UPDATE: After publishing just the pictures last night and sending out a few quotes via Twitter, I’ve now updated this post with some additional observations and quotes from the Caravan participants. The updates are all in this cool blue color, so you can tell what’s been added. – JC
For the second straight year, the Cedar Rapids Kernels and Minnesota Twins joined forces Monday night, combining the Kernels’ annual Hot Stove Banquet with a stop on the Twins Caravan.
Pitchers Brian Duensing and Ryan Pressly joined new Twins coach Paul Molitor, Kernels manager Jake Mauer and, of course, TC Bear, in Cedar Rapids. The emcee for the evening was Twins broadcaster (and former Cedar Rapids sportscaster) Dick Bremer.
I had a chance to talk to Molitor, Duensing, Pressly and Mauer before the event got underway and, as is part of the Caravan routine, they all answered questions posed by Bremer as part of the program. They also answered a number of questions from members of the crowd.
Without a whole lot of thought, formatting or context, below are some of the comments from the Caravan participants during the evening.
Paul Molitor talked about his move from minor league roving instructor to full-time Major League coach with the Twins. Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jeff Johnson and I kind of double teamed Molitor during the media interview session before the night’s festivities. Rather than me typing a bunch of quotes out, you should just click here to go to Johnson’s story at the Gazette’s site and watch the video he recorded of Molitor talking about his new gig.
During the question and answer segment of the Caravan program, Molitor was asked from the crowd for his feelings concerning expanded use of instant replay in Major League Baseball. He’s clearly not a fan.
“I don’t like it. I had trouble with the home runs, originally. I understand why they want to do it, because of football leading the way and we have the technology. I’ve already gotten emails from Terry Ryan about this list of what you can contend against and what you can’t and you can throw the flag once before the sixth inning and twice after the seventh inning. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I, I don’t like it.”
Molitor was also asked what other moves he thought the Twins might still make before the season starts to add more offense to the lineup.
“I know Terry is still out there looking at the free agent list. Some of the better hitters remaining, Morales and (Cruz), have a draft choice attached and really aren’t very good fits for our club. There’s some potential trades out there, but Terry’s very protective of the players in our minor league system. He’s not going to give up some of our top guys to improve our offense.”
“Last year was a rough year offensively. We struck out too much. We didn’t hit the ball over the fence enough. Baserunning wasn’t very good. There’s a lot of room for improvement. But that doesn’t mean the guys who are coming back won’t have a chance to improve in some of those areas, either, through experience, through whatever it takes for them to get better. We have to find a way to score more runs, that’s the bottom line.”
After you check out the Molitor video and while you’re clicking, go on over to MetroSportsReport.com and read through Jim Ecker’s story on Jake Mauer. Jake and his wife, Rachel, are due to have a baby on February 4 and Mauer said all’s going well on that front.
During the question and answer segment, Mauer was asked whether he thought the addition of starting pitching via free agents might potentially block some of the young pitchers moving up through the organization.
“I think having too much pitching is a pretty good problem to have. I think I speak for everybody (saying) we would definitely love to have that problem. The cream kind of always rises to the top and sometimes it’s not a guy that you expect. It’s always good to go in to spring training with competition. If pitching’s one of those competitions, that just makes the ballclub a lot better.”
Mauer’s best line of the night may have come during the question and answer segment when a member of the crowd asked if he thought his brother Joe might return to his MVP form with the move from catcher to first base.
“I hope so. He’s a lot easier to deal with when he’s on the field, I can tell you that. He’s an ornery guy when he’s not playing.” The crowd laughed, appreciating the candor.
“I think the move to first base will be a very good one for him. I know the concussion that he had last year, plain and simple, scared him.”
“I think he still feels he’s a catcher and he still feels he can be a very good catcher. But I think he understands what could happen if he gets dinged in the noggin again. That’s probably my fault from beating on him when he was a little kid.”
“I think it will be good for him. Not to say he doesn’t like first base, but I think he’s going to fall in love with it in August and September when his body feels pretty good and the bat speed is still there. I know he’s looking forward to getting back on the field with these guys and hopefully making something good happen.”
I talked to Brian Duensing and Ryan Pressly about their impressions of the moves Terry Ryan has been making in the offseason to add a number of pitchers to the roster (and the relative lack of moves to shore up the offense) and about the number of pitchers who will be in the Twins’ spring training camp when it opens.
Duensing: “It’s tough. I think the situation we’re going to be in, it’s got to be heavy one way or the other, in order for us to get back (where we want to be). We need to focus on more or less one spot and then try to fill the bats back in. I think Terry Ryan’s up to going with starting pitching. That’s our most important aspect we need to improve on and then we’ll find hitting as we get confidence going deep in to games. I think that’s maybe how we’re going about it. As relievers, I think we’re excited about it.”
“Unfortunately, our starters kind of struggled last year so we got worked pretty good. Maybe if we get a little deeper in to games, we can be even better.”
I brought up the fact that, although the new pitchers being added thus far are rotation help, there are a number of pitchers who started last year who are out of options going in to 2014 and they could find themselves competing with last season’s relief corps for spots in the bullpen.
Pressly: “You’ve got to love competition. I look forward to going to spring training and seeing what everyone’s been working on in the offseason. But yeah, not having a lot of options I guess can kind of hurt you in the long run.”
Duensing: “Unfortunately, it’s part of the business. A lot of these guys coming in to camp that don’t have options are our friends. We hang out with them a lot. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast. But competition doesn’t hurt anybody.”
I asked Pressly for his thoughts on the Rule 5 draft experience last year:
Pressly: “It all kind of sparked in the Arizona Fall League. I went out and threw really well there and the Twins picked me up in the Rule 5. I came to spring training and it just kind of carried over to that. It was an awsome feeling having Gardy tell me, especially at the Red Sox facility, ‘hey you made our team.’ I didn’t even get one step in to the dugout and he told me, so it was pretty fun.”
Finally, pictures from the festivities:
Ryan Pressly (standing) answers questions from Dick Bremer, as Brian Duensing (seated) waits his turn
Jake Mauer talks about his expectations for 2014
The full dias with TC Bear, Brian Duensing, Ryan Pressly, Dick Bremer (standing), Paul Molitor and Jake Mauer
The autograph line in Cedar Rapids (from top down): Mauer, Pressly, Duensing, Molitor and TC