FORT MYERS - Baseball is back, baby. Ok, it was back two days ago when the Twins faced the Gophers, but that was kind of a buzzkill. And it was back yesterday, but it was a road game two hours away, and not even the players wanted to travel that far. But today it was at – as the Hammond Stadium announcer belted out – “the southern tip of Twins Territory.” It was a home game, in Fort Myers, and the crowded concourses a full hour before first pitch validates the urge you feel right now: to hear everything about it.
It also means I’m breaking a vow. A couple of years ago, I swore I would forever go through an entire spring training visit without reporting individual results of games. Why? Because by reporting on them, it lends credence to them meaning something, and they don’t. None of them. And especially not early spring training games. But I also get it: we’re hungry for baseball. So here are a few notes about the Twins 5-5 tie with the Blue Jays
Berrios looked awfully good. He gave up a lead-off hit and the next batter hit a line drive, but it went right to second baseman Travis Blankenhorn, who caught it and turned an easy double-play. After that, he got his last four outs on strikeouts, and there is plenty of excitement about Berrios’ age-25 season. If Berrios can maintain his early season success over the whole season, the sky’s the limit.
Miguel Sano spent the second inning taking the extra bases available to him. He got on base with a sawed off blooper. Advanced to second base on a ground ball to left field. Tagged up and took third on a fly ball to center field. Then tagged up again on a medium fly ball to left field. He didn’t look especially fast in any of those events, but he was easily safe on all of them. I don’t think it means anything, but it’s sure fun to see.
Sergio Romo looked like he got a strikeout on a changeup to a right-handed batter in his third-inning appearance. It also looked like he got a called strike on a changeup to a right-handed batter two batters later. Romo threw a changeup 16% of the time last year – the highest rates in his career – but usually that pitch would be used against opposite-sided hitters as changeups tend to move toward the pitcher’s arm side. He could be experimenting with that pitch early in camp – or I could be wrong about the pitch. Either I or someone else from Twins Daily will ask him about it later this week.
My theory on getting some idea of Twins manager Rocco Baldlli’s initial thoughts regarding batting order for this game looks … um … stupid, despite what we saw last year. The Twins only started three expected regulars for their home opener and they all hit right-handed, and so they batted second, third and fourth in the lineup. There’s not a lot we can glean from that.
However, that meant we got to see Josh Donaldson hitting second, which could end up being his spot during the regular season. That’s the spot Donaldson has hit most often in his career, though he spent most of last year hitting cleanup for the Braves.
The Twins leadoff hitter is likely Max Kepler or Luis Arraez, both of whom hit left-handed, so batting the right-handed hitting Donaldson in that spot would protect against a manager bringing in a left-handed reliever (or an opener) to attempt to neutralize the top two spots in the order. Last year’s #2 hitter, Jorge Polanco, is a switch-hitter, but he profiles as a left-hander with the bat: he posted a .891 OPS versus right-handers last year, and just a 728 OPS versus southpaws.
It’s worth noting that the Twins may not see things the same way. Twins Daily followers on Twitter didn’t. They voted Polanco over Donaldson in the second spot, 46% to 41% in our poll on Friday. (Donaldson won the third spot in the lineup on Saturday.) You can add your two cents the rest of the week by following TwinsDaily on Twitter.
For what it’s worth, the other two regulars in today’s lineup were Mitch Garver hitting third and Miguel Sano hitting fourth. One could make a pretty good case that Garver could hit third for a few MLB teams, but I expect him to be much further down the lineup for the Twins – perhaps as low as seventh or eighth. That shows just how deep this lineup is, especially with right-handed hitters.
Prospects Getting Featured
The Twins have been showcasing their prospects in these early games. Six of their top prospects started against the Gophers on Friday night’s game. Yesterday, top prospect Royce Lewis started at shortstop and number three prospect Trevor Larnach hit cleanup versus the Pirates. Today the Twins had Ryan Jeffers leading off in front of Donaldson, Garver and Sano. No pressure, kid.
There’s a lot of buzz around Jeffers at camp this year. He’s a second-round pick of the Twins in 2018. He profiled as a bat-first player who had played catcher a bit in college but wasn’t expected to stick there. But Jeffers has worked hard to improve his defense while continuing to hit, including posting an .856 OPS in a limited stint (24 games) in AA last year. Twins Daily ranked the 22-year-old as our seventh best Twins prospect this month, and with Brusdar Graterol being traded to the Dodgers, he’s currently at number six.
The Twins also started another top-20 prospect, 23-year-old second baseman Travis Blankenhorn, in today’s lineup, batting seventh. We ranked Blankenhorn as the Twins’ 18th best prospect this year, but he’s been bouncing around our prospect lists for four years. Last year he showed additional power, also at AA, and though he missed a good chunk of the season with an injury, the Twins added him to the 40-man roster this fall to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Repeating his early success last year could go a long way toward re-establishing him as a top 10 prospect or even late season contributor for the Twins. He’s certainly being treated like a potential contributor with some early preseason playing time. He went 0-2 today, but drove in two runs with his efforts.
MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums