by Gordy Jones
Today’s baseball teams have coaches for every occasion. There is a pitching coach, a hitting coach, a bench coach, an infield coach, a first base coach, a third base coach, and an outfield coach. Even though each coach has a specific job and responsibilities, Twins coaches seem to help out during practices wherever needed.
Every year at spring training, I see many familiar faces among the hundreds of uniformed guys running around — including those from the minors — there are always many new people. It always takes me a while to put their names, faces, and jobs together. This year, there was a new coach who was working mostly with major-leaguers who stood out. He seemed very organized, and as he coached the players he seemed pretty confident, and appeared to have the respect of the players. His name is Jeff Pickler, and he is the Twins’ new outfield coach. I actually met him opening day at Target Field, but I had a chance to catch up with him last week.
I asked Jeff to give me a little about his background. He began: “I was born in Garden Grove, California, and grew up in Anaheim.”
“Ooh, an Angels fan,” I replied.
“We went to quite a few games,” he said. “My grandfather was a city councilman in the city of Anaheim, and he had tickets to every game.” He lived so close to the ballpark they could stay until the final out and be home in time to watch the postgame show, even in California traffic.
Jeff has played a lot of baseball, but looked quite happy when he said, “Yeah, I was fortunate to be able to play for quite a while, and now even more fortunate to be able to stay in the game. In high school, I dabbled with basketball a little, but I couldn’t shoot a lick, so it was always baseball for me.”
Jeff played college ball for the Tennessee Volunteers, and in 1998, Pickler was named the Southeastern Conference Baseball Player of the Year. He graduated magna cum laude from Tennessee.
In 1998, the Milwaukee Brewers chose Pickler in the 11th round of the draft, and for eight years he played for the Brewers, Rangers, and Rockies on their minor-league teams. He is 5’ 8” and 180 pounds and was known to be quite fast. He told me that at his size, he chose to go for speed rather than power.
After retiring as a player, Jeff was a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks (2009-2012), an assistant baseball coach at the University of Arizona (2013), and a special assistant in scouting and player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers (2014-2017).
Coaching in his blood, as his father is a 30-year baseball coach at Cyprus College in California. I asked Jeff if he knew he’d eventually become a coach, too. “It’s funny, I see him as a teacher. He sees himself more as a teacher than a coach, too; that’s what good coaches do. My mother’s a teacher, too. I think teaching is in my blood as much as anything.”
When I told him I admired his teaching skills, he instantly gave the players the credit. “They’ve been very good about it. They want to get better and are looking for the next piece of their game. I think the credit goes to them in their work and desire to find the next level for themselves.”
As for working with the Twins, Jeff told me: “It’s been great! There’s a different vibe to this organization that people on the outside may not understand. It starts at the top with the Pohlad family, Dave St. Peter, and I think that Derek (Falvey) and Thad (Levine) are becoming an extension of that. When you get on the inside, you understand that the good things you’ve heard about the Twins are real. I realize what I’ve heard about the people, the fans, and just how the Twins treat people is very real.”
I didn’t get into specifics about his teaching methods with individual players, but whatever he’s doing with the Twins’ young outfield seems to be working. Obviously with the speed of Rosario, Buxton, and Kepler, they cover a lot of ground. But they look much more confident and are making fewer mistakes.
Jeff Pickler is a very knowledgeable, nice man, and I think and hope that he will be an asset for the Twins for many years to come.