FORT MYERS, FLA. – Ronald Torreyes uses the corner stall that for years belonged to Brian Dozier. In another corner, Joe Mauer’s stall now belongs to Jason Castro.
Five new coaches have joined the staff since the final out of the 2018 Twins season. Going down a new path affected everyone from Garvin Alston, who lasted only one season as pitching coach, to fan favorite Eddie Guardado, who is no longer the bullpen coach.
And then there’s the new 37-year-old, Phish-loving, Red Wing Shoes-wearing manager Rocco Baldelli, who is running the first spring training camp of his life.
The winds of change continue to blow through the organization since Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine took over before the 2017 season. Since last July, the most noticeable changes have come on the field, where there is no Mauer, Dozier, Eduardo Escobar or Paul Molitor.
Those who are left must figure out a new way, with new leaders and some new teammates and coaches. And Baldelli touched on that Monday when he addressed the entire squad before the first full team practice of spring training. There are new ingredients that must be part of their recipe for success.
“I spoke a little bit about the importance of the Twins organization and all of the good things that have gone on here,” Baldelli said, “all of the great people here, and also the bringing in of some new people and some new ideas and bringing all of the best of both of those sides together to create something new. That’s what we’re doing here, and we want the best of everyone.”
Baldelli is all for individuality — as long as the work is completed. That was evident Monday as some players wore sleeves, some wore T-shirts, some wore practice jerseys and some wore hooded sweatshirts as they worked out.
“The message is, wear whatever makes you the most comfortable,” said Torii Hunter, who is a special instructor this week, “but you’ve got to get your work in.”
Baldelli, with the help of Twins bench coach Derek Shelton, designed a program that is low on idle time and high on production. They also want to simulate game action as much as possible. That has led to some eye-opening changes.
Pitchers are using their time more efficiently, warming up, getting fielding practice in, throwing in the bullpen and getting off the field.
There was no batting cage or L-screen — the one that protects the pitchers — on the field at Hammond Stadium when Jose Berrios, Martin Perez and other pitchers threw live batting practice Monday. There was an open house at the stadium, so several hundred fans settled in to watch the early spring hitter-pitcher battles, applauding each pitcher as he completed his session.
Hits and misses
Baldelli wanted BP to be more gamelike, something that was tried when he coached with the Rays.
“There are things that go on when you’re pitching with an L-screen and with the turtle [cage], they’re not realistic,” he said. “You’re not getting the feel that you want to get. I understand why people use them, it makes a lot of sense in some ways. Our guys, they seem ready to go and the pitchers, they seem more comfortable out there when they’re just able to throw. I thought it worked out very well.”
Willians Astudillo must have felt he was back in Venezuelan winter ball, where he was runner-up for the MVP award. He blasted a home run off Jose Berrios, then followed that up with a cannon shot off Trevor May that nearly left the stadium. Eddie Rosario, in the dugout during Astudillo’s encounter with May, screamed in Spanish as bat met ball.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Baldelli said of Astudillo’s hitting.
Catchers are getting a break, as well. They normally go through drills and catch bullpens and live batting practice. Then they would hit and run bases when their legs already were burning from usage.
“Trying to do a refined skill that late in the day is not a recipe for success,” Mitch Garver said.
In past years, anyone who arrived at the park at 7:30 a.m. would hear batters getting early work in the cages, or someone working on bunting or extra fielding practice before a 9:15 a.m. workout. Now the Twins have decided that few people are at peak performance that early. Players won’t be on the field Tuesday until 10 a.m.
“It was old school and baseball is a sport where you say, ‘We have done this for 100 years, let’s keep doing it this way,’” Garver said. “Science, biomechanics, everything else is saying no that’s not how it works. I’m glad were taking advantage of that.”
There’s a reason for all of this. Baldelli wants to keep his group as fresh as it can be while being sharp. He wants them to enjoy practicing and playing. He believes players perform better when they are relaxed and having fun.
Twins players saw exactly what Baldelli means by that Monday. He is trying to create an atmosphere that they can thrive in, as long as they remain focused on preparation during spring training, then playing to their potential once the season starts.
“I think that’s kind of what we did in Tampa,” said Jake Odorizzi, the former Rays pitcher who is a good friend of Baldelli’s. “You feel comfortable. You play well when you are the most comfortable. So, within reason, everything is on the players to be accountable and to police each other as opposed setting a bunch of rules you have to fallow from the get go.
“Guys are old enough to be smart about it. Some guy is out of line or needs to tighten up, then another guy will correct it. I think that’s the best way to go about it when it comes to establishing good chemistry.”