the last 12 years,” Smith, 42, said. “My ultimate goal going through the minor leagues was to get on a major league staff and become a coach. … but also the opportunity to work with our catchers and all our catching group in spring training and [free agent signee] Jason Castro coming over and our guys competing there for the other spot, it’s something I have a passion for.”
The Twins also made official the appointment of Jeff Pickler as major league coach and coordinator of major league development, part of a recent trend in the league of employing coaches who can help implement statistical analysis into coaching.
Smith replaces first base coach Butch Davis, who was let go after the season. With Pickler joining the dugout as the seventh coach — the most allowed in uniform during games — assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez no longer will be on the bench.
“He will now work primarily behind the scenes off the bench, in the cage and in the video room,” said Derek Falvey, the team’s chief baseball officer.
Smith and Pickler join hitting coach James Rowson as new members of a coaching staff led by manager Paul Molitor. Joe Vavra (bench coach), Gene Glynn (third base coach), Neil Allen (pitching coach) and Eddie Guardado (bullpen coach) will return.
“We feel we’ve added impact coaches,” Falvey said. “Paul, [general manager] Thad [Levine] and I spent a lot of time … vetting external and internal candidates, and we were fortunate to find one of each who will make a major impact going forward.”
Class AAA Rochester hitting coach Chad Allen interviewed for a spot on the staff but was not selected. Class AA Chattanooga manager Doug Mientkiewicz — who interviewed for the manager’s position that Molitor landed — was not interviewed this time around.
Smith was a 20th-round pick of the Twins in 1995 who played seven seasons in the organization without a call to the majors. He later played in the Texas and Boston organizations before starting his coaching career. After being the hitting coach for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League rookie team in 2005, he managed two years at Class A Beloit, two years at Class A Fort Myers and five years at Class AA New Britain before spending last season back at Fort Myers.
“Having most of these guys in the minor leagues at one time or another, and the guys that’ll be coming up the next couple of years or this year too, [is] very beneficial,’’ Smith said. “They can talk to me about anything, baseball related or non-baseball related. The big thing for me, too, is I just like to teach, I love to teach baseball, love to take the ideas that we want to do in our organization and just keep teaching. That’ll be the fun part of these relationships, to just keep on teaching.”
One lesson he taught Miguel Sano in 2013 was to not pimp his home runs. When Sano smacked a long homer against Portland and took 29 seconds to round the bases, Smith benched him for four games. Smith said Wednesday that he has no lingering issues with Sano.
“We have a good friendship going,” Smith said. “An incident in baseball like that, immediately it gets blown up a bit. It’s more a teaching point at that time, just a teaching point in baseball, and soon after that it’s all done. My kids, [he’s] probably their favorite player, and he’s one of my favorite players in baseball too, so all set and look forward to going forward, absolutely.”