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Minnesota Twins ready for MLB season to start

March 26, 2019
By CJ HADDAD (cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The prelude to the Major League Baseball season that is Spring Training wraps up this week across Florida and Arizona as clubs prepare to embark on a grueling 162-game schedule.

For the Minnesota Twins, who call Lee County their spring home, the season can't come fast enough. The 2019 edition of the team representing the Twin Cities is poised to make its mark in the American League Central Division, comprised of solid foundational players and new faces that surely will make them a contender.

"I think where we sit right now, our players are ready to go," said Twins' manager Rocco Baldelli following their 5-3 loss to the Yankees at Hammond Stadium Sunday afternoon. "I mean that in a sense that, I think they believe in what we're doing here, they believe in themselves and the guy next to them. That matters probably as much or more than anything else that goes on.

Article Photos

CJ HADDAD / cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com

Twins’ shortstop Royce Lewis fires to first after fielding a ground ball in Minnesota’s 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees Sunday afternoon at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. To view more photos from the game, see the Cape Coral Breeze Facebook page.

"We have players that have been here a while, we have some new faces, but the way they've all come together and kind of formed this team -- you can see it. You can see it with your own eyes, you can see it with the way they interact in the dugout during the games. We have a very solid group of not just players, but people. I think we're in a really good spot and I think everyone's ready to break and get up there and start playing."

The mix of old and new, starting with the manager, who is in the first year behind the helm of a Major League club in his own right, brings a breath of fresh air to an organization that hasn't had much post-season success since the early '90s.

Baldelli feels the team has many talented players who will each play an integral role if they are to be formidable, and said he wouldn't be surprised if one or more of them emerged as top players in the game.

While offseason acquisitions such as Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez have already established themselves with previous teams, it's the home-grown talent that Baldelli said could push the team to new heights.

"They can have an exceptional impact on this team," he said of players such as Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios. "All of these guys that we're talking about have the type of ability and the aptitude, where (any one of them) could step up and become one of the best players in the game. I think that's what kind of ability they have."

Sunday's starting pitcher has been working all spring to show the ability he can bring to the team in the starting rotation, as Martin Perez took to the mound for the final time this preseason.

The lefty worked 5.2 innings surrendering four earned runs, walking four and striking our four. He finishes the spring with a 5.30 ERA over 18.2 innings pitched.

"I just want to stay healthy. It's going to be a long season and we have a good team. We're going to have great games and I think if we stay together, everybody stays healthy, we're going to have a special year," he said.

Perez had spent his whole career with the Texas Rangers up until this season, and is working on changing things up to keep hitters off-balance. He's also shown an uptick in velocity.

"I think when you have more power, you can throw more fastballs to hitters," he said. "My goal is just throw strikes and throw (as many) innings as I can during the season."

"He came in throwing the ball well," said Baldelli of Perez. "His velocity has been good but he's also added some things to his approach. I think we're at a point now where we wanted to get him built up -- this was a perfect outing for that."

Baldelli said Perez will be a member of the rotation, though he will come out of the bullpen for the first few weeks of the season with the Twins having some off days early on.

Fan favorite Willians Astudillo gave spectators something to cheer about in the fourth inning as he scored all the way from first base on a double into the left field corner from Tyler Austin, losing his helmet rounding third. The record-setting Hammond Stadium crowd gave him a nice hand for his hustle.

"La tortuga" as he's warmly referred to, has had a great spring, hitting .306 with two homers and eight RBI in 16 games.

The 5-foot-9, 225-pound Venezuelan has enthused his skipper, and all who have watched him play.

In 29 games towards the end of the 2018 season, Astudillo hit .335 with three homers and 21 RBI.

He has yet to walk or strikeout this spring.

Baldelli's response when asked about Astudillo losing his helmet running the bases and diving into first base on a different play? "That we have to get him a different helmet," he quipped. "That's the general reaction, because safety come first still."

All jokes aside, Baldelli has been impressed, to say the least, of Astudillo's craftsmanship at the plate.

"I think what he does is so unique. I don't think anyone can relate to what he is doing in the batters box. His skill set is one-of-a-kind. There's literally no one I've ever seen that does what he does with the bat in his hands.

"As far as what he's able to do, I don't know anyone that can go an entire spring -- not walk, not strikeout -- and also, no one be surprised about it one bit. That's the fact that's nuts," he said.

Astudillo has been trying his hand at many different positions this spring in hopes of making the club, including catcher, third base, second base and left field, where he started Sunday.

Another young talent who got the chance to start Sunday was shortstop and 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick, Royce Lewis.

Lewis is nifty with the glove and has a career .288 batting average in two minor league seasons thus far.

"This is what I think a lot of us were excited to see and it's nice to actually see it," Baldelli said.

Lewis roped a double to left center in his first at bat in the second inning but was hitless in his next three plate appearances.

"This is a really good athlete that's making adjustments quickly," Baldelli said of Lewis and the fact that he only played shortstop his senior year of high school, having mostly played third base and the outfield. "He's still a young man and he's going to learn a lot and prove a lot going forward, but he's in a really good spot right now. He's put himself in a position where we look at him as an above average Major League shortstop in the future."

The line-up Sunday was a small glimpse into the future for Twins fans, as Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach all got nine innings of work under their belts.

"We wanted to try to get these guys out there together. Get them to run around a little bit. Honestly, it's fun for everyone to get a chance to see them do that. These are guys that not only have the physical ability, but when you spend time around them you realize that they have the types of heads on their shoulders that can -- you would think they can play this game, play for a long time and handle themselves very well."

Newly acquired James Paxton made his fifth start for the Yankees and went 5.2 innings in the win. He allowed two earned runs on six hits, walking one and striking out five. Paxton finishes the spring with a 2.08 ERA and 3-0 record.

The Twins were ahead 1-0 until Trevor May came in with the bases loaded for Perez and gave up a bases-clearing double to Clint Frazier on his first pitch.

The Twins open the regular season Thursday at 4:10 p.m. at home against their divisional rival, the Cleveland Indians.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

 
 
 

 

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