WASHINGTON – Eddie Rosario has a small boil on his back, Paul Molitor revealed in his news conference Saturday, but it won’t need to be lanced. Reporters dutifully wrote down this significant information, and even put it in the newspaper. And that inflamed pimple serves as an appropriate representation of the news value of the 2016 Twins training camp, six weeks that generated about as many attention-grabbing headlines as Lincoln Chafee’s presidential campaign.
There were zero controversies, save for a brief competition for the final starting pitching job in which even the loser seemed to agree with the decision. There were no phenoms to captivate the imagine of Twins fans and trigger a bring-him-north campaign. There were no sudden suspensions, no rumors of pending trades, nobody demanding to be included in one. Cuts were all done with little fanfare and even less surprise. Their worries about position changes and foreign adjustments faded away, and their 25-man roster could have been mailed in last January. There even were no major injuries, and barely any minor ones; Byron Buxton’s two-day flu rates as the biggest physical setback of the spring. Heck, even their exhibition season closed with a some-good, some-bad, mostly-neutral 8-8 tie against the Nationals.
In short, 2016 may have been the most tranquil, humdrum spring training camp in Minnesota Twins history.
“Uneventful,” Molitor agreed, “is good.”
Certainly it’s better than having to scramble rotation and bullpen plans at the last moment, as they did when Ervin Santana was suspended three days before the opener last year. It’s better than having to figure a way forward without their best hitter, as Joe Mauer’s back pain forced them to in 2009. And camp was a nightmare one decade ago, when the team had to deal with the sudden death of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
“This has been a nice, quiet spring,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “I’ve got to admit, things have gone well. We’re healthy, and things came together nicely.”
There was reason to wonder six weeks ago, when Byung Ho Park arrived to take his first swings as a big-leaguer and Miguel Sano his first fly balls as an outfielder. Ryan and his staff made the decisions to sign Park and move Sano with little certainty about whether their plan would work.
But Park has fit in splendidly with his teammates, and he’s developing into a nice fit for the lineup, too. Three home runs in the first week of March allayed many fears, and though he hasn’t hit one since March 11, he has won the confidence of his manager.
“Park has done everything we could have hoped. I think he’s earned the opportunity to play most of the time,” Molitor said of the South Korean designated hitter. “I’m going to see how he starts doing day to day, try not to panic, be patient if a slow start occurs, because he’s shown me he can have good at-bats against all types of pitchers.”
Sano’s at-bats are not in doubt, but his ability to track a fly ball, particularly at 270 pounds, was. That, too, has slowly become a non-story, at least for now.
“I guess honestly, I’d say that I’m fairly comfortable with him out there,” Molitor said. “There’s always apprehension about the plays he hasn’t been exposed to and how he’ll react. Some things are just going to have to happen. But I’d say I’m fairly comfortable and confident.”
He feels the same way about his bullpen, with Fernando Abad, Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin moving into the vacancies, and his bench as well. The Twins hoped Danny Santana would react well if the pressure of being a starter was removed, and they got their wish. Santana was one of the stars of the spring — his 25 hits led the team — and he proved his ability to play six different positions. “He fits this team like a glove,” Ryan said.
Santana, Tonkin and Oswaldo Arcia, each out of options, all made the team, allowing the Twins to avoid any decisions that might cost them a player. Buxton showed enough at the plate (.268) and especially in the field that no Plan B ever had to be executed. And Tommy Milone seized one rotation spot while Tyler Duffey fumbled his away, making the decision to keep Ricky Nolasco as fifth starter an unsurprising one.
Duffey’s demotion “would be at or near the top of what people weren’t expecting to happen, but … if you step back and look at it [in] a bigger-picture scenario, he’s a young guy on his way up. He did a lot of good things for us, but [he has only] 10 starts in the big leagues,” Molitor said. As for Nolasco, “he’s got a look when I sit across from him face to face that speaks of just how ready he is to go out there and try to do something to help us. He’s motivated.”
So are the Twins, they say to use their 19-11-2 spring as a launching point to a winning season — and perhaps the postseason. Ryan is convinced he’s assembled the pieces to do it.
“I feel real good about this roster,” he said. “We’ve got a good sprinkling of young kids, we’ve got guys who are in their midcareers, and we’ve got some veterans. We’ve got some speed, we’ve got some power, we’ve got some veteran presence in that rotation and in the bullpen.
“Now we need to prove it.”