FORT MYERS, FLA. – The optimism that had followed a Twins wild-card playoff appearance in 2017 was long gone as last season’s July 31 trading deadline approached. It had been such a ho-hum and disappointing two-thirds of the schedule that there was righteous need to rip the front office for whatever actions would be taken.
So, that’s what happened, at least in this media location.
The Twins made three significant trades:
July 27: Reliever Ryan Pressly to Houston for righthander Jorge Alcala and outfielder Gilberto Celestino; infielder Eduardo Escobar to Arizona for righthander Jhoan Duran and outfielders Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel.
July 31: Second baseman Brian Dozier to the L.A. Dodgers for second baseman Logan Forsythe, lefthander Devin Smeltzer and outfielder Luke Raley. Forsythe became a free agent and didn’t find a job until signing a minor league deal with Texas on Feb. 26, and the Rangers said Friday that he will be on the Opening Day roster.
We are nearly eight months removed from those major deadline moves. Pressly has signed a three-year extension with Houston, Escobar has a three-year deal signed with Arizona, and Dozier took a one-year deal for $9 million with Washington and will start the season at second base.
And what do the Twins have to show for those trades?
Bill Milos is a veteran scout for the Twins and a straight shooter. When he has a positive review, he means it. When he has a lesser review, you don’t get much more than a smirk.
We were watching minor league games this week, the topic of last summer’s trades came up and Milos said: “I’ll tell you … we did well.”
The fastest-rising prospect among the seven acquired in the Pressly-Escobar-Dozier sweepstakes has become Duran, a 6-foot-5 righthander from the Dominican Republic.
“The first time I saw Duran, he was pitching for Kane County, the Diamondbacks’ Midwest League team,” Milos said. “The first nine guys got hits off him. There were a few bouncers, but it got to a point where we’re saying, ‘OK, now the question is how he’s going to handle this.’
“Jhoan didn’t lose his composure. He kept trying.
“And the next time I saw him … it was all different. He was outstanding.”
Duran, 21, was among the young pitchers the Twins had here in January for their “pitching camps.” He had added some muscle to his frame and the camps helped refine a couple of pitches.
Jeremy Zoll, Twins minor league director, was asked for an update on the July Seven and started with this on Duran:
“We’re excited about him. He has a fastball at 98 [miles per hour], a sinker at 97 and a curveball that has been a hammer this spring. He throws strikes. He’s likely to start in the rotation at high-A [Fort Myers].”
Zoll on De La Trinidad, 23, a lefthanded hitter from UNLV: “He’s smaller in stature, but Ernie can hit. He makes outstanding decisions at the plate. Mostly plays in right field. He should be in high-A. We’re excited to see his game.”
On Maciel, 20, a switch hitter from Brazil: “Right now, he has more upside as an outfielder. We’re hopeful that he’ll make progress this season on the offensive side.”
On Alcala, 23, from Dominican Republic: “Jorge had been in the bullpen some when we got him. We’re turning him into a starter again. He has excellent stuff. Finished up in Class AA and should be in our rotation there.”
On Celestino, 20, a righthanded hitter from Dominican Republic: “Ray Smith and Jeff Reed have been together for a long time at E-Town [Rookie Elizabethton, Tenn.] and they call Gilberto one of the best center fielders they have seen. He really is a special defender.”
On Raley, 24, a lefthanded hitter from a Division II college: “He has power and he’s a plus runner. We like him. He’s a right fielder, but can also move to center. He should be at Triple-A.”
On Smeltzer, 23, out of junior college: “Outstanding worker. We’re making him a starter again, probably at Class AAA. A lefthander with good stuff.”
The Twins signed Jonathan Schoop, coming off a bad 2018, to replace Dozier, who also had a poor 2018. They signed Marwin Gonzalez to replace Eduardo Escobar, and now he’s playing primarily third for injured Miguel Sano, as did Escobar.
The traded asset they have not replaced is the live arm of Pressly. Fernando Romero was a leading candidate for that task and he was sent to the minors Friday.
Still, if Duran and Alcala and one of the position players make it in the next couple of years, the barbs aimed at the organization last July might have been a rare overreaction by a Twin Cities sports columnist.