Baseball is a game of failure, the metaphor goes, of striking out and popping up and staying confident that eventually you’ll get a hit.
David Popkins’ approach as the Twins’ new hitting coach presupposes: What if it isn’t?
Not that the 31-year-old San Diego native expects Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson to hit 1.000 next season, or even noticeably differently than they do now. But Popkins, whose own playing career peaked two levels below the majors, confessed Monday to being fascinated by the search for tools or methods that could have changed that — and now instead will benefit Twins hitters.
“I just got addicted to the puzzle. I got addicted to [understanding] why so many of these guys are doing different things and having success,” said Popkins, hired away from the highly regarded Dodgers’ player-development system. “There has to be some underlying principles or foundations or movements that are going on. I’m one of those personalities where, I have to figure it out.”
That’s the sort of open-mindedness and thirst for answers that attracted Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, to Popkins as the successor to Edgar Varela on manager Rocco Baldelli’s 2022 coaching staff. The Twins wanted someone who is fluent in the data-driven approaches to hitting that have become possible through advanced technology, and believe Popkins is that man.
“He’s someone who is really and up-and-comer,” Falvey said. “Everyone in the Dodgers organization spoke so highly of who David is as a coach, as a learner, as a guy that’s continuing to get better.”
Popkins won’t try to force players to change, he said, but gain their trust by demonstrating what experience and data reveals.
“Swings are very sacred, and as soon as you know that — and know that players really don’t care what you know until you build a relationships with them — all of that coming together shows you the solutions,” Popkins said. “The toolset is pretty wide. There are very creative things I’ve used in the past, and I’ve learned from others. … There are a lot of things that go into it.”
Gant a free agent
The Twins surprised some baseball scouts by receiving a major-league arm at the trade deadline in exchange for J.A. Happ, whose unfortunate tenure with the Twins was reflected in his 6.77 ERA.
But their return from the Cardinals — righthander John Gant — turned out to be no more successful in Minnesota than Happ.
Gant, 29, was outrighted off the Twins’ roster on Monday and declared free agency, ending a two-month stint with the Twins that began hopefully — only one earned run allowed in his first five appearances, all in relief — but spiraled into failure once he joined the starting rotation over the final six weeks. Gant, who made it clear he preferred to start, went 1-5 with a 5.61 ERA in seven starts for Minnesota.