FORT MYERS, Fla. – For Twins pitchers and catchers, Wednesday was the final day of winter. For the Twins’ burgeoning technology department, Wednesday was the first day of a new era.
The bullpens at Hammond Stadium were teeming with team employees on the eve of the first workout of spring training, but they weren’t pitchers honing their sliders. Instead, the club’s research and development experts were busy installing ultra-high-speed cameras and radar devices, trained on the mounds where the pitching staff will begin work Thursday.
The Twins are one of several teams to invest thousands of dollars in new technology to document players’ every move — on the mound, at the plate and in the field. The Edgertronic cameras, now installed behind two bullpen mounds, provide high-resolution video taken at 500 frames or more per second, slowing down motion that is impossible to see with a naked eye, right down to the fingertips as a pitch is released. Rapsodo radar devices, such as the Trackman systems that provide data for MLB’s Statcast reports in major league parks, measure the velocity, spin rate and movement angle of every pitch, providing instant data for analysis.
The same systems can be used on hitters’ swings, catchers’ receptions and fielders’ movements, too, giving players, coaches and front-office analysts an avalanche of information.
“All of these tools, they’re for assessment analysis and getting baselines and then understanding where a guy is,” said chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, who has made expansion of the Twins’ analytics department one of his priorities. Those technologies “will sometimes tell you, here’s how a guy is spinning, here’s what it looked like, here’s how it looked last year.”
The Twins will use that information to help players make adjustments or spot mistakes they might not realize they are making. It also gives the team’s analysts data to explore new techniques or ideas.
“Maybe we’ll see a guy has misaligned his slider grip, or maybe there’s something going on with the way his foot strikes, and where his arm is,” Falvey said. “All that gets into the weeds a little bit, but it’s specific to how we’ll coach guys.”
Every pitcher and catcher reported as expected and underwent a complete physical exam Wednesday. Except one.
For the second consecutive February, Willians Astudillo’s visa has been delayed, stranding the Venezuelan until the paperwork gets straightened out. Astudillo, who batted .355 and became a viral sensation during his 29-game stint in Minnesota last summer, hopes to be able to enter the United States by the weekend, Falvey said.
Roughly half of the team’s position players are now in camp a week before their workouts begin. New first baseman Lucas Duda and infielder Ronald Torreyes were among those who already have reported.
Kaat joins FSN crew
Jim Kaat, who followed a 25-year pitching career with decades of success as a broadcaster, will rejoin his former team this season in the booth, Fox Sports North announced Wednesday.
FSN, which will televise 160 Twins games in 2019 (with ESPN covering the remaining two), will pair play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer with six different partners, all former Twins.
Kaat, who won 190 games as a Washington Senator/Minnesota Twin from 1959-73 and seven Emmy Awards during a 22-year broadcasting career at NBC, ESPN, CBS and the YES Network, also called Twins games from 1988-93.
He’ll rotate with Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, LaTroy Hawkins, Roy Smalley and Justin Morneau this season alongside Bremer, who enters his 36th season with the Twins.
A new look
Rocco Baldelli will make his debut in a Twins uniform on Thursday, but don’t call it Camp Rocco. The Twins’ new manager intends to be a consensus-builder, Falvey said.
“It’s not his view that it’s ‘his.’ He never views it that way,” said Falvey, who hired the rookie manager to replace Paul Molitor in October. “It’s his, and [bench coach] Derek Shelton’s, and [pitching coach] Wes Johnson’s, and [hitting coach] James Rowson’s. He has spent so much time engaging all his staff on how to run it.”
One change: The Twins will form smaller groups, of three to five players in most cases, as they cycle through a variety of drills, for better engagement between the players and their coaches and less time spent watching.
The small groups are organized in three larger squads, based on when each pitcher is scheduled to throw. Those umbrella squads are named Wild, Timberwolves and Vikings, which the players enjoy. Jose Berrios, for instance, is the first name listed as a Viking.
“That’s because I’m the quarterback,” he said.
Kyle Gibson, meanwhile, heads the Wolves.
“Captain of the Timberwolves,” Gibson said with a smile. “But don’t worry, Karl-Anthony Towns is still the leader of the Timberwolves. I’m in the southern wing.”