Twins GM Talks Draft, Risk-Taking
Sports Headliners had an in-depth telephone interview with Twins general manager Thad Levine last week. The 45-year-old executive talked not only about next month’s MLB Draft but other topics including risk-taking, trades, his sense of humor and love for baseball starting at five years old.
The Twins choose first in the June 12 first-year player draft and that means they don’t have to worry about any of the other 29 MLB clubs taking the guy they want. The challenge, though, is figuring out who to choose. “There isn’t a clear-cut No. 1,” Levine said about the top prospects available in the draft.
Levine and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey will have a lot of authority on who the Twins choose with a pick that could help determine the success of the ballclub for 10 years or more. Levine said they want the best player available and will not make their selection based on position need.
The Twins’ evaluators are looking for the most “talent and upside” they can find, according to Levine. But who to chose?
Media speculation has names like high school pitcher-shortstop Hunter Greene, and collegians Brendan McKay (pitcher-first baseman) and Kyle Wright (pitcher) at or near the top of lists. “We don’t have a guy who is unequivocally that person we are going to take,” Levine said.
As Levine, Falvey and the franchise’s other talent evaluators hold a progression of meetings, certain players get added into the mix each time and others drop out. “I don’t know that we’ve necessarily inked in the three, four, five guys that we’re going to choose (from) come hell, or high water,” Levine said.
In the meantime, Levine and Falvey, who last fall were both hired to bring new direction to the franchise, are looking for opportunities to improve the existing roster. The front office has already shuttled players back and forth between Minneapolis and the club’s Triple A farm team in Rochester. The promotions of DH-first baseman Kennys Vargas and pitcher Jose Berrios show promise.
Levine said he and Falvey have divided up contacts with the other 29 front offices, and are on the telephone everyday discussing information that could lead to trades. The offseason acquisitions of catcher Jason Castro and key reliever Matt Belisle have helped the Twins play competitively, and sometimes Central Division leading baseball.
Since Levine and Falvey arrived from previous front office jobs with the Rangers and Indians, the two have added resources in technology and expanded the baseball staff tying to give the Twins an advantage in various phases of operations ranging from talent acquisition and player development to scouting the opposition. Levine said what he and Falvey found already in place was an extraordinary work ethic among those employed in the club’s baseball department.
Levine worked for 11 seasons as assistant general manager with the Rangers before joining the Twins. He was involved with player acquisitions, roster composition, contract negotiations, statistical and financial analysis, and international scouting.
He participated in a lot of decision making with the Rangers and that will certainly be true with the Twins. What Minnesota fans may wonder is he more of a risk-taker, or a proceed with caution executive?
“I think some of that is circumstantial, so I would tell you I played different roles throughout my career,” Levine said. “I think Texas (the Rangers) by and large was an organization that embraced risk. It was very risk tolerant, and I think in that environment sometimes I had to play the role of the voice of reason.
“Whereas in my early (time) in Minnesota, I may be more of the person pushing the envelope on the risk-taking side. …But I think the best decision making groups have people who represent all thoughts and all thought processes.
“I think one thing that I have found effective in my career is recognizing what the occasion calls for, and making sure I represent different points of view (so)…that we have everything really evaluated before we ultimately make our final decision.”
If Levine sounds like a bright guy, it’s because he is. He majored in English with pre-med intentions at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. He has an MBA from UCLA and did some graduate work in South Africa. He worked in marketing for Coca Cola, the Rockport Company and Reebok, Ltd. In addition to the Rangers, his MLB resume includes stops with the Dodgers and Rockies.
As a youngster, Levine lived in Virginia and traces his love for baseball back to an Orioles game he attended with his family when he was five years old. He vividly remembers his father Michael spilled a beer and lost a hot dog to grab a foul ball at the game. A young boy thought to himself that getting a $3.25 baseball must be pretty important to sacrifice a beer and a hot dog, while keeping his son out of “harm’s way.”
“From that day forward, I think I really fell in love with the game,” Levine said. “It’s the bond that has tied me to my dad.”
Seldom does a week pass that he doesn’t hear from his father, “suggesting a trade, or some kind of recommendation.” Levine admits some of the advice is spot-on but he doesn’t let dad know. “One call a week would (then) turn into three calls a week, and I don’t know if I could handle that,” he said.
That quip is part of the wit frequently heard from Levine. His humor is often on display in conversations or speaking in front of groups. “I think this is something that was genetically passed down,” he said. “My grandfather Arthur Levine passed it to my father Michael Levine, who passed it to me. I am hopeful I can pass it along to some of my children (Greta, Tess and Quinn).
“I have wrestled with it (humor) throughout my career. I think it is important to come off as being very professional and very capable. But by the same time token, I enjoy levity and I enjoy putting people’s minds at ease—being able to connect with them sometimes through self-deprecating expression.”
When it comes to humor, sometime wives are sharp critics? Does Levine’s wife Claudette think he is amusing? “Not at all,” Levine answered. “She has heard most of my material. She is by far the toughest audience for me. If I get her to laugh, I know I have done something pretty special because she is a pretty stiff critic.”