Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

The Forums

Virtual Twins Baseball Megathread

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 03:30 PM
Moving forward this will house every game-thread in the comments below until real baseball hopefully comes back. I should have done this...
Full topic ›

Zulgad: Is MLB really making return about dollars and cents?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:53 PM
https://www.skornort...lars-and-cents/   The owners have made their proposal to the players. The players association will now have t...
Full topic ›

Reusse: Can Catchers be kept Safe during the outbreak?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:00 PM
 https://www.startrib...reak/570451492/     Patrick Reusse asks a legit question during this time... The key to any return...
Full topic ›

Recent Proposal

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 07:42 PM
https://theathletic....=freedailyemail   The players have rejected the owners last proposal, the players have proposed a longer seas...
Full topic ›

Devin Smeltzer Question & Answer

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 08:15 AM
Hey all,   We're hosting a free virtual Q&A session with Devin Smeltzer this coming Wednesday at 6 PM!   Hit this link to r...
Full topic ›

Recent Blogs


New Hires, New Tech Might Give Twins One of MLB's Best Player Development Systems

The Minnesota Twins minor league camp has a different feel in 2019.

“If you go out on our backfields right now you will see some really helpful and quality work being done,” says manager Rocco Baldelli. “It’s actually really cool.”

Really cool indeed.

The Twins organization has invested heavily in both people and technology to make significant strides in improving player development. What is happening away from the major league side should blow your doors off.
Image courtesy of © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
About three hundred yards away from Hammond Stadium – or, if you prefer the dinger system, one Nelson Cruz batting practice bomb – is the area commonly referred to as the backfields. The Twins’ backfield wheel contains three full-sized fields and a truncated infield-only one. There are two bullpen areas wedged between three of the fields, and an observation tower blasting tasty tunes.

Here, minor-league players will have almost every swing, pitch, throw and catch tracked.

The number of people gathering data has grown exponentially from the previous season. Then again, the number of tracking devices has also grown exponentially.

The Trackman units have been hanging on the fencing behind home plate at the three large fields for several seasons. The many Rapsodo 2.0 devices are new this year, as are the multiple high-speed cameras. Hitters have Blast motion sensors attached to their bats and will undergo a 4D body movement sensor session in the covered batting cages before the day's activity starts.

Meanwhile, when live at-bats begin, standing behind the pitcher's mound are Twins employees, protected by screens, charting everything on iPads. The Rapsodo devices in front of every home plate area are rapping along. Trackman, the all-seeing eye-in-the-sky, is tracking man.

The place is buzzing with data collection.

“Just comparing this year to last year, it’s drastically different,” says Tanner Swanson, the organization’s catching coordinator who was brought in before the 2018 season.

The data isn’t the only new element. Coaches and players both rave about the new schedule and some of the new training methods.

”Drastically more efficient,” Swanson says about the workouts. “I think there’s a lot of teaching going on, which you could argue may or may not be the norm for the typical spring training environment. It’s been a major upgrade, I think. Players have more energy, are excited, feels like they are progressing and getting better. It’s been a good start, no question.”

One bullpen area is filled with pitchers and catchers trading throws in a popping cadence. It may appear routine but the Twins have made tweaks to this activity as well. According to side-arming prospect Tom Hackimer, the bullpen sessions are separated into two categories – one for the pitcher to focus on his mechanics and one for the pitcher to focus on executing over the plate.

“It’s half of what we call ‘over the rubber,’ what you want to work on, the second half we work on is ‘over the plate,’ pitch sequencing, catcher calling the game, where you want to locate your stuff,” says Hackimer. “It’s definitely a big step forward having that structure.”

There’s classroom time for all practices. On the pitching side, Twins’ minor-league pitching coordinator Pete Maki holds meetings to discuss strategy, philosophy, and the technology to help players understand why they may feel like lab rats at times.

“We just had a meeting,” Hackimer says. “The Core Principles of Pitching meeting. It can easily be an hour, hour-and-a-half meeting but Pete Maki just cut it off at a half-hour. He’s like, most people can’t pay attention after a half-hour, that includes the coaches, that includes you guys, so we’re gonna cut it right here.”

On the other bullpen area, hitters stand in against pitchers. There are Rapsodo devices here as well. Cameras too. Staff members charting everything. Former Twins great Johan Santana observes the program. And paid umpires are calling balls and strikes. This was a concept Swanson and the minor league staff came up with to help replicate the in-season experience.



“It was an attempt to give our catchers more objective feedback,” says Swanson. “It’s one thing to say with your eyes, ‘hey, looks good’ or ‘nice job,’ but to really look and say, okay we gained strikes here, we lost strikes here.”

Another improvement is individualized hitting plans led by newly hired minor-league hitting coordinator Pete Fatse and his coaching staff.

While the bulk of the work happens inside the cages, hitters get to take small group BP on the field to see the fruits of their labor in the sun. With one group of hitters, Fatse throws batting practice. One hitter pulls his first pitch — a hard-hit one-hop smash down the third base line. Fatse shakes his head.

“That way,” he sticks out his arm and gestures toward the left-center field gap. “That way!”

Fatse says he wants the hitters to design their swing paths similar to Miguel Cabrera or JD Martinez, who laser baseballs into the middle of the field but can do damage pull side on pitches inside.


The hitter nods then rifles the next series of pitches into the opposite field gap like Fatse directed.

“See, that’s the way,” he exclaims. “I should hug you right now.” Fatse sticks out his arms from behind the screen like he was offering the hitter a squeeze from 50 feet away. The player laughs.

Michael Cuddyer joins another session to give his input. This is a newer endeavor, getting the former big league players to interact with the minor league players and staff. Earlier in the week, Torii Hunter spent time at the minor league cages.

“He was giving us some high praise in respect to how we were going about what we’re doing,” Fatse said of his experience with Hunter.

"We didn’t have too many big league players come down and talk to us,” recalled Cuddyer during his tenure in the minors. Players like Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew spent time with Cuddyer but only after he made the Twins.

For Twins prospect Taylor Grzelakowski, a catcher who finished 2018 third on the Miracle in home runs (8) and slugging (.458), he got the chance to tap into not only Fatse’s biomechanical expertise but with Cuddyer’s knowledge from his 15-year career.

Thus begins a master class in hip direction.

Cuddyer demonstrates how he would fire his hips in the swing behind the ball, imparting violent rotational contact. Fatse shares his piece. Grzelakowski nods, has a dialogue with the two instructors and goes back into the batting turtle to try to implement that feel to his swing.

“Perception is not always reality,” Cuddyer says about trying to translate a feel in the swing component to the young prospect. “What he feels might not always be what he’s doing. And same with me. What I feel in my swing, I might not be verbalizing well. That’s what hitting is, it’s conversations. There’s not one way to do it. There are many different cues that result in the same swing and certain language works for different players.”

Fatse echoes Cuddyer’s comments about the common language of hitting.

“We’re trying to get guys to understand how their body moves and how to execute their swing as opposed to just thinking about things that are like, ‘hey just take your hands to the ball,' ” Fatse says. “That can mean seven different things to seven different people.”

The hitting development component is heavily influenced by science and modern hitting theory. They have underload/overload bat-speed programs. They have two pitching machines which fire a high-spin fastball and a breaking ball, and the hitter doesn’t know which is coming, hoping to improve pitch recognition. De-emphasized are tools like batting tees, as Fatse says players should focus on hitting a moving target over a stationary one.

Some of the Twins players have taken notice of the new practices.

“When I first got here before camp, it was pretty crazy to see what they are doing on the minor league side with all the radar guns and using weighted bats to speed up their bats,” says outfielder Max Kepler. “I wish I had that when I was younger.”

The minor league camp, with its wonderful toys, isn’t an island unto itself. The team invested heavily in coaches – coaches who are constant learners and thrive in a data-driven environment, and they don’t plan to hide them out there.

“One thing that we’ve spent a lot of time talking about, and hopefully even more as time goes on, is the exchanging of ideas and bringing both sides instead of there being separation between the big leagues and minor league,” Baldelli says.

The cohesion happened almost immediately for some. Fatse says when he was hired, Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson invited him out to dinner to talk shop. The dinner discussion wound up lasting over four hours.

“I think the one unique thing about the Twins is that there’s no divide,” Fatse says. “They’ve made it (a) really transparent feel here. They want there to be constant collaboration and dialogue and the fact that there are big league players that come down and hang out on the backfields with players, you just don’t find that everywhere.”

“Rocco and his staff have been unbelievable,” Swanson added. “They have an open door policy for coordinators and coaches to come and go. I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth. They’ve made it clear from the beginning that they want it to be an inclusive environment and they’ve gone out of their way to make myself and others feel welcomed and valued. There’s definitely a cohesiveness going on between our major-league operations and our minor-league groups.”

When you step back to appreciate the activities, the sheer logistics of the multi-faceted practice is mind-blowing. Hundred of bodies are accounted for and every one of them appears to be participating in something at any given moment. It’s a baseball development mosaic, a well-tuned symphony designed with a singular purpose: to make players better.

The Twins, indeed, are doing quality work back here.

  • luckylager, birdwatcher, James and 17 others like this

  • Share:
  • submit to reddit
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

50 Comments

 

This makes me think of Presley going to Houston and getting some instruction that led to immediate results. You know if we can catch up to those bastards in player instruction we have to be more desirable than that crappy town and that crappy indoor stadium.

In their defense, the stadium is pretty nice for an indoor stadium. I'm pretty sure they haven't had any games postponed on account of snow yet. 

 

    • Parker Hageman and MN_ExPat like this
Photo
howieramone2
Mar 12 2019 02:22 PM

 

So when should we expect better results? 3 to 4 years?

This is the computer age. We're talking weeks not years.

    • Minfidel likes this
Photo
tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 12 2019 02:24 PM

 

So when should we expect better results? 3 to 4 years?

Today you are seeing results. Right now the players are improving right now. They are engaged, focused, busy, talking baseball and are learning from all sorts of information. Way to go FO. Once again we have "the Twins' way".

    • birdwatcher, brvama, howieramone2 and 1 other like this

 

So when should we expect better results? 3 to 4 years?

I think the goal is that for the young guys, it might mean they are ready in 3 years, rather than 4 or 5, or never. It may also give the coaches and FO an opportunity to discover sooner who needs to be cut or traded. 

    • brvama and Jim Hahn like this
Photo
diehardtwinsfan
Mar 12 2019 04:32 PM

 

The tricky part is that other teams are doing these kinds of things now too -- maybe not every team is doing the exact same things, but most are trying things in these areas.

 

Not that it's bad that we're doing them, of course -- just that it's not as easy to gain a competitive advantage from doing them now, as it would have been, say, 10 years ago.

yeah, and I think we were a bit behind the times in that capacity, so I think this is good... I could see that showing a change over the next couple seasons of some of our busts who suddenly start living up to their talent... one could hope. 

    • brvama likes this

I think the goal is that for the young guys, it might mean they are ready in 3 years, rather than 4 or 5, or never. It may also give the coaches and FO an opportunity to discover sooner who needs to be cut or traded. 

Talent development, and talent evaluation. Two separate issues and yet joined at the hip.

    • brvama likes this

Just a little nit about the details on the spring complex. A quick Google map view of the area would show there are four full size practice fields plus two infield only practice fields. The second infield one, next to the minor league batting cages, was converted from all sand to turf for this year. In addition there is another full field as part of the player academy on the south side of the dormitory facility. The academy field is the only field other than Hammond field with a scoreboard and real outfield walls that aren't just chain-link fence. There is also the fenced off conditioning hill to the east of the minor league locker rooms that built a few years ago. The overall complex also includes four softball fields that are not used by the Twins.

 

At times during the spring all of the fields are in use. Now that the minor league camp is also in full swing their are games on some of the fields in the afternoons.

    • ashbury and NumberThree like this
I found it interesting that hitting off a tee is being de-emphasized. On the MLB Network, many former major leaguers emphasize the value of hitting off a tee when doing cage work. I wonder if some the new ideas are still in the experimental stage, and we will see things change, perhaps dramatically again, over the next year or so.

This was an interesting article. I do agree, that buy in from the players is most important. It does seem that we are quite a ways removed from the see the ball, hit the ball philosophy of Tony Oliva. (I am not implying that there wasn't more to Tony's hitting philosophy than that.)
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 26 2019 04:01 PM

 

Check in when the season begins and other teams with their own coaches and their own systems meet our system.A wonderful garage does not make a great car.

 

how bout now?

    • SQUIRREL, birdwatcher and Mike Frasier Law like this

how bout now?


Hard to say. I'm not sure how we would judge this. Other than Arreaz, not much help has come this year. Yet. I suppose we could see if the twins get more risers in rankings?

 

Hard to say. I'm not sure how we would judge this. Other than Arreaz, not much help has come this year. Yet. I suppose we could see if the twins get more risers in rankings?

 

Outside of Romero and possibly Gordon, were we expecting much help this year?Does Garver not count?He's having quite the breakout season. How about Adrianza?he has been around but he has had quite the breakout.The rest of the offense haven't really given anyone else an opportunity to even get AB's.

 

I'll agree with you on the pitching, a lot of guys had had chances and no one has really stuck.We have seen some stuff from Smeltzer, Thorpe has shown some promise.Most Twins prospects were at the lower levels coming into this year, that has to be taken into account.  

 

Next season is one to watch for break out players with so many talents being in AA and above.

    • SQUIRREL and birdwatcher like this
Right, so not sure how we can judge the development process at all yet.
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 27 2019 09:46 AM

 

Right, so not sure how we can judge the development process at all yet.

 

I would point to Garver, Kepler, Buxton (when healthy) and Sano as big time recipients of the development system. The work from this spring is a big reason why they are performing better in 2019. 

 

Ok, how about this:

 

1. Minor league system-wide the Twins pitchers have gone from 8.5 K/9 in 2018 to 9.6 K/9 in 2019. 

2. They have hit 603 home runs so far in 2019 compared to 506 in total in 2018. 

3. Ok, but the juiced balls at triple-A, right? In AA, the Blue Wahoos have hit 121 home runs so far whereas the Lookouts hit 107 in 2019. (By the way, Wahoos hitting coach Matt Borgschulte might be one of the most positive influences for offense at any level.)

4. If you remove the juiced ball effect at Rochester, the system as a whole is allowing far fewer home runs. 

 

If there was anything the Twins didn't do, it's hit home runs and strike hitters out. With the new personnel and direction, that script has been flipped. 

 

I would also point to the development of Lewin Diaz (again, Borgy was hugely influential in getting him to hit like he did) and that gave the Twins the ability to trade for Sergio Romo and Chris Vallimont. That's big value from someone who was starting to become an afterthought.

 

I get that you probably want to point to one player and say that's a player that was developed by the new system but that's not how this works. It's incremental improvements in small areas. The end goal is to be able to cultivate few more players out of that system. 

 

It's a process but you can see some of the early fruits. 

    • SQUIRREL, birdwatcher, 70charger and 1 other like this

 

I would point to Garver, Kepler, Buxton (when healthy) and Sano as big time recipients of the development system. The work from this spring is a big reason why they are performing better in 2019. 

 

Ok, how about this:

 

1. Minor league system-wide the Twins pitchers have gone from 8.8 K/9 in 2018 to 9.6 K/9 in 2019. 

2. They have hit 603 home runs so far in 2019 compared to 506 in total in 2018. 

3. Ok, but the juiced balls at triple-A, right? In AA, the Blue Wahoos have hit 121 home runs so far whereas the Lookouts hit 107 in 2019. (By the way, Wahoos hitting coach Matt Borgschulte might be one of the most positive influences for offense at any level.)

4. If you remove the juiced ball effect at Rochester, the system as a whole is allowing far fewer home runs. 

 

If there was anything the Twins didn't do, it's hit home runs and strike hitters out. With the new personnel and direction, that script has been flipped. 

 

I would also point to the development of Lewin Diaz (again, Borgy was hugely influential in getting him to hit like he did) and that gave the Twins the ability to trade for Sergio Romo and Chris Vallimont. That's big value from someone who was starting to become an afterthought.

 

I get that you probably want to point to one player and say that's a player that was developed by the new system but that's not how this works. It's incremental improvements in small areas. The end goal is to be able to cultivate few more players out of that system. 

 

It's a process but you can see some of the early fruits. 

Thank you for spelling it out like this! It's easy to grumble because the results aren't exactly what you want ... but this shows we are moving forward, in the right direction.

    • birdwatcher likes this
I don't want to point to one player. It could be that they are drafting better hitters....

I mean, they took power hitters early, not pitchers and not Nick Gordon. Maybe that's why there are more home runs. I am saying nothing more or less than one year doesn't tell us much at all about development in the minors.
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 27 2019 10:08 AM

 

I don't want to point to one player. It could be that they are drafting better hitters....

I mean, they took power hitters early, not pitchers and not Nick Gordon. Maybe that's why there are more home runs. I am saying nothing more or less than one year doesn't tell us much at all about development in the minors.

 

The drafting of power hitters is very evident in the amount of home runs hit at Elizabethton (69, nice), which is a mark they only hit three times in the last ten years (one of those years Rosario and Sano combined for 41 dingers). They won't hit that 80 mark from 2009 but they probably will have the 2nd highest home run total since then when the season ends in two days. 

 

Of course, Elizabethton is also striking out a hell of a lot more hitters than they ever had before (by like 2K per 9 IP over the last ten seasons). 

 

Again, you can look at the trends and absolutely see that the development program is heading in a different direction. This is the plan. 

 

 

    • SQUIRREL, birdwatcher and goulik like this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 27 2019 02:05 PM

1. Minor league system-wide the Twins pitchers have gone from 8.8 K/9 in 2018 to 9.6 K/9 in 2019.


I don't necessarily disagree with your general points, but this stat alone may not mean much without context. I just noticed the entire International League has jumped from 8.4 to 9.0 K/9 since last year!
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 27 2019 08:28 PM

 

I don't necessarily disagree with your general points, but this stat alone may not mean much without context. I just noticed the entire International League has jumped from 8.4 to 9.0 K/9 since last year!

 

The league jumped 7% while the Twins staff improved by 12%. 

 

But yes, the IL has seen the K/9 rate increase steadily over the last few years -- from 7.1 in 2015 to 8.2 in 2017 to 9.0 now. I don't know how much of that is due to training and pitching development (when you look, the league leaders are often the Rays and the Yankees) or to increased emphasis on getting the ball in the air. Probably a little of both. 

    • dbminn likes this

The league jumped 7% while the Twins staff improved by 12%.


Sure, but it would be incorrect to credit the Twins development staff with the full 12% improvement in that case, which is what your earlier post implied. And of the 5% remaining -- what are normal year-to-year rates of variation in these stats? Roster effects could be big in the minors, especially for a single affiliate, and there's always some "random" variation. After all, we wouldn't be surprised if a "true talent" 200 HR team finished a season at 210 (+5%), or 190 (-5%), even if the league rate was unchanged. (A whole org is a larger sample than a single team season, of course, but the minors are so weird I don't really know what baseline of randomness to expect, even at that large sample.)

Back to your original number, it appears that the entire minor leagues have jumped by +0.4 K/9 from 2018 to 2019. So Twins affiliates have still outpaced it, but it is probably misleading to cite the Twins +0.8 jump without that context. (Would be interesting to see the normal ranges of variation for organizations in this stat too.)

https://www.baseball...inors&year=2019

Still, overall I agree there are a lot of encouraging signs, even if it's hard to quantify in places at this point in the process.
    • ashbury likes this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 28 2019 02:59 PM

 

Sure, but it would be incorrect to credit the Twins development staff with the full 12% improvement in that case, which is what your earlier post implied. 

 

No, I was not crediting the development staff for the full 12%, just citing the increase above the league average as well as their big jump over the previous season. 

 

But the overall point is that these numbers are a trend (however much weight you want to put in the increase) toward that goal of more strikeouts and more home runs. This isn't an accident. This is the plan.

    • SQUIRREL and birdwatcher like this
Photo
LimestoneBaggy
Aug 28 2019 03:44 PM

 

No, I was not crediting the development staff for the full 12%, just citing the increase above the league average as well as their big jump over the previous season. 

 

But the overall point is that these numbers are a trend (however much weight you want to put in the increase) toward that goal of more strikeouts and more home runs. This isn't an accident. This is the plan.

Parker, I understand that movement to a higher attack angle to elevate the ball can cause swings and misses, but that seems somewhat counter-intuitive when the narrative seems to be "get on plane" with the pitch. Being on plan earlier and longer would seem to result in less strikeouts, not more. Thoughts?

No, I was not crediting the development staff for the full 12%, just citing the increase above the league average as well as their big jump over the previous season.


That was referring to your earlier post, when you cited the org's +0.8 K/9 increase without any mention of the minors-wide increase.
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 28 2019 03:54 PM

 

Parker, I understand that movement to a higher attack angle to elevate the ball can cause swings and misses, but that seems somewhat counter-intuitive when the narrative seems to be "get on plane" with the pitch. Being on plan earlier and longer would seem to result in less strikeouts, not more. Thoughts?

 

How hitting is taught/directed varies wildly from org to org. Some do emphasize getting on plane earlier and have been for a while as others are just catching on to this (there was a good article from the Orioles system that talked about how their hitting philosophy). But I do think with pitcher being encouraged to throw their breaking balls more, hitters are at that level are at disadvantage. Getting on plane with a fastball is easier than getting on plane with a slider/curveball.  

    • LimestoneBaggy likes this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Aug 28 2019 03:54 PM

 

That was referring to your earlier post, when you cited the org's +0.8 K/9 increase without any mention of the minors-wide increase.

 

I understand, thank you for your service.


Similar Articles


by Parker Hageman , 03 Aug 2019
Photo


by Parker Hageman , 12 Jun 2019
Photo


by Parker Hageman , 31 Jan 2019
Photo