Saturday, March 12, 2005

Pitchers & Catchers Report

Some places have the first robin of spring. Here in Fort Myers, we have Popa Goose. He drives down from California so pitcher Joe "Goose" Gault can have the use of his truck while he's here.

"(Mike Radcliffe) tells me he's going to be on a real team next year," he says of his son. "I'm not sure what he means by that."

Cliburn explains a drillI said I think that means one where they charge admission and actually have people in the stands. Joe pitched fairly well in the Gulf Coast League last year, where the highest crowd we had was 35.

That mean's Goose will likely have to drive his truck to Tennessee, but I'm sure that a 19 hour haul is a piece of cake after tooling over from California.

Like every other pitcher and catcher in the Twins minor league system, Goose was here for the start of minor league spring training. While one might compare MLB Spring Training to a three ring circus, minor league training is more like...

Honestly, I'm not sure there's a comparison. There are flocks of pitchers spread out all over the four fields, plus the training areas that comprise the Twins training facilites. Each field has one - and sometimes two - flocks on it working on various drills and the flocks move around from station to station.

"Hey! You guys do this yet?" Stan Cliburn yells at a group of pitchers dressing in red, many of which pitched in for the Fort Myers Miracle last season, who were lounging about in front of the new training facilities. They hadn't, and Stan waives them over.

There is some order. The players are color coded: dark blue is both the AAA players and the High A players, red is the AA players, grey is the single A players and white is the rookies. These aren't promises of things to come, but just and easy way to tell the work groups apart.

Position players report tomorrow, and the Twins will make their first cuts on Monday. A training camp roster should be available on Tuesday.

Koskie?  Is that you?The Twins were using some new training camp tools as well as the new fitness facility. These including the instructional pitching charts set up behind the bull pen area. Yellow ropes were strung to mark the strike zone in the bullpen area.

Teaching is a high priority during the minor league camp. If someone does a drill wrong, they will likely have a coach show them the correct way, and then have to do it all over again.

Kyle Gieger shows off the strike zone."I want to see all of you throw strikes" coach Gary Lucas tells them before one drill. One player throws a little to high to catcher Greg Najac. "That's a ball," Lucas points out. "Try again, throw a strike."

On another field, the position players that have arrived are taking fielding drills, although several middle infielders are helping out the coaching staff including Tommy Watkins who played last season for the New Britain Rock Cats.

In the back behind the bullpens, Eric Rasmussen is explaining positioning of pitches to another group, and behind that yet another group works through a set of obsticals in fitness drills.

Everyone gets a bullpen session, making the catchers the hardest working of the group in camp.

There are more catchers in camp than I expected. While Bryan Kennedy and Jose Morales wear Red Wings blue, it's still a bit decieving at this point as the actually catchers that will report for the Red Wings are still up in major league camp. They will likely switch to Rock Cats red by the end of the week, a color which the two Kyles (Geiger and Phillips) are currently wearing.

Some of the pitchers will move around as well, once cuts get made, but it's not as easy to predict where the pitchers will end up at this point.

As the pitchers and fielders get through all the stations, they vanish into the locker rooms and re-appear, garbed for running. They go in two huge groups for a run around the outside of the Sportsplex facitilies, while the catchers finally catch a break of crouching and take in some batting practice.

Suger"Wait, wait, wait," Floyd "Sugerbear" Rayford stops them all from milling around. How many groups do I have here?"

Kennedy converses with several of the other catchers and they arrive at the number three. Group one is to report to the batting cage, the other two groups to the outfield.

The catchers mill around and look at each other. Sugerbear sighs and pulls out a piece of paper. "Group one: Kennedy, Johnson, Daigle, Morales..."

And they tell me catching is a mental position.

Rayford makes for a very amusing pitcher for batting practice however. "Look at this! I still got it!" The former Orioles third baseman tells them as he hurls balls at this chosen targets. "I just can't get my arm over my head anymore!"

Work outs start between 9 and 9:30 each morning over by the "Big White Building" on the Lee County Sportsplex. So if you're in town for spring training, take a walk over from the fields by the stadium, and have a look at the players that comprise the future of the Minnesota Twins.

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