Blankenhorn Called Up to Taxi Squad; Kirilloff Still in St. Paul
The implications of the decision are inscrutable, but the Twins added Travis Blankenhorn to their taxi squad after the postponement of their games against the Angels this weekend. Blankenhorn had not been on the initially reported taxi squad for the road trip to Anaheim and Oakland, so his absence from St. Paul is of some note, especially given the expected roster upheaval whenever the team does take the field again.
Meanwhile, however, Alex Kirilloff remains in St. Paul. He took batting practice and participated in the team’s brief simulated game, getting in good swings off the likes of Derek Law and Juan Minaya. Apparently, the Twins still don’t feel that Kirilloff has built the developmental momentum they want him to have before permanently adding him to the parent club.
Forgotten Man Ben Rortvedt a Solid Fallback Plan at Catcher
After Ryan Jeffers’s ascendant 2020, it became easy to lose sight of Rortvedt, as the Twins appear well-fixed at catcher. Should either Jeffers or Mitch Garver suffer an injury, though, Rortvedt would be well-positioned to get the call. The lefty-swinging 23-year-old is already on the 40-man roster, which could give him a leg up over Caleb Hamilton or Tomás Telis, and on Sunday, he took Cody Stashak deep at CHS Field. He caught half the simulated game in addition to getting his licks in, and looks the part of a solid backup backstop in the majors even now.
Juan Minaya’s Changeup Plays
One thing CHS Field does not currently offer fans or players is a live scoreboard with velocity readings. However, it does afford fans close-up views, so it’s possible to get a quick, amateur assessment of certain pitchers’ stuff based on the way the ball comes out of their hand and on the reactions they get from hitters. Minaya was impressive in an inning-plus of work Sunday, including a changeup that flummoxed Kirilloff for a strikeout.
Though he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2019, Minaya was briefly an effective big-leaguer, with a fastball that sat at 94 or 95 miles per hour. His changeup was his best pitch then, too, and he used it to run reverse platoon splits. (In other words, he was better against left-handed batters than against fellow righties.) I overheard two Twins hitters talking about his stuff prior to his appearance, and they were under the impression that his fastball was sitting at 97. If true, that’s a significant development for the non-roster bullpen hopeful. Whatever speed the fastball had, though, the changeup played off it nicely.
A Good Environment for Development, Perhaps; For Evaluation and Preparation, Not So Much
Like the other 29 teams, the Twins are ardently making the most of the situation while they await real minor-league games. Coaches talk up the benefits of the unique setting from a development and feedback perspective. It’s not hard to buy into that, when watching a pitch sail over a Rapsodo camera a dozen feet in front of home plate, or when hearing about the way the team can offer players immediate and thorough feedback after each session.
However, from every other perspective, it’s a profoundly diminished thing. Fans should attend workouts only if they’re exceptionally eager to see baseball movements and delight in the details of practice. The game-level fan experience can only be called soporific. The atmosphere is sterile. Whole swaths of the field went unmanned Sunday, as the team worked even more shorthanded than usual. No serious conclusions about any player’s ability to make key adjustments or handle game situations can be drawn from what is happening in St. Paul. Nor can any objective observer argue that those workouts are preparing players adequately for big-league contests. Everyone involved is doing their best, and it’s not a worthless exercise, but it’s even further from the optimal minor-league setting than you would imagine.
Nick Gordon Doesn’t Look Like a Useful Utility Man
Speaking of someone doing their best (but their best not necessarily being sufficient), Nick Gordon took some early infield practice at shortstop. It wasn’t encouraging. Persistently struggling to get off strong throws from the hole, Gordon also began dropping or mishandling balls to his backhand side at a high rate as he tried to speed up his pick and transfer. Making mistakes is why you take the extra reps, and they can make you better. At this stage of his development, though, Gordon shouldn’t be having as many problems as he was having on that play, if he’s ever to provide value with his glove on the left side of the infield.
This has been the biggest problem for Gordon for a couple of years now. Ever since he settled into what looked like a low-ceiling offensive profile, the question has been whether he would be able to play anywhere but second base on a big-league infield. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no, and the process by which he would change that at this stage is hard to envision. If the Twins hope for help from the alternate site in case of further depletion on the infield, it will probably have to come from Blankenhorn’s bat or the glove of Tzu-Wei Lin.
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