Manfred Should End Outdated Selig Policies on Minor League Pay & Blackouts

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.

Rob Manfred, Bud Selig (Getty Images)

Rob Manfred, Bud Selig (Getty Images)

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 Today we humbly beseech his replacement, Rob Manfred, to finally do something about a couple of the most outdated and ill-advised Selig policies.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).

Most of these guys are among the lowest compensated people at the ballpark.

Most of these guys are among the lowest compensated people at the ballpark.

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.

blackoutmap

Look at all the pretty colors in Iowa and Nevada!

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.”

– JC

Twins Caravan Stops in Cedar Rapids

As has become the custom since the Minnesota Twins and Cedar Rapids Kernels became affiliates, the Twins’ Caravan made a stop in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday night, in conjunction with the Kernels’ annual Hot Stove Banquet.

CaravanHotStove2015

(L to R) Gene Glynn, Brad Steil, Jake Mauer, Kris Atteberry, Glen Perkins, Paul Molitor

Combining the banquet, which includes induction ceremonies for the most recent class of Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame members, with the Caravan does make for a rather long evening, but that didn’t stop the event from being sold out. The banquet is a primary fundraiser for the Kernels’ charitable foundation.

The Caravan was emceed very well by Kris Atteberry and included manager Paul Molitor, coach Gene Glynn, farm director Brad Steil, Twins closer Glen Perkins and returning Kernels manager Jake Mauer.

The CR Baseball Hall of Fame inductees included former CR minor leaguers Nick Adenhart and Chili Davis, as well as Lanny Peterson, who has been the driving force behind the Kernels’ top-notch host family program, and broadcaster Bert Wilson, who worked in Cedar Rapids before going on to broadcast Cubs games in the 1940s and 50s.

The Adenhart induction was particularly moving as his step-father was present to accept the award on behalf of the Adenhart family. The family continues to help fund an annual scholarship awarded by the Kernels Foundation each year in Nick’s name.

The Caravan portion of the program had, as would be expected, largely a positive tone from all involved.  There were two particular highlights (for me anyway).

"Floyd" and Glen Perkins, Paul Molitor

“Floyd” and Glen Perkins, Paul Molitor

University of Minnesota alum Perkins produced a “replica” (using that term generously) Floyd of Rosedale trophy from under the table in front of him so that Hawkeye fans in the crowd could get a good look at the “trophy” currently possessed by the Gophers. The faux Floyd was given away at the end of the evening during the door prize giveaway session. It was actually won by someone who told Perkins he was a Badger fan. Perkins admitted they didn’t have an axe to give him and alluded to the fact that they haven’t seen Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Minnesota for a while.

A young fan asked Jake Mauer whether he gets himself thrown out of games by umpires at times to fire up his team. The question got a lot of smiles from the dias, including from Mauer himself, who handled the question very well, explaining that sometimes players and coaches get emotional and that sometimes you just disagree with one another.

The discussion turned to one particular ejection during the 2014 season, while Jake’s brother Joe was with the Kernels on a rehabilitation assignment. Jake related a couple of additional facts from that particular night’s ejection.

Apparently Joe wasn’t the only visitor from Minnesota in attendance for that game. A group of 10-year-olds that Jake works with, including, naturally, lessons on the need to treat umpires with respect, had also made the trip and were in attendance that evening. #awkward

Jake also told the crowd that, after he was ejected that night, brother Joe came up to Jake’s office between innings and said, “That was awesome!”

In all, it was a great evening and a welcome distraction from the cold winter – an opportunity to hear some preseason optimism from the Twins organization and talk baseball with fellow fans. The Kernels’ staff, as always, did a first-rate job putting on the event.

Joe Mauer's autographed Kernels jersey, Byron Buxton's autographed 2013 Batting Practice Jersey and a Metrodome seatback autographed by Joe Mauer were among the biggest ticket silent auction items

Joe Mauer’s autographed Kernels jersey, Byron Buxton’s autographed 2013 Batting Practice Jersey and a Metrodome seatback autographed by Joe Mauer were among the biggest ticket silent auction items

As a bonus, I didn’t even get the wallet damaged too badly in the silent auction. At one point near the end of the silent auction, I had top bid on a number of items totaling several hundred dollars. In the end I got outbid on everything but a Tony Oliva autographed baseball, so maybe I’ll be able to afford that spring training trip in March, after all!

– JC

P.S. You can click the following links to find stories from Jeff Johnson of the Gazette and Jim Ecker of MetroSportsReport.com focused on Perkins and Molitor, respectively.

Glen Perkins, Gene Glynn and Paul Molitor doing the autograph line thing

Glen Perkins, Gene Glynn and Paul Molitor doing the autograph line thing

The view of the proceedings from my "Bob Uecker" seats

The view of the proceedings from my “Bob Uecker” seats

JC’s Top 15 Twins Prospects: 2014-15

Ho Ho Ho. Tis the season for being merry and jolly and all that stuff.

It’s also the season for publishing “top prospect” lists. Actually, it’s a bit late in the season for doing this, but I just haven’t felt like doing a lot of writing lately. So sue me.

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano

This is the fourth year that I’ve put out my own list. I’m not really sure WHY I do it. It’s not like we really need yet another such list and the other people who tout their lists know their stuff better than I do (in many cases, anyway). So let’s just say I do this for fun.

As I was preparing this list, I went back and looked at the lists I’ve put together previously. I did a Top 10 before the 2012 season and Top 15 lists before 2013 and 2014.

It’s interesting (to me anyway) that this is the third consecutive season that I’ve had the same three prospects ranked 1 through 3 in some order or another. They have swapped spots a bit between them, but Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer have been in my top 3 spots for three straight years.

It’s more than a little exciting to realize that all three have the potential to make their Major League debuts in 2015.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

  1. Miguel Sano – 3B – Why? I’m more optimistic that he won’t be a liability defensively than I have been previously, but more importantly, I believe his injury is highly unlikely to preclude him from reaching his ceiling.
  2. Byron Buxton – CF – Why? I have some (not a lot, but some) concern that his wrist injuries could become chronic wrist issues that certainly could affect his ceiling as an outfielder and as a hitter. It’s not a huge concern, for me, but it’s enough that I gave the top spot to Sano, who I have no such concerns about.
  3. Alex Meyer – SP – A lot of people are dropping Meyer and moving Berrios up ahead of him based on a year when Meyer didn’t break through as hoped and had some injury issues, while Berrios had a breakout year. I still think Meyer’s ceiling is a notch above Berrios’.
  4. Jose Berrios – SP – But, yeah, Berrios DID have a really good year. He’s a workout fiend and clearly is intent on getting the most out of his opportunity to pitch professionally, despite not being the prototypically tall athlete that is in vogue around the league.
  5. Eddie Rosario – OF – It was nearly a lost year for Rosario after his suspension and only getting half a season in during the summer, but he reclaimed his value with a strong Arizona Fall League. I’m probably a litte higher on him than most people.
  6. Jorge Polanco – MIF – Yes, his cup of coffee with the Twins was more a matter of convenience, since he was on the 40-man roster, than reflective of his current abilities, but he did have a very strong season.
  7. Trevor May – SP – His ceiling might be as a #3 starter, but he’ll seriously contend for a Twins rotation spot in spring training this season. That, in itself, warrants a spot in the top 10 prospects.
  8. Kohl Stewart – SP – Unlike May, Stewart is at least a couple of years away from even being considered for a spot with the Twins, but even though his strikeout rate in 2014 was lower than hoped for, he remains a top of the rotation prospect.
  9. Nick Gordon – SS – The 2014 first round pick had a very good short-season at Elizabethton. If he shows even more in a full season this year, he’ll move up this list quickly.
  10. Nick Burdi – RP – The 2014 2nd round pick has legitimate 100 mph potential and an unfair slider. Should pitch for the Twins at some point in 2015.
  11. Max Kepler – OF – We are seeing more flashes of promise on the potential that’s been talked about for years. He needs a breakout season in 2015.
  12. Stephen Gonsalves – SP – The lefty showed real talent against Midwest League hitters after joining Cedar Rapids and was very young for the level.
  13. Chih-Wei Hu – SP – I’m probably the only one you will find ranking Hu in the top 15, but he showed me more command  – of more pitches – and more mound maturity – than any other starting pitcher in Cedar Rapids in 2014, and that’s saying something.
  14. Travis Harrison – OF – Harrison is dropping out of the top 15 on some lists, seemingly due to his lack of home runs in 2014. I understand that, but I felt Harrison’s biggest need going in to last year was to cut his strikeouts down and develop more as a hitter who can deliver to all fields with some authority. He did both. The home runs will come, he didn’t get “weaker.”
  15. Stuart Turner – C – I have to say, it is very difficult to pick a #15 for this list. I’m going with Turner primarily because he skipped low-A and went to the Miracle and, after a slow start at the plate, he hit better later and reports are he was as good as advertised as a receiver.

It is almost impossible for me to believe that I’ve created a Top 15 Twins Prospects list that does not include Lewis Thorpe, Jake Reed, Mitch Garver, Adam Brett Walker and Taylor Rogers.

I want to see Thorpe recover from his elbow issue without requiring surgery before I give him a spot in the top 15 which he otherwise deserves and I want to see Walker be successful against pitchers at least one level higher, given his issues with the strikeouts.

With Reed, Garver and Rogers, though, it was simply a case of running out of room. If they stay healthy, I expect every one of those guys to play Major League baseball (hopefully for the Twins). If you have an organization where those guys are not among your top 15 prospects, you’ve got a damn good pipeline going.

The Twins have a damn good pipeline going.

JC

Hunter/Twins Reunion. What Are They Thinking?

My initial reaction upon hearing that the Twins and outfielder Torii Hunter had agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract that will put Hunter back in a Twins uniform for 2015 was pretty much the same as my initial reaction when I first heard the two parties had what media types were referring to as, “mutual interest.”

Why?

For the life of me, this just doesn’t make sense to me. Not if I ran the Twins. Not if I was Torii Hunter.

torii_hunter_studio_portrait_photofileSure, the Twins need outfield help. Oswaldo Arcia is going to play a corner outfield spot in 2015 and he’s not going to play it very well, so the Twins need some guys in the other two outfield spots who can cover their own areas and some of Arcia’s, too.

Eight or nine years ago, Hunter would have been a solution, but for the past several years, his outfield play has been one of those rare things in baseball that bring stat-heads and old-school types together. Whether you believe in defensive metrics or the “eye-test,” you probably have pretty much concluded that Hunter’s defensive game has deteriorated to the point where he’s no longer a positive contributor in that area.

Why would the Twins think he’s likely to be part of the solution to their defensive woes in the outfield?

And while we’re at it, why would Hunter want to join the Twins?

He’ll be 40 years old before next season ends. At that age, shouldn’t he be looking for opportunities to sign with a team that enters 2015 with a much better chance of playing ball in to October next year than the Twins have?

I get that new Twins manager Paul Molitor might like to have someone like Hunter in his clubhouse, especially given the reputation said clubhouse has had in recent years for lacking anything resembling a competitive spirit.

I get that the Twins front office might welcome a popular familiar face to include in their advertising, given the expected decline in ticket sales next year.

But I have always felt you have to first prove you’re among the best players on the field before you can lead in the clubhouse and I’m not convinced his young teammates will look at Hunter and see someone who still has the ability to perform at levels that earn their respect.

I also believe that wins will sell more tickets than the return of a popular familiar face.

But if this is what Molitor and the front office want, so be it. It’s just a straight one-year deal, so it won’t block any of the outfield prospects coming up and we all know that there’s no shortage of payroll space in the Twins’ budget right now.

As for Hunter, it’s a little harder to figure out what he’s thinking – but then, hasn’t that pretty much been the case throughout his career?

Still, he must have had other, better, offers. Didin’t he?

The Rangers, Orioles and Mariners all had been rumored to have interest and, with the way some teams have been throwing around money, he seemingly would have been able to get a multi-year deal somewhere. So why take a one-year deal in Minnesota?

There’s really only one reason I can think of.

Hunter may very well think his chances of finishing the season on a legitimate World Series contender are better if he starts the season with the Twins and then gets flipped in July to a contender for prospects, than if he started with a supposed contender.

We’ll call this the “Josh Willingham gambit.”

Why lock himself in to one supposed contender from the start when he may get a chance to join a team with a better shot mid-way through the season?

In the end, this is not a deal I particularly wanted to see. It certainly would not have been high on my wish-list if I were a starting pitcher for the Twins and I doubt it will make any free agent starting pitcher think the Twins are suddenly an attractive option (though their willingness to shell out $10.5 million to Hunter might at least demonstrate that the Twins aren’t shy about over-paying for what they want).

If Hunter discovers the fountain of youth somewhere under the right field overhang in Target Field or if General Manager Terry Ryan can turn Hunter in to some useful prospects at some point, then this deal certainly won’t be a disaster.

At least this is more interesting to discuss than what we’ve had to talk about to this point. Debating the relative pros and cons of base coaches and assistant hitting coaches was getting a little old, wasn’t it?

– JC

 

Twins Introduce a New Home Uniform

The design was leaked a few days ago by uniform maker Majestic, but on Monday the Twins formally introduced their new home uniform design for 2015.

For the first time since 1987, pinstripes will not be part of the standard home uniform (though the cream colored throw-back pinstriped version will still be an alternate design).

The Twins have also added a gold “drop shadow” to the chest logo, piping and cap emblem.

649_uniform_infographic

After four dismal seasons on the field, I think it’s safe to say that nothing this team’s front office announces, short of the signing of Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, will be met with much enthusiasm from the fans and the initial response to the new uniforms reflects that mood.

That said, I kind of like the new look (and that’s coming from someone who generally likes a pinstripe uniform).

For years, major sports teams in all sports have been incorporating a third color in to their uniforms and I think that doing so can give uniforms a classier look. I like that and I think the new Twins design accomplishes this, as well.

If it were me, I’d have gone ahead and done something different with the road greys that would also incorporate the gold a bit. Why wait? – other than simply wanting to hold off on that until 2016 in order to have something else new to sell in team stores a year from now (which, of course, is exactly the reason the Twins would wait).

Anyway, I give the new uniforms a thumbs up, though I would imagine I’m in the minority.

– JC

Arizona Fall League – Pictures

A couple days ago, I posted several videos I shot at the Arizona Fall League games I attended last week. Today, you get still pictures. I wish I had had an opportunity to get more pictures of Jones, Adam and Rogers, but I only saw Jones pitch once and chose to shoot a video rather than try to get pictures through the netting, Adam didn’t pitch at all in the games I saw and Rogers, of course, is injured and did not pitch.

Salt River Field - Home of the Rafters and the D'Backs/Rockies spring training site

Salt River Field – Home of the Rafters and the D’Backs/Rockies spring training site

Salt River Field Batters Eye - Wonder if the hitters complain about it like the trees at Target Field

Salt River Field Batters Eye – Wonder if the hitters complain about it like the trees at Target Field

Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario

Jake Reed

Jake Reed

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

Taylor Rogers

Taylor Rogers

(L to R) In the bullpen, Jason Adam, Zack Jones, Taylor Rogers

(L to R) In the bullpen, Jason Adam, Zack Jones, Taylor Rogers

Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

Jake Reed

Jake Reed

Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario

Max Kepler and base coach Darin Everson (Rockies)

Max Kepler and base coach Darin Everson (Rockies)

Jake Reed

Jake Reed

Eddie Rosario

Eddie Rosario

Max Kepler diving back in to first base on an attempted pick off

Max Kepler diving back in to first base on an attempted pick off

Jake Reed signing autographs

Jake Reed signing autographs

Max Kepler signing autographs

Max Kepler signing autographs

It’s Official – Paul Molitor Will Manage the Twins

Regardless of whether you believe the Minnesota Twins’ extended search for new manager was thorough or a sham to cover for what was a foregone conclusion all along, the wait is finally over and Paul Molitor is taking over the manager’s office at Target Field.

The Twins announced the hiring Monday morning and will hold a press conference at 10:00 am on Tuesday to introduce Molitor as their new manager, though the decision was leaked to the traditional media types in Minneapolis days earlier.

MolitorKelly

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly and new Twins manager Paul Molitor

Molitor wasn’t my first choice as manager, but I do believe he is qualified and potentially could be a very good choice. In fact, when you boil down all the criticisms of the choice of Molitor, they really come down to two points:

  • He was already employed by the Minnesota Twins.
  • He has never managed at any level of professional baseball.

I get that a certain segment of the Twins fanbase flat out did not want a manager who had any prior connection whatsoever to Twins organization. I understand that position, though I do not agree with it.

I do believe that part of the Twins’ problems has been that, as an organization, it has become a bit too insular. I think that it was important to hire a manager that brings a fresh approach to the manager position and that will be more open to new ideas than Ron Gardenhire appeared to be during his tenure with the Twins.

I just don’t believe that the only way you get that is to hire someone with absolutely no prior ties to the club. I think we’ll quickly notice that a team managed by Molitor is not simply Ron Gardenhire Part 2 (or Tom Kelly Part 3, if you prefer).

It sure appears, based on everything I’ve read and heard from people who know Molitor and have seen him work during his time as a minor league instructor and Major League coach, that he not only genuinely enjoys teaching the intricacies of baseball to young players, but he also continues to strive to learn more about the game, himself.

Many former elite ballplayers come across, as they age, as guys who think they already know all there is to know about the game because they were very, very good at it when they laced up their cleats – as though all knowledge of how to play the game is a finite base of knowledge that can never be improved upon.

Others simply seem to have trouble teaching the game to young players that, in most cases, simply do not have the kind of natural talent that they had during their playing days.

Neither of those factors appear to be the case with Molitor, so while I would be more comfortable with this choice if he did have some managing experience at some level of professional baseball, I don’t necessarily believe it should be considered a disqualifying factor for Molitor.

I don’t believe that General Manager Terry Ryan stretched out the process simply to appease the fan base before making the hire he intended to make all along. I think anyone who does believe that is being extremely cynical.

Of course, the Twins have given their fans plenty to be cynical about lately, so it’s not altogether unrealistic to suspect the worst in this case.

Perhaps I’m just a bigger believer in Terry Ryan than many are, but I trust that he set out to conduct a thorough search for the best candidate and he was not going to announce a hiring until that process was complete.

I also think it is possible – though not probable – that Ryan actually preferred Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo over Molitor, but was overruled by Jim Pohlad, who, by multiple reports, has had a strong relationship with Hall of Famer Molitor for years and strongly favored Molitor since the time Gardenhire was dismissed (if not before).

Honestly, since we’re on the subject of Pohlad’s relationship with Molitor, let me just throw out now, for the record, that I won’t be one bit surprised if, ultimately, Molitor succeeds Ryan as the Twins’ General Manager.

I can envision a scenario where Ryan may have favored Lovullo, but was unable to convince Pohlad that Lovullo was such a better choice than Molitor that Pohlad would be willing to risk seeing Molitor to walk away from the Twins organization altogether..

However, since this choice is likely to determine how Ryan’s legacy as Twins GM is ultimately judged, it is difficult for me to imagine him agreeing to hire a manager he did not personally believe was the right choice to help him turn the club’s fortunes around. I think Ryan is the sort who would resign rather than allow the Twins ownership to impose a manager on him that he did not support in this situation.

If, in fact, Ryan had a slight preference for Lovullo, but not so strong as to resign over Pohlad’s insistence on Molitor (if such was actually the case), then I could only conclude that the GM is very comfortable with Molitor, as well.

In the end, I’m encouraged that Ryan’s top two choices for the job both have reputations for utilizing technology and advanced metrics to prepare their teams for success on the field, something Gardenhire had a reputation (deserved or not) for resisting.

Along with the rest of Twinsville, I’ll be very interested to find out who Molitor and Ryan will decide upon to fill out the Twins’ big league coaching staff (could Molitor really bring in Robin Yount as a bench coach, giving the Twins a pair of Hall of Famers in their dugout?). Naturally, I’ll also be interested to learn the organization’s minor league assignments.

It has certainly been an interesting first few weeks of the offseason for the Twins and it certainly appears it will continue to be the case as we move toward free agency season.

– JC

Arizona Fall League – Videos

I took a lot of pictures and shot several videos during my trip to Arizona to catch a few AFL games last week, so I figured I would put up a post to share some of them. I’ll split things up a little bit and start with the videos in this post.

I saw Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Jake Reed and Zach Jones in game action during the three games I saw in Arizona.

Enjoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFL Interviews: Max Kepler and Taylor Rogers

The Salt River Rafters made the trip across to the west side of the Phoenix area to Surprise, Arizona, on Wednesday to take on the Surprise Saguaros and, prior to the game, Twins prospects Max Kepler and Tyler Rogers took the time to answer a few questions.

Kepler takes a .289/.385/.422 slash line in to Thursday night’s game in Salt River, which is respectable for any hitter in the Arizona Fall League, but is perhaps even more impressive for a 21-year-old with no experience above the Class A level.

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

He’s happy with his performance, so far.

“I think I’m playing consistent ball,” Kepler said. “I’m playing solid outfield defense. Yeah, doing everything I can right now.”

Players in this league have been playing ball since minor league spring training started at the beginning of March, and Kepler confirmed that the wear and tear on the body starts to catch up with them this time of year.

“Yeah, it has (been a long year),” Kepler admitted, but he quickly added, “It’s been an awesome year, though.”

This is Kepler’s second year in the Arizona Fall League and he said he’s definitely seeing a difference in his game this time around.

“I’m more confident. I feel more confident against the pitchers,” Kepler reflected. “Last year, coming out of low-A ball, I just felt like all these big names were throwing at me and I was just a little guy in the big ocean. (They were) big dudes. Now I just feel like I can handle it.”

Kepler has been part of two minor league championship teams in his past three years of minor league ball, winning titles with Elizabethton in 2012 and in Fort Myers this past season.

Max Kepler diving back in to first base on an attempted pick off

Max Kepler diving back in to first base on an attempted pick off

In between those championship seasons, Kepler spent 2013 split between rehabbing an elbow injury during the first half of the season and spending the second half of the year with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

He had some good moments with Cedar Rapids, including an opposite field home run in his first home game as a Kernel, that stands out in Kepler’s memory (“I remember that short porch really helped me out that first game”), but his thoughts on that season are admittedly mixed.

“The fans are unbelievable (in Cedar Rapids),” Kepler said. But at the same time, recalling his efforts to overcome the injury, he added, “It was rough, but I’m glad I got to stick with that good group of guys and I hope we can move up together because we’ve got chemistry on that team.”

That “good group of guys” that Kepler played with in Cedar Rapids formed the core of this year’s Florida State League championship team. That team was managed by Doug Mientkiewicz, the former Twins first baseman who has been prominently mentioned as a finalist for the Twins’ managerial job this fall.

The speculation has been that, should Mientkiewicz not get the Twins job, he may move up to manage the Class AA team that will be playing their first season in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“That would be awesome,” said Kepler, of the possibility of playing a second year for Mientkiewicz.

Kepler also provided some insight in to what it’s like to play for Mientkiewicz.

“He’s wild,” Kepler said, while laughing. “I’d say he’s a little unorthodox, but it sure worked for us. We kind of went through a lot of ups and downs this year, but when we won, we won a bunch. And then when we lost one game, Doug would get on us, and I mean hard. But when he did, he fixed it and it worked for us. But, yeah, he sure was tough on us when we weren’t doing well and weren’t focused, but the rest of the year, he was a fun guy to be around. He was just like one of us. Yeah, I loved him.”

Once the AFL season wraps up, Kepler will take a little time off then begin getting ready for 2015.

“The offseasons are getting shorter and shorter,” he said. “But I’ll do as much as I can with my three months of workout.

“I’ll travel the states for a little, go to Texas for Thanksgiving,” Kepler said of his immediate plans after AFL finishes. “I’ll be going home (to Germany) for Christmas and the holidays.”

While Kepler has been playing several days each week in Arizona, pitcher Taylor Rogers has been not much more than a spectator during the games.

Rogers, a 23-year-old lefty who pitched at Class AA New Britain in 2014, was injured in the third inning of his first AFL game when a batted ball was lined off his shoulder.

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Taylor Rogers

Since then, he’s been sitting.

Taylor said Wednesday that he’s hoping that’s about to change.

Rogers said that he is, “finally getting back to square one almost – back to where I can toss a little bit. Hopefully I can get a few more innings in here before the season ends.

“It’s something I want to do. You sign the contract to play here so I want to finish this thing out and see what I can do. We’ll probably going to see how these bullpens go.”

Rogers, along with Kepler, Byron Buxton and Jake Reed, is a Cedar Rapids Kernels alum.

Though, unlike the others, Rogers’ time in Cedar Rapids barely was long enough to register on his minor league stats line. He struggled a bit during his three games for the Kernels in a very cold April of 2013 before being promoted to Fort Myers, where he had a very good season for the Miracle.

“Yeah, you know what, funny what warm weather can do for you,” Rogers said, with a smile, then added, “No, it was fun those 14 days or so. It was nice to get out of the cold, but I’m sure if I would have stayed in Cedar Rapids, it would have been a fun year.”

The weather in Cedar Rapids may have been chilly, but Rogers recalls the warm greeting he and his team mates got upon arrival.

“I thought it was really cool how that was the first year of the Twins being there (as an affiliate). What I remember was the fans really welcoming us. That was just really nice to see. Something like that you don’t see very often. They were excited to have us there and we felt very welcomed.”

AFL Interview: Jake Reed

A year ago, Jake Reed was beginning intrasquad workouts in Eugene, Oregon, as he prepared for his junior year at the University of Oregon. In the subsequent 12 months, the Twins’ prospect has seen a lot of the U.S.A. while pitching for the Ducks, then the Twins Rookie level team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, followed by the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and a trip to Fort Myers for instructional league. Now, he’s a member of the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.

Reed was the Twins’ fifth round draft pick back in June, which means you won’t find him on any of last offseason’s “Top Twins Prospects” lists. You won’t likely have to look too far down this year’s lists to find his name, however.

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Jake Reed

After signing with the Twins, he made four appearances in Elizabethton before being promoted to Cedar Rapids. Between the two stops, he put up a 0.29 ERA over 20 relief appearances. He struck out 39 batters, while walking just three.

That kind of work earned him a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League where, as difficult as it may be to believe, he’s actually improved his ERA to a perfect 0.00 in his first six appearances for the Rafters.

As you might expect, Reed is pretty happy with how his professional career has gone, thus far.

“It’s been just a great experience,” Reed said on Tuesday, before the Rafters beat up the Glendale Desert Dogs 14-2. “Just from the time I got drafted, with my parents there in Eugene with me, to sitting here now in Arizona. To still be playing in the fall, it’s pretty special. It’s been a great ride. I couldn’t have wished for a better first half-season.”

Reed was one of two Twins prospects, along with outfielder and top Twins prospect, Byron Buxton, who were named to represent their team in the AFL’s “Fall Stars Game” this Saturday. Not bad for a guy who was surprised when Kernels manager Jake Mauer and pitching coach Ivan Arteaga gave him the news that he was headed to Arizona this fall.

“When {Mauer) called me in, there was a couple weeks left in the season. I knew the Miracle were going to be in the playoffs, so I thought I was maybe going to be going up there to help them,” Reed recalled. “But they sat me down and originally Ivan kind of played a joke on me and asked if I wanted to go play (winter ball) for him in Venezuela. I was like, ‘oh yeah, make four grand a month,’ and I said, ‘absolutely.’ He said, ‘No we were just kidding. We’re sending you to fall league.'”

Most AFL players have at least reached Class AA, but organizations are allowed a very limited number of roster spots for players who have not reached beyond Class A ball. That says something about how the Twins view Reed.

Mauer and Arteaga told Reed that the Twins minor league director, Brad Steil, had contacted them and asked whether they thought Reed was ready for AFL, where he’d be facing a number of the top prospects in baseball.

“They thought I was,” said Reed. “They asked me if I wanted to and obviously I wasn’t going to turn that down.

“It was a big surprise for me. I was pretty shocked. I’m not saying I don’t think I deserved it, but with the guys that come out here normally, it’s the bigger prospects and it’s my first half season, so in that aspect, I didn’t expect it much.”

Jake Reed gives a helping hand to a grounds crew member who took a corner a bit sharp

Jake Reed gives a helping hand to a grounds crew member who took a corner a bit sharp

Often, organizations are cautious about sending pitchers to Arizona the year they were drafted due to the number of innings they’ve racked up on their arms, between their final college season in the spring and their first partial season of professional ball in the summer. That wasn’t an issue for Reed, however.

“I’d started my first two years of college so I was accustomed to going 100 innings a year and I threw 40 maybe in college and 30 in the summer, so I was only at 70. I had more in my tank. The inning limit hasn’t been an issue at all.”

It’s not like they overtax the arms in Arizona, anyway. Each club carries about 20 pitchers to make sure none of them are overworked. Even relievers, like Reed, typically will pitch an inning or two and then get a couple days off before their next appearance.

Fall League is an opportunity for Reed to show what he’s got in front of a large group of scouts from literally every organization in professional baseball, but it’s also a chance to hone his craft. Reed was told the Twins wanted him to work on his change up, on “tightening up” his breaking ball and on stopping the running game.

Of course, his 0.75 WHIP means he’s not getting many opportunities to work on controlling that running game this fall.

“I haven’t thrown a change up much,” Reed admitted, “but my breaking ball, at times, has been a lot better than it has been. I think the biggest thing, though, is just maintaining the command that I had all summer. Getting ahead of guys, not walking guys.

“As long as I keep throwing strikes, I think I’ll keep doing alright.”

While Reed and half a dozen other Twins farmhands have been toiling in the Arizona sun, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has been looking for a new manager. Reed and the others are following that story closely, as you can imagine.

“Absolutely,” Reed confirmed. “Ultimately, that’s where we want to end up and ultimately, we want that to be our manager. Right now it seems kind of far-fetched, but hopefully, that’s the guy we’re going to be playing for eventually.

“Yeah, we all follow everybody on Twitter, so we all see what’s going on. We keep up with it. All the Twins are next to one another in the locker room. Whenever we see a new Tweet about another guy, we’re always talking about it. But you know what, we trust Terry (Ryan), we trust everybody else in our organization to get somebody that will turn this thing around for us. We hope to be a big part of that, especially the young guys in our organization.”

Jake Reed watching team mate Vincent Velasquez (Astros) warm up

Jake Reed watching team mate Vincent Velasquez (Astros) warm up

Reed and the others are getting a little taste of what it’s like to be treated like a big leaguer during their time in Arizona. Games are played at Major League spring training facilities and Salt River plays their games at the complex shared by the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Rafters use the D’Backs’ big league clubhouse.

It didn’t take Reed long after arriving to figure out he was no longer at the Twins’ minor league facility in Fort Myers, where he had been working during his time in the postseason instructional league.

“The facilities in Ft. Myers are great, don’t get me wrong, but going from a big locker room with hundreds of lockers to the big league locker room at a big league facility, it honestly kind of took my breath away,” Reed said. “There’s twelve TVs in there, I mean everything you can imagine in a locker room. Unbelievable. Then obviously, getting to play here every day, it doesn’t get old, for sure.”

Reed had a chance earlier in the summer to get another glimpse of what it means to be a Major Leaguer. Joe Mauer and Rick Nolasco had concurrent rehabilitation assignments in Cedar Rapids and that experience stands out in Reed’s mind as a highlight of his time with the Kernels.

“When Joe and Ricky came, that was pretty special. Joe Mauer is such a great guy, and Ricky is, too, but just having him in the locker room was pretty special. Just seeing him go about his work and how he respected the game when he was playing and how he talked to other guys on the other team when they’d ask him questions. Just a great guy.

“On his way out, before he left, he went around the locker room and shook everybody’s hand. So that was unbelievable to me, a guy of that stature being able to take the time to shake every single person’s hand in the locker room was pretty special.”

The Twins are already showing signs that they may be rebuilding their big league bullpen in 2015. Reed’s performance at all levels this year has him in position to be fast-tracked by the organization if he can keep performing.

Reed’s success has even altered his own expectations of himself heading toward 2015.

“It’s definitely different now than it was when I signed and playing in Cedar Rapids,” he acknowledged. “I don’t know what’s out of the picture for next year, because I haven’t had the chance to talk to Terry or anybody else in the organization. They want to see guys excel in the minor leagues and prove that they’re ready for the big leagues, but I’m not sure. I’m sure I’ll have a better idea here pretty soon. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see where I go for spring training. There’s just a lot up in the air.”

Reed has not heard, yet, whether he’ll be getting an invitation to the Twins’ big league spring training camp.

“No, that’s the thing, too. I think I’ll have a better idea here pretty soon, because it’s kind of important when you want to get your body ready for a certain time, you want to be in shape for a certain time. So hopefully I find out soon.”

Reed started to say he would not be disappointed if he doesn’t get the invitation to the big league camp in February, but then smiled and corrected himself.

“I will be disappointed,” he admitted, “but I’ll understand. Ultimately, it’s not up to me, I just need to keep pitching well and hopefully it works out in my favor.”

But that’s a matter for another day. Right now, Reed has a couple more weeks of pitching in the Arizona heat and then a well-deserved break.

“I’ve literally been pitching for over a year straight,” Reed said, alluding to having started his workouts at Oregon a year ago. “I’m starting to kind of feel it now. A break off of throwing would be nice.”

Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers by mid February, so it may not be a very long break for Jake Reed.