With exhibition games soon to begin, the Minnesota Twins held one of their final full-squad public workouts of spring training on Thursday, Feb. 21, at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
Following ten days of practices at the club’s off-season home, both fans and players look forward to a festive five weeks of the Grapefruit League schedule. Yet, having posted the American League’s worst record in 2012, the group undoubtedly needs every opportunity remaining to sharpen skills for the coming season.
Led 12th year manager Ron Gardenhire, visitors to Thursday’s three hour morning practice observed a busily structured workout. Though a majority of players are youthful, the skipper’s coaches possess a wealth of experience, even after a shake-up in the wake of last year’s disappointment.
Not only was 2-time World Series winning manager Tom Kelly present for the session, but the spring staff includes Hall of Famer and base-running coordinator Paul Molitor, former Minnesota slugger and current hitting coach Tom Brunansky, longtime pitching coach Rick Anderson, and 14 year major leaguer and new bench coach Terry Steinbach.
Showcasing the most fan-friendly MLB facility in Southwest Florida, the 60+ man roster toiled on three practice fields, the actual diamond inside Hammond Stadium, an outdoor bullpen area, and covered hitting cages. Upwards of 500 supporters witnessed the standard drills of spring, in addition to extended catching and infield sessions and batting practice for some of the squad’s top hitters.
With off-season trades of outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere, Twins’ camp clearly features a handful of position battles. Those decisions will arrive later, but the highlights of Thursday’s workout involved seeing the club’s longtime stars in action.
Indeed, few players in baseball attract greater attention than catcher Joe Mauer. The 2009 MVP participated in early-morning catcher drills, earning good-natured chuckles from the gathered crowd by badly overthrowing second base on a simulated stolen base attempt. The three-time batting champ later redeemed himself by taking batting practice off live pitching on the ballpark’s main practice field.
Close beside Mauer was a player whose health may define rebuilding efforts in 2013. 31 year-old Justin Morneau is a 4-time All-Star, who captured the 2006 MVP, while the Twins formerly enjoyed consistent contender status. The once feared slugger has since struggled with the effects of a pair of concussions, however, and his numbers dipped sharply in the past two campaigns.
Morneau looked steady fielding grounders at first base on Thursday and likewise spent extra time facing live batting practice. Joining the longtime teammates in the cage were outfielder Josh Willingham, who belted a team-high 35 home runs and 110 RBI in 2012, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, and promising 24 year-old Chris Parmelee.
Pitchers additionally remained busy with typical stretching, running, instruction, and fielding drills on the mound. Those taking extended throwing sessions included free agent signee Kevin Correia, reliable bullpen arm Glen Perkins, and second year player Cole De Vries. Meanwhile, new additions Mike Pelfrey and Josh Roenicke could be seen enjoying a lighter morning of shagging outfield flies.
Minnesota begins its exhibition season on Saturday, Feb. 23, by traveling to nearby Sarasota to face the Baltimore Orioles. The right-handed Correia, who inked a 2 year, $10 million contract in December, will start the opener. The team returns home on Sunday to oppose the Tampa Bay Rays in the first of 19 contests at the gracefully aging Lee County Sports Complex.
Be sure to get a closer look at Minnesota Twins’ spring training through 20 up-close shots in the Photo Gallery above.
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