Shelton talks shop ... and talks and talks

January 23rd, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Last offseason, rookie manager Rocco Baldelli kept his bench coach involved in the Twins’ preparation process. That meant Derek Shelton spent a lot of time on the phone, a lot of time talking.

When Baldelli told Shelton, “You would not believe the conversations” a manager must have just before Spring Training, Shelton thought he could believe it. He thought he had been having most of them.

About two weeks ago, Shelton reached out to Baldelli.

“I was like, 'All right,'” the new Pirates manager said, “'now I know what you’re talking about.'”

This week, Shelton and the Pirates are hitting the road for the club’s annual CARE-a-van, a tri-state tour of public and private community events leading up to PiratesFest at PNC Park on Saturday. For the first time since his introductory press conference, Shelton wore his No. 17 Pirates jersey on Wednesday as he traveled with one group from Pittsburgh to Morgantown, W.Va., and back to the Cool Springs Sports Complex in Bethel Park, Pa.

It’s an opportunity for Shelton to meet fans, get a sense of the Pirates’ fan base and talk about baseball with kids, as he did Wednesday night. The bus rides and community events provide time to meet face to face with his coaching staff and a large group of players, from established figures like to prospects like and Cody Ponce.

And, yes, it’s another chance to talk.

A week ago, the Pirates’ staff met at the Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., to develop a plan for Spring Training and establish what they want their culture to be. Shelton and bench coach Don Kelly, who will run Spring Training, speak multiple times a day. Shelton has sought input from players since he was hired, asking what the staff can do to build a better environment around the team.

“When you’re developing relationships and you’re building relationships, it’s important to talk more,” Shelton said. “These guys have to know the things we’re saying and what we’re doing, it’s something we’re going to live. The more we can foster relationships early on, the better off it’s going to be.”

There’s been a lot of activity behind the scenes, in other words. That’s probably not a surprise considering Pittsburgh has replaced its president, general manager, one assistant general manager, the manager and all but three coaches this offseason. They’re all getting to know one another and the organization they’ve inherited.

That transition hasn’t translated to a transformed roster, however. The Pirates’ biggest additions this winter have been catcher and outfielder , both of whom were non-tendered in early December. They haven’t traded veterans and torn it all down, either.

Basically, the Pirates are still getting an idea of what they have and assessing what they can do going forward.

“I think that’s a big part of it. You don’t get in a lot of situations where it’s a new GM, new manager, new president, big chunk of a new coaching staff. I think we’re making evaluations,” Shelton said. “Some of that is hard to do when you’re looking at a computer or you’re looking at a stat sheet and you’re talking about these guys -- trusting the guys that are here, that have been here before.

“Spring Training is probably going to be more vital to us than it is a lot of clubs -- maybe not, because there’s clubs still looking for managers and a lot of hired managers. But when you have a new system in place and you have a new leadership group in place, we have to look at those guys and identify what our thoughts are on them.”

Shelton referenced something general manager Ben Cherington said when he was hired: his four-step process of identifying, acquiring, developing and deploying talent. Right now, the Pirates are still identifying their own talent. Once they’ve accomplished that, they can turn all of their talk into action.

“For us to do that, we have to take our time. We have to see players on the field. Then we have to work off that,” Shelton said. “We’re having a lot of conversations. Even though it probably seems quiet externally, there’s a lot of stuff going on internally with us having conversations about our club, not only in 2020, but 2021 and moving forward.”