A worn-out gray notebook sits in Derek Falvey’s desk in a corner office at Target Field. The notebook made the trip from Cleveland, where the Twins’ new chief baseball officer kept it in his desk at Progressive Field.
There are 150 pages filled with scouting reports about prospects from the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007. It all brings back memories for Falvey, memories of how he got started in baseball, how he made his own break, and how his path to running his own baseball operations department began nine years ago.
“It means something to me,” Falvey said. “I know it wasn’t that long ago, but it’s always important to me to look at that and say, ‘Hey, that was the start. This was the growth point. Don’t forget the work you put in, and put in that same level of work every day.’ ”
Falvey is now trying to remodel a franchise scarred by losing records in five of the past six seasons, one facing declining fan support. On Sunday, he will head to Washington, D.C., for his first winter meetings as the Twins’ 33-year-old boss.
He will probably pull out the notebook one more time before he leaves. He will remember what it took to get his foot in the door and how far he’s come in nine years.
Then he will set out to make the Twins a better baseball team.
Falvey was a relief pitcher for Division III Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., earning a degree in economics in 2005. During his senior year, he started his own company, one that helped develop small-business marketing strategies. That lasted two years.
“I came from a really blue-collar background,” Falvey said. “Both of my parents did not go to college. I’m the first in my family to go to college, and my sister soon followed me. It wasn’t like I had a lot of resources to support me, so I had to go build that on my own. The business was doing well enough that it could be sustainable, [but] I felt like I had a passion for baseball. I thought, ‘How am I going to work in it? How could I potentially get a job?’
“I didn’t have any contacts or special connections to anybody with teams. I was passionate about scouting and evaluating players.”
He devised a plan. He would offer his assistance to scouts at the Cape Cod League, a gathering of college players in the summer, while soaking up all the knowledge the scouts were willing to share.
Gray notebook in hand, a nervous Falvey showed up in 2007 to see a strong group of prospects. Buster Posey alternated between catcher and first base with Jason Castro — who just signed with the Twins last week.
Between innings of games, Falvey cornered scouts from other teams and offered to help them.
“I stood around them and started writing notes on players,” Falvey said. “I started shooting video on a little hand-held camcorder, and I’d go down the line and shoot some hitters and some pitchers.”
Falvey loaded the videos, plus his scouting reports, on a website that scouts, many of whom can only scout games for a few days at a time, could use as a resource.
“I used that as a networking opportunity.” Falvey said. “I didn’t know what would come of that. I was really fortunate to make a least a few relationships with guys who were kind enough to pass my name through to their teams and had the chance to interview for a couple different sports.”
One scout who touted Falvey to his team was Brent Urcheck, an area scout for Cleveland at the time. Falvey ended up interviewing with the Indians, who were blown away when they saw his work. They handed him an internship.
“Derek was a guy who demonstrated the passion, knowledge and initiative by going to the ‘Cape’ and developing a scouting system as well as a video analysis,” said Mark Shapiro, the Indians general manager at the time who is now president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays. “He had all the other attributes and traits that you want to see, but that initiative was clearly demonstrated and he just backed that up when he got to the Indians.”
Falvey’s father, Stephen, worked in construction as a piledriver. He laughed as he remembered the story.
“He figured out how to get scouted as a scout,” he said. “He figured out a way to make himself useful. It took a lot of ingenuity.”
Falvey passed up a full-time position as a scout with another club to accept an internship in Cleveland’s baseball operations department in November 2007. It was a professional gamble, but Falvey wanted to learn the workings of the department rather than choose a position with more stability.
By 2011, he was the assistant director of baseball operations. The next year, he became director of baseball operations. At the end of the 2015 season, he was named assistant general manager. By then, his skills were evident. Cleveland embraces collaborative communication. The staff was encouraged to speak up if there was something to contribute. If someone wanted to stay late to learn the workings of another department, they were encouraged to do so. And Falvey was the embodiment of that.
“There’s ownership, there’s the media, there’s the public, the stakeholders, your fans,” Shapiro said. “And there’s an entire organization that runs deep from major league operations down to scouting and player development. You need to manage those relationships effectively to be inclusive, to maximize the value people have to contribute. Those are among Derek’s strengths.”
Those strengths jumped out at the Twins, who homed in on Falvey late in the summer to lead their operations.
Not surprisingly, many of the traits he picked up with the Indians will be applied to the Twins. The analytics department will be expanded. Former Twins stars Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer have been brought in to help with development as well as chemistry.
Falvey wants more voices in the decisionmaking process. Bill Smith, assistant to the president and GM, has been the only notable departure since Falvey took over. Falvey’s plan is to see if he can inspire and develop the staff he has. There have been a slew of meetings at 1 Twins Way as Falvey presses forward with his agenda.
“It has been good,” assistant GM Rob Antony said. “He is high-energy and has a very good vision of what he wants to do. He is definitely collaborative, and he and Thad [Levine] have meshed really well with our staff.”
Levine was hired from Texas to be general manager, working hand-in-glove with Falvey. The pair believe everyone deserves a chance to make a difference.
“What that does is that it builds that collaborative culture and that belief that we are all in this together,” Falvey said. “I’ve seen it work, and it is special when it works. And I’ve seen it when it doesn’t work. [Making it] work is important to me.”
Falvey has brought in popular former players to bolster the front office. What about the roster?
Castro was signed to solidify the catching position. Adding pitching is a never-ending task, and Falvey will look at all avenues to see if he can upgrade the staff.
Second baseman Brian Dozier and his 42 home runs could be Falvey’s best trade chip, but indications are that it would take a substantial package to deal a player who is at the height of his powers — and affordably priced at $6 million next season and $9 million in 2018.
Falvey has been in the room while the Indians have swung deals in recent years. But he has never had final say. Until now.
“Not as much,” Falvey admitted, “but anyone who is in this chair for the first time has a similar level of negotiating experience.”
What happens when he’s on the phone with Cleveland? Or Levine is speaking with Texas?
“I’m not sure either of us could go back to our former employers and have productive conversations,” Falvey said with a chuckle. “They know too many things about us.”
But the man who once approached a group of scouts with nothing but a notebook, a camera and a dream has never looked out of place as he raced up the organizational ladder with the Indians. Despite being the youngest head of baseball operations in the league, Falvey heads to the winter meetings feeling he belongs, that he will make a difference.
“Confidence has never been a problem with him,” Stephen Falvey said. “He wants the ball.”