In 1981, the Twins put a 21-year-old prospect on the express train from Class A to the majors. The kid promptly hit a home run in his big-league debut — at Yankee Stadium in the 12th inning — and never spent another day in the minors.
Kent Hrbek rode baseball’s version of the fast track and suffered no real adverse reaction from that leap of faith. He’s glad, however, that he’s not the one responsible for making that same determination on the Twins’ current phenom prospects, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano.
“I don’t want that job,” Hrbek said. “I pity any [general manager] for having to call someone up. If they bring a kid up and he does well, it’s, ‘Why didn’t you bring him up before?’ And if he does bad, it’s, ‘You brought him up too soon.’ It’s like being a politician. You’ve got no chance. It’s a horrible job to have.”
Alas, the Buxton-Sano tandem remains merely a tease as the Twins begin the second half of another lost season.
Can’t the clock move any faster?
“Everybody would like to see them and if everything goes as planned, they’re going to arrive here probably sooner rather than later because they’re good,” General Manager Terry Ryan said.
Ryan quickly noted that Sano was hitting just .190 at Class AA New Britain.
“That’s not going to work,” he said. “He’s got all that he can handle.”
Sano smacked a grand slam an hour later. Touché.
The sad reality is that these elite prospects serve as a symbolic life preserver and marketing tool for an organization that can’t sell the present to its frustrated fan base. The truth is, the entire operation needs a shot in the arm. It needs some life, some energy. Everything about it — other than the promise if its prospects — just seems deflated right now.
Barring an unforeseen second-half surge that raises interest, the Twins are headed for another dog days abyss that should mandate organizational changes. It’s sort of sad (and revealing) when fans count down the days until the start of NFL training camp as a relief from their baseball doldrums.
The Twins problems go deeper than turnstile counts because Target Field remains a glorious spot to spend a summer evening. The disgruntlement and crisis of confidence that’s permeates their fan base reminds me of a recent conversation I had with Wild owner Craig Leipold, who explained his motivation in making a splash last summer by committing $196 million on the top two free agents on the market, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Leipold recognized that Wild fans felt the organization had become “complacent.”
“There was no epiphany,” he said. “You could sense it in the excitement level of our fans and what our fans were telling us. And we knew it. We’re fans, too. We knew exactly what was happening.”
Maybe Buxton and Sano eventually will become the Twins equivalent of Parise/Suter in terms of generating excitement and engaging fans, although if the front office fails to address the pitching deficiencies in a meaningful manner, Buxton and Sano will become nothing more than main attractions on a losing team.
As talent evaluators salivate over their potential, Ryan insists that Buxton and Sano remain on a fast track and that only they determine their arrival date by their performance.
“I’m glad they have a lot of attention,” Ryan said. “That means they’re good players. We’ll move them as soon as they show that they can handle a league and dominate it. And we’ve done it with both.”
And so fans wait and hope and fume over the current state of the team. Ryan stressed that he won’t be swayed by anything other than a prospect’s own timetable.
“People have clamored for players through the years,” he said. “Some of them have done quite well and some have had to go back [to the minors]. Almost all of them go back. There are very few players that come up to stay the first crack.”
The Twins’ hope is that Buxton and Sano join that group. Maybe they’ll even be regulars in the lineup by the end of next season. They won’t be saviors, though, because the current mess can’t be fixed that easily. But their arrival will breathe life into organization that simply looks lost right now.