La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

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.

First weekend of camp includes meetings, too

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 28, 2015 - 3:51 PM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — The first day of full workouts for the Twins was a long one, about twice as long as the sessions the pitchers have been putting in all week. And it was made even longer by a 90-minute meeting with some experts hired by Major League Baseball to discuss domestic abuse and how to avoid it.

    “That was good. It was good for us to hear that,” pitcher Trevor May said of the session. “We’re athletes, we’re trained to be the man on the field, and sometimes it’s hard for guys to turn that off. That’s something they want to help with, help us understand. It was a really good thing.”

    May’s day also involved a little extra work, under Paul Molitor’s new plan to reduce the amount of time pitchers spend standing around in the outfield, watching batting practice and occasionally chasing a baseball. Pitching coach Neil Allen designates two pitchers each day, two that aren’t scheduled to throw in the bullpen, and that pair is assigned to help shag batting-practice baseballs.

    “I was on the list for the first tay, me and J.R. Graham, and it was loooong,” he said. “But hopefully, you only have to do it once. It used to be every day, so I’ll take this over those days. I’ll wear it for the guys for one day.”

    The Twins have another morning meeting before Sunday’s workout, when representatives of the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) arrive to describe the program, which helps former players deal with difficult circumstances.

    Speaking of meetings, manager Paul Molitor, bench coach Joe Vavra, general manager Terry Ryan and assistant GM Rob Antony met on Friday with Peter Woodfork, MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations, and umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford to go over the rules on pace of play, catcher collisions and instant replay. (Joe Torre was supposed to conduct the meeting, but had a family matter to attend to.)

    “They wanted to hear our questions. There were a few issues regarding the collision rule that I had specific questions to ask,” Molitor said. “There’s not too much left in doubt about what their desires are with the pace of the game. They have information and statistics on all our pitchers — whether it’s coming in from the bullpen, or in an inning, after an inning, how many violations they have and how much time the average violation takes.”

    The Twins, for the most part, are not dawdlers, Molitor was happy to hear.

    “Overall, we finished at the top, or near the top, as far as the least amount of issues last year. That’s a good thing,” Molitor said. “We have [fewer] guys to try to address.”

Twins' pitchers try 'speed dating' with catchers

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 27, 2015 - 1:18 PM
Catcher Stuart Turner shakes hands with pitcher Taylor Rogers during communications exercise in Twins' bullpen on Friday.

Catcher Stuart Turner shakes hands with pitcher Taylor Rogers during communications exercise in Twins' bullpen on Friday.

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — They’ve been working together for a week, but formal introductions waited until Friday. One by one, each Twins pitcher shook hands with each Twins catcher in the Hammond Stadium bullpen, said hello, then talked pitching.

    “It was like speed dating,” manager Paul Molitor said with a laugh.

    But the goal was getting outs, not getting to second base. Each pitcher has his own habits and idiosyncrasies, and pitching coach Neil Allen figures it’s helpful to talk about them right at the start. Some pitchers might warn,  “My fastball has some late sink.” Others say “I want the target down, even on high pitches.” Or perhaps, “I like to use my breaking ball to get strike one.”

    The more you know, the more comfortable you will be, Allen explained in proposing the exercise to Molitor.

    “It was just kind of an interchange between pitchers and catchers,” Molitor said. “I don’t even know if everybody had even met each other, to be honest. So it was a good deal. [Allen] wanted the pitchers to communicate with the catchers, what they’d like to do and how they do it.”    

    No bullpen sessions were scheduled Friday, so Molitor told Allen to go ahead with it. So about a half-hour of Friday’s workout consisted of the 29 pitchers and eight catchers trading ideas and discussing preferences.

    “It seemed like it went pretty well,” Molitor said. “And the guys had fun doing it.”

Twins spring training: Speeches, no Johan, Mauer, Molly

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 27, 2015 - 8:09 AM

Once again, we're under overcast skies here at Hammond Stadium as the Twins begin a busy day at the park.

Manager Paul Molitor, GM Terry Ryan, PR maven Dustin Morse and director of team travel Mike Herman are taking turns making their annual speeches to the team. After 90 minutes of blah-blah-blah, the Twins will hit the field for their workout, which they hoped would be around 9:30 eastern.

The speeches usually take place the day of the first full squad workout, which actually is tomorrow. But MLB planned its domestic violence presentation tomorrow, so the Twins had to alter their plans.

No move on Santana

The Twins were keeping an eye on pitching targets right up until camp but didn't pull the trigger. One pitcher they kept tabs on was former Cy Young winner - and Twin - Johan Santana.

There was contact between the Twins and Santana's agents, but it ended up not being a good fit. Santana is on the comeback trail after blowing out his Achilles last year - during a comeback with the Orioles following shoulder surgery. The Twins were in on Santana right until the wire then, but as interested in him this time around, and Santana signed this week with Toronto.

It strange around here. The Twins usually bring in some reclamation project to camp. Rich Harden, Joel Zumaya, even a hitter like Sean Burroughs. They don't have such a player in this camp.

Mauer hits

Joe Mauer hit on the field Thursday and said he felt great. In fact, he resisted the urge to really let it loose until his final turn in the cage. Mauer has to stay healthy and prove he can regain his old form, but the Twins are encouraged that he's felling good - and in a great mood.

@NoMolitorTweets

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is now on twitter. With Ausmus and the Cubs' Joe Maddon as members of twitter nation, has Molitor considered opening an account? ``“I don’t see that happening right now. I’m learning the basics,'' he said. ``My computer skills have improved over the years. I don’t have time.”

Molitor ready for first day with entire team

Posted by: Phil Miller under Twins prospects Updated: February 26, 2015 - 2:01 PM

    Thursday was a quiet day at Twins camp, but that all changes tomorrow. The full squad will report for an 8 a.m. team meeting, and then camp will officially be under way.

    Terry Ryan will address the team first, and then Paul Molitor, for the first time as a manager, will explain what he expects out of his players. It’s safe to say he’s put quite a bit of thought into the speech; he’s been carrying around his notes scrawled on a pad all week.

    “It changes all the time,” Molitor said of his speech. “We’ll see how long Terry goes first.”

    The Twins will also hear some advice and instruction on dealing with the media from Dustin Morse, and will get a rundown on travel policies from Mike Herman. It all figures to take at least 90 minutes, so Friday’s workout will start around 9:30 a.m.

    It’s obvious that Molitor is looking forward to having the whole team on the field, after a week of observing pitchers and catchers. He’s got some ideas about the running game that he wants to put into practice, and he hopes to improve the defense over the next five weeks. As the players were walking off the field today, he pulled Oswaldo Arcia aside and, with coach Rudy Hernandez acting as interpreter, had a 10-minute conversation with the young outfielder.

    Many of those position players have been here awhile, working out informally on a back field. But several of them took advantage of their last day off to stay away completely. Still, Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter were on the field, and Kennys Vargas, who arrived yesterday, launched a tremendous home run during batting practice that was last seen bouncing through a parking lot far beyond the outfield fence.

    I asked coach Phil Roof, who has hauled the baseballs back and forth from the field, if anyone found that ball. “We decided to let that one go,” he said, shaking his head.

Twins training camp: Kelly arrives, Bert drops by, abbreviated workout day

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: February 26, 2015 - 9:35 AM

Good morning! It's overcast here at Hammond Stadium and rain is in the forecast. That's too bad, because the Twins are scheduled to participate in a charity golf tournament this afternoon that raises money for cancer care. Today's workout will be a short one - perhaps even shorter if it starts to come down.

It's drizzling right now, but the players are on the field. That includes Kennys Vargas, who is back from five days in Puerto Rico to visit relatives. Joe Mauer said he planned to hit on the field today, so that group on the back field should be worth watching.

It looks like everyone has reported. Infielder Argenis Diaz, infielder Jose Martinez and infielder Heiker Meneses - all non-roster invites - were in the clubhouse this morning.

Rod Carew flew in yesterday. And Tom Kelly was in the clubhouse this morning.

That's right, T.K. is here. Kelly suffered a minor stroke during the offseason but has been cleared to participate in camp. And he's going to hit fungoes during the daily, ``Good Morning America,' drills.

``As long as I don't hit that switch I had 25 years ago,'' Kelly said.

Kelly looked and sounded good, but knows he's a lucky man. He also has no worries about Paul Molitor stepping in as manager despite not having any game experience. Kelly feels Molitor's work in the minors - he's watched a lot of games in the dugouts of the Twins' farm teams - has put him in enough game situations to help prepare him for game management.

He did suggest to Molitor that he use some of the final games of spring training to manage as if they were regular season games.

Other news:

The Twins are talking with the Pirates about scheduling a B game on March 9 in Bradenton in addition to the regularly scheduled game. The Twins and Bucs seem to play a B game every year. Rick Anderson is friends with Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage - and new pitching coach Neil Allen is friends with Searage going back to their days with the Mets. Small world.

Bert Blyleven stopped by this morning. Remarked about how great the renovated park looked, then mumbled something about the same old media being here, using a word that's not fit for a family blog.

Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Trevor May and Tommy Milone are among the pitchers throwing in the bullpen today.

Hicks making friends; full squad nearly complete

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: February 25, 2015 - 9:01 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — Aaron Hicks has been spending each morning in the batting cage, working on his swing with Tim Doherty, the Rochester Red Wings’ hitting coach.

    But during his down time in the clubhouse, I’ve noticed Hicks crossing the clubhouse and sitting down next to a pitcher, usually one of the new guys on the roster. Each time, he spends 20 minutes or so chatting with someone different.

    Mining for some extra info? Discussing pitch selection?

    “No, we’re usually talking about golf,” Hicks said.

    But that’s a good thing, too. Hicks said the whole point of his sit-downs is to bond with his teammates, to learn who these guys are. Pitchers and hitters tend to segregate themselves in clubhouses — it’s only natural, since they have different schedules and different workouts — but Hicks, who is battling for the starting center field job, doesn’t like not knowing his teammates. “We’re together for a long time all season,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I want to know more about them?”

    It’s not a big deal, he said, and there is plenty of camaraderie in the clubhouse, but Hicks has been actively looking for openings to sit down and catch up with other Twins, particularly the new guys. A lot of players, especially those new to the team, simply sit at their lockers and read their phones and tablets, but Hicks figures he can better spend that time. “Just making friends,” he said.

    The Twins are about to take the field for their third day of training camp, and it appears that almost 100 percent of the roster has arrived. Eduardo Nunez unpacked this morning, non-roster infielder Eric Farris arrived, and Joe Mauer (who was here for the Hammond Stadium open house on Sunday) was in the batting cage for the first time this week. Among the 40-man roster, that leaves only Kennys Vargas — who was here last week, but went home to Puerto Rico for a few days — and Max Kepler still to arrive ahead of Saturday’s first full-squad workout.

    Check back at startribune.com later today for a video updates from La Velle E. Neal III, plus an interesting video blog he shot with pitcher Mike Palfrey.

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