FORT MYERS, FLA. – There is one week left in southwest Florida for the Twins and then they head north for the 57th season of American League baseball in Minnesota. There have to be a few hundred folks back home taking an interest in this, although feedback on written or spoken words concerning the 2017 ballclub has offered little evidence of that.
The gloom of last summer has turned to the silence of spring, but if anyone is lining the canary cage with the Saturday edition of the Star Tribune and happens upon this missive, I would like to offer this Sid-like ray of hope:
The Twins are going to have an outfield to enjoy as the young men occupying those positions improve their big-league status, while the Twins and the White Sox battle mightily for fourth place in the AL Central.
Max Kepler arrived in Minnesota earlier than anticipated as a rookie last season, and offered promise with 17 home runs and 63 RBI in 113 games played. He turned 24 in February and will be in right field every day.
Byron Buxton was rushed in for a look in 2015 and couldn't handle big-league pitching, and had the same problem in his first two stays with the 2016 Twins. Finally, when he came back Sept. 1, Buxton was willing to turn loose his swing and was very good over his final 29 games.
Buxton will play this season as a 23-year-old. He will be in center every day and play that position with range that even Torii Hunter at his zenith would not have topped.
You can find many analysts to buy into the Buxton and Kepler part of this outfield formula, and also are not at all convinced in the certainty of success for the third piece:
Eddie Rosario, now 25, in left field.
I see that swing and remember Doug Mientkiewicz, a minor league manager, telling me a few years back that Rosario was the "best hitter in the organization," and keep believing that the line drives seen from Eddie in flashes will turn into much more than that.
Admittedly, I figured it would happen last season, and manager Paul Molitor must have figured the same, as the schedule opened in Baltimore on April 4 with Rosario in left field and batting fifth.
By the middle of May, Eddie was batting .200, with seven extra-base hits in 32 games, and was sent to Rochester.
Rosario had a well-earned reputation for swinging at everything, so pitchers stopped throwing him strikes and he was getting himself out. He has been a nightmare in on-base percentage — 27 walks total while playing in 214 big-league games over the past two seasons.
On Friday, Rosario was back with the Twins after playing right field for Puerto Rico's runner-up team in the World Baseball Classic. He batted .375 and drove in five runs, including a sacrifice fly that defeated Netherlands in extra innings in the semifinals Monday in Los Angeles.
This set off a wild on-field celebration, with Rosario in the middle of it. Best baseball moment?
"No, no," Rosario said. "It was fun; not the greatest baseball moment. We all wanted to win for our country, but what happens here [with the Twins] is more important."
Puerto Rico played three games in Jalisco, Mexico, March 9-12, three more games in San Diego March 14-18, and then the two games earlier this week in Dodger Stadium: The semifinal victory over the Netherlands on Monday and the 8-0 loss to the USA in the title game on Wednesday.
Rosario was feeling sick and didn't make the parade in San Juan on Thursday to honor the Puerto Rican team. He was recovered and back in the Twins lineup on Friday after a three-week absence.
He was asked if there was an uneasy feeling about being ready for the season after not being on a regular spring training schedule?
"I think it is the opposite," Rosario said. "Playing in games that mean something in March … we are definitely ready for the season.
"Everything about it was so different, but that was good. We were all proud to play for Puerto Rico and do well for our country. Our people could forget about the violence and the bad economy for a few days, and enjoy something good like exciting baseball."
Eventually, we got to the question about on-base percentage. Was drawing more walks a big part of Rosario's approach to his third big-league season?
He frowned and said: "I had four walks in the World Classic," he said. "I don't see it as something to worry about."
So the plan is to stay ultra-aggressive at the plate? Rosario offered a nod.
Go ahead, Eddie, swing away.
It's your year. I'm confident in that, even if seeing this nod would've given the on-base crowd chest pains.