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Shelton makes solid first impression

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Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

You hear the term “players’ manager” thrown around a lot in baseball – and it’s almost always associated with a winning team.

The 2020 Pirates haven’t won anything yet, but the early returns indicate that new manager Derek Shelton is the walking definition of a players’ manager.

That much came through Wednesday during his introductory press conference at PNC Park. The upbeat 49-year-old Shelton and new general manager Ben Cherington talked a great deal about building a new culture and building relationships with the men who will perform on the field in Pirate uniforms in 2020.

Cherington put it rather simply when describing the quintessential Pirate.

“The kind of player we’d want for the Pirates is someone who wants to win. Period. That is what’s going to help us win – having players who want to win and want to be a part of a team that wants to win. Then it’s our job to support them in the best way possible, to try to help in any way we can whether that’s with coaching support, performance support or information to put them in the best position to succeed.

“We need to find ways to get better every day. It might be something small tomorrow or something big three months from now. We just need to be focused on getting better.”

Shelton most recently served as bench coach under Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, and Shelton spoke highly of the 2019 American League manager of the year.

“Rocco is the most humble man alive, and we can all learn humility from him,” he said. “We won 101 games, but it was not always smooth sailing. I saw how he navigated and the conversations he had with people.”

Shelton has developed a reputation as a guy who wants to put the fun back in baseball for the Pirates, but he acknowledged that may not happen overnight.

“For me to instantly think that I’m going to walk in the clubhouse and, because people have said positive things about me, that everyone will trust and like me, I realize that’s not true,” he said. “But it’s my job and the job of baseball operations, and especially the coaching staff on a day-to-day basis, to build the relationships and the trust and give [the players] an opportunity for their voices to be heard. They’re grown men – I want to see how they respond.”

Shelton also acknowledged the importance of building a quality coaching staff and although he didn’t mention any names, he noted that he and Cherington have a “good start.”

Regardless of who’s on the staff, Shelton said he will rely on his coaches and the entire baseball operations department to help transform the Pirates into winners. He likened to situation in Minnesota to a “partnership” among those elements and hopes to recreate the same atmosphere in Pittsburgh.

“If I didn’t get information from everyone,” he said, “I wouldn’t be doing my job to the fullest.”

Shelton referenced the four pillars that Cherington talked about as big keys to building a winning culture – one of which is deployment.

“The big thing, among our group in Minnesota, was building relationships and freeing up some guys’ minds as to who they were as players. Ben outlined the four pillars earlier and deployment was something we did pretty well. We were deploying guys’ actual skill sets and using them, and letting them do their thing.”

Shelton said he and his staff will place major emphasis on player development, a process that won’t stop when players reach the big leagues. “Sometimes guys may not be ready,” he said. “It’s a goal of myself, our staff and the baseball operations group – you have to realize that development has to continue at this level.”

As field manager, Shelton will serve as a conduit of sorts between the baseball ops people and the players. He said he’s come to realize during his 15-year coaching career that players can never get enough information as they attempt to move from point A to point B in their careers.

“Regardless of where they get from, players want information to get better,” he said. “It will be part of my job and the staff’s job to take that information we have and isolate so we can deploy it the right way for each guy.”

Shelton served as the Twins’ bench coach the last two seasons after spending the 2017 campaign as the Toronto Blue Jays’ quality control coach. Before that, Shelton worked as the Rays’ hitting coach for seven seasons. He started his big league coaching career in Cleveland in 2005 – again serving as hitting coach.

However, he said he won’t be a hands-on hitting coach in Pittsburgh. “That’s not my job – that’s the hitting group’s job,” he said. “I’ll definitely have opinions on it, although I don’t know if they’ll be the right opinions.”

As for the pitching, Shelton said he was excited about the group of arms the Pirates have assembled, calling it a solid core. Cherington downplayed the possibility of the Pirates making a major move to bolster that staff, despite the group’s woeful performance last season.

“The way I’ve always thought about it is, if you’re turning the dial on improvement, you can turn it more by helping the players or pitchers who are already here to be at their best than you can by any single addition,” he said.