FORT MYERS, FLA. – Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, a special assistant in Twins camp; Bob McClure, a senior adviser to player development; and Pete Maki, the team’s new minor league pitching coordinator, compared notes Wednesday as groups of pitchers entered and exited the bullpen at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Other pitchers bounced between one field where they worked on fielding drills, and another where they worked on signs. The key was to keep moving and not stand around, one goal of the new schedule crafted by bench coach Derek Shelton.
None of these people was around as coaches a year ago. Neither was Joel Skinner, the new manager at Class AAA Rochester, who threw batting practice to catchers. Or Tanner Swanson, the new minor league catching coordinator. And there’s Garvin Alston, the new major league pitching coach.
The first spring training workout of pitchers and catchers often is spent trying to figure out what new players are in camp. This year for the Twins, the turnover among the major and minor league coaching staffs is obvious. If you count Justin Morneau, who will be a special instructor for the first time this spring, there are 10 coaches in camp who were not around last year.
“I used to worry a lot about pitchers and catchers and first day, full squad,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Now, mostly the angst comes from introducing people. I have a lot of people to introduce on Sunday. There’s a lot of new coaches out there.”
Throw in the complement of nonroster invitees, 40-man roster additions and free agents, and uniforms are being read like name tags at receptions or fundraisers. In this case, the Twins are getting to know people who will play a role in trying to get them back to the playoffs after last year’s wild-card berth.
The first workout seemed to move to a different beat than in past seasons. Maybe because of Sheldon’s schedule. Maybe because of the new blood on the staff.
Or maybe because of speakers set up around the complex.
Hitting coach James Rowson started it last year, setting up a speaker on a practice field next to Hammond Stadium during batting practice. Strength and conditioning coordinator Perry Castellano played music while Aaron Slegers and Stephen Gonsalves went through conditioning drills late last week on the performance hill near the minor league facility. And music played in the bullpen as pitchers threw Wednesday.
“I like it,” reliever Ryan Pressly said. “It makes it feel like Target Field.”
Music during workouts is a regular-season staple.
“Provided that the music doesn’t offend anyone, I am open to the fellas using music to enhance their baseball groove,” General Manager Thad Levine said.
Phil Hughes, Stephen Gonsalves, Dietrich Enns, Aaron Slegers and Alan Busenitz were among several pitchers who threw in the bullpen Wednesday. Righthanders Ervin Santana (exam) and Fernando Rodney (personal issue) were excused absences.
But there are a few new faces in camp, hoping to have a hand in another trip to the postseason.
There’s righthander Zack Littell, who came over with Enns from the Yankees in exchange for Jaime Garcia right before the July 31 trade deadline. Littell has no connections in the Twins clubhouse and was meeting many of his teammates for the first time.
There’s righthander Michael Kohn, a 31-year-old reliever with 132 major league games who is in his first training camp since 2015 because of rotator cuff surgery. The Twins signed him as a free agent in July, allowed him to complete his rehab and hope it’s a low-risk move that pays off. He played with Santana, Rodney and Twins special adviser LaTroy Hawkins while with the Angels.
Mitch Garver looks to lock down the backup catcher role. A host of relievers could land what appears to be one open spot in the bullpen.
Zach Duke will play the role of departed Matt Belisle, imparting some of his wisdom on the younger pitchers.
So there were plenty of new faces, practicing and coaching, that made Wednesday’s workout a little different from other first-day workouts.
“It wasn’t perfect sailing today,” Molitor said. “We’ll try to get people in the right rotations. Nothing major. Got it all worked out and everybody got their stations in. I was trying to find ways to be as efficient as we can and keep it moving. No need to keep them out there too long just to keep them out there.”