BALTIMORE – It was one of the most surprising statistics of the spring — to everyone but James Rowson, anyway. In a strong offensive Twins lineup, which player led the team in home runs and RBI during Grapefruit League play?
“Ehire!” correctly noted the Twins hitting coach of utility infielder Ehire Adrianza. “He’s got more pop than people think.”
That’s no coincidence. Adrianza, who made his first start of the season Saturday, spent the winter with the goal of becoming almost as valuable for his offense as his defense. “I worked very hard in the offseason. I only took two weeks off before I started working out,” the 28-year-old Adrianza said. He hired a hitting coach in Miami and dedicated himself to losing a little of thatpipe-cleaner physique that often distinguishes fielding specialists.
Also, Rowson said, Adrianza stopped thinking like a utility infielder. “He always has in his mind that he’s got to bunt, or hit to the right side to move the runner,” Rowson said. “I told him, ‘Swing away. Just swing. Let yourself go, and see what happens.’ ”
The result? Three home runs in Fort Myers, tying the twice-as-large Miguel Sano for the team lead, plus a dozen RBI.
“I gained 10 pounds, and that’s why I’m having more impact on the ball,” said Adrianza, who batted .265 with two homers and 24 RBI — all career highs — in his first season with the Twins. “I’m also more comfortable at the plate. When I changed my approach last year, with a leg kick, it wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t feeling like 100 percent confident. Now I am.”
Couldn’t come at a better time for the Twins, who lost regular shortstop Jorge Polanco to a steroid suspension for 80 games.
“He looked noticeably different, I thought, this spring in how he had developed himself,” manager Paul Molitor said.
“He had a really good spring. Whether you want to talk about being able to play as many positions as he did, swung a bat well from both sides of the plate, showed some power.”
Prospects split up
Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves, the Twins’ two highest-rated minor league pitching prospects who propelled Class AA Chattanooga to a Southern League co-championship last year, are being split up.
The Twins are still finalizing their rosters ahead of Opening Day for their affiliates late next week, but they have determined that Romero will begin the year at Class AAA Rochester, while Gonsalves, who ended the season there in 2017, will return to Chattanooga to start the season.
The reason? In large part, their spring performances. Romero was unhittable during his time in Twins camp — he literally didn’t allow a hit in eight Grapefruit League innings — and kept that momentum after being optioned. So the Twins have decided to give the 23-year-old righthander, rated as the Twins’ second-best prospect by mlb.com, a challenge by stepping up to the highest minor league level.
Gonsalves wasn’t as sharp and his velocity was down slightly this spring. The reason: He’s making some adjustments in his mechanics that the Twins believe will pay off as he rises in the system. While the 23-year-old lefthander, rated as the team’s third-best prospect, masters the changes, they’re putting him in a comfortable environment — the franchise where he went 8-3 with a 2.68 ERA last year.
Those assignments likely will leave the AAA Red Wings with an initial rotation of Adalberto Mejia, Romero, Aaron Slegers, Dietrich Enns and Myles Jaye. Chattanooga will get Gonsalves and Zack Littell, who was 5-0 last season.
Also expected to start at Chattanooga: Shortstop Nick Gordon, who at 22 remains one of the youngest players in the Southern League, where he batted .270 with 46 extra-base hits last season.
Phil Hughes threw more than 50 pitches over four innings of a Class AAA game against Pawtucket on Saturday, and reported no soreness in his strained oblique, and the Twins may be ready to start his rehab process in preparation for an April 11 start in the majors.
“If he responds to what he did today, and there are no setbacks physically,” Molitor said, “we’re looking at him starting a game for the [Class A Fort Myers] Miracle on April 5.”