Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe has become the first of the three arbitration-eligible Twins to sign a contract for 2014, agreeing to a one-year salary of $2.35 million, the team announced Friday.
That's more than four times his 2013 salary of $520,000, after a season in which the 27-year-old former first-round pick batted .254 in 129 games, with 14 home runs and a .309 on-base percentage.
Plouffe's signature leaves relief pitchers Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak the only remaining players awaiting arbitration to determine their salaries for the coming season, though the Twins haven't actually needed a hearing before an arbitrator since 2006. In general, players can file for arbitration after three seasons in the major leagues.
Baseball managers will have the right to challenge controversial calls beginning this season, the 30 major-league teams unanimously decided on Thursday, and an umpire watching replays in New York will decide whether to uphold them.
Managers will be allowed to challenge one call per game, under rules agreed to by MLB's 30 owners, and will be granted a second challenge if their first is upheld. But no manager will be allowed more than two challenges in a game, and arguing over a replay official's ruling will not be allowed.
It's a major expansion of replay in Major League Baseball, a sport which had limited the technology to home run calls until now. The new system will be tested during several exhibition games this spring, then go into effect on Opening Day.
Balls and strikes cannot be challenged, but virtually all other controversial calls can, including tag plays, trap plays, force plays, fair/foul calls in the outfield, whether batters were hit by a pitch, tag-up timing, touching of bases, passing runners, home runs and ground-rule doubles. The rule specifically creates an exception for the so-called "neighborhood play," a force at second base during a double play, which will not be reviewable.
MLB has created a "command center" in New York where major-league umpires will be stationed, with access to replays from all stadium cameras, including some not shown on TV broadcasts. When a play is challenged, the crew chief on the field will contact the replay official, using a headset on the field, and the official will determine whether the call was correct and, if the call was overturned, where baserunners should be appropriately placed.
If a manager has already used his challenge, umpires can instituted a replay review on their own, from the seventh inning on.
Teams will be allowed to station someone in the clubhouse to watch the game on TV, and communicate with the manager on whether to challenge a call. No TVs will be allowed in dugouts.
One other effect of the new rule: MLB has ended its policy of preventing replays of close plays from being shown on stadium scoreboards. Teams can now show any replay.
Here's at complete list of the new replay policies.
The Twins want to take a present-day look at their future.
The franchise's top three prospects -- outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sano, and right-hander Alex Meyer -- have been invited to spring training with the major-league team, the Twins announced Thursday, a move that will give manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff a chance to work with the projected cornerstones of the Twins' future..
Buxton, 20, has been rated the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, but has not played above the Class A level. Sano, 20, is the game's No. 3 prospect, but has spent just half a season at Class AA. And Meyer, 24, was acquired in a trade for Denard Span a year ago, but has not pitched yet at the Class AAA level. All three will be on the field with the Twins' returning veterans next month (something Meyer did a year ago as well), with at least a longshot chance at making the roster.
Or is it more than a longshot?
"Well, some guys are more realistic [to make the Twins] than others. Buxton was in A-ball last year, so it would be very difficult" to speed up his progress so much, Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Meyer, he's quite a bit more advanced. He pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, he's been in camp before, and he deserves to get a real close look."
Sano's chances may be complicated by an elbow injury that flares up occasionally, but the Twins are hopeful that the Dominican infielder, who arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., this week to begin working out, will not require surgery. "So far, so good," Ryan said of Sano's workouts in Florida. "He's doing well, and I'm hopeful that he'll be fine once we crank him up in earnest."
Those three prospects will join 20 other players not on the Twins' 40-man roster when spring camp opens in Fort Myers on Feb. 16 (for pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 21. Among the most notable are former Twins Jason Bartlett, who agreed to a minor-league contract in November, and Jason Kubel, who signed a minor-league deal in December. Those two are projected to make the Twins' 25-man roster, and perhaps earn starting roles.
Also invited are three players who spent parts of 2013 with the Twins before being outrighted to Rochester after the season: infielder Doug Bernier and outfielders Darin Mastroianni and Wilkin Ramirez. One other ex-Twin, right-hander Lester Oliveros, who missed the 2013 season after undergoing elbow surgery, will also be in camp.
A handful of Twins minor-leaguers are on the invitee list: Aaron Thompson, a right-handed reliever; Deolis Guerra, a right-hander who missed most of 2013 with a blood clot in his shoulder; outfielder Jermaine Mitchell; infielder James Beresford; and third baseman Deibinson Romero. In addition, four catchers from the Twins' system will be in camp to help with the pitching staff: Kyle Knudson, Matt Koch, Stuart Turner and Dan Rohlfing.
Newcomers extended an invitation include: lefthander Sean Gilmartin, acquired from Atlanta last month in the Ryan Doumit trade; lefthander Matt Hoffman, signed as a free agent out of the Detroit system; righthander Yohan Pino, a former Twins signee who was traded to Cleveland in 2009 for Carl Pavano; infielder Brandon Waring, who spent the past five systems in Baltimore's system; and outfielder Chris Rahl, a nine-year minor-league veteran with Washington and Arizona.
Eddie Rosario, one of the Twins' brightest minor-league prospects, has been suspended for the first 50 games of the 2014 season after failing a drug test for the second time, Major League Baseball announced on Saturday.
Rosario, an outfielder and second baseman, failed a test for a "drug of abuse," the commissioner's office said, mandating a 50-game penalty under the sport's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. News of Rosario's potential suspension leaked in November but was not confirmed by MLB at the time.
"It's disappointing, but now he has to pay the consequences and be accountable," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Losing 50 games, that's a huge setback. That's a lot of development time, a lot of learning that he'll miss. It sets back his progression [toward] going up to the big leagues. But young people make mistakes, and hopefully he learns from it."
Rosario, in a statement released Saturday by his agent Melvin Roman, said he already had. "I made a mistake and have no one but myself to blame," Rosario's statement, which included an apology to Ryan, the Twins and "my fans, teammates and family," said. "I intend to learn from this mistake and continue development in both professional and personal growth. I look forward to returning to the field in May and will do my best to put this unfortunate incident behind me."
The native of Puerto Rico, ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in the Twins system before the 2013 season, batted .329 in 52 games with Class A Fort Myers last year before being promoted to Class AA New Britain, where he hit .284 with seven home runs in 70 games. The Twins thought so much of Rosario's potential, they included him among the seven prospects they sent in October to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .238 in 20 games against advanced competition.
Now Rosario, 22, will come to spring training in March as scheduled, and will take part in drills and exhibition games. But once the season begins, Rosario will likely remain behind in Fort Myers, Ryan said. "We'll keep him under our eye, whether it's at spring camp or somewhere else," Ryan said. "That's a sizable part of the season, but that's the price you pay for not being responsible enough to understand right from wrong."
He must wait until the team he is assigned to plays 50 games in 2014 -- if it's New Britain again, Rosario would be eligible to return on May 25 (or later if there are rainouts) -- and will be required to undergo additional drug testing during the season. A third positive test would result in a 100-game suspension. The suspension is for an undisclosed "drug of abuse," such as marijuana or cocaine, as distinct from a a performance-enhancing drug, which brings a 100-game suspension for a first offense.
Rosario is the second Twins minor leaguer to be suspended for failing a drug test this offseason. In September, Cedar Rapids pitcher Dallas Gallant received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine.
The Twins will offer contracts to Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing and Trevor Plouffe by Monday night's deadline, the team confirmed, making them eligible for arbitration and keeping them on the roster for 2014.
Had the Twins chosen not to tender contracts to that arbitration-eligible trio by Monday's 11 p.m. CT deadline, they could have become free agents. Instead, the three will negotiate raises on their salaries for next season, or file to have an independent arbiter decide how much they'll earn, a process the Twins have avoided for nearly a decade.
Duensing, who earned $1.3 million in 2013, his fourth season with the Twins, and Swarzak, who made $502,500 in his third year, are eligible for arbitration because they have more than three seasons of service time. Plouffe, paid $520,000 last season, is among the top 22 percent of two-year players in terms of service time, making him eligible as a so-called "super-two" players.
It's likely that Duensing, who posted a 3.98 ERA in 61 innings, and Plouffe, who batted .254 with 14 home runs, will earn $2 million or more when their contracts are settled, while Swarzak can expect to roughly double his salary. Salaries are normally agreed to without a hearing; no major-league player had his case heard by an arbitrator last winter. The Twins have not been taken to a hearing by a player since Kyle Lohse, who won his case against the Twins in both 2005 and 2006.
The Twins also announced they will hold a press conference at Target Field at 2 p.m. Tuesday. A source with knowledge of the topic said the Twins will announce the signing of right-handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco.
Jim Thome toured the tornado-ravaged neighborhoods around his brother Randy's home in Washington, Ill., last week, and decided to help. He talked the Twins into helping, too.
Thome, the former Twins slugger who grew up in Bartonville, Ill., about 10 miles from the central Illinois town where a series of tornados killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes on Nov. 17, has donated $100,000 to a fund to help victims of the twisters. He also contacted four of his former teams -- the Twins, Indians, Phillies and White Sox, whom he currently works for in a front-office position -- and asked if they would be willing to donate, too.
"We all said, 'Yeah,' right away when Jim called," said Bryan Donaldson, the Twins' senior director of community relations. "We all agreed to donate $5,000 each, so that's another $20,000 going to the Red Cross in central Illinois."
It's not the first time the Twins have donated when a player's home is affected by a natural disaster. When an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, the Twins donated $25,000 to relief efforts and collaborated with Tsuyoshi Nishioka on a fundraising effort that provided thousands more.
Another former Twin is doing charity work this weekend, too. Justin Morneau will promote hisl Winter Warm-Up Coat Drive on Saturday by helping collect coats at Fan HQ in the Ridgedale Center. Despite being traded to Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, Morneau went ahead with his fourth annual coat drive to benefit needy Twin Cities residents. Morneau will accept new or gently-used coach from donors from 10 a.m.-noon.
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