FORT MYERS, Fla. — Two years ago, after Royce Lewis had strained his oblique at the beginning of spring training, the top prospect figured out another way to make the most of his time: Watching, listening and learning from Rod Carew and Tony Oliva.
Last year, when Miguel Sano was transitioning from third base to first base, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau were among those he leaned on.
Carew, Oliva, Cuddyer, Morneau and others — Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Johan Santana included — are typically staples during spring training, providing valuable instruction to Twins players and help to Twins coaches. This spring, they’re not around. Camp has been pared down because of COVID-19, leaving the Twins without their special assistants.
“We’ve got a pretty unbelievable group of guys that are normally here in spring training,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “…It’s an impressive list when looking at the names, but it’s also a really great mix of personality and knowledge, guys that are a big part of our camp under normal circumstances.”
Outfield prospect Trevor Larnach developed a bond with Morneau last spring, leaning on the (future) Twins Hall of Famer for a number of things — “drills, approach, scouting reports, everything that you could possibly think of.”
Reliever Jorge Alcala is among those who has latched onto Hawkins as a mentor. Alcala, who posted a 2.63 earned-run average during his rookie season, said Hawkins was constantly in his ear throughout the season.
“He was always right next to me talking to me, helping me,” Alcala said. “And that’s something I didn’t take for granted.”
Though neither are around right now in person to help the organization guide its younger players, the Twins are looking forward to their return.
“It’s one of the highlights of the camp for a lot of us to have them here, but I think we can also take advantage of a lot of the time we’ve been able to spend with them in the past and think about those connections that we’ve had and then they’ll be back,” Baldelli said. “…We miss everyone, and we’ll do the best we can without them. But I look forward to the day where they’ll be back in camp and we’re enjoying them all.”
Smeltzer makes spring debut
When Devin Smeltzer went home at the beginning of the offseason, he tossed analytics out the door. He didn’t use a radar gun, didn’t use a Rapsodo. He didn’t use anything until he reported to camp.
“I think I got too caught up in chasing velocity and all this when that’s not what got me to the big leagues and what’s going to keep me in the big leagues,” he said. “The one or two miles per hour would be great, but it’s not a core strength.”
Smeltzer, who posted a 6.75 earned-run average in seven games \with the Twins last season — one start — went home and put on about 13 pounds this offseason. He said he got stronger and faster, and hopes to see that translate into results.
Sunday, he gave up one run in two innings in the Twins’ Grapefruit League opener. That run, a home run to Boston’s Bobby Dalbec, came on a pitch Smeltzer said he threw exactly where he wanted it to go as he works on trying to elevate his fastball.
“I thought Devin competed very well out there. Kept them off balance. Made his pitches pretty well, the way that we know he can,” Baldelli said. “I think we’ve got a chance to get a good, renewed look at Devin Smeltzer.”
The Twins will head to Port Charlotte, Fla., on Monday to take on the Rays. Lewis Thorpe will start Monday, followed by Charlie Barnes on Tuesday. Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda will pitch Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Baldelli has not announced when Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson will make their spring debuts, but he said he has a game in mind for both of them. Cruz will likely be on the schedule a “little bit,” before Donaldson, Baldelli said.
“Both of them are in great shape and look fantastic,” he said.
The Twins have no update yet on when shortstop Andrelton Simmons will be arriving to camp. Simmons has been held up in his native Curacao with visa issues.
“The last I heard, he was waiting for his appointment to be set in Curacao to get his paperwork taken care of,” Baldelli said.