Minoring in Twitter: Minor Leaguers get tons of free stuff, and Ben Verlander watched a game with Kate Upton

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com

If you follow Minoring in Twitter, you know I’ll never pass up an opportunity to feature Kate Upton, especially when she’s tweeting about/taking selfies with a Minor Leaguer. Conveniently for us all, she took in an Orlando Magic game this week with her boyfriend, Detroit ace Justin Verlander, and his younger brother, Tigers prospect Ben Verlander:

Even the Orlando Magic retweeted the photo (although they were probably like, who’s Ben Verlander? Fellow Detroit prospect Michael Gerber is also pictured):

And then Justin totally called out his bro on fan etiquette:

He was also genuinely happy for him, too:

(more…)

Notable Quotables: All screwed up

960 Honeywell Bill Setliff 2By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Earlier this week, I profiled Tampa Bay screwballer Brent Honeywell at MiLB.com, writing about his brash attitude and unique breaking ball, inherited from his father (Brent Honeywell Sr.) and uncle (Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall). There’s a lot of fun stuff in there, and I had an absolute blast doing interviews and piecing together the story. There were some details and quotes that I couldn’t fit, but that fans curious either about Honeywell’s personality or the mechanics of the screwball might find interesting. (more…)

Cactus Log: Saying goodbye to Arizona

Salt River Fields, home to the D-backs and Rockies, is not to be missed in Arizona.

Salt River Fields, home to the D-backs and Rockies, is not to be missed in Arizona.

By Tyler Maun/MiLB.com

The worst thing about taking trips is that at some point, they have to end. That’s where I am tonight, back in my home base of writing operations in Denver, 700 miles or so away from Phoenix. The last week was an extremely fun one that taught me one irrefutable lesson: one week is not nearly enough to accomplish everything you want to in the Cactus League. With that, here are a few other observations.

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Backfield Blog: New digs in Fort Myers

960 Twins Camp

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The last time I hung around the backfields at the Minnesota Twins’ Spring Training complex here, it was tough the hear balls cracking off bats over the sounds of hammers hitting nails one hundred feet or so beyond the outfield fence. This time around, it’s a little easier to hear the baseball, and the backdrop is both fantastic and immensely useful to the Twins.

Last June, Minnesota completed $48.5 million worth of renovations to Hammond Stadium and the surrounding CenturyLink Sports Complex, including the construction of a new dormitory for the team’s Minor League players.

The dorm has room to house 108 players, which is more than enough space for all the MiLBers who choose not to move off campus during Spring Training (usually 20 or so guys, estimates director of Minor League operations Brad Steil).

The setup also includes a theater/meeting space that can house about 200 people, as well as classrooms used primarily for teaching English to international players. Players can get three meals a day in the cafeteria, too, meaning no more lunch runs to the local Chipotle (unless, of course, the guys just want to).

“It’s been a great thing for us,” Steil said. “It’s been a nice place to have our meetings this spring where we can fit everybody in there. We’re not jammed in the clubhouse or something. It’s been convenient for the players. Now they don’t have to take vans and busses back and forth.

“They have everything right there. It’s not like they have to run out on their own and get meals. It’s been a really good thing for them.”

On the field, the team’s Rookie-level players hosted the Division III University of St. Thomas (from Saint Paul, Minnesota, which I did not know before today). At least one notable Tommie alumni was also around the complex — Class A Cedar Rapids manager Jake Mauer. Joe’s big brother is a St. Thomas Hall of Famer and holds school records for hits (243), runs (181) and games (187) in a career.

Among the highlights today was a lengthy discussion with Twins right-hander Alex Meyer — some with the tape recorder on, some off. We talked about his changeup, new Minnesota pitching coach Neil Allen and learning how to think less on the bump.

After the interview, I asked him who Tuesday’s starter would be in the Minor League game on the field in front of us, and he said Taylor Rogers, then added that Rogers was his pick as a breakout performer for 2014. Meyer might be a bit biased here — he and the left-handed Rogers were college teammates at Kentucky and obviously share an organization now — along Logan Darnell, also a UK product. That said, I saw a bit of what Meyer saw — his fastball was in the low 90s and pretty well located, and his breaking ball induced a number of swings and misses.

Tuesday’s Minor League games featured Minnesota’s Double-A and Triple-A squads against Boston’s teams. This afforded me a look at Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Manuel Margot, Jorge Polanco and more. As I wrote on the site today, Buxton has had some trouble recreating his swing this spring, and he didn’t look especially sharp in the game, going 0-for-4 with a walk. I wouldn’t read much into that if I were a Twins fan — slumps happen, especially in the spring, and Buxton has a history of slow starts anyway. But perhaps expectations that he’ll rocket out of Double-A should be put on hold.

Cactus Log: Visiting the A’s in Mesa

A's and Angels Minor Leaguers clashed at Oakland's Mesa training complex.

A’s and Angels Minor Leaguers clashed at Oakland’s training complex in Mesa, Ariz.

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com

MESA, Ariz. — After a strange weather day for Cactus League teams on Thursday, Friday was a return to heat, normalcy and, for a lot of Minor Leaguers, the experience of actual game action.

Before heading to Hohokam Stadium to check in with the A’s, I swung by White Sox camp this morning to visit with Chicago’s top prospect and 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon. I spotted him sitting at his locker as soon as I got into the clubhouse and, through the few minutes we got to talk, it was obvious he feels extremely relaxed and prepared for his first full professional season. In nine games, including six starts, between the Rookie-level Arizona League, Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and Triple-A Charlotte, the NC State product posted a 2.96 ERA and 38 strikeouts against 13 walks over 24 1/3 innings. The full video interview is here:

Photo Mar 20, 2 33 32 PM

Oakland’s Fitch Park complex is free, easily accessible for fans and brand new.

It was off to Oakland camp in the afternoon. The A’s have done a tremendous job making the Cubs’ former Spring Training home their own. Oakland converted the old Fitch Park — a former City of Mesa facility — to their new Minor League training hub, and it’s fantastic. Not only is the facility beautiful and top-of-the-line for A’s prospects, it’s also tremendously accessible for fans. There’s ample and free public parking across in the former park, and access to Minor League games also was free.

After wandering in, I hung out for a bit at the A’s Double-A matchup with the Angels. There was a fairly sizable contingent of fans in attendance as well as loads of A’s and Angels players who weren’t taking part in the games. One neat feature of the complex is that at the center of the four-field cluster of diamonds sits “The Birds Nest,” an elevated platform where A’s coaches and brass can watch any game or practice and evaluate players. Somewhat intimidating as a player, I’d think, but an A’s prospect told me he liked the setup.

While there, No. 4 A’s prospect Renato Nunez crushed a monster home run to left-center. He finished the 2014 season on a tear for Class A Advanced Stockton, crushing 20 of his 29 homers in the second half and batting .301/.351/.579 in 64 games after the California League All-Star Break vs. a .255/.321/.449 slash line in 60 games before it.

Today’s blast certainly showcased the power Nunez has flashed in four Minor League seasons. The 20-year-old looks as if he may have added some weight to his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame. He’s powerfully built and turned his trademark impressive bat speed into a mammoth jack over a tall fence in left-center.

While only Double-A and Triple-A games were going on Friday, all A’s Minor Leaguers will be in action on Saturday against the Giants. The former Fitch Park is a really neat experience, with Minor Leaguers, coaches and fans mingling in a way that was more reminiscent of a high school tournament than a buttoned-up professional outfit.

After the action in Mesa, I headed to Tucson for a story I’m excited about. Four Mexican League teams are holding Spring Training at Kino Sports Complex — formerly Tucson Electric Park, home of the Triple-A Tucson Padres from 2011-13 as well as White Sox and D-backs’ Spring Training from 1998-2008 and 2010, respectively.

First, though, I stopped for lunch at Old El Paso Tamales in Mesa, where I spotted this painted on the wall.

The Chihuahuas are not getting into the tamales business in Mesa, but the logo looked good.

The Chihuahuas are not getting into the tamales business in Mesa, but the logo looks good.

Certainly not what I expected to see in a small strip mall restaurant in Arizona, but someone obviously put a lot of work into it.

This post is coming to you from the virtually abandoned press box at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, where I’m joined only by a cadre of crew members from the Mexican TV station broadcasting the game live to its home country. This will be a fun and interesting story to write. It sounds very much like the partnership between the LMB and Tucson is in its early stages with a lot of big things to come.  Tonight’s game, the first in a four-game weekend slate of matchups, pits the Piratas de Campeche and the Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz. The Tigres de Quintana Roo and Toros de Tijuana are also in town, and the Cubs will be sending their Triple-A team for a matchup with Tijuana on Saturday night, following a Quintana Roo-Campeche opener to the doubleheader.

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Campeche and Veracruz stand for the Mexican and U.S. national anthems prior to Friday’s game.

There are a good number of former Minor and Major Leaguers on these teams, and I’ll have a lot more on how this arrangement came to be with these teams holding Spring Training in the States for the first time. As of right now, Campeche leads Veracruz, 7-0, in the bottom of the eighth. I came to this park to catch a White Sox-Brewers game in 2007, and it’s fascinating to see it in such a different light. It’s always extremely cool to me to see unused and underused facilities around the country find new life, though. This is a terrific thing coming together in Tucson.

Former Rangers, White Sox and Braves farmhand Ian Gac it 33 homers in the Carolina League in 2011. Now, he's trying to catch on with Veracruz (and wearing a jersey that says "Ruiz" on it).

Former Rangers, White Sox and Braves farmhand Ian Gac hit 33 homers in the Carolina League in 2011. Now he’s trying to catch on with Veracruz (and wearing a jersey that says “Ruiz”).

That’s it for today. Saturday morning, the Cubs are on my docket at Sloan Park.

Minoring in Twitter: Bradley’s new digs; prospects burned by brackets

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com

D-backs top prospect Archie Bradley sees a future for himself in Arizona — look at that pool!

He needs help, though:

Do you think he’ll invite former D-backs outfielder Will Ferrell over for a pool party?

Our favorite Padres first baseman, Cody Decker, has been busy sharpening his skills at Spring Training:

And he also has thoughts on holding hands:

Austin Anderson, the Orioles’ ninth-round pick last summer, got some bad news this week — good luck, Austin!

Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris gets deep:

Here, I’ll sum up all the March Madness-related tweets from the past week: (more…)

Cactus Log: A morning of rain in Surprise

Thursday's weather forced the Royals to cancel their scheduled Minor League games with the Reds.

Thursday’s weather forced the Royals to cancel their Minor League games with the Reds.

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. — With Minor League game action getting underway in the Cactus League this week, I knew I couldn’t just take away co-worker Jake Seiner’s title for his tremendous blog posts from Florida. Hopefully my first foray into backfield coverage from Arizona will measure up to the great stuff Jake’s been turning in from three time zones away.

When Ronnie Richardson took his new post as Kansas City’s director of Minor League operations this offseason, he said to me today, his Grapefruit League colleagues from his last post in the Atlanta organization told him, “You’ll love Arizona. It never rains there like here.”

What luck. The first scheduled day of games for the Royals’ Minor Leaguers under Richardson’s tenure was a bit of a letdown on Thursday thanks to some uncharacteristic desert weather.

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Bonus Q&A: New York Yankees lefty Ian Clarkin talks Draft, A-Rod, Team USA

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By Danny Wild / MiLB.com

For the rest of our conversation with Yankees prospect and 2013 first-round Draft pick Ian Clarkin, visit MiLB.com.

MiLB.com: You had committed to the University of San Diego. Was it a hard decision to put college on hold?

Clarkin: How the University of San Diego treated me over the years — I committed as a freshman in high school, and over the years they helped me with so much. It wasn’t the decision, it was telling them I wasn’t going to USD. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I care about them so much. I care about the program and I still talk to the coaches — we’re actually going to have dinner soon. But that was the hardest part, telling USD that I was not going to USD.

MiLB.com: You were one of three first-round picks for the Yankees in 2013, Eric Jagielo and Aaron Judge being the others. What was that experience like, being a first-round selection — the last to be picked that round — and do you sort of feel connected to those guys or compare yourself to them at all in terms of development?

Clarkin: I don’t really compare our development. We all love hanging out with each other, and this organization is full of great guys. The difference of being a first-round pick is the pressure and the expectations that you have, that’s the biggest thing. I think all of us have lived up to those so far and we’re ready to do more. Just being a competitor every day, day in and day out — we’re all focused on each other and we’re all hoping for the best for ourselves.

Ian Clarkin jokes with Fresno State University outfielder and 32nd overall selection Aaron Judge. Photo by Paige Calamari/MLB Photos

Ian Clarkin (left) jokes with outfielder and 32nd overall selection Aaron Judge. Photo by Paige Calamari/MLB Photos

MiLB.com: What’s your outlook for 2015? Are you aiming to reach Double-A? Have the Yankees given you another innings limit? (more…)

Backfield Blog: Rijo, Margot, Hart updates as Minor League spring games begin

MargotBy Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Minor League Spring Training game action kicked off today, and I caught my first bit at the backfields behind JetBlue Park, spring home of the Boston Red Sox. Baltimore’s Triple-A and Double-A affiliates were in town, although a number of players likely headed for the Class A or Class A Advanced levels were on hand, as well.

On the Boston side, the Double-A Portland team featured Wendell Rijo and Manuel Margot, a pair of Dominican standouts who shined with Class A Greenville in 2014. Rijo really impressed me when I saw him last spring. Just 5-foot-11, he’s limited to second defensively, but he generates tremendous bat speed — albeit with a lot of violence in his swing. (more…)

Backfield Blog: Burghers vs. Alleghenys

Pirates STEditBy Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Another day, another Minor League camp. After hanging out at Orioles’ camp in Sarasota on Monday, Tuesday brought me to Pirate City in Bradenton.

When I visited Pittsburgh’s Minor League complex last year, I came away impressed by the size of the crowd on hand. Tuesday was very much the same, and Minor League games haven’t even started yet. Being from Pittsburgh originally, I know how Yinzers love their sports and are willing to travel to see them. Even still, the fact that the Pirates seem to regularly draw 100-plus folks out to the Minor League complex is impressive. For comparison, I could probably count the fans at Baltimore’s Buck O’Neil Complex on Monday with the fingers on two hands.

I’ve seen similar-sized crowds at Minor League Spring Training games for Boston and Minnesota, but those complexes are located on the same site as the big league camp fields — most of the MiLB viewers are just overflow MLB fans there primarily for Grapefruit League action. Pirate City isn’t on the same site as McKechnie Field, though, meaning everybody who came to the Minors camp today was there just for the youngsters.

Today’s session was a shorter one, but there were some highlights. I got my first in-person look at 2014 first-rounder (24th overall) Cole Tucker and came away impressed. The 18-year-old is a 6-foot-3 beanpole, but his hands and feet seemed to work really well at shortstop during infield practice. I snagged a little video of him taking batting practice too.

Previous reports suggested Tucker was destined for Class A West Virginia, an aggressive promotion for the 18-year-old — one of the youngest players in the 2014 Draft class. I talked with Pirates player development director Larry Broadway about that, and Broadway said Tucker’s destination hasn’t been determined yet. But the shortstop could show he’s ready for the South Atlantic League this spring, and so far, so good.

“It’s the expectation,” Broadway said. “We’ve challenged him to get himself ready to do that and we’ll see how the rest of the spring plays out. But the expectation is for him to answer the bell and go out and do it.”

Speaking of bells, the highlight of the day was easily the 420-plus foot triple Josh Bell rocked off Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton during an intrasquad scrimmage (Burghers vs. Alleghenys, which made me chuckle). I got the mammoth knock on tape — you can view it in this notebook I wrote about Bell’s transition from the outfield to first base.

I was interested to see Bell work at first and got to do so during infield drills prior to the scrimmage. Reports I’d read from the Arizona Fall League said Bell was a bit rough on the dirt still. I think those are still fair sentiments. His actions aren’t the smoothest and he still doesn’t look entirely comfortable, but he did make all the plays required of him Tuesday, including a nifty pick on a short hop during practice.

Broadway said the team moved him to first in part because they think he’ll just be too big for the outfield, and I believe him. Bell isn’t just a big guy. He’s very uniquely shaped. I described him in the notebook as having the shoulders and waste of a comic book super hero. The image that kept popping into my head was actually the NBA’s Dwight Howard and his cannonball shoulders. Bell isn’t quite that jacked, and he’s only 6-foot-2. But he’s a very distinctive athlete with tons of raw strength. The swing he used to crack that triple off Morton reminded me a lot of vintage Ryan Howard in the way he leveraged the bat through the zone.

That’ll do it for today. Tomorrow is a lighter day for me — the plan is to head to one of the Fort Myers locations (Boston or Minnesota) and take in whatever games are going on. I’m not sure what Boston has planned for Yoan Moncada this early in MiLB Spring Training, but there’s a chance I’ll catch him in game action tomorrow. Even if not, should be a fun day as the teams get their first game action. I’ll be posting updates throughout the day on Twitter (@Jake_Seiner), so feel free to follow along there.

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