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Overheard at TwinsFest: Stewart's Plan, Baldelli's Preparation, Prospects and More

WCCO does an excellent job at covering TwinsFest. All their interviews are available on demand at their site. As far as the really inside baseball stuff goes, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Kohl Stewart discuss his 2018 season. A spring training meeting between Stewart, senior analyst Josh Kalk and minor league pitching coordinator Pete Maki set the course for Stewart to go from somewhat of an afterthought in the system to a major leaguer.
Image courtesy of © Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Kohl Stewart on the 2019 offseason:
“For the first time, with our program and what’s been implemented, I feel 100 percent confident with the plan they have in front of me and I feel like I can go out and execute it. I learned a lot last year whenever I got up in the big leagues for those eight appearances and I just feel like I knew exactly what I needed to do going into this offseason and I feel like I’m on a straight line, focused on what I’ve got to do.”

Stewart on getting a shot with the Twins:
“I wasn’t ready until this year. I didn’t ever buy in, I didn’t ever feel like I had a real good plan in place, I didn’t feel like I knew how to use the stuff that I had. And when I got to sit down with Josh Kalk and Pete Maki and all those guys in spring training and we talked about the one-seamer and we talked about throwing the cutter/slider off of it, throwing the curveball more often behind that, I finally felt like I was confident enough to actually be here. I never felt like that until this year.”

“It’s a big hurdle. Everybody in the minor leagues, it’s always messing with your mind. ‘Am I ever going to get there, am I good enough, can I play up there with those guys?’ So to get up here and to finally experience it is pretty awesome, pretty special.”

“I struggled for awhile in the minor leagues and finally this year, right after May I would say, I turned it on, I felt confident, I knew what to do on the mound, I had 100 percent confidence in what I was doing and it paid off.”

“The meeting is spring training, it was so eye-opening talking to those guys. They found a whole bunch of pitchers I had similar stuff with based on movement plots and based on velocity. They basically said ‘this is how these guys use their stuff. This is how Roy Halladay uses his sinker and cutter. This is how Marcus Stroman uses his sinker and slider. Your stuff is very close, we can get it closer. We can use slow cameras, we can use the Rapsodo, we can help you create these pitches. Let’s see how these guys compliment their stuff and how they pitch.’”

“So I spent a lot of time with Josh and those guys looking at that video, figuring out exactly what my plan was so by the time I took the mound in April, I knew exactly what I needed to do. And if I struggled in April and May, they said ‘look, you might go through some rough patches. This is new, it’s going to be hard for you to adjust.’ But once I had full confidence in what we were doing it was like, man, this pretty incredible.”

Stewart on new pitching coach Wes Johnson:
“Wes and I have talked a lot about my slider/cutter. We’re trying to get it a little bit more depth and a little bit more velocity and we think that they’ll tunnel a little bit better together so as a hitter it’ll be hard to account for those two things. Wes is pretty special at it. We’ve already talked about things like different pitch grips, moving the baseball around in my hand and how to make it happen. And we have actual data that can prove that it’s working, so it’s pretty awesome.”

Stewart on heading into the 2019 season:
“I never thought last year I’d be in the big leagues, but I never worried about it and I think that was why I was able to stay focused and not get too caught up in the transactions, playing GM when you’re in the minor leagues or on the verge of being in the big leagues. You just can’t get caught up in it, if you do, you’re going to lose track of what is in front of you.”

“I probably will have a chance to start in Triple-A this year and I need to go down there and do my job and earn a spot. Everybody’s gotta earn it. There’s only 25 spots here and they’re not giving them away, so make them notice you.”

Stewart was far from the only guy to reveal some interesting insights into what’s going on behind the scenes. Here are some more tidbits that I thought were particularly interesting:

Rocco Baldelli on preparing for his rookie season as manager:
“The prep that goes into everything going into the first year is kinda striking. It hits you when you realize you’re going to go over everything that goes on from top to bottom in all regards in all aspects. When you actually line it all up, it’s a lot, but it’s very important to do.”

“You don’t change things just for the sake of changing them, but until you look at it all, you just don’t know. And after being in the same organization for basically my entire baseball career, except for one year, I had a lot to learn. I had a lot of people to get to know here. And trying to do all that in one offseason, it’s been a lot, but really at the end of the day the most important thing right now for me is getting down to Fort Myers and getting on the field.”

“That’s actually what I’m looking forward to the most too, because I’m tired of talking, I’m ready to get out there and to watch these players.”

Joe Mauer in response to a question about the opener/third time through the order:
“I always say scouting reports go out the window after that first at bat. You’re making adjustments, he’s making adjustments. You’ve gotta figure out what your pitcher is capable of doing that day, not just what he should be doing.”

“Brad Radke was one of the best all-time control pitchers of our game, of his time. One thing he told me that really stuck with me was out of his 36 starts, he might only have all four pitches working maybe four times. So what are you going to do when he has three pitches working? What are you going to do when he has two pitches working? So I took that as a hitter, as well, to kind of eliminate pitches.”

Taylor Rogers on Eddie Guardado’s suggestion:
“He pointed out one day that I could maybe throw a slider along with the curveball. So we worked on it for probably about a month or so, pregame and everything like that, and felt comfortable enough with it to bring it in the game and just got some immediate results with it. So I’m kinda looking forward to bringing ‘er back this year and working on it for an entire season.”

There’s always a lot of prospects at TwinsFest. One of my favorite things about listening through all these interviews was hearing all the guys talk about the climb up through the minor leagues.

Trevor Larnach on difference from college to pros:
“Pro ball, there’s starters every night that go low to mid 90s or even high upper 90s. College, it’s more like maybe high 88/low 90s, they’re going to hit their spots, they’re going to try and really get you out as a pitcher. I think that really helped me out coming into pro ball. Coming to E-Town and Cedar Rapids, you’re facing some good arms every night so you kinda gotta be locked in, but at the same time, for me at least, I had the edge of an approach that I’ve developed throughout the years in college.”

Royce Lewis on his first full season in pro ball:
“There’s times where you can go super hard and there’s times where you can reel back a little bit. And then learning how to work off the field on your game, getting more rest, eating the right ways. I just ate Chick-fil-A all the time, that’s my favorite place to go. I started to stop eating that and started to cook home-cooked meals, so little things like that will help you get prepared for the game.”

Brent Rooker on the jump from A-Ball to Double-A:
“Once you get to Double-A there’s more experience on the pitching staff. The stuff is about the same as it is in High-A, it’s just a little bit more refined, they can kinda do what they want to with it. They have better pitch plans, better game plans against you, how they want to beat you, how they want to get you out. So the level of talent kind of stays the same, it’s just that those guys are a little bit more experienced and kinda have a better idea of what they want to do.”

LaMonte Wade on the difference from Double-A to Triple-A:
“The pitchers throw less fastballs in fastball counts at Triple-A. They have more command of all their pitches. They really know how to get you out. They’re veteran guys that have been there before. You face a lot of big leaguers rehabbing, a lot of ex-big leaguers still playing, so they know how to make outs. It’s always adjustments. It’s a game of adjustments, and I think in Triple-A you really see that.”

Nick Gordon on the move up to Triple A:
“It’s not so much about talent when you get to Triple-A. Everybody’s talented, everybody can play the game, that’s why they’re there. It’s about being smart, using your head and knowing situations, knowing the guy you’re facing the day before, knowing the team that you’re playing against, knowing who likes to shift, knowing who likes to do this and do that. I think really it’s about learning the game and being a student of the game is really what Triple-A brings to you.”

Stephen Gonsalves on moving from Triple-A to the big leagues:
“Everyone has that talent once you get to Triple-A but I think it’s that mental toughness. Guys go about their business a certain way. They all have their routines. They’re much more professional. It’s just a matter of trusting who you are as a person.”

Even some of the less substantial questions and small talk was pretty enjoyable. While interviewing Lewis Thorpe, Dick Bremer mentioned that his son Eric was broadcasting games for the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League. Bremer asked “is he eating well, is he doing OK?” Thorpe, who did color commentary alongside Bremer’s son for a few games, replied “yeah, he’s doing well, he hasn’t got eaten by a crocodile or anything like that” in his amazing Australian accent.

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37 Comments

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Knuckleball9
Jan 29 2019 12:43 PM

Great article, very interesting. It does however allude to serious lack of support at the developmental levels. Bringing us back to our real problem. Ownership.

 

Great article, very interesting. It does however allude to serious lack of support at the developmental levels. Bringing us back to our real problem. Ownership.

Stewart in the article is quoted as saying he wasn't ready before last spring for what was being presented to him. Leaving aside the question of whether the previous FO ever presented the "right" information, the question is when to present what information.

Clearly with high school kids and international signings the low minors are for teaching mechanics, refining their pitches, adding pitches, striving pitching for consistency, and building strength and durability. Learning all the nuances of pitching may be acquired as you move thru the system, but it likely isn't or shouldn't the focus with young kids.

Players who get to the majors at young age generally have dominant fastballs or great stuff, sometimes both. Usually to have a long career, you have to learn how to pitch, and usually sharpen your control.

I think blaming the organization or the player for slow development kind of overlooks the fact that it is hard to pitch successfully in the big leagues.
    • birdwatcher, Twins33, Riverbrian and 5 others like this
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birdwatcher
Jan 29 2019 02:01 PM

 

Stewart in the article is quoted as saying he wasn't ready before last spring for what was being presented to him. Leaving aside the question of whether the previous FO ever presented the "right" information, the question is when to present what information.

Clearly with high school kids and international signings the low minors are for teaching mechanics, refining their pitches, adding pitches, striving pitching for consistency, and building strength and durability. Learning all the nuances of pitching may be acquired as you move thru the system, but it likely isn't or shouldn't the focus with young kids.

Players who get to the majors at young age generally have dominant fastballs or great stuff, sometimes both. Usually to have a long career, you have to learn how to pitch, and usually sharpen your control.

I think blaming the organization or the player for slow development kind of overlooks the fact that it is hard to pitch successfully in the big leagues.

 

 

Nicely put. Attempts to put a blame bullseye on one thing or one person, such as ownership, development staff, or the prospect, are shallow and simplistic efforts. We just don't know what we're talking about.

 

I like that Stewart credits people, holds himself accountable, and sees the value of the perspectives and data provided by the new pitch tracking technology.

 

Tom's timeline theory makes sense to me. Stewart mentioned Rapsody in particular. This technology was still in beta testing in 2016. He probably first saw the contraption in spring training a couple of years ago, maybe wasn't a beneficiary of it before last year.

 

This doesn't pertain to Stewart, but a lot of these prospects probably struggle with challenges outside of baseball that slow or derail progress. We're simply not going to hear about what problems players have in their home lives, or with mental health struggles, especially anxiety and depression, with addiction, or with adjusting culturally away from familiar supports. Maybe we should be slower in making judgments about the causes of uneven progress on the part of these prospects. And especially pitchers, for the reasons you suggest.

    • DocBauer, gbg and Original Whizzinator like this
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birdwatcher
Jan 29 2019 02:12 PM

 

Great article, very interesting. It does however allude to serious lack of support at the developmental levels. Bringing us back to our real problem. Ownership.

 

 

You can't back your opinion up with anything remotely credible, can you?

 

An opposite opinion at least can be supported with example after example of expenditures made by this FO to build out development staff, technologies, and other infrastructure. All enthusiastically supported by ownership. And it wasn't the first time Jim Pohlad championed rather than resisted investments in development. He was solidly behind the initiative to build a state-of-the-art facility in the DR for example.

    • Blake and Original Whizzinator like this

 

Great article, very interesting. It does however allude to serious lack of support at the developmental levels. Bringing us back to our real problem. Ownership.

Ownership appears to have brought in people to address the issue through the hiring of Falvey and Levine.

    • Cris E likes this
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Jared Yakle
Jan 29 2019 06:17 PM

Great coverage! First time I didn't go to Twins Fest in 6 years. 

I still think Littell will make a solid #4 in a year or so.Like all of these young pitchers, they are going to get knocked around in the bigs,The difference is will they or do they have the stones to keep competing and trust their next pitch.It takes time.Also, the AAA staff will be one of the best in the minors.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this
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RatherBeGolfing
Jan 30 2019 08:37 AM

 

I still think Littell will make a solid #4 in a year or so.Like all of these young pitchers, they are going to get knocked around in the bigs,The difference is will they or do they have the stones to keep competing and trust their next pitch.It takes time.Also, the AAA staff will be one of the best in the minors.

 

Count me out on having to rely on Zach Littell to be a solid #4 for us

    • Mike Sixel likes this

Stewart has had a lot of injury distractions over the years, and I wonder if that's made it easier to avoid hard questions about his approach, work ethic, etc.If the past year or two is when he was finally healthy for extended periods but still didn't get the results, maybe that's what pushed him to finally listen more and study his craft a little differently. 

    • birdwatcher likes this

I look back at the past 30 years of failed player development by the Twins and would be surprised if there weren't many more individuals that the previous system failed. I think Stewart only voiced some things we have all wondered about. We constantly look at players on the current major league roster and ask why they seem to be so poorly prepared for success at the big league level. 

 

I too am hoping that the current ownership team can implement a successful minor league development program and constantly give us well prepared ball players once they reach the bigs.

    • Mike Sixel likes this

I'm no expert on pitching mechanics or philosophy, much less the more modern technology being implemented to help these guys. As someone who has watched these guys come through Cedar Rapids for the past 6 years, though, I can say 2 things with certainty:

 

First, the application of said modern technology to minor league pitching and hitting instruction/development has changed/grown dramatically since Stewart was here in 2014. In fact, the changes in just the past 2 years has been incredible. It would not surprise me at all if Stewart saw relatively little of this kind of thing prior to 2017.

 

Second, the Kohl Stewart that made the quoted comments is not the same Kohl Stewart that I had a few opportunities to talk to that season in CR. The level of maturity, focus, professionalism and confidence that comes through now simply was not there before. Not that he was a bad guy or absurdly immature or anything, but like a lot 19 year olds in their first full year of pro ball, he came across as a bit uncertain of his environment and his place within it.

 

I'm not smart enough to know if Stewart has turned a corner and will now realize the potential the Twins saw in him when they drafted him, but I'm encouraged and hopeful. 

    • SQUIRREL, ashbury, jorgenswest and 6 others like this

 

I'm no expert on pitching mechanics or philosophy, much less the more modern technology being implemented to help these guys. As someone who has watched these guys come through Cedar Rapids for the past 6 years, though, I can say 2 things with certainty:

 

First, the application of said modern technology to minor league pitching and hitting instruction/development has changed/grown dramatically since Stewart was here in 2014. In fact, the changes in just the past 2 years has been incredible. It would not surprise me at all if Stewart saw relatively little of this kind of thing prior to 2017.

 

Second, the Kohl Stewart that made the quoted comments is not the same Kohl Stewart that I had a few opportunities to talk to that season in CR. The level of maturity, focus, professionalism and confidence that comes through now simply was not there before. Not that he was a bad guy or absurdly immature or anything, but like a lot 19 year olds in their first full year of pro ball, he came across as a bit uncertain of his environment and his place within it.

 

I'm not smart enough to know if Stewart has turned a corner and will now realize the potential the Twins saw in him when they drafted him, but I'm encouraged and hopeful. 

 

Fantastic Post

 

Thank You

    • birdwatcher and snepp like this

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