Teams were allowed to invite up to 75 players to spring training this year. 40 of the players were on the roster. Approximately 20 more players were official Non-Roster Invites. But as a means to allow teams to ease their players back into their springs and properly prepare for their seasons, another 14 to 15 players were invited to participate in the depth camp.
As spring training started in February, a writer asked manager Rocco Baldelli on Zoom about the depth camp and what they would be doing. The Twins manager said, “The players in depth camp are going to be extremely important to what we do.” He continued, “They will be taking part in a lot of our fundamentals when we need them too. They’re going to be getting their work done by themselves otherwise. But, they’re going to be playing in a lot of games as well. So when these games start, I think we’re going to see our depth camp.”
The Twins played 28 spring training games. Aaron Sabato, the team’s first-round draft pick last June, played in 22 of those games. He made a start or two, but in general, he came in during the middle or late innings and played first base and maybe got a plate appearance.
Especially early in camp, it’s important to have a lot of pitchers to eat innings in games when the pitchers are all going just an inning or so. I recently chatted with a few of the depth camp pitchers about their experiences.
Ryan Mason, a 26-year-old right-hander, went 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA and seven saves at Double-A Pensacola in 2019 before his season ended with an arm injury. Healthy, he was thrilled to be invited to big-league spring training.
He said, “First and foremost, the experience was unforgettable. I enjoyed every moment getting the opportunity to spend time with the big-league club. The highlight for myself was obviously being able to throw in a couple of games and experience the nerves of pitching again, which was long overdue due to the circumstances of last season.”
Mason finished out two innings for the Twins during spring training. He faced two batters and struck one of them out. He even recorded a Win.
Matt Canterino is one of the Twins top pitching prospects. The 23-year-old was the team’s second-round draft pick in 2019 out of Rice University. He was able to work 4 2/3 innings over four games. He gave up only an unearned run on two hits. He walked five batters but struck out seven and certainly showed the stuff, including a 98 mph fastball, that makes him so intriguing.
Canterino said, “ I really enjoyed my time on the big league side of things. The highlight for me was definitely just being able to get in some games again against really good competition. I hadn’t faced another squad since the summer of 2019, so seeing a big leaguer with a different uniform on in the batter’s box when I was pitching really got my competitive juices flowing again.”
Josh Winder has seen his prospect status skyrocket since hitting 96 and 97 mph at Instructional League last October. The 6-5 right-hander was the Twins seventh round draft pick in 2018 out of Virginia Military Institute. In 2019, he went 7-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 21 starts in Cedar Rapids during his first full professional season.
Winder enjoyed being around the big leaguers and observing. “It was awesome to rub shoulders with the established big league guys and see how they went about their business. The commitment and dedication to their routine/craft was the big thing that stood out to me and motivated me to make some adjustments in my approach to the game.”
He also worked in four games including making one start. In 5 2/3 innings, he gave up three runs on five hits, three walks and struck out five batters.
For Tom Hackimer, the team’s fourth round pick in 2016 from St. John’s, he enjoyed doing something that a lot of big league pitchers haven’t been able to do. “The highlight of my spring was managing to strike out Luis Arraez during a live BP one day.”
Hackimer knows many of the players on the Twins roster and has been teammates at times with several of them, including Miguel Sano. Hackimer shared a fun story from this spring.
“Miguel Sanó has been making fun of how long my arms are since 2018 when he was sent down to the Miracle, then again in 2019 in Fort Myers and Pensacola while he was rehabbing. One day we were doing PFPs, and he made me stop so that he could point out to Nelson Cruz how long my arms are.”
Spring Training fun!
But the opportunity to observe and learn from the big league veterans and coaching staff is immensely valuable.
Mason took advantage of the opportunity. “I tried to connect with as many players as possible and just talk about pretty normal stuff to reaffirm what I already knew, which is big-league players are normal and all-around great people with their own stories. Also, there is not one way to make it. Everyone paved their own path to success.”
It might surprise you to read which player Winder and Canterino mentioned when asked about their surreal moment of spring.
Winder noted, “Facing Josh Donaldson is Live BP was a surreal moment for me. I’ve watched him on TV for so long it was really weird seeing him up close in the box.”
Canterino had a similar experience that turned into an opportunity he will never forget. He said, “One of my coolest experiences with some of the veterans came after I threw a live bullpen to some of the big league hitters. After I finished my outing, I approached Josh Donaldson and asked what he saw when I threw to him. Andrelton Simmons joined the conversation too after a little while. So the three of us ended up talking about hitting approaches and how to attack hitters for about a half hour after that.”
David Banuelos, a catcher the Twins acquired in a trade with the Mariners before the 2018 season. He is known as a defense-first catcher, but he considered his first big league spring training (as a Non-Roster Invite) a “great experience,” one he learned a lot from.
Banuelos also mentioned the Twins third baseman and former AL MVP.. “Listening to Donaldson talk about hitting was really cool. I had the opportunity to pick his brain a bit.”
One of his two spring hits was a long home run on a Donaldsonic swing.
Spencer Steer was the Twins third round pick in 2019 from the University of Oregon. He was not on the original spring roster, but when Chris Williams hurt his shoulder in one of the first spring games, Steer was added to the depth group.
He said, “The entire experience was incredible. I went from not knowing when I was reporting to minor league camp, to working out alongside big leaguers within a couple of days. It was a lot of fun to be able to watch the best of the best up close. I was able to learn a lot by just watching how they went about their work everyday.”
In 11 games played, he had two hits in eight at bats including a long, opposite field home run.
Starting pitchers Winder and Canterino are now in Ft. Myers, working to prepare and stretch out for their 2021 minor league seasons. Banuelos and Steer will be playing their first spring training games today in Ft. Myers. Relievers Mason and Hackimer are in St. Paul at the Twins alternate site preparing for their seasons and preparing themselves and others to possibly help the big-league club as we await the start of the season.
More Minor League Notes
Just a couple quick Twins minor league notes:
Royce Lewis on Flippin’ Bats with Ben Verlander
This week, Twins shortstop prospect Royce Lewis was on the FOX Sports Flippin’ Bats with Ben Verlander show. Lewis talked about a number of topics from the roles that guys like Torii Hunter and Nelson Cruz have played in his life and development. He talked some about his recovery from ACL surgery. He also talks about wine, and many other topics. It’s a fun interview.
Twins Sign More International Free Agents
When the international signing period opened on January 15th, the Twins signed several players including top shortstop prospects Danny De Andrade and Fredy LaFlor. In the past weeks, the Twins have signed a few more players including right-handed pitcher Jose Olivares.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote this of Oliveres: “For a while, Olivares trained as an outfielder in Venezuela, but he took off once he moved to the mound, with his velocity popping at games in the Dominican Republic last year. Previously eligible to sign in 2019, Olivares is now an 18-year-old righthander with a sturdy, physically mature frame and a fastball that has been up to 96 mph with lively riding life up in the zone. He pairs it with a good curveball that's more advanced than his changeup.”
More Twins minor league coverage to come. Keep checking back.