Twins manager Paul Molitor won’t change much when he opens his first spring training camp in just more than three weeks. But he wants to tweak a couple of things.
The Twins have pages and pages of diagrams of how to defend certain plays, diagrams that are supposed to be followed from the major league level down through all the minor league teams. Molitor went through them this offseason and put personal touches on a few.
“We have almost every play imaginable diagramed in a book,” Molitor said, “and I dissected it and changed some things that we are going to implement.”
“We’re going to change up how we defend bunts,” he said. “We’re going to change communication between the pitcher and the catcher. The sign sequence is going to be expanded somewhat and include some different things connected to bunt plays and the running game. Without saying what we are going to do, we are going to address pickoff plays, some things we need to do to slow down the other team.”
Controlling an opponent’s running game has been a problem in recent seasons. Last year, Twins catchers threw out only 18 percent of runners attempting to steal. Opponents were 20-for-20 against Josmil Pinto last season, for instance.
But in many cases, how well a pitcher holds a runner on base determines if opponents can steal. Opponents were 14-for-15 in steal attempts with Phil Hughes on the mound and 15-for-21 when Ricky Nolasco pitched.
A hit with vendors
There were plenty of new lights, more autograph booths to draw fans, fewer tables crowding the hallways and no subzero temperatures outdoor to create a chill. Life in the basement of Target Field was better for the memorabilia dealers at TwinsFest this year, and many seemed happy with the changes.
“It’s never going to be like the Metrodome down here, but it was an improvement,” said Dan Esser, who has manned his Dan’s Sports photos, cards and autographed baseballs booth at every TwinsFest since it began in 1989. Traffic at his booth was up over last year, Esser said, and “it even got a little crazy on Saturday.”
The Twins were happy with the event, too, which drew “a tad less than 14,000” fans, team President Dave St. Peter said, up slightly from a year ago, the first at Target Field. “We certainly have the capacity to add a few more people, [but] I always worry about having too many.”
TwinsFest 2016 will be in the ballpark as well, St. Peter said, and then “we intend to evaluate” whether it should remain there. The opening of the new Vikings stadium, with a football field of covered space, would give the team a chance to expand the festival again. A record 35,000 fans flocked to TwinsFest in the Metrodome in 2007.
The team sold more than 10,000 tickets for its April 13 home opener against the Royals, and St. Peter said he’s confident the game will be a sellout; the Twins fell 3,000 tickets short of selling out last year’s home opener. The team also will begin selling 13-game “season ticket” packages on Monday.
TwinsFest raises money for the Twins Community Fund, which should bank about $300,000 from the weekend’s festivities, St. Peter said, about the same as last year.
One of the added bonuses of being elected to the Hall of Fame, Molitor said he discovered a decade ago, “was it gave me an opportunity to get to know Ernie Banks on a personal level. … He was so outgoing and positive; he just made you feel special when you talked to him.”
Banks, the former Cubs Hall of Famer who died of a heart attack on Friday at 83, reminds Molitor of another baseball great. “He was similar to Tony [Oliva] here in Minnesota — a guy who has such great joy about the game, and who represents it for decades,” Molitor said. “Even into their 80s, they are great ambassadors for baseball.”
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan had a chance to check out his players following the offseason and liked what he saw.
More important, he liked what he heard as the club embarks on its first year with Molitor as manager.
“There’s a lot of optimism coming out of that group down there in the clubhouse,” Ryan said. “It’s easy to do at this time of the year. But a lot of these guys started to experience a little success last year, which was encouraging.
“Health-wise, we are in as good of shape as we have been in quite a while, and all these guys are looking forward to getting to spring training. We’ve got character on this team, I think. Bringing in [Ervin] Santana and [Tim] Stauffer and [Torii] Hunter and maybe a few other guys who have not been with us before, that doesn’t hurt at all.”
Meyer looms large
Righthander Alex Meyer hopes his 6-9 frame lands somewhere in the Twins rotation following a strong spring training run.
If not, he wants to be ready when they do need someone. He and other Class AAA Rochester pitchers spent last season monitoring what was going on with the big club and worked to be in position to get a shot.
Meyer, 25, went 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA in 27 starts for the Red Wings. He was going to be a September call-up before he came down with shoulder fatigue late in the season.
“I want to be able to show everybody what I’m able to do,” he said. “It’s definitely unfortunate, because you never know what can happen. If you never make it back up, you can think oh, it slipped away. But I try not to think about that.”