As baseball coach at Cypress (Calif.) College for 32 years, Scott Pickler is naturally gratified to have helped send 18 players to the major leagues. But when his own son, whose eight-season pro career peaked at Triple-A a decade ago, was hired earlier this month to wear a major league uniform?
“That might be my proudest moment,” the longtime coach said.
Jeff Pickler, a former SEC Player of the Year and professional scout who has spent the past two seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ front office, has been hired for Twins manager Paul Molitor’s coaching staff for 2017, multiple sources with knowledge of the hire confirmed Tuesday.
Pickler, 40, has served as a special assistant for pro scouting and player development under Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, a role that has included some on-field coaching duties with Dodgers prospects. He interviewed with Molitor, Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and other team officials at the winter meetings in early December, where he was offered, and accepted, a role on Molitor’s staff.
That role has yet to be finalized, however, and sources indicated that Pickler is unlikely to fill the vacancy as first-base coach, created when Butch Davis was let go in November. Pickler, who has spent several hours getting acquainted with Molitor recently, is also being considered as a potential bench coach, a role filled the past two seasons by Joe Vavra, or to handle a new, more general responsibility in the dugout better suited to his background in player development. Pickler was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
How the Twins will add Pickler and also hire another coach to handle first base (or reshuffle responsibilities) is unclear — MLB teams are allowed to have seven coaches in uniform during games, and Pickler is the seventh under contract for next season — but the Twins are expected to announce his hiring later this week.
Working for a decade under analytic-minded baseball leaders like Josh Byrnes, Jed Hoyer and Friedman make Pickler a natural fit for the Twins’ new direction under Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, who through a spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday. Pickler has a reputation in Los Angeles for embracing statistical evaluation and strategizing, which the Twins’ new front office intends to expand throughout Minnesota’s organization.
But as the son of a longtime baseball coach, his on-field teaching and scouting roots go back even farther.
“He’s a real student of the game. Any time I can’t figure out something about a player, I’ll send him a video of [that player’s] swing, or fielding technique, or whatever,” said the elder Pickler, who also coached his son for one season at Cypress after high school graduation. “He’s got a real feel for helping players, for making them better. I watched him work on the field at the Dodgers’ instructional camp — he’s a natural at this.”
Pickler, who starred as a second baseman at the University of Tennessee before being drafted by Milwaukee in the 11th round of the 1998 draft, played eight seasons in the minor league systems of Milwaukee, Texas and Colorado. He played four seasons at Class AAA, but never reached the major leagues as a player. After retiring with a career .299 average, he joined the Arizona Diamondbacks’ scouting staff for three years under Byrnes, the D-Backs’ general manager, spent one season as an assistant coach at the University of Arizona, and four years as a pro scout for the Padres, under Byrnes and Hoyer, before joining the Dodgers’ staff.
Pickler joins hitting coach James Rowson, hired earlier this month to replace Tom Brunansky, as newcomers on Molitor’s staff. Vavra, pitching coach Neil Allen, third-base coach Gene Glynn, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez were retained for 2017.