For those who have not been to Ft. Myers for spring training, I wanted to post some notes on my observations from the minor league side of the Lee County facilities. To try to paint the picture, Hammond Stadium is the crown jewel of the area. Next to it is a regular sized field where pitchers do Pitchers Fielding Practice and they take batting practice. But as you walk out toward left field of that second field, down a sidewalk, you walk through a gate. Once past the gate, you are in the minor league facilities. There are three full-size fields and an infield-only field. There was a big bullpen area with 10 mounds to throw from. Beyond the mini-field is the minor league clubhouse and training facilities with weight room and batting cage. In the center of the facility is a tall, canopied deck where Twins personnel can sit and oversee the entire minor league facility. It is really a nice facility and a lot happens there.
The minor leaguers had to report on Thursday. On Friday, they took their physicals and all had to run a mile. The goal was to finish in 6:30, and most were right in that neighborhood. Those that finished well better than that included Shooter Hunt, Brad Tippett, Matt Tone, Tony Davis and the incredibly fast, lanky, athletic-looking Adrian Salcedo.
On Saturday, their first official workout took place and I was there for the entire thing. If I write about minor leaguers, it only makes sense for me to see each of them in person, even if just for one day.
When we got to the stadium on Saturday morning, we walked to the big league batting practice field and saw Jim Thome, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel taking batting practice. I watched for a minute before saying, "I am probably the only one in the world that would say, I can watch those guys all season, I'm going to minor league camp." And I did. I wish I would have waited long enough to notice that Joe Benson was hitting with that group.
When I got to the minor league side of the parking lot and walked through the gates, I saw a LOT of minor leaguers, probably close to 150. They were dispersing over the four fields. As I walked further, I was really, really glad that they were in uniforms with the players' names on them! Having written so much about most of those players, it was great to be able to see them in person. Of course, walking to the first field I passed, the mini-field, the first pitcher I noticed had the name of "Von Stessel" on his back. How is it possible that the first player I see, I do not know anything about. (I later found out that he is from Australia. He had played in the Phillies organization for a couple of years before leaving the game due to some family issues. He got himself back in shape and the Twins are giving him a second chance.)
In the early sessions, there was a lot of pitcher work. They broke into AAA, AA, Hi-A, Low-A, etc., and went to stations at the various fields. On the mini-field, they worked with infielders on pick off plays. On the next field, the worked on taking ground balls and throwing to second base, and they covered first base on grounders to the right side. On the other field, they fielded bunts and fake-threw to 1B. Then in the bullpen a group of pitchers would work with a catcher and pitch for 10 minutes before a second group of pitchers would do the same. They would then switch stations. Switching between stations every 20 minutes or so covered a lot of the morning. During that time, there was a group of infielders working with Paul Molitor and others taking ground balls on the other field. Outfielders were on one field working on covering ground balls, fielding them and making good throws. On other field, outfielders were working on instinct skills.
Later in the day, the pitchers had to run two 300-yard shuttle runs. That didn't look like much fun at all. At that time, the hitters broke into groups again. On the three full fields, they took batting practice in two groups in two ten-minute sessions. I would watch two or three rounds on one field and then go to the next, and went around for about eight sessoins worth of hitters. I do believe that I saw at least two rounds from every hitter in the organization.
To be honest, all of this going on was a little (or a lot!) overwhelming at first, but as the day went on, I developed a bit of a plan and strategy.
Here are some brief observations on various players that stood out:
I get a lot of grief, fair or not, about writing about the high-profile prospects more sometimes than others. I really try not to, but I have to say that there is often a reason for talking about those guys, and that is very true about two of the Twins top prospects.
Aaron Hicks - I saw him around the ballpark throughout the week and he was there early and working out on the back fields. The first thing I noticed was that he was significantly bigger than a year ago when I saw him in Beloit. His arms are huge. He is still really, really fast. Most impressively though is that the strength shows in his swing. Everything he hit was on a line to the gaps. He showed terrific power, and did a nice job in centerfield. He was the most impressive prospect that I saw and I feel more strongly about the Twins being wise in keeping him rather than dealing him.
Miguel Sano - He may not have great speed. He may or may not have a position to play defensively. He certainly couldn't bunt. But the ball comes off of his bat different. It makes that 'different sound' that we hear about. He was able to do those "little things" like the hit-and-run swings and such, but when he let loose, he hit the ball really, really hard. He hit some balls a long, long way. He has big legs and is very strong. I shook his hand at one point, and it was Adrian Peterson-like (no, I've never shaken AP's hand, but I hear so much about it). Sano has the world of potential.
A lot of other guys stood out too, even from just one day of practice watching. Please note that it is just one day, and obviously what players are able to do in game situations over the course of the season matters more, but it was a terrific opportunity to get a first glance. Here are some comments:
- Nick Lockwood - took ground balls at both 2B and SS, and even at 3B, but will likely end up at 2B. He's not a big guy, but everything he hit was hit with authority, on a line and from gap to gap. He even hit a couple of balls out of the park.
- Jose Gonzalez - He does have the Mijares-like gut, but he can flat-out throw the baseball. He's not very tall either (listed at 5-9), but he has good secondary pitches, and quickness off the mound. His minor league numbers are incredible, and I think he throws a little harder than touted.
- Martire Garcia - Very little guy, also not tall, but he throws hard and left handed. Control and consistency has been his problem, but clearly he has some stuff.
- Ben Tootle and Matt Bashore - the key note here is that both were pitching off of the mound on Day 1. Tootle has a crazy leg kick in his delivery that is fun to watch, but he does throw hard. Bashore was throwing fastballs at probably 90% and he was not throwing the curveball hard. Really just spinning them. Both have a bunch of potential as high picks, but it was good to see that both were throwing.
- It was great to see Paul Kelly taking ground balls at shortstop. I believe that he would be the Twins regular shortstop today if injuries had not derailed the majority of the last four years of his career. He's tall and lanky, smooth fielder and a good, line drive swing. I would just like to see him stay healthy for a full season.
- 2010 late-round pick Derek Christensen was throwing a bullpen session. He throws from just below a 3/4 delivery, and his fastball tails in on a right-handed batter. Even more impressive was a slider that was sharp and broke well over a foot.
- Dakota Watts, who was clocked at 99 mph last year in Ft. Myers, definitely throws hard. Steve Blevins, who has never been touted as a real hard thrower, was also throwing very hard, but he also had a very sharp slider.
- Shooter Hunt - The guy throws hard. He's got a decent changeup, and his curveball is as good as it is touted. It is sharp and moves a lot. He did throw one pitch that went over the fence behind his catcher, and bounced on the dugout of a connecting field. Man, it would be huge if he could overcome his control issues because there is so much talent there.
- Daniel Ortiz has great power potential. After missing all of the 2009 season with a knee injury, he hit 11 homers last year in Elizabethton including eight of them in August. He has amazing power despite being really tiny. The ball just jumps off of his bat.
- Oswaldo Arcia, who was the Appalachian League MVP a year ago, was hitting balls all over the field and over the fence both ways. Incredible power!
- I was talking with GCL coach and former big leaguer Milt Cuyler was very nice and talked to me for awhile. While pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, he had his outfielders standing in against them. He was explaining to them that how they take pitches is important in how they take pitches and swing during games. Specifically he was talking about balance and weight shift. It was interesting and he used Angel Morales as a 'perfect example' of what a hitter should do. Max Kepler did it a little different and yet Cuyler says it is also a good approach. There was another player whose weight was shifting strange and his hip had pulled out that was an example of the opposite. Very interesting conversation.
- Roy Larson signed as a non-drafted free agent following last season out of the University of St. Thomas. He did a nice job at 3B. He is tall and has very quick hands through the zone.
- Former Gopher and Minnesotan Nate Hanson put on a power display during his round of batting practice!
There were a lot more players that stood out to me in my one day. I fully acknowledge that guys can have good days, or that there are some guys who look great in batting practice or the bullpen and it doesn't carry over into games. There are other guys who don't Wow you in practice and just consistently get the job done in games. If you have any questions about players, please feel free to ask. I will also be hosting a Live Twins chat on Wednesday night for people to ask questions as well.