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.

Twins spring training: Dozier extension in the works?

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: March 3, 2015 - 3:11 PM


Second baseman Brian Dozier is set to sign a one-year deal this week, which really isn't big deal because he has between zero and three years of experience and most of those contracts are a formality.

But Dozier's agent, according to sources, is talking to the Twins about a multi-year contract for the speedy, power-hitting second baseman.

The sides tried to lock Dozier up last season, meeting during spring training in an attempt to hammer out a deal. But they failed to agree on the right numbers and decided to wait a year.

Dozier went out and batted .242 with 23 home runs and 71 RBI. He also walked 89 times and stole 21 bases. That was enough to encourage the Twins to try to lock him up once again.

Stay tuned to see how this plays out. Indications are that there could be an update in a couple of days.

Recovering

Jordan Schafer tried to return to workouts after battling the flu yesterday but was sent home. The other sick players, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Kurt Suzuki and Trevor May - returned to action.

Bully on Buxton

Molitor kept an eye on Buxton, who is scheduled to play Wedensday against the Gophers. Buxton did enough to convince Molitor to leave him in the lineup.  The manager remains bully on Buxton depsite the prospect missing most of last season due to various injuries.

The manager didn't hold back when he discussed Buxton's growth potential despite the missed development time.

``The areas I’m hoping to see improved are not so much defensively,'' Molitor said. ``Obviously people get better, but as far as his ability to read and jump and throw to the right place. That was probably, maybe his most advanced skill. Baserunning: fearless; technique needed improvement; awareness, somewhat. Offensively in the batter’s box: very competitive; strike zone knowledge. For his skillset, getting on base is going to be a big deal. He might develop into having some power along the way, but as he is developing, his strike zone knowledge is an area that I hope is improved from what I’ve seen in the past. Those are some of the things that I’ll be looking for him, for his growth.''

Scheduling

Jose Berrios will start for the Twins on Wednesday against the Gophers. Glen Perkins will follow him. After that. Mark Hamburger, Ryan Pressly, Michael Tonkin will pitch.

Kyle Gibson will start on Thursday against Boston in the official Grapefruit League opener.

Sad note

Popular Twins minor league coach Riccardo Ingram will not be presant at spring trainng this year as he fights for his life a second time because of the return of brain cancer.

Ingram, 48, is being treated in Atlanta, which is not far from his home in Lilburn, Ga., and where his family can keep an eye on him.

`I don't think anything is impossible with Riccardo,'' Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. ``He's overcome a lot of odds.''

In 2009, Ingram experienced pounding headaches that led to the discovery of Grade 4 glioblastoma in the front of his brain. At the time, 90-95 percent of people with that type of cancer die within a year. But Ingram underwent six week of radiation therapy and survived. The Twins helped out by naming him a roving hitting instructor between Class AAA Rochester and Class AA New Britain. That allowed him to make visits to Duke University Medical Center for follow up care.

Ingram is scheduled to be the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League rookie team this season.

A fourth-round pick by the Tigers in 1987, Ingram played 12 games with the Tigers in 1994 and four with the Twins in 1995. He's been coaching in the Twins farm system since 1998.

Twins spring training: A healthier clubhouse

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: March 3, 2015 - 9:11 AM

All five players who were sent home sick on Monday - Byron Buxton, Trevor May, Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer and Kurt Suzuki - were back in the clubhouse on Tuesday and prepared to rejoin workouts. Whatever has been going around the clubhouse reflects what has hit the area. Flu medication is flying off the shelves here as the baseball players aren't the only ones falling ill.

Today was media day, so players, in assembly line fashion, moved from station to station to take pictures for various media outlets. That pushed the start of today's workout back to a 10 a.m. eastern time.

Alex Meyer threw live batting practice yesterday, but the decision has been made to not use him Wednesday in the exhibition game against the Gophers. Meyer missed several days last week to be with his family after his grandfather passed away, but said this morning that he doesn't feel like he's far behind the rest of the pitchers in camp.

Danny Santana and Chris Herrmann were among the players taking extra batting practice when I walked past the cages this morning. Paul Molitor gushed about Santana yesterday when he was brought up, even mentioning how Robin Yount won MVP awards at both center field and shortstop - the two positions Santana can play.

``It’s a rare gift set when a guy can excel at those two positions,'' Molitor said. ``For him to be able to step up last year and do what he did, there was a learning curve up there but obviously when you have a chance to settle in at a position defensively, it helps your overall game. It’s not a lot of athletes that you can expect to be able to fill those two holes. ''

Will check back this afternoon was an update.

Twins post-workout blog: cutoffs, popups, sickness and Sano

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: March 2, 2015 - 9:05 PM

We were able see a different wrinkle in how Paul Molitor runs a camp when the team went over rundowns, relay throws and pop ups on Monday.

Instead of having a group of players on each field, the entire team assembled at Hammond Stadium to take part in the drills

``My thought process was to get everybody on the same field,'' Molitor said. `Almost as important to be an observer as it was to be a (participant), especially for some of the young guys.''

There was a lot of action, and a lot of yelling as players communicated about who should catch the ball. This way, the younger players could see how an established player does it.

Torii Hunter cracked up everyone during the rundown drills when, while taking a lead off of third base, yelled, ``You ain't getting on one throw, none of you pitchers!!''

One popup fell between a group of four players, including Trevor Ploufffe Josmil Pinto.

``I thought the rundowns and the popup priority went very well,'' Molitor said. ``Only had one popup that I had any issue with. We had a catcher try to outprioritize a corner infielder, which it should be in reverse. The cutoffs and relays weren't ’t quite as smooth as I had hoped. Some of those were because we didn't ’t have all the bodies due to the flu thing. We had to slow that down a little bit. That wasn’t perfect but there was a lot of good things there.

``We communicated priorities for the outfielders for cutoffs and relays as far as communication, getting the ball to the infielder. The infielder, obviously, it’s alignment, it’s communication, it’s being ready to throw and making sure you understand who can throw and how far you’ve got to get out there and being in the right place. That’s going to need a little bit more work, but I thought the other areas went well.''

The Sano Show

Miguel Sano hit seveal prodigous home runs during batting practice on Monday. That grinded to a half when the batting practice pitcher was replaced  by someone on the roster. Sano couldn't get the ball out of the infield against Kyle Gibson.

But home runs were nevertheless impressive.

``I haven’t watched a lot of batting practice so I haven’t really seen,'' Molitor said. ``I just keep hearing how far balls are going. It’s fun for people to see. I hope he’s working on his whole game. When I see him on the defensive field, I was working today on the bunt defenses, he’s trying. There are things that are going to be a challenge for him. We’ve got to keep an eye on him. He’s a big boy. He carries it pretty well, but you’ve got to have some athleticism.''

Flu Bug

The flug bug has worsened in the Twins clubhouse, as the team sent home five -five! -  players when they reported feeling under weather Monday.
Kurt Suzuki, Trevor May, Jordan Schafer, Byron Buxton and Oswaldo Arcia made brief appearances at the ballpark before  leaving. A bug is going around the clubhouse, which is rare for spring training, and the Twins are trying to keep the sick players away in order to keep whatever is going around from spreading.

It appears to not be working.

Trevor Plouffe returned to workouts after he missed two days.

``I was quarantined from my wife for two days,'' said Plouffe, who did watch six episodes of,. `House of Lies,'' during his isolation.

Twins manager Paul Molitor is using Plouffe's recovery as a base when speculating when the others will return. May, Schafer and Buxton missed their second day on Monday, so Molitor hopes they will be able to work out on Tuesday. Suzuki and Arcia were going through Day 1 of their issues on Monday.


Etc.

Torii Hunter felt a little under the weather too, so we'll keep an eye on him.

Jose Berrios and Glen Perkins are among pitchers scheduled to face the Gophers on Wednesday in a special exhibition game.


 

Five players already ruled out by flu today

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: March 2, 2015 - 8:39 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins took their mandatory preseason physicals this morning. For some, it didn’t go well.

    The Twins flu that has been circulating since before camp opened struck two new victims Monday, and will keep three others out of action for a second straight day. Kurt Suzuki and Oswaldo Arcia each took their turn with team doctors, who then sent them home for the day. Byron Buxton, Trevor May and Jordan Schafer also arrived, saw a doctor and left, their second day sidelined by the illness.

    A Twins official said there may be more to come, too, since a few players are starting to show symptoms of the virus.

    Trevor Plouffe, who has missed the past two workouts, is back, though he doesn’t appear to be 100 percent. He said he felt OK, good enough to play, “but I haven’t eaten yet.” He was anxious to get going, though, and said he figures he will stay — although he’s tempted to go home and resume binge-watching “House of Cards.” He got through six episodes on Netflix yesterday, he said.

    Besides the players, several members of the Twins’ staff say they have been afflicted, or were just before camp and are just starting to feel fine again. Manager Paul Molitor said he’s not too concerned yet. “At least it’s not the mumps,” he joked Sunday.

    The Twins have only two more long workouts, today and tomorrow, before the spring games begin. The Gophers will be here for the grand opening of renovated Hammond Stadium on Wednesday night, and the Red Sox visit from across town on Thursday. Then the Twins go three weeks without another night game (and only one day off) before a trio of late starts during their final week in Florida.

    Alex Meyer is on today’s schedule to throw live batting practice, so he is back on schedule after missing three days for his grandfather’s funeral.

Twins at full strength for second workout

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: March 1, 2015 - 8:39 AM

    FORT MYERS, Fla. — Looks like the Twins are back at full strength this morning, though they’re getting a slow start on their workouts. Trevor Plouffe was back in the batting cage shortly after sunrise, back from the illness that sidelined him yesterday.

    And Alex Meyer has returned to camp after spending the past three days in his hometown of Greensburg, Ind., for the funeral of his grandfather. Don Meyer, 76, died last Monday.

    The Twins held a team meeting at 8 a.m. to hear from representatives of B.A.T., a charitable organization that helps former players in difficult circumstances, financial and otherwise. Now the team is on the practice fields, waiting to start their second full-squad workout. It’s already 73 degrees just after 9 a.m., and it’s expected to reach the mid-80s by noon, when batting practice should be going on.

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.”

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