Twins hire Jeff Smith, Pickler to join staff

December 20th, 2016
Jeff Smith (right) has managed Class A Fort Myers the past two seasons. (Cliff Welch/

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins rounded out their coaching staff under manager Paul Molitor on Wednesday, officially announcing the hirings of Jeff Smith as first-base coach and Jeff Pickler as a Major League coach and coordinator of Major League development.

The Twins also announced that assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez will remain in his current role, but will no longer be in uniform on the bench. Hernandez's duties will essentially remain the same, as he'll continue to instruct hitters in the batting cages and with video.

It opened an extra coaching position for Pickler, who was hired from the Dodgers' front office and has a background in analytics. He'll serve as a conduit between the front office and the coaches to convey analytics to the staff and players. Smith, who is entering his 20th year in the organization as a player or coach, will take over the vacant first-base coach job and will also assist with the catchers, taking away that responsibility from bench coach Joe Vavra.

Pickler and Smith join hitting coach James Rowson as three coaches hired this offseason after the Twins dismissed hitting coach Tom Brunansky and first-base coach Butch Davis. All other coaches, including the Major League medical and training staff, were retained.

"This is another exciting day for the Minnesota Twins," Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "We had the opportunity to round out our staff with two guys that really complement our group really well. We felt like we added impact coaches. Paul, Thad and I spent a lot of time vetting external and internal candidates and we were glad to find one of each."

In his role with the Dodgers, Pickler served as a special assistant for pro scouting and player development, which included some on-field work. He previously worked for the D-backs and Padres in scouting roles under Josh Byrnes. He became familiar with analytics in the process, especially in advanced scouting to see if what he was seeing with his eyes matched the numbers.

"Initially for me it was a way to confirm things you're seeing on the field," Pickler said. "With the way the game is changing, you're foolish to think that part of it can't help our players or our team. We're seeing more value with it. I think if we blend those two things we can go from good outcomes to great outcomes."

Although Pickler, 40, has worked closely with analytically minded front offices in the past, this is his first coaching role in the Majors. But he did serve as an assistant coach at the University of Arizona in 2009 in between his stints with the Padres and D-backs, and he is credited with improving their video technology to evaluate their own players.

As a player, Pickler starred at the University of Tennessee, winning SEC Player of the Year honors before being selected by the Brewers in the 11th round of the 1998 Draft. The second baseman hit .299/.370/.374 in 904 games in the Minors, but never reached the Majors. Even though he was mostly an infielder as a player, he'll also serve as a primary outfield instructor for the Twins.

"Jeff was very good player at the Minor League level," Molitor said. "He's learned all areas of the game. When you talk to him, teaching is his greatest passion. But the fact that he's been exposed to a lot of the information that the game provides now, we feel like he'll be a valuable resource in how we do our pregame preparations."

Smith, 42, managed or coached at various levels in the Twins' Minor League system for the past 12 seasons. He spent the last two as manager at Class A Fort Myers. Prior to that, he managed Double-A New Britain from 2010-14, managed at Fort Myers from 2008-09, managed Class A Beloit from 2006-07 and was the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Twins in '05.

Smith, who managed several Twins players in the Minors such as , , , and , will oversee catching and baserunning instruction for Minnesota.

"My ultimate goal was to get on a Major League staff and become a coach," Smith said. "I'm very thankful. I think the one thing that intrigued me was the opportunity to work with our catchers this spring. It's something I have a passion for."