Kernels Hot Stove/Twins Caravan Reception

The Minnesota Twins once again included Cedar Rapids, the home of their Class A affiliate Kernels, in their Twins Winter Caravan tour and last night’s event was entertaining and about as enjoyable as any such event put on by a 100+ loss big league organization could be.

Kris Atteberry emcees the panel of Trevor May, Byron Buxton, Tommy Watkins, Thad Levine and Brian Dinkelman

The venue was one of several new aspects of this year’s Kernels Hot Stove event, the primary fundraiser for the organization’s charitable foundation.

Rather than using a large hotel ballroom to hold a sit-down dinner, the Kernels hosted a reception at the New Bo City Market, a showplace for a variety of local food merchants. All food, beer and wine available at the event was provided by New Bo vendors, giving the event a distinctively local flavor.

Broadcaster Kris Atteberry did a terrific job as the emcee for the Twins Caravan portion of the program, doling out opportunities to address the gathering to five members of the Twins organization gathered on stage. They included a pair of Twins players, pitcher Trevor May and outfielder Byron Buxton, newly announced Kernels manager Tommy Watkins, new Twins General Manager Thad Levine and Brian Dinkelman, who served as the Kernels hitting coach in 2016 and, while no official announcement has been made as yet, is presumed to be serving in that capacity this summer, as well.

In addition to responding to Atteberry’s prepared questions from the podium and answering questions from the crowd, the Caravan participants also were available for media interviews.

Here are a few highlights from one-on-one interviews, as well as the public portion of the program.

Early in January, the Twins and Kernels announced that Watkins, who served as the Kernels hitting coach, under former manager Jake Mauer, from 2013 through 2015 and in the same capacity for Class AA Chattanooga last season, will get his first opportunity as a minor league manager in 2017 when he takes the Kernels’ reins.

Watkins said that he and farm director Brad Steil had discussed the possibility of Watkins getting a managing opportunity for the past couple of years, but no such position had opened up until last year’s Fort Myers Miracle manager Jeff Smith got promoted to a coaching position with the Twins this offseason. Still, Watkins said, “I didn’t know if I would get it or not.”

Trevor May and Tommy Watkins react to Byron Buxton explaining how he “noodled” a catfish

Once the assignment was officially offered, Watkins was very happy to accept. “It was just like the news I got when I was going to the big leagues. I was happy, I was nervous, I was scared, I didn’t want to go. So it was a lot of things. I cried, I laughed, I called my family and told them. It was exciting news.”

Asked by Atteberry to tell the gathering what went into the front office’s decision to offer the job to Watkins, Levine led off with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “I’ve got to be honest with you, I have no idea how this came to pass. This is news to me. I’ll try to adjust on the fly.”

Levine then turned serious – and very complimentary toward the new Kernels manager.

“I think that one thing you guys always hear about is that we’re trying to develop players, there’s a development track. But I think the other thing that we’re trying to develop concurrently is staff members. Guys who have a chance, on the scouting side, to influence decision making and, on the coaching side, a chance to be Major League coaches.

“One of the things that I heard when I first joined the Minnesota Twins was about the man to my right, Tommy, and I think the universal feeling was that he had a chance to be a really good hitting coach, but he had the chance to be special as a manager. So when the opportunity presented itself to give him an opportunity to pursue his career as a manager, I think everybody in the organization really endorsed him because we felt as if that’s where he’s going to be a difference maker.

“We think he’s going to have a chance to be a Major League coach down the road. We think in the short term, he has a chance to really influence our minor league players, and as a manager we think his impact could be even greater than it was as a hitting coach.

“He’s a special man. He’s very charismatic. He knows the game of baseball. He’s still trying to learn every single day. Each time I’ve been around him, I feel as if I’ve gotten to know him a little bit better. This guy’s a very dynamic man. He’s going to be a leader in our organization for a long time to come and he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.”

TC Bear made the trip to Cedar Rapids with the rest of the Twins Caravan crew

Watkins said before the event that he’s looking forward to his return to the Kernels. “It feels good. I had a bunch of different emotions but I’m excited. It feels like I’ve been gone for a lot longer than just a year, but it’s good to be back. I enjoyed my time here and I’m looking forward to it.”

Asked by Atteberry to set the line on how many times Watkins will be ejected by umpires in 2017, Brian Dinkelman didn’t hesitate before saying. “I set it at 3 1/2.”

Buxton said he’s been feeling good since his hot finish to last season in September. “I’ve been hitting since late November, working on a few things and getting some stuff kinked out, but other than that, I feel great.

“I’m just focusing a little bit more on hitting, being a little bit more consistent, using my legs, staying down through the ball, keeping my head down. Just small things to help me out in the long run.”

He said he didn’t think there was any major change in his game that led to his strong finish to the 2016 season.

“Just stop thinking. Just run out there and play baseball. Have fun, going out there and have fun with teammates. We competed, September was different for everybody, not just including me. We went out there with a different mindset to finish the season strong and carry that over into spring training and this season.”

Looking back at his time in Cedar Rapids as a teenager barely out of high school, he said the dream of playing big league ball has turned out to be everything he hoped for, “and more.”

“Not many people are able to make it up there to the bigs, so I’m very blessed and thankful to get up there. Just being able to play beside Trevor when he’s up there pitching, not many people can say you’ve been in a big league uniform and you’ve been behind a pitcher like him that gives it his all and you’re right there giving it your all and trying to compete for a World Series ring.”

For his part, May also indicated he’s feeling good after having  some trouble staying healthy in 2016.

“I’m feeling good,” said May. “I had some patterns I needed to break. In the past, I’ve always thought four months was enough to heal from everything in the offseason. But I’ve come to the realization that breaking down a muscle and building it back up again to where you want it to work just takes time.”

He said even little things such as posture, while standing or sitting, have been items he’s focused on this offseason, with an emphasis on workouts that increase his flexibility, like Pilates and yoga, rather than weight training.

“I was doing a bunch of stuff that was just exacerbating the problem 24 hours a day. Changing all those things has been a lot of work, but I’m excited to just keep doing what I’m doing into the season.

“I threw a bullpen today. If I threw a bullpen when my back was tight back there, I would definitely feel some stiffness right now after I threw and I don’t feel stiff at all, so I’m just taking that as a really good sign.”

May wasn’t just trying new things in regard to his offseason workout regimen. While he did some DJing again this year, as he has in the past, he also expanded his horizons.

“I actually have a new hobby,” he explained. “I broadcast video games, which has been really fun. It’s like having your own radio show in which you talk and play video games. I really enjoy it. I’m going to try to do it once a month on an offday during the season. I’m going to host tournaments of games I play for viewers.”

Asked to evaluate the state of the Twins’ farm system, now that many of their previous top prospects have broken into the big leagues, new GM Levine said that the Twins front office doesn’t necessarily look at the organization strictly in terms of players that have exhausted their eligibility for Rookie of the Year awards and those that have not.

“I think we look at the farm system as an extension to the Major Leagues, so any guy in the Major Leagues who has two or fewer years of service is part of that next wave, that core,” he said. “So I think when you include those players with your minor league players, you can really see the waves of players coming.

“There’s a wave in the big leagues right now, there’s a wave right behind them, there’s a wave that will be playing at Cedar Rapids this year. I think we’re excited about the depth throughout our system, inclusive of the Major Leagues and I think if you include that young group in the Major Leagues all the way down, you could see that the future is very bright.

“For a team that has the payroll that we will have, you’re looking at having as many young players who can impact the game as possible and I think you’ve got to look at the guys who have matriculated to the big leagues when you’re factoring that.”

The subject of the relatively public flirtation with trading second baseman Brian Dozier came up both in the interview setting and during the public Question & Answer session.

Levine indicated that, while it certainly appears that Dozier will be opening the season with the Twins, he wouldn’t say the door was completely closed on the possibility of moving Dozier, or any other player for that matter.

“I don’t know that we would talk specifically about any one trade negotiation, but I think the way Derek (Falvey) and I are going to operate is that we’re not closing doors at any juncture. At that point, you are not doing your job to the fullest. Any time you close off opportunities to improve the team, I think you’re doing the franchise a disservice.”

Buxton and May did the autograph thing after the Twins Caravan program

During the public session, Levine was asked specifically what he expected Dozier’s future was with the Twins.

“I think we think his future is going to be glorious with the franchise,” he responded. “He’s been the consummate professional throughout this process. We always approached this from the mindset of, the best the Minnesota Twins could be would be with Brian Dozier. If someone wants to blow our socks off, we’ll consider talking about him. But for that fact, we see him as part of this franchise moving forward.”

Atteberry asked Levine to address the “stats vs scouting” issue that comes up in almost any conversation about thenew front office management. Again, the new GM mixed humor into his more thoughtful response.

“When the movie Moneyball came out, everybody who was below a certain age – at that time, I would say 35, now I would say 45, just conveniently (Levine celebrated his 45th birthday in November) – you were viewed to be more of a formulaic-based decision making group vs if you were older, you were more of a scouts guy. And I think it’s a bit of a misconception.

“Derek and I are both guys who are going to have analytics and scouting and player development factor into every decision that we make. We’re not going to focus singularly on any sort of formula to spit out a decision we’re going to make.

“The other big misconception I think about that movie is that anybody working in a front office looks at all like Brad Pitt. We really don’t. Honestly.

“So the movie did some disservices across the board, but I do think analytics plays a role in decision making, but that’s all it is. It’s a piece of the pie. It’s not something that is going to drive us to make any singular decision. It will be something we weigh in, we factor in, but it’s not going to drive our decision making.”

Also during the public session, Atteberry challenged Levine to demonstrate how much he knew about the two players he was sharing a stage with. Atteberry presented a few bits of trivia and asked Levine to guess which player, May or Buxton, the fact pertained to.

The questions were: Which player DJ’d at his own wedding? Which one of them has the highest vertical jump and is the fastest runner in his family (and which is not)? Which has successfully noodled a catfish? And which one has a mother that kept a mountain lion as a pet for four years?

The answers: May (obviously), Buxton is NOT the fastest runner or best jumper in his family (he said his dad jumps higher, his brother is faster and he has a 13-year old sister that may eventually pass them all), but Buxton did noodle a catfish. It was May’s mother who kept a mountain lion as a pet.

And Levine nailed every answer correctly.

Two members of the “Knuckleballs” table took home door prizes. A May & Buxton signed jersey and a Twins stocking cap

The final question from the audience asked Watkins and Buxton to relate the funniest thing that happened to them during their time with the Kernels.

Suffice to say that you won’t find Buxton playing baseball with ping pong balls in the clubhouse again any time soon and Watkins’ days of shaving his head are over.

Talk to Contact – Episode 58: Brandon Warne and Infield Free Agents

Episode 58 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

285-_8955644

Cody is back with Paul and Eric this week to talk Twins baseball. The off-season is in full swing with qualifying offers out to free agents, the world series parade over and the 2013 no longer visible in the rear-view mirror. We discuss which, if any, infield free agents make sense for the Twins before  we are joined by special guest, ESPN 1500 Minnesota Twins beat writer Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) to discuss what he thinks the Twins need to do this off-season, what it means to write under the ESPN banner and his experiences following the team this past season. This week we take a look at Twins minor league prospect and 2nd round 2013 draft pick Ryan Eades.

Thanks for listening!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which helps Terry Ryan sign top tier pitching talent in Free Agency.

-ERolf

Spring Training: Photos of the Twins Busting the Bucs

There are plenty of accounts elsewhere about the Twins’ win over the Pirates in Bradenton Thursday, so I’m not about to give yet another one. Suffice to say the Twins looked really good for the first five innings and then coasted to an 11-6 win.

At least Chris Parmelee isn't chewing tobacco at 1B

I was in the first row down the right field line for this game, in a position where I was glad every throw from third base to first baseman Chris Parmelee was on target, because anything that would have gotten by him would have been dangerously close to my nose. But neither overthrow nor line drive foul ball threatened my health and well being today.

Few of the Twins regulars made the trip up to Bradenton. We probably might as well start thinking of Parmelee as a regular, of course. In addition, Danny Valencia DH’d, Luke Hughes manned 3B and Ben Revere patroled CF. Otherwise, this was largely a team bound for Rochester or New Britain and looking to leave an impression on manager Ron Gardenhire and the other coaches. Some of them, most notably a couple guys named Brian, did just that.

Brian Dozier looked good at SS, but he impressed more with his HR

Dinkelman and Dozier both homered for the Twins, backing up Matt Maloney, who looked plenty good again while getting stretched out to three innings after largely pitching an inning at a time so far this spring.

Ben Revere showed his speed, of course, and prospect Angel Morales, who was called up for a spot start in RF, not only showed off his speed but also the cannon attached to his right shoulder.

Former Twin Garrett Jones signed some autographs before the game

All in all, just a very enjoyable day at the ballpark watching some young players show their stuff.

Friday, I’m going to catch a few innings of the Orioles vs Tigers game in Sarasota before heading south to Ft. Myers.

– JC

 

If Twins prospect Angel Morales felt like he was being observed by more than just his manager, maybe he had good reason to feel that way

 

Reinforcements: Hendriks, Dinkelman, Waldrop

Media reports have Liam Hendriks joining the Twins in time to start Tuesday’s game and he’ll be joined on his trip to the “Show” by Brian Dinkelman and Kyle Waldrop.

Liam Hendriks

The interesting thing is that apparently none of the three players are currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster. There is one opening on that roster currently, so that means a couple of guys are going to have go.

There are a couple of players I certainly wouldn’t shed tears over if they were sent packing for good, but waiving players is only one way to clear room for the new arrivals. Players placed on the 60-day Disabled List are exempted from the 40-man roster.

Denard Span has returned to Minnesota from his home in Florida and is reportedly working out at Target Field. All the same, given the state of the Twins’ season (in the crapper), it might make sense to just shut Denard down for the season and tell him to focus on coming back ready to go in Spring Training 2012. That would open up one spot on the roster for one of the new arrivals.

As for the other… how about this for an idea. Given that Joe Mauer missed several weeks with “general soreness”, can’t we pretty much assume he’ll miss at least the remaining three weeks of the season with his current bout with “general congestion”, too? If so, let’s just throw him on the 60day DL, too and send him home to Ft. Myers. Maybe by Spring Training, he’ll be over his cold (and hopefully will have found his manhood, as well).

While we’re at it, why not just shut Justin Morneau down, too? Is there really any point in having him continue to try to fight his way back on to the field this month?

Brian Dinkelman

Seriously… there is simply no reason to have any of these guys on the field at this point. The next three weeks are about seeing the young players and letting guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel try to finish out their seasons strong enough to make them Type A free agents so the Twins can get an extra draft pick if they decide to play elsewhere next year.

In any event, congratulations to Liam, Brian and Kyle… make the most of your opportunities, gentlemen!

– JC

When Did Catchers Become Caddies?

As expected, the Twins activated Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins after Thursday afternoon’s 1-0 win over the White Sox. I read a lot of different articles (and may have even written one) with projections about who might be sent packing to Rochester when those two Twins made their inevitable returns. Truth is, the choices seemed pretty cut and dried, so I didn’t even pay much attention when the media started Tweeting out the news following the game.

There may have been some question about which relief pitcher would get his ticket punched to Rochester, but Chuck James was certainly no surprise.

I guess there was a little drama about which of the two current catchers, Drew Butera or Rene Rivera, would get the bad news, but it was obvious to everyone that one of them would be wearing Red Wing colors by the weekend.

Well… not everybody, apparently.

Seems Gardy and/or Bill Smith had other ideas. Both current catchers are still Twins, meaning the Twins start interleague play with three catchers on their roster. Which can only bring one possible reaction from me…

WTF?

Let me get this straight. Gardy has insisted that Mauer wouldn’t be activated until he could resume full catching duties, not just occasionally wandering behind home plate for a few innings. So, Mauer is back and he says he’s feeling strong.

Drew Butera, BOD!

But instead of keeping Brian Dinkelman… a guy who’s hit .286 with an OPS of .698 (granted, in limited use)… a guy who can play infield and outfield… the Twins are keeping TWO back up catchers?

And let’s make no mistake here… they aren’t keeping either of those guys around so he can DH. Rivera’s batting average is 100 points LOWER than Dinkelman’s. And he’s the BETTER hitter of the current catching tandem.

What’s the big deal? Well, if the Twins put their best line up out on the field in any given ballgame, those nine players would be: Mauer (C), Cuddyer (1B), Casilla (2B), Hughes (3B), Nishioka (SS), Young (OF), Revere (OF), Repko (OF), Valencia (DH).

Rene Rivera

That leaves a bench of Tosoni (.158), Tolbert (.193), and our two backup catchers, Rivera (.186) and Butera (.169).

It’s bad enough having those guys on the bench this weekend at home against the Padres, but on Tuesday, the Twins go on the road for six games AT National League ballparks, which means there will be no DH. I suppose that might be good news because Gardy would have, for example, Danny Valencia’s sweet .216 BA available off the bench. But it also means that pitchers occupy the ninth spot in the batting order. For those of you who don’t watch much NL baseball, that means more use of pinch hitters.

To put that in perspective, ladies and gentlemen, recent Twins Hall of Fame inductee, pitcher Jim Perry, pitched in the Big Leagues for 14 seasons before the DH rule was enacted by the AL. His career batting average was .199.

Yes, if things stay as they are, the Twins will take on the defending World Series Champion Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers with a stable of potential pinch hitters consisting of four guys who have lower batting averages than Jim Perry did in his career. Brian Dinkelman’s .286 is going to look pretty good at some point next week, I think.

So why would they keep Butera AND Rivera?

The answer is actually painfully obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention.

We’ve all known Butera has essentially been Carl Pavano’s “personal catcher” for a year or more now. And now, for the past month or more, Rivera has pretty much become the same for Francisco Liriano.

I think Gardy is keeping three catchers because he doesn’t want to upset his two prima donna starting pitchers.

If I were Danny Lehmann, down in Rochester right now, I’d be attaching myself to the hip of uber-prospect Kyle Gibson so I could ride his shirttails to Minnesota. Clearly, the trend with the Twins is toward allowing their starting pitchers to each have his own personal catcher. I just hope one of the pitchers decides he can tolerate pitching to Mauer.

I guess if there’s an upside to this philosophy, maybe it’s that we’ve finally found a way to convince Mauer to work on fielding another position. If he’s only going to catch one of the five starting pitchers, hopefully he’ll deign to allow himself to be utilized elsewhere when the other four catchers are caddying their assigned pitchers through their starts.

Still… I’m not wild about the trend.

– JC