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Miracle season under way

Manager, players excited about summer campaign

April 5, 2019
By CJ HADDAD (cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The defending Florida State League champions are opening their season this week with a two-game homestand to kick off this year's quest for another title.

The Fort Myers Miracle, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, features a bevy of talent in 2019 -- including the 2017 No. 1 overall pick, Royce Lewis, and last year's Twins first-round pick, No. 20 overall, Trevor Larnach.

A new manager is at the helm for the 2018 champs, although he may be a familiar face to fans.

Toby Gardenhire, former Miracle player and son to Detroit Tigers and past Twins' skipper Ron Gardenhire, is taking the reins of the group.

He will be replacing Ramon Borrego, who is now the manager for Double-A Pensacola this season.

"I'm excited. I love it down here in Fort Myers. We've got a good group of kids. Should be fun," he said.

Gardenhire coached the Low-A Cedar Rapids team to a 77-62 record last year, including a playoff berth. He was drafted by the Twins in '02 and '05, spending seven seasons within the organization as a player, including for the Miracle in '07 and '08.

He said he's excited to be back in a familiar ballpark with familiar faces. Many of his pupils in Low-A are beginning the year in Fort Myers.

"They're really talented. They're very fun to watch," said Gardenhire of this year's edition of the Miracle. "The ability that the group has, it makes it really exciting to watch.

"I think the fans are kind of in for (a treat). If you see these kids play, they can do some really special things," he continued. "At the same time, with that, a lot of them are very young, too, so you also see them make mistakes, and that's kind of our job. They're going to make mistakes and they're going to learn as they go up. But at this level, hopefully they do more good things than bad things. It should be fun."

The Miracle are returning 15 players that spent at least some time with the club in 2018. The 25-man roster includes 13 pitchers and 12 position players, including nine of the top 28 prospects in the organization, according to Baseball America.

Despite carrying the tag of No. 1 overall draft pick, Lewis said he's just a normal guy.

"It's not a burden," he said of the hype surrounding his game. "I'm just a normal person. I think everyone kind of forgets that sometimes. I'm just here to represent it and bring it back to reality and show you that I'm that same person as everyone else on the field -- I just might do things a little bit different. Everyone's different though and that's what I'm here to show and I'm just here to have fun."

The 6-foot-2 shortstop is only 19, and was promoted from Cedar Rapids to the Miracle in mid July, hitting .255 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 46 games.

Between Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids, Lewis posted a .292 average with 14 homers, 74 RBI and 28 stolen bases.

He did play a bit this spring with the big club, though sustained a leg injury early on, which he said actually allowed him to take more in.

"You know, I got a little banged up in the beginning to start, but I think it was a good setback -- a blessing in disguise. I learned a lot. I matured. I'm just ready to get going now," Lewis said.

He's most focused on his glove work this year, though he's been known to flash the leather on the field as it is.

"I'm locking in on defense. That's my main goal," he said. "I feel like defense -- you can get a spot on a team anywhere if you play some really good defense. Gold Glove defense. That's my main concern.

"Offensively, just to help the team as much as I possibly can -- get some hits, score some runs, get on base -- that's my job."

Lewis said he's happy to be in a warm climate to start to season, and is looking forward to playing in front of fans in Southwest Florida.

They're certainly happy to see him as well, as Lewis blasted two home runs in Game 3 of the FSL Championship Series against Daytona last year.

"I just really appreciate the fans that come out each and every day," he said. "It's really fun to play in front of fans like that. They're really supportive and I just appreciate them coming out."

Larnach, who homered in his first spring training at bat last month, brings a poise to a team looking to repeat. He also knows a little bit about winning a championship himself.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder was a national champion with Oregon State last season, as the Beavers came from the losers bracket to win-out the rest of the way and raise a trophy in Omaha.

Larnach will be entering his first full season as a pro.

"A lot more games," he said when asked what the biggest difference between college and pro ball is. "You know, playing every single day, taking care of your body differently, staying hydrated -- especially out here. It's going to be a learning experience, but I'm very excited to learn from everyone else that's been here and done it and I'm ready to be on the field every single day and give it my all."

Larnach, between Rook Elizabethtown and Cedar Rapids, hit .303 with five home runs and 26 RBI in just 42 games. He also drew 21 walks.

The biggest thing he's working on this campaign is just being a guy who can contribute to the club on a daily basis and getting comfortable with a larger schedule.

"My goal is really to just stick to my routine every day, take care of myself, work hard, compete every single day to the best of my ability and I think the rest will take care of itself," he said.

He believes if the team finds itself in a similar situation as last year, his experience from winning the College World Series can play a role.

"I've been there. Having played in Omaha with 25-30,000 people, it gets loud. It gets intense. But it's a lot of fun," he said.

"I think I've been in the position enough to really know the experience on a level like that. But, this is high-A, you're going to face better arms, face better players -- but at the end of the day it's the same game with a lot of fans and I really believe that I can bring what we went though in Omaha to these guys and really help out."

Larnach said time spent with the Twins this spring was an invaluable experience.

"The main thing I learned from it was just the game experience," he said of Spring Training. "You don't come across that very often. You work your whole life to get to that point and it's not ever where you want to be yet.

"You kind of take it all in. You study guys like (Eddie) Rosario, (Max) Kepler, even (Nelson) Cruz now -- and you pay attention to how the managers talk to them and how they go about their business and all that stuff," he said. "The biggest thing to me was the game experience and I was very fortunate to come up here two, three times, get some ABs and play some innings. It was a lot of fun, I was very grateful for the opportunity, but I'm more grateful for the experience that I've learned and how much knowledge I've gained from it."

It should be a successful and entertaining season for the Miracle and their fans at Hammond Stadium. The team is bolstered with young prospects and strong arms -- most notably in the bullpen.

A repeat may hinge on how many players get called up throughout the season, though that's something Gardenhire would be pleased to see.

"That'd be great," he said of his players moving up the ranks throughout the year. "That's the best part for me, is when I get guys called up. So if they call me and tell me to send guys to Double-A, then that means I'm doing a good job. So I will happily send every single one of these guys to Double-A."

Bryan Sammons got the ball on Opening Day for the Miracle on Thursday. Jhoan Duran gets the nod for game two tonight.

Duran is ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the Twins system and went 7-5 last season with a 3.75 ERA in 21 starts, striking out 115 in 100.2 innings between two minor league clubs.

The Miracle return home for a four-game homestead against Dunedin Monday-Thursday of next week.

Hammond Stadium is at 14100 6 Mile Cypress Parkway in Fort Myers. For tickets, visit www.milb.com/fort-myers or call 239-768-4210.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

 
 
 

 

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