While the Twins signed some big free agents this offseason, including Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana, a lot of the attention in Fort Myers, Fla., is directed at the Twins’ two top prospects, outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano. General Manager Terry Ryan said there’s a good chance both will play in the big leagues this year.
Buxton is Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect in all of baseball. Sano is ranked 13th, even though he missed all of last year because of elbow surgery.
In six spring training games, Buxton has gone 1-for-8 with two walks. Sano has played in six games, going 2-for-10, but both hits have been homers — one off Pirates ace Gerrit Cole and another blast over 400 feet off the Cardinals’ Tyler Lyons on Saturday. Ryan said both players are healthy after injuries plagued them in 2014.
“They’re both 100 percent and look good,” Ryan said. “They’re participating in every drill we have. I’m not sure where those guys are going to start. We have to get a good look at them during the game competition. But for me, personally, I would like to think that in the 2015 season they’re going to surface in Minnesota.”
Buxton has hit .300 in 204 minor league games and has 33 doubles, 24 triples, 21 home runs, 72 stolen bases, 161 runs and 113 RBI in three seasons. Sano has played four seasons, missing all of 2014, and has hit .279 with 90 home runs, 291 RBI and 253 runs scored.
Ryan wasn’t guaranteeing anything, but he believes if Sano, who turns 22 in May, and Buxton, who turned 21 in December, continue to progress, there’s no reason they can’t play with the Twins this year.
“It’s up to them and whether they force themselves up there, but they’re both highly skilled and they both have got enough experience now to realize what’s at stake,” Ryan said. “They both give you a pretty good effort, they’re both coachable, they’re both good teammates. They have all the requisites that you’re looking for plus the skill set, now it’s just a matter of keeping them on the diamond as far as their health.”
Veterans will help
One of the other bright spots at spring training is first baseman Joe Mauer, who had a tough 2014, hitting a career-low .277.
“We need to get Joe back to the position that he’s going to hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup, No. 1,” Ryan said about the 2009 American League MVP. “We’re looking for run production for him. We’d like to keep him on the diamond for the entire year. He had the oblique [injury] last year and one other issue where he had to go on the DL, I believe.
“The defensive side of the game isn’t an issue. He played good at first base, that’s not a problem, but we certainly could use him out there about 150 games. We have to get his bat to the point now where he’s a run producer, because that’s the position he’s playing at, first base. So ultimately, yes, we’re looking for him to rebound.”
And what will Hunter bring in his return, after playing for the Angels and Tigers for the past seven seasons?
“He has been a good influence down here,” Ryan said. “He’s really taken the challenge of helping out Buxton and [Eddie] Rosario and [Oswaldo] Arcia and [Jordan] Schafer and [Aaron] Hicks and all those guys that are rather youthful. He is really getting after it. He’s familiar with everything we do, starting with the facility and the city and our fan base and our history and tradition, all the coaches between Rod Carew and Tom Kelly and Tony Oliva, all that stuff.
“Torii is a big piece of this thing and you can see it visually that when he speaks, people listen, whether it’s on the field or in the clubhouse. Right now, we feel good about this clubhouse and the leadership that we have, even Ervin Santana has done a good job with that, as well. We have a little more presence on this ballclub and that’s very helpful.”
For the Twins to be competitive, Ryan knows he’s going to need a mix of that veteran presence and for his young stars to step into bigger roles.
Mitchell on Wiggins, KG
Sam Mitchell started his NBA career in the Timberwolves’ first season in 1989 and played here until 1992, when he went to the Pacers. He then came back to play for the Wolves from 1995-2002. Now he is an assistant coach under Flip Saunders, after being named the NBA Coach of the Year with the Raptors in 2007. Mitchell said one of his real pleasures in coaching is working with star rookie Andrew Wiggins.
“The thing I like about him is he goes about things his way,” Mitchell said. “He’s really smart, real cerebral, and he understands the game. When you watch him play, you don’t think sometimes that he’s listening, but then you watch him go out and play and the things that you’re trying to get him to do, he just does it.”
Another big plus for Mitchell this year is that he’s gotten the chance to work with former teammate Kevin Garnett, who was brought in to play a similar role for Wiggins that Mitchell did for Garnett 20 years ago.
“I’m like a hog in heaven,” Mitchell said. “As excited as I am for me to be around him on a day-to-day basis, I’m more excited for our players. They’re going to get a chance to play with a true Hall of Famer. He has already helped us, just the way he carries himself. He’s a true pro on and off the court.”
• One big reason Dallas couldn’t sign running back DeMarco Murray is it is only $12 million under the cap while the Vikings are some $25 million under. It didn’t help the Cowboys that in order to keep wide receiver Dez Bryant, they had to apply the franchise tag to him, paying him $12.82 million this year, a contract richer than Adrian Peterson’s $12.75 million. Still, the Vikings have had two meetings with Peterson and have not come to an agreement, but let’s face facts, he is under contract.
• The happiest grandfather in town Thursday was former Gophers wide receiver and athletic director Tom Moe when he found out his great-grandson Carter Coughlin committed to the Gophers. Rivals.com rates the Eden Prairie junior linebacker as a three-star recruit while 247Sports.com has him as a four-star recruit and the nation’s 22nd-ranked outside linebacker in the 2015 class.
• The Gophers offered a scholarship this week to Eden Prairie’s all-around talent J.D. Spielman, son of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman. He also has offers from Iowa and Michigan and will visit Nebraska next week. His brother, Ronnie, is on the Ohio State lacrosse team.
• A good sign for Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino: 2015 recruit Kevin Dorsey, a 6-foot point guard, was named Player of the Year in the Capital Beltway League in Washington, D.C.
• Former Gophers tight end Matt Spaeth has signed a new two-year contract with the Steelers after playing with them for most of his career.
• Jared Berggren of Princeton, Minn., is the starting center for Telenet Oostende in Belgium. The former Wisconsin Badger is averaging 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game this year.