Fort Myers, Fla. – Every baseball team spouts optimism during spring training. How they do it is telling.
Do they use the word “if” a lot? Do they speak boldly, or cautiously? Do they qualify every statement?
As the Twins began their spring schedule with an exhibition against the Gophers on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium, General Manager Terry Ryan, long known for caution, is one of the many key figures in Twins camp setting new, bold, standards.
“We have got to get to the point where we’re battling for the postseason,” he said. “I’d be wrong if I didn’t put the sitghts up there. I don’t care what our record was last year, it’s realistic. A lot of things will have to happen for us to get there, there’s no doubt. But there’s no reason for us not to be in that mix.”
With one of the best farm systems in baseball, Ryan believes his team should be eyeing future World Series. “We’re starting to get to the point now where we were in the late ’90s,” Ryan said. “Where you can feel it.”
The Twins lost 91 games in 1986, and 88 in ’90. They won the World Series the next year.
In 2000, the Twins finished a streak of eight consecutive losing seasons by losing 93 games. They contended for a division title in 2001 and from that point posted winning records in nine of the next 10 seasons.
They enter 2015 riding the most disappointing four-year stretch in franchise history, four straight seasons of 92 or more losses while playing in a new ballpark following a 10-year window of success.
“The past three years, I’ve said that everyone looks great down here, but deep down we knew we had some holes,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “This year is a lot different. The people we brought in have had success around the league. The flaws we had, we’ve addressed. From our Day One meeting with Molly, he said, ‘No more talking about last year — we’re setting our standards high.’
“So I’m going to say it: Contend for a world championship. That’s our goal.”
“I think we’re capable of it,” Joe Mauer said. “There’s a lot of time between now and then, but we feel really good heading into the season, and that should be our mentality.”
Torii Hunter has received so much attention in camp for his mentoring of young players that he felt the need to clarify his reason for rejoining the Twins.
“I am here to win, 100 percent,” he said. “You don’t get paid for mentoring. You get paid for what you do on the field. I’m here to help this ballclub win. The main reason I came here was I saw the fire in this team when we played them last September. I saw the battle, the at-bats, the speed, the talent. They’ve got everything they need.”
The farm system offers promise in the form of top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios. Ryan pointed to another rung of players — the players who have established themselves as big-leaguers with the Twins but have yet to play key roles on a winning team.
“Much of our improvement is ultimately going to come from Trevor Plouffe, and Dozier, and Kyle Gibson and Glen Perkins,” Ryan said. “Those are the guys who have proved they can play up here. Now it’s a matter of taking it to the next level.”
The team continues to upgrade Target Field. It has transformed its spring training complex, dramatically improving Hammond Stadium and adding a player development center to house young players, and teach Latin American players how to speak English and acclimate to the United States. They plan to build a state-of-the-art facility in the Dominican Republic.
“What we had down here, we always said, was good enough,” assistant GM Rob Antony said. “We don’t want to settle for good enough. We want to be great. I think this is the year we start moving in the right direction.”