Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
The Twins want to take a present-day look at their future.
The franchise's top three prospects -- outfielder Byron Buxton, third baseman Miguel Sano, and right-hander Alex Meyer -- have been invited to spring training with the major-league team, the Twins announced Thursday, a move that will give manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff a chance to work with the projected cornerstones of the Twins' future..
Buxton, 20, has been rated the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, but has not played above the Class A level. Sano, 20, is the game's No. 3 prospect, but has spent just half a season at Class AA. And Meyer, 24, was acquired in a trade for Denard Span a year ago, but has not pitched yet at the Class AAA level. All three will be on the field with the Twins' returning veterans next month (something Meyer did a year ago as well), with at least a longshot chance at making the roster.
Or is it more than a longshot?
"Well, some guys are more realistic [to make the Twins] than others. Buxton was in A-ball last year, so it would be very difficult" to speed up his progress so much, Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Meyer, he's quite a bit more advanced. He pitched well in the Arizona Fall League, he's been in camp before, and he deserves to get a real close look."
Sano's chances may be complicated by an elbow injury that flares up occasionally, but the Twins are hopeful that the Dominican infielder, who arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., this week to begin working out, will not require surgery. "So far, so good," Ryan said of Sano's workouts in Florida. "He's doing well, and I'm hopeful that he'll be fine once we crank him up in earnest."
Those three prospects will join 20 other players not on the Twins' 40-man roster when spring camp opens in Fort Myers on Feb. 16 (for pitchers and catchers) and Feb. 21. Among the most notable are former Twins Jason Bartlett, who agreed to a minor-league contract in November, and Jason Kubel, who signed a minor-league deal in December. Those two are projected to make the Twins' 25-man roster, and perhaps earn starting roles.
Also invited are three players who spent parts of 2013 with the Twins before being outrighted to Rochester after the season: infielder Doug Bernier and outfielders Darin Mastroianni and Wilkin Ramirez. One other ex-Twin, right-hander Lester Oliveros, who missed the 2013 season after undergoing elbow surgery, will also be in camp.
A handful of Twins minor-leaguers are on the invitee list: Aaron Thompson, a right-handed reliever; Deolis Guerra, a right-hander who missed most of 2013 with a blood clot in his shoulder; outfielder Jermaine Mitchell; infielder James Beresford; and third baseman Deibinson Romero. In addition, four catchers from the Twins' system will be in camp to help with the pitching staff: Kyle Knudson, Matt Koch, Stuart Turner and Dan Rohlfing.
Newcomers extended an invitation include: lefthander Sean Gilmartin, acquired from Atlanta last month in the Ryan Doumit trade; lefthander Matt Hoffman, signed as a free agent out of the Detroit system; righthander Yohan Pino, a former Twins signee who was traded to Cleveland in 2009 for Carl Pavano; infielder Brandon Waring, who spent the past five systems in Baltimore's system; and outfielder Chris Rahl, a nine-year minor-league veteran with Washington and Arizona.
Eddie Rosario, one of the Twins' brightest minor-league prospects, has been suspended for the first 50 games of the 2014 season after failing a drug test for the second time, Major League Baseball announced on Saturday.
Rosario, an outfielder and second baseman, failed a test for a "drug of abuse," the commissioner's office said, mandating a 50-game penalty under the sport's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. News of Rosario's potential suspension leaked in November but was not confirmed by MLB at the time.
"It's disappointing, but now he has to pay the consequences and be accountable," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Losing 50 games, that's a huge setback. That's a lot of development time, a lot of learning that he'll miss. It sets back his progression [toward] going up to the big leagues. But young people make mistakes, and hopefully he learns from it."
Rosario, in a statement released Saturday by his agent Melvin Roman, said he already had. "I made a mistake and have no one but myself to blame," Rosario's statement, which included an apology to Ryan, the Twins and "my fans, teammates and family," said. "I intend to learn from this mistake and continue development in both professional and personal growth. I look forward to returning to the field in May and will do my best to put this unfortunate incident behind me."
The native of Puerto Rico, ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in the Twins system before the 2013 season, batted .329 in 52 games with Class A Fort Myers last year before being promoted to Class AA New Britain, where he hit .284 with seven home runs in 70 games. The Twins thought so much of Rosario's potential, they included him among the seven prospects they sent in October to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .238 in 20 games against advanced competition.
Now Rosario, 22, will come to spring training in March as scheduled, and will take part in drills and exhibition games. But once the season begins, Rosario will likely remain behind in Fort Myers, Ryan said. "We'll keep him under our eye, whether it's at spring camp or somewhere else," Ryan said. "That's a sizable part of the season, but that's the price you pay for not being responsible enough to understand right from wrong."
He must wait until the team he is assigned to plays 50 games in 2014 -- if it's New Britain again, Rosario would be eligible to return on May 25 (or later if there are rainouts) -- and will be required to undergo additional drug testing during the season. A third positive test would result in a 100-game suspension. The suspension is for an undisclosed "drug of abuse," such as marijuana or cocaine, as distinct from a a performance-enhancing drug, which brings a 100-game suspension for a first offense.
Rosario is the second Twins minor leaguer to be suspended for failing a drug test this offseason. In September, Cedar Rapids pitcher Dallas Gallant received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine.
DETROIT -- Miguel Sano is one of the best power hitting prospects the Twins have had, but he’s really struggling defensively at third base this year in the Class A Midwest League.
Sano, who is batting .244 with 18 homers and 57 RBI, made three errors Monday night for Beloit, giving him 31 for the season. That’s 31 errors in 78 games at third base.
“We’re always concerned about defense,” Twins minor league director Jim Rantz said. “Obviously, the kid is just 19 years old. They’re not just throwing or fielding errors, they’re both. He’s just got to continue to work hard and take ground balls. He’s at the stage of his career where he’s figuring it out that there’s more to the game than hitting; there’s fielding, too.
“I know he’s concerned, too. The thing is, he’ll make the errors, and then he’ll turn around and make the good plays, too. So I’m sure he’ll stay with it and keep working on it.”
History is filled with examples of players who had huge error totals in the low minors but improved enough to thrive in the majors. Michael Cuddyer had 61 errors at shortstop for Class A Fort Wayne in 1998, although given his eventual move to right field, I'm not sure that's the best example. As Seth Stohs, from Twins Daily notes, Derek Jeter made 56 errors in the Class A South Atlantic League in 1993. Jeter's had an OK career.
General Manager Terry Ryan has said there is no reason Sano shouldn’t stick at third base. The Dominican phenom has the defensive tools to do so, with a good arm and decent hands.
After making those three errors and hitting his 17th double, Sano left Monday’s game with leg stiffness. Rantz doesn’t believe the injury is too serious. Sano has a .351 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage after 338 plate appearances.
* The Twins have signed Lewis Thorpe, a 16-year-old lefthanded pitcher from Australia, for $500,000. Added to the $1.4 million they spent Monday on Dominican shortstop Amaurys Minier, that would bringing their international signing total to $1.9 million, leaving $1 million under this year’s cap.
The Twins are close to signing Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in last week's draft, with the outfielder scheduled to arrive in Minnesota on Monday, his agent Al Goetz confirmed today.
Goetz said Buxton probably won't take his physical until Tuesday, but the sides are expected to continue talking on Monday, and Goetz said those talks are "just formalities."
Baseball's recommended slot bonus for the No. 2 pick is $6.2 million, but the No. 1 overall pick -- shortstop Carlos Correa -- agreed to a below-slot, $4.8 million bonus with the Astros. Goetz declined to say how Buxton's deal will compare to the slot number but talked about how excited Buxton is to begin his professional career.
"He's a special kid; I can tell you that," Goetz said. "You guys are going to love him."
FORT MYERS, FLA. -- The Twins optioned infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Class AAA Rochester this morning. Nishioka, who is on the second year of a three-year contract, was believed to be fighting for a utility infield spot on the Opening Day roster.
Nishioka, 27, batted .240 (6-for-25) in nine Grapefruit League games this spring. He had several defensive miscues early in camp.
"It's definitely tough to swallow, but it's not like I'm getting baseball taken away from me," Nishioka said, through translator Ryo Shinkawa. "I came from Japan to challenge in this country and I’m just going to not give up and look for an opportunity to be back up."
Nishioka was a Gold Glove winner and batting champion for the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese Pacific League in 2010. The Twins invested $14.6 million to acquire him, including a $5.3 million posting fee.
Last year, Nishioka broke his leg in the Twins' sixth game of the season. He returned from the disabled list in mid-June, but struggled, batting .226 with a .278 on-base percentage.
Nishioka will make $3 million this year, even if he stays at Rochester.
Asked what General Manager Terry Ryan and Manager Ron Gardenhire told Nishioka to work on in Rochester, the infielder said, "To slow the game down and to be able to be back to my old self, how I was playing in Japan."
Besides Nishioka, the Twins also optioned reliever Carlos Gutierrez and outfielder Rene Tosoni to Rochester. The team re-assigned nine others to minor-league camp: pitchers Jason Bulger, Luis Perdomo, Daryl Thompson, Esmerling Vasquez and P.J. Walters; catchers Chris Herrmann and Dan Rohlfing; infielder Aaron Bates and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.
The Twins now have 45 players on their spring training roster.
Here’s a few Twins nuggets to chew on as you wrap up your holiday weekend:
* DRAFT DOODLES: Twins insiders believe baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement will make it easier for them to sign the No. 2 pick in next June’s draft. It should at least streamline the process. Baseball already has set the slot bonus for that pick at $6.2 million.
*** The slot for the No. 1 pick is $7.2 million, and the slot for the No. 3 pick is $5.2 million. Teams don’t have to spend that much, but that’s the amount that will factor into their all-important signing bonus pool for the first 10 rounds. Any team that outspends their signing bonus pool by more than 5 percent, not only get taxed 75 percent on the overage but also loses a first-round draft pick.
Few teams would want to risk losing a future first rounder while they’re negotiating with another one, especially the Twins. So they can pick the player they want, offer $6.2 million and basically say, “Take it or leave it.”
That holds whether they pick a college junior, such as Arizona State shortstop Devin Marrero, or a high school senior such as Lucas Giolito (a 6-6 RHP from Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles) or Walker Weickel (a 6-6 RHP from Olympia High School in Orlando).
In the past, Marrero could have threatened to return to ASU for his senior year. But what’s the advantage of doing that this time? The best he could do is return for one more year and come back as the No. 1 overall pick, and earn about $1 million more. But he also could lose millions by rolling the dice and getting drafted a few slots lower next time.
If Giolito or Weickel would rather go to college, that’s fine. But in three years, even with the bonuses set to increase for inflation, how much more money are they likely to command?
* ANCIENT HISTORY: This year, the Mariners took University of Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen with the No. 2 pick and wound up paying $8.5 million. He got a major league deal with a $6.35 million signing bonus.
Teams no longer can offer draft picks major league deals. The Twins never did that anyway, even when they picked Joe Mauer with the first overall pick in 2001.
* CATCHING DEPTH: Twins infield prospect Brian Dozier, 24, had a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, batting .296/.358/.454 in 26 games, and center field prospect Aaron Hicks, 22, wasn’t too shabby either, batting .294/.400/.559 in 30 games. But none did more to raise their stock than Chris Herrmann, 24. Besides batting .380/.456/.620 in 15 games, Herrmann threw out six of 18 opposing base stealers. Herrmann converted to catcher from the outfield just two seasons ago and already he is the best catching prospect in the Twins’ system.
No Twins were named to Baseball America’s Top 10 prospect list from the Arizona Fall League (which was headed by Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Danny Hultzen), but Herrmann received mention, including this blurb:
This lefthanded-hitting catcher did as much as any prospect to help his standing in the industry with his AFL performance. Herrmann’s name came up in every single discussion with scouts covering the league. ... Herrmann also played infield in high school and at the University of Miami, so he could eventually become a valuable utility player at the big league level if he’s not an everyday catcher. He’s a steady player with a good approach at the plate and decent gap-to-gap power.
* MANAGER CHOICES: Before hiring Gene Glynn as their Class AAA Rochester manager, the Twins spoke to recently dismissed Cubs manager Mike Quade, who was a top minor-league manager before getting his first big league chance. Quade wasn’t interested, as he’ll still be drawing a paycheck from the Cubs for 2012. The Twins also considered former Padres coach Randy Ready, former Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson and former White Sox coach Jeff Cox, but ultimately they decided Glynn was the best fit.
* FORTUNATE BREAK?: After breaking his left ankle on a home-plate collision with Carlos Pena last May, Ryan Doumit returned from the DL and batted .328 (41-for-125) through season’s end. He finished the season healthy for the Pirates, but when they declined his $7.25 million option for next year, the Twins signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal.
“I’m not sure we’d have this opportunity [had Doumit not been injured last year],” Twins GM Terry Ryan said. “He didn’t get as many starts or at-bats as he would like, but with the ones he did get, he hit pretty well."
* WRITER AWARD: Congratulations to my esteemed colleague, La Velle E. Neal III, for winning the Sam Lacy Award (Baseball Writer of the Year) from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. La Velle will be honored at the museum’s annual banquet in Kansas City on Jan. 28. We’ll be sure to toast him and roast him two nights earlier at the annual Diamond Awards banquet in Minneapolis.
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