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  1. First manager with the club under the Minnesota Twins’ affiliate umbrella, anyway. After all, there have been five managers in the history of this iteration of the Saints franchise -- most recently with George Tsamis for the last 18 years. Prior to officially introducing him to the media, Saints general manager, Derek Sharrer offered Gardenhire a “blanket apology” in advance for the onslaught of promotions, silliness and fun that has become synonymous with St. Paul Saints baseball. He will possibly have to navigate farm animals, messes, and general goofiness as he tries to develop players ready for the highest level of baseball. Gardenhire is well aware of the legendary on-field extravaganza that is Saints baseball. As someone who grew up just outside of the St. Paul city limits, he knows they can be a blast. In some ways it has come full circle for him. He logged innings at Midway, the Saints’ previous home, as a high school player for Roseville, continually getting bested by Joe Mauer’s Cretin team. He’s had former teammates and even former kids he coached while at UW-Stout go on to play for the Saints. Not too long ago, he and his father took in a game at CHS to watch Joe Vavra’s son Tanner play. His coaching experience started in Division III UW-Stout, in Menomonie, Wisconsin, an hour’s drive east on Interstate 94. There, he learned that being a college coach involves more than just writing a lineup card. He would be doing field maintenance, laundry and ordering the uniforms. “You learn a lot doing the laundry and pulling the tarp on the field at midnight,” he joked. Even before he became a coach, Gardenhire thought he was being groomed to eventually lead instead of play. When he was a utility player for Triple-A, his then-manager Tom Nieto would give him the duties of signaling in plays for the catcher. He worried that he’d return to his locker and find his cleats and glove replaced with turf shoes and a fungo. It’s probably not a difficult conclusion to draw when your father is managing the team’s big league club. He’s dealt with people tossing out accusations of nepotism for years now. As a player, he tried to tune it out but fans would yell lines that would pierce his psyche. Once when he was with the Twins in a spring training game, the heckles rained down. “They’d say ‘what is this take-you-kid-to-work-day or did Christmas come early’,” Gardenhire recalled. Having a father with a long coaching career certainly comes with benefits, such as access to some of the great managerial minds. When he was 10 years old, Tom Kelly told little Toby to fill out a lineup card. Toby did and gave it back to the manager. Kelly looked at the lineup, proclaimed it terrible and tossed it in the garbage. Not a bad lesson to learn at a young age. Gardenhire believes his experience as a minor league role player prepared him well to handle the Triple-A position. He witnessed first hand the elation and devastation that comes with the promotion and demotion of players. He knows how to handle conversations that are sure to come this summer. After managing Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers in 2018 and 2019, Gardenhire was to continue his ascent and be Rochester’s in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic ended the minor league season. Gardenhire remained active coaching during the shutdown. After initially staying in Fort Myers to work with the big league players, he joined the Twins in Minnesota during the summer camp session. Following that, he familiarized himself with CHS Field and the Twins’ minor league camp. Eventually he returned to Target Field to coach at the end of the year and during the playoffs. He found that experience invaluable, getting to know Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and bench coach Mike Bell. Those relationships -- between a Triple-A manager and the big league staff -- is critical when it comes to communicating about a player’s performance, Gardenhire says. There needs to be a level of trust. Rochester, New York is nearly a thousand miles of hard driving around multiple great lakes away from Minnesota’s capital but the Twins’ highest affiliate shipped the same coaching staff largely intact to St. Paul. The 2020 season was expected to have Gardenhire overseeing a coaching staff of Cibney Bello (pitching), Matt Borgschulte (hitting), Mike McCarthy (bullpen), and Robbie Robinson (bench coach). Of course, with the pandemic, the minor league season never happened. Bello, Borgschulte and McCarthy will all resume those roles in St. Paul. For 2021, the Twins have added Tyler Smarslok as the team’s infield coach, replacing Robinson in the dugout. As far as the reduced travel time between the parent club and it’s Triple-A affiliate, Gardenhire views that as a positive. He might have to re-write a few lineup cards or make a last minute substitution right before batting practice as players no longer have to be ready to hop on a 6 AM flight west to reach Target Field. While the Saints are always up for some shenanigans and tomfoolery, Sharrer made sure to emphasize that the team takes pride in what happens between the white lines. The Twins will have a lot of major league experience and rising prospects ready on the east side of the Mississippi. There are still a lot of unknowns -- such as when the season will start -- but for now the St. Paul Saints have their leadership in place.
  2. In one year’s time, Toby Gardenhire climbed from 45th to first on a managerial list. Gardenhire was scheduled to be the Rochester Red Wings’ 45th manager in 2020. This season, however, he will be the St. Paul Saints’ first manager.First manager with the club under the Minnesota Twins’ affiliate umbrella, anyway. After all, there have been five managers in the history of this iteration of the Saints franchise -- most recently with George Tsamis for the last 18 years. Prior to officially introducing him to the media, Saints general manager, Derek Sharrer offered Gardenhire a “blanket apology” in advance for the onslaught of promotions, silliness and fun that has become synonymous with St. Paul Saints baseball. He will possibly have to navigate farm animals, messes, and general goofiness as he tries to develop players ready for the highest level of baseball. Gardenhire is well aware of the legendary on-field extravaganza that is Saints baseball. As someone who grew up just outside of the St. Paul city limits, he knows they can be a blast. In some ways it has come full circle for him. He logged innings at Midway, the Saints’ previous home, as a high school player for Roseville, continually getting bested by Joe Mauer’s Cretin team. He’s had former teammates and even former kids he coached while at UW-Stout go on to play for the Saints. Not too long ago, he and his father took in a game at CHS to watch Joe Vavra’s son Tanner play. His coaching experience started in Division III UW-Stout, in Menomonie, Wisconsin, an hour’s drive east on Interstate 94. There, he learned that being a college coach involves more than just writing a lineup card. He would be doing field maintenance, laundry and ordering the uniforms. “You learn a lot doing the laundry and pulling the tarp on the field at midnight,” he joked. Even before he became a coach, Gardenhire thought he was being groomed to eventually lead instead of play. When he was a utility player for Triple-A, his then-manager Tom Nieto would give him the duties of signaling in plays for the catcher. He worried that he’d return to his locker and find his cleats and glove replaced with turf shoes and a fungo. It’s probably not a difficult conclusion to draw when your father is managing the team’s big league club. He’s dealt with people tossing out accusations of nepotism for years now. As a player, he tried to tune it out but fans would yell lines that would pierce his psyche. Once when he was with the Twins in a spring training game, the heckles rained down. “They’d say ‘what is this take-you-kid-to-work-day or did Christmas come early’,” Gardenhire recalled. Having a father with a long coaching career certainly comes with benefits, such as access to some of the great managerial minds. When he was 10 years old, Tom Kelly told little Toby to fill out a lineup card. Toby did and gave it back to the manager. Kelly looked at the lineup, proclaimed it terrible and tossed it in the garbage. Not a bad lesson to learn at a young age. Gardenhire believes his experience as a minor league role player prepared him well to handle the Triple-A position. He witnessed first hand the elation and devastation that comes with the promotion and demotion of players. He knows how to handle conversations that are sure to come this summer. After managing Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers in 2018 and 2019, Gardenhire was to continue his ascent and be Rochester’s in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic ended the minor league season. Gardenhire remained active coaching during the shutdown. After initially staying in Fort Myers to work with the big league players, he joined the Twins in Minnesota during the summer camp session. Following that, he familiarized himself with CHS Field and the Twins’ minor league camp. Eventually he returned to Target Field to coach at the end of the year and during the playoffs. He found that experience invaluable, getting to know Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and bench coach Mike Bell. Those relationships -- between a Triple-A manager and the big league staff -- is critical when it comes to communicating about a player’s performance, Gardenhire says. There needs to be a level of trust. Rochester, New York is nearly a thousand miles of hard driving around multiple great lakes away from Minnesota’s capital but the Twins’ highest affiliate shipped the same coaching staff largely intact to St. Paul. The 2020 season was expected to have Gardenhire overseeing a coaching staff of Cibney Bello (pitching), Matt Borgschulte (hitting), Mike McCarthy (bullpen), and Robbie Robinson (bench coach). Of course, with the pandemic, the minor league season never happened. Bello, Borgschulte and McCarthy will all resume those roles in St. Paul. For 2021, the Twins have added Tyler Smarslok as the team’s infield coach, replacing Robinson in the dugout. As far as the reduced travel time between the parent club and it’s Triple-A affiliate, Gardenhire views that as a positive. He might have to re-write a few lineup cards or make a last minute substitution right before batting practice as players no longer have to be ready to hop on a 6 AM flight west to reach Target Field. While the Saints are always up for some shenanigans and tomfoolery, Sharrer made sure to emphasize that the team takes pride in what happens between the white lines. The Twins will have a lot of major league experience and rising prospects ready on the east side of the Mississippi. There are still a lot of unknowns -- such as when the season will start -- but for now the St. Paul Saints have their leadership in place. Click here to view the article
  3. For the first time in perhaps a decade or more, the Minnesota Twins are a true “buyer” as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, looking for pitching help to solidify not only their bullpen, but also perhaps their starting rotation. They’ve been linked through media reports to virtually every top of the rotation starting pitcher that non-contenders may be making available.That means that, for the first time in the professional baseball careers of virtually every Twins minor leaguer, there’s a chance that any one of them could find themselves packing their bags this week and moving on to another organization. Fort Myers Miracle pitcher Blayne Enlow knows the score. “No one is safe,” Enlow said on Sunday. “Not even Royce (Lewis), who is their number one prospect. If he’s not safe, no one’s safe. You can always get traded.” Enlow, the 2017 third round draft choice of the Twins, is the organization’s 12th ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, making him just about as likely to be a name on the lips of GMs talking trades with Twins brass Derek Falvey and Thad Levine this week as any other Twins prospect. Enlow said that he doesn’t feel like the trade possibilities are at the forefront of players’ minds, even as Lewin Diaz, their teammate with the Miracle until a promotion sent him up to Double-A Pensacola a few weeks ago, got the news Saturday night that he had been traded to the Marlins organization in return for reliever Sergio Romo, minor league arm Chris Vallimont and a player to be named later. “It is what it is. You get a lot of relationships and you become close to a lot of guys, but at any moment you could be traded,” he said. “So, do you (let it) get into your head? No. It’s not like you’re always thinking about (getting) traded, but if it happens, you’ve got to accept it. What are you going to do? You can’t do nothing. The Twins have got a really, really good season going. They’re trying to chase that ring and they’re going to do whatever is necessary to get it.” His manger in Fort Myers, Toby Gardenhire, agrees. “I don’t think it’s an issue at all,” he said. “The players deal with it the way they deal with it. They don’t really honestly know whether you’re buyers or sellers.” With a smile, Gardenhire added, “These guys haven’t been in pro ball long enough to really realize what that means. So, every year at the trade deadline, they all think they’re going to get traded and it doesn’t happen. “This year’s a little bit different,” he conceded. “The Twins are trying to get guys this year, so we know, as a staff, there’s a chance that some of these guys might get traded. But I don’t really think it affects them as players. I think they just go out there and play the game.” For a young player, getting traded can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’re having to leave the teammates, coaches and development staff you’ve been working and playing with, perhaps, as with Diaz, for your entire professional career. On the other hand, as may also be the case with Diaz, the trade could open up a door to accelerate your opportunity to get to the big leagues. And in the end, that’s the ultimate goal of every minor leaguer. The Diaz trade also brought out mixed emotions for Gardenhire, who managed the first baseman during the first half of the 2019 season. “It’s tough because I really like that kid and he did a really good job. I think he’s got a very bright future,” he said. “But at the same time, I do know that the Twins got a pitcher that they desperately needed. We got some other guys in return. So, it’s a good thing for the organization. “I think for Lewin it’s going to be a good thing, also. He’s got a chance to go over there, he might be in the big leagues by the end of the year. So, it’s tough because I really like the kid and I’m happy for him. But I know he’s got mixed feelings, too, because he liked the organization and he wanted to be around, too. So, it’s tough. “I hope he goes over there and gets plenty of opportunities, which I’m sure he will. When you trade for somebody like that and you trade away a couple of guys, you want to see what you have. Hopefully, (the Marlins) will give him a shot up there and hopefully, he’ll be up there (to the big leagues) this year.” Enlow is also a big fan of his former teammate. “It don’t matter what’s coming, Lewin Diaz is unreal with the bat,” Enlow said. “He’s got incredible hand-eye coordination and he can just put it wherever he wants. Just ridiculous. I’ve seen him put balls, (that I thought) ‘how is that even hittable?’, four hundred feet out. He’s a really gifted hitter and he’s a really good dude. You never want to see one of your teammates go, but I want to see him succeed. Hopefully, it does bring him closer (to the big leagues).” For his part, the 20-year-old Enlow has had the kind of season that is almost certainly being noticed by scouts and GMs across baseball. After opening the season in Cedar Rapids and putting up a 4-3 record in eight starts for the Kernels, Enlow was promoted to Class High-A Fort Myers near the end of May. His first five starts in a Miracle uniform were quality starts. The sixth start, though, was problematic. Enlow took a comebacker off his throwing elbow in the first inning and came out of the game. He returned to the mound for his next start seven days later, but lasted just three innings. He surrendered four earned runs in five innings in his following start and gave up five earned in his most recent start on Friday. He did work a full seven innings Friday, however, facing just the minimum nine batters in the final three innings. Enlow dismissed the suggestion that maybe his elbow has had some residual effect on his mound performances this month. “I think everything’s perfectly fine,” he said. “It hit the elbow, so it was going to hurt. But nothing terrible happened. Michael Helman (Miracle infielder) got hit in the forearm the other day and broke his bone, so I’m just blessed it wasn’t something too serious. I don’t think (the elbow) has affected me. It’s just like, it happens. It’s baseball. You’re going to get hit some days and you’re going to do good (other days). Just got to keep on keeping on.” The right-hander has had some dramatic splits this season in one area. He’s notched a 2.08 ERA and .204 Batting Average Against when he faces right-handed hitters, while lefties have touched him for a .302 BAA and 5.91 ERA. Interestingly, a year ago, he had far more success against left-handers than righties. Asked about the splits, Enlow had an explanation ready “I didn’t really have a curve ball last year, so the righties felt more comfortable,” he explained. “And I had a really good change up last year which had the lefties uncomfortable at the plate. This year I’ve got my curve ball and now I’m just dominating the righties more so. But the lefties, I’ve been leaving a lot of stuff right down the middle and if you make a mistake, they’re going to punish you for it.” Gardenhire, who also managed Enlow in Cedar Rapids in 2018, is in his pitcher’s corner and likes what he’s seen out of him since he joined the Miracle. “He’s made big strides from last year with the way he goes about his business,” the manager said. “He’s still a kid. He’s only 20. So, learning how to be a professional pitcher, I think, has been the most important part for him and he’s definitely getting there. He’s making big strides, big improvements. He’s got good stuff. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to use that and how to be ready to use it all on a day to day basis is his biggest thing. So, like I said, big strides this year.” Now, we all just have to sit back and see if Enlow’s still making those strides as a member of the Twins organization come August 1. Click here to view the article
  4. That means that, for the first time in the professional baseball careers of virtually every Twins minor leaguer, there’s a chance that any one of them could find themselves packing their bags this week and moving on to another organization. Fort Myers Miracle pitcher Blayne Enlow knows the score. “No one is safe,” Enlow said on Sunday. “Not even Royce (Lewis), who is their number one prospect. If he’s not safe, no one’s safe. You can always get traded.” Enlow, the 2017 third round draft choice of the Twins, is the organization’s 12th ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, making him just about as likely to be a name on the lips of GMs talking trades with Twins brass Derek Falvey and Thad Levine this week as any other Twins prospect. Enlow said that he doesn’t feel like the trade possibilities are at the forefront of players’ minds, even as Lewin Diaz, their teammate with the Miracle until a promotion sent him up to Double-A Pensacola a few weeks ago, got the news Saturday night that he had been traded to the Marlins organization in return for reliever Sergio Romo, minor league arm Chris Vallimont and a player to be named later. “It is what it is. You get a lot of relationships and you become close to a lot of guys, but at any moment you could be traded,” he said. “So, do you (let it) get into your head? No. It’s not like you’re always thinking about (getting) traded, but if it happens, you’ve got to accept it. What are you going to do? You can’t do nothing. The Twins have got a really, really good season going. They’re trying to chase that ring and they’re going to do whatever is necessary to get it.” His manger in Fort Myers, Toby Gardenhire, agrees. “I don’t think it’s an issue at all,” he said. “The players deal with it the way they deal with it. They don’t really honestly know whether you’re buyers or sellers.” With a smile, Gardenhire added, “These guys haven’t been in pro ball long enough to really realize what that means. So, every year at the trade deadline, they all think they’re going to get traded and it doesn’t happen. “This year’s a little bit different,” he conceded. “The Twins are trying to get guys this year, so we know, as a staff, there’s a chance that some of these guys might get traded. But I don’t really think it affects them as players. I think they just go out there and play the game.” For a young player, getting traded can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’re having to leave the teammates, coaches and development staff you’ve been working and playing with, perhaps, as with Diaz, for your entire professional career. On the other hand, as may also be the case with Diaz, the trade could open up a door to accelerate your opportunity to get to the big leagues. And in the end, that’s the ultimate goal of every minor leaguer. The Diaz trade also brought out mixed emotions for Gardenhire, who managed the first baseman during the first half of the 2019 season. “It’s tough because I really like that kid and he did a really good job. I think he’s got a very bright future,” he said. “But at the same time, I do know that the Twins got a pitcher that they desperately needed. We got some other guys in return. So, it’s a good thing for the organization. “I think for Lewin it’s going to be a good thing, also. He’s got a chance to go over there, he might be in the big leagues by the end of the year. So, it’s tough because I really like the kid and I’m happy for him. But I know he’s got mixed feelings, too, because he liked the organization and he wanted to be around, too. So, it’s tough. “I hope he goes over there and gets plenty of opportunities, which I’m sure he will. When you trade for somebody like that and you trade away a couple of guys, you want to see what you have. Hopefully, (the Marlins) will give him a shot up there and hopefully, he’ll be up there (to the big leagues) this year.” Enlow is also a big fan of his former teammate. “It don’t matter what’s coming, Lewin Diaz is unreal with the bat,” Enlow said. “He’s got incredible hand-eye coordination and he can just put it wherever he wants. Just ridiculous. I’ve seen him put balls, (that I thought) ‘how is that even hittable?’, four hundred feet out. He’s a really gifted hitter and he’s a really good dude. You never want to see one of your teammates go, but I want to see him succeed. Hopefully, it does bring him closer (to the big leagues).” For his part, the 20-year-old Enlow has had the kind of season that is almost certainly being noticed by scouts and GMs across baseball. After opening the season in Cedar Rapids and putting up a 4-3 record in eight starts for the Kernels, Enlow was promoted to Class High-A Fort Myers near the end of May. His first five starts in a Miracle uniform were quality starts. The sixth start, though, was problematic. Enlow took a comebacker off his throwing elbow in the first inning and came out of the game. He returned to the mound for his next start seven days later, but lasted just three innings. He surrendered four earned runs in five innings in his following start and gave up five earned in his most recent start on Friday. He did work a full seven innings Friday, however, facing just the minimum nine batters in the final three innings. Enlow dismissed the suggestion that maybe his elbow has had some residual effect on his mound performances this month. “I think everything’s perfectly fine,” he said. “It hit the elbow, so it was going to hurt. But nothing terrible happened. Michael Helman (Miracle infielder) got hit in the forearm the other day and broke his bone, so I’m just blessed it wasn’t something too serious. I don’t think (the elbow) has affected me. It’s just like, it happens. It’s baseball. You’re going to get hit some days and you’re going to do good (other days). Just got to keep on keeping on.” The right-hander has had some dramatic splits this season in one area. He’s notched a 2.08 ERA and .204 Batting Average Against when he faces right-handed hitters, while lefties have touched him for a .302 BAA and 5.91 ERA. Interestingly, a year ago, he had far more success against left-handers than righties. Asked about the splits, Enlow had an explanation ready “I didn’t really have a curve ball last year, so the righties felt more comfortable,” he explained. “And I had a really good change up last year which had the lefties uncomfortable at the plate. This year I’ve got my curve ball and now I’m just dominating the righties more so. But the lefties, I’ve been leaving a lot of stuff right down the middle and if you make a mistake, they’re going to punish you for it.” Gardenhire, who also managed Enlow in Cedar Rapids in 2018, is in his pitcher’s corner and likes what he’s seen out of him since he joined the Miracle. “He’s made big strides from last year with the way he goes about his business,” the manager said. “He’s still a kid. He’s only 20. So, learning how to be a professional pitcher, I think, has been the most important part for him and he’s definitely getting there. He’s making big strides, big improvements. He’s got good stuff. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to use that and how to be ready to use it all on a day to day basis is his biggest thing. So, like I said, big strides this year.” Now, we all just have to sit back and see if Enlow’s still making those strides as a member of the Twins organization come August 1.
  5. Even with a roster about half full of organizational top prospects at his disposal, it’s pretty easy for the manager to pencil in two first-round draft picks sandwiched around a top-10 international signing in those top three spots in the batting order. Royce Lewis, baseball’s first overall draft pick in 2017 generally leads off for Gardenhire’s club, followed by Lewin Diaz, who was MLB.com’s tenth-ranked international prospect in 2013 when he signed with the Twins as a 16-year-old. The third spot in the order is most often anchored by 2018 first round pick Trevor Larnach. That’s over $10 million worth of talent if you measure that sort of thing by the size of their signing bonuses. Of course, that’s not how you measure baseball talent once the players have to suit up and perform on the field, but all three of these players have shown why Twins fans have good reason to feel confident that, down the road, they’ll eventually fit very nicely onto a Twins roster seemingly poised to open an extended window of competitiveness among the American League’s top teams. Lewin Diaz Lewin Diaz had four hits for the Miracle on Opening Day and hasn’t looked back. He hit in April. He hit in May. He’s hitting in June. Heading into a scheduled double-header with Tampa on Tuesday evening, he leads the Florida State League in slugging percentage (.557) and OPS (.903). His 13 home runs rank him second in the league in that category. No player among the top 20 home run hitters in the FSL has fewer strikeouts than Diaz. “He’s been probably the best hitter in the league,” Gardenhire said. Already this season, Diaz has set a couple of Miracle franchise power records. On May 16, he became the first Miracle hitter to swat three home runs in a game. He also set a franchise record for home runs in a month. His ten dingers left former co-leaders Miguel Sano and Matt LeCroy one behind him in the record books. From a guy who saw his OPS drop below the .600 mark by the end of the 2018 season, that’s a remarkable turn-around. You could almost say he’s a whole new man. In fact, if you saw Diaz play last year in Fort Myers or even the season before in Cedar Rapids, you couldn’t be faulted for not recognizing him this season. The change hasn’t just been statistical, it’s physical as well. “I have like 25 less pounds,” he said, with a smile, in an interview last week. “I just ate good food. Go work out.” Described by one scouting service in 2013 as a “thickly built outfielder,” Diaz now looks absolutely svelte in uniform, but he’s lost none of his strength. Through teammate/interpreter Hector Lujan, Diaz explained why he undertook the physical transformation. Diaz said he, “just wanted to take the road of the new program. Try something different. See if it would work out for me. I feel it was the right choice for me. I feel a lot better. I move a lot better, feel stronger.” Diaz said he told himself, “If I’m going to lose weight, I’ve got to keep my power, so I started lifting more weight, getting stronger because then you’ve got to substitute more strength for less weight. It’s working out for me.” Diaz said he started the program during the offseason in his native Dominican Republic, then, in January, came back to Fort Myers and, “worked on it some more.” While in the DR, Diaz said he, "worked on getting strength and not really focusing on losing weight.” Once he got to Florida, he began his new program and, “continued losing weight and building more power. Coming here was a way easier transition because the food here that they provide for us is very healthy.” So, no McDonalds? “No, no McDonalds!” Diaz also has made some perhaps subtle changes to his hitting approach. Previously, Diaz said, he would, “always just tell myself, ‘I want to hit the ball up the middle hard.’” Now he focuses on, “wherever the ball is pitched, that’s where I want to hit it hard, whether it’s left field, center or right field. I don’t just want to focus on one certain area of driving the ball. I want to be able to drive it everywhere.” “Lewin’s doing a really good job,” Gardenhire said of Diaz. “He had a tough year last year, he had some injuries. It’s really good to see him come out this year and do the things he’s doing. He’s got a ton more confidence and he’s swinging the bat great. “He’s very strong. You know he broke his wrist last year. When you break your wrist, you lose a lot of strength. You can’t do anything with your upper half. And he’s starting to gain that back a lot now. You can see how strong he is by how hard he hits the ball. It’s been pretty impressive to watch. I’m really happy for that kid.” Trevor Larnach With the Major League draft just completed a week ago, it’s worthwhile to take note of the performance the Miracle are getting out of last year’s first round selection. The Twins drafted college outfielder Trevor Larnach and, after signing, he split the rest of the summer between rookie level Elizabethton and Class A Cedar Rapids, hitting .303 combined between the two levels while hitting 13 doubles and five home runs. Larnach got off to a bit of a slow start in April this season with the Miracle, but he’s more than made up for it with his performance in May and June. He’s leading the FSL in hitting at .308, sits third in on-base percentage (.381) and third in OPS (.855). He also has a league-leading 20 doubles to go with five home runs. Larnach is, “just continuing to rake,” his manager said. “He’s very smart and he knows his swing really well. “Going into the year, I kind of questioned whether he was going to be able to make adjustments because that’s always one of the biggest things. He can hit. You saw him hit in college. But in pro ball, you have to learn and you have to make adjustments as you go because (opponents) make adjustments on you. “So, I knew they were going to make adjustments against him and he’s really done a good job of being able to make the adjustments that he needs to make to be able to hit pitchers that are making adjustments against him. That takes a special hitter to do it and he’s really been able to prove that he’s a special guy. “With all the preparation, all the video, all the scouting that we have here, I mean we know everything about everybody now. To be able to go up there and hit when they know all your weaknesses and they know exactly how they’re planning to attack you, it’s hard and it takes a good hitter. And Larnach really knows how to (make) adjustments. He knows what they’re trying to do to him and he works on how he’s going to battle that. He’s pretty good.” Larnach acknowledged that he got off to a bit of a slow start in April and had to adjust some, but says he’s a, “process guy,” and had confidence in his process. “Yeah, my first month here, I was hitting the ball hard almost every game and some of it just didn’t seem to fall,” he said. “That’s just part of it. Baseball is all mental, really. Ninety per cent mental and ten per cent physical and in the back of my mind, I know that if I’m hitting the ball hard and I’m getting out, then they’ll come. You’ve just got to stick with it and you can’t get too down and you can’t get too up.” Larnach talked about how goes about making adjustments, when necessary. “I think, for me, personally, video has always been my go-to. That shows everything that the pitcher’s doing, it shows what he’s missing. Yeah, in statistics and analytics, you have spin rate and how much the pitch moves and all that stuff, but video is showing what he’s been doing. “Video shows what the hitter’s been doing mechanically, all that kind of stuff. So that’s been one of my favorite things, is looking at video.” Drafted just a year ago out after an NCAA National Championship run at Oregon State, memories of that draft day remain fresh in Larnach’s mind. “Yeah, I remember I was nervous. I remember I was just really anxious to get picked,” he recalled. “I’ve worked my tail off my whole life and my parents have done that even more so for me. It’s kind of a really big deal for you and your life. It’s a changing stage and a new chapter. Everything that you’ve done pays off and now you have another step to go through. “I was talking to all my college teammates and wishing them the best and congratulating them and all that, so I was happy for everyone that got picked and hopefully I’d see them at some point in the minors.” Asked if there was any advice he’d like to go back in time a year to give himself on that day, Larnach paused briefly in thought before responding. “I’m not sure it would be draft day because that’s kind of its own kind of category. That’s a day for celebration. But, when I was in college, yeah, there’s a lot I would say to myself. But those are the times that I’ve learned and have gotten me to the point where I am today. “Take that into account sometimes, you see young guys in the system with you. You know, Royce is younger, Jose (Miranda) and there’s plenty of guys that are younger. You kind of just want to let them know that, hey, you’ve got 400 at bats, you don’t need to get too down on yourself, because there’s going to be 300 more coming. “Just stuff like that. Helping mindset and mechanically and just little stuff. I don’t want to just look at myself and be ‘I wish I had told myself this.’ I want to kind of spread what I’ve learned to other guys, too.” Royce Lewis You need to look a little further down the leader boards to find Royce Lewis’ name in most offensive categories this year than has been the case in the past. The 2017 first-overall draft pick is hitting just .221 with an OPS hovering just over the .600 mark. You’ll find his name among the top ten in the Florida State League in doubles (13) and stolen bases (11 in 16 attempts), but this is a young player who has been accustomed to seeing hitting-related numbers much higher than he’s sporting currently. His manager isn’t concerned about the numbers. He’s seeing progress in Lewis’ development and that’s the important thing, in particular for a player who just turned 20 years old earlier this month. “Yeah, he’s doing a good job,” Gardenhire said, almost chuckling at the question concerning Lewis’ performance to-date. “You know, he’s a kid. He’s young, he’s still learning. He was only in high school two years ago. This is a league with a lot of older guys and it’s tough. It’s not an easy league, so Royce is trying to figure some things out with his swing. He’s figuring a lot of things out defensively. He’s doing a good job with everything he’s doing. “I don’t have any thoughts in my mind that Royce isn’t going to be a big leaguer someday. He’s going to be a big leaguer. He’s got all the tools. It’s just a matter of figuring it out. Everyone figures it out at a different pace.” The discussion turned to a play at shortstop that Lewis made a couple of nights earlier, laying all the way out to snag a sharp ground ball up the middle, then popping up and throwing a strike to Diaz at first base. “He does things that other people can’t do out there,” the manager said. “When you have guys that can do that, it’s pretty special. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun for me to just see him improve and keep getting better and better because you know someday, you’re going to see him on TV and he’s going to be doing those things in front of everybody.” For his part, Lewis doesn’t come across concerned, either, that he’s not hitting the way that his performance over the first two years of his professional career have conditioned fans to expect. He’s never going to hit .425, after all. “If I could hit .425, that would be a miracle,” Lewis said, with the smile that seemingly never leaves his face when you’re talking baseball with him. “I’m just happy to be on the Miracle team and on a winning team and making that playoff push early in the first half. It’s different than a full year (pennant race), you’ve got first half and second half. We might be able to win and make a playoff push for that first half spot already.” Watching him hit for a week, it did appear he was squaring up a lot of balls that just weren’t all falling in for hits. He and his teammates (not to mention opposing batters) had a lot of balls seeming to come up just short of the Hammond Stadium outfield wall. “It’s like that every day, pretty much,” he concurred. “Every day we’re sitting there saying either someone on the opposing team or on our team hit a ball to the track where most likely it’s a home run anywhere else. At the same time, you learn to hit here. “I think it’s just a tough league. A lot of our guys, we’ve been barreling the ball up as a team. You know, we’ve got a lot of good hitters on this team, so it’s fun to be a part of this lineup. As long as we’re always consistently barreling the ball up, that’s what turns into wins.” As with his manager, Lewis feels he’s making the progress developmentally he needs to be focusing on. “Yeah, it’s a long minor league career. You don’t expect to go straight to the big leagues out of high school or out of college. When that happens, it’s pretty spectacular and you hear a lot about it because it’s so rare. So, to me, it’s just a long process. Just the whole compound effect of each and every day I put in the grind and the work is going to end up making me a better player.” Lewis received a non-roster invitation to participate in the Twins’ big league spring training before this season and is enjoying watching the parent club’s success this year. He also feels some of that Twins chemistry is rubbing off on the minor league teams. “For sure. I mean every year the goal is to win, and to see them winning and having fun up there is really cool. To me, it all started in spring training, the chemistry they all started to grow. Being lucky enough to be in the dugout and watch that was pretty special. And I feel like for all of us minor leaguers that were in the dugout and participated and were watching that, being a part of that, we brought that to all of our teams and as you can see in the minor leagues, we’re all pretty much doing good and at the top of our divisions.” Miracle Notes: (Note that stats were before playing on Tuesday, June 11) Beyond Diaz, Larnach and Lewis, there’s no shortage of star-level performances happening with the Miracle this season, offensively and on the mound. Not surprisingly, the Miracle have outpaced the league in home runs, with 51 on the season. They also have the top slugging percentage (.383) and sit third in OPS as a team (.696). Catcher Ryan Jeffers is sporting a .782 OPS with nine doubles and six home runs. Aaron Whitefield’s 19 stolen bases is good enough for the second spot on the Florida State League leaderboard in that category. On the pitching side of the ledger, the team ERA of 3.03 is second best in the FSL, they have the best WHIP (1.17) and the second highest number of strikeouts (588), averaging 1.07 Ks per inning, as a staff. The back of the Miracle bullpen has been virtually lights-out: Alex Phillips has put up a 0.34 ERA in 15 appearances covering 26 1/3 innings, striking out 36 and walking seven. His WHIP is just 0.65. Phillips has allowed earned runs in just three of his 15 appearances. Hector Lujan has a 2.04 ERA in 20 relief appearances over 39 2/3 innings. He’s K’d 35 and walked seven while posting a 0.96 WHIP. He allowed earned runs in four of his 20 appearances, including a string of 12 straight games without an ER that was snapped on June 5. There’s been plenty of talent on display in the Miracle rotation, as well. Jordan Balazovic is 4-0 and has a 2.03 ERA over six starts since his promotion, striking out 42 and walking 6 in 31 innings. Blayne Enlow’s record in his three starts since being promoted is 2-1, while posting a 1.50 ERA over 18 innings. He’s struck out 13 and walked four. Edwar Colina started the season on the Injured List and has made just six starts for the Miracle. The last five, however, have been of the Quality Start variety, holding opponents to three or fewer earned runs and completing at least six innings on the mound. The workhorses of the rotation this season have been Tyler Watson and Jhoan Duran, who have ten starts each and have thrown 56 and 49 1/3 innings, respectively. Duran struggled some in early to mid May, but is now working on a three-start Quality Start streak which began on May 26 with a 14 K/2 BB effort.
  6. “Triple-L,” “Give ‘em HeLLL,” however you want to say it, “Lewis, Lewin and Larnach” is all Fort Myers Miracle manager Toby Gardenhire has to remember when it comes to filling out the top of his lineup card as his team makes a drive to lock up a postseason spot by winning the South Division of the Florida State League this week.Even with a roster about half full of organizational top prospects at his disposal, it’s pretty easy for the manager to pencil in two first-round draft picks sandwiched around a top-10 international signing in those top three spots in the batting order. Royce Lewis, baseball’s first overall draft pick in 2017 generally leads off for Gardenhire’s club, followed by Lewin Diaz, who was MLB.com’s tenth-ranked international prospect in 2013 when he signed with the Twins as a 16-year-old. The third spot in the order is most often anchored by 2018 first round pick Trevor Larnach. That’s over $10 million worth of talent if you measure that sort of thing by the size of their signing bonuses. Of course, that’s not how you measure baseball talent once the players have to suit up and perform on the field, but all three of these players have shown why Twins fans have good reason to feel confident that, down the road, they’ll eventually fit very nicely onto a Twins roster seemingly poised to open an extended window of competitiveness among the American League’s top teams. Lewin Diaz Lewin Diaz had four hits for the Miracle on Opening Day and hasn’t looked back. He hit in April. He hit in May. He’s hitting in June. Heading into a scheduled double-header with Tampa on Tuesday evening, he leads the Florida State League in slugging percentage (.557) and OPS (.903). His 13 home runs rank him second in the league in that category. No player among the top 20 home run hitters in the FSL has fewer strikeouts than Diaz. “He’s been probably the best hitter in the league,” Gardenhire said. Already this season, Diaz has set a couple of Miracle franchise power records. On May 16, he became the first Miracle hitter to swat three home runs in a game. He also set a franchise record for home runs in a month. His ten dingers left former co-leaders Miguel Sano and Matt LeCroy one behind him in the record books. From a guy who saw his OPS drop below the .600 mark by the end of the 2018 season, that’s a remarkable turn-around. You could almost say he’s a whole new man. In fact, if you saw Diaz play last year in Fort Myers or even the season before in Cedar Rapids, you couldn’t be faulted for not recognizing him this season. The change hasn’t just been statistical, it’s physical as well. “I have like 25 less pounds,” he said, with a smile, in an interview last week. “I just ate good food. Go work out.” Described by one scouting service in 2013 as a “thickly built outfielder,” Diaz now looks absolutely svelte in uniform, but he’s lost none of his strength. Through teammate/interpreter Hector Lujan, Diaz explained why he undertook the physical transformation. Diaz said he, “just wanted to take the road of the new program. Try something different. See if it would work out for me. I feel it was the right choice for me. I feel a lot better. I move a lot better, feel stronger.” Diaz said he told himself, “If I’m going to lose weight, I’ve got to keep my power, so I started lifting more weight, getting stronger because then you’ve got to substitute more strength for less weight. It’s working out for me.” Diaz said he started the program during the offseason in his native Dominican Republic, then, in January, came back to Fort Myers and, “worked on it some more.” While in the DR, Diaz said he, "worked on getting strength and not really focusing on losing weight.” Once he got to Florida, he began his new program and, “continued losing weight and building more power. Coming here was a way easier transition because the food here that they provide for us is very healthy.” So, no McDonalds? “No, no McDonalds!” Diaz also has made some perhaps subtle changes to his hitting approach. Previously, Diaz said, he would, “always just tell myself, ‘I want to hit the ball up the middle hard.’” Now he focuses on, “wherever the ball is pitched, that’s where I want to hit it hard, whether it’s left field, center or right field. I don’t just want to focus on one certain area of driving the ball. I want to be able to drive it everywhere.” “Lewin’s doing a really good job,” Gardenhire said of Diaz. “He had a tough year last year, he had some injuries. It’s really good to see him come out this year and do the things he’s doing. He’s got a ton more confidence and he’s swinging the bat great. “He’s very strong. You know he broke his wrist last year. When you break your wrist, you lose a lot of strength. You can’t do anything with your upper half. And he’s starting to gain that back a lot now. You can see how strong he is by how hard he hits the ball. It’s been pretty impressive to watch. I’m really happy for that kid.” Trevor Larnach With the Major League draft just completed a week ago, it’s worthwhile to take note of the performance the Miracle are getting out of last year’s first round selection. The Twins drafted college outfielder Trevor Larnach and, after signing, he split the rest of the summer between rookie level Elizabethton and Class A Cedar Rapids, hitting .303 combined between the two levels while hitting 13 doubles and five home runs. Larnach got off to a bit of a slow start in April this season with the Miracle, but he’s more than made up for it with his performance in May and June. He’s leading the FSL in hitting at .308, sits third in on-base percentage (.381) and third in OPS (.855). He also has a league-leading 20 doubles to go with five home runs. Larnach is, “just continuing to rake,” his manager said. “He’s very smart and he knows his swing really well. “Going into the year, I kind of questioned whether he was going to be able to make adjustments because that’s always one of the biggest things. He can hit. You saw him hit in college. But in pro ball, you have to learn and you have to make adjustments as you go because (opponents) make adjustments on you. “So, I knew they were going to make adjustments against him and he’s really done a good job of being able to make the adjustments that he needs to make to be able to hit pitchers that are making adjustments against him. That takes a special hitter to do it and he’s really been able to prove that he’s a special guy. “With all the preparation, all the video, all the scouting that we have here, I mean we know everything about everybody now. To be able to go up there and hit when they know all your weaknesses and they know exactly how they’re planning to attack you, it’s hard and it takes a good hitter. And Larnach really knows how to (make) adjustments. He knows what they’re trying to do to him and he works on how he’s going to battle that. He’s pretty good.” Larnach acknowledged that he got off to a bit of a slow start in April and had to adjust some, but says he’s a, “process guy,” and had confidence in his process. “Yeah, my first month here, I was hitting the ball hard almost every game and some of it just didn’t seem to fall,” he said. “That’s just part of it. Baseball is all mental, really. Ninety per cent mental and ten per cent physical and in the back of my mind, I know that if I’m hitting the ball hard and I’m getting out, then they’ll come. You’ve just got to stick with it and you can’t get too down and you can’t get too up.” Larnach talked about how goes about making adjustments, when necessary. “I think, for me, personally, video has always been my go-to. That shows everything that the pitcher’s doing, it shows what he’s missing. Yeah, in statistics and analytics, you have spin rate and how much the pitch moves and all that stuff, but video is showing what he’s been doing. “Video shows what the hitter’s been doing mechanically, all that kind of stuff. So that’s been one of my favorite things, is looking at video.” Drafted just a year ago out after an NCAA National Championship run at Oregon State, memories of that draft day remain fresh in Larnach’s mind. “Yeah, I remember I was nervous. I remember I was just really anxious to get picked,” he recalled. “I’ve worked my tail off my whole life and my parents have done that even more so for me. It’s kind of a really big deal for you and your life. It’s a changing stage and a new chapter. Everything that you’ve done pays off and now you have another step to go through. “I was talking to all my college teammates and wishing them the best and congratulating them and all that, so I was happy for everyone that got picked and hopefully I’d see them at some point in the minors.” Asked if there was any advice he’d like to go back in time a year to give himself on that day, Larnach paused briefly in thought before responding. “I’m not sure it would be draft day because that’s kind of its own kind of category. That’s a day for celebration. But, when I was in college, yeah, there’s a lot I would say to myself. But those are the times that I’ve learned and have gotten me to the point where I am today. “Take that into account sometimes, you see young guys in the system with you. You know, Royce is younger, Jose (Miranda) and there’s plenty of guys that are younger. You kind of just want to let them know that, hey, you’ve got 400 at bats, you don’t need to get too down on yourself, because there’s going to be 300 more coming. “Just stuff like that. Helping mindset and mechanically and just little stuff. I don’t want to just look at myself and be ‘I wish I had told myself this.’ I want to kind of spread what I’ve learned to other guys, too.” Royce Lewis You need to look a little further down the leader boards to find Royce Lewis’ name in most offensive categories this year than has been the case in the past. The 2017 first-overall draft pick is hitting just .221 with an OPS hovering just over the .600 mark. You’ll find his name among the top ten in the Florida State League in doubles (13) and stolen bases (11 in 16 attempts), but this is a young player who has been accustomed to seeing hitting-related numbers much higher than he’s sporting currently. His manager isn’t concerned about the numbers. He’s seeing progress in Lewis’ development and that’s the important thing, in particular for a player who just turned 20 years old earlier this month. “Yeah, he’s doing a good job,” Gardenhire said, almost chuckling at the question concerning Lewis’ performance to-date. “You know, he’s a kid. He’s young, he’s still learning. He was only in high school two years ago. This is a league with a lot of older guys and it’s tough. It’s not an easy league, so Royce is trying to figure some things out with his swing. He’s figuring a lot of things out defensively. He’s doing a good job with everything he’s doing. “I don’t have any thoughts in my mind that Royce isn’t going to be a big leaguer someday. He’s going to be a big leaguer. He’s got all the tools. It’s just a matter of figuring it out. Everyone figures it out at a different pace.” The discussion turned to a play at shortstop that Lewis made a couple of nights earlier, laying all the way out to snag a sharp ground ball up the middle, then popping up and throwing a strike to Diaz at first base. “He does things that other people can’t do out there,” the manager said. “When you have guys that can do that, it’s pretty special. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun for me to just see him improve and keep getting better and better because you know someday, you’re going to see him on TV and he’s going to be doing those things in front of everybody.” For his part, Lewis doesn’t come across concerned, either, that he’s not hitting the way that his performance over the first two years of his professional career have conditioned fans to expect. He’s never going to hit .425, after all. “If I could hit .425, that would be a miracle,” Lewis said, with the smile that seemingly never leaves his face when you’re talking baseball with him. “I’m just happy to be on the Miracle team and on a winning team and making that playoff push early in the first half. It’s different than a full year (pennant race), you’ve got first half and second half. We might be able to win and make a playoff push for that first half spot already.” Watching him hit for a week, it did appear he was squaring up a lot of balls that just weren’t all falling in for hits. He and his teammates (not to mention opposing batters) had a lot of balls seeming to come up just short of the Hammond Stadium outfield wall. “It’s like that every day, pretty much,” he concurred. “Every day we’re sitting there saying either someone on the opposing team or on our team hit a ball to the track where most likely it’s a home run anywhere else. At the same time, you learn to hit here. “I think it’s just a tough league. A lot of our guys, we’ve been barreling the ball up as a team. You know, we’ve got a lot of good hitters on this team, so it’s fun to be a part of this lineup. As long as we’re always consistently barreling the ball up, that’s what turns into wins.” As with his manager, Lewis feels he’s making the progress developmentally he needs to be focusing on. “Yeah, it’s a long minor league career. You don’t expect to go straight to the big leagues out of high school or out of college. When that happens, it’s pretty spectacular and you hear a lot about it because it’s so rare. So, to me, it’s just a long process. Just the whole compound effect of each and every day I put in the grind and the work is going to end up making me a better player.” Lewis received a non-roster invitation to participate in the Twins’ big league spring training before this season and is enjoying watching the parent club’s success this year. He also feels some of that Twins chemistry is rubbing off on the minor league teams. “For sure. I mean every year the goal is to win, and to see them winning and having fun up there is really cool. To me, it all started in spring training, the chemistry they all started to grow. Being lucky enough to be in the dugout and watch that was pretty special. And I feel like for all of us minor leaguers that were in the dugout and participated and were watching that, being a part of that, we brought that to all of our teams and as you can see in the minor leagues, we’re all pretty much doing good and at the top of our divisions.” Miracle Notes: (Note that stats were before playing on Tuesday, June 11) Beyond Diaz, Larnach and Lewis, there’s no shortage of star-level performances happening with the Miracle this season, offensively and on the mound. Not surprisingly, the Miracle have outpaced the league in home runs, with 51 on the season. They also have the top slugging percentage (.383) and sit third in OPS as a team (.696). Catcher Ryan Jeffers is sporting a .782 OPS with nine doubles and six home runs. Aaron Whitefield’s 19 stolen bases is good enough for the second spot on the Florida State League leaderboard in that category. On the pitching side of the ledger, the team ERA of 3.03 is second best in the FSL, they have the best WHIP (1.17) and the second highest number of strikeouts (588), averaging 1.07 Ks per inning, as a staff. The back of the Miracle bullpen has been virtually lights-out: Alex Phillips has put up a 0.34 ERA in 15 appearances covering 26 1/3 innings, striking out 36 and walking seven. His WHIP is just 0.65. Phillips has allowed earned runs in just three of his 15 appearances. Hector Lujan has a 2.04 ERA in 20 relief appearances over 39 2/3 innings. He’s K’d 35 and walked seven while posting a 0.96 WHIP. He allowed earned runs in four of his 20 appearances, including a string of 12 straight games without an ER that was snapped on June 5. There’s been plenty of talent on display in the Miracle rotation, as well. Jordan Balazovic is 4-0 and has a 2.03 ERA over six starts since his promotion, striking out 42 and walking 6 in 31 innings. Blayne Enlow’s record in his three starts since being promoted is 2-1, while posting a 1.50 ERA over 18 innings. He’s struck out 13 and walked four. Edwar Colina started the season on the Injured List and has made just six starts for the Miracle. The last five, however, have been of the Quality Start variety, holding opponents to three or fewer earned runs and completing at least six innings on the mound. The workhorses of the rotation this season have been Tyler Watson and Jhoan Duran, who have ten starts each and have thrown 56 and 49 1/3 innings, respectively. Duran struggled some in early to mid May, but is now working on a three-start Quality Start streak which began on May 26 with a 14 K/2 BB effort. Click here to view the article
  7. When you look through this summer’s Fort Myers Miracle roster, you can see it’s packed with several of the Minnesota Twins’ top prospects. At least ten players were selected within the top five rounds of the annual MLB amateur entry draft and others were international players that garnered hefty signing bonuses. Eight players among MLB.com’s pre-season top 30 Twins prospects are currently toiling in the Florida heat for the Miracle and another is currently on the Fort Myers Injured List.One name you won’t find on many list of high round picks or consensus top-ranked prospects is Hector Lujan. You would have to go to some kind of top “performers” list to find Lujan and, when you do, you’re likely to find the relief pitcher’s name near the top of that list. Lujan got off to a sluggish start this season, surrendering six runs, all earned, in his first five appearances out of the Miracle bullpen, covering 12 2/3 innings from opening day through April 22. Over the six-plus weeks that followed, however, Lujan threw 22 innings during 12 appearances without giving up another earned run, while notching a 28/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His performance earned him Twins Daily’s Relief Pitcher of the Month award for May. The Corona, California, native was selected by the Twins with their 35th round pick in the 2015 draft out of Westmont College, just three rounds after the Twins selected his college teammate, Andrew Vasquez with their 32nd round pick. As you can imagine, the draft week experience for Lujan was perhaps somewhat different than it was for those Miracle teammates that were selected among the top few rounds of the draft. Lujan knew he’d be waiting until the final day of the draft to learn his fate. “I remember getting a text (early) in the morning,” he recalled in an interview last week. “My scout texted me, ‘you ready for this?’ I was like, ‘whatever opportunity you give me, I’m ready.’ Right then and there, I woke up. It was like 5:45 in the morning. I’d just gotten the text and I woke up. I just couldn’t go back to sleep. I woke up, my hands were sweating the entire day. “Rounds were going through, they hit 20, I decided to go for a drive, try to relax. I could see all the names of my buddies going and I was getting excited. Then I decided to come back home, it was like the 30th round. I sat down, relaxed, and then I saw Vasquez go. Texted him and as soon as I texted him, I got a message from him saying ‘thank you,’ and right then I looked at my phone again and my scout’s saying, ‘hey, we took you in the 35th round. Welcome to the Twins.’ “Right then and there, I just jumped up, almost hit the ceiling fan. My parents were excited, so it was an awesome moment.” The 35th round. And the right-hander wears the number 35 on the back of his Fort Myers jersey. Just a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Being selected with just five rounds remaining in the 40-round draft could make you question your chances of professional success on the field, but that wasn’t Lujan’s mindset. “Honestly, at the time for me, it was just like, you know what? I’m excited whether I was the very last pick or the very first pick, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just wanted an opportunity to play. Just, you know what, I’m going to make the most out of it. However long my career is, whether it’s five, ten, twenty years. It was just an exciting moment. I was like, I’ve got to take advantage of it as best I can.” After moderate success with the Twins’ rookie league teams in his draft year and 2016, Lujan appeared to find his stride at Cedar Rapids in 2017 where he notched a 1.33 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 42 appearances, all in relief, and converted 17 of 19 save opportunities for the Kernels. His results weren’t as strong a year ago in his first season at class High-A in Fort Myers, but he did finish the campaign with a very strong August, striking out 16 and walking only two batters in 12 1/3 innings of work. His WHIP that month was a stingy 0.63 and batters hit just .133 against him. The six-plus week of near perfection beginning in late April this spring came to a crashing end on June 5 when the Florida Fire Frogs touched him up for three runs on six hits in two innings of work. After that hiccup, Lujan was philosophical about things. “I try to just take the positives and negatives and kind of just flush it after,” he said the next day. “Then the next day, just carry on. There’s plenty more outings for me.” What does a pitcher think about when he’s out there experiencing that kind of outing after several weeks of nothing but success? “When I was out there, I felt like I was making good pitches and the results just weren’t going my way,” he said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘hey you know what, you got yourself into this mess, you can keep getting yourself out.’ “Sometimes, my thing, I go out there and try to get everybody out. Put up zeros and help our team win. Everybody has those outings where things aren’t just falling your way. Whether it’s a bloop hit, if you’re getting hit, if you’re walking guys, not getting calls. I just kept telling myself, ‘you know what? It is what it is. Let’s go, keep attacking the zone. Make the guy put the ball in play and get some outs.’ I’ve got my defense behind me; I’m just going to keep letting them work and make good pitches and let the rest play out.” And when it’s all played out? “You’ve just got to flush it and once the inning’s over, ‘right, that happened,’ and just focus on your next inning.” That poise has been noticed by manager Toby Gardenhire. “That’s part of growing up as a pitcher. Part of growing up as a player, in general,” Gardenhire noted. “Lujan’s done a really good job with that, where he doesn’t let things affect him that much. He’s got a really good split-change thing that he’s throwing right now. Has a good breaking ball. He attacks hitters. He doesn’t get flustered out there. He’s got a lot of things that you want in a reliever. He’s doing really good.” Lujan’s next inning came three nights later against Jupiter, when he hung a zero on the board in his inning of work to preserve a 4-2 win for his club and tally his fifth save of the season. Heading into the final series of the first half of the Florida State League season, the Miracle owned a slim one-game lead in the South Division standings and Lujan sounded like he’s enjoying the playoff race with his teammates. “Overall yeah, Awesome teammates, the team chemistry right now is fantastic. We’re lucky enough to be in a playoff race, to clinch the first half. I wouldn’t want any other guys behind me, so it’s pretty awesome.” Manager Toby Gardenhire OK’d Lujan hitting ground balls to infielders during batting practice. “He always comes out and hits fungos. He doesn’t want to shag out in the outfield with the outfielders, so I said, ‘whatever you want to do, just don’t get hurt.’” Click here to view the article
  8. One name you won’t find on many list of high round picks or consensus top-ranked prospects is Hector Lujan. You would have to go to some kind of top “performers” list to find Lujan and, when you do, you’re likely to find the relief pitcher’s name near the top of that list. Lujan got off to a sluggish start this season, surrendering six runs, all earned, in his first five appearances out of the Miracle bullpen, covering 12 2/3 innings from opening day through April 22. Over the six-plus weeks that followed, however, Lujan threw 22 innings during 12 appearances without giving up another earned run, while notching a 28/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His performance earned him Twins Daily’s Relief Pitcher of the Month award for May. The Corona, California, native was selected by the Twins with their 35th round pick in the 2015 draft out of Westmont College, just three rounds after the Twins selected his college teammate, Andrew Vasquez with their 32nd round pick. As you can imagine, the draft week experience for Lujan was perhaps somewhat different than it was for those Miracle teammates that were selected among the top few rounds of the draft. Lujan knew he’d be waiting until the final day of the draft to learn his fate. “I remember getting a text (early) in the morning,” he recalled in an interview last week. “My scout texted me, ‘you ready for this?’ I was like, ‘whatever opportunity you give me, I’m ready.’ Right then and there, I woke up. It was like 5:45 in the morning. I’d just gotten the text and I woke up. I just couldn’t go back to sleep. I woke up, my hands were sweating the entire day. “Rounds were going through, they hit 20, I decided to go for a drive, try to relax. I could see all the names of my buddies going and I was getting excited. Then I decided to come back home, it was like the 30th round. I sat down, relaxed, and then I saw Vasquez go. Texted him and as soon as I texted him, I got a message from him saying ‘thank you,’ and right then I looked at my phone again and my scout’s saying, ‘hey, we took you in the 35th round. Welcome to the Twins.’ “Right then and there, I just jumped up, almost hit the ceiling fan. My parents were excited, so it was an awesome moment.” The 35th round. And the right-hander wears the number 35 on the back of his Fort Myers jersey. Just a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. Being selected with just five rounds remaining in the 40-round draft could make you question your chances of professional success on the field, but that wasn’t Lujan’s mindset. “Honestly, at the time for me, it was just like, you know what? I’m excited whether I was the very last pick or the very first pick, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just wanted an opportunity to play. Just, you know what, I’m going to make the most out of it. However long my career is, whether it’s five, ten, twenty years. It was just an exciting moment. I was like, I’ve got to take advantage of it as best I can.” After moderate success with the Twins’ rookie league teams in his draft year and 2016, Lujan appeared to find his stride at Cedar Rapids in 2017 where he notched a 1.33 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 42 appearances, all in relief, and converted 17 of 19 save opportunities for the Kernels. His results weren’t as strong a year ago in his first season at class High-A in Fort Myers, but he did finish the campaign with a very strong August, striking out 16 and walking only two batters in 12 1/3 innings of work. His WHIP that month was a stingy 0.63 and batters hit just .133 against him. The six-plus week of near perfection beginning in late April this spring came to a crashing end on June 5 when the Florida Fire Frogs touched him up for three runs on six hits in two innings of work. After that hiccup, Lujan was philosophical about things. “I try to just take the positives and negatives and kind of just flush it after,” he said the next day. “Then the next day, just carry on. There’s plenty more outings for me.” What does a pitcher think about when he’s out there experiencing that kind of outing after several weeks of nothing but success? “When I was out there, I felt like I was making good pitches and the results just weren’t going my way,” he said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘hey you know what, you got yourself into this mess, you can keep getting yourself out.’ “Sometimes, my thing, I go out there and try to get everybody out. Put up zeros and help our team win. Everybody has those outings where things aren’t just falling your way. Whether it’s a bloop hit, if you’re getting hit, if you’re walking guys, not getting calls. I just kept telling myself, ‘you know what? It is what it is. Let’s go, keep attacking the zone. Make the guy put the ball in play and get some outs.’ I’ve got my defense behind me; I’m just going to keep letting them work and make good pitches and let the rest play out.” And when it’s all played out? “You’ve just got to flush it and once the inning’s over, ‘right, that happened,’ and just focus on your next inning.” That poise has been noticed by manager Toby Gardenhire. “That’s part of growing up as a pitcher. Part of growing up as a player, in general,” Gardenhire noted. “Lujan’s done a really good job with that, where he doesn’t let things affect him that much. He’s got a really good split-change thing that he’s throwing right now. Has a good breaking ball. He attacks hitters. He doesn’t get flustered out there. He’s got a lot of things that you want in a reliever. He’s doing really good.” Lujan’s next inning came three nights later against Jupiter, when he hung a zero on the board in his inning of work to preserve a 4-2 win for his club and tally his fifth save of the season. Heading into the final series of the first half of the Florida State League season, the Miracle owned a slim one-game lead in the South Division standings and Lujan sounded like he’s enjoying the playoff race with his teammates. “Overall yeah, Awesome teammates, the team chemistry right now is fantastic. We’re lucky enough to be in a playoff race, to clinch the first half. I wouldn’t want any other guys behind me, so it’s pretty awesome.” Manager Toby Gardenhire OK’d Lujan hitting ground balls to infielders during batting practice. “He always comes out and hits fungos. He doesn’t want to shag out in the outfield with the outfielders, so I said, ‘whatever you want to do, just don’t get hurt.’”
  9. After the Cedar Rapids Kernels finished batting practice on a warm, humid July 4 afternoon, two of the most productive players on their roster agreed to sit down and talk about the season. One, an infielder, has been hitting over .300 with an on-base percentage around .400 virtually all season. (And three days after the interview, his bags were packed for Chattanooga, where he’d been promoted to join former Kernels manager Tommy Watkins’ Lookouts.) The other, a starting pitcher, is 6-2 on the season and leads the Kernels in innings pitched.Unless you’re a pretty serious student of the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system or a Kernels season ticket holder, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of either of them. Jordan Gore was selected by the Twins out of Coastal Carolina in the 17th round of the 2017 draft and Randy Dobnak never got a post-draft call at all after completing his college career at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia. They made the most of their college days on and off the field, both making the Dean’s List regularly at their respective schools. Gore started his college career at South Carolina before transferring to Coastal Carolina in his hometown of Conway, SC, where he underwent Tommy John surgery and ended up sitting out the Chanticleers’ NCAA championship season in 2016. Having to sit out that championship season wasn’t as tough for Gore as one might think. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gore062418a-600x400.jpg Jordan Gore (Photo by SD Buhr) “Honestly you can say so,” Gore said, “but I’ve said this time and time again. That was best group of guys that I’ve ever been around as far as pulling for each other, working hard, all around good personalities and good people. It was probably better for me to sit back and watch how they did it. They taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way. “I’ve got nothing but love for everybody at Coastal. I tell you what, it made me a lot better person and a player.” Dobnak pitched for Alderson Broadus University in Philippi, West Virginia, where he had a career 26-12 record and set a Great Midwest Athletic Conference record with 284 career strikeouts. You wouldn’t fault Gore, a shortstop by trade, if he had been more than a little troubled by the fact that he was drafted by an organization that also used the first overall pick of the 2017 draft to select a guy who plays the same position. But Gore says he wasn’t concerned at all at the prospect of trying to work his way up through the Twins farm system virtually in tandem with top prospect Royce Lewis. “Honestly, I was just happy to get the call because after my last (college) game it kind of hit me, man this could be the last time I lace my spikes up,” Gore said, concerning his draft position, “and Royce is a great guy. It’s great to be playing with him. It’s a lot of fun.” Gore didn’t exactly follow the draft moment by moment, waiting to hear his name called, but admits being relieved when it was over. “I tried to keep my mind off of it,” he recalled. “I tried to just stay away from thinking about it too much. When I finally did get the call, it was a lot off my shoulders because you can try not to think about it as much as you want, but it’s always going to be there.” While Gore had to be patient on draft day, Dobnak wasn’t all that surprised that he didn’t get a call when the draft had been completed. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Dobnak062718a-600x400.jpg Randy Dobnak (Photo by SD Buhr) “Being in the mountains of West Virginia, there were a few teams that were talking to me or my coaches,” he explained. “But when they’d try and come see me play, we’d get rained out, snowed out. too cold. So, I didn’t really know what to expect (on draft day).” Not being drafted didn’t mean Dobnak was ready to call it a career, however. He used a connection made in his freshman year of college to land a spot on the pitching staff of the Utica Unicorns, an independent minor league team in a four-team league about an hour outside Detroit, Michigan. “I played there for like a month. I had played with (the manager’s) son. He was my catcher my freshmen and sophomore year (of college). After a freshman year tournament, we were all out to eat and his dad was like, ‘I want you come play for my team once you graduate.’ Three years later, I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s do this thing.’” A few weeks later, he signed with the Twins and he spent the rest of last summer in Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids. Dobnak put up a combined ERA of 2.43 and a WHIP of 0.96 in six appearances (four as a starter) at the two 2017 stops and has followed that up with a very solid first three months with the Kernels this summer. In 14 appearances (11 of them as a starter), he has a 3.74 ERA and has struck out 49 batters, while walking just 13. He has averaged seven innings of work in his last five starts for the Kernels. At the time of his promotion to Chattanooga on July 7, Gore was hitting .307 with a solid .770 OPS and had a .333 average and 1.044 OPS in the month of July. While splitting infield time with Royce Lewis, Andrew Bechtold and Jose Miranda, Gore has made 33 appearances at second base, 23 at shortstop, five at third base and even made one late-game mop up appearance on the mound for Cedar Rapids. On a team seemingly filled with very young talent, Gore and Dobnak have stood out as 23-year-olds and their manager, Toby Gardenhire, has appreciated the level of effort and leadership they’ve brough to the field, as well as the clubhouse. “He’s been great,” the manager said of Dobnak. “He grabs the ball and goes out there and does whatever you want him to do. He works really hard every day, shows up ready to go. He’s the epitome of the guy that you want on your team. He doesn’t say much, he just goes out there and does his job every day. “His skill level has been great, he’s done a great job, but the big thing for us is that he’s very professional with everything that he does. When you have this many young guys on a team like we do that you’re trying to teach how to be professionals, then you need guys like him where you can say, ‘Hey you see how Dobnak does this? You see what he does? You see how he goes about his business? That’s the way it needs to be. That’s how you have to act.’ “So, aside from the fact that he’s doing great, which is all credit to him and how hard he works, he’s just a great person. He’s a great leader for us.” Gardenhire offered a similar strong endorsement for Gore. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gore070418a-600x400.jpg Jordan Gore (Photo by SD Buhr) “Gore’s the same way,” his manager said. “He’s ‘game on.’ He’s funny, but the way he goes about his business, the way he goes out and gets it every day – when you put him in the lineup, you know what you’re going to get from him. You’re going to get effort. Dives all over the place and will do anything to win baseball games. “You would think that with baseball players in professional baseball, you’re going to have a whole group of guys that just want to try to win games, that will do anything for the team, but it’s not always like that. That’s a taught trait. You either have something in you that says ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever it takes to win this game’ or you have to learn that. He’s one of those guys, he just has it. That’s what he wants. He wants to win and he’ll do anything. “I always call those guys dirtballs. He’s driving all over the place. You’re not going to see him with his uniform clean for very long in a game. That’s one of those things, again, when you have a whole bunch of young talented guys like we have, to have a guy like that who shows them the way. They see him diving all over the place. He’s mad when we lose and he gets fired up. They see that and it starts to kind of rub off on them. That’s what you want.” A couple of relatively unheralded players on a team stocked with highly-regarded younger prospects could be forgiven if they felt some pressure to perform well enough to get noticed by their front office, but neither Gore nor Dobnak sounded like that was the case for them. “I don’t think it’s pressure,” Gore said. “Speaking for myself, I come out here and want to work hard. This is fun for us! I mean it’s the best job in the world, right? “Yep,” concurred Dobnak. “I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to come out here and work hard?” asked Gore, “because when you work hard, you tend to play well. It makes it a lot more fun.” Neither player is concerning himself too much with what’s going on with the Twins’ affiliates at the higher levels, however. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Dobnak070418a-400x600.jpg Randy Dobnak (Photo by SD Buhr) “I check out the scores and see how some of the guys I know are doing,” conceded Dobnak. “I just think if you prove to your coaches or front office that you’re good enough to move up, they’ll move you up. But all the guys, they work hard. They all work the same. You go out there and do whatever you’ve got to do. Compete.” “I try not to think about (promotions), I’ll be honest with you,” said Gore. “I’m around a great bunch of guys every day and it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t really pop into your head much. We’re just out here trying to win and we’ve been doing that here lately.” Given that Gore earned a promotion three days after those comments, his approach obviously worked for him. One thing that comes through in virtually every conversation you have with any of this group of Kernels is how much they enjoy their teammates. It’s a close group, but even in the tightest of clubhouses, there will be differences. Gore and Dobnak are not completely in agreement in one aspect of the game. Dobnak’s Twitter profile includes a reference to the hashtag #BanTheDH. Gore doesn’t sound ready to give away the at-bats he gets on days he DHs. “Let the pitchers hit,” said Dobnak. And why? “Because it’s more fun for the pitchers. When you grow up, you pitch, you hit, you play the infield!” It’s all about the pitchers, right Jordan? “No offense to the pitchers out there, but you’re probably giving up an out every time,” a smiling Gore responded. “I’m just kidding,” the professional hitter in the conversation added. “We’ve got a lot of good athletes on the (pitching staff), I’m sure they could probably pick up a stick and hit it.” Click here to view the article
  10. Unless you’re a pretty serious student of the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system or a Kernels season ticket holder, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of either of them. Jordan Gore was selected by the Twins out of Coastal Carolina in the 17th round of the 2017 draft and Randy Dobnak never got a post-draft call at all after completing his college career at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia. They made the most of their college days on and off the field, both making the Dean’s List regularly at their respective schools. Gore started his college career at South Carolina before transferring to Coastal Carolina in his hometown of Conway, SC, where he underwent Tommy John surgery and ended up sitting out the Chanticleers’ NCAA championship season in 2016. Having to sit out that championship season wasn’t as tough for Gore as one might think. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gore062418a-600x400.jpg Jordan Gore (Photo by SD Buhr) “Honestly you can say so,” Gore said, “but I’ve said this time and time again. That was best group of guys that I’ve ever been around as far as pulling for each other, working hard, all around good personalities and good people. It was probably better for me to sit back and watch how they did it. They taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way. “I’ve got nothing but love for everybody at Coastal. I tell you what, it made me a lot better person and a player.” Dobnak pitched for Alderson Broadus University in Philippi, West Virginia, where he had a career 26-12 record and set a Great Midwest Athletic Conference record with 284 career strikeouts. You wouldn’t fault Gore, a shortstop by trade, if he had been more than a little troubled by the fact that he was drafted by an organization that also used the first overall pick of the 2017 draft to select a guy who plays the same position. But Gore says he wasn’t concerned at all at the prospect of trying to work his way up through the Twins farm system virtually in tandem with top prospect Royce Lewis. “Honestly, I was just happy to get the call because after my last (college) game it kind of hit me, man this could be the last time I lace my spikes up,” Gore said, concerning his draft position, “and Royce is a great guy. It’s great to be playing with him. It’s a lot of fun.” Gore didn’t exactly follow the draft moment by moment, waiting to hear his name called, but admits being relieved when it was over. “I tried to keep my mind off of it,” he recalled. “I tried to just stay away from thinking about it too much. When I finally did get the call, it was a lot off my shoulders because you can try not to think about it as much as you want, but it’s always going to be there.” While Gore had to be patient on draft day, Dobnak wasn’t all that surprised that he didn’t get a call when the draft had been completed. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Dobnak062718a-600x400.jpg Randy Dobnak (Photo by SD Buhr) “Being in the mountains of West Virginia, there were a few teams that were talking to me or my coaches,” he explained. “But when they’d try and come see me play, we’d get rained out, snowed out. too cold. So, I didn’t really know what to expect (on draft day).” Not being drafted didn’t mean Dobnak was ready to call it a career, however. He used a connection made in his freshman year of college to land a spot on the pitching staff of the Utica Unicorns, an independent minor league team in a four-team league about an hour outside Detroit, Michigan. “I played there for like a month. I had played with (the manager’s) son. He was my catcher my freshmen and sophomore year (of college). After a freshman year tournament, we were all out to eat and his dad was like, ‘I want you come play for my team once you graduate.’ Three years later, I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s do this thing.’” A few weeks later, he signed with the Twins and he spent the rest of last summer in Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids. Dobnak put up a combined ERA of 2.43 and a WHIP of 0.96 in six appearances (four as a starter) at the two 2017 stops and has followed that up with a very solid first three months with the Kernels this summer. In 14 appearances (11 of them as a starter), he has a 3.74 ERA and has struck out 49 batters, while walking just 13. He has averaged seven innings of work in his last five starts for the Kernels. At the time of his promotion to Chattanooga on July 7, Gore was hitting .307 with a solid .770 OPS and had a .333 average and 1.044 OPS in the month of July. While splitting infield time with Royce Lewis, Andrew Bechtold and Jose Miranda, Gore has made 33 appearances at second base, 23 at shortstop, five at third base and even made one late-game mop up appearance on the mound for Cedar Rapids. On a team seemingly filled with very young talent, Gore and Dobnak have stood out as 23-year-olds and their manager, Toby Gardenhire, has appreciated the level of effort and leadership they’ve brough to the field, as well as the clubhouse. “He’s been great,” the manager said of Dobnak. “He grabs the ball and goes out there and does whatever you want him to do. He works really hard every day, shows up ready to go. He’s the epitome of the guy that you want on your team. He doesn’t say much, he just goes out there and does his job every day. “His skill level has been great, he’s done a great job, but the big thing for us is that he’s very professional with everything that he does. When you have this many young guys on a team like we do that you’re trying to teach how to be professionals, then you need guys like him where you can say, ‘Hey you see how Dobnak does this? You see what he does? You see how he goes about his business? That’s the way it needs to be. That’s how you have to act.’ “So, aside from the fact that he’s doing great, which is all credit to him and how hard he works, he’s just a great person. He’s a great leader for us.” Gardenhire offered a similar strong endorsement for Gore. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gore070418a-600x400.jpg Jordan Gore (Photo by SD Buhr) “Gore’s the same way,” his manager said. “He’s ‘game on.’ He’s funny, but the way he goes about his business, the way he goes out and gets it every day – when you put him in the lineup, you know what you’re going to get from him. You’re going to get effort. Dives all over the place and will do anything to win baseball games. “You would think that with baseball players in professional baseball, you’re going to have a whole group of guys that just want to try to win games, that will do anything for the team, but it’s not always like that. That’s a taught trait. You either have something in you that says ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever it takes to win this game’ or you have to learn that. He’s one of those guys, he just has it. That’s what he wants. He wants to win and he’ll do anything. “I always call those guys dirtballs. He’s driving all over the place. You’re not going to see him with his uniform clean for very long in a game. That’s one of those things, again, when you have a whole bunch of young talented guys like we have, to have a guy like that who shows them the way. They see him diving all over the place. He’s mad when we lose and he gets fired up. They see that and it starts to kind of rub off on them. That’s what you want.” A couple of relatively unheralded players on a team stocked with highly-regarded younger prospects could be forgiven if they felt some pressure to perform well enough to get noticed by their front office, but neither Gore nor Dobnak sounded like that was the case for them. “I don’t think it’s pressure,” Gore said. “Speaking for myself, I come out here and want to work hard. This is fun for us! I mean it’s the best job in the world, right? “Yep,” concurred Dobnak. “I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to come out here and work hard?” asked Gore, “because when you work hard, you tend to play well. It makes it a lot more fun.” Neither player is concerning himself too much with what’s going on with the Twins’ affiliates at the higher levels, however. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Dobnak070418a-400x600.jpg Randy Dobnak (Photo by SD Buhr) “I check out the scores and see how some of the guys I know are doing,” conceded Dobnak. “I just think if you prove to your coaches or front office that you’re good enough to move up, they’ll move you up. But all the guys, they work hard. They all work the same. You go out there and do whatever you’ve got to do. Compete.” “I try not to think about (promotions), I’ll be honest with you,” said Gore. “I’m around a great bunch of guys every day and it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t really pop into your head much. We’re just out here trying to win and we’ve been doing that here lately.” Given that Gore earned a promotion three days after those comments, his approach obviously worked for him. One thing that comes through in virtually every conversation you have with any of this group of Kernels is how much they enjoy their teammates. It’s a close group, but even in the tightest of clubhouses, there will be differences. Gore and Dobnak are not completely in agreement in one aspect of the game. Dobnak’s Twitter profile includes a reference to the hashtag #BanTheDH. Gore doesn’t sound ready to give away the at-bats he gets on days he DHs. “Let the pitchers hit,” said Dobnak. And why? “Because it’s more fun for the pitchers. When you grow up, you pitch, you hit, you play the infield!” It’s all about the pitchers, right Jordan? “No offense to the pitchers out there, but you’re probably giving up an out every time,” a smiling Gore responded. “I’m just kidding,” the professional hitter in the conversation added. “We’ve got a lot of good athletes on the (pitching staff), I’m sure they could probably pick up a stick and hit it.”
  11. The month of April was not kind to Cedar Rapids Kernels infielder Jose Miranda. After hitting .284 and putting up a .824 on-base plus slugging (OPS) for rookie level Elizabethton in 2017, Miranda was one of several highly-regarded hitting prospects that were expected to power the Kernels’ offense in 2018, but the 19-year-old from Puerto Rico managed just a .180 batting average in 16 April games for the Kernels before the calendar mercifully turned to May.Since then, however, Miranda has not only been hitting at a respectable .262 rate, but has six doubles, a triple and four home runs among his 40 post-April hits. Being younger than almost all of the pitchers he was facing would be enough of a factor to explain the slow start with the bat, but Miranda had one more thing going against him that many of his teammates didn’t. Unlike some players who spent their high school and/or college days playing ball in the northern areas of the United States, playing baseball in the cold was a new experience for Miranda. He’s reluctant to blame his slow start on the weather, but facts are facts. “I don’t want to say it was the weather, but maybe in part, yeah, because the first month it was pretty cold,” Miranda conceded recently. “I’m not used to the cold weather because Puerto Rico is always hot.” As the temperatures have been rising in Iowa and the surrounding area, so has Miranda’s stat line. “I’m just making adjustments day-by-day, taking it step by step,” he said, explaining his turnaround. “I don’t want to get too anxious or too frustrated by what happens, I’m just in the moment and making adjustments every day.” Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman thinks the weather had something to do with the infielder’s sluggish start to the season, as well. “Over the first month, tough weather conditions, first time experiencing cold weather, so I’m sure that had a little to do with it,” Dinkelman reflected. “He’s got some confidence now. He’s been hitting the ball better the last few weeks. He’s swinging at more strikes.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Miranda060618b-600x400.jpg Jose Miranda (Photo by SD Buhr) Dinkelman is seeing better pitch selection from Miranda. “Especially with guys in scoring position. Not getting himself out on the first or second pitch by chasing or getting in a hole 0-1, 0-2. Been better the last month about getting good pitches to hit. When they’re in the strike zone, he does OK.” Miranda, himself, admits he has an affinity for taking a good whack at the first pitch. Even so, his aggressive approach hasn’t led to a ton of strikeouts. Through his first 213 at-bats, he’s K’d only 31 times. “Yeah, I like to battle,” Miranda explained. “Sometimes when I see a first pitch is right down the middle, I just like to swing. Take advantage of it, because sometimes it’s the best pitch you’re going to see. Maybe the first pitch is right down the middle, a fastball, then they’re going to work you with different pitches, so I like to jump at that first pitch. But if I don’t get it, then I’m going to keep battling. “And no, I don’t like striking out,” he added, emphatically. “I hate it. Since I was little, I’ve tried to battle.” Miranda has had plenty of talented hitters to watch and learn from in Cedar Rapids this season. “We’ve got a first overall here, Royce (Lewis), and other guys that are first-rounders, second-rounders,” Miranda pointed out. “It doesn’t matter if they’re like first 10 rounds, all the guys are super important for me, too. It’s pretty cool to play with these guys. “I like to watch every other player here. I like to watch what they do. What type of at-bats they take. What type of pitches they swing on. I admire everyone here. I admire what they do. I like everyone here. Everyone here battles. They play hard and that’s what it’s all about.” Miranda says he’s also feeling stronger as the season progresses. “I feel like the power is coming on,” he said. “I feel like I’m barreling the ball more. I’m have better swings and it’s summertime, so I think the ball is going to keep flying out.” Miranda said he’s been playing baseball since he was four years old. “When I was little I used to play in my back yard. Everybody came to my house,” he recalled. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/MirandaLewis060618-600x400.jpg Jose Miranda and Royce Lewis, either attempting to take flight or going through pre-game warm-up drills. You decide. (Photo: SD Buhr) He was a shortstop through his high school playing days, but at the time he was drafted, scouts reportedly projected him to end up filling out and moving to third base. He played almost exclusively at second base in Elizabethton a season ago, however, and seemed to be set there through most of the first couple months of the Kernels season, while 2017 fifth-round selection Andrew Bechtold was manning third base. In recent weeks, however, manager Toby Gardenhire has often swapped the two, giving Miranda time at third base, with Bechtold at second, while Lewis continues to hold down shortstop and Jordan Gore gets a lot of work in a utility role, filling in at all three positions. Dinkelman acknowledged the change in pattern, but cautioned about reading too much into it. “Just a little versatility,” he explained. “We like them both at second and third and Gore can play all three. Just to get the experience at each position, because you never know, the higher you go up the ladder and to the big leagues, what position you’re going to play. So, if you can get a little experience at each and figure out maybe what is your best position, it’ll be good for all of them.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Miranda052018-400x600.jpg Jose Miranda catches a throw from Ben Rortvedt before tagging out a Lumber Kings runner attempting to steal second base (Photo by SD Buhr) As for Miranda, he’s open to playing wherever the team and it’s leadership need him to play. “I kind of play wherever they want me, he said. “I do like both (second base and third base). Since I was young, I used to play shortstop, but now I’m playing more second and third and I don’t have a preference. I just want to be in the lineup!” With the 2018 draft taking place early this month, Miranda was recalling what it felt like to go through the draft process two years ago, as a 17-year-old in Puerto Rico. “It’s been one of my biggest moments in my life,” he recollected. “I was at my house with my dad and my grandma and I was watching it because I wasn’t sure if I was going to go in the second round or third round. The first two rounds are the first day, so I was kind of unsure if I was going to go in the second round. I was just watching it and hoping to get the call from my agent. And then it was like the 59th pick or something like that when my agent called me and told me, ‘you’re going to go in the 73rd pick to the Twins.’ “So I was kind of nervous and anxious. I was getting a lot of messages and calls and I just wanted to watch it on TV and enjoy the moment. I got a call from the scout for the Twins in Puerto Rico, (saying) ‘Hey, good luck, I know you’re going to do well.’ I said, ‘Hey, they haven’t called me yet, let me watch it first and I will call you back.’ “So, yeah, it was one of my biggest moments in my life and I enjoyed it.” Click here to view the article
  12. Since then, however, Miranda has not only been hitting at a respectable .262 rate, but has six doubles, a triple and four home runs among his 40 post-April hits. Being younger than almost all of the pitchers he was facing would be enough of a factor to explain the slow start with the bat, but Miranda had one more thing going against him that many of his teammates didn’t. Unlike some players who spent their high school and/or college days playing ball in the northern areas of the United States, playing baseball in the cold was a new experience for Miranda. He’s reluctant to blame his slow start on the weather, but facts are facts. “I don’t want to say it was the weather, but maybe in part, yeah, because the first month it was pretty cold,” Miranda conceded recently. “I’m not used to the cold weather because Puerto Rico is always hot.” As the temperatures have been rising in Iowa and the surrounding area, so has Miranda’s stat line. “I’m just making adjustments day-by-day, taking it step by step,” he said, explaining his turnaround. “I don’t want to get too anxious or too frustrated by what happens, I’m just in the moment and making adjustments every day.” Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman thinks the weather had something to do with the infielder’s sluggish start to the season, as well. “Over the first month, tough weather conditions, first time experiencing cold weather, so I’m sure that had a little to do with it,” Dinkelman reflected. “He’s got some confidence now. He’s been hitting the ball better the last few weeks. He’s swinging at more strikes.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Miranda060618b-600x400.jpg Jose Miranda (Photo by SD Buhr) Dinkelman is seeing better pitch selection from Miranda. “Especially with guys in scoring position. Not getting himself out on the first or second pitch by chasing or getting in a hole 0-1, 0-2. Been better the last month about getting good pitches to hit. When they’re in the strike zone, he does OK.” Miranda, himself, admits he has an affinity for taking a good whack at the first pitch. Even so, his aggressive approach hasn’t led to a ton of strikeouts. Through his first 213 at-bats, he’s K’d only 31 times. “Yeah, I like to battle,” Miranda explained. “Sometimes when I see a first pitch is right down the middle, I just like to swing. Take advantage of it, because sometimes it’s the best pitch you’re going to see. Maybe the first pitch is right down the middle, a fastball, then they’re going to work you with different pitches, so I like to jump at that first pitch. But if I don’t get it, then I’m going to keep battling. “And no, I don’t like striking out,” he added, emphatically. “I hate it. Since I was little, I’ve tried to battle.” Miranda has had plenty of talented hitters to watch and learn from in Cedar Rapids this season. “We’ve got a first overall here, Royce (Lewis), and other guys that are first-rounders, second-rounders,” Miranda pointed out. “It doesn’t matter if they’re like first 10 rounds, all the guys are super important for me, too. It’s pretty cool to play with these guys. “I like to watch every other player here. I like to watch what they do. What type of at-bats they take. What type of pitches they swing on. I admire everyone here. I admire what they do. I like everyone here. Everyone here battles. They play hard and that’s what it’s all about.” Miranda says he’s also feeling stronger as the season progresses. “I feel like the power is coming on,” he said. “I feel like I’m barreling the ball more. I’m have better swings and it’s summertime, so I think the ball is going to keep flying out.” Miranda said he’s been playing baseball since he was four years old. “When I was little I used to play in my back yard. Everybody came to my house,” he recalled. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/MirandaLewis060618-600x400.jpg Jose Miranda and Royce Lewis, either attempting to take flight or going through pre-game warm-up drills. You decide. (Photo: SD Buhr) He was a shortstop through his high school playing days, but at the time he was drafted, scouts reportedly projected him to end up filling out and moving to third base. He played almost exclusively at second base in Elizabethton a season ago, however, and seemed to be set there through most of the first couple months of the Kernels season, while 2017 fifth-round selection Andrew Bechtold was manning third base. In recent weeks, however, manager Toby Gardenhire has often swapped the two, giving Miranda time at third base, with Bechtold at second, while Lewis continues to hold down shortstop and Jordan Gore gets a lot of work in a utility role, filling in at all three positions. Dinkelman acknowledged the change in pattern, but cautioned about reading too much into it. “Just a little versatility,” he explained. “We like them both at second and third and Gore can play all three. Just to get the experience at each position, because you never know, the higher you go up the ladder and to the big leagues, what position you’re going to play. So, if you can get a little experience at each and figure out maybe what is your best position, it’ll be good for all of them.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Miranda052018-400x600.jpg Jose Miranda catches a throw from Ben Rortvedt before tagging out a Lumber Kings runner attempting to steal second base (Photo by SD Buhr) As for Miranda, he’s open to playing wherever the team and it’s leadership need him to play. “I kind of play wherever they want me, he said. “I do like both (second base and third base). Since I was young, I used to play shortstop, but now I’m playing more second and third and I don’t have a preference. I just want to be in the lineup!” With the 2018 draft taking place early this month, Miranda was recalling what it felt like to go through the draft process two years ago, as a 17-year-old in Puerto Rico. “It’s been one of my biggest moments in my life,” he recollected. “I was at my house with my dad and my grandma and I was watching it because I wasn’t sure if I was going to go in the second round or third round. The first two rounds are the first day, so I was kind of unsure if I was going to go in the second round. I was just watching it and hoping to get the call from my agent. And then it was like the 59th pick or something like that when my agent called me and told me, ‘you’re going to go in the 73rd pick to the Twins.’ “So I was kind of nervous and anxious. I was getting a lot of messages and calls and I just wanted to watch it on TV and enjoy the moment. I got a call from the scout for the Twins in Puerto Rico, (saying) ‘Hey, good luck, I know you’re going to do well.’ I said, ‘Hey, they haven’t called me yet, let me watch it first and I will call you back.’ “So, yeah, it was one of my biggest moments in my life and I enjoyed it.”
  13. In 1989, the Minnesota Twins used their 52nd round draft pick to select a catcher named Denny Hocking from El Camino College, a junior college in Torrance, California. Drafted in a round that no longer exists, Hocking not only became the lowest-drafted player to play for the Twins, but he spent 13 seasons in the big leagues including 11 seasons with the Twins. Since his retirement following the 2005 season, Hocking has continued to have an interesting life in and around the game of baseball. Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Hocking who is now the manager of the Clinton LumberKings, the Midwest League affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.“It was opportunity that I made the most of. That’s all!” That statement from former Twins utility man Denny Hocking is certainly true and maybe even an understatement as he continues to work in the game nearly 30 years later. Hocking grew up in Torrance, California, were he was a great athlete. He had basketball scholarships to a couple of the California colleges, but he chose to stay home and continue playing baseball. He joked, “I thought I could play baseball a couple more years.” Hocking chose to play at El Camino College and pursue a degree in journalism. He played several positions on the field, but primarily he was a catcher. “I played everywhere but pitcher, shortstop and first base. I caught every other game. Catch, play right. Catch, play third base. Catch, play center. And I think every time the Twins came to see me I was catching. I think I was drafted purely on arm strength and athleticism..” Hocking was a very good athlete, and he had a very strong arm. It was enough to catch the attention of a Twins scout. “Draft Day was probably a little different for me than it was for Royce Lewis.” Hocking surmised. “I had no idea about the draft.” The MLB Draft was a little different in 1989. It wasn’t a big production on TV, and the internet wasn’t even covering it. I mean, the internet was still in its infancy. Hocking learned that he had been drafted when he “got something in the mail.” Hocking recalled, “You’ve been drafted in the 52nd round by the Minnesota Twins. But what does that mean?” Hocking acknowledges that he had no idea. “Minor Leagues? I had no idea. That week, we got in the car and went to Inland Empire which was San Bernadino at the time and watching a minor league baseball game. I drove up to Visalia to watch the Twins farm team play up there. It was the year that Chuck Knoblauch was drafted and he was there.” Soon after, the Twins scout came to the Hocking home and said, “Congratulations on getting drafted, but we don't’ want to sign you.” What? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a drafted player, but when you hear the rest of the story, it does make a lot more sense. “He wanted me to go back (to school) and play shortstop, and I wound up going back and strictly played shortstop my sophomore year. Two of my friends who hit left-handed taught me how to hit at the junior college level. I was hitting left-handed for less than a year when I put an Elizabethton Twins uniform on and went and played professional baseball. It brings back a lot of memories” Back then, there was a system called Draft-and-Follow. Whereas currently teams need to sign their drafted players by July 15th, teams used to have until the following draft to sign their drafted players. In this example, Hocking could go back to El Camino, play the next spring and then sign with the Twins before the 1990 draft. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Right-handed pitcher Mike Trombley was a teammate of Denny Hocking for many years. Of the utility man, Trombly said, “Hock was one of the most talented guys on the Twins team. Switch-hitter with a rocket arm and a good glove. He could play so many positions. Why was he a 52nd-round pick? Simply put, he was overlooked.Once you saw him play, we all knew that. Hock was also a great guy in the locker room. Funny. Trombley also shared a store about Hocking. “We were playing a spring training game in Ft. Myers and (Jose) Canseco hit a rocket to Hock at second base. It skipped off the hard clay and hit Hock in the mouth. Trainer and coach ran out there to help him. There was a lot of blood. They couldn’t understand what he was saying because of the injury, but Hock was trying to tell them he had a dip in his mouth. Funny now, not so funny when it happened.” ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- When you consider the round in which Denny Hocking was drafted, he really didn’t spend a lot of time in the minor leagues.He signed in May of 1990. In 1992, he had hit .331 with over 180 hits in Visalia. Not wanting him to be selected in the Expansion Draft, the Twins added Hocking to their roster. He spent 2013 in Double-A. He was ready to go home for the offseason after a solid season at AA in 1993 when his manager, Phil Roof, gave him some great news. “We were in the Double-A playoffs. I got taken out of the game, late in the game. I got to the clubhouse and called my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and said why don’t you pick me up after the game tomorrow. Then after the game, the manager told me I was going to the big leagues in Texas, and I was like ‘What?’ I had to call her back and say, you need to get a flight to Texas.” Over the next couple of seasons, he went back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues. However, starting in 1997, Hocking had a stretch of six straight seasons in which, as a utility man, he played in over 100 games. In fact, in 1999 and 2000, he played in over 130 games a year with no more than 65 at any one position. In other words, it isn’t like recent Eduardo Escobar seasons where he comes into the season as a utility player and winds up being an everyday player because of an injury to Miguel Sano or the suspension of Jorge Polanco. But Hocking earned the respect and the trust of legendary Twins manager Tom Kelly. “TK was always known to be super tough on the young kids. That’s one way to look at it. But the way that he really was, he wanted you there early. So, if we stretched at 4:00, be sure to be there at 2:00. I’d show up at 2:00, and I’d be one of the last guys to get there. When I played and Kirby was there, I have no idea what time he got there, but he was probably there at noon. He wanted you to be early. When you got to the field, don’t sit in your street clothes. Put something uniform on to start getting your mind ready to play a game that night.” Hocking continued, “He just held you accountable. I could rattle off thousands and thousands of things that he would hold you accountable on. I played for two managers with the Twins, both TK and Gardy, and they were both from the same cloth. You knew what their expectations were for each and every player, and as long as you met those on a daily basis, it was status quo.” Did knowing that make it hard to play for those managers, or did it become easy because the expectations were clear? “You just know how to prepare. I would walk into the field, walk into the clubhouse and look at the lineup, and if my name was on it, I’d say ‘OK, today’s my day to play.’ And if my name wasn’t on it, I would take it as, ‘OK, I’ve got six innings off today, but if it’s close, I’m going to get an opportunity to impact this game.” Hocking knew his role on those Twins teams and not only accepted them but took it as a challenge and performed. “I remember. I played a lot of second base when Todd Walker was there. Todd, I felt, was a very good defender, but I don’t think TK saw him like that. But Todd could flat-out hit. By May 1st, I knew my role. I was going to go in to play defense at second base when we were winning games. TK didn’t have to call me on the bench. Fifth inning would come around. I’m starting to stretch. Sixth inning, I’m really thinking about getting loose. Seventh inning, OK, he’s probably going to call on me soon because of the score. Todd would have an at bat in the seventh or eighth inning.” Hocking then said that it became a non-verbal communication between him and Tom Kelly at that point. As Walker was walking to the plate, Kelly would look down at the end of the bench, and Hocking knew to look down at Kelly. Kelly would nod at him, and that simply meant that Hocking would be entering the game as a defensive replacement the next half inning. “I knew why I was on that team, and he trusted me in that situation. And that’s what I preach to these kids. Be a trustworthy player. I know that if something happens to this team on a nightly basis, it’s not due to lack of preparation or lack of effort. Sometimes it’s just not going to work out.” In that series in Cedar Rapids, Hocking had a fielder that wanted to make a play. Ben Rortvedt lined the ball to the outfield. The fielder thought he could catch it and was going to dive. As it was happening, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the catch, so he just tried to knock the ball down. It got by him and a single turned into a triple. He came into the dugout and explained the play to his manager. Hocking told him that he would never be mad at a player who is trying to make a play. It can be a learning opportunity. The fielder was prepared, and he gave 100% effort, it just didn’t work out. Hocking gives a lot of credit to his manager, Tom Kelly, and the expectations that he set for his roster. Those are the traits that he has carried with him into his coaching and managing career. “I manage a lot, and I communicate a lot as I learned through TK and Gardy.” -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Running around the clubhouse during several of Hocking’s Twins years was first-year Cedar Rapids Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire. Ron Gardenhire was a coach through Hocking’s first several years, and he later became the manager, so Toby was able to get close to the players and learn from them. Hocking noted, “I remember Toby always running around, catching a lot of heat from the guys. He grew up in the clubhouse. I remember seeing that he got hired and thought that was awesome. I watch what he does, and I’m impressed. There’s a ton of talent in that other clubhouse, but I’m impressed with how they work and how they play for him. You can watch a team, and they take on direct mannerisms of their manager, and I see a lot of his dad in him. I think he’s got a bright future. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shane Carrier was with the Kernels when Clinton was in Cedar Rapids. He went to the same high school that Hocking’s daughters are graduating from. “I played the music in the batting tunnel when he would come and hit in the offseason.” Carrier said, “I was 12 or 13, and he would help out a bit. He was always around. He is a cool guy. He’s funny.” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- After the Twins let him go after the 2003 season, Hocking spent a year with the Rockies and a year with the Royals (splitting time between MLB and AAA). He had other options for the 2006 season, but he didn’t want to spend any more time in the minor leagues and it was important to him to spend time with his young family. When retired, he didn’t jump right into coaching. He knew the right people and got a job at MLB.com covering the Angels and Dodgers. He spent time on air with Jim Rome, and he later met Andrew Siciliano (Red Zone Network) and appeared on-air with him once a week for a 15-minute hit on baseball. It turned into a regular show on Fox Sports Radio, a job he held until the company had some layoffs after an ownership change. At that time, he figured he’d better get a job. A good friend of his was working in media relations with the Orioles at that time. He told Hocking that former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail was coming to Anaheim, and he could set up a pregame on-field meeting. That day, Hocking saw MacPhail in the dugout and walked toward him. MacPhail saw Hocking as he approached. “Denny Hocking… 52nd round draft choice… as a catcher.” Hocking responded to his former GM, “How do you remember me? Out of all the kids you drafted, and all the kids you’ve seen play in all of your years, you remember my draft round and what I was drafted as?” MacPhail answered him, “I remember the guys that did things the right way. That really made me feel good, and I said, ‘Well, if you think that way of me, I’m looking for a job to get into coaching.’” A series of e-mails were exchanged, and Hocking was named a hitting coach in Frederick, Maryland (Double-A). He noted that during those three years, “I would see my family for about ten days from Valentine’s Day to September 11th. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to be closer to my family. I just had to be closer to home.” He contacted the Angels. Since then, he’s coached in a variety of roles in the Angels and more recently in the Mariners organizations. This is his first year as a manager in the Mariners organization for the Clinton LumberKings. It’s not always easy. Part of why he returned was to be closer to his family, and now back in coaching, Hocking will again have to miss some important events. “The sacrifice that you make to be away from your family. I have twin daughters that will graduate this year. I will be back two days before they graduate, and I’ll see my son’s last days of middle school. I’ll be able to be there for important days like that. But.I’ve missed my daughters’ proms, homecomings, things like that. One of my daughters is currently training for the U20 National Team for women’s soccer. If she continues to do well and makes the cut,the World Cup is in France in August, and I will not be able to go and support her.” Of course, the other side includes the relationship and team-building that he can lead as a manager. “All I try to do is create a good environment and make these kids want to work and make them feel important and impact their lives. I see that. That’s the rewarding part for the crappy part.” It’s clear that Hocking has been influenced as a coach and a manager by his years in a Twins uniform playing for Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire. He has had a long and fulfilling career in baseball and clearly still enjoys it. Nearly 30 years ago, the Twins drafted him in a round that no longer exists. It’s a great reminder about hard work, being prepared and setting expectations. Hocking carved out an impressive big league career, turned into a radio voice for a few years and now is giving back to the game through coaching. Click here to view the article
  14. “It was opportunity that I made the most of. That’s all!” That statement from former Twins utility man Denny Hocking is certainly true and maybe even an understatement as he continues to work in the game nearly 30 years later. Hocking grew up in Torrance, California, were he was a great athlete. He had basketball scholarships to a couple of the California colleges, but he chose to stay home and continue playing baseball. He joked, “I thought I could play baseball a couple more years.” Hocking chose to play at El Camino College and pursue a degree in journalism. He played several positions on the field, but primarily he was a catcher. “I played everywhere but pitcher, shortstop and first base. I caught every other game. Catch, play right. Catch, play third base. Catch, play center. And I think every time the Twins came to see me I was catching. I think I was drafted purely on arm strength and athleticism..” Hocking was a very good athlete, and he had a very strong arm. It was enough to catch the attention of a Twins scout. “Draft Day was probably a little different for me than it was for Royce Lewis.” Hocking surmised. “I had no idea about the draft.” The MLB Draft was a little different in 1989. It wasn’t a big production on TV, and the internet wasn’t even covering it. I mean, the internet was still in its infancy. Hocking learned that he had been drafted when he “got something in the mail.” Hocking recalled, “You’ve been drafted in the 52nd round by the Minnesota Twins. But what does that mean?” Hocking acknowledges that he had no idea. “Minor Leagues? I had no idea. That week, we got in the car and went to Inland Empire which was San Bernadino at the time and watching a minor league baseball game. I drove up to Visalia to watch the Twins farm team play up there. It was the year that Chuck Knoblauch was drafted and he was there.” Soon after, the Twins scout came to the Hocking home and said, “Congratulations on getting drafted, but we don't’ want to sign you.” What? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a drafted player, but when you hear the rest of the story, it does make a lot more sense. “He wanted me to go back (to school) and play shortstop, and I wound up going back and strictly played shortstop my sophomore year. Two of my friends who hit left-handed taught me how to hit at the junior college level. I was hitting left-handed for less than a year when I put an Elizabethton Twins uniform on and went and played professional baseball. It brings back a lot of memories” Back then, there was a system called Draft-and-Follow. Whereas currently teams need to sign their drafted players by July 15th, teams used to have until the following draft to sign their drafted players. In this example, Hocking could go back to El Camino, play the next spring and then sign with the Twins before the 1990 draft. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Right-handed pitcher Mike Trombley was a teammate of Denny Hocking for many years. Of the utility man, Trombly said, “Hock was one of the most talented guys on the Twins team. Switch-hitter with a rocket arm and a good glove. He could play so many positions. Why was he a 52nd-round pick? Simply put, he was overlooked.Once you saw him play, we all knew that. Hock was also a great guy in the locker room. Funny. Trombley also shared a store about Hocking. “We were playing a spring training game in Ft. Myers and (Jose) Canseco hit a rocket to Hock at second base. It skipped off the hard clay and hit Hock in the mouth. Trainer and coach ran out there to help him. There was a lot of blood. They couldn’t understand what he was saying because of the injury, but Hock was trying to tell them he had a dip in his mouth. Funny now, not so funny when it happened.” ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- When you consider the round in which Denny Hocking was drafted, he really didn’t spend a lot of time in the minor leagues.He signed in May of 1990. In 1992, he had hit .331 with over 180 hits in Visalia. Not wanting him to be selected in the Expansion Draft, the Twins added Hocking to their roster. He spent 2013 in Double-A. He was ready to go home for the offseason after a solid season at AA in 1993 when his manager, Phil Roof, gave him some great news. “We were in the Double-A playoffs. I got taken out of the game, late in the game. I got to the clubhouse and called my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and said why don’t you pick me up after the game tomorrow. Then after the game, the manager told me I was going to the big leagues in Texas, and I was like ‘What?’ I had to call her back and say, you need to get a flight to Texas.” Over the next couple of seasons, he went back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues. However, starting in 1997, Hocking had a stretch of six straight seasons in which, as a utility man, he played in over 100 games. In fact, in 1999 and 2000, he played in over 130 games a year with no more than 65 at any one position. In other words, it isn’t like recent Eduardo Escobar seasons where he comes into the season as a utility player and winds up being an everyday player because of an injury to Miguel Sano or the suspension of Jorge Polanco. But Hocking earned the respect and the trust of legendary Twins manager Tom Kelly. “TK was always known to be super tough on the young kids. That’s one way to look at it. But the way that he really was, he wanted you there early. So, if we stretched at 4:00, be sure to be there at 2:00. I’d show up at 2:00, and I’d be one of the last guys to get there. When I played and Kirby was there, I have no idea what time he got there, but he was probably there at noon. He wanted you to be early. When you got to the field, don’t sit in your street clothes. Put something uniform on to start getting your mind ready to play a game that night.” Hocking continued, “He just held you accountable. I could rattle off thousands and thousands of things that he would hold you accountable on. I played for two managers with the Twins, both TK and Gardy, and they were both from the same cloth. You knew what their expectations were for each and every player, and as long as you met those on a daily basis, it was status quo.” Did knowing that make it hard to play for those managers, or did it become easy because the expectations were clear? “You just know how to prepare. I would walk into the field, walk into the clubhouse and look at the lineup, and if my name was on it, I’d say ‘OK, today’s my day to play.’ And if my name wasn’t on it, I would take it as, ‘OK, I’ve got six innings off today, but if it’s close, I’m going to get an opportunity to impact this game.” Hocking knew his role on those Twins teams and not only accepted them but took it as a challenge and performed. “I remember. I played a lot of second base when Todd Walker was there. Todd, I felt, was a very good defender, but I don’t think TK saw him like that. But Todd could flat-out hit. By May 1st, I knew my role. I was going to go in to play defense at second base when we were winning games. TK didn’t have to call me on the bench. Fifth inning would come around. I’m starting to stretch. Sixth inning, I’m really thinking about getting loose. Seventh inning, OK, he’s probably going to call on me soon because of the score. Todd would have an at bat in the seventh or eighth inning.” Hocking then said that it became a non-verbal communication between him and Tom Kelly at that point. As Walker was walking to the plate, Kelly would look down at the end of the bench, and Hocking knew to look down at Kelly. Kelly would nod at him, and that simply meant that Hocking would be entering the game as a defensive replacement the next half inning. “I knew why I was on that team, and he trusted me in that situation. And that’s what I preach to these kids. Be a trustworthy player. I know that if something happens to this team on a nightly basis, it’s not due to lack of preparation or lack of effort. Sometimes it’s just not going to work out.” In that series in Cedar Rapids, Hocking had a fielder that wanted to make a play. Ben Rortvedt lined the ball to the outfield. The fielder thought he could catch it and was going to dive. As it was happening, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the catch, so he just tried to knock the ball down. It got by him and a single turned into a triple. He came into the dugout and explained the play to his manager. Hocking told him that he would never be mad at a player who is trying to make a play. It can be a learning opportunity. The fielder was prepared, and he gave 100% effort, it just didn’t work out. Hocking gives a lot of credit to his manager, Tom Kelly, and the expectations that he set for his roster. Those are the traits that he has carried with him into his coaching and managing career. “I manage a lot, and I communicate a lot as I learned through TK and Gardy.” -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Running around the clubhouse during several of Hocking’s Twins years was first-year Cedar Rapids Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire. Ron Gardenhire was a coach through Hocking’s first several years, and he later became the manager, so Toby was able to get close to the players and learn from them. Hocking noted, “I remember Toby always running around, catching a lot of heat from the guys. He grew up in the clubhouse. I remember seeing that he got hired and thought that was awesome. I watch what he does, and I’m impressed. There’s a ton of talent in that other clubhouse, but I’m impressed with how they work and how they play for him. You can watch a team, and they take on direct mannerisms of their manager, and I see a lot of his dad in him. I think he’s got a bright future. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Shane Carrier was with the Kernels when Clinton was in Cedar Rapids. He went to the same high school that Hocking’s daughters are graduating from. “I played the music in the batting tunnel when he would come and hit in the offseason.” Carrier said, “I was 12 or 13, and he would help out a bit. He was always around. He is a cool guy. He’s funny.” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- After the Twins let him go after the 2003 season, Hocking spent a year with the Rockies and a year with the Royals (splitting time between MLB and AAA). He had other options for the 2006 season, but he didn’t want to spend any more time in the minor leagues and it was important to him to spend time with his young family. When retired, he didn’t jump right into coaching. He knew the right people and got a job at MLB.com covering the Angels and Dodgers. He spent time on air with Jim Rome, and he later met Andrew Siciliano (Red Zone Network) and appeared on-air with him once a week for a 15-minute hit on baseball. It turned into a regular show on Fox Sports Radio, a job he held until the company had some layoffs after an ownership change. At that time, he figured he’d better get a job. A good friend of his was working in media relations with the Orioles at that time. He told Hocking that former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail was coming to Anaheim, and he could set up a pregame on-field meeting. That day, Hocking saw MacPhail in the dugout and walked toward him. MacPhail saw Hocking as he approached. “Denny Hocking… 52nd round draft choice… as a catcher.” Hocking responded to his former GM, “How do you remember me? Out of all the kids you drafted, and all the kids you’ve seen play in all of your years, you remember my draft round and what I was drafted as?” MacPhail answered him, “I remember the guys that did things the right way. That really made me feel good, and I said, ‘Well, if you think that way of me, I’m looking for a job to get into coaching.’” A series of e-mails were exchanged, and Hocking was named a hitting coach in Frederick, Maryland (Double-A). He noted that during those three years, “I would see my family for about ten days from Valentine’s Day to September 11th. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to be closer to my family. I just had to be closer to home.” He contacted the Angels. Since then, he’s coached in a variety of roles in the Angels and more recently in the Mariners organizations. This is his first year as a manager in the Mariners organization for the Clinton LumberKings. It’s not always easy. Part of why he returned was to be closer to his family, and now back in coaching, Hocking will again have to miss some important events. “The sacrifice that you make to be away from your family. I have twin daughters that will graduate this year. I will be back two days before they graduate, and I’ll see my son’s last days of middle school. I’ll be able to be there for important days like that. But.I’ve missed my daughters’ proms, homecomings, things like that. One of my daughters is currently training for the U20 National Team for women’s soccer. If she continues to do well and makes the cut,the World Cup is in France in August, and I will not be able to go and support her.” Of course, the other side includes the relationship and team-building that he can lead as a manager. “All I try to do is create a good environment and make these kids want to work and make them feel important and impact their lives. I see that. That’s the rewarding part for the crappy part.” It’s clear that Hocking has been influenced as a coach and a manager by his years in a Twins uniform playing for Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire. He has had a long and fulfilling career in baseball and clearly still enjoys it. Nearly 30 years ago, the Twins drafted him in a round that no longer exists. It’s a great reminder about hard work, being prepared and setting expectations. Hocking carved out an impressive big league career, turned into a radio voice for a few years and now is giving back to the game through coaching.
  15. Less than five years later, “Dink” is in his third season as the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ hitting coach and he and Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire are seeing the infield shift deployed several times on a nightly basis – both against their team’s hitters and by their own infielders. The times, they are a changin’. Any regular observer at Class A Midwest League games would likely tell you that the Quad Cities River Bandits probably employ shifts more than any other team in the league. It’s not a coincidence that Quad Cities is the Class A affiliate of the Astros. The Seattle Mariners’ MWL affiliate, the Clinton Lumber Kings, on the other hand, play a comparatively normal infield alignment against virtually every opposing hitter. The Kernels fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes, but the shift is something that has clearly been an increasingly apparent part of their defensive strategy over the course of Dinkelman’s tenure as the club’s hitting coach. And that’s fine with him. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for baseball.” Dinkelman said in an interview during his club’s latest homestand, “Because teams are studying other teams and they’re playing the chances of where they think the hitter’s going to hit the ball, where his tendency to hit the ball is. Now, if that gives your team an advantage to play your players in that sort of position, then I’m all for it, because you’re looking for any advantage for your team to be better than the other team.” It may just be part of the natural cycle of teams trying to find the best way to win a baseball game, but infield shifts certainly have given hitting coaches like Dinkelman one more thing to think about as they help the next generation of position players to achieve their big league dreams. So far, though, it’s not causing a dramatic change in how he and the Twins are teaching the art of hitting a baseball. “We’ve addressed it a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to change the way that we approach it or our swing, to try to hit around the shift. Some guys just are not able to do that with their swing. I’d rather have a guy who can hit the ball hard and hit it right through the shift. Because if you hit the ball hard enough, you’re still going to be able to hit the ball through the shift, for the most part, most of the time.” Lou Boudreau, as the manager of the Cleveland Indians, famously implemented the infield shift to try to contain Red Sox Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams, but even Boudreau admitted later that his hope was that the shift would get into Williams’ head. Whether or not that strategy worked against Williams is open to debate, but Dinkelman indicated that, as they’ve begun implementing the shift themselves, the Kernels have seen evidence that the mental aspect of facing the shift can’t be discounted. “Where guys fall in trouble, and we’ve seen it even here at this level, is whenever they see a shift on, guys try to manipulate their swing to try to hit it where the guys aren’t and they end up making just weak contact or swinging and missing. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/DinkelmanGardenhire052718-600x400.jpg Brian Dinkelman and Toby Gardenhire (Photo by SD Buhr) “Toby and I talked about that. You see (an opposing hitter) swing and he’s trying to shoot it the other way because he sees that everybody’s on (the other side of the infield) and that’s just not part of his swing and he can’t do that. So that’s kind of an advantage for us because he’s taking a swing that he doesn’t want to take.” If that’s the case, would it make sense then to coach players to make that kind of swing a regular part of their game, in order to beat the shift? Are we on the verge of returning to the days where every hitter is coached to, “use the whole field?” Not necessarily, but some attempt to broaden a player’s range is only logical, given the current defensive trends. “There are still guys that use the whole field and there are still a handful of guys who are more one side of the field oriented,” Dinkelman explained. “If we can work on them to try to get them to use, say even the middle of the field, so it doesn’t have to just be all pull side. If they use the middle of the field, then their shift that (opponents are) playing against them won’t be as extreme and it’ll still open up a few more holes in the infield.” And what about bunting? Bunting has become a favorite target for ridicule from some of the more ardent supporters of more statistical metrics-based strategies who argue that giving up an out almost never improves a team’s chances of scoring runs. But would bunting more, especially into an almost open side of the infield, make bunting once again become a more important skill? “I think it is,” Dinkelman agreed. “I think that bunting still needs to be used if it’s the right situation in the game. If a guy’s leading off an inning and you need a baserunner or two and they’re playing a shift on you, giving you the whole left side of the infield for a bunt, I’m all for that. Because if you start bunting, they’re going to have to make an adjustment (to their shift) if you keep getting hit after hit.” It’s not a strategy that they’re going to encourage every hitter to employ, however. “Now, if you’ve got a guy who is a complete home run threat, then I’ll probably want to let him go ahead and swing the bat. Because if he hits a home run, that’s one run for us, where if he bunts and just gets a single, it may not do us a whole lot of good. “I think it depends on the player, but I think the bunt is still part of the game, if that’s part of your game, a way to get on base to help produce offense for our team, then I’m all for it.” This season, the Twins have entrusted millions of dollars’ worth of highly regarded young hitting prospects, including successive first round picks Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff, to Dinkelman’s tutelage. While Lewis, Kirilloff and infielder Jordan Gore have been producing at the plate with batting averages staying above .300 and only rare and short periods of anything that could be considered close to a slump, many of the other hitters in the lineup have been slower to come around. After the Kernels’ 16-hit onslaught in their 15-4 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday, Cedar Rapids sports the fourth highest team batting average in the league. But taking away the stats of Lewis, Kirilloff and Gore, you’re left with a team batting average of just .234. Granted, if you take away three .300+ stat lines from any team, the remaining team BA isn’t likely to be terribly strong. Regardless, however, Dinkelman remains bullish on the rest of his offensive unit. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Dinkelman052718-600x400.jpg Brian Dinkelman (Photo by SD Buhr) “They’re all making progress, they’re all learning the game,” he said. “The thing with our roster is we’re so young. We work on things, work on approach and set up, stuff like that. Try to help get them through a daily routine of being a professional baseball player. But they’re coming along nicely.” Nine of the 13 position players on the Cedar Rapids roster are 21 years old or younger and, even after Jacob Pearson’s 20th birthday party on June 1, three will still be teenagers. These guys weren’t facing 94 mph fastballs and 86 mph sliders from every pitcher who stepped out of an opponent’s bullpen before they put on a Kernels’ uniform for the first time. But that’s what they’re getting accustomed to seeing in today’s Midwest League. “These guys are new to this league or to pro baseball, so it takes a little bit of adjustment to get used to it, but they’re coming along,” Dinkelman said. “We’re about two months in now, so I think they’re starting to get the feel or understanding of a daily routine and what they’re going to face daily from the opposing team. “It’s not always about the numbers right now at this level, it’s more about your mindset and making progress and building that routine so as the season goes along or as the seasons go on, you have that to fall back on.”
  16. When Brian Dinkelman hung up his spikes as a player after the 2013 season, a defensive shift with three infielders on one side of second base was still a relative novelty being employed occasionally by the Houston Astros and perhaps one or two other teams at the Major League level. Less than five years later, “Dink” is in his third season as the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ hitting coach and he and Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire are seeing the infield shift deployed several times on a nightly basis – both against their team’s hitters and by their own infielders. The times, they are a changin’. Any regular observer at Class A Midwest League games would likely tell you that the Quad Cities River Bandits probably employ shifts more than any other team in the league. It’s not a coincidence that Quad Cities is the Class A affiliate of the Astros. The Seattle Mariners’ MWL affiliate, the Clinton Lumber Kings, on the other hand, play a comparatively normal infield alignment against virtually every opposing hitter. The Kernels fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes, but the shift is something that has clearly been an increasingly apparent part of their defensive strategy over the course of Dinkelman’s tenure as the club’s hitting coach. And that’s fine with him. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for baseball.” Dinkelman said in an interview during his club’s latest homestand, “Because teams are studying other teams and they’re playing the chances of where they think the hitter’s going to hit the ball, where his tendency to hit the ball is. Now, if that gives your team an advantage to play your players in that sort of position, then I’m all for it, because you’re looking for any advantage for your team to be better than the other team.” It may just be part of the natural cycle of teams trying to find the best way to win a baseball game, but infield shifts certainly have given hitting coaches like Dinkelman one more thing to think about as they help the next generation of position players to achieve their big league dreams. So far, though, it’s not causing a dramatic change in how he and the Twins are teaching the art of hitting a baseball. “We’ve addressed it a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to change the way that we approach it or our swing, to try to hit around the shift. Some guys just are not able to do that with their swing. I’d rather have a guy who can hit the ball hard and hit it right through the shift. Because if you hit the ball hard enough, you’re still going to be able to hit the ball through the shift, for the most part, most of the time.” Lou Boudreau, as the manager of the Cleveland Indians, famously implemented the infield shift to try to contain Red Sox Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams, but even Boudreau admitted later that his hope was that the shift would get into Williams’ head. Whether or not that strategy worked against Williams is open to debate, but Dinkelman indicated that, as they’ve begun implementing the shift themselves, the Kernels have seen evidence that the mental aspect of facing the shift can’t be discounted. “Where guys fall in trouble, and we’ve seen it even here at this level, is whenever they see a shift on, guys try to manipulate their swing to try to hit it where the guys aren’t and they end up making just weak contact or swinging and missing. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/DinkelmanGardenhire052718-600x400.jpg Brian Dinkelman and Toby Gardenhire (Photo by SD Buhr) “Toby and I talked about that. You see (an opposing hitter) swing and he’s trying to shoot it the other way because he sees that everybody’s on (the other side of the infield) and that’s just not part of his swing and he can’t do that. So that’s kind of an advantage for us because he’s taking a swing that he doesn’t want to take.” If that’s the case, would it make sense then to coach players to make that kind of swing a regular part of their game, in order to beat the shift? Are we on the verge of returning to the days where every hitter is coached to, “use the whole field?” Not necessarily, but some attempt to broaden a player’s range is only logical, given the current defensive trends. “There are still guys that use the whole field and there are still a handful of guys who are more one side of the field oriented,” Dinkelman explained. “If we can work on them to try to get them to use, say even the middle of the field, so it doesn’t have to just be all pull side. If they use the middle of the field, then their shift that (opponents are) playing against them won’t be as extreme and it’ll still open up a few more holes in the infield.” And what about bunting? Bunting has become a favorite target for ridicule from some of the more ardent supporters of more statistical metrics-based strategies who argue that giving up an out almost never improves a team’s chances of scoring runs. But would bunting more, especially into an almost open side of the infield, make bunting once again become a more important skill? “I think it is,” Dinkelman agreed. “I think that bunting still needs to be used if it’s the right situation in the game. If a guy’s leading off an inning and you need a baserunner or two and they’re playing a shift on you, giving you the whole left side of the infield for a bunt, I’m all for that. Because if you start bunting, they’re going to have to make an adjustment (to their shift) if you keep getting hit after hit.” It’s not a strategy that they’re going to encourage every hitter to employ, however. “Now, if you’ve got a guy who is a complete home run threat, then I’ll probably want to let him go ahead and swing the bat. Because if he hits a home run, that’s one run for us, where if he bunts and just gets a single, it may not do us a whole lot of good. “I think it depends on the player, but I think the bunt is still part of the game, if that’s part of your game, a way to get on base to help produce offense for our team, then I’m all for it.” This season, the Twins have entrusted millions of dollars’ worth of highly regarded young hitting prospects, including successive first round picks Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff, to Dinkelman’s tutelage. While Lewis, Kirilloff and infielder Jordan Gore have been producing at the plate with batting averages staying above .300 and only rare and short periods of anything that could be considered close to a slump, many of the other hitters in the lineup have been slower to come around. After the Kernels’ 16-hit onslaught in their 15-4 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday, Cedar Rapids sports the fourth highest team batting average in the league. But taking away the stats of Lewis, Kirilloff and Gore, you’re left with a team batting average of just .234. Granted, if you take away three .300+ stat lines from any team, the remaining team BA isn’t likely to be terribly strong. Regardless, however, Dinkelman remains bullish on the rest of his offensive unit. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Dinkelman052718-600x400.jpg Brian Dinkelman (Photo by SD Buhr) “They’re all making progress, they’re all learning the game,” he said. “The thing with our roster is we’re so young. We work on things, work on approach and set up, stuff like that. Try to help get them through a daily routine of being a professional baseball player. But they’re coming along nicely.” Nine of the 13 position players on the Cedar Rapids roster are 21 years old or younger and, even after Jacob Pearson’s 20th birthday party on June 1, three will still be teenagers. These guys weren’t facing 94 mph fastballs and 86 mph sliders from every pitcher who stepped out of an opponent’s bullpen before they put on a Kernels’ uniform for the first time. But that’s what they’re getting accustomed to seeing in today’s Midwest League. “These guys are new to this league or to pro baseball, so it takes a little bit of adjustment to get used to it, but they’re coming along,” Dinkelman said. “We’re about two months in now, so I think they’re starting to get the feel or understanding of a daily routine and what they’re going to face daily from the opposing team. “It’s not always about the numbers right now at this level, it’s more about your mindset and making progress and building that routine so as the season goes along or as the seasons go on, you have that to fall back on.” Click here to view the article
  17. During my time in Cedar Rapids, I had spent time both Friday and Saturday with Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. They are both terrific people. One might say that they are better people than they are baseball players. I think those that know them will agree with that statement even understanding that they are both tremendous baseball players with the potential to be impact big leaguers in the future. As I’ve noted, the two have been absolutely bombarded in recent weeks. There have been phone interviews frequently. Twin Cities media is making the trek south to Cedar Rapids as much as they have since the team’s inaugural season in Cedar Rapids in 2013 when they had players like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jose Berrios and others. Because of that, I knew that I wanted to limit my official time with them, meaning, asking them questions on record. So I came up with two questions for each of them that I hadn’t seen their responses to yet (unless I missed it). To make it more fun, I wanted to interview them at the same time and see how they played off of each other. I also told each of them that if the interview lasted more than five minutes, I would give each of them a dollar. (Note: There were three dollars in my pocket.) There are a lot of similarities between the two, and there are obvious differences as well. While Kirilloff has more power, Lewis has as much speed as anyone in baseball and might develop into a 15-20 home run hitter. They both come from high-character families.They both played in the national showcases. They also both were highly-talented, clear-cut first round picks. So as we are now less than a week from the 2018 MLB Draft, I thought it would be fun to hear what advice these former top picks might have for players who are projected to go early in this draft. Lewis was the Number One overall pick in the 2017 draft out of JSerra Catholic High School in California where he helped his team to Trinity League championships in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Through much of the spring, Lewis was projected to be a Top 10 selection in the draft and Top 5 as the draft got closer. His advice to soon-to-be-first round picks? He said, “Just to be yourself and have fun. As soon as you step away from who you are, the game will eat you alive, and it just turns you into a different animal. Just be yourself.” Kirilloff was another guy who burst on the national scene following a great junior season at Plum High School near Pittsburgh. Many believed that he was the best high school hitter in that 2016 draft, so some scouts were very surprised that he was available when the Twins selected at pick number 15. Kirlloff was drafted hours after leading his high school team to the state championship game. Two days later, they lost in that game, but it was a great run for the team. Kirilloff has good advice for those who could be selected early next week. “ I would just say soak it in, but it’s hard to soak it in and not get caught up in it. I think if you can do both at the same time, it makes it cool. For me, when I was going through the process, I was just having fun, winning with my team. That’s what I was focused on. At the same time, I was just taking everything in and enjoying it. That would be my advise. Soak it in and enjoy it.” The personalities of the two players can be very different. If you’ve seen Royce Lewis in an interview, he’s very charismatic and the joy he has is very clear to any audience. Meanwhile, Kirilloff is more quiet and reserved but at the same time thoughtful in his responses. One more similarity between the top hitting prospects is the fact that they are quite humble. So instead of making them tout themselves, I thought it would be fun to ask them about each other. We started by asking Royce Lewis what it’s been like to play this season with Alex Kirilloff. “It’s been awesome especially because he rarely smiles. So, he’ll hit two homers and then he won’t smile, and it makes it even more fun for me because I get to smile for him. He hits the crap out of the ball. It’s real special to watch. Like I said, when you have greatness on this team, it makes you step up to another level yourself, so it’s been a lot of fun competing against other teams and kicking people’s butt.” When Lewis noted Kirilloff not smiling, I had to look and see if Kirilloff smiled. A definition for “Smile” might be “a pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up.” With that definition, Kirilloff smiled. Now it was Kirilloff’s turn to discuss playing with Royce Lewis. “I just like seeing the joy that he has when he’s playing on the field and the teammate that he is, and the energy that he brings everyday is special. That’s what I feed off seeing from him. The joy that he has, so it’s pretty fun to be around.” And that joy is infectious. Observing the Kernels dugout before each game, there’s no question who the leader of that clubhouse is. It’s Royce Lewis. He’s got special handshakes with the other hitters. When he DHs or when he gets a day off, he is the team’s biggest cheerleader. When a pitcher comes off the mound, he’s usually the first guy high-fiving him. He’s got a home run celebration with Kirilloff. https://twitter.com/SethTweets/status/1000538696188243969 Later, I asked Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire about Royce Lewis and he clearly enjoyed talking about his star shortstop. “With Lewis, he’s a freak athlete, obviously. He can run. He can hit the ball really far in BP which he’ll turn into some power as he develops. But the biggest thing with him is his makeup. He’s just a great kid. He’s a spark plug. He’s a team leader. He’s just a really great kid. That’s the part about him that’s really fun. You see some leadership qualities in him and hopefully he’ll get up to the big leagues and be a Twin for a long time.” Gardenhire was drafted by the Twins in 2002 and again in 2005 after finishing his college years at Illinois. He played in the organization through the 2011 season. He played 173 games in Double-A and 153 games in Triple-A. Over those seven minor league seasons, he played with a lot of teammates. The natural follow-up for me was to ask Gardenhire if he had played with a teammate who exhibited similar leadership and personality traits as Royce Lewis. “Everybody’s a little bit different. Plouffey (Trevor Plouffe in Gardy lingo) had his personality. He (Lewis) lights everybody up. Being around the guy makes everybody happier. He’s just a good guy to have around. Plouffe had a little of that going too.” But Gardenhire notes that Lewis tends to be Must-See TV for his teammates too. “The on-field stuff? He’s just really exciting all the time. That exciting part is kind of like Byron Buxton. You see him do things and think ‘That’s awesome!’ The guys get really excited. But his makeup grade, his ability to be a teammate and all that stuff is pretty cool.” Not to be forgotten as “the other first-round pick,” Kirilloff also garnered high praise from his manager. “The thing about Alex, his makeup grade is really, really high too. He’s a really smart baseball player. He’s extremely mature for his age, and as a baseball player too, he’s very mature in his approach. He knows how to hit. He knows what he’s trying to do when he goes up there. It’s really hard to get him off of that for a pitcher. That’s very rare for a young guy like him. It’s pretty rare. He’s a mature hitter. He’s got a good swing. He does a lot pretty well.” Gardenhire added, “I’ve got him smiling a bit here and there. Here’s a really good kid.” While there has been much debate in the Twins Daily forums regarding when Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff will be promoted over the last month or so, those same conversations go on internally as well. It is very likely to happen. My guess is that they will both participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game and festivities. While the rosters have not yet been announced, it would be shocking if either of them didn’t make it. Trust me, it isn’t an accident that the Twins have drafted a couple of very high character players the last couple of years. I think they will admit that character and makeup are a big part of their reports and evaluation. Obviously the player has to be able to play and have the skill set needed for the lofty draft status, but character matters. And Royce Lewis and Alex Kiriloff have tremendous talent and potential to go with impressive character and class.
  18. They are the talk of Cedar Rapids, at least the talk all around Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, the Kernels home ballpark. People are talking (or raving) about top Minnesota Twins hitting prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. They’re discussed in the press box. They’re discussed by the fans in their seats, especially when they do some of the things that made them first-round draft picks over the past two drafts. Everyone wants to talk about Lewis and Kirilloff and for good reason. Over the weekend, I had a chance to talk to both of them quite a bit. I even hit record for a little while to get a perspective on the two that I haven’t seen yet.During my time in Cedar Rapids, I had spent time both Friday and Saturday with Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff. They are both terrific people. One might say that they are better people than they are baseball players. I think those that know them will agree with that statement even understanding that they are both tremendous baseball players with the potential to be impact big leaguers in the future. As I’ve noted, the two have been absolutely bombarded in recent weeks. There have been phone interviews frequently. Twin Cities media is making the trek south to Cedar Rapids as much as they have since the team’s inaugural season in Cedar Rapids in 2013 when they had players like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jose Berrios and others. Because of that, I knew that I wanted to limit my official time with them, meaning, asking them questions on record. So I came up with two questions for each of them that I hadn’t seen their responses to yet (unless I missed it). To make it more fun, I wanted to interview them at the same time and see how they played off of each other. I also told each of them that if the interview lasted more than five minutes, I would give each of them a dollar. (Note: There were three dollars in my pocket.) There are a lot of similarities between the two, and there are obvious differences as well. While Kirilloff has more power, Lewis has as much speed as anyone in baseball and might develop into a 15-20 home run hitter. They both come from high-character families.They both played in the national showcases. They also both were highly-talented, clear-cut first round picks. So as we are now less than a week from the 2018 MLB Draft, I thought it would be fun to hear what advice these former top picks might have for players who are projected to go early in this draft. Lewis was the Number One overall pick in the 2017 draft out of JSerra Catholic High School in California where he helped his team to Trinity League championships in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Through much of the spring, Lewis was projected to be a Top 10 selection in the draft and Top 5 as the draft got closer. His advice to soon-to-be-first round picks? He said, “Just to be yourself and have fun. As soon as you step away from who you are, the game will eat you alive, and it just turns you into a different animal. Just be yourself.” Kirilloff was another guy who burst on the national scene following a great junior season at Plum High School near Pittsburgh. Many believed that he was the best high school hitter in that 2016 draft, so some scouts were very surprised that he was available when the Twins selected at pick number 15. Kirlloff was drafted hours after leading his high school team to the state championship game. Two days later, they lost in that game, but it was a great run for the team. Kirilloff has good advice for those who could be selected early next week. “ I would just say soak it in, but it’s hard to soak it in and not get caught up in it. I think if you can do both at the same time, it makes it cool. For me, when I was going through the process, I was just having fun, winning with my team. That’s what I was focused on. At the same time, I was just taking everything in and enjoying it. That would be my advise. Soak it in and enjoy it.” The personalities of the two players can be very different. If you’ve seen Royce Lewis in an interview, he’s very charismatic and the joy he has is very clear to any audience. Meanwhile, Kirilloff is more quiet and reserved but at the same time thoughtful in his responses. One more similarity between the top hitting prospects is the fact that they are quite humble. So instead of making them tout themselves, I thought it would be fun to ask them about each other. We started by asking Royce Lewis what it’s been like to play this season with Alex Kirilloff. “It’s been awesome especially because he rarely smiles. So, he’ll hit two homers and then he won’t smile, and it makes it even more fun for me because I get to smile for him. He hits the crap out of the ball. It’s real special to watch. Like I said, when you have greatness on this team, it makes you step up to another level yourself, so it’s been a lot of fun competing against other teams and kicking people’s butt.” When Lewis noted Kirilloff not smiling, I had to look and see if Kirilloff smiled. A definition for “Smile” might be “a pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up.” With that definition, Kirilloff smiled. Now it was Kirilloff’s turn to discuss playing with Royce Lewis. “I just like seeing the joy that he has when he’s playing on the field and the teammate that he is, and the energy that he brings everyday is special. That’s what I feed off seeing from him. The joy that he has, so it’s pretty fun to be around.” And that joy is infectious. Observing the Kernels dugout before each game, there’s no question who the leader of that clubhouse is. It’s Royce Lewis. He’s got special handshakes with the other hitters. When he DHs or when he gets a day off, he is the team’s biggest cheerleader. When a pitcher comes off the mound, he’s usually the first guy high-fiving him. He’s got a home run celebration with Kirilloff. Later, I asked Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire about Royce Lewis and he clearly enjoyed talking about his star shortstop. “With Lewis, he’s a freak athlete, obviously. He can run. He can hit the ball really far in BP which he’ll turn into some power as he develops. But the biggest thing with him is his makeup. He’s just a great kid. He’s a spark plug. He’s a team leader. He’s just a really great kid. That’s the part about him that’s really fun. You see some leadership qualities in him and hopefully he’ll get up to the big leagues and be a Twin for a long time.” Gardenhire was drafted by the Twins in 2002 and again in 2005 after finishing his college years at Illinois. He played in the organization through the 2011 season. He played 173 games in Double-A and 153 games in Triple-A. Over those seven minor league seasons, he played with a lot of teammates. The natural follow-up for me was to ask Gardenhire if he had played with a teammate who exhibited similar leadership and personality traits as Royce Lewis. “Everybody’s a little bit different. Plouffey (Trevor Plouffe in Gardy lingo) had his personality. He (Lewis) lights everybody up. Being around the guy makes everybody happier. He’s just a good guy to have around. Plouffe had a little of that going too.” But Gardenhire notes that Lewis tends to be Must-See TV for his teammates too. “The on-field stuff? He’s just really exciting all the time. That exciting part is kind of like Byron Buxton. You see him do things and think ‘That’s awesome!’ The guys get really excited. But his makeup grade, his ability to be a teammate and all that stuff is pretty cool.” Not to be forgotten as “the other first-round pick,” Kirilloff also garnered high praise from his manager. “The thing about Alex, his makeup grade is really, really high too. He’s a really smart baseball player. He’s extremely mature for his age, and as a baseball player too, he’s very mature in his approach. He knows how to hit. He knows what he’s trying to do when he goes up there. It’s really hard to get him off of that for a pitcher. That’s very rare for a young guy like him. It’s pretty rare. He’s a mature hitter. He’s got a good swing. He does a lot pretty well.” Gardenhire added, “I’ve got him smiling a bit here and there. Here’s a really good kid.” While there has been much debate in the Twins Daily forums regarding when Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff will be promoted over the last month or so, those same conversations go on internally as well. It is very likely to happen. My guess is that they will both participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game and festivities. While the rosters have not yet been announced, it would be shocking if either of them didn’t make it. Trust me, it isn’t an accident that the Twins have drafted a couple of very high character players the last couple of years. I think they will admit that character and makeup are a big part of their reports and evaluation. Obviously the player has to be able to play and have the skill set needed for the lofty draft status, but character matters. And Royce Lewis and Alex Kiriloff have tremendous talent and potential to go with impressive character and class. Click here to view the article
  19. Welcome to the world of Kernels pitcher Edwar Colina, as it existed on April 7 this spring when he took to the mound for his first start in full-season professional baseball. “It was hard for me,” Colina recalled this weekend, concerning his introduction to Midwest spring weather. “It was the first time in my life that I see snow. The weather was really hard. In my home, the regular weather is 85 degrees. 85 to 90 all year. So when I came here, the first week was really hard for me. But the experience is all (part of) baseball. That’s part of the process, you know? “It was hard, because I never pitched in that weather, but you just try to compete and I think I did a good job with the weather.” Indeed he did. Colina accorded himself quite well, considering the circumstances that night, when he got the start for the Kernels’ home opener. He surrendered two runs, just one of which was earned, in four innings of work in what would become a 4-3 Cedar Rapids win. Thanks, in part, to a streak of unplayable weather that followed the Kernels across the Midwest for a week, Colina didn’t get another chance to start until more than two weeks later. In fact, he’s had only three starts this season. He gave up just a pair of hits over five shutout innings in a start on April 24, recording his first win on the year in a game where the temperature was 74 degrees at first pitch, exactly twice what it had been in his first start. That’s pretty good, but both the weather and his performance levels were both just starting to warm up. In his start on Tuesday, May 1 (two days before his 21st birthday), it was 80 degrees in Cedar Rapids when he took the mound for the first inning. When he left the game, he not only had shut out the South Bend Cubs over his six innings of work, he’d also held them without a hit. After Jovani Moran provided three innings of no-hit relief, the pair had combined to throw the first no-hitter for the Kernels in just over five years and Colina’s record rose to 2-0. The no-hitter was a first for Colina. “That was my first no-hitter ever at any level, amateur or professional,” a smiling Colina acknowledged. “It was the first no-hitter of my life.” Whether by tradition or due to superstition, common baseball practice is to pretty much leave a pitcher alone between innings when he has something as meaningful as a no-hitter going on, but that’s not what Colina was doing on Tuesday. “No, I talked to my teammates a lot during the game,” he said. “I talked to the catcher. How we feel comfortable throwing what pitches. I just tried to be a good team mate with my position guys and I did not pay attention, really, to the no-hitter. I just tried to keep focus on the game and to help my team.” Edwar Colina pitches during the Kernels home opener on April 7, 2018 (Photo by SD Buhr) That comment reflects a level of maturity that extends beyond the playing field, as well. Maybe that’s because his path to professional baseball in the United States took a little different route than some Latin American players do. Typically, most of what we hear and read about concerning signings out of Latin America involve 16-year-olds getting significant signing bonuses. You won’t find any old press clippings announcing a huge bonus being paid to a young Edwar Colina, however. Colina wasn’t signed by the Twins until September of 2015, a few months after the hard throwing right-hander turned 18 years old, meaning he missed out on the sort of bonus that the most sought after foreign players are paid. If Colina was disappointed not to be signed as a 16-year-old, he didn’t let that deter him from chasing his dream. “I was not signed when I was 16,” Colina explained, “but I kept working hard for that because I love baseball. And when (the Twins offer) happened, I just took the opportunity.” In 2016, he started 13 games for the Twins’ Dominican Summer League team and began last season in extended spring training before making 12 appearances (11 of them starts) for Elizabethton. Not only has he proven increasingly successful on the mound, he’s also learned the importance of assimilating into his new environment in the United States. Since arriving in this country not much more than a year ago, he’s worked hard to learn English well enough to communicate with teammates and coaches, not to mention fans and the media. While the Twins do offer their foreign-born prospects English classes, Colina credits a fellow minor leaguer from the Netherlands, Taylor Clemensia, with helping him accelerate his understanding of the language. “When I went (to the U.S.) last year, I spent a lot of time with my friend (Clemensia), he’s from Netherlands. I spent like every single day with him and he doesn’t speak Spanish. He helped me a lot. "When I moved to (Elizabethton) Tennessee, you don’t see too many people that speak Spanish there, so that helped me more. You keep practicing with the players. Every day I asked different things to somebody about whatever. You just try to hear some English and that helped me.” Again, his maturity level becomes evident when Colina discusses why he feels learning English quickly is important for more than just being able to carry on a conversation with a reporter. “You never know what would happen later,” he explained. “That’s what I said when I (came) here. Hey, you never know what happens after baseball. Probably, you’ll need your English, so I would do it quick.” With a level head and an arm that generates a mid-90s fastball, one can’t help but wonder what kind of performance Colina will be capable of once game time temperatures get up into the 85-90 degree range he’s more accustomed to pitching in back home in Venezuela. Edwar Colina signing autographs following the Kernels game on May 6, 2018 (Photo by SD Buhr) Of course, if his performance continues to improve at its current pace, he may be pitching in much warmer temperatures in Ft. Myers, Florida, before long. “That’s what I try to do,” he acknowledged, concerning the possibility of a mid-season promotion to the class high-A level. “Try to move quick, fast as I can. I’m working hard every single day to fix my mistakes.” His manager, Toby Gardenhire, has noticed and is a big supporter of the right-hander. “He’s got plus stuff,” Gardenhire said of Colina. “He’s got a really good fastball, obviously, he runs it up there 95, 96 (miles per hour) a lot of times. He’s got a really good slider and a good change-up that he’s been working on. And the ball moves, that’s the biggest thing. He’s 95, 96 and it doesn’t go straight. He’s got a lot of sink. “So his biggest thing is, can he control it? Because he has a tendency to kind of dabble around the plate a little bit. When he’s good, he throws a lot of strikes. He’s done that the last couple of times, so hopefully he just keeps getting better with that, too.” (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com)
  20. Imagine for a moment that you grew up in an area where high temperatures each day run between 80 and 85 degrees, year-round. You enjoy sports, especially baseball, and you can literally play ball every day, all year, if you want. You realize your dream of signing a professional baseball contract and then, one day, you’re pitching for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a mere 2,600 miles, as the crow flies, from your home town. Then you walk out to the mound to pitch your first game of the season and it’s 37 degrees with a 15 mile per hour wind slapping you in the face.Welcome to the world of Kernels pitcher Edwar Colina, as it existed on April 7 this spring when he took to the mound for his first start in full-season professional baseball. “It was hard for me,” Colina recalled this weekend, concerning his introduction to Midwest spring weather. “It was the first time in my life that I see snow. The weather was really hard. In my home, the regular weather is 85 degrees. 85 to 90 all year. So when I came here, the first week was really hard for me. But the experience is all (part of) baseball. That’s part of the process, you know? “It was hard, because I never pitched in that weather, but you just try to compete and I think I did a good job with the weather.” Indeed he did. Colina accorded himself quite well, considering the circumstances that night, when he got the start for the Kernels’ home opener. He surrendered two runs, just one of which was earned, in four innings of work in what would become a 4-3 Cedar Rapids win. Thanks, in part, to a streak of unplayable weather that followed the Kernels across the Midwest for a week, Colina didn’t get another chance to start until more than two weeks later. In fact, he’s had only three starts this season. He gave up just a pair of hits over five shutout innings in a start on April 24, recording his first win on the year in a game where the temperature was 74 degrees at first pitch, exactly twice what it had been in his first start. That’s pretty good, but both the weather and his performance levels were both just starting to warm up. In his start on Tuesday, May 1 (two days before his 21st birthday), it was 80 degrees in Cedar Rapids when he took the mound for the first inning. When he left the game, he not only had shut out the South Bend Cubs over his six innings of work, he’d also held them without a hit. After Jovani Moran provided three innings of no-hit relief, the pair had combined to throw the first no-hitter for the Kernels in just over five years and Colina’s record rose to 2-0. The no-hitter was a first for Colina. “That was my first no-hitter ever at any level, amateur or professional,” a smiling Colina acknowledged. “It was the first no-hitter of my life.” Whether by tradition or due to superstition, common baseball practice is to pretty much leave a pitcher alone between innings when he has something as meaningful as a no-hitter going on, but that’s not what Colina was doing on Tuesday. “No, I talked to my teammates a lot during the game,” he said. “I talked to the catcher. How we feel comfortable throwing what pitches. I just tried to be a good team mate with my position guys and I did not pay attention, really, to the no-hitter. I just tried to keep focus on the game and to help my team.” Edwar Colina pitches during the Kernels home opener on April 7, 2018 (Photo by SD Buhr) That comment reflects a level of maturity that extends beyond the playing field, as well. Maybe that’s because his path to professional baseball in the United States took a little different route than some Latin American players do. Typically, most of what we hear and read about concerning signings out of Latin America involve 16-year-olds getting significant signing bonuses. You won’t find any old press clippings announcing a huge bonus being paid to a young Edwar Colina, however. Colina wasn’t signed by the Twins until September of 2015, a few months after the hard throwing right-hander turned 18 years old, meaning he missed out on the sort of bonus that the most sought after foreign players are paid. If Colina was disappointed not to be signed as a 16-year-old, he didn’t let that deter him from chasing his dream. “I was not signed when I was 16,” Colina explained, “but I kept working hard for that because I love baseball. And when (the Twins offer) happened, I just took the opportunity.” In 2016, he started 13 games for the Twins’ Dominican Summer League team and began last season in extended spring training before making 12 appearances (11 of them starts) for Elizabethton. Not only has he proven increasingly successful on the mound, he’s also learned the importance of assimilating into his new environment in the United States. Since arriving in this country not much more than a year ago, he’s worked hard to learn English well enough to communicate with teammates and coaches, not to mention fans and the media. While the Twins do offer their foreign-born prospects English classes, Colina credits a fellow minor leaguer from the Netherlands, Taylor Clemensia, with helping him accelerate his understanding of the language. “When I went (to the U.S.) last year, I spent a lot of time with my friend (Clemensia), he’s from Netherlands. I spent like every single day with him and he doesn’t speak Spanish. He helped me a lot. "When I moved to (Elizabethton) Tennessee, you don’t see too many people that speak Spanish there, so that helped me more. You keep practicing with the players. Every day I asked different things to somebody about whatever. You just try to hear some English and that helped me.” Again, his maturity level becomes evident when Colina discusses why he feels learning English quickly is important for more than just being able to carry on a conversation with a reporter. “You never know what would happen later,” he explained. “That’s what I said when I (came) here. Hey, you never know what happens after baseball. Probably, you’ll need your English, so I would do it quick.” With a level head and an arm that generates a mid-90s fastball, one can’t help but wonder what kind of performance Colina will be capable of once game time temperatures get up into the 85-90 degree range he’s more accustomed to pitching in back home in Venezuela. Edwar Colina signing autographs following the Kernels game on May 6, 2018 (Photo by SD Buhr) Of course, if his performance continues to improve at its current pace, he may be pitching in much warmer temperatures in Ft. Myers, Florida, before long. “That’s what I try to do,” he acknowledged, concerning the possibility of a mid-season promotion to the class high-A level. “Try to move quick, fast as I can. I’m working hard every single day to fix my mistakes.” His manager, Toby Gardenhire, has noticed and is a big supporter of the right-hander. “He’s got plus stuff,” Gardenhire said of Colina. “He’s got a really good fastball, obviously, he runs it up there 95, 96 (miles per hour) a lot of times. He’s got a really good slider and a good change-up that he’s been working on. And the ball moves, that’s the biggest thing. He’s 95, 96 and it doesn’t go straight. He’s got a lot of sink. “So his biggest thing is, can he control it? Because he has a tendency to kind of dabble around the plate a little bit. When he’s good, he throws a lot of strikes. He’s done that the last couple of times, so hopefully he just keeps getting better with that, too.” (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com) Click here to view the article
  21. What a difference a year makes. A year ago, Ben Rortvedt was getting his first taste of full-season minor league baseball after having been drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2016 amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins. Things did not go well for the young catcher from Verona, Wisconsin. Through April, he was hitting only .096 with an OPS of just .229. This spring, it was obviously important for the young catcher to get off on the right foot in 2018 and put that 2017 start well behind him.Just 19 years old when he opened his first year of full-season minor league ball last season, Rortvedt admits he wasn’t used to dealing with the sorts of struggles he encountered a year ago. “Yeah, last year did not go my way at all and I truly wasn’t used to that,” he recalled. “Since I started slow, I didn’t really know how to handle that. It was kind of rough for the first month or so. I tried to dig out of it and it was really kind of hard for me. I tried to change a lot of things.” While he recovered over the second half of the season to hit right at .280 over the course of June, July and August, he decided this past offseason to go back to what he was familiar with, an approach he described as, “just simplifying everything and seeing the ball. That’s what I did going into spring training.” Whatever he did, it seems to be working. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413d-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo : SD Buhr) Despite a 1-for-11 stretch at the plate in his last three games going into Tuesday night, Rortvedt is still hitting .321 with an OPS of .773. He can feel the difference, too. “I feel really good,” he said. “I’m really comfortable with the league. I know what it’s about. I’ve been seeing the ball well and finding the barrel. “ His manager, Toby Gardenhire, can see the difference, too. “There’s a reason they put guys in the minor leagues and they have them develop and they work them up through the system,” Gardnehire said. “It’s amazing what a year in a place like this will do. He comes back and he’s a totally different guy. He’s more confident now. He knows what to expect. He knows how to go about his day-to-day business a lot better than he did last year. He’s putting in the work and he’s having results.” Gardenhire has noticed more than just greater experience, though. He’s seeing a level of self-confidence in Rortvedt that wasn’t there a year ago. “It’s a confidence thing. If you go up to the plate and you don’t know what to expect from yourself and you’re just trying to make contact and you’re hoping that you do well, that doesn’t usually go very well,” the manager pointed out. “But when you’re going up there and you have a plan because you’ve been there and done it a little bit, then it changes your whole mentality and that’s what Ben’s doing right now. “He’s got kind of a chip on his shoulder where he wants to go up there and be the guy. Last year, he kind of questioned himself a little bit, but this year I don’t see a whole lot of questioning himself in him.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413b-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) Hitting is a good thing, of course, especially for a guy drafted as high as Rortvedt was. But, as a catcher, what he does behind the plate is equally important, if not more so. That’s an area where he’s making some adjustments to his game, as well. For the first time since he joined the organization, the Twins have hired a catching coordinator to work with their minor league backstops. Tanner Swanson joined the organization in that capacity and Rortvedt couldn’t be happier about it. “It was kind of frustrating not having someone to talk to about catching,” Rortvedt said, adding that Swanson’s arrival has changed that. “He’s very hands on, a very approachable guy.” It has meant, however, that Rortvedt is working on changing the way he goes about his business behind the plate. “The new big thing is receiving metrics, working a lot on receiving the ball the right way. It’s different from how I grew up catching. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Rortvedt2-400x600.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) “I grew up with more of an old style of catching, which was catch the ball where it is, try to make it look the best you can, be strong with the baseball. We’re moving more towards moving the baseball, trying to create strikes. So I’m kind of redefining myself behind the plate, trying to find a balance where I can still have my own flavor, but I can also move the baseball a little bit and create more strikes.” It hasn’t necessarily been an easy adjustment to make all the time for Rortvedt. “I grew up catching in seventh or eighth grade and I got really good at being strong with the baseball, so I’ve been fine tuning my game,” he explained. “It was almost frustrating in the beginning, but I think I’m starting to get more the hang of it. It’s a work in progress, just something to add to my game.” Rortvedt’s workmanlike approach to the game is reflected in a simple goal for this year. “I’m just out here to improve myself and win games,” he said. “If you win games, you’re probably doing well and contributing to the team.” This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com. Click here to view the article
  22. Just 19 years old when he opened his first year of full-season minor league ball last season, Rortvedt admits he wasn’t used to dealing with the sorts of struggles he encountered a year ago. “Yeah, last year did not go my way at all and I truly wasn’t used to that,” he recalled. “Since I started slow, I didn’t really know how to handle that. It was kind of rough for the first month or so. I tried to dig out of it and it was really kind of hard for me. I tried to change a lot of things.” While he recovered over the second half of the season to hit right at .280 over the course of June, July and August, he decided this past offseason to go back to what he was familiar with, an approach he described as, “just simplifying everything and seeing the ball. That’s what I did going into spring training.” Whatever he did, it seems to be working. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413d-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo : SD Buhr) Despite a 1-for-11 stretch at the plate in his last three games going into Tuesday night, Rortvedt is still hitting .321 with an OPS of .773. He can feel the difference, too. “I feel really good,” he said. “I’m really comfortable with the league. I know what it’s about. I’ve been seeing the ball well and finding the barrel. “ His manager, Toby Gardenhire, can see the difference, too. “There’s a reason they put guys in the minor leagues and they have them develop and they work them up through the system,” Gardnehire said. “It’s amazing what a year in a place like this will do. He comes back and he’s a totally different guy. He’s more confident now. He knows what to expect. He knows how to go about his day-to-day business a lot better than he did last year. He’s putting in the work and he’s having results.” Gardenhire has noticed more than just greater experience, though. He’s seeing a level of self-confidence in Rortvedt that wasn’t there a year ago. “It’s a confidence thing. If you go up to the plate and you don’t know what to expect from yourself and you’re just trying to make contact and you’re hoping that you do well, that doesn’t usually go very well,” the manager pointed out. “But when you’re going up there and you have a plan because you’ve been there and done it a little bit, then it changes your whole mentality and that’s what Ben’s doing right now. “He’s got kind of a chip on his shoulder where he wants to go up there and be the guy. Last year, he kind of questioned himself a little bit, but this year I don’t see a whole lot of questioning himself in him.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Rortvedt0413b-600x400.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) Hitting is a good thing, of course, especially for a guy drafted as high as Rortvedt was. But, as a catcher, what he does behind the plate is equally important, if not more so. That’s an area where he’s making some adjustments to his game, as well. For the first time since he joined the organization, the Twins have hired a catching coordinator to work with their minor league backstops. Tanner Swanson joined the organization in that capacity and Rortvedt couldn’t be happier about it. “It was kind of frustrating not having someone to talk to about catching,” Rortvedt said, adding that Swanson’s arrival has changed that. “He’s very hands on, a very approachable guy.” It has meant, however, that Rortvedt is working on changing the way he goes about his business behind the plate. “The new big thing is receiving metrics, working a lot on receiving the ball the right way. It’s different from how I grew up catching. http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Rortvedt2-400x600.jpg Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr) “I grew up with more of an old style of catching, which was catch the ball where it is, try to make it look the best you can, be strong with the baseball. We’re moving more towards moving the baseball, trying to create strikes. So I’m kind of redefining myself behind the plate, trying to find a balance where I can still have my own flavor, but I can also move the baseball a little bit and create more strikes.” It hasn’t necessarily been an easy adjustment to make all the time for Rortvedt. “I grew up catching in seventh or eighth grade and I got really good at being strong with the baseball, so I’ve been fine tuning my game,” he explained. “It was almost frustrating in the beginning, but I think I’m starting to get more the hang of it. It’s a work in progress, just something to add to my game.” Rortvedt’s workmanlike approach to the game is reflected in a simple goal for this year. “I’m just out here to improve myself and win games,” he said. “If you win games, you’re probably doing well and contributing to the team.” This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com.
  23. On Friday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will leave a hotel in Minot, ND, having completed this week's Twins Caravan trek. He will get into a luxory limosine bus, along with hitting coach Joe Vavra, pitchers Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins, and others with the team. They will make the long, long drive back to the Twin Cities. When Gardenhire gets off the bus, he will need to really, really rush. You see, he has to get to a groom's dinner. His son, Toby, has his wedding rehearsal on Friday night. Following the season, Toby Gardenhire became a free agent after being with the Twins since they drafted him (for the 2nd time) in 2005. He spent some time looking to see if any offers from other organizations would come in, but when they didn't, and a coaching offer came, he jumped on it. Toby Gardenhire will be the next head coach at Division III UW-Stout starting in the 2012 season.
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