A few thoughts after spending three days covering the Twins at spring training.
Rocco Baldelli has been labeled as an analytics guy as he begins his first season as Twins manager. Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine are considered to be new-school baseball guys, and Baldelli was hired to replace Paul Molitor because he fit what Falvey and Levine wanted in a manager.
Listening to Baldelli, however, you realize this label isn’t necessarily fair. In discussing the decision to give Jose Berrios the Opening Day start, Baldelli went out of his way to talk about what this meant to Berrios and the fact that, if something is important in the clubhouse, than it’s important to the staff.
Baldelli might be all about analytics when considering matchups and strategies, but he’s going to go out of his way to support his players in order to try to get the most from them. Baldelli was a star athlete growing up, became a successful big leaguer with the Tampa Bay Rays and then had his career shortened by a disorder that caused frequent soft tissue injuries and fatigue.
All of these experiences, will help him identify with the majority of guys who play for him.
Baldelli, who at 37 is the youngest manager in the big leagues, also seems savvy enough not to overwhelm his players with a batch of numbers that end up meaning nothing to them.
Given his age and the fact this is his first chance as a manager, Baldelli is going to make some mistakes early but his approach will be interesting to watch.
Nelson Cruz entered Friday having played once in the Twins’ first 13 spring games and that came on Feb. 23 in the home opener.
There might have been a time that Cruz’s absence was cause for concern. The 38-year-old signed a one-year, $14.3 million free agent deal (there is a $12 million team option for 2020) in January to be the Twins’ designated hitter. So why was the DH not playing?
No one around the Twins’ camp seemed concerned and, with the way spring training now works, not getting him into games at this point doesn’t seem like a big deal. Cruz took batting practice a few days ago and made his second appearance in the lineup, hitting third, on Friday against Tampa Bay at Hammond Stadium.
The arrival of now 27-year-old Willians Astudillo with the Twins last season provided a fun storyline. In a sports where so many want to work the count, and then strikeout, Astudillo was a breath of fresh air. He’s the antidote to the 3-hour, 25-minute game.
The man has no interest in taking pitches and his 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame doesn’t exactly make him look like a professional athlete. But here he was appearing in center field in a game against the Cubs, and there he was scoring from first base on this memorable play. “I just wanted to show that chubby people also run,” Astudillo said.
New Statcast analytic: Hair Flow Value. #MNTwins
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 13, 2018
But this is no joke. Astudillo, who hit .355 in 29 games with the Twins in 2018, is going to make the Opening Day roster for a few reasons. One, Miguel Sano won’t play until at least May because of a nasty cut around his Achilles’ area that required a second procedure this week and that’s going to open up a roster spot. Two, Astudillo has position flexibility and that’s more important than ever in baseball. Third, Astudillo appears to be beloved by his teammates and is exactly the type of clubhouse presence that you need during the grind of a 162-game season.
It doesn’t hurt that Astudillo already is a fan favorite and that likely will only grow in 2019. Here’s Astudillo during the Twins’ victory over the Red Sox on Thursday on ESPN. It’s only a matter of time before an Astudillo fan club is taking up a portion of a section at Target Field.
Willians Astudillo is the best. pic.twitter.com/1ScmqwSmgM
— MLB (@MLB) March 7, 2019