During a routine physical exam early this year, Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan asked his doctor to take a look at a lump on his neck. Testing found Ryan to have squamous cell carcinoma.
Ryan had surgery in February and has undergone radiation treatment as well. In the meantime, Assistant General Manager Rob Antony has filled in as the interim GM for the Twins, though Ryan has been in regular contact with Antony and others in the Twins front office.
During the past Cedar Rapids Kernels homestand, Ryan was in town observing the Twins’ young Class A prospects and sat down Sunday morning for an interview that covered a range of topics.
In Part 1, we’ll cover his return to work, his view of the current state of the Twins at the big league level and his thoughts concerning the upcoming MLB First Year Player Draft that kicks off Thursday, June 5.
Usually a regular presence at spring training and all around the Twins minor league affiliates during most seasons, Ryan has understandably not been making those trips to this point this year. So the first question anyone would likely ask is, how is he feeling?
“I’m feeling OK. This is my first trip. I wanted to come here (to Cedar Rapids) so just in case I couldn’t handle it, I could just get in my vehicle and come back, but I can handle it.
“I’ve got a lot of physical therapy and a lot of rehab to go still. I’m doing that. But I’m OK, I’m fine, I’m fortunate actually.”
Ryan indicated, however, that there still is no specific timetable for his return to full time General Manager duties.
“I’m going back for the draft after this game today (Sunday). That’s a huge piece to our year. It’s one of the most important days to our entire year – maybe the most important. So I’ll be going back for the draft. That’ll be a huge step for me, because I’ve got to get acclimated to the players.
“On an everyday basis, I’ve certainly been participating. I haven’t taken any road trips but that’s about all. And when we’re home, I’m usually at a game up there. So it’s not like I haven’t been involved.
“(Rob Antony) has done a nice job. He certainly knows what he’s doing, he’s been around it. He’s been around Gardy a lot and he’s been around the team a lot. We’re in good hands.
“Ultimately when the time is right, I’ll take a road trip and we’ll kind of make a seamless transition again. I’m not sure when that’s going to be, but it shouldn’t be down in the future too far.”
Asked if that meant we should expect to see him back in the GM chair before the end of the current season, Ryan responded, “Yeah, no question.”
As Ryan indicated, he was headed back up to Minneapolis after Sunday’s Kernels game to participate in the organizational preparations for the First Year Player Draft. The GM wouldn’t tip his hand concerning who the team is targeting with the fifth overall pick in the first round, but Ryan shared what he’d like to see accomplished in the draft.
“Where we’re picking, everybody’s always trying to get the best guy. Nobody cares if they take a pitcher or position player.
“It’s like when took (Byron) Buxton. Everybody thought we were going to take a pitcher. We didn’t. And I caught hell up there. It was ‘pitching, pitching’. Well, the guy is named minor league player of the year. We’ll take the best guy there.
“This has got a little more pitching flavor to this draft. There’s not a clear cut number 1. There are a handful of guys that could go 1. But at 5, we’re sitting in a good spot. We’re going to get a good player or pitcher, it doesn’t matter which way we go. We’re going to take probably the best guy.”
Ryan was asked whether this year’s high number of “Tommy John” injuries among pitchers across baseball makes him feel any greater inclination to draft heavy on pitching.
“I’m guessing we will. We did last year. We did the year before. We’ll draft a lot of pitching just because of the attrition. We need to make sure we have numbers and competition.
“Actually the depth and some of the talent in our organization is starting to lean toward pitching. We’ve got some pitching in AAA. We’ve got some arms that can run it up there with some velocity now, which is good to see.
“But we won’t have enough, so we’ll take a bunch more.
“I’d like to see us take more left handed pitching. That would be my preference. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first guy, but that wouldn’t bother me either.
“For me, left handed pitching is a commodity that’s very difficult to come by. You’ve got to take it and hopefully develop a few of them and get lucky with a few of them. If we took a lot of left handed pitching, I would be very pleased.”
While his trip to Cedar Rapids was his first road trip of the season, Ryan has seen a lot of the parent club’s home games in Minneapolis. The Twins have hovered near the .500 mark through most of the season and just completed a rare series win over the Yankees in New York over the weekend. Ryan was asked for his impressions of the Twins’ performance so far.
“We’re better. It didn’t help us when (Josh) Willingham and (Oswaldo) Arcia both went down at the same time. Although at that time, we were scoring runs. (Chris) Colabello carried us for a month, maybe more. We’ve had trouble offensively again this past month.
“Our pitching is improved, our hitting went the other way. It was directly opposite in April. We’re a better club. We’ve got more depth.
“We’ve had a couple of pleasant surprises, particularly (Eduardo) Escobar. He’s kind of emerged and looks like he might want to take that shortstop job. I think (Trevor) Plouffe has improved. (Kurt) Suzuki has been a good addition. (Phil) Hughes has been a good addition. Unfortunately, we lost (Mike) Pelfrey, again. But we’re better.
“We’re competitive. We have not embarrassed ourselves, maybe a game here or there, but not too much. Unlike last year when we were out of games in the fifth (inning) a lot.
“We do have some chemistry and character on this club that seems to mesh pretty well . When you go to the park, you feel pretty good. At least we’re going to be a competitive team in this game. That’s a big difference.
“The one constant, our bullpen has been pretty good over the last number of years. (Glen) Perkins in the back side of that thing has solidified that.
“We’ve got a handful of guys up there that people didn’t see last year, which is kind of neat. Between (Josmil) Pinto and Escobar and (Danny) Santana and (Caleb) Theilbar and Arcia, all those guys are 20-25 or so.
“We’re getting there. We’ve got a ways to go. What we’ve done the last three years has not been good at all, but we are getting there. It’s going to take a little bit more.”
Tomorrow, in Part 2, Ryan shares some of his observations concerning the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the challenges they’ve faced this season.