First and foremost, the Twins minor league academy has been a tremendous success for a number of reasons:
First, they have been able to conduct camps throughout the offseason. In the fall, there are camps for position players to work on their speed and agility or other specific areas of their game. In January, there are pitch camps for control or velocity. Rehabbing players are also there a lot in the offseason. They are able to do that because there is comfortable lodging for the players without sending them to a hotel. And the players are taking advantage of it.
Also, players have been coming to Ft. Myers well before spring training. By the first week in January, minor leaguers start to arrive. In fact, I was told by several people that only three or four of the minor leaguers have not already shown up to camp despite the fact that the official report day is still three or four days away. That is incredible.
And the players are coming into camp in really good shape and ready to go. While the practices aren’t official, there is a real level of formality to it. Coaches are assigned. Conditioning is done. Stretching. Base running. Bullpens. Batting practice. Grounders are being taken and fly balls are being caught. It’s as if practice had already started.
The only difference is they aren’t wearing uniforms. They’re dressed in warmup attire, which is really creating issues for me in identifying most of the new players. I’ll adjust, don’t worry.
Anyway, what is impressive is that they aren’t just in early spring mode. They’re working on things. Infield coordinator Billy Boyer is working with the infielders on specific things, on taking grounders or throws to the bases from various positions, simulating their shift positions. Hitters aren’t just taking batting practice and crushing fastballs. They are already hitting nasty sliders off of the pitching machine. Pitchers are working on location and their pitches, but they’re doing it in a fun, competitive mode.
For instance, here is a video of Blayne Enlow and Jordan Balazovic. They go back and forth and simulate an 0-2 count on a hitter. What will they throw? What will the location be?
I did see Bailey Ober throwing some impressive breaking balls too. Here he is working along-side Enlow.
And Matt Canterino’s bullpen was very workmanlike. He was throwing all of his pitches; fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. All looked to have the potential to be plus pitches (based on this bullpen session, at least).
By the way, one name to kind of keep in the back of your mind during the 2020 season is RHP Jon Olsen. He was the Twins 12th round pick in 2018 from UCLA. He had Tommy John surgery that spring and rehabbed from that and other arm issues in 2019. But he appears to be healthy and really had an impressive bullpen.
On Saturday morning, I did a 25-minute radio spot on Bison 1660 in Fargo from the back field, trying to stay out of the wind. You can listen to that here.
But following that interview, I walked to Bill Smith Field. That is the field behind the academy where the GCL Twins play.
As I was approaching the field, I heard hollering. And then I see a ball launched out of the park. And then another ball well beyond the fence in left center field. That’s when I realized who was hitting in the cage. It was Twins 2019 first-round pick Keoni Cavaco. For good measure, he hit the next ball even further. I had also seen him the day before fielding ground balls at shortstop. Very impressive defensively. And he is a big, strong kid. He has the hands and speed for shortstop, but he’s got the size to be a third baseman. Definitely one to watch progress. After his round of batting practice. He and fellow young prospect Jesus Feliz posed for a photo.
Speaking of top picks, it was great to watch Forest Lake’s own Matt Wallner take some batting practice. The young man is impressive. He’s tall and strong, and he can hit the ball a long way. In just observing, he appeared to be very coachable as well. Later, he came up and introduced himself and it was a Minnesota Nice conversation.
It was good to see Taylor Grzelakowski on the field and healthy. He had a tough year last year in Pensacola. He played through a lot of pain before finally having a second ankle surgery in June. He said that his offseason and rest really helped it recover.
I tell you what, there are a lot of great stories to be told on the minor league side of the complex. Hopefully I can get to some of them.
One name in camp that Twins fans will find interesting. Levi Michael is back in the organization. The 2010 first-round pick spent seven seasons in the Twins organization. He split time between AA and AAA with the Mets in 2018 and did the same in the Giants system in 2019.
Alright, I’m sure there is more and there will continue to be more. But feel free to ask questions and I’ll try to answer, or I’ll try to watch that player/those players more closely.