FORT MYERS, Fla. – Veterans shouldn’t get comfortable and rookies shouldn’t despair, Paul Molitor told the 31 pitchers trying to make the Twins on Wednesday morning, shortly before the first workout of spring training. Competition is always a part of camp, of course, but the manager said roster spots this year, in the wake of a 103-loss season, feel even more uncertain than usual, especially on the pitching staff.
“There is certainly room for people to make an impact in the rotation, and probably more so in the bullpen. I kind of challenged them to take advantage of the opportunities,” Molitor said. “I just don’t think we have many people out in that [clubhouse] that are in a position to feel overly comfortable.”
There wasn’t much discomfort about Day 1, however, with the usual mix of drills and conditioning. The Twins have added pitch-framing instruction and practice for catchers, and roughly one-third of pitchers threw their initial bullpen sessions in front of pitching coach Neil Allen, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado and special instructor LaTroy Hawkins.
“You won’t notice a lot of changes. We are emphasizing a little bit more small-group, even one-on-one time,” Molitor said. “We’re probably going to add some things with pitchers, as far as pickoff moves and different things.”
Molitor supervised infield drills as usual on Tom Kelly Field, next to the stadium, but said afterward that something was missing: Tom Kelly.
The former Twins manager, who had attended spring training every year since his playing days in 1970, decided to stay home this year. The toll that conducting daily workouts take on his legs was too much, Kelly has said.
“I called him before I left just to tell him I’m going to miss not having him around,” Molitor said. “I think it’s really hard for him [to miss camp], to be honest. This is kind of how he’s wired.”
Molitor said he understands and agrees with Kelly’s reasoning, but “It’ll be a big void. … It’s like [trying] to replace a legendary player — you can’t.”
Kelly made improving Byung Ho Park’s footwork at first base his own personal project last spring, so “I’m not sure how much [Park is] going to miss him,” Molitor joked. “As hard as he was pushed by TK last year, I think inside, he kind of enjoyed that because he understood the intent.”
Felix Jorge RHP (starter)
2016 stats: 9-3, 1.55 ERA in 14 starts for Class A Fort Myers; 3-5, 4.12 in 11 starts with Class AA Chattanooga.
Acquired: Signed as a 16-year-old in 2010.
Role: Back to Chattanooga to start the season, but he’s projected to reach Class AAA this year.
Did you know: At only 170 pounds, he is the smallest pitcher in Twins camp, and his size once worried the Twins about his durability. But he put on 10 pounds of muscle last summer, despite pitching a career-high 167⅓ innings.