Today I spent the day mainly on the back fields, watching the minor league prospects. Normally I call these reports Hammond Notes (I must have been under the impression everyone remembers Hammond Organs when I thunk up that one), but Hammond is strictly speaking the major league field here, and it would be clunky to title today's entry CenturyLink Sports Complex Notes. The photo here is of all the dummies watching the major leaguers take batting practice - they don't know what they are missing!
I arrived at the crack of dawn, namely 9:30 am, in time to see the players begin their warmup calisthenics. It being the day of a major league game, CenturyLink Sports Complex was charging $10 for parking. Note to anyone intending to follow a plan like mine: in-and-out privileges are not included when you pay to park, and there is no food service outside the main ballpark so bring a lunch (there is a water fountain by the bathroom at the center of the back fields) or else prepare to pay twice for parking - plus it's hard driving out when they're letting everyone else in. Tomorrow and Thursday are away games, so I can get in for free unless I am misremembering protocol.
The day's drills were enjoyable to watch, and not especially stressful looking for the players either. Pitchers worked on fielding comebackers on Field 5. While nobody embarrassed himself, and there were a few good snags of the balls coming out of the repurposed pitching machine, I didn't spot any budding shortstops in the group either. Here's Lewis Thorpe giving it a try - notice how he keeps the meat hand (AKA moneymaker) safely out of the way. Notice also my skillful use of the camera's autofocus, bringing into crisp view the mesh of the decorative yet functional chain link fence.
Later, on Field 3, a group of players practiced specialized situations, such as the pitcher covering third on an extra-base hit by a lefthanded pull-hitter against an extreme shift (seriously). It seemed to me there was a lot of dead time in this, where the coach in charge would stop to talk to a small group of players, and the others, far out of earshot, would just be standing around. Maybe this is optimal - I'm not a coach or anything. During this idle time, I spotted catchers Dan Rohlfing, Karim Kevin**** Garcia, and one I wasn't able to deduce even using my vast sleuthing skills, practicing the art of tossing a baseball into the air and catching it in the mesh of their mask. I am confident this important skill will be the deciding factor in Game 7 of the World Series, some year very soon. It's the new Framing.
Closer to game time, I ventured again to the front of the CenturyLink Sports Complex and met up briefly with ChiTownTwinsFan, who was attending the major league game with family. We'll share a game or three later this week with others who are arriving.
After a spartan lunch (which, did I mention, I thought to bring) and a nap resting my eyes while lying down on the metal bleachers in the shade for 5 minutes, 10 minutes tops, I watched the two games against Tampa Bay Rays prospects, which began around 1 pm. Nominal AAA and AA squads were represented, and in the AAA game both teams used 40-man pitchers as their starters. I should tell you at the outset that I switched attention between the two games and did not keep an actual scoresheet for either one, and moreover I have no idea who "won" either contest - I merely took notes of what I thought to be interesting.
Matt Belisle went a couple of innings for the Twins and pitched pretty well.
He was aided by a very fine shoestring catch by Zach Granite in center on the first pitch. Pro tip: call him Granny, like some of his teammates and/or coaches do. Niko Goodrum, playing shortstop, also contributed a nice play in the first, to his right on a ball just out of third baseman's reach - I wrote the latter's name down as Ganache but I can't locate such a player now at my computer. Later on in the AAA game, there was a very nice play by Engelb Vielma at second base, coming in on the ball and making it look easy, to get the batter by a step. All in all, the defense looked good, every time my attention was focused on Field 3.
Two-year major-league veteran Matt Andriese of the Rays didn't fare as well. As I said, I didn't keep a scoresheet, but my impression was that he gave up lots of base hits and plenty of runs. In the first, Goodrum doubled to right field (in this game he was making good contact each time I looked), Dan Palka followed with a two-strike opposite field RBI single to left that I overheard someone on the bench call a "nice piece of hitting", and then Mitch Garver followed with a homer to left center.
On Field 4, the Twins also had a major league reliever serve as starter. I didn't see a lot of Kintzler's work, but a comment from a fellow fan led me to think he wasn't especially effective. I guess we'll all form our own opinions from that tidbit, according to our individual prejudices.
Edgar Corcino botched a flyball in left field, and someone brought him a pair of sunglasses in time for the next pitch - oops, Kangaroo Kourt fine, shall we say? Fernando Romero pitched next, and I thought he got cuffed about quite a bit. However toward the end of his first inning he started throwing heat more visibly, and the results improved. But then, he dropped a comebacker to the mound. (I don't recall whether he was in the group practicing that in the morning.) They ended the inning early after that, which sometimes is the custom on the minor league fields, and I thought that meant he was done for the day, but he pitched the next inning, and again was effective. Maybe the Rays had batted around, and the ground rules say that's enough - hey, let the other kids have a turn, willya?
Back on Field 3, I saw Vielma have a rough day at the plate, which of course has been the question mark about him as a high-end prospect we want him to become. He's one of the guys I wanted to scrutinze at the plate on this visit, and I am encouraged compared to my expectations that he might swing like Pedro Florimon. No, he "has a notion up there" at the plate - he's not clueless. But, he's also a bit overmatched, particularly on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone, as he tends to swing right through them with disturbing frequency, at least on this day. Being unable to hit certain strikes would not be a good thing in the majors. (He'll also chase, on pitches higher than that, but that seems more correctable.) At least, I didn't see Buxton's Syndrome, namely being unable to recognize off-speed pitches in the dirt, so that's a mild positive. I hope his batting coach can teach him to figure out a few things this year - maybe this ugly photo will help.
Turning back to the AA game, Randy Rosario showed a good fastball but only so-so control.
John Curtiss, by contrast, looked very much in control of his good fastball, and seems poised to build at AA upon his successful 2016.
Minor league free agent utility player (OF, 3B) Tom Belza really got ahold of a pitch late in the game for a 3-run jack. He's not a guy with stellar power numbers in the past, but if he's ready to put things together maybe he can get his cup of coffee or perhaps even a little more - he's someone I'll keep an eye on just for fun, now that he has forced me to pay attention to him. On the other hand, shortly after his homer, he got spun around fielding a hot smash at third base, costing him just enough time to fail to retire the batter, so my snap assessment is he'll remain a longshot.
In the AAA game, relief prospect Trevor Hildenberger made easy work of the Rays batters in the final inning. He has what looks like nasty stuff from a variety of angles.
In the AA game (are you getting whiplash yet? that's my intention, as it mimics the fun of watching two games on adjacent fields), Nick Gordon got a ground rule* double to left, followed by a long double to center by recent minor league signing Josh Romanski - another promising event today for a long-shot athlete in his prime. You Never Know. Here's Gordon, probably not on the pitch he doubled on.
An interesting sidelight, at least for me: at the end of his inning of work, Rays prospect pitcher Jairo Munoz came off the field cursing, presumably at himself for the hits against him. Longtime Rays coach R.C. Lichtenstein, who was monitoring the game outside the fence, made a beeline toward the entrance to the dugout. Being a nosy type of person, I trailed him and listened in. He didn't castigate the pitcher for the outburst and instead gave him a pep talk, focusing on some good things that happened on the mound and what he might do differently. I had noticed this coach the last time I was in Ft Myers - he seems like a really good asset to the team, although of course I have little insight into what truly separates one coach from another.
Speaking of coaches, Rick ("Brother of David") Eckstein was there in a Twins uniform. I had not noticed the news of his being added. If he were not in uniform, you would never guess he was anything but "just some guy". I bet he gets that a lot. **
Anyway, Nick Burdi finished up the AA game, and while I didn't see any real magic, he had a good inning. In the bottom of that inning, Levi Michael got hit in the ribs by a pitch, and he yelped as soon as the ball touched him. Me, it takes several seconds before I know whether I'm hurt. But he was OK, at least to the extent of being able to run the bases normally.
WIth the AA game completed, I turned back for the finish of the AAA game. Kyle Winkler closed out the game for the Rays, and though he's a little long in the tooth (26) for a prospect, I was fooled into thinking he might be something better, because he mowed down Palka and then ended the game by making Garver fail to check his swing.
Here is a Rays trainer inflicting rotator-cuff damage on a prospect who missed curfew. When will the hazing of rookies cease? The padded table looked comfy, though, and I considered asking whether he accepted walk-ins for theraputic massage.
After the game, I watched Granite Granny stop to sign an autograph for possibly the politest kid I ever met. And then I saw the Rays' Andrew Velazquez sign for a Rays fan, causing me to wonder if he is a big-time prospect. Um, nope, at least not according to Sickels - guess the kid just had a personal rooting interest.
And with that, I'm off to sample the culinary delicacies that Ft Myers is famous for. Wait, what? Is that a thing?***
*I know that a ball that bounces over the fence isn't technically part of the ground rules, it's just a baseball rule. It's what we call it, OK?
** His brother was a major league veteran - a fringe star even - and like his brother, Rick is way way short.
*** Pinchers Crab Shack turned out to have pretty good grouper.
**** H/T to Seth Stohs for the correction