On June 27 of last season the St. Paul Saints were five games under .500 and 11.0 games out of first place. They were dead last in Triple-A East in hitting and were in the bottom third in pitching. Then it all turned around. Over a two month stretch the Saints were one of the best teams across Triple-A, vaulting into first place on August 21. It was a remarkable turnaround led by the first manager in Saints history as the Twins Triple-A affiliate, Toby Gardenhire, and his coaching staff. On the heels of a 67-63 season, Gardenhire will return for his second season as the manager of the Saints. Joining him are two holdovers from last season’s staff: Pitching Coach Cibney Bello and Defensive Coach Tyler Smarslok. Joining the coaching staff are Pitching Coach Virgil Vasquez and Hitting Coach Ryan Smith, both of whom coached at Double-A Wichita in 2021, Lead Certified Athletic Trainer Ben Myers, who was a roving Athletic Trainer in the Twins system for the second half of last season, and Strength Coach Cody Drouin, who begins his first season in professional baseball. Matt Tramp returns for his second season as the Clubhouse Manager/Assistant, Baseball Operations.
The 39-year-old Gardenhire exceled in his first season as manager at the Triple-A level in 2021. The Saints finished just 7.0 games out of the top spot in the Midwest Division and finished in the top third of Triple-A East with a .515 winning percentage. From June 26-August 21, when the Saints took over first place in the division, they were a league tying best 33-17. Following the first six weeks of the season, the Saints were the best hitting team in Triple-A East, hitting .265, with the second most home runs during that span, 121.
Gardenhire, who was scheduled to be the manager in Rochester in 2020 before the pandemic eliminated the season, spent two seasons as a manager in the Twins system in 2018 and 2019. He guided the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels to a playoff berth in 2018 after winning the second half Western Division title. Overall, the Kernels went 77-62, fourth best record in the 16-team league. The Kernels swept their quarterfinal series, 2-0, over the Beloit Snappers (Oakland Athletics) before losing 2-0 to the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals) in the semifinals.
The following year, Gardenhire was promoted to High-A Fort Myers where he was named the Florida State League Manager of the Year and once again earned a playoff berth. The Miracle won the first half title and finished 74-59, third best record in the 12-team Florida State League. The league, however, cancelled their playoffs due to Hurricane Dorian.
This is Gardenhire’s seventh season as a coach or manager in the Twins organization. He assisted the GCL Twins in 2016, began the 2017 season as the third base coach for the Red Wings before finishing the year as the hitting coach for the GCL Twins. Gardenhire began his coaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Stout where he amassed an 81-117 record in five seasons (2012-16) and helped guide the Blue Devils to a 2014 WIAC tournament berth, their first in seven years.
Gardenhire has spent his entire professional career with the Twins organization. In addition to six seasons as a coach or manager, he played seven seasons in their Minor League system. He was originally drafted by the Twins in the 38th round in 2002 out of the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, but did not sign. In 2005, he was selected in the 41st round by the Twins out of the University of Illinois. Gardenhire played at every level from the Rookie Appalachian League up through Triple-A. In 533 games he slashed .232/.292/.274 with 156 runs scored, 44 doubles, three triples, and six home runs.
The 39-year-old Bello returns for his second season as the Pitching Coach for the Saints. His staff finished tied for 11th in all of Triple-A in ERA, at 4.55. Over the 33-17 stretch, Bello’s pitchers were eighth in the league in ERA with the sixth best WHIP, at 1.30. Overall, the Saints pitching staff had the ninth most strikeouts (1180) and were tied for the second fewest home runs allowed on the road with 61.
The 2022 season is Bello’s seventh as a coach in the Twins system. He’s been the pitching coach in the organization with the Rookie GCL Twins (2016-17), Single-A Cedar Rapids (2018), and Double-A Pensacola (2019). In 2019, Bello was moved up to the Major Leagues, spending the final month of the season with the Twins. His coaching career began in 2011 when he was a pitching coach intern for the Rookie AZL Mariners, working under former Major League pitcher Gary Wheelock. He impressed during his internship and became the pitching coach for the AZL Mariners from 2012-13 and then moved up to the Single-A Clinton LumberKings from 2014-15. The Mariners were familiar with Bello signing him as a non-drafted free agent in 2000 out of Venezuela. He pitched eight years for the Mariners organization, pitching in Venezuela from 2000-02 before pitching with the AZL Mariners in 2003. He reached High-A in both 2006 and 2007, his final season with the Mariners. Bello pitched in the Independent Can-Am and Golden Baseball Leagues from 2008-10.
The 29-year-old Vasquez was part of a Wichita Wind Surge coaching staff that helped lead the team to a a 69-51 record, tops at Double-A Central and the third best record in all of Double-A. The pitching staff was a big reason, finishing fourth in the Central Division in ERA at 4.35. They were one of only five pitching staffs in all of Double-A with at least 1200 strikeouts, finishing with 1210, an average of 9.3 per game. The Wind Surge reached the Double-A Central Championship Series before falling to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
This is Vasquez’ eighth season in the Twins organization and first as Triple-A pitching coach. He began his coaching career with the Twins in the same role with the GCL Twins from 2015-17 and the first half of 2018 before becoming the Pitching Coach for Double-A Chattanooga in the second half of 2018. He was the Pitching Coach at Single-A Cedar Rapids in 2019. During that season his pitchers ranked second in the Midwest League in WHIP, 1.20, fourth in strikeouts with 1,240 (a single-season franchise record), and fifth with a 3.37 ERA.
Vasquez was originally a seventh-round selection by the Texas Rangers in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft out of Santa Barbara High School, but did not sign. The Detroit Tigers took him in the seventh round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of UC Santa Barbara. He reached the Major Leagues with the Tigers in 2007 going 0-1 with an 8.64 ERA in five games. Vasquez was selected off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the San Diego Padres in January of 2009. He reached the Majors with the Pirates that season going 2-5 with a 5.84 ERA. After pitching for the Rays organization in 2010, Vasquez pitched two seasons for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (Independent Professional Baseball, Atlantic League) from 2011-2012. The Twins signed him as a free agent in December, 2012 pitching two seasons between Double-A and Triple-A, where he finished his career as a player in 2014.
The 28-year-old Smith helped lead the Wind Surge to one of the best offenses in all of Double-A. They were tops in Double-A Central, and fifth in Double-A, with a .257 average, third in the league and third overall in runs scored, with 636, third in the league and fifth overall in on-base percentage at .339, fourth in the league and ninth overall in slugging at .422, and fourth in the league and sixth overall with a .761 OPS.
This is the fourth season in the Twins organization for Smith after serving as the hitting coach for Single-A Cedar Rapids in 2019 (Kernels finished second in the Midwest League with 109 home runs). During the pandemic canceled season of 2020 Smith, alongside other members of the Twins’ player development staff, participated in virtual webinars during the 2020 baseball pause. He began his coaching career as an Assistant Coach and Strength Coach at the College of Central Florida in Ocala from 2016-18. He helped develop one of the most potent offenses in school history, as the 2018 Patriots ranked seventh nationally with a program-record 94 home runs (shattering the old mark by 38). He played two seasons at Central Florida, before earning 2016 Gulf South Conference All-Academic Team honors at Valdosta State University.
In his first season as a professional coach Smarslok, 29, helped lead one of the better defenses at the Triple-A level. The Saints finished seventh in Triple-A in fielding percentage at .981. He helped several players work on various positions throughout the season, including Jose Miranda who saw time at first, second, third, and outfield.
Smarslok spent each year since he graduated from Kean University in 2015 as a collegiate coach. He served as an assistant coach for Marist, Seton Hall University, Heidelberg University, and Claremont-Mudd Scripps. He operated as the volunteer assistant at Seton Hall in 2019 where he was the infield coach, responsible for the players’ development and in-game alignment. Smarslok was a three-time DIII College World Series participant, an All-Conference, and National Rawlings Gold Glove recipient in his time at Kean University. He helped lead the Cougars to two NJAC Tournament Championships.
The 31-year-old Myers spent the last four years in the Twins organization. He began his time in 2018 as the Athletic Trainer at Low-A Cedar Rapids. From there he moved to High-A Fort Myers in 2019. His responsibilities shifted in 2020 due to the pandemic. He was sent to Target Field handling Covid cases and his experience doing that put him in the role of Infectious Control Prevention Coordinator in 2021 through the All-Star break. Following that, he became a roving Athletic Trainer, working with all the Twins affiliates.
Myers began his college career at the University of Kentucky for two semesters. He then transferred to Eastern Kentucky University from 2009-13 and got his degree in Athletic Training, becoming certified in 2013. Myers did an internship with the GCL Astros in 2012. He earned his master’s at the University of South Carolina in Athletic Training and worked with the University of South Carolina Softball team from 2013-14. After working at a local high school in 2015, Myers was hired by the Astros and worked for their GCL team from 2015-16 and with the Rookie level Greenville Astros in 2017.
This is the first year in professional baseball for Drouin who spent the last three years as the Assistant Director of Sports Performance at Eastern Kentucky University. While there, he implemented, designed, and led all aspects of in-season and offseason sports performance for baseball, softball, women’s soccer, and women’s golf. He began with EKU in April, 2019 and spent six months as the Assistant Football Sports Performance Coach.
Drouin served as a military police officer in the United States Army from 2010-17, where he achieved the rank of Sergeant. He was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2011-13 and served as a driver, gunner, and team leader. He earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Central Michigan in December of 2018. Drouin was a Strength and Conditioning intern at Central Michigan (2017-18), Florida Atlantic (2018), and Louisiana State University (2019). He earned his Master of Science in MS, Sport and Fitness Administration/Management in 2021 from LSU. Drouin has a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Certification and is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach (RSCC).
The 32-year-old Tramp begins his second season as the Saints Clubhouse Manager. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota native began his clubhouse duties with the American Association’s Sioux Falls Canaries, the same league the Saints were in prior to becoming the Twins Triple-A affiliate, from 2009-10, 12-13. He spent one season with the New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays, the Low-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, in 2011. Following his time with the Canaries in 2013, Tramp was the Visiting Clubhouse Manager for the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros in 2014. He went on to work as the Clubhouse Manager for the Biloxi Shuckers, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, in 2015. He joined the Twins organization in 2018 and was the Fort Myers Miracle Clubhouse Manager for two seasons.
The Saints will play their longest schedule in franchise history, a 144-game slate that begins on the road, Tuesday, April 5 and runs until Wednesday, September 21, a road clash in Indianapolis. The Saints play 72 home games, seven more than their previous franchise high last season with the home opener on Tuesday, April 12 at 6:37 p.m. against Indianapolis.
(info courtesy of Saints)