MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Twins coaching staff under new manager Paul Molitor will have at least one holdover: hitting coach Tom Brunansky.
The Twins made the announcement Thursday that Brunansky would return on a one-year contract after spending the previous two seasons in the role.
When manager Ron Gardenhire was fired Sept. 29, his assistants were left in limbo with contracts that last through Dec. 31. General manager Terry Ryan wanted to bring Brunansky back, but he couldn’t make the decision before knowing whether the new manager would be on board. Molitor’s contract wasn’t finalized until Monday, culminating a five-week search, so Brunansky had been in pins-and-needles waiting mode since.
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”I think we accomplished quite a bit this year,” Ryan said of an offense that jumped in runs from 25th in the majors in 2013 to seventh in 2014. The Twins also surged forward in on-base-plus-slugging percentage, from 23rd in the majors in 2013 to ninth in 2014.
The improvement under Brunansky’s supervision also occurred despite a down year for star Joe Mauer, who batted a career-low .277 and missed six weeks because of a strained oblique muscle.
”We were in games. Our boys battled,” Brunansky said.
Progress was apparent with younger players like second baseman Brian Dozier and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, and rookie Danny Santana thrived throughout the season.
”I wanted us to compete every pitch. My first year I felt that we had given away way too many at-bats, which made it too easy for the opposing team and the opposing pitcher to go through our lineup,” Brunansky said, adding: ”That’s an attitude and a presence our ballclub needs to have.”
Brunansky was the right fielder on Minnesota’s 1987 World Series champion team, the highlight of six-plus years he played for the Twins during a 14-season career in the major leagues. Brunansky averaged 27 home runs annually during his time with the Twins.
He served as hitting coach for Double-A New Britain in 2011 and Triple-Rochester in 2012 before his promotion to Minnesota. Molitor was a roving minor league instructor during that time, so he and Brunansky have had numerous talks over the last few years. Serving as the hitting coach for a manager who finished his career with the 10th-most hits in major league history could be intimidating or stifling, but Brunansky said he sees ”no issues” with the arrangement. They share the same philosophy of teaching, Brunansky said, that a solid relationship must first be established in order to reach each player in a ”brick by brick” approach to procuring successful results.
”I’m glad that I’m going to be back and start to add more bricks to that wall,” he said.
Though the other coaches from Gardenhire’s staff are being considered for retention, pitching coach Rick Anderson won’t be back. Given the persistent problems with this team’s pitching over the last four seasons, this will be the important decision for the staff by Molitor and Ryan.
”I don’t have a timetable on that quite, yet but it’s being talked about daily,” Ryan said.
The Twins also revealed Thursday their spring training schedule. Pitchers and catchers will have their first workout Feb. 23, and the first full-squad workout will be Feb. 28.
The Twins will play the University of Minnesota, Molitor’s alma mater, in a scrimmage March 4 before beginning their 30-game Grapefruit League exhibition schedule March 5 against Boston. They’ll also host the Red Sox, who train just up the road in Fort Myers, Florida, on April 1, 2 and 4. The New York Yankees will visit recently renovated Hammond Stadium March 31.