A baseball season can change without a moment’s notice. The Twins’ six-week surge has been difficult to explain and will be difficult to maintain. Yet, it has been impressive enough for a few observations and confessions.
OBSERVATION: Trevor Plouffe looked like a changed hitter to me in spring training of 2014. The plate coverage he was getting while driving the ball to his opposite field – even in batting practice – was in contrast to most of what had been seen from him previously.
There was also an ongoing maturity in his approach to being a big leaguer. A few years earlier, there was a night when he booted a couple of balls in big situations, then walked away with high irritation from reporters when asked about it postgame.
Now, he’s a player who handles both success and the rest of it in a low-key, professional manner. He’s also a capable No. 4 hitter and is making plays at third base that would’ve been hard to imagine not long ago.
Plouffe is a great lesson in patience for all of us who bleat that the Twins should make changes based on early failure. He has proven that waiting for talent to win the day can be a very good thing.
CONFESSION: My guess was the Twins would find a new team for Aaron Hicks if he failed to make the club out of spring training – that all it would require for another club to get him would be a middling prospect from Class A.
Hicks looked slower in the field and bad at the plate in exhibitions … so unimpressive that it was an easy decision for the Twins to keep journeymen Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson as their center field options and send out Hicks.
I don’t know if the Twins found zero market for Hicks, or didn’t try, but he went to Class AAA Rochester, got on a roll and earned his way back to the Twins.
Over a five-game stretch from last Wednesday to Monday, he made three diving plays in center field at big moments that had much to do with winning games. The jump he had and the way he closed on all three balls was as good as it gets for a center fielder in the big leagues.
He hasn’t hit much, but the good news is that this time Hicks is trying to hit … he’s not standing by the side of the road, praying for a walk. He was a significant liability for the Twins in 2013 and 2014. He has been an asset so far in this return.
OBSERVATION: Brian Dozier is among the top dozen middle infielders in the major leagues. He could use right field, and that would reduce the strikeouts and raise his average, but I’m not going to quibble with him as a hitter.
What makes him dangerous is that when he gets a fastball middle-in, he’s ready to smack it … especially when it’s above the belt. He can draw a walk, steal a base, make the plays at second base, and (this is big) turn the double play.
If you look at Rod Carew at his best fielding position, first base, it won’t take much more for Dozier to rank as the Twins’ No. 2 all-time second baseman, behind Chuck Knoblauch.
CONFESSION: My preferred roster when I left spring training on March 26 had Josmil Pinto as the backup catcher, Chris Herrmann as a third catcher and utility player, and Eduardo Nunez (a fielding liability) on waivers.
The Twins had a better idea: keep Nunez.
You still get nervous when he’s wearing a fielder’s glove, but Nunez can hit. And that’s the No. 1 quality you want from a bench player.
OBSERVATION: Gene Glynn’s bold wave home of Eduardo Escobar with no outs set up a six-run second inning for the Twins on Monday. This caused a couple of e-mails and Tweets sent to me praising Glynn as the Twins’ best third base coach in quite some time.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, for a couple of reasons: A) Glynn had that job for 11 years in the National League; and B) he is an outstanding baseball man.
You also have to be impressed with the early work of Neil Allen, a veteran pitching coach and at the same time a big-league rookie in the task. The man has a significant appreciation for what a changeup can do for a pitcher, and Example A is the manner in which Kyle Gibson has been able to use it to improve substantially as a starter.
CONFESSION: The Twins’ front office folks said at the end of spring training not to panic about the bullpen. For sure, I failed to heed that advice. Of the several reasons to be pessimistic about the Twins, the condition of the bullpen was at the top of my list.
The concerns included closer Glen Perkins, who had a minor physical issue in spring training and didn’t seem to have his best stuff early in the season. Welp, he stood 16 for 16 on saves through 44 games.
Then, Casey Fien was shut down, and what would happen with the eighth inning? Turns out, it has been Blaine Boyer … a pitching vagabond that manager Paul Molitor and Allen picked out of the pack in Fort Myers as a reliever they wanted to keep.
Aaron Thompson has wobbled a bit in the last week, but for the most part, the lefthander has joined Boyer in the godsend category. It’s still not great out there, but options exist … including (in my opinion) Alex Meyer before the summer is over.
The Twins say Meyer’s move to the bullpen in Rochester is an attempt to straighten him out for a return to the starting rotation. Perhaps, although there was behind-the-scenes talk with Molitor’s staff this winter about the possibility of Meyer as a hard-throwing reliever.
If Meyer finds a consistent release point and starts blowing away hitters from the bullpen at Rochester, maybe the front office would come around on Meyer as a reliever. Then again, Terry Ryan’s people were not in a panic with the rest of us over the bullpen, and apparently have chosen not to be in a panic over Meyer’s questionable future as a starter.