FORT MYERS, Fla. – Nelson Cruz entered the Twins clubhouse around 8:05 a.m. Sunday. In less than a minute, he was in workout gear.
About two hours later, he showed why the Twins signed the 38-year-old to a $14 million deal this offseason, swatting pitch after pitch over the fence on a back field at the CenturyLink Sports Complex.
“Nelson Cruz? That was impressive,” said Phil Roof, a retired minor league coach and manager who, at 77, still helps out during spring training. “First day, he walks out and starts hitting them out.”
Cruz represents the Twins’ biggest free-agent addition of the offseason, joining a team that’s out to prove it can more relevant in the AL Central than some think. He will settle in as the designated hitter and serve as the cagey veteran available to provide baseball life lessons to teammates.
“I’m here to produce and help my team to win games,” Cruz said. “Whatever I can do to help, if that’s the case, I’m happy to do it. … I look to do my work, work hard, and leave everything every single day on the field. Hopefully that should be something that can inspire some of the guys.”
Sunday was the official reporting day for position players, setting the stage for Monday’s first full-squad workout. Position players also will have their annual physicals. They spent Sunday working out on a back field while pitchers went through drills and threw in the bullpen.
There’s a catch
Some believe catcher is the most vital position on the field. And, as Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Sunday, it carries significant responsibility and a lot of training.
“Over the years we have learned a lot about developing catchers,” he said. “The receiving, blocking, the setups.”
So the plan is make sure the seven catchers in camp aren’t overworked.
“Early in camp, at least on my end, we need to take care of our catchers always, because these guys work extremely hard for us,” Baldelli said. “What we ask them to do every day is far beyond physically what anyone else has to do at the ballpark. Taking care of these guys is important, and breaking them in early in camp is also important.”
• Former Twins stars Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer were at camp Sunday, helping out during pitchers fielding practice. Both will be special instructors over the next several days.
• Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler have signed long-term deals, leaving Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Taylor Rogers and Kyle Gibson as potential targets for similar extensions. But indications are that no negotiations are taking place at the moment.
Let’s meet Justin Nicolino
2018 stats: 6-6 with a 4.69 ERA in 25 games with Class AAA Louisville of the Reds farm system.
Acquired: Signed as a minor league free agent on Feb. 6 with an invitation to camp.
Role: Likely a bullpen/spot starter role at Class AAA Rochester.
Did you know? A second-round pick by Toronto in 2010, Nicolino was part of the 12-player trade with Miami that sent Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays. Nicolino, who pitched in 50 games for the Marlins, doesn’t throw hard, so he has to rely on accuracy and pitch selection.
La VELLE E. NEAL III