In Logan Morrison, Twins are getting ‘a very good friend on your side’

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Brash and outspoken earlier in his career, new Twins slugger Logan Morrison may have acquired a reputation in some circles as being a challenge to manage.

Edwin Rodriguez knows better.

“He’s a leader,” Rodriguez, 57, said this past week by phone from Arizona, where he is preparing for his role as a major league coach with the San Diego Padres. “His leadership shows up everywhere he goes. He makes an impact on every team at every level. He will help in the clubhouse. He will help the manager keep everybody on the same page.”

Best known for guiding Team Puerto Rico in the past two World Baseball Classics, Rodriguez has had the rare opportunity to manage Morrison on five different teams at four different levels. He was his first manager in pro ball with the Gulf Coast League Marlins in 2006.

A year later, they paired up with the Class A Greensboro Grasshoppers, and then again in 2010 with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs, close to Morrison’s high school roots in Slidell, La. After Rodriguez was promoted to replace the fired Fredi Gonzalez as Marlins manager that June 23, Morrison joined him again a little over a month later, making his big-league debut on July 27.

When Rodriguez resigned his dream job 71 games into the 2011 season, due in part to front-office interference, Morrison took the news as hard as anyone. Their bond remains strong.

“The best story I have about him is in 2010, when I was starting to manage my second year in Triple-A,” Rodriguez said. “I had a team meeting full of veteran players. I think he was the youngest one on that team. The first day of the season, he asked me if he could say something, I said, ‘Of course.'”

What happened next became the stuff of legend. Morrison let it be known that there should be no testing the authority of his mild-mannered manager.

“He stood up, and I’m telling you that clubhouse full of veteran players listened to him,” Rodriguez said. “He said, ‘Listen, I know this man. I trust him with my life. He will give you whatever he has and he’s on your side, but you have to do things the right way. This man deserves for you guys to give him 100 percent. I will make sure every one of you does what you’re supposed to do.’ “

With that, Morrison looked at Rodriguez and turned the hushed room back over to his manager. Rodriguez wisely thought better of trying to top his 22-year-old prospect.

“That was it,” Rodriguez recalled with a chuckle. “That was hard to follow. I said, ‘The meeting is over. That covers everything.’ “

Example and impact

Just 10 years older than Morrison, Rays manager Kevin Cash had just finished his first year in his current role when a November 2015 trade brought the well-traveled first baseman in from the Seattle Mariners.

Like Rodriguez, Cash appreciated the example Morrison set for the rest of a young team over the past two seasons.

“He plays hard; he plays really hard,” Cash said. “He wants to win. He does little things that go unnoticed. He runs out every ball. It’s easy to say he was great; he hit 38 home runs last year. But he shows up to play every single day, and that’s really probably his best attribute — that he wants to be in there and impact the team.”

New Twins bench coach Derek Shelton was the Rays’ hitting coach in 2016, when Morrison started to make the swing changes that pushed his slugging percentage back above .400 for just the second time in a five-year span. Last season, Morrison exploded for 38 homers and a career-best .516 slugging mark.

“In terms of the clubhouse, he’s really good,” Shelton said. “He’s fun. You can feel his personality right off the bat. He plays hard. He’s a good teammate. I think probably the biggest thing is the way he plays the game. I mean, he’s all in.”

Morrison showed that on Wednesday, his first day in the organization. After being poked and prodded all morning during his pre-signing physical, Morrison went through a news conference and a team photo session.

No one would have blamed him had he headed out to spend the afternoon with his wife and young daughter. Instead, he spent the bulk of a meaningless spring training game in full uniform in the home dugout, leaning over the front railing and chatting with everyone from special assistant Torii Hunter to advance video scout Jeremy Hefner and any number of his new teammates.

“He watched seven innings of the game that he could have not watched any of,” Shelton said. “I think that’s just a testament to the kind of person he is.”

Cash saw that side of Morrison often over the past two seasons. He also appreciated the quick wit and the good-natured sense of humor that helped break up the monotony of an eight-month grind.

“He’s a character,” Cash said. “He’s going to bring some life to the clubhouse. Any clubhouse he walks into, he keeps it loose, but he’s also not afraid to say what’s on his mind, for sure. You guys will quickly realize that. Most of it is with good intention. By the time he was here, Logan did a really good job of carrying himself, off the field and on the field.”

LoMo knows

Ask Morrison what he can bring to a Twins team looking to build on last year’s surprise wild-card berth and he lets out a long sigh and considers the question.

“I’m going to bring a competitive attitude: expect to win every day,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being disappointed or mad when you don’t win — and then celebrating the wins. We’re going to have a lot of fun this year, on and off the field.”

And the leadership component?

“I don’t know what I can bring as far as that kind of stuff goes, but I’m just going to be me,” he said. “I think if I’m me, we’re going to have a lot of fun. We’re going to win a lot of games.”

New Twins closer Fernando Rodney, now on his ninth big-league team, spent two years with Morrison in Seattle in 2014-15. He saw the fire on display many times. Just as important as knowing what to say is knowing when to say it.

“He knows,” Rodney said, nodding slowly. “He knows.”

Best example?

“The first year in Seattle, we were like two games behind the wild card,” Rodney said. “A lot of times that year he said, ‘Hey guys, right now! Let’s get the win. Let’s go try!’ I think that’s going to help us. He’s a good motivator. He plays the game very hard.”

And keeps it fun.

“He always has a happy face,” Rodney said. “He likes to talk. He’s a good guy and a great teammate. I think he loves the game. I know when we played in Seattle those two years, we had a lot of fun. I have no complaints about him.”

Neither did Rodriguez, who saw from their very first days nearly a dozen years ago the special gift Morrison has for engaging those around him and bringing them along for the ride.

“At the same time he’s keeping everybody loose, he will police his teammates,” Rodriguez said. “You’re dealing with a very smart man, a new generation. LoMo was tweeting when not too many people were on Twitter. He’s into technology. He’s very outspoken. He will straight shoot.”

If someone can’t handle the truth, that’s their problem.

“He will tell you the way he thinks it is,” Rodriguez said. “I think that’s why people sometimes have this misconception of him, but if you get to know him, he gives you the trust that you deserve. I’m telling you, with LoMo on the Twins, you are getting a very good friend on your side.”