James Rowson’s first language is English. His second language is Hitting. And as near as I could tell, he’s fluent.
Rowson was hired away from the Twins, reportedly, to take a job with the Miami Marlins as the bench coach and offensive coordinator. We haven’t heard the role described in those terms before, but from my chair, it may as well be Rowson that blazes that trail in Major League Baseball.
I covered Rowson’s 3 seasons as the Twins hitting coach, and the thing that impressed me the most was how effectively he could turn his ideas into sentences. And we should note, too, that gone are the days when you can cram those thoughts and hitting philosophies into one boilerplate paragraph and expect every batter to conform. Miguel Sanó needs a different style than Luis Arráez; Mitch Garver a different tune than Eddie Rosario.
Rowson spoke to all of them.
I do believe there’s some partnership involved there, and in no way should I minimize the work that Rudy Hernández has done as the assistant hitting coach. (From my conversations with him, Hernández’s first language is Spanish and his second is Hitting.)
Check out this conversation with Rowson from spring training 2019, and you’ll get an idea of how Rowson thinks about hitting and how Rowson thinks about coaching hitting.
Rowson thinks a lot about communication and partnership. He thinks a lot about swing efficiency, the hands, the hips and the head. He watches to make sure hitters are loose and comfortable, and in lower-speed environments, that they show accuracy with the barrel of their bat. “When the body is working efficiently and quickly, generally the bat is coming through the zone in the right way,” Rowson told me during spring training.
The Twins finished the 2019 season with more home runs than any club in Major League history. Yes, it’s likely that the baseball had an impact on the dramatic rise in long balls across the Majors, but how many other teams hit a combined 307 homers? How many other teams finished with the second-highest team slugging percentage in the history of the game (.494)? How many other teams scored at least 200 more runs from 2018 to 2019? Simply put, it was an amazing offensive season for the 2019 Twins.
And this is not just a case of shedding bad players and adding good ones. Rowson, among many others in the organization, helped all the group’s talent manifest in the batter’s box. The list of individual players that caught your attention with the bat this year is long. Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Sanó, Garver, Jason Castro, Arráez.
But here’s the part the Twins will miss.
“It’s a people business,” Rowson said during our spring training conversation. “You have to get to know people. There’s so many different things about people, and if you want to find a way to motivate a particular person, or if you want to ask them to do something, they gotta know you care about them first. They gotta know that you understand where they’re coming from, so I think it’s important to do your homework on every individual, whether it’s in baseball or life in general.
“You gain people’s respect and they know you’re coming from a good place. It seems like at that point then things get easier to work on down the road,” Rowson said.
When I wrote in the column presenting my Twins 2019 MVP , I said that “you’d be tempted to give it to someone like hitting coach James Rowson for elevating the level of so many hitters throughout this historically powerful Bomba Squad lineup, [but] that’s now how these things work.”
He’ll have his hands full with the Marlins. Based on my interactions with him I would say that Miami got a good one.