FORT MYERS, Fla. — There’s a plaque in the garage of a former player’s Brooks Lee California family home that represents everything the Twins’ 2022 first-rounder wants to become. Not only was the player an elite hitter, but his meticulous technique on base runs helped him become one of seven players in baseball history to finish with 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases.
When Lee found out earlier this week that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor would be acting as the base running instructor during the Twins’ spring training, he got excited. Just seven months into his professional career, this is already the second time that Lee, the son of a college coach who idolized Molitor, has worked with him in person.
At the request of Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, Molitor returned to the Twins’ big league camp this week to help the club improve their basic functioning. This is Molitor’s first time working with the Twins big leaguers in Fort Myers since he was fired as the team’s manager after the 2018 season. Although Molitor was a little hesitant at first, Lee said the local legend wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.
“He’s like a baseball encyclopedia,” Lee said. “Almost every time he has something to say.”
When it comes to running the bases, Molitor should have opinions. His aggressive nature has consistently made him one of the top base runners in the majors over a 21-year career.
He hit 504 of 635 stolen base attempts, with his 79.3% success rate about 11% higher than the rest of the league.
But the biggest focus in the Twins camp is based on Molitor’s ability to take the extra 90 feet.
Even after undergoing knee surgery in 1981 and battling a series of hamstring injuries, Molitor had an extra 48 on-base percentage over the league rate of 44, including a whopping 67% in 1984. Just six times in his career, Molitor has XBT rate drops below 44, and five of those cases have happened after he turned 32.
“There’s probably no one better to talk about grassroots running,” Baldelli said.
Although he knows many players and most coaches, Molitor still wasn’t very comfortable with the situation until he spoke with Baldelli.
As part of the team’s inside look after last season’s slump, the Twins knew they needed improvements on the basics. The team has 52 outs on base in 2022, four above the league average and tied for sixth in the majors.
Knowing that baseball has also implemented rules intended to increase activity on the bases, Baldelli identified fixing the team’s station-to-station operation as a primary goal at the start of the offseason. To help, Baldelli wanted to integrate Molitor.
The two discussed the subject after the season and reunited last month at TwinsFest to set things straight.
“(Baldelli) even mentioned at the time, the game is changing and we want to handle the bases better and more aggressively,” Molitor said. “We had a long, pleasant conversation. … I was a little hesitant because you are on the outside and you respect the coaches.
But Molitor grew more comfortable with the situation when he realized just how committed Baldelli intended to be. It wouldn’t be a topic mentioned at the start, then glossed over. The Twins included basic running drills every day during their first week at camp.
“He’s trying to make it a fundamental point here at the start of camp that he wants to see more aggressive base running and the little things, running a little bit harder out of the box and looking for additional bases and different ways the guys can do it and be prepared,” Molitor said. “He asked my opinion on certain things and I share and we go back and forth on how we want to teach him. That’s what we’ve been doing here for the past few days.
“We’re not going to be there all day doing it, but we’re going to do something every day and we’re going to stick with it. To make it a point of attention, you have to back it up with the work you do. go ask them to do it.
Although Baldelli and bench coach Jayce Tingler are leading the drills, Molitor is very active. He plays an active role in every session, disseminating information when needed.
The idea is to stress that the Twins cannot always rely on the long ball to generate offense and must find other ways to score. Molitor appreciates the way the team is trying to adapt and wanted to help.
“Not every year will be 2019,” Molitor said. “You used to talk about core management in terms of risk and reward. For a while there, it just became a risk. … But with the changes and the staff, you sort of decide to create an identity for yourself. We saw Cleveland’s identity and how it changed throughout the last year. They used that aspect of the game to deepen their squad collectively and it was impressive.
Most camp players are already familiar with Molitor’s impressive work; they either played under him or received instruction in the minors. But Tingler pulled out the resume anyway when he introduced Molitor before the team held its first full-team practice on Monday.
Since then, the Twins have focused on everything from taking extra base on a hit at secondary runs to working on how to execute a safety pressure. All of this is meant to create a strong foundation to build on during the season.
“I feel like we did a pretty good job paying attention to detail,” outfielder Michael A. Taylor said. “We’re lucky to have so many guys with great experience around us that we can lean on and learn from.”
Lee, of course, didn’t need an encore on Molitor. He also worked with Molitor during a minor league mini-camp in November.
Having recently left the college game, which is generally much more aggressive on the bases, Lee understands how important that can be. Between that and after studying the Hall of Famer, Lee listens carefully whenever Molitor or the others speak.
“It’s super important,” Lee said. “When you’re on top and you’re not lazy, that’s what makes a championship-caliber team. Everyone plays like a college team during the playoffs, but not everyone does in the regular season.
“(Molitor) has his pieces. He lets the main guys do the talking and if he has something to say he will definitely say something.
(Top photo by Paul Molitor: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins)