Friday, March 21, 2014

On the minor league side

Tom Kelly and Doug Mientkiewciz confer during
an infield drill with the High A squad of the moment.
Disclaimer: This is far from a real-time report. I spent three mornings last week / early this week wandering around the minor league fields watching, photographing and thinking about the Twins prospects and the process of turning them into (in some cases) major league players.

Only now am I getting around to writing about it.


There's a color code to the minor league side.

The players wear gray uniform pants and navy shirts with red numbers and their name on the back. The managers, coaches and instructors wear the home white pinstriped uniforms; Doug Mientkiewicz wears his old 16, even though on the major league side that's Josh Willingham, and Tommy Watkins wears the 61 he had during his one cup of coffee, even though that's now Jared Burton on the big team.

Big league players sent over for some action on the back fields wear the navy and gray, but with a slight difference: The numerals are white, and there's no name on the back.

This all makes the authority figures easily recognizable. A novice in camp may not know Jeff Smith (Double A manager) from Gary Lucas (High A pitching coach), but he knows if a guy in white tells him to run a lap, he's running a lap.

The one exception to this: Tom Kelly. The former manager wears the major league version of the navy jersey, and he floats from field to field, dodging fans and materializing next to whoever is running the drills on a particular field, leaning on his fungo bat and taking everything in, then moving on to another field.

And then he'll take a handful of infielders to the half field and start hitting grounders and critiquing their glove work.


Levi Michael, the Twins' first round pick in 2011, has had a difficult time of it in pro ball so far. The college infielder debuted in High A ball in 2012 and hasn't budged. Last year he hit a disappointing .229/.331/.340 at Fort Myers.

When I saw him, all he was doing was trotting at half speed (if that) during warmup exercises. Apparently he'd injured his hamstring just before I arrived in town.


Jorge Polanco is on the 40-man roster and was in major league camp but was one of the earliest cuts. No surprise; the Dominican infielder is still only 20 and spent last year in Low A. 

The general consensus is that he's a second baseman, but every time I saw him working in the field he was at shortstop. Sam Perlozzo, the former Baltimore Orioles manager who inherited Paul Molitor's role as a baserunning and infield instructor, seems to have Polanco as a special project. Perlozzo at one point had Polanco and fellow Dominican infielder Aderlin Mejia on a half field working on double play pivots, with Polanco at short and Mejia at second.

Polanco has some promise as a hitter -- very good walk-strikeout rates, strong batting averages and enough pop for a middle infielder -- but I wonder if the Twins might be trying too hard on the shortstop thing.

On the other hand, it seem universal: Any shortstop who is a plus at the plate at some point is "accused" of not being adept enough defensively. 


I tended to gravitate to the bullpen sessions. At one point J.O. Berrios took the mound, with Bo Altobelli handling the catching chores.

Altobelli finished last season with Cedar Rapids, and Berrios spent the full season there. But when Berrios snapped off a breaking ball early in the session, it seemed to startle the catcher. He lunged right, gloved the ball and muttered, "oh, wow."

Alex Meyer throws in the bullpen.
Alex Meyer, the top pitching prospect in the organization, threw a few balls from the mound in a very light session. Still, it wasn't difficult to see that he has imposing stuff.

Ryan Eades, last summer's second round pick, had been restricted from throwing. but kept trying to sneak onto the mound. Ivan Arteaga, who'll be the pitching coach at Cedar Rapids this year, kept chasing him off, but Eades did get a few throws in.

I noted that Eades was grouped with the Cedar Rapids pitchers, while Aaron Sledgers, last summer's fifth round pick, was a level higher. Such groupings are fluid in spring training, but it's still interesting that Sledgers seems right now to be ahead of Eades. (Both were drafted out of college.)


Travis Harrison, a third baseman so far in his career, is apparently now ticketed for the outfield. Off what I saw in a few games at Cedar Rapids, that makes sense. He didn't show much on defense at the hot corner.


Alex Wimmers walks down "Mount Perry"
after running up its steepest slope.
Alex Wimmers, the Twins first round pick in 2010, has just 77.1 professional innings so far. All I saw from him was some workouts on "Mount Perry," the new exercise hill, but the word was that he was healthy (for once) and displaying the plus changeup that made him a first-rounder. I'm not counting on him, and I doubt the Twins are either, but it would be nice to have something go right with him for once.


I saw B.J. Hermsen, the organization's pitcher of the year in 2012, pitch for the Double A team against the Triple A team (and Pedro Florimon, visiting from the major league side as he tested his abdomen after his appendectomy). Hermsen did not fare well at all.

In 2012, Hermsen went 11-6, 3.22 in 130 innings in Double A. He returned to New Britain last year and went 1-10, 4.81 in 86 innings. After watching him get smacked around in that game, I don't hold much optimism for him.

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