Twins Spring Training Report from Fort Myers: 3/23/15: The Day the Skies Opened

Today the Twins were playing against the Philadelphia Phillies at Clearwater, so it was a back field day at Fort Myers, to have a better look at the Twins' prospects.   Blustery and overcast day, which rained up in Clearwater enough to delay the Twins-Phillies start time and later in Fort Myers to wash everything out in the back fields at around the 8th inning.

But there was some great action:  At field three, the AAA players were playing against the Orioles AAA team and at field four, the AA players against another Oriole team.  Later at field two the Twins high A and A teams had a scrimmage.  Because of the weather situation at Clearwater, Ervin Santana stayed at Fort Myers, to join the AAA team, and it was the focus of attention.  I am certain that there will be reports about his pitching, LEN3 was there, among others, and was watching carefully, but my attention was at field four at the Chattanooga team.  I did see Santana throw 4 sliders in a row, which left a wide-eyed Orioles played unable to do anything but strike out looking (one was in the ground for a ball) and I had enough. 

For the Lookouts, the starter was DJ Baxendale, a pitcher who pitched the single most dominating game I have ever seen two years minus a day ago, and made it all the way to number 15 in my 2014 off-season Twins prospects list, but struggled mightly once he reached New Britain, so I was eager to see how he was pitching.  He pitched with mixed results.  His fastball was from 88-92 with excellent movement and excellent command in the first 3 innings.  He threw (not enough times) a low 70s curve that did make knees buckle and he commanded it pretty well.  However his high 70s slider was lacking command and his low 80s changeup was inconsistent.   I am not sure whether that slider is a new introduction to his repertoire (did not have it back then) but it does not seem like it is working.  Some of the changeups were great, with a lot of tailing movement away from LHBs, but others were on the ground.  Most of the mistakes were on hanging sliders, and one happened with 2 outs, after Niko Goodrum dropped an easy double play ball while trying to take it out of his glove.   I think that Baxendale has shown flashes, but was not the same commanding pitcher I saw previously.   

Staying with the pitching side for the lookouts, he was replaced by Madison Boer who was once a borderline Twins' top ten prospect, but looked really tentative.  His fastball was at 89-92 with not much movement, but did induce a couple of fly outs, and was supplemented by a violent mid-80s slider that has a lot of bite and the makings of a really filthy offering, but at this point it is not a well commanded pitch.  This season is a make or break season for Boer, I believe.  With a couple more miles on his fastballs and command of his slider, I do see him as a potential reliever, but the problem is that the Twins have at least half a dozen more ready righty pen arms at this point.  Tim Shibuya relieved Boer and did not change my mind from what I wrote about him a couple days ago here.

This Chattanooga team is a powerful one.  There were 5 home runs hit at that game.  Two, one from Michael Gonzalez and Adam Walker (the Twins' number 31 prospect, who had a second one to the right field) hit the middle of the batter's eye at dead center, beyond the 405 feet fence, with Walker's being a screeching line drive, while Gonzalez' a monster fly.  DJ Hicks added another one to the right center, which landed at the next field and Jason Kanzler, who is doing all he can to impress while keeping Buxton's Centerfield position warm, until the major league CF job is done and the AA outfielders get demoted, hit a fifth over the left field fence.   Even though the home runs were impressive, I think that the best plate appearance was by the most powerful member of the Lookouts' team and it was not a home run:  with Terry Doyle, a familiar face, on the mound for the Orioles,  Miguel Sano went 0-2 on a questionable inside looking strike one and a swinging strike two.  He took the next four pitches (all balls and some close) and walked right before the DJ Hicks' home run.  This shows that Sano is maturing as a hitter and recognizing the strike zone, which is a great thing to see from the Twins' top prospect who has been criticized about "striking out too much" by some.


A few interesting sightings at Field Two:

Felix Jorge was back on the mound throwing his pitches with good velocity and excellent command after a fairly disastrous season split between Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids.

Also at hand was the Twins' number six prospect, Amaurys Minier who played left field.  He made an excellent fielding play at left on a ball that was caught by the (by then really heavy) wind and moved towards the infield and his swing can generate a lot of power.  He has a very powerful build, but still a lot of athleticism.  In a way similar to Sano at that age, he appeared like a man among boys in that field:

A couple of parting thoughts from Field Four about the Twins' number 2 and 3 prospects:   Jorge Polanco made a couple of difficult plays at shortstop look routine.  I am not sure how the rumors about him not being a good shortstop fielder are spread and why, but every time I see him, I am looking at an above average shortstop play.   Byron Buxton has a hard time with off-speed pitches.  His last plate appearance went like this:  FB- Looking Strike, CH - Swinging Strike, CH (dirt in front plate) - Ball, FB (high) - Ball, FB (inside) - Ball, CH - Swinging Strike - K.  Interesting situation in the outfield involving Mike Kvasnicka who played left and Buxton:  There was a play at left close to center and both were going for the ball, with Kvasnicka, very loudly yelling "I got it" and Buxton letting him get it.   Good to see that the lesson from the last time those guys went after the same ball was fully learned. 

You can find all the 2015 Spring Training coverage from Fort Myers and beyond, here.

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