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Kelly: Paul Molitor will be prepared

Minnesota Twins coaches Paul Molitor (4) and Tom Kelly (10) watch positions players stretching at the start of day nine of the Minnesota Twins' Spring Training at the Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Florida, Thursday, February 21, 2013. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You get only one chance to make a first impression.

Paul Molitor knows that. Tom Kelly knows that even better.

And so, toward that end, the rookie manager and his esteemed dugout mentor have talked a number of times over the past 16 weeks since Molitor was named the 13th manager in Twins franchise history in early November.

When Twins pitchers and catchers hit the field here Monday morning at 9:30, one thing is certain: Molitor will be prepared.

"Paulie's doing great," Kelly said recently. "He's touching all the bases he can touch. He likes to hear stuff. He listens attentively and then he's going to make his decisions, and that's good. He's been very attentive, very thorough and has asked some questions. A couple of them have caught me off guard a little."

The first full-squad workout won't come until Saturday, but Molitor has spent countless hours since his hiring making sure he strikes the right balance between improved efficiency and continuity.

"I think it's always good to be prepared," said Kelly, who ran his first spring camp as Twins manager nearly three decades ago (1987). "I think the players see and think, 'Well, what's the confusion about? This doesn't seem to be running.' I think they notice."

Especially on Day 1 after 13 seasons with Ron Garden

hire running things from the Twins dugout, players will be watching closely for subtle adjustments.

"They'll see if there's a snafu, and there might be a bump here and there," Kelly said.

"There's always that. I think they're somewhat impressionable, so you try to give them a good impression -- 'We know what we're doing here and we've got this under control' -- and Paul is certainly going to be there, I'm sure."

Just nine days of workouts lead up to the first spring exhibition on March 4 against the University of Minnesota, Molitor's alma mater, but those nine days will go a long way toward setting the tone for the seven months that follow.

"It's about making a first impression," Kelly said. "You want it to be a smooth transition, and Paul has worked very hard to get to that point."

Molitor has enlisted the opinions of each member of his big-league coaching staff, including a pair of outsiders with no previous Twins ties: pitching coach Neil Allen and first base/outfield coach Butch Davis.

Minor league field coordinator Joel Lepel, third-base coach Gene Glynn, bench coach Joe Vavra and Molitor have reviewed every aspect of the how-to manual that is distributed throughout the organization. Lepel 

developed the manual years ago, and Molitor has had a hand in it during his stint (2005-13) as a roving infield/baserunning instructor.

"I've seen it for years because we've had access to it," Molitor said, "and every year it seems like we change one or two things just because of something that experientially happens throughout the course of the season -- and that tells you there might be a better way to do something."

Molitor won't review every page of the manual with those in big-league camp, but he and his coaches will definitely hit the high points. It will be up to Lepel and Brad Steil, director of minor league operations, to make sure those tweaks are handed down through the rest of the system.

"We're going to make sure our minor-league managers have a good grip on the things we're doing up here," Molitor said, "so it's consistent throughout the organization."

Under Molitor, mainly an infielder during his hall of fame career, the Twins will change their bunt defenses. They also will tweak sign sequences, procedure for cutoffs and relays, communication between pitcher and catcher and pickoff plays, the latter in hopes of slowing down opponents on the bases.

Baserunning, a subject particularly close to Molitor's heart, will receive special attention once the full squad reports.

Through it all, Molitor will have Kelly, a dugout legend with two World Series titles on his resume, as a sounding board. Asked if that was sort of like having Yoda on speed dial, Molitor laughed.m

"He obviously is someone that I have a lot of respect for," Molitor said. "Playing for him and having him around here this many years in player development, there's a knowledge he has about how things work, 

whether it's a game itself or the process of spring training."

Kelly, 64, has made a strong recovery from a mild stroke in September and is due in camp in time for the first full-squad workout.

"He can see potential hiccups in schedules and execution of things that is very meticulous," Molitor said. "I'm going to try to use him where I can and make sure hopefully I don't miss too many things, but he'll fill in some of those gaps for me for sure."

Respectful of the past but with an eye on the future -- that might be the best way to describe Molitor as his first team prepares to hit the field.

"The plan that's in place for our spring training originated with (Kelly), and I'm sure it kind of evolved during his tenure here," Molitor said. "Gardy maintained the vast majority of that for good reason, and I will as well, but areas that you think about changing, you want to kind of go back to the origin and the source of the plan and see if those things make sense to you."

The depth of preparation over these past 16 weeks shows Molitor was being honest -- with himself and with his bosses -- when he insisted last fall he was ready to embrace the challenge of becoming a major league manager for the first time at age 58.

"I asked him about that. He said, yeah, he wants that job," Kelly said. "Paul's a pretty good thinker. If he said that, he had to give it some 

thought. Hopefully he takes to it and we pitch good and everything will be fine. You can do all these things, and if you don't pitch any good, then there's an issue."

The Pioneer Press is in a media partnership with Forum News Service.

 
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