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Can Ron Gardenhire Develop Young Players?

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Comments have been pretty negative about yesterday’s decision to grant Ron Gardenhire a two-year extension and retain the Minnesota Twins coaching staff. And that’s not just on the Twins Daily forums; check out stories on the Minnesota Twins Official site for some real vitriol. Twins fans are upset.

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ID:	5760A lot of those comments are rhetoric, which has the advantages of being powerful, entertaining and fairly obvious after a third year of futility and an especially brutal September. But rhetoric is also often logically dubious. One side will claim Gardenhire should be fired for three straight 96+ loss seasons. The other claims he should be retained for six division titles. Both are results which managers probably influence, but so do a lot of factors, like talent.

Beyond the rhetoric, there is plenty of concerns regarding Gardenhire’s performance history. One of the biggest is whether a rebuilding organization can entrust a youth movement to Gardenhire and his coaching staff.

Certainly, that was a problem this year. Aaron Hicks was a disaster. Chris Parmelee wasn’t much better. Trevor Plouffe stagnated offensively and maybe even regressed defensively. Only Brian Dozier – a player Gardy publicly lobbied to be promoted – ended up overachieving.

That raises the question of how many past players really grew under Gardy’s tutelage. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, certainly, but they were always viewed as “can’t miss” stars. Jason Kubel probably didn’t have quite the career we expected, but there was the injury. Michael Cuddyer certainly developed, but it took him several years to shake the “underachieving” label. And the generation before developed mostly under Tom Kelly, breaking through largely in 2001 before Gardenhire took over.

Similarly, there are questions about the development of the pitching staff under pitching coach (and former Gardenhire minor league roommate) Rick Anderson. Both Gardenhire and Anderson have been widely lauded for the development and handling of their bullpens, and this year’s group was no exception. But the organization is floundering largely because their rotation is among the worst in major league baseball and has been for three straight years.

Again, questions arise about how successful this coaching staff has been in developing starters. Brad Radke carried a heavy load for several years, but he came up under Kelly. Johan Santana shined, but the turning point in his career is universally acknowledged to be when he perfected a changeup taught to him by AAA pitching coach (and current Twins bullpen coach) Bobby Cuellar. Kyle Lohse improved after leaving.

More recently, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey both were serviceable for a time, but never took the final step to be consistently excellent. Nick Blackburn followed the path of Carlos Silva, looking like a true success story but regressing back to a dismal finish. Finally, Francisco Liriano is starting tonight in the Wild Card game, resembling the pitcher we were waiting for him to be – the year after he left the Twins.

It seems odd to ask whether a coaching staff that had a decade of success can develop young players, because a decade of success almost demands that they be able to do so. But looking at past examples, and especially looking at recent failures, the question is there. At least from the outside.

It must not be for Terry Ryan. Because yesterday’s decision essentially entrusts Gardenhire to oversee the final developmental steps of a farm system widely viewed as one of the best in baseball. Beyond all the rhetoric about wins and losses, that is what yesterday was about.

And perhaps that is why so many are upset.
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  1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
    Why not Molitor?
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