BASEBALL STARTS THIS WEEK!!!!
I’ve been down here in Fort Myers, Florida, for several days now and I’ve been very slow about posting anything here. My bad.
The newly remodeled stadium at the Twins’ complex (now named “Century Link Field”) is very nice. Much wider concourses and a lot of variety of seating options. I’ve seen parts of a couple games at the new place, as well as a game against the Phillies at their Clearwater home. I plan to also see the Twins take on the Orioles up in Sarasota on Sunday.
But I’ve spent the lion’s share of my time over on the back fields watching the minor leaguers, in particular the two Class A groups. One of them made up of guys who were Cedar Rapids Kernels last year and are likely to play for the Fort Myers Miracle this season, the other made up of players likely ticketed to start this season in Cedar Rapids.
I’ve taken quite a few pictures and maybe I’ll work at getting them downloaded and posted here once I get back to Cedar Rapids next week.
For now, I’m going to share three separate articles I wrote for MetroSportsReport.com in Cedar Rapids. Since I don’t have space concerns here, I’m just going to combine them all in this one blog post. Enjoy.
Gonsalves Will Have a New Pitch When He Returns to Cedar Rapids
Ask Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Stephen Gonsalves about his offseason and the first thing he may mention is his vacation to Australia with fellow Twins pitching prospects Lewis Thorpe and Sam Gibbons.
“It was Sam’s 21st birthday so we made a little vacation out of it,” Gonsalves explained on Friday, while watching his Cedar Rapids Kernels teammates take on a group of Tampa Bay Rays Class A prospects.
But hanging out with Aussies Thorpe and Gibbons down-under for a couple of weeks was just one small part of Gonsalves’ winter.
The 20-year-old lefty starting pitcher played a crucial role in the playoff drive the Kernels put together during the second half of the 2014 season. He notched a 3.19 Earned Run Average while striking out 44 batters in just 36.2 innings of work over eight starts with Cedar Rapids.
Some young pitchers might have felt satisfied with those numbers and focused their offseason workouts on simply adding some muscle or improving their conditioning, but not Gonsalves.
The young Californian combined a 90 mph fastball with an effective slow curve and an equally effective change up to solidify his ranking as a consensus top 20 prospect within the Twins’ organization heading in to 2015.
Rather than being satisfied with that, Gonsalves went home after participating in fall instructional league and went to work on broadening his arsenal of pitching weapons.
“Right after instructs, I went home and started working out that next week,” Gonsalves said.
“Home” for Gonsalves is San Diego, California, and he wasn’t working out alone there. He worked out with a couple of other well-credentialed pitchers with San Diego ties.
“I was able to work out with Stephen Strasburg this whole offseason, got to pick his brain a lot,” Gonsalves recalled. “James Shields was there, also. So I got to mix in a lot with those guys and kind of pick their brains the entire offseason. Helped me out a little mechanically on the hill, also.”
Strasburg and Shields were both rotation leaders for Major League postseason participants last year, Strasburg with the Washington Nationals and Shields with the Kansas City Royals. Shields inked a new deal as a free agent this offseason with the San Diego Padres.
“I was working on a slider,” said Gonsalves. “That’s what Shields is known for, his slider, so I got to work with him for about a month just specifically on that pitch for a while. It’s coming along nicely. The Twins are starting to like it.”
So far this spring, the results seem to be positive. He’s been in Ft. Myers since March 1, well before the minor leaguers began playing games. He’s made three solid appearances, building up his pitch count and getting ready to head north to Cedar Rapids when camp breaks the first full week of April.
Gonsalves acknowledged that he’s likely to be one of just a small number of 2014 Kernels returning to open the new campaign in Cedar Rapids, but he’s looking forward to opening the year with the new crew of Kernels.
“We’re going to have a whole new team, pretty much, (but) we’re going to have a good little squad together. It’s going to be fun. We’re going to be a little scrappy team.”
Chad Christensen Hoping His Time Playing Before Hometown Fans is Over
Almost a year ago, Cedar Rapids Washington grad Chad Christensen got the word he would be making his full-season pro baseball debut with his hometown club, the Cedar Rapids Kernels. This spring, the Minnesota Twins farm hand is hoping to avoid a return trip to Cedar Rapids.
You can’t blame a guy for preferring a promotion up the Twins’ minor league ladder over another summer living at home.
In fact, hitting .272 for the Kernels last season,Christensen left Cedar Rapids, just like his Kernels teammates.
“I went back to Lincoln and lived there,” Christensen explained. “A lot of guys that are in pro ball are back there so we kind ofwork out together and use the (University of Nebraska) facilities andeverything. That’s where I was doing my workouts.
“I came home (to Cedar Rapids) for a couple of weeks before I came here (Fort Myers). I got down here a little early, February 23rd, to get outside, get out of the cold and get back to baseball.”
With about two weeks of spring training left, his ultimate assignment is primarily just speculation, at this point, but every player in camp is hoping for a promotion and, for Christensen, that would mean a spot on the roster of the Twins’ class high-A affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle.
“I’m not positive,” Christensen said, when asked about whether he’d heard anything about where he would open the 2015 season. “I would think probably down here (in Fort Myers). But I’m just playing, it’s not up tome. I’m just trying to play every day and stay healthy and get back in the swing of things.”
For Christensen, playing every day last summer meant spending time playing all around the diamond defensively for the Kernels. Christensen played all over the outfield, but also logged 90 games at firstbase. He also played 27 games at third base for Elizabethton in 2013.
Versatility is a benefit for players trying to get noticed in a professional baseball organization and Christensen will be continuing to demonstrate his willingness and ability to move around the field. During spring training, however, it’s clear the Twins are wanting to see him in the outfield as much as possible.
“I’ve been playing all outfield – all three outfield spots,”said Christensen. “Obviously, if I’m needed to go in to the infield again, Ican go in the infield, but I’ve been in the outfield down here, so far.”
An assignment with the Miracle would keep Christensen with alot of last summer’s Kernels. Of the thirty or so players currently listed onthe Miracle’s spring training roster, over 25 spent time in Cedar Rapids last season. Christensen likes the idea of sticking with that group.
“Yeah, we have a good group. Guys come ready to go every day, that’s what makes it fun,” said Christensen. “We’re looking forward to getting the season going.”
Christensen isn’t the only one ready to get the season rolling. Kernels hitting coach Tommy Watkins indicated he is more than ready to head to Cedar Rapids. “This is like Groundhog Day,” Watkins said, alluding to the day-after-day repetitive nature of the spring training routine.
Christensen indicated the players are starting to feel the same way.
“Yeah, we’re starting to get kind of anxious this time of year.”
Jake Mauer Hopes to Have His Roster Set Soon
In less than two weeks, Cedar Rapids Kernels manager Jake Mauer will be bringing a fresh crop of 25 ballplayers north from their spring training home in Fort Myers, Florida. The exact constitution of that roster, however, is still somewhat of work in progress.
Mauer said he’d like to get things finalized soon, however.
“Ideally we’d like to have who we’re going to take to Cedar Rapids that last week of spring training,” Mauer explained on Thursday, just before his squad took on a Class A group of Boston Red Sox prospects.
“You can do different things and put in different signs, things we’re going to use throughout the year. Make sure we get all the kinks out before we start up there at Kane County (where the Kernels open their season on April 9).”
Mauer will be entering his third season as manager of the Kernels. In fact, among all of the Twins organization’s full-season teams, he’s the only manager assigned to the same club he led a year ago.
The Twins hired Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to manage the big league team this season and former Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade is taking over the AAA Rochester Red Wings. Jeff Smith and Doug Mientkiewicz swapped their assignments this year, with Mientkiewicz managing AA Chattanooga and Smith taking over high-A Fort Myers.
Mauer indicated, though, that he wasn’t surprised to be assigned to Cedar Rapids again.
“No, I wouldn’t say surprised,” he said. “Obviously, Cedar Rapids is a pretty good fit for me on a personal level, family-wise. Professional-wise, baseball is baseball, wherever you’re at and at the level I’m at, I really enjoy being around the young guys and teaching every day.”
Kernels fans may recognize the team’s manager this season, but they are going to want to pick up a program early on their first trip to the ballpark and study it closely, because they aren’t likely to see many familiar names or faces among the 2015 Kernels players
Starting pitchers Stephen Gonsalves and Mat Batts are looking likely to return to start their new season with the Kernels and both have been, “throwing it well,” according to their manager.
John Curtiss, who joined the Kernels to make a start during their playoff run a year ago, is also likely to start his summer with the Kernels.
“As far as those starters, folks in CR have seen those guys a little bit, but our bullpen is going to be pretty much all new guys from what it looks like,” Mauer said.
“As far as position players, I don’t think we’ll have too many guys that were there last year. Maybe a few guys that were there for a portion of the year, we may get back,” he added.
Outfielders Zack Larson and Max Murphy are the only position players with time in a Kernels uniform who have been assigned to the most recent Kernels spring training working group.
Mauer was quick to point out that the roster is not set, however.
“It will depend with, obviously Molitor running the big league club, who he likes, who he wants to keep.”
The parent Twins are still about 10 players over their opening day roster limit, so as the big club makes further cuts, there could be additions and/or subtractions from the current group of prospective Kernels.
Once the season gets underway, Mauer indicated he felt the team may be relying on their starting pitching early on.
“I think we’ll have some starting pitchers with a little bit of experience that I think we’ll lean on, especially early in the year. They’ll need to go out there and set the tone.”
Offensively, the Kernels are going to be relying on a lot of players with little or no experience above rookie-level short season ball at Elizabethton last season.
“We’re still trying to kind of get to know these guys a little bit,” Mauer said, of his position players. “As far as team speed, I don’t know if we’re going to have a lot of it. We’re going to have some guys that put up decent numbers in E’Town. Obviously, we all know it’s different going in to the Midwest League, facing a little different caliber of pitching.”
A number of players are having strong springs, but Mauer was philosophical about his expectations for the Kernels once they leave the mid-80 degree temperatures of Fort Myers behind and head north.
“We may go through some growing pains, but hopefully it’ll all shake out. We’ll see how we react when it’s thirty degrees out.”
Ok, folks, it’s that time of year again! Knuckleballs (more precisely, me) runs an EZ League each year. We have 4 open slots for teams to join up.
It’s a FREE Yahoo head-to-head league with an autodraft so you don’t HAVE to know anything in advance but you still have the option to preset your draft rankings according to your own wishes too. Use the “contact us” link above to let me know if you want to join in!
You have until Saturday to let me know – feel free to spread the word if you want a buddy to join you!
Almost exactly 11 months ago, Mitch Garver arrived in Cedar Rapids to get started on his first full season of professional baseball in the Minnesota Twins organization. This spring, he’s a big league catcher – for now, anyway.
Garver, the Twins’ ninth round draft choice in 2013 out of New Mexico, spent all of last season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, not only playing a leadership role behind the plate but at the plate, as well. He hit .298, led Cedar Rapids with 79 RBI and was voted the Midwest League’s post-season all-star catcher.
Garver reported to the Twins’ spring training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, with the other Twins major league pitchers and catchers in February and he’s been putting on a big league uniform every day since.
Major League teams invite a limited number of their minor league catchers to big league camp every spring in order to have enough catchers to handle catching duties for all of the pitchers that need to work out their kinks during the first four weeks or so of spring training and Garver got one of those coveted invitations to big league camp this year. (Tyler Grimes, who caught for the 2013 Kernels, also is getting a taste of big league life with the Twins this spring.)
On Friday, Garver talked about his experience this spring in the Minnesota Twins’ major league camp.
After Garver and the Kernels wrapped up their 2014 season back in September, he spent a little time in Minnesota and Florida getting checked out physically, including a CT scan due to late season concussion issues.
“No issues there, everything came back clean,” Garver assured. “It was just an experience for me to make sure everything was OK. I got to see Target Field and everything around there. They wanted to make sure I was healthy enough to go back to Albuquerque to work out, so I was in (fall instructional league in Fort Myers) for a month to kind of iron some things out.”
Garver split the next couple of months between time with his fiancé in Corvallis, Oregon, and with his family in New Mexico.
It was while in New Mexico that he woke up one morning, about a week before Christmas, to find he had a missed call on his phone.
“It was at like eight or nine in the morning and I didn’t know what the number was,” Garver recalled. “So I called it back.”
It was a good decision. The call turned out to have been from Twins General Manager Terry Ryan.
“He asked me how my health was and made sure everything was good with my hips and with my brain and everything. I told him I was doing great, having a great offseason. Then he invited me to spring training.” That’s major league spring training, with the big league Twins.
“It was really exciting. Very cool,” added Garver.
Garver has been in camp since February 20 and, as you might expect, walking in to a big league clubhouse as a player for the first time was special.
“It’s very different because you walk in and you find your locker and you turn around and there’s five clubhouse guys behind you. Five clubbies, asking you if there’s anything you need, anything they can do for you at that moment in time. You’re just being bombarded with love, it seems like. It’s a cool experience. It’s just fun to be here.”
He’s not just there for the cool experience, of course. Garver is there to work. He’s rooming with fellow Twins catching prospect Stuart Turner at the new baseball academy that the Twins have built on-site at their complex in Fort Myers.and, according to Garver, their days get off to a pretty early start.
“I wake up at 6:30, we leave the academy about 6:40 and get over to the field. I like to get there a little bit early. They have breakfast for us over there in the new, renovated locker room and kitchen. And the weight room is right there as well. Sometimes you work out in the morning, sometimes you go hit in the morning or you do both.
“And then team meetings around 9:00. After that, we head out to different fields and do PFPs (pitchers’ fielding practice), bullpens, live batting practice, baserunning, bunt defense. There’s a defensive station every day. So either we’re catching bullpens or we’re doing something catching-related. For that particular day, it could be blocking or the next day it could be catching pop flies or anything like that. But most of the time, it’s bullpens and we get all of our work in during the bullpens.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s probably around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and you go have lunch and then you call it a day.”
The time Garver and other young players get on the field with major league players and coaching staff is valuable, of course, but it’s not the only aspect his first big league spring training that Garver is taking advantage of.
“It’s nice to get to know these guys (the major leaguers). You kind of want to get associated with them and learn what kind of people they are off the field, because you already know what they can do on the field. It’s fun to talk with them and converse about different things, finding out where people are from and all of these different stories they have, baseball related or not.
“Torii Hunter has some really different stories about everything. It’s fun to listen to him talk. It’s just a good experience overall.”
The experience also has made Garver even more aware of just how close he could be to realizing his dreams of being a major league ballplayer.
“It’s surreal. You’re playing with superstars and if you put it in perspective, you’re not that far off,” Garver observed. “Just a hop, skip and a jump away from being in the big leagues, whatever level you’re at.”
Garver got his first taste of big league game experience on Thursday night, as a pinch hitter, in the Twins first spring training game. It was memorable on multiple levels for Garver.
“I was sitting in the dugout (Thursday) night and we were playing the Boston Red Sox. People that I’ve only ever seen on TV, or only ever imagined playing against are in the other dugout,” he recounted.
“And in the other dugout is one of my best friends from Albuquerque, Blake Swihart. He’s one of the best catching prospects in the game and it’s just surreal seeing him over there. Then he’s catching when I’m batting and I’m facing a big leaguer (Boston reliever Matt Barnes). It’s kind of weird to think about it, but it’s right there in front of me. I’ve just gotta go get it.”
As exciting as the experience has been and continues to be, Garver is realistic and knows his time in the major league clubhouse is going to come to an end (for this season, anyway) shortly.
Minor leaguers begin reporting to spring training in a few days and eventually Garver will be joining them at the minor league complex across the parking lot from the Twins’ big league facility.
Garver is OK with that.
“Yeah, it’s coming. I know it is. Everybody knows it is. I think the 15th will be our last day and the 16th is the day we’re sent back.
“But you know what, that’s fine with me,” said Garver, in a tone of voice that certainly sounded genuine.
“I’ve come, I’ve seen, I’ve learned a lot of things thus far. And I think being sent down to the minor leagues is going to be a good thing because I’ll get to play every day. I can prepare myself for the season, as opposed to helping major leaguers prepare for their season, because I’m just kind of helping out right now.”
Asked whether he’d like to add a couple of points to his batting average in 2015, to get it up to the magic .300 mark, Garver laughed and said that was, indeed, one his goals. But then that’s not new.
“I want to hit .300, I want to make the All-Star team and I want to have the most RBIs on the team. There you go. Those are my goals. The same as last year and the year before.”
If you spend much time reading through the Forum section of sites like TwinsDaily.com, TwinkieTown.com, or any comment section of just about any Twins-related story published anywhere, it doesn’t take long to realize that Twins fans, by and large, don’t necessarily agree with one another on many issues.
We didn’t agree on whom the new Twins manager should be; we don’t agree on our expectations for how the Torii Hunter and Ervin Santana signings will work out; and, just generally, we don’t really agree on whether the Twins will win many more games in 2015 than they have the past four years.
There will never be unanimity on many topics, but I think there’s one thing almost all of us tend to agree on.
The offseason sucks.
The baseball offseason in the upper Midwest is different than in some other parts of the country. We can’t exactly spend our offseason on the golf course, like baseball fans in Florida and Arizona can. Rather, we tend to spend our baseball offseason in two ways: getting ready for winter and enduring winter.
It hasn’t exactly been a brutal winter this year, but I did spend a fair amount of my pre-SuperBowl day on Sunday with a shovel in my hand. I know it’s not at all logical, but in situations like that, I tend to blame my misery on baseball’s offseason.
For all the talk about how elimination of double headers and the expansion of the playoff structure has caused the MLB season to be extended well beyond what it has historically been, the one benefit of that elongation of the season is that it has caused the offseason to shrink. We actually only have to endure less than four full months of offseason.
November is when we most vocally demand changes to fix whatever went wrong in just-finished season. Trade all the players, bring in a new manager, get rid of some coaches, throw out the front office, etc.
In December, we’re well in to free agent season, highlighted by baseball’s winter meetings. Even if we realize our expectations should be tempered, with regard to the Twins pursuit of the best free agent talent available, it doesn’t stop us from engaging in debate on the pros and cons of doing so.
January is the dead zone. Most of the most prominent free agents are locked up (at least those that the Twins are likely to be in play for), spring training is still just a pinprick of light at the end of the offseason tunnel and it is friggin cold outside. The Twins try to generate a little heat for us with Winter Caravan and Twinsfest, but since I seem to end up driving in a blizzard any year I attempt to venture to the Twin Cities for Twinsfest, any heat that’s generated tends to dissipate quickly for me.
And then there’s February.
Sunday, even as I was shoveling a foot of snow out of a driveway that, technically, isn’t even mine, I confess that I found some comfort in the realization that we have reached the point where we can say, “spring training starts THIS MONTH!”
It may be a few degrees below zero outside, but I do feel warmer already.
In case you missed it, there’s a new Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
I know that, for many fans, that may come as a shock. There are fans that legally enjoy a brew or two at ballgames who have never attended a big league game that wasn’t played under rules dictated by Bud Selig. If it’s true that, “the exception proves the rule,” then that applies to Bud Selig’s role in “proving” the Peter Principle. There’s no other way to explain that man surviving 22 years as Commissioner of Baseball.
But today is not the day to trash Selig. Today we humbly beseech his replacement, Rob Manfred, to finally do something about a couple of the most outdated and ill-advised Selig policies. These are two issues that I have long felt were the dumbest, most indefensible of all MLB policies and yes, I’ve written here about both before – several times, in fact.
I’m referring to baseball’s policies concerning compensation for minor league players and their MLB.tv blackout policy.
These two issues are illogical, at best, and offensive, at worst, in the way that they reflect MLB’s low views of the value they place on two of the assets most critical to the game’s long-term viability – their future players and their current & future fan base.
FOX Sports writer Jon Paul Morosi posted an article recently that listed a number of issues that Morosi felt Manfred should focus on as he inherits Selig’s throne atop Major League Baseball. I may disagree with Morosi’s view concerning Selig’s legacy, but his list of topics where Manfred could make improvements included a number of valid possibilities.
Unfortunately, it did not include any mention of paying minor leaguers even minimum wage, much less a living wage, nor did Morosi mention the blackouts. I’m not surprised, of course. The next baseball writer from a major media outlet to properly and persistently shame baseball on either topic will be among the first.
I won’t go in to great detail concerning either topic. There are plenty of articles available with a simple Google search authored by far more knowledgeable and talented writers than yours truly.
But if you really want to read my take on the issues, you can find my thoughts on minor league pay by clicking here and on blackouts by clicking here (where I asked the Twins President why he didn’t want me to be a fan) … and here (where I attempted to start an “Alice’s Restaurant”-like movement)… and here (where I basically just trashed Selig for his inaction on the subject).
On the pay issue, suffice to say that, unless you are a US player drafted in the top couple of rounds or one of the very highest regarded international 16 year olds playing ball anywhere in the world, signing your name on a contract to play professional baseball in this country is a losing proposition. You’d almost certainly have a better shot at making a living off your competitive fire by taking up Texas Hold’em.
Wages for minor leaguers start in the neighborhood of $1,100 a month. That’s gross (in more ways than one). Uncle Sam is going to take his share and then there’s clubhouse dues, all of which leaves a typical player with a few hundred dollars a month to cover luxuries like housing, transportation and food.
Of course, the players only get their money while they are assigned to an actual minor league roster. No pay for offseason workouts or team-sponsored appearances. No pay for spring training.
You think there’s really little difference for a player who gets the final roster spot on a full season Class A roster coming out of spring training and the first guy left off who stays behind at extended spring training? Guess again. One guy gets paid a pitiful sum. The other guy doesn’t even get that.
In his article, Morosi did include this item on his recommended to-do list for Manfred: “Engaging young athletes, especially African-Americans.”
Here’s a thought, Mr. Manfred. Maybe if you actually paid young players working their way toward the big leagues a living wage, athletically gifted kids (of any ethnicity) wouldn’t laugh at you any time you suggest they put their talents to work at baseball instead of other sports, where at least they have a shot at becoming more famous indentured servants of major colleges.
The good news is that a lawsuit against baseball has been filed on behalf of minor leaguers, asking the courts to require teams to pay at least minimum wage salaries to players.
What is MLB’s reaction to that challenge, under Selig and, so far, Manfred? They’re trying to convince Congress to specifically categorize ballplayers as “seasonal workers,” akin to carnival workers. And they’re enlisting the help of their minor league affiliates to help lobby their elected representatives on baseball’s behalf, via not-so-thinly veiled threats of “contraction” of minor league teams if baseball is forced to increase pay to their future players.
Those are nice guys running big league baseball, huh?
Likewise, the issue of blackouts has been out there for years. Promises from MLB executives (including Mr. Selig, himself) to take a look at the issue go back at least to 2008 and probably further. But here we are, in 2015, and still cable TV subscribers in Iowa are blacked out from watching any game involving the Twins, Cubs, White Sox, Brewers, Cardinals or Royals, unless it’s a national network game. The blackout even applies to subscribers of MLB.tv.
This has been frustrating to me and my fellow Twins fans in Iowa for years, but nobody in baseball or the media has really cared.
Now, however, thanks to WGN no longer broadcasting Cubs games on the national version of their network, a lot of Cubs fans outside of greater Chicago may suddenly discover the problem. Welcome to the club, folks. Maybe you can get the national media to notice the problem.
As with the minor league pay issue, there’s some news on this front. Baseball has indicated they are looking in to the matter and there may be changes to the policy forthcoming.
Hmmmm… I think we’ve heard that before.
Anyway, Mr. Manfred, if you want to convince me you are any different than your predecessor whatsoever, you can start by proving you give a damn about your fans and about just being fair to the thousands of young players who are feeding your talent pipeline by clinging to their dream of playing big league baseball.
Until then, a lot of us will continue to view you as nothing more than “Bud Light.”