Backfield Blog: Minnesota Twins

By Jake Seiner/MiLB.com

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FORT MYERS — Good afternoon from Hammond Stadium, where I’m starting the first of two days here at Twins camp.

Today is a lighter day for me — I spent the morning observing a practice session — and I’m planning to take in the Twins-Pirates Major League game with my parents in just a few minutes. This morning did grant me my first in-person look at Byron Buxton and some of the organization’s other prospects, though. Buxton’s batting practice session was fairly contained, focusing on situational contact like hit-and-runs and line drives the other way.

I was more struck by his work in the outfield during fielding drills. The Twins set up the session by placing a pitching machine midway between the mound and home plate to rocket fly balls to the outfielders. The players started in right field and were allowed to take a running start as coaches shot pop flies into left-center field. Buxton’s ability to gallop through the outfield was striking. His strides are so long, it seemed he was taking one for every two steps some other outfielders needed.

Today marks the first day of Minor League Spring Training games for the Twins, who will square off against Boston’s affiliates. Triple-A Rochester and Double-A Portland are headed over to Boston’s Spring Training site to play there, while Minnesota will host Class A Advanced, Class A and Class A Short-Season games. Tomorrow, they’ll run the opposite schedule, with the older guys playing here and the younger players playing at Boston.

I had a chance to sit down with Twins’ farm director Brad Steil this morning, too. We talked a little about some of the renovations the Twins are making in Fort Myers — the Spring Training complex is bustling with construction workers. The bulk of the work is constructing a new dorm that will mostly be used to house Gulf Coast League players. Steil is hopeful the building will be ready for use by mid-summer.

I got to pick Steil’s brain about some of Minnesota’s top prospects, and while most of that is being saved for some preseason content, here’s some notable takeaways I had from the sit down:

  • Steil hasn’t seen much of right-hander Alex Meyer, who has been pitching over in Major League camp. He expects Meyer to start the year in Triple-A, where he hopes the 6-foot-9 hurler can pick up some lessons about pitching strategies — setting up hitters and applying the changeup he’s worked so hard to improve in the last year.
  • Trevor May should join Meyer in Triple-A. The hurler, acquired from Philadelphia last offseason for Ben Revere, has struggled limiting walks in two seasons at Double-A. Steil said he not only wants to see May work more consistently around the strike zone, but specifically down around hitter’s knees.
  • Steil had good things to say about Jorge Polanco and Adam Brett Walker and the way they performed with Cedar Rapids in 2013. Both should open ’14 with Fort Myers. Steil added that Polanco — who split time between second and shortstop with Niko Goodrum last season — should see more time at shortstop with the Miracle.
  • Kohl Stewart has thrown to hitters once so far this spring, and Steil said the 2013 first-round pick struggled with his command a little. The farm director said Stewart arrived in excellent shape to camp and that the team is pleased with his effort. The issue is that Stewart hasn’t been able to throw much to date — shoulder soreness limited his work during the season and in instructs last summer, so they’ve had limited looks at him thus far.If things break right for Stewart, he could open the year with Cedar Rapids, though his control will need to be better than in his spring debut if that’s to happen.
  • Speaking of Cedar Rapids, the Kernels could have a stacked rotation in 2014. Beyond Stewart, the list of guys who could spend time there include Jose Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, Randy Rosario, Aaron Slegers and maybe even Lewis Thorpe.Rosario had been particularly impressive to Steil, who noted the left-hander worked 92-94 mph in his first spring outing.
  • Lastly, we chatted about Max Kepler a little. The outfielder and first baseman missed the first half of 2013 after injuring his throwing elbow. He moved to Cedar Rapids midseason and struggled to get in the swing of things, but made a little progress getting comfortable in the Arizona Fall League. Kepler could open in Fort Myers, where he will play mostly left and center field with a little first base sprinkled in. One encouraging sign was that Kepler — who’s usually showed below average arm strength — seems to have healed well from last year’s injury and is throwing the ball better than in the past.

That will have to do it for now, as the big league game is about to get rolling and I could use a hot dog before that happens. Will have plenty more from Fort Myers tomorrow.

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