Spring Training Redux: How will the Twins do in 2014? Here is my prediction.

Every year I wait to watch the Twins in Spring Training before I form an opinion about how they will do this coming season.   And I like to watch them in person to do this, just trying to see little signs here and little clues there.    A bit before I did that, my arm was twisted to give a number of wins and position of finishing for the Twins this season, and I predicted that the Twins will go 81-81 to finish third in AL Central.  It was a quick prediction based on the improvement of the pitching staff this off-season.  Even Mike Pelfrey, recently said (reference to be added soon) that the Twins will finish at least .500 next season.

This might be good on paper, but I really got a bad feeling last week.  And it does not have to do with the front office completely ignoring the offensive and position player side of the ball this off-season (the only moves practically being substituting Kurt Suzuki for Ryan Doumit and Jason Kubel for Justin Morneau.)  It does not even have to do with the recent (and much celebrated and discussed) comments of acting GM Rob Antony, suggesting that nobody who is competing for a spot is actually doing anything to win a job.   On paper, and being optimistic, I thought that Willingham and Plouffe will rebound, Hicks will reach his potential, Arcia will be the power hitter we all expect to be, Pinto will solidify the catcher position, Mauer will improve with his knees not having the catching stress and that Escobar will have a break-through season as a shortstop akin to Brian Dozier's 2013 who would not regress.   It might still as well happen.  And then the Twins will win at least 81 games.  And I hope it happens.

But I got a really bad feeling last week.   And it was there precipitated and displayed in front of the eyes of the 100 of us who remained late Tuesday night to see the last pitch at that Twins' night game hosting the Rays.  And it had not much to do with Vance Worley's right arm and the batting practice projectiles he was throwing, but by the lackadaisical play and non-effort by the position players the whole spring.  And not only the ones who are fighting for a job per Rob Antony.  And not only at that game, but this was the epitome.

On the flights to Fort Myers and back I have been reading Cool Of The Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins by Jim Theilman (an excellent book and highly recommended, btw.)  Thielman mentions that one of the turning points of the 1965 magical Twins' season came at the middle of Spring Training in Orlando's Tinker Field:  At the middle of a game, because of lack of effort, Sam Mele, the Twins' manager, took Zoilo Versalles (the eventual 1965 MVP) out of the lineup, benched him for a while and fined him $300, an amount very high for the time.  This gave the message that it is expected for even the best players to give 100% even during Spring Training and set the tone for the rest of the season.

How many times the last 3 seasons have you seen plenty of Twins' players not giving it all?  And with what consequences?   And it is continuing this Spring and I do not think that the Twins will go anywhere unless they go back to full effort (Mele's season, piranhas' season or whatever, take your peak.)   Examples (from that game) :

  • Josh Willingham hits a scorcher past third base to left that bounced just over the bag, half a foot fair and rolled all the way to the corner.  As the ball was hit, I was thinking triple all the way.  Mr Willingham jogged around the bases and managed to get himself thrown out at second by a few feet.  It ended up being recorded as a single with the hitter thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. On the field It was much more.
  • Vancy Worley was hit hard. Very hard.  And at about four times, if Trevor Plouffe was guarding the line on inside fastballs, he would have made outs out of those 4 hits.  I do understand it if it happens once.  Then you adjust.  And the Twins have a special infield coach who should supposedly help these days too. On paper it was four hits (a couple doubles as well.)   On the field it was much more. 
  • Alex Presley gets on base.   Gets a good jump trying to steal second.  He is there before the throw.  He over-slides the base.  He is tagged out.  For the third time.  On the paper it was recorded as an CS.  On the field it was much more.
  • Later in the game there is fly ball to the short left field.   LF Wilkin Ramirez goes in, SS Eduardo Escobar goes out to catch the ball.  Ramirez yells "I got it".  Escobar stops 7-8 feet away.  The ball drops in front of Ramirez.  On paper it was an error.  On the field it was much more.

It is the little things.  And they are not little. They are big cumulatively. And it is accountability for not doing things right.  Did Willingham and Presley have extra base running practice the next day?  Plouffe and Ramirez fielding practice?  Did anyone of them get pulled out of the game (they cannot be fined, the CBA took care of that)?  We all know the answer.  And if the Twins do not start holding everyone from the players, to the manager, to the coaches to the front office accountable for what is happening on the field, not much will change.  Rotation improvements or not.

My prediction: I hate to say it, but 70-92 and 5th place.   But I do hope that this time someone is held accountable for this...


Marv said...

Well that's depressing.
Of course, I've seen nothing in the box score nor heard anything on the radio to suggest that you are wrong.

Hard to say what the key is. At this point is there anyone to stand up and demand more?

moopdog said...

Do you realize Willingham has 14 triples in his career, and only one in the past three seasons?