Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves were introduced to interested members of the Twin Cities sports media on Wednesday afternoon. The high school pitchers were then escorted to Target Field’s home clubhouse. They changed into Twins uniforms and were pointed toward the field to shag in the outfield during batting practice.
As they were walking toward the field, an older gentleman was stepping into the hallway. He was in uniform and carrying a glove and a bat.
“The new guys,” he said. “Welcome to the Twins. I’m Tony Oliva.”
The 18-year-olds offered handshakes and blank stares.
“I used to play,” Oliva said. “Ask your grandfathers. They might’ve heard of me.”
Stewart and Gonsalves are high school pitchers. They will start the pro baseball odyssey by flying to Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday.
There can be another half-dozen steps before a teenage pitcher completes the journey to the big leagues. And the fewer Tony Oliva-type hitters that Stewart and Gonsalves encounter, the more rapid could be the ascent from games on a back diamond in the summer steam of Fort Myers to putting on a Twins uniform for keeps at Target Field.
Stewart was the fourth overall selection in the MLB draft June 6. The righthander from the Houston area signed for the recommended slot value of $4,544,400.
Gonsalves, a lefthander from near San Diego, was hopeful of going in the first couple of rounds. The Twins took him in the fourth round and gave him $700,000, one-third more than the recommended slot.
“We were a little disappointed that first day [of the draft],” Gonsalves said Wednesday. “The next morning, we woke up and it was full on. We had the whole family over, 55 cousins or so … it was awesome.”
There’s a big difference in money between fourth overall and the fourth round. Once the two pitchers arrive in Fort Myers, everything is equal. Develop and advance; stagnate and stay put.
Scouting of high school-age players has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. What the scouts see in the national showcases such as “The Perfect Game” and Area Code Games for regional standouts in the summer is far more important than actual high school competition.
Stewart and Gonsalves were both here for a Perfect Game showcase last summer at the Metrodome. They also hung out together during the All-American showcase in San Diego.
“We became good friends … now we’re able to continue this journey together,” Gonsalves said.
Stewart’s thought in February was his journey would involve trying to become a starting quarterback for Texas A&M. He signed with the Aggies, the alma mater of his parents, Mark and Lisa.
Prior to 2012, Stewart’s agent Darek Braunecker probably would have hung tough until Aug. 15, trying to get a couple of more million out of the Twins. Now, with a cap for an individual cap on what each team can spend on bonuses for the first 10 rounds, the slot is no longer a suggestion — it’s pretty much take it or leave it with most teams.
That is what now gets a high school player such as Stewart signed and started on his career within two weeks of the draft.
Stewart was asked several Aggies questions, including this one: “Do you get as upset over a parking ticket as Johnny Manziel?”