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  1. Twins AFL Report - Week 6: Rafters Win AFL Championship, Lewis Named League MVP

    (links to each players overall AFL stats provided by clicking their name)

    Royce Lewis: 3 games, 4-for-12, 2 R, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 K, SB; .353/.411/.565 (overall)

    Lewis got the start in center field in Monday’s 11-7 win over Glendale and after reaching base on a fielders choice in the top of the first, proceeded to steal his fifth base before being stranded on second. In the third inning with the Desert Dogs up 2-0, Lewis got the Rafters on the board with an RBI single before his teammates added four more to go up 5-2. Glendale took back the lead 7-5 going into the ninth inning however, but Lewis again sparked his team with an RBI double to make it 7-6 before they tacked on five more for the final of 11-7. It was another fantastic performance for Lewis, but it wasn’t the best one in this game from Twins prospects —we’ll get to that later.

    After a few days of rest, Lewis was back in center field on Thursday against the Mesa Solar Sox and batting third in the lineup. He singled in his first at-bat of the game, but both teams were woefully deficient on offense throughout as this one ended in a 0-0 tie. The teams combined to go 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, left 18 men on base, and struck out 18 times versus just two walks.

    Finishing out the regular season on Friday against Peoria, Lewis made the start at another new position in the AFL, but you’ll be pleased to learn it was at shortstop. He also batted cleanup in this abbreviated seven inning game and delivered an RBI single in the fifth inning that made the score 5-1 Rafters. As the shortstop, Lewis committed a fielding error on the first batted ball of the game and had only one other opportunity for the rest of it. He had this to say afterwards, as the Rafters still had one more game to go on Saturday:

    Lewis ended his impressive AFL season by being named the league’s MVP, adding further hardware to his mantle from an impressive fall campaign. He was named the hitter of the week once and also took home the MVP award during the Fall Stars Game where he hit a home run. He paced the league in hits (30) and runs scored (21) while also ranking top three in doubles (9), RBI (20), total bases (48), batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.565), and OPS (.975).

    If you have found yourself unimpressed with Lewis after the regular minor league season in which he admittedly struggled, my advice now is to get over it. This was the most outstanding showing by a Minnesota Twins prospect in the Arizona Fall League since I’ve been recapping it in this fashion as a blogger, which was long before your favorite website Twins Daily came into existence. Get excited, because no matter what position Lewis shows up in the majors at, he’s going to be an impact player. Don’t just take my word for it either:

    Dakota Chalmers: 1 start, 3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K; 1-2, 5.09 ERA, 1.64 WHIP (overall)

    Chalmers made his final start of regular season play in Monday’s win over the Desert Dogs, finishing 3 2/3 innings. He allowed single runs in each of the first and second frames on RBI doubles before tossing a scoreless third inning after his offense gave him a 5-2 lead. Back out for the fourth a solo home run cut the lead to two and he walked a batter before picking up a strikeout to end his day. He mixed in four total strikeouts that pushed his total on the season to 25 in 17 2/3 innings to lead the Rafters staff. He threw 71 pitches on the game, with 42 going for strikes (59%).

    There was both good-to-great and bad-to-worse outings on Chalmers ledger during the AFL season, but after throwing just 34 2/3 innings in 2018 in his return from Tommy John surgery it’s hard to view his AFL performance as anything but positive. He showed a consistent high-90’s fastball and swing and miss breaking ball, and when he had command of them was dominant. That’s nothing new in relation to his prospect profile, but it was a solid step toward the 2020 season which will tell a lot more as he distances himself further from his surgery.

    Ben Rortvedt: Did not play; .111/.200/.111 (overall)

    While a knee injury Rortvedt had been playing with during the latter portion of the 2019 season ultimately put an end to his time in the AFL. Before that he had continued to showcase his defensive chops as a catcher while also bringing an improved bat. He’ll be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to spring training and after reaching Double-A in 2019 will be looking to solidify his place near the top of the minor league depth chart among Twins catchers.

    Luke Raley: 3 games, 3-for-10, R, HR, 5 RBI, BB, 2 K; .244/.312/.439 (overall)

    After an impressive week 5 showing, Raley continued his emergence in the first game of week 6 with a 2-for-4 effort at the plate that out-shined his MVP teammate as alluded to above. His two hits included a two-RBI single in the third that made it 5-2 at the time, then his three-run home run in the ninth punctuated a six-run inning for the Rafters as they went back ahead for good 11-7. He also drew a walk in the sixth inning with the score tied at five, but while attempting to score the go-ahead run from third on a grounder he was thrown out at home.

    In Thursday’s 0-0 pitching duel with Mesa, Raley batted sixth in the lineup and was in right field. He finished 0-for-3 with a strikeout but reached base in the ninth when he was hit by a pitch.

    Closing out the regular season on Friday against the Javelinas Raley batted fifth behind Lewis and also finished 1-for-3. His single led off the second inning against top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley and the inning ended with him stranded on third.

    After missing several months of the minor league season due to an ankle injury, the AFL was mostly about making up time for Raley. It took him some time to get going but when he did, he was a force in the Rafters lineup. Over his final 10 games he had at least one hit in eight of them, and they included two doubles, three home runs, and eight RBI. His OPS in that time frame was over 1.000 as he slashed .333/.400/.639. Eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, I expect Raley will get protected and should debut with the Twins at some point during the 2020 season.

    Moises Gomez: 1 appearance, 1.0 IP, 2 ER, 4 BB, K; 0-1, 6.55 ERA, 2.09 WHIP (overall)

    Gomez saw his final action of the AFL season in Monday’s victory over Glendale, but it didn’t end as he probably would have liked. Coming on in relief of Chalmers in the fourth inning, Gomez inherited a runner in scoring position and walked his first batter before getting a ground out to keep his team up by two runs. Back out for the fifth inning Gomez got the first two hitters before trouble began to brew. He would walk the next three hitters to load the bases and end his outing. Two of those runners ended up coming around to score after his exit, to tie the game at five.

    After a fantastic minor league season that saw him come in third in Twins Daily’s MiLB Relief Pitcher of the Year voting, Gomez got a nice reward and challenge by being sent to the AFL after spending less than half of the year in Fort Myers. While his 15 strikeouts in 11 total innings was nice, he also allowed runs in six of nine appearances and gave up nine free passes. I’d project he’ll start the 2020 season back with the Miracle, but if he shows improved command could again find himself promoted midsummer.

    Jovani Moran: 1 appearance, 1.0 IP, 2 K; 0-1, 7.00 ERA, 2.11 WHIP (overall)

    Moran’s final appearance of the AFL season came in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to Glendale when he entered the game to start the eighth inning with the Desert Dogs up 6-4. The left-hander delivered a one-two-three inning, striking out two in the process to end his season on a high note. He needed just twelve pitches and got both of those K’s on 94 MPH fastballs that hitters swung through near the top of the zone.

    Moran’s showing in the AFL was very similar to Gomez’s, in that he racked up strikeouts (14 in nine total innings) but also gave up walks and runs in bunches. His final outing this week was the first on the season that he did not issue at least one walk. Moran pitched with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos for all of the 2019 season but did miss a few months during the summer with two separate trips to the injured list. He made up some innings in the AFL, but I’d expect him to be back with Pensacola at the start of the 2020 season looking to rediscover his magic from 2018.

    Zach Neff: 2 appearances, 2.1 IP, H; 1-0, 1 Save, 1.38 ERA, 0.54 WHIP (overall)

    Neff was called upon two more times in the season’s final week, appearing in Monday’s win over the Desert Dogs and Thursday’s tie against the Solar Sox.

    In Monday’s contest Neff was summoned with two outs in the fifth inning after Gomez had loaded the bases with three consecutive walks. He allowed a two-run single to the first batter he faced that tied the game at five, but then got a lineout to end the inning. Starting clean in the sixth inning, Neff delivered a one-two-three frame, getting two ground outs and an infield pop out on thirteen pitches. He was charged with a blown save for giving up the game-tying hit in the fifth.

    In Thursday’s scoreless tie, Neff was called upon for the eighth inning and again delivered a one-two-three outing, getting each batter to pop out in the infield and requiring only five pitches to do so.

    That was the theme for Neff during the AFL season, recording outs in uber-efficient fashion and limiting baserunners. His 0.54 WHIP in league play ranked second on his team, and he recorded 12 strikeouts compared to just one walk in nine appearances and 13 innings pitched. He’s certainly raised his profile with his performance against the top competition of the AFL and will look to continue that into the 2020 season. Perhaps with a bump to Double-A to start the year on the merits of his AFL showing.

    AFL Championship Game

    As the East division champions for the second year in a row, the Salt River Rafters had one more game to play on Saturday for all the marbles in the AFL Championship against the West division winning Surprise Saguaros.

    On the mound to start the game for the Rafters was the Twins very own Dakota Chalmers, and he came out in the first inning determined to give his team his best effort. He needed 24 pitches and had full counts to three of the four hitters in the opening frame, but after walking the first hitter of the game he came back to finish off the next three with strikeouts. In the second he again walked the leadoff man, this time on four pitches, but needed just six more in the inning to get the three outs and keep the game scoreless. In the bottom of the third a leadoff walk would finally catch up to him as that batter stole second base and then came around to score on a single and early 1-0 lead for Surprise. After that single Chalmers was lifted and finished with a line of one earned run on one hit and three walks in 2 1/3 innings, along with striking out three.

    The Rafters lineup picked him up in the top of the fourth however, as they erupted for five runs of their own to put the game out of reach. Royce Lewis led off the inning but grounded out before a hit batter, wild pitch, and single tied the game at one. Luke Raley and Colton Welker then drew walks to load the bases, and two batters later with two outs, Marlins outfield prospect Jerar Encarnacion broke it open with a grand slam and 5-1 lead that would stand until the end.

    Lewis tallied two hits in five at-bats on the game, including a double in the seventh inning and single to lead off the ninth. After that double in the seventh, Lewis got caught in a rundown between home and third on a comebacker to the pitcher for the inning's second out, but it would not matter. Lewis played third base and batted second in the lineup for the game.

    Luke Raley started the game in left field and batted fifth in the lineup, finishing 0-for-2 with a run scored and a walk. He was also hit by a pitch in the second inning. Raley was on third base when Encarnacion blasted the game-winning grand slam.

    Reliever Zach Neff also got into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, when he was brought on to face the left-handed hitting top of the Saguaros lineup with two outs. He allowed a double on a 3-2 breaking ball that he left over the heart of the plate but got the next hitter to chase a fastball out of the zone for an easy ground ball to first.

    The Rafters then took care of business in the ninth to bring home the hardware!

    Congratulations to all of the Minnesota Twins prospects, and those of the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks on a great season and thanks for following along during the AFL season with me!

    Other AFL and Minor League Links:

    -MLB Pipelines AFL Championship Game recap.

    -The Rafters home complex, Salt River Fields, was home to the automated ball-strike (ABS) system throughout AFL play, and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo spoke with several players and prospects, including Royce Lewis, on how the system fared during the season.

    -Pensacola Blue Wahoos Senior Writer Bill Vilona on Royce Lewis and winning the AFL MVP award.

    -Vilona also caught up with Twins pitcher Devin Smeltzer to recap his dream season that started with the Blue Wahoos.

    -MLB.com’s Jim Callis details eight players who stood out during the AFL Championship Game.

    -The Athletic’s Dan Hayes caught up with Royce Lewis to talk about his so-called struggles during the minor league season, his success in the AFL, and what he’ll be doing during the offseason (paywall).

    Please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who are there!

    • Oct 30 2019 08:06 AM
    • by Steve Lein
  2. Catching Up With Fall League MVP Royce Lewis

    As has been customary on teams Lewis plays on, a championship was the culmination of all the hard work for the Salt River squad. Contributing two hits in the trophy clinching victory, Lewis ended on the same high note he’d played at throughout the fall slate. Still fresh with emotion and reflection following the action, I caught up with the 2017 draft pick to check in.

    Twins Daily: After dealing with somewhat of a frustrating season, how excited were you to get a reset in Arizona and have a chance to showcase your ability against some of the best prospects in baseball?

    Royce Lewis: I was more excited for the multitude of reps I would be getting against some of the most dominant pitchers.

    TD: With the Fall League being composed of talent from multiple levels, how did you feel it stacked up against what you saw at Pensacola this year? Was it a step up or did it feel somewhat like an All-Star team collection of talent?

    RL: It felt like I was playing in a Futures Stars game each and every day!

    TD: What do you feel like you can attribute the level of success you saw in the Fall League to? An MVP is incredibly impressive. How were you able to continue a high level of production against that level of talent, through the entire schedule.

    RL: I was able to be more consistent and get hits with runners in scoring position. I consistently put myself in the right situations, in the right counts, and at the right times.

    TD: A few different outlets have touched on your swing. It’s one of the smoothest to the ball, but the main talking point is your leg kick. Have the Twins tweaked it at all, or do you feel like it will need to evolve as you continue towards the majors?

    RL: They (the Twins) started to begin to making adjustments in the beginning of the season and in the second half let me go back to being more like myself. You can always evolve, no matter how good you are, in every attribute in every skill of the game so I think everyone is always making adjustments and minor tweaks!

    TD: Now with something like 9 months of baseball behind you in 2019, how would you define and categorize your season? What were you proud of and where do you want to work on adjusting for 2020?

    RL: It was a great season of ascension and growth. I was proud of my ability to stay healthy and in shape. As usual continue working on all parts of my game to be better each and every day.

    TD: Looking at just your experience in Arizona, what’s something you feel like you can take away and utilize specifically to help your game reach the next level?

    RL: I enjoyed showcasing my ability to play multiple positions on the field, like fellow teammate Luis Arraez.

    TD: With Spring Training 2020 a few months out, what are you looking forward to providing some relaxation this offseason? Obviously, you’ll have plenty of baseball activities to get you ready for the year ahead, but what is 20-year-old Royce looking forward to off the field?

    RL: Fantasy football, sleeping in without an alarm, and eating the house down!!!

    Lewis will almost assuredly begin 2020 at Double-A Pensacola, but as with any elite prospect, the stop in Triple-A could be an abbreviated one. The Twins should be the favorites to repeat in the AL Central Division, and adding a talent like Lewis down the stretch may provide quite the boost to a team already poised to be very good.

    • Oct 29 2019 10:49 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  3. AFL Report - Week 6: Rafters Play for AFL Championship

    (This report includes the games played through 11/18 and the end of the AFL season)

    The Rafters went just 1-3 in their final four games, but that was enough thanks to their prior efforts. The Twins hitters had a solid week as they combined for a .374/.412/.438 slash line, and one continued his encouraging upward trend to finish his season strong. The pitchers didn’t fare quite as well, as they combined for a 6.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in nine innings pitched.

    To find out how all the Twins prospects finished their AFL campaigns and how the championship game went for the Rafters, keep reading!

    (links provided to each player’s overall AFL stats by clicking their name)

    Griffin Jax: 1 start, 4.0 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 2 ER, 2 K; 3.86 ERA, 1.52 WHIP (overall).

    Jax put an end to his AFL season by starting Thursday’s 4-2 loss against the Glendale Desert Dogs after the Rafters had already punched their ticket to the championship game. After Salt River scored two in the top of the first, he gave those runs back with a rough inning of his own. The leadoff man singled and came around to score on a triple before another single tied the game. After another single and a mound visit he got a grounder to keep the game knotted after one.

    From there he was able to work around any baserunners, holding Glendale scoreless for the rest of his outing. He allowed a single and a walk in the second but got a double play ball to quash it. In the third he navigated around a one-out single with another ground ball and a K. In his final frame he walked a batter, but he was then cut-down trying to steal second base, so he faced just three hitters. On the game he threw 72 pitches, with 43 going for strikes.

    I’d say it was a mixed bag for Jax in the AFL as he walked a lot of batters and his WHIP wasn’t great for a starting pitcher, but he also didn’t give up a lot of earned runs. His 21 innings pitched ranked fourth on the team and his 3.86 ERA ranked third among the six pitchers who made starts for Salt River. I wouldn’t say his performance upped his stock any, but he’s pitched so little as a professional to this point there’s still plenty to work on and improve.

    Travis Blankenhorn: 2 games, 4-for-8, 2 R, BB, 3 K; .224/.352/.241 (overall).

    The (super?) utility man got in two of his teams four games on the week, again playing the outfield in Tuesday’s loss to the Scottsdale Scorpions, and was back at second base in their division clinching win against Glendale on Wednesday.

    Batting ninth and playing in left against the Scorpions, Blankenhorn helped start a two-out rally for the Rafters in the seventh inning with the game still tied at zero. His single put a runner into scoring position for the top of their order, and his teammate brought them both in with a triple for 2-0 lead. It went downhill from there for Salt River and one of Blankenhorn’s organizational teammates as they ended up losing 4-2 and postponing their division title hopes for another day. He finished 1-for-4 while striking out three times.

    They were able to take care of the division on Wednesday, with Blankenhorn taking the leadoff spot in the lineup. He led off the bottom of the first for the Rafters with a bunt single, drew a walk in the third, singled in the fifth, reached on an error in the seventh, and singled in the eighth to be a model of that spot in the batting order. He scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and his team held on to punch their ticket to the AFL Championship with a 4-3 win.

    The most noteworthy aspect of Blankenhorn’s time in the AFL, for me, was the time he spent playing in the outfield on Tommy Watkin’s squad. I’d expect he gets some more run there during the 2019 minor league season, and due to his overall athleticism, he could turn into a nice super-utility type in the future if the Twins pursue that any further. You would like to see a slugging percentage that outpaces an on-base percentage by .100 points instead of the other way around in AFL play, but the uptick in walks and relative lack of strikeouts was a good sign. The overall slash numbers weren’t there by any stretch, but he also had some big games in other ways that don’t necessarily stand out statistically.

    Hector Lujan: 2 appearances, 2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R (0 earned), BB, 2 K; 5.59 ERA, 1.86 WHIP (overall).

    The righthander made his first appearance of the week in Monday’s 5-4 loss to Peoria, and unfortunately he contributed to the negative effort, but it wasn’t all his fault. After the Javelina’s had tied it at three in the bottom of the ninth (foreshadowing the championship game), Lujan was summoned for the bottom of the tenth with Salt River now up by one. The runner starting the frame on second base moved to third on a fly ball for the first out then scampered home after a wild pitch to tie the game once again. After a single and a strikeout, the final batter of the game send a line drive into center field and it was misplayed, allowing that runner to score all the way from first. Despite no earned runs allowed, Lujan was saddled with a blown save and a loss.

    In his second appearance of the week, Lujan was the first pitcher summoned in relief of Griffin Jax in Thursday’s loss to Glendale. Out for the start of the fifth, Lujan delivered a one-two-three inning, punctuating the effort with a strikeout for the third out. Back out for the sixth he got a ground out but followed it up with a walk and resulting in an end to his AFL season.

    Lujan could definitely take his time in the AFL as a learning experience as he faced stiffer competition than he ever had to this point in his minor league career. He was put into a tough spot in some games and things just didn’t go his way. He’s been very good in Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers the past two seasons, and he’ll see if he can continue that trend in Double A next year.

    Jaylin Davis: 2 games, 2-for-8, R, 2B (2), RBI, K; .279/.323/.311 (overall).

    To close out his AFL season, Davis also appeared in two games on the week and continued a positive second half of the schedule.

    In Monday’s loss to Peoria he batted seventh in the lineup and finished 1-for-4. His one-out double in the seventh led to him scoring the go-ahead run before the Javelina’s tied it in the ninth and win it in the tenth. It was his second double in the league.

    In their win on Wednesday against Glendale Davis again finished 1-for-4 while slotted sixth in the batting order. He was responsible for getting the Rafters on the scoreboard in the fourth inning, when his single drove in a runner to tie the game at one. Salt River made it interesting again in the bottom of the ninth, but the defense cut a tying runner down at home before finishing off the Desert Dogs and clinching their division.

    It was a tale of two halves for Davis in the AFL, as in the first three weeks of the season he combined to go 7-for-32 (.219) with one walk compared to an alarming fifteen strikeouts in eight games. But he then finished the final three weeks by going 10-for-29 (.345) with two doubles and two walks while only striking out six times in seven games. Like Blankenhorn, his OBP outpaced his slugging percentage and the overall numbers aren’t necessarily apparent, but the adjustments made by him were.

    Devin Smeltzer: 1 appearance, 0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, BB; 5.87 ERA, 2.35 WHIP (overall).

    Smeltzer got just one appearance in the season’s final week and it’s probably one he’d like to forget before starting his offseason routine.

    It came in Monday’s extra-inning loss to the Javelina’s where he was the first man out of the bullpen after the Rafter’s starter went the first five innings. Salt River had a 2-0 lead at the time, and Smeltzer was greeted by a bunt that went for a single on his first pitch and maybe threw him off a little bit. He followed that by issuing a walk before a double tied the game at two. A single to the next batter brought an end to his outing in which he was charged with a blown save.

    Like his fellow reliever Lujan, Smeltzer can reflect on his time in the AFL as a great learning experience as he continues a transition into relief pitching. He got knocked around a little bit with a WHIP of 2.35 in only 7.2 innings but should have a good idea on what he can and can’t do against the more advanced hitters he might continue to face at Double A in 2019.

    Adam Bray: 2 appearances, 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 3 K; 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP (overall).

    The reliever’s first appearance of the week came in Tuesday’s loss to Scottsdale, and it was of the multiple inning variety. With the game tied at zero in the fifth inning, he was summoned from the bullpen with two outs and a runner in scoring position. He got his man to end the threat and back out for the sixth he delivered a one-two-three inning including a pair of strikeouts. With his pitch count still low he again came out for the seventh and got the first man out (five in a row) before a couple of singles brought on another pitching change. That pitcher gave up a double to score both of the runners Bray was responsible for, so his line looks a little worse than it was. In total he went 1 2/3, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out two.

    In Thursday’s loss to the Desert Dogs Bray finished the game for the Rafters, again coming in from the bullpen in the middle of the inning. This time it was after Glendale had already scored two runs on a triple to take a 4-2 lead. With no outs and a runner on third, Bray got a ground out, strikeout, and a tapper back to him on the mound to keep the score as it was and finish his AFL season with a clean outing.

    Bray was the best performing of the Twins relievers sent to Arizona by far and one of the better one’s on the Rafters staff. His 13 2/3 innings pitched ranked second among his bullpen peers and his 2.63 ERA third. He went 1-0 in his 10 appearance and was also one of three relievers on the team to pick up a save. I’d expect the Minnesota native to get a crack at Double A to start next season.

    AFL Championship Game:

    With the Salt River Rafters crowned the East Division winners of the AFL, they faced off against the West winning Peoria Javelina’s in the title game on Saturday. Unfortunately, none of the Twins prospects appeared in the game, and hopefully that’s only because Tommy Watkins didn’t want to seem like he was playing favorites… (I kid) Maybe he should have though, as his team couldn’t quite close it out.

    The Rafters took an early 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of RBI singles while their starter, Jordan Yamamoto of the Miami Marlins, kept Peoria at bay for four innings. The first run came courtesy of Miami Marlins’ prospect Monte Harrison in the second, and they took a 2-0 lead in the fourth thanks to the Washington Nationals’ Daniel Johnson.

    Salt River took that 2-0 lead all the way into the bottom of the ninth inning, then things turned the other way for Peoria. A leadoff walk, double, and a wild pitch brought in the first run of the game for the Javelinas and with nobody out they had the tying run on third base before an RBI single brought the game into extra innings.

    It was the bottom of the tenth when Peoria walked it off in dramatic fashion. With one out, Atlanta Braves prospect Braxton Davidson stepped into the batter’s box, and did this:

    Along with an epic bat flip, Davidson also injured himself rounding the bases so instead of being able to celebrate with this teammates on the field and in the clubhouse, he was carted off to the hospital. Originally feared to be a broken foot, it luckily appears that is not the case.

    Congrats to the Peoria Javelina’s, and thank you for following the Twins prospects in the AFL with me!

    Please feel free to ask questions about the AFL and the players who were there!

    • Nov 21 2018 05:29 AM
    • by Steve Lein
  4. Catching Up With Infielder Sean Miller

    In June of 2016, I interviewed Sean Miller in Cedar Rapids. Today, we catch up with him and discuss his 2017 season, his time in the Arizona Fall League and more.

    Again, thank you to Sean for taking time out of his busy Arizona schedule to answer our questions. Let’s get to it.

    Seth Stohs (SS): Let’s start with where you are now. How did you find out about being invited to the Arizona Fall League? Is it something you had thought about growing up or in the minor leagues?

    Sean Miller (SM): I found out when I was at the mall with my girlfriend. Lep (Twins minor league coordinator Joel Lepel) called me, and it was such a great, rewarding feeling. Obviously it's something I've always read about and imagined myself doing! And now that I have the opportunity to be a part of the AFL, I'm just trying to take it all in.

    SS: Before heading to Arizona, what were some of your goals, or what did you want to try to accomplish in the Fall League?

    SM: My goals before heading here were to try and extend my at-bats. I have the same goal I've always had, which is to hopefully prove some people wrong.

    SS: The AFL season is about half over. What has the experience been like so far, and what have you found out about yourself from playing there so far?

    SM: The AFL experience has been awesome. I've already made lifelong friends. I've honestly found out that keeping a positive outlook on this game can change your own outlook on everything.

    SS: It’s been a couple of months since the end of the regular season, have you been able to put together your overall thoughts on your 2017 season in Ft. Myers?

    SM: My overall thoughts on the 2017 season are all positive! Playing for Doug (Mientkiewicz), Sing (Miracle hitting coach Steve Singleton), and Henry (Bonilla, pitching coach) was the most fun I've ever had playing ball. I've matured more as a player this year than I could have ever imagined.

    SS: You played a lot of shortstop and second base, but you also got to play a little in center field. What was it like standing out there for a few games?

    SM: At first, playing center field was crazy to me. But the more I was out there, the easier it got. Doug told me to play it like I was playing in the backyard which made it easier.

    SS: Tell me a little bit about playing for Doug Mientkiewicz and the coaches in Ft. Myers this year.

    SM: Like I said earlier, playing for Doug, Sing, and Henry was the most fun I've had playing the game. Those guys love what they do, and their passion for the game spreads to the players. playing for Doug, Henry, and Sing was an absolute blast. This year flew by playing for them.

    SS: What was the atmosphere like, especially in the second half when the Miracle took off and made their run into the playoffs?

    SM: The second half was so much fun. We were lucky enough to get some studs on our team to help us make a run. That shows us how deep this org really is. The atmosphere was great. We just played good baseball. Obviously winning was expected, but we actually learned how to win and play the game the right way.

    SS: In your opinion, what are your strengths on the field? What areas have you made the most improvement in?

    SM: I think my strengths on the field are that I can play defense with anybody, at any position. I'm trying to improve my ABs, And put some offensive numbers up like I know I can.

    SS: What are some areas of your game that you focused on in the AFL and will be throughout your offseason?

    SM: I'm trying to focus on the pitchers, and position players I'm getting a chance to play with and against. The guys down here are just so good, I try to make improvements on my game based on what I learn watching these guys play.

    SS: Whether on the baseball field or elsewhere, what is the best piece of advice that you have been given?

    SM: The best piece of advice I have been given is from my dad, who played pro ball for six years. He's always told me things went south for him when he lived in the past, or in the future. So regardless of what's going on with anything that has to do with baseball, I try to take it day by day. Obviously this isn't just baseball advice, this is the way I try to live life.

    SS: What are some of the things you do to get away from baseball? Any big, fun plans for once your offseason starts after the AFL?

    SM: The one thing I really enjoy is playing golf. I'll go out at 4 pm and play nine holes by myself three days a week. That's a week to week thing because golf frustrates me more than anything besides baseball.

    Thank you to Sean Miller for taking time out of his busy Arizona schedule to answer our questions. Please feel free to discuss in the comments below.

    • Nov 01 2017 04:50 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  5. TD Midseason Top Prospects: #8 Eddie Rosario

    Age: 23 (DOB: 9/28/91)
    2015 Stats (MLB): .283/.308/.424 (.732), 5 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR
    (AAA) .242/.280/.379 (.659), 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR
    ETA: 2015
    2014 Preseason Ranking: 5, 2015 Preseason Ranking: 8

    What's To Like

    Rosario's best tool has always been his hitting ability. Throughout his younger years in the minors, he made consistent contact and saw brief power outputs, leading the Appalachian League in home runs during his second season. For his minor league career, he's hit .291/.340/.480 while averaging 10 home runs and over 17 doubles per season.

    After serving a 50-game suspension to start the 2014 season, Rosario struggled with hitting for the first time in his career (.237 in 316 AB). Minnesota sent him to the Arizona Fall League for the second consecutive year and he knocked the cover off the ball. Across 24 games, he batted .330/.345/.410 with four doubles, two triples, 18 RBI and 10 steals. This included going 4-for-5 with a home run and a double in the AFL title game.

    Before the emergence of Brian Dozier and some other middle infield prospects, the Twins attempted to move Rosario to second base. He has since been moved back to the outfield where he has shown the ability to play all three outfield positions. His strong arm and defense flexibility should help him stick at the big league level.

    What's Left To Work On

    As Rosario got closer to the big leagues, in AA-New Britain, his offensive production declined. His on-base percentage dipped below .300 for the first time in his career and his OPS was under .675. With Byron Buxton penciled in as the center fielder, it likely means Rosario will be pushed to a corner outfield spot. This means he will need to hit for a high average and improve his power numbers from recent years.

    Rosario wasn't exactly pounding down the door to the big leagues when the Twins called him up this season. In 95 at-bats, he was limited to a .242 batting average and a .280 on-base percentage. He had combined for six extra-base hits but these marks were well below his minor league average. Except for his AFL output, his time in the minors hadn't been great since returning from his drug suspension.

    What's Next

    Rosario made his big league debut at the beginning of May and he got off to a hot start by hitting .298/.317/.421 with 10 RBI in 18 games. Things have cooled off a little in June but his OBP is still over .300 and his slugging percentage has gone up thanks to seven of his 18 hits being for extra bases. He's spent time in both left and right field and it seems like the Twins could go with an outfield that includes Rosario, Buxton and Hunter for the rest of the season.

    Rosario's stock has risen higher than some other players who were thought of more highly in recent years. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia have showcased their flaws over the last couple of seasons and the Twins seem ready to turn things over to a different crop of young players. If Rosario can continue to produce and play solid defense, there's no reason to think he won't be in a corner outfield spot for the rest of the season.

    He might never be an All-Star but he has the chance to be a solid everyday player and teams need those types of players to remain competitive.

    • Jun 21 2015 08:51 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  6. AFL Interview: Jake Reed

    Reed was the Twins' fifth round draft pick back in June, which means you won't find him on any of last offseason's "Top Twins Prospects" lists. You won't likely have to look too far down this year's lists to find his name, however.

    After signing with the Twins, he made four appearances in Elizabethton before being promoted to Cedar Rapids. Between the two stops, he put up a 0.29 ERA over 20 relief appearances. He struck out 39 batters, while walking just three.

    That kind of work earned him a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League where, as difficult as it may be to believe, he's actually improved his ERA to a perfect 0.00 in his first six appearances for the Rafters.

    As you might expect, Reed is pretty happy with how his professional career has thus far gone.

    "It's been just a great experience," Reed said on Tuesday, before the Rafters beat up the Glendale Desert Dogs 14-2. "Just from the time I got drafted, with my parents there in Eugene with me, to sitting here now in Arizona. To still be playing in the fall, it's pretty special. It's been a great ride. I couldn't have wished for a better first half-season."

    Reed was one of two Twins prospects, along with outfielder and top Twins prospect, Byron Buxton, who were named to represent their team in the AFL's "Fall Stars Game" this Saturday. Not bad for a guy who was surprised when Kernels manager Jake Mauer and pitching coach Ivan Arteaga gave him the news that he was headed to Arizona this fall.

    "When {Mauer) called me in, there was a couple weeks left in the season. I knew the Miracle were going to be in the playoffs, so I thought I was maybe going to be going up there to help them," Reed recalled. "But they sat me down and originally Ivan kind of played a joke on me and asked if I wanted to go play (winter ball) for him in Venezuela. I was like, 'oh yeah, make four grand a month,' and I said, 'absolutely.' He said, 'No we were just kidding. We're sending you to fall league.'"

    Most AFL players have at least reached Class AA, but organizations are allowed a very limited number of roster spots for players who have not reached beyond Class A ball. That says something about how the Twins view Reed.

    Mauer and Arteaga told Reed that the Twins minor league director, Brad Steil, had contacted them and asked whether they thought Reed was ready for AFL, where he'd be facing a number of the top prospects in baseball.

    "They thought I was," said Reed. "They asked me if I wanted to and obviously I wasn't going to turn that down.

    "It was a big surprise for me. I was pretty shocked. I'm not saying I don't think I deserved it, but with the guys that come out here normally, it's the bigger prospects and it's my first half season, so in that aspect, I didn't expect it much."

    • Posted Image
    • Jake Reed gives a helping hand to a grounds crew member who took a corner a bit sharp
    Often, organizations are cautious about sending pitchers to Arizona the year they are drafted due to the number of innings they've racked up on their arms, between their final college season in the spring and their first partial season of professional ball in the summer. That wasn't an issue for Reed, however.

    "I'd started my first two years of college so I was accustomed to going 100 innings a year and I threw 40 maybe in college and 30 in the summer, so I was only at 70. I had more in my tank. The inning limit hasn't been an issue at all."

    It's not like they overtax the arms in Arizona, anyway. Each club carries about 20 pitchers to make sure none of them are overworked. Even relievers, like Reed, typically will pitch an inning or two and then get a couple days off before their next appearance.

    Fall League is an opportunity for Reed to show what he's got in front of a large group of scouts from literally every organization in professional baseball, but it's also a chance to hone his craft. Reed was told the Twins wanted him to work on his change-up, on "tightening up" his breaking ball and on stopping the running game.

    Of course, his 0.75 WHIP means he's not getting many opportunities to work on controlling that running game this fall.

    "I haven't thrown a change-up much," Reed admitted, "but my breaking ball, at times, has been a lot better than it had been. I think the biggest thing, though, is just maintaining the command that I had all summer. Getting ahead of guys, not walking guys.

    "As long as I keep throwing strikes, I think I'll keep doing all right."

    While Reed and half a dozen other Twins farmhands have been toiling in the Arizona sun, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has been looking for a new manager. Reed and the others are following that story closely, as you can imagine.

    "Absolutely," Reed confirmed. "Ultimately, that's where we want to end up and ultimately, we want that to be our manager. Right now it seems kind of far-fetched, but hopefully, that's the guy we're going to be playing for eventually.

    "Yeah, we all follow everybody on Twitter, so we all see what's going on. We keep up with it. All the Twins are next to one another in the locker room. Whenever we see a new Tweet about another guy, we're always talking about it. But you know what, we trust Terry (Ryan), we trust everybody else in our organization to get somebody that will turn this thing around for us. We hope to be a big part of that, especially the young guys in our organization."
    • Posted Image
    • Jake Reed watching team mate Vincent Velasquez (Astros) warm up
    Reed and the others are getting a little taste of what it's like to be treated like a big leaguer during their time in Arizona. Games are played at major league spring training facilities and Salt River plays their games at the complex shared by the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Rafters use the D'Backs' big league clubhouse.

    It didn't take Reed long after arriving to figure out he was no longer at the Twins' minor league facility in Fort Myers, where he had been working during his time in the postseason instructional league.

    "The facilities in Ft. Myers are great, don't get me wrong, but going from a big locker room with hundreds of lockers to the big league locker room at a big league facility, it honestly kind of took my breath away," Reed said. "There're 12 TVs in there, I mean everything you can imagine in a locker room. Unbelievable. Then obviously, getting to play here every day, it doesn't get old, for sure."

    Reed had a chance earlier in the summer to get another glimpse of what it means to be a major leaguer. Joe Mauer and Rick Nolasco had concurrent rehabilitation assignments in Cedar Rapids and that experience stands out in Reed's mind as a highlight of his time with the Kernels.

    "When Joe and Ricky came, that was pretty special. Joe Mauer is such a great guy, and Ricky is, too, but just having him in the locker room was pretty special. Just seeing him go about his work and how he respected the game when he was playing and how he talked to other guys on the other team when they'd ask him questions. Just a great guy.

    "On his way out, before he left, he went around the locker room and shook everybody's hand. So that was unbelievable to me, a guy of that stature being able to take the time to shake every single person's hand in the locker room was pretty special."

    The Twins are already showing signs that they may be rebuilding their big league bullpen in 2015. Reed's performance at all levels this year has him in position to be fast-tracked by the organization if he can keep performing.

    Reed's success has even altered his own expectations of himself heading toward 2015.

    "It's definitely different now than it was when I signed and playing in Cedar Rapids," he acknowledged. "I don't know what's out of the picture for next year, because I haven't had the chance to talk to Terry or anybody else in the organization. They want to see guys excel in the minor leagues and prove that they're ready for the big leagues, but I'm not sure. I'm sure I'll have a better idea here pretty soon. We'll see what happens. We'll see where I go for spring training. There's just a lot up in the air."

    Reed has not heard, yet, whether he'll be getting an invitation to the Twins' big league spring training camp.

    "No, that's the thing, too. I think I'll have a better idea here pretty soon, because it's kind of important when you want to get your body ready for a certain time, you want to be in shape for a certain time. So hopefully I find out soon."

    Reed started to say he would not be disappointed if he doesn't get the invitation to the big league camp in February, but then smiled and corrected himself.

    "I will be disappointed," he admitted, "but I'll understand. Ultimately, it's not up to me, I just need to keep pitching well and hopefully it works out in my favor."

    But that's a matter for another day. Right now, Reed has a couple more weeks of pitching in the Arizona heat and then a well-deserved break.

    "I've literally been pitching for over a year straight," Reed said, alluding to having started his workouts at Oregon a year ago. "I'm starting to kind of feel it now. A break off of throwing would be nice."

    Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers by the middle of February, so it may not be a very long break for Jake Reed.

    • Oct 29 2014 09:21 AM
    • by SD Buhr