MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins named Edgar Varela their new hitting coach on Monday, promoting from within to fill the vacancy created by the departure of James Rowson earlier this offseason to become the bench coach and offensive coordinator for the Marlins. Minnesota also announced the hiring of Michael Salazar as its new head athletic trainer.
"Just having an opportunity to connect with the staff members and obviously with the offensive talent that we have, player-wise, on this club, it's always been the dream to be able to impact them at the highest level," Varela said. "I'm super excited for the opportunity to contribute to something special."
Varela, 39, spent the past two seasons as the Twins' Minor League field coordinator following 10 seasons as a coach in the Pirates' organization. While with Pittsburgh, Varela served as the Pirates' Latin American hitting coordinator in 2017 following managerial stints with the Gulf Coast League Pirates and Class A Advanced Bradenton.
As a player, Varela was selected from Long Beach State in the 31st round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the White Sox and played parts of five Minor League seasons as a corner infielder in the White Sox, D-backs and Marlins systems before he began his coaching career in 2008.
He will inherit a Twins offense that set a Major League record with 307 homers last season under the guidance of Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez. The continued development of core hitters like Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton will be central to the Twins' sustained offensive success in 2020. Varela understands that he will face high expectations following the Twins' historic 2019 and their playoff expectations for '20, but he embraces the challenge.
"The way I like to think of it is that it's a privilege to be in a position like that," Varela said. "Some may call it pressure. ... I think it's a privilege to be able to be in those moments. Like I said, it's going to be a challenge. Again, I think it's a privilege to be in those positions."
As Minor League field coordinator, Varela said he worked with assistant general manager Jeremy Zoll and director of player development Alex Hassan with a focus on developing coordinators, managers and members of the coaching staff across the organization. In addition to working with staff in a more centralized setting, Varela also visited the Twins' affiliates to help coaches at each level.
Varela has never coached at the Major League level, and the entirety of his coaching experience came at the Class A level or lower until 2017.
But a lack of Major League experience hasn't appeared to be a significant barrier in the past consideration of Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, as pitching coach Wes Johnson and former assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hefner were also hired without any Major League coaching experience prior to the 2019 season.
In fact, in addition to Varela's direct work with the Twins' hitters, his career in the Minor Leagues will serve as a strong asset in his goal of continuing to work with Zoll and Hassan, who were promoted earlier this offseason, to consolidate the organization's offensive coaching and philosophies.
"I'm also going to take pride in connecting our Minor League system all the way up the chain, so, as we get guys coming in and making an impact from the Minor League system, like LaMonte Wade last year, [Luis] Arraez, those types of guys," Varela said. "I want to make sure that we have a systematic approach all the way up. That's going to be fun for me as well."
Varela's emphasis as a coach throughout his career has been his ability to connect effectively with coaches and players at every level. Though he has only worked with Mitch Garver, Wade and Jake Cave among the Twins' current hitters, Varela is confident he can build those close connections at the Major League level, which should also mesh well with manager Rocco Baldelli's priority of having a loose but connected clubhouse.
"As guys work on individual things, whether it's a mentality, a technical issue, just understanding who they are, for me, I think that goes all the way up the ladder, whether you're in the GCL or whether you're in the big leagues," Varela said. "We're still human beings playing a game, so being able to understand who these guys are from the get-go is extremely important. I take a lot of pride in that."
The Twins will be unable to finalize next season's coaching staff for the time being, as Hefner departed to become the Mets' pitching coach on Tuesday, and bench coach Derek Shelton reportedly remains a finalist for the Pirates' managerial vacancy.