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Alright, it is four days later, but I am finally posting my thoughts on my fifth day of viewing spring training. It was the first official practice day of minor league camp. It was the first time that I had ever experienced minor league camp, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to let you know what I saw. I must admit, there was so much going on that it took me awhile just to catch my bearings. So, I will explain what was happening throughout the day. Later, I will talk about some of the players that I saw. I brought a few copies of my Prospect Handbook with and after leaving camp that day, I jotted down a few notes on players that stood out in my mind. Obviously I welcome any questions or comments you may have on any of it.
(Note – Much of this information was posted yesterday on my StarTribune.com TwinsCentric blog, but I have added more player information and more general information on the day.)
For those who have not been to Ft. Myers for spring training, I wanted to post some notes on my observations from the minor league side of the Lee County facilities. To try to paint the picture, Hammond Stadium is the crown jewel of the area. Next to it is a regular sized field where pitchers do Pitchers Fielding Practice and they take batting practice. But as you walk out toward left field of that second field, down a sidewalk, you walk through a gate. Once past the gate, you are in the minor league facilities. There are three full-size fields and an infield-only field. There was a big bullpen area with 10 mounds to throw from. Beyond the mini-field is the minor league clubhouse and training facilities with weight room and batting cage. In the center of the facility is a tall, canopied deck where Twins personnel can sit and oversee the entire minor league facility. It is really a nice facility and a lot happens there.
The minor leaguers had to report on Thursday. On Friday, they took their physicals and all had to run a mile. The goal was to finish in 6:30, and most were right in that neighborhood. Those that finished well better than that included Shooter Hunt, Brad Tippett, Matt Tone, Tony Davis and the incredibly fast, lanky, athletic-looking Adrian Salcedo.
On Saturday, their first official workout took place and I was there for the entire thing. If I write about minor leaguers, it only makes sense for me to see each of them in person, even if just for one day.
When we got to the stadium on Saturday morning, we walked to the big league batting practice field and saw Jim Thome, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel taking batting practice. I watched for a minute before saying, “I am probably the only one in the world that would say, I can watch those guys all season, I’m going to minor league camp.” And I did. I wish I would have waited long enough to notice that Joe Benson was hitting with that group.
When I got to the minor league side of the parking lot and walked through the gates, I saw a LOT of minor leaguers, probably close to 150. They were dispersing over the four fields. As I walked further, I was really, really glad that they were in uniforms with the players’ names on them! Having written so much about most of those players, it was great to be able to see them in person. Of course, walking to the first field I passed, the mini-field, the first pitcher I noticed had the name of “Von Stessel” on his back. How is it possible that the first player I see, I do not know anything about. (I later found out that he is from Australia. He had played in the Phillies organization for a couple of years before leaving the game due to some family issues. He got himself back in shape and the Twins are giving him a second chance.)
In the early sessions, there was a lot of pitcher work. They broke into AAA, AA, Hi-A, Low-A, etc., and went to stations at the various fields. On the mini-field, they worked with infielders on pick off plays. On the next field, the worked on taking ground balls and throwing to second base, and they covered first base on grounders to the right side. On the other field, they fielded bunts and fake-threw to 1B. Then in the bullpen a group of pitchers would work with a catcher and pitch for 10 minutes before a second group of pitchers would do the same. They would then switch stations. Switching between stations every 20 minutes or so covered a lot of the morning. During that time, there was a group of infielders working with Paul Molitor and others taking ground balls on the other field. Outfielders were on one field working on covering ground balls, fielding them and making good throws. On other field, outfielders were working on instinct skills.
Around 11:30 eastern time, I was a guest on the Dez Says Inside Pitch podcast to talk about spring training and my observations. I’m sure you could tell how much I enjoyed it. Part way through the interview, some pitchers were running between stations, and as I was talking, Dakota Watts stuck out his hand and we shook hands as he ran by and I continued the podcast.
Later in the day, the pitchers had to run two 300-yard shuttle runs. That didn’t look like much fun at all. At that time, the hitters broke into groups again. On the three full fields, they took batting practice in two groups in two ten-minute sessions. I would watch two or three rounds on one field and then go to the next, and went around for about eight sessoins worth of hitters. I do believe that I saw at least two rounds from every hitter in the organization.
To be honest, all of this going on was a little (or a lot!) overwhelming at first, but as the day went on, I developed a bit of a plan and strategy.
Here are some brief observations on various players that stood out:
I get a lot of grief, fair or not, about writing about the high-profile prospects more sometimes than others. I really try not to, but I have to say that there is often a reason for talking about those guys, and that is very true about two of the Twins top prospects.
Aaron Hicks – I saw him around the ballpark throughout the week and he was there early and working out on the back fields. The first thing I noticed was that he was significantly bigger than a year ago when I saw him in Beloit. His arms are huge. He is still really, really fast. Most impressively though is that the strength shows in his swing. Everything he hit was on a line to the gaps. He showed terrific power, and did a nice job in centerfield. He was the most impressive prospect that I saw and I feel more strongly about the Twins being wise in keeping him rather than dealing him.
Miguel Sano – He may not have great speed. He may or may not have a position to play defensively. He certainly couldn’t bunt. But the ball comes off of his bat different. It makes that ‘different sound’ that we hear about. He was able to do those “little things” like the hit-and-run swings and such, but when he let loose, he hit the ball really, really hard. He hit some balls a long, long way. He has big legs and is very strong. I shook his hand at one point, and it was Adrian Peterson-like (no, I’ve never shaken AP’s hand, but I hear so much about it). Sano has the world of potential.
A lot of other guys stood out too, even from just one day of practice watching. Please note that it is just one day, and obviously what players are able to do in game situations over the course of the season matters more, but it was a terrific opportunity to get a first glance. Here are some comments:
- Nick Lockwood – took ground balls at both 2B and SS, and even at 3B, but will likely end up at 2B. He’s not a big guy, but everything he hit was hit with authority, on a line and from gap to gap. He even hit a couple of balls out of the park.
- Jose Gonzalez – He does have the Mijares-like gut, but he can flat-out throw the baseball. He’s not very tall either (listed at 5-9), but he has good secondary pitches, and quickness off the mound. His minor league numbers are incredible, and I think he throws a little harder than touted.
- Martire Garcia – Very little guy, also not tall, but he throws hard and left handed. Control and consistency has been his problem, but clearly he has some stuff.
- Ben Tootle and Matt Bashore – the key note here is that both were pitching off of the mound on Day 1. Tootle has a crazy leg kick in his delivery that is fun to watch, but he does throw hard. Bashore was throwing fastballs at probably 90% and he was not throwing the curveball hard. Really just spinning them. Both have a bunch of potential as high picks, but it was good to see that both were throwing.
- It was great to see Paul Kelly taking ground balls at shortstop. I believe that he would be the Twins regular shortstop today if injuries had not derailed the majority of the last four years of his career. He’s tall and lanky, smooth fielder and a good, line drive swing. I would just like to see him stay healthy for a full season.
- 2010 late-round pick Derek Christensen was throwing a bullpen session. He throws from just below a 3/4 delivery, and his fastball tails in on a right-handed batter. Even more impressive was a slider that was sharp and broke well over a foot.
- Dakota Watts, who was clocked at 99 mph last year in Ft. Myers, definitely throws hard. Steve Blevins, who has never been touted as a real hard thrower, was also throwing very hard, but he also had a very sharp slider.
- Shooter Hunt – The guy throws hard. He’s got a decent changeup, and his curveball is as good as it is touted. It is sharp and moves a lot. He did throw one pitch that went over the fence behind his catcher, and bounced on the dugout of a connecting field. Man, it would be huge if he could overcome his control issues because there is so much talent there.
- Daniel Ortiz has great power potential. After missing all of the 2009 season with a knee injury, he hit 11 homers last year in Elizabethton including eight of them in August. He has amazing power despite being really tiny. The ball just jumps off of his bat.
- Oswaldo Arcia, who was the Appalachian League MVP a year ago, was hitting balls all over the field and over the fence both ways. Incredible power!
- I was talking with GCL coach and former big leaguer Milt Cuyler was very nice and talked to me for awhile. As a rookie in 1991, Cuyler stole 41 bases for the Detroit Tigers. While pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, he had his outfielders standing in against them. He was explaining to them that how they take pitches is important in how they take pitches and swing during games. Specifically he was talking about balance and weight shift. It was interesting and he used Angel Morales as a ‘perfect example’ of what a hitter should do. Max Kepler did it a little different and yet Cuyler says it is also a good approach. There was another player whose weight was shifting strange and his hip had pulled out that was an example of the opposite. Very interesting conversation.
- Roy Larson signed as a non-drafted free agent following last season out of the University of St. Thomas. He did a nice job at 3B. He is tall and has very quick hands through the zone.
- Former Gopher and Minnesotan Nate Hanson put on a power display during his round of batting practice!
EXTRA NOTES FOR SETHSPEAKS.NET READERS
Here are some additional notes that I did not include in the startribune.com blog due to length, timing or remembering:
- Tom Stuifbergen (and Miguel Sano) really struggled with the mile run. On Saturday morning, I watched Stuifbergen pitch a bullpen session. Afterward, he was getting a drink of water and I said, “Stuif, I much prefer watching you pitch than run.” He laughed and said, “I could have told you that!”
- I had the chance to talk to Allan de San Miguel, one of the really good people. It was funny, we talked a little about baseball, but we talked as much about his engagement and plans and such.
- Soon after, I talked to Dan Rohlfing, another really good guy. He is also one of the more vocal catchers, encouraging the pitchers.
- The Twins picked Nick Alloway in the 35th round last year out of junior college. He is 6-4 and 225 pounds. He throws hard, touching 95 mph. That was easy to see, but he also has a very sharp slider that looked impressive in the bullpen.
- Chris Cates may be baseball’s shortest player (listed at a generous 5-3), but it is clear that his teammates respect him incredibly. At the same time, the loose group also enjoys laughing. While Cates was running the mile, someone shouted, “Long strides, CC.”
- Brian Dozier was in big league camp, but in one batting practice session, I saw him launching some baseballs over the left field fence, so he just might have some pop in his bat.
- Toby Gardenhire is a very well-respected player, almost coach-like on the field. He leads people, no question about that. He was playing all over the infield, including 1B at times. He hits line drives in BP.
- Niko Goodrum is still very skinny, although bigger than a year ago, I guess. He switch-hits, and does have some pop in his bat. He has a ways to go. Caught him signing to himself while running between fields.
- Heard on Tuesday that David Gutierrez, 2010 draft pick and the younger brother of Carlos, decided to hang up the cleats.
- Brett Jacobson throws pretty hard and has a good curveball. He also has a fairly deceptive delivery with an interesting knee-bend that could throw some hitters off and help hide the ball. I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of it, but if he’s good, it’s all good.
- Max Kepler was unable to run for some reason, but he was able to hit and he did have a nice, smooth swing and exhibited good power.
- Kelvin Mention is strong and stocky and showed very good power. Meanwhile, his high school teammate and fellow 2010 Twins draft pick JD Williams hit everything straight up into the batting cage from the left and right side of the plate. Obviously nothing to worry about at this point.
- Derrick Phillips is a big guy and looks very strong. He left the batting cage saying, “Man, I can’t hit a line drive to save my life.” It is a big year for him as he is not able to play in the rookie leagues. He will have to make the Beloit roster.
- Jorge Polanco certainly didn’t impress offensively last year as a 17 year old in the GCL, but he does have a very nice, line drive swing. And, the reports on his defense certainly seem apt\ at this point.
- Danny Rams was impressive. Not only did he have the two hard-hit doubles on Tuesday afternoon, but he ‘just-missed’ a couple of curveballs, fouling them off. Hopefully that is a positive sign. He did a nice job behind the plate too.
- Bruce Pugh looks like a pitcher. Long and lanky, and in the bullpen, it is clear that he does throw very hard.
- We talk about how the ball comes off of the bat and say that it ‘makes a different sound.” I’m not completely certain if I fully hear that difference, but the ball does come off of the bat of Nate Roberts really, really well. The High Point alum really was impressive in the batting cage. I don’t pretend to be a hitting coach, but mechanically, he looked very sound.
- Eddie Rosario looks like he is about 18 years old. Oh yeah, he is. But he does have a pretty swing. He’s just got a lot of room to grow!
- Spencer Steedley was a full participant in the PFP work which tells me that he is recovering well from his elbow surgery last summer that cost him the majority of his 2010 season.
- Kennys Vargas is a big kid with tremendous power from both side of the plate. He does need to improve his bat speed though if he wants to catch up with fastballs.
- Romy Trinidad played for the Twins DSL team the last couple of years. He looks to be a solid (small) player. Hit a lot of line drives and runs well. Similar to Candido Pimental.
- Kelvin Ortiz was my #2 Twins DSL prospect in the Prospect Handbook. He’s stocky but he has a tremendous opposite field swing from the right side. Very strong. Big power potentially.
How’s that? Enough very brief mini-scouting reports? There were a lot more players that stood out to me in my one day. Again, I fully acknowledge that guys can have good days, or that there are some guys who look great in batting practice or the bullpen and it doesn’t carry over into games. There are other guys who don’t Wow you in practice and just consistently get the job done in games. If you have any questions about players, please feel free to ask. I will also be hosting a Live Twins chat on Wednesday night for people to ask questions as well.
Although Nick and Topper had left by about noon, I stayed until the end of practice. I got a ride back down to Naples and although I was dropped off at the beach they said they would be at, I had a ten minute walk along the Gulf of Mexico to get to where they were (believe me… not complaining!). We went do downtown Naples that night and ate at a great place call Yabba (also on LaVelle’s recommendation list). We met a couple of Twitter friends at the Irish Pub next door.
Sunday morning was early again. I had a 7:40 a.m. flight, but it was direct, so I was back in the cities by about 11. Went to Buffalo Wild Wings with my siblings and then some shopping before falling asleep for 4 hours. Yikes! Work has been rough the last two days, but that was expected. It was a great trip. Saw a lot of baseball, hung out with great people, met a lot of great people and really just had a tremendous time. I hope you’ve enjoyed my notes from Ft. Myers… Now back to the grind… Just over two weeks until opening day. Mauer and Morneau are both in the lineup today and all is right. Just gotta get Cuddyer back in the lineup!
If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions.