During a day off from World Series action, attention shifted to the post-2019 MLB coaching and front office hiring (and firing) cycle. The Marlins were among the big winners, convincing Twins hitting coach James Rowson to accept a unique role on their major league staff for next season as bench coach and offensive coordinator. ESPN’s Jeff Passan broke the news Thursday evening.
Rowson fills the void left by Tim Wallach’s departure—after four years as Don Mattingly’s bench coach, Wallach announced near the end of the season that he’d be seeking new opportunities on the west coast to be closer to his family.
Focusing on the bench coach part of this, Rowson brings a far different perspective to the Marlins dugout. Wallach was roughly the same age as Mattingly, had been by his side throughout the decade with both the Dodgers and Marlins, and viewed the game as a longtime, highly productive former major league player. His replacement, meanwhile, had a short-lived playing career in the Mariners and Yankees organizations (.193/.285/.298, 4 HR in 456 PA in minors from 1995-1997), plus 50 games in independent ball. Rowson, 43, is closer in age to Chad Wallach than he is to Tim.
For the first time since Barry Bonds in 2016, the Marlins have African American representation on their major league coaching staff.
A huge milestone for diversity in MLB: The Marlins will have a black CEO, a black president of baseball operations and a black major league coach next season.— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) October 24, 2019
Rowson held Minnesota’s hitting coach job for three seasons, but the team’s 2019 success in particular thrust him into the spotlight. The Twins led the AL Central division practically wire-to-wire, propelled by a deep lineup that shattered the all-time MLB record with 307 home runs. Fifteen batters logged at least 200 plate appearances; 13 of them posted a 100 OPS+ or higher (indicating better than league average).
Although Rowson had the good fortune of working with several extraordinarily talented individuals, he also unlocked the full potential of lesser-known Twins by tailoring his instructions to suit their skill sets (via Dan Hayes, The Athletic):
“We drive home the thought of, ‘Put your best swing on the ball consistently.’ If you put your best swing on the ball consistently, you’re hoping to drive that ball somewhere. In a perfect world, that ball leaves the ballpark.
“I don’t think as much in terms of ‘hit home runs,’ but ‘consistently go up and try to put your best swing on the ball,’ and home runs tend to come from that when you execute the right way.”
Here’s more from Rowson in a midsummer FOX Sports North interview:
Craig Mish of FNTSY Radio notes that the Marlins had to request permission from the Twins to speak with Rowson about the bench coach/OC opportunity, and they cooperated. The familiarity with one another probably played a role in his hiring, too. Rowson had two stints as Yankees minor league hitting coordinator, most recently from 2014-2016, crossing paths with both Derek Jeter and Gary Denbo, who now serve as Marlins CEO and VP of player development and scouting, respectively.
Mish adds that “his hitting philosophies will be instituted at all levels in the Marlins organization,” not just limited to the big league club.
Rowson, unfortunately, cannot bring Twins players with him to the Fish, but expect to see whomever he works with implement some immediate changes in plate approach. For example, the 2019 Twins were particularly aggressive swinging at the first pitch (31.9%, fifth-highest rate in the majors). They also seldom hit balls on the ground (39.0 GB%, lowest in MLB); Miami was at the opposite end of the spectrum (49.5 GB%).
From here, the Marlins still need one more base coach at either first or third base to pair with Trey Hillman. Wellington Cepeda is the new bullpen coach for 2020. No word yet on who will take over for Brian Schneider as catching coach.
Lastly, keep in mind that Rowson would be the guy to handle Mattingly’s duties in the event of an ejection or excused absence. He has aspirations of eventually managing full time, even interviewing for the Twins’ opening a year ago.
Should Donnie Baseball fail to steer the Marlins closer to contention or simply walk away from the job after his current contract expires in 2021, James Rowson would seem to be an obvious in-house candidate.