FORT MYERS, FLA. – Cynthia and Jose Ramon Perez live in a housing area near the Twins spring training complex. They met Miguel Sano five years ago, merely by seeing him at a baseball game in the low minors and saying, “Hello, Miguel; we’re Dominicans.”
Soon, they were also acquaintances with other young Dominicans in the Twins organization, including pitcher Randy Rosario.
This week, Sano and Rosario had concluded informal workouts on the minor league fields, and now they were sitting on a step outside the clubhouse, chatting with the Perezes. Also there were Manny Diaz, Angel Reyes and Angel’s 2-year-old daughter, Cindy.
“She is our neighbor,” Cynthia said. “She is 2 going on 5.”
In the South, they would describe Cynthia and Jose Ramon as “just folks,” but they gave Sano and Rosario friendship from back home when they were teenagers starting baseball careers here, and now the connection is more like family.
Sano is an example of the costly, can’t-miss talent to be found in the Dominican. Rosario is from a different part of the spectrum. The Twins signed him as a 160-pound lefthander in 2010 for $85,000, a year after Sano received $3.15 million.
Sano comes from San Pedro de Macoris, a city of 200,000 with a rich tradition yielding big leaguers. Rosario comes from Nagua, a small town on the Atlantic Ocean on the northeast coast.
“That’s where the crazy people live,” Sano said.
Rosario smiled at Sano’s comment and said: “The only thing crazy is the people are crazy for fishing. My family is fishing all the time … in the ocean, in the lakes.”
How about Randy? “I do some fishing, but not all day like my family,” he said.
There have been occasional players — Ubaldo Jimenez, for one — from the Nagua area, but not many. A Twins scout heard about a slim lefty who threw hard and made contact with Rosario’s agent, and the team was able to get him in a camp for prospects.
Rosario signed in 2010 and started his professional career as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2011.
“Our people always said good things — that he threw hard and could really spin a breaking ball,” said Terry Ryan, the Twins general manager. “The question was getting him on the mound for enough innings to see what he might become.”
Rosario had only 32 official appearances (24 starts) and 118 innings in his first three seasons in the lowest level of minors. In 2014, the Twins sent him to Class A Cedar Rapids, and Rosario blew out his elbow in his third start.
“It was a fastball,” he said. “I heard it pop.”
Rosario underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. He didn’t pitch for a year. By his accounting, Rosario threw 18 innings in extended spring training last June, pitched eight innings for the Gulf Coast Twins, and then went back to Cedar Rapids.
He made 10 starts in 11 appearances. The numbers weren’t dazzling: 2-6, 3.52 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 53⅔ innings. The reports from Kernels manager Jake Mauer, pitching coach Henry Bonilla and talent evaluators visiting Cedar Rapids were different.
“Everyone who saw him the last few weeks in Cedar Rapids said the same thing: ‘We should try to keep this kid,’ ” Ryan said.
The Twins placed seven players on the 40-player roster Nov. 20, to prevent those players from being available to other teams in the major league Rule 5 draft. Rosario qualified as the most surprising, with fewer than 200 innings in five seasons.
“I was nervous; I didn’t know what the Twins would do,” Rosario said. “When I got the call to tell me I had been put on the roster, I started screaming to my family, then crying, because I was so happy.”
Rosario said his fastball will be back to the 97 miles per hour he was throwing before elbow surgery.
“My fastball is straight, though … no movement,” he said. “The slider is my best pitch. Hitters don’t like my slider, especially lefthanded.”
One other note: I was looking for an interpreter before interviewing Rosario this week.
“I’m available, but I don’t think Randy will need any help,” said Vincent Gonzalez, an intern with the Twins.
Rosario did not. He said his firm grasp of English comes from the lessons offered to young players by the Twins, but mostly, “Just from talking to people.”
Cynthia Perez pointed to her right temple and said: “He is very smart.”
Put that with a slider from Dante’s Inferno and it wasn’t that tough of a call to put Rosario on the 40-man and protect him from a $50,000 claim in the Rule 5 draft.
“A lefty with good stuff,” Ryan said. “We didn’t want to risk losing one of those guys.”