2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/19: Rainy Day Fields Two and Three

The thunderstorm system that caused havoc in Central Florida and the Grapefruit League and cancelled the Twins' game against the Pirates in Bradenton, hit Fort Myers with its tail end and cut action in the Minor League Fields short.   Here are my notes from today:

With the Twins A+ and A teams playing at home against those of the Red Sox, I was looking forward to see Nick Gordon in action.  Alas, he is still out injured.

Andro Cutura, the Twins 7th round pick in the 2014 draft from Southeastern Louisiana University has never been on my radar, but now he will.  He has an interesting 4 pitch mix: four-seamer, two-seamer, slider/cutter and a changeup.  They all overlap in velocity and his range is up to 91 for the four-seamer and down to 81 mph for the changeup.  He has great command and control of all his pitches and thew all of them in any count.  All of his pitches have the potential of being swing and miss pitches.  His velocity range is somewhat atypical for successful pitches, but his command is also atypical.  He utilizes the whole zone, up, down, in and out, and he is not afraid to throw a sinker or a cutter in the dirt for the hitters to change.  His windup will bring memories of Juan Berenguer to the older Twins' fans, since he starts it with both of his glove and ball arms extended in front of him.  Easy mechanics with a small pause right before his release, which is enough to confuse the hitters.  He pitched 3 great innings striking out 5 and having the rest of the hitters ground out.  He fell apart in his fourth inning of work, allowing 4 consecutive singles after his first fly out.  Not sure whether there stamina issues (the 22 year old missed all of 2014 recovering from injury) or whether his excellent sinker and cutter flatten when he pitches form the stretch, which was the case today.   Definitely someone who is not a household name, to keep an eye on.

Logan Wade, the 24 year old Australian who had an excellent 2013 in Elizabethton and then he fell off the face of the earth, looked very good today.   In his first plate appearance, he singled to the opposite field,  was successful in a delayed steal of second base when the ball was pitched in the dirt, and  then scored from second on a single by TJ White to shallow right field.  In his next plate appearance he hit a line drive home run to the opposite (right) field as a right hand batter against Boston's LHP Jalen Beeks.

Speaking of TJ White, the 24 year old Twins' 18th round draft pick in 2014 from UNLV, has been riding a 4 AB hitting streak that he extended to 6 with singles in his first 2 plate appearances. 

Max Murphy, also 24 and the 9th round pick of the 2014 draft, had another excellent day with a long home run and a shoestring catch in the outfield.   I wrote what he did about days ago here.

Brian Navarreto, the 21 year old Twins 6th round pick in 2013 from Jacksonville, FL Arlington Day School, looked definitely bigger in statute from last Spring.  At this point he looks bigger than Adam Walker.  Navarreto was always regarded as a good catcher, but his hitting was been more than suspect.   He has a very good plate appearance with a single at the opposite field, after he swang wildly at a breaking ball in the dirt, but let the next one go for a ball.  There are some hopeful signs but there is still a lot of work necessary.


2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/18: Ricky, the Pen, and a Prognostication

Another day without a Twins' home game and I decided to state at the back fields of Lee County Sports Complex to watch Ricky Nolasco pitch with the Twins' AAA team against the Red Sox' AAA team, instead of making the trip across I-75 to Jet Blue Park to watch the MLB Twins and Tyler Duffey face the MLB Sox.   Despite what the Twins are saying, and not only because they are starting the same day these days, it is pretty clear that Tommy Milone is guaranteed a position in the rotation and the last spot will be a potential battle between Nolasco and Duffey.

Nolasco pitched for 4 innings in Field 3 today.  He threw four pitches, a 90-92 Fastball, a 73-77 mph Curveball, an 82-84 mph Slider and a 80-82 mph split finger change.  All in all, Nolasco's appearance today was much better than that by Hughes yesterday.   As with Hughes, Kurt Suzuki was Nolasco's catcher.  Last week I wrote an in depth analysis of Nolasco's performance and among other things, I included an analysis of his pitches and results.   And it was spot on based on my observations today:   His curveball was totally filthy and induced both looking and swinging strikes and strikeouts and weak grounders.  His split finger change is a pretty much awful pitch.  Very little command and when it was in the strike zone did not fare well.  This pitch, as per my previous recommendation, should never see the light of day or artificial day in a major league ballpark again.  His fastball was better as the game went on with more command in the later than the earlier innings and he broke at least a couple bats with it.  Definitely his breaking stuff is his out pitches and it is plus to plus plus.  The problem is that he needs the good fastball so that major league hitters do not avoid his breaking balls and waiting for the fastball (or the horrible split finger.)  If he throws his slider and curveball about 50%+ of the time, he has a good possibility for a come back season, depending on the day his fastball is having.    Overall it was a very good performance over the eyes of a couple of scouts (Rangers & Padres) and Terry Ryan and the Twins' media dignitaries:

Prognostication:  based on his Spring Performances, his stuff and his career record, unless traded, Ricky Nolasco will be the Twins' fifth starter over Tyler Duffey who had another hard start today.

A few more observations from Field Three today:

I was looking forward to see the Twins' number 18 prospect for 2016, Daniel Palka for the first time live as a Twin.   He hit a no-doubter home run in the first evening to the warehouse behind right Centerfield in his first plate appearance and then hit another long ball to far right for a foul in his second PA before eventually grounded out to first in a footrace.  I like what I saw from him in a limited action.  I think that he will turn into a useful player for the Twins and will bring in some left handed power they really lack...

Speaking of left handed power, DJ Hicks, hit a very long home run, right about  where Palka hit his.  Really good to see him finally healthy and swinging the bat, since the Twins need that left hand power. 

Speaking of power, the Twins' number 19 prospect for 2016,  Adam Brett Walker, hit two very long home runs in fastballs in the middle of plate and struck out in 3 breaking balls in the dirt in his other plate appearance.  If someone teaches Walker to recognize the spin of the breaking ball and keep the bat on his shoulder when he sees it, will be doing him and the Twins a great service.

Niko Goodrum, the Twins' number 37 prospect for 2016, who came a bit bigger this Spring showed much better plate recognition taking two walks in his first two plate appearances, but was thrown out stealing after the first, in a situation that would have been an easy SB for him last season, and made an error bobbling a ball at SS.  OF is his position and hopefully this will be where he will play when the middle infield cuts from the MLB camp trickle down to the minors.

After today's cuts, here are the players left who are competing for 7 spots in the Twins' pen:

Glen Perkins
Kevin Jepsen
Trevor May
Casey Fien
Ryan O'Rourke
JR Graham
Ryan Pressly
Mike Tonkin

Logan Darnell
Taylor Rogers
Fernando Abad
Buddy Boshers
Dan Runzler

Brandon Kintzler
Nolasco or Duffey

The first 8 (maybe with the exception of Pressly) were part of the 2015 bullpen that was one of the worst bullpens (maybe THE Worst, depending on how you are counting) in the league; one of the group of the next 5 lefties will replace Brian Duensing and one of the next two might replace Blaine Boyer.

Unless the Twins decide to get Duffey a pen roll (which is unlikely since they will like him to start in Rochester,)  this pen is spiting image of the 2015 pen that was as effective as spitting in the wind...

This is by no means good news for the Twins...


2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. 3/17: The action was at the back fields.

Today, for the second start in a row, the Twins chose not to pitch Phil Hughes against the Orioles (a team they open the season with 3 games in Baltimore.)  Instead Hughes pitched 5 innings in the back fields with the Twins' A+ team against the Rays' A+ squad.   Curt Suzuki was there to catch him.  Next door with the A squad, Kevin Jepsen pitched the first inning and Oswaldo Arcia had 3 plate appearances as a DH against the Rays' A team.  

Phil Hughes labored for 5 innings with 78 pitches, including a 28 pitch second inning, in which the defense behind him failed to convert 3 straight forward double play opportunities.  He thew 55 of those pitches in strikes and commanded the ball pretty well, inducing mostly weak ground balls, a couple of fly balls and a couple of strikeouts.   His fastball was at 89-91, with one at 92, his cutter 86-91, changeup 81-84 and curve 77-79 mph.  These numbers were close to his 2015 velocity averages (90.7 for the FB, and  87.8 for the cutter.)  All in all it was a "getting his work in" type of session for Hughes, who by no means cruised against high A competition.

Across the field, Kevin Jepsen had a better game, of what I could catch with my peripheral vision, but Oswaldo Arcia stole the show there, hitting a home run close to the major league practice field, under the watching eyes of scouts from the Cubs, Padres, Athletics and another team.  The same Rangers' scout who was there yesterday was the single scout scouting Hughes and the Twins' A+ team.

Additional impressions from the A team field: 

Amaurys Minier, the Twins' number 15 prospect for 2016, played First Base, coming off an injury plague season in Elizabethton.  His swing seems more compact that it did last season and he legged out a single in a not very hard hit ball at the SS and had another opposite field single at an outside corner ball with full count.  Also went from first to third with ease on a ball hit to Right Field.  His speed and running has been improved, since Minier has been pretty much a non-factor in the base paths his whole career.   He made a couple of good fielding plays at first base, moving easily both to his left and to his right and made secure and on the spot underhand throws to the pitcher to get the outs.

Jermaine Palacios, the Twins' number 8 prospect for 2016, played Short Stop at that game.  He seems not to have gained a pound last off-season, but his fielding, which has been for a good reason, was fine.  He made several routine plays at shortstop and did not look tentative making them, but he was not really challenged.  In the couple of plate appearances I followed, he showed quick wrists and good contact capabilities. 

I saw a single plate appearance by Travis Blackenhorn, the Twins' number 38 prospect for 2016.  He has the capability of making contact since he saw several balls and fouled a lot of them.  He went with the ball and was able to move it to the opposite field.  Would need work to start making productive contact, but the basics are there.  He did not look tentative at all and went around his business like he owned the box.  Reminded me a bit of a young(er) Max Kepler.

22 year old lefty Sam Clay, pitched 4 innings in that contest.  He featured an 89-91 mph fastball with good movement in both planes and a low 80s slider and change up.  The slider is above average at this point and has the potential of being a plus pitch, but his control with all of his pitches is all over the place.  If he learns how to command and control them, the former 4th round draft pick of 2014, will be someone to watch for.  But he is still a work in progress.  He looks like a good defender, defending a tough bunt towards his throwing arm side flawlessly.

25 year old Tyler Stirewalt, a righty who was drafted by the Twins in the 21st round of the 2013 draft and lost all of 2014 and part of 2015 to injuries, also pitched in that game.  He threw a 90-92 mph fastball and a 77-79 slurve.  Many command and control issues as well, but there is potential there.  However being 25 and never pitching above Rookie ball, might mean that there might not be time to realize that potential.

A couple of snippets from the other field:

Max Murphy, the Twins 9th Round pick in 2014, a Minnesotan from Robbinsdale looked like a man on a mission.  This is his age 23 season and he really looks bulked up and much stronger.  He legged out a triple  in a long hit at the CF over the defenders' heads and scored in the subsequent play by tagging up after a shallow ball at the RF.  After an excellent 2014, he did not do much last season in Cedar Rapids, but definitely someone to pay attention to this season.

Felix Jorge, the Twins' number 20 prospect for 2016 pitched 2 innings for the high A team.  I had a chance to watch one of them.   His sinker was from 91-93 with good heavy action and his changeup was in the low 70s and it was pretty much lethal as usual.  Seemed to have good control with the fastball, which has been questionable in spots.  The big question mark around Jorge is weather he will have the stamina to be a started, which will likely take more than a season to answer.

Regretted not seeing Nick Gordon and Lamond Wade who were injured as well as Trevor May who threw after I departed.

Tomorrow Ricky Nolasco will be starting in the back fields, while the Twins will be playing the Red Sox at the Jet Blue Stadium and I will be there to give you the action on the field by him, as well as by the scouts on the bleachers.


2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. Day 1: The Doubleheader

Today the Twins had a 7:05 PM game hosting the Boston Red Sox.  At 1PM the Twins' AAA and AA teams hosted the equivalent of the Orioles'.  I spent the afternoon watching the Twins AA team, before moved to Hammond Stadium in the evening for the nightcap. 

I was delighted to see that Tyler Jay was the starter for the AA game.  Jay was ranked as the Twins' number 2 prospect in my off-season 2016 rankings and I have to say that he proved me happy with that ranking.  He pitched for a full 4 innings and featured 4 pitches:  a 93-94 mph FB that topped at 96, an 85-86 mph slider, an 81-83 mph change up and a 77-80 mph curve.  This is a very effective pitch mix for him.  He has a short arm delivery and hides the ball well.  He commands all pitches well and his fastball is definitely his out pitch; sets it up beautifully with the slider and the change up.  He throws his curve low and outside the strike zone to make hitters chase it; and they do.  At this level.  One of the questions about Jay has been the ability to be a started as far as endurance goes.  Today he was not frugal with his pitches, which is something that he would have to learn as he matures as a professional.

His Catcher was 25 year old  Joe Maloney who the Twins signed as a minor league free agent after an MVP season in the Canadian-American Association Independent League Rockland Boulders.  Maloney's problem is that he is not a very good catcher and he showed that today, having a throw sail over the head of the second baseman on a steal attempt and two passed balls.  The second passed ball bounced off Maloney's glove to the home plate umpire's hand to his cup, incapacitating the umpire.   Twins' legend Tom Kelly had to call balls and strikes behind the pitcher for the next half inning before a replacement umpire relieved him:

Another new minor league free agent on display today was Keury De La Cruz.  The 24 year old outfielder has one of the longest swings I have seen with an extremely violent back swing.  After his first PA, I mumbled that someone will get hurt here, and in the 5th inning, it happened to get the Baltimore catcher's head with that backswing.  Some serious coaching needs to happen here.   De La Cruz  provided a bit of a comic relief sliding feet first about 2 feet to the left of where a routine fly ball fell in the second inning.  Will not be surprised in the Twins bite the bullet and cut him soon.

The Twins signed 27 year old RHP Omar Belcomo from the American Association Independent League where he last played for the Wichita Lugnuts, to make 3 starts for the Fort Myers Miracle at the end of their season.   Belcomo last played affiliated ball in 2011 for the Tampa Bay Rays single A team at Bowling Green.  He is an interesting player to keep an eye on, as he is a poor man's Sam Deduno.  He has two pitches:  A fastball that goes from 86 to 91, which he can absolutely not command and goes all over the place, including the head of a Baltimore hitter in his second inning of work.  His second pitch is a 77-81 mph change up that actually is an above average to a plus pitch, and a pitch that he seems to be able to control. 

Raul Fernandez was another of the minor league free agents the Twins signed last off-season.  The 25 year old RHP Dominican was converted from Catcher to Pitcher by the Rockies after his first DSL season and spent last season in the White Sox' AA team.  Long arm motion with 92-93 mph FB with late pop, an 88 mph cutter/2-seamer and a low 80s change up.  Very good ability to mix them and throw them all for strikes and good command.  He seemed to confuse batters.

Brian Gilbert seems to get his fastball up a couple ticks, consistently hitting 94 and 95 with a couple of 96 mph.  He complemented that with an 85-86 mph slider.  Seemed to be effectively wild, but it is the start of the Spring Training.  Just 23, drafted by the Twins in the 7th round in 2013; keep your eye open for him.

Yorman Landa was the last pitcher for the AA Twins, fresh from the MLB side of Spring Training.  I last saw him pitch a couple seasons ago and he is a different pitcher.   He supplemented his excellent high 80s low 90s 2-seamer with a 4-seamer that sit at 93-95 and popped up to 96, but is straight with inconsistent command and control.  Straight FBs at 95 and 96 will get hit hard by good AA hitters and that is what happened to him today.  His 78-81 mph curve was good.  He did not throw a change up today.  Definite potential there, but he needs work. 

Something to keep in mind:  Today watching the Twins' AA pitchers was a Texas Rangers' (who train in AZ) scout.  Not sure that anything is going on, but he was there.

Fast forward a few hrs to the Twins' MLB game at Hammond Stadium against the Red Sox. 

Kyle Gibson was the starter, and he had things really working for him, including his best pitch, a slider, purely made of filth, dancing at 84-86 mph and striking out Red Sox who were either looking at it with open eyes or swinging and missing wildly.   That today was a FranKKKKKKKKKKKKKie Liriano slider in his prime, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Four seamer 92-95, two seamer high 80s, and a changeup at 79-81 was the rest of Gibson's repertoire tonight. Gibson was in mid-season form.

Another player who was in mid-season form was Miguel Sano, who punished a Bucholtz breaking ball deeply off the Centerfield wall for a double, and even more importantly made a solid catch in RF and threw a pea that would had thrown the tagging runner out at third if Trevor Plouffe did not bobble the ball.

Back to pitching.  One of the greatest mysteries this spring has been Glen Perkins' velocity, so I charted all of his pitches.  Here they are:

FB 90, FB 89, FB 91, FB 86, FB 89, SL 78, FB 91, FB 88, SL 78, SL 79, SL 81, FL 89, FB 89, FB 90, SL 81, FB 89.

86-91 mph FB and 78-81 mph SL.  This is a good 5-6 mph off where Perkins need to be to be effective.  Nevertheless this should be raising more Red Flags to the Twins' brass than there are outside the Kremlin...

Have a few more notes from today, but for the sake of brevity, I will include them in one of the future writeups 


2016 Twins Spring Training Coverage from Fort Myers. Day 0: What to expect

Tomorrow after a couple of flights, I will be arriving at Fort Myers, FL, for my annual coverage of the Minnesota Twins Spring Training.  This year, it will be for about 10 days, and like every year it will conclude with my annual prediction about how the Twins will do this season.   Last year, after I saw the team, I wrote this in my Spring Training Redux post:

Conclusion: This will not be another 90 loss team, unless something weird happens.  80-82 is the baseline.  Another factor:  I did get some 1987-like excitement there, like this might be a magic year (like that one.)  But I think that they are one year away.  So my prediction for 2015 is that the Twins will have the same record as their Pythagorean in 1987: 79-83.  But, yes, this year feels a lot like 1987, and you never know what is going to happen...

Even though the Twins got closer to the actual 1987 team record last season (83-79 vs 85-77), I think that this 79-83 prediction is probably the closest 2015 preseason prediction to their actual record.
Speaking off,  this was my 2014 prediction in that Spring Training Redux post:
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...
That one hit the bull's eye on both counts.

What else to expect the next couple weeks?

A: True, fair, realistic analysis of players, both major leaguers and prospects, without fear of losing my "access privileges", because I do not have any.   Here is another excerpt form my 2014 redux:

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.
I suspect that you cannot find many other sources that described this game that way

B: Live tweets, pictures and insights on the games that are not given any place else.  Like this.  My Twitter is @thrylos98, please make sure you add me, if interested.

C: Minor league reports like this from last year.

Here is a link to the whole 2014 Spring training coverage and here one to the 2015 to give you an idea of what else to expect.

Win Twins!