The headliner on Thursday was Aaron Hicks, who blasted three homers in a game against the Phillies in Clearwater. I didn't make the three-hour trip, opting to stay back in Ft. Myers for the home half of the split-squad set, and thus missed out on my favorite prospect's banner day.
I can hardly complain. While hanging around the Lee County Sports Complex, had the opportunity to check out plenty of intriguing prospects, and while the home game against Boston wasn't anywhere near as thrilling as The Hicks Show there were plenty of noteworthy sights. Here's a run-down:
* I've had my doubts about Joe Benson and he did nothing to alleviate them Thursday, striking out four times against the Red Sox. He also let a routine fly ball drop in center after losing it in the sun, costing the team a run. Suffice to say that he's lagging behind in the center field competition.
* I expect big things this year from Trevor Plouffe, who seems to be maturing as a hitter before our eyes. He tallied a pair of singles against the Red Sox, both line drives to right-center field over the second baseman's head.
We know Plouffe can turn on a pitch and plant it in the left field seats, but if he continues to show a propensity for going the other way when the offering dictates, he'll have a chance to become a more complete hitter and take his offensive game to the next level.
He also had a fine play defensively at third, barehanding a slow roller up the line and converting, although his throw pulled Jeff Clement off the bag at first and forced him to swipe the runner as he passed.
* Kevin Correia started for the Twins against Boston, and he did not pitch well. He lasted only 2 1/3 innings before reaching his pitch limit, and seemed to struggle locating his off speed stuff. If he threw a breaking ball for a strike at any point, I didn't see it. In the outing, he allowed six hits and a walk, and overthrew first base on a pick-off attempt. His fastball registered in the upper 80s.
The Twins' pitching staff in general had a bad day, coughing up 12 runs on 16 hits in a contest that dragged at times. I did enjoy the opportunity to see prospects Trevor May and B.J. Hermsen, who entered later in the game, but neither blew me away.
* On Wednesday, when I made my first trip down to the park, minor-league players were going through their physical exams and there wasn't a whole lot of action on the side fields. Thursday was another story, as the kids were out in full force, going through drills and working with instructors.
I spent a few hours roaming the minor-league fields, spectating as young players went through such exciting tasks as completing PFP drills, playing catch and running sprints. Obviously one can't take a whole lot away from these activities, but it was good to see some of the organization's more noteworthy prospects in the flesh, some for the first time.
Miguel Sano has grown quite a bit since the last time I saw him two years ago. He's very thick in the lower half, with powerful thighs that undoubtedly help him generate torque. As his measurements would suggest, his build looks quite similar to Miguel Cabrera.
However, Sano's prodigious frame paled in comparison to fellow bopper Kennys Vargas, who is an inch or two taller and has a sizable weight advantage on the Twins' top prospect. Vargas slugged .610 in Beloit last year.
* I've gotta say, as a long-time Twins fan it was pretty fun watching Doug Mientkiewicz hit grounders to Sano at third base. Quite the "past and future" dynamic in play there. Mechanically, Sano looked pretty smooth leaning down to corral the ball and unleashing wicked throws with his outstanding arm. But I continue to believe that his size gives him very little chance of sticking at the hot corner, especially if he keeps growing.
* Speaking of Mientkiewicz, it was awesome to see him back in a Twins uniform. He returns to the Twins organization this year as manager of the Ft. Myers Miracle, and he was all over the place on the minor-league fields, barking instructions and cracking jokes. You can tell he's a popular figure among Twins fans by the way people gravitated to him.
* While watching some outfield prospects haul in fungoes from a machine on one field, I saw Max Kepler turn on the wheels to chase down a distant fly ball and came away very impressed by the way he runs. He's a big kid but he moves gracefully, gliding around the outfield grass with great speed. I guess that's how it goes when both of your parents are renowned ballet dancers.
* I didn't see Byron Buxton do much, other than running a few sprints and playing some catch, but he's certainly a tremendous athlete as advertised. He also struck me as being very good-natured, a sentiment that was echoed by several observers I chatted with.
* One guy who has really filled out since the last time I saw him is Niko Goodrum, a shortstop prospect with a reputable tool set. I remembered him being a particularly skinny and lanky ballplayer but he's really grown into an imposing figure. Whether that will affect his ability to remain at short remains to be seen, but I wouldn't be surprised if he posts some impressive power numbers in Cedar Rapids this season. With his athleticism, he's got a chance to be special if he can put it all together.
* That's all for today. I'll be attending one last game on Friday night at JetBlue Stadium, the newly furnished spring training home of the Red Sox, then I'll be returning to Minnesota on Sunday. Boo. I'll report back with some finals thoughts after the weekend, and then it will be time to get my annual Position Analysis series underway. Cheers!