While the Twins made a number of changes this offseason in bringing in Rocco Baldelli as manager and Wes Johnson as pitching coach, they didn’t make any changes at hitting coach, retaining James Rowson.
Rowson was hired before the 2017 season and interviewed for the managerial job before it went to Baldelli. The Twins offense has posted back-to-back solid seasons in Rowson’s two full seasons. In 2017 the Twins scored 815 runs, the fifth-highest total in franchise history. Last year they scored 738 runs, which ranked sixth in the AL.
This year they have really improved in one key area, and that is power hitting. Entering Saturday, they ranked first in the AL in slugging percentage. A number of their key young players, such as Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Eddie Rosario, Mitch Garver and Max Kepler, are really performing.
Rowson said the biggest reason for that improvement is their maturity as pro players. But it goes without saying that the front office’s offseason moves to bring in veteran bats C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Schoop has also paid off nicely.
“I think there is no better teacher than experience, for the guys that were here,” he said. “The guys that were here have another year of experience under their belt. They had a chance to see some of the pitching, they have seen these guys, they’re more comfortable, they understand what’s being asked of them on a daily basis.
“The other guys, some of the newer guys that are here, they have a really good track record. The C.J. Crons and Nelson Cruzes, Marwin Gonzalezes those guys of the world, Jonathan Schoop, they have a track record and they know what they’re doing up there.”
Youth movement to veterans
Surely Rowson’s ability to connect with younger players was a big reason the Twins hired him, as they have several key young players to develop.
“Each guy is a little bit different,” he said. “When you’re working with them you work to their strengths and what they do well and you continue to work along that one line. But there is no recipe for the whole group of guys. You have to treat them all like separate individuals.”
He broke down some of the Twins’ key young players.
On Polanco and Rosario: “Those guys prepare as good as anybody. Rudy Hernandez, who is our assistant hitting coach here, they do a very nice job. They work together with Rudy a lot of times and do a lot of drill work and things that they have been working on for the last two years, and it’s nice to see it kind of come to fruition and work out for them.”
On Kepler: “When you watch Max improve I think nothing helps him more than the experience. He is an aggressive hitter. He is starting to learn who he is on a daily basis and just goes out and keeps it simple for himself.”
On Buxton: “Credit to him. He really worked his tail off this offseason. I think he really learned a lot this past season, and he came in looking to just dominate right from the start. It is really nice to see him get off to a good start, and I think he’s going to continue going in that direction.”
So does Rowson think this team can build on the incredible success it has had so far this season?
“I think this club’s mind-set has to be to take it one day at a time,” he said. “I think these guys do a good job of that, and win the day. Go out and win that day. So far we have done that more times this year than we haven’t.”
Vikings need a backup QB
The Vikings went into the 2018 season with a proven backup quarterback in Trevor Siemian, a 24-game starter in 2016 and ’17 with Denver. There was at least some comfort in knowing that if Kirk Cousins got injured, they had an experienced player behind him.
That will not be the case in 2019, after Siemian signed with the Jets. The Vikings have Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter and Jake Browning competing for the backup spot.
Sloter, a Northern Colorado product, has been with the team since 2017 and the Vikings have long thought he has the makeup to play in the NFL. In four preseason games last year, he completed 41 of 56 passes for 366 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, but he has yet to play in the regular season.
The Vikings signed Mannion away from the Rams, who used a third-round pick on the Oregon State product in 2015. Mannion has played in 10 NFL games, including three last year, and started once in 2017. He has only 33 career completions on 53 attempts for 258 yards with an interception.
As for Browning, he was just signed as a rookie free agent, but the Vikings are excited about him. In four seasons as the starter at the University of Washington, he completed 64.6% of his passes and threw for 94 TDs against 34 picks while also rushing for 232 yards and four scores.
One of the Vikings’ biggest battles going forward will be figuring out the best person to slot behind Cousins. There’s no doubt that if something happens to their franchise quarterback, the season could be in real trouble.
• According to betonline.ag, the Vikings are tied with the Cowboys and Packers with the ninth-best odds of winning the Super Bowl at 22-1. The Bears are ahead of them at 18-1.
• The Twins’ decision to trade Brian Dozier is looking smart. Lefthander Devin Smeltzer is 3-1 with a 0.40 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 45 innings this season in the minor leagues. In his second outing at Class AAA Rochester, Smeltzer pitched eight shutout innings vs. Durham on Saturday. Luke Raley, the other player received from the Dodgers for Dozier, is hitting .291 with seven homers and 18 RBI in 27 games with the Red Wings.
• Through 32 games in 2017 with Seattle, Nelson Cruz was hitting .325 with seven homers and 29 RBI. Through 32 games last year, he was at .240 with seven homers and 18 RBI. Through 32 games with the Twins this year, he was hitting .278 with seven homers and 21 RBI.
• While the Twins are off to a great start in the major leagues, MLB.com ranked their minor league system as the eighth-best in baseball as well, behind the Padres, Rays, Braves, White Sox, Blue Jays, Astros and Dodgers.
• Will Amir Coffey come back to the Gophers? The guard is one of 40 players invited to the G League Camp, which starts Sunday in Chicago, and had workouts with the Warriors and Rockets. But ESPN does not have him listed in its top 100 NBA draft prospects.
• Alihan Demir, the 6-9 forward who joined the Gophers as a graduate transfer from Drexel, faced one Big Ten opponent last season, posting 14 points and eight rebounds in the Dragons’ 95-66 loss at Rutgers on Nov. 11.
• Six of the top 10 football recruits in Minnesota for the Class of 2020 have committed, three to the Gophers and three to Iowa State.
• Former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and country music star Garth Brooks spoke to Gophers athletes last week at the Land O’Lakes Center for Excellence.