The Minnesota Twins have certainly had a strong connection to Australia, especially the past dozen years. They have signed pitchers such as Michael Nakamura, Grant Balfour and Liam Hendriks. They have even signed hitters like Glenn Williams and Luke Hughes.
In 2005, the Twins signed an infielder from Australia named James Beresford. Since signing with the Twins, he has represented Australia in several international competitions including the World Cup and the World Baseball Classic.
He has had the opportunity to become a free agent each of the past two seasons, yet he has decided to remain with the Twins. Last year, he made it to the highest minor league level and put up his best offensive numbers. He is again at big league camp looking to make a positive impression.
Beresford is likely to spend much of the 2014 season in Rochester with the Red Wings, but he is being given an opportunity to compete for a bench job with the big league club.
“It’s been fun. I can’t really control how much game time you get, but they’ve given everyone a bit of opportunity. It has been great to go out there and play. It’s been a good start. Just enjoying it and hoping to get a few more at bats in the next week or two.”
Considering his long road to get to this point, these types of opportunities are pretty special. When he was signed, he was very young and very thin. He was the definition of a project and has had to work very hard to move up each level. He spent a year with the GCL Twins, a year with the Elizabethton Twins, two full seasons in Beloit and a year in Ft. Myers. In 2012, he played in New Britain.
He returned to New Britain to start the 2013 season. He played 45 games and hit .316 before moving up to Triple-A Rochester. He played in 58 games for the Red Wings and hit .298 and helped the team get to the playoffs. Combined, he got on base just over 36% of the time as well.
The 25-year-old has needed that time to develop properly. He needed to mature, physically and mentally. Each level gets a little bit tougher.
Regarding the move to AAA, Beresford said, “It’s just been a progression. Moving up to AAA, I struggled for the first two weeks, getting used to the league and that type of thing. The pitchers… you’re typically not going to see guys who throw as hard, but they throw a little more offspeed in hitter’s counts. So you can’t always be gearing up for fastballs. You just have to adjust because they don’t have the 96 mph fastball. They tend to throw their sliders and changeups for strikes in hitter’s counts. That’s the biggest adjustment. It turned out to be a fun season, making the playoffs. It was a good year.”
This past offseason, Beresford became a six-year minor league free agent for the second straight year. This time around, he quickly re-signed with the Twins. There were several reasons that made the decision pretty easy for him.
“Just the things the Twins said to me. Pretty candid things. The positive things they had to say. The opportunities they said they were going to give me. And, I definitely saw a chance to get up to the big leagues this year provided I play well. I don’t see a big difference. I signed a little bit later last year just because I wanted to see what the market was like. After we saw what was going on, we decided that signing with the Twins was the best option. This year, they were just really aggressive and I wanted to get back straight away so it was a positive thing.”
Beresford played almost exclusively second base in 2013. In 2012, he spent equal time between shortstop and second base. Prior to that, he played nearly exclusively short. The move to second base likely has much more to do with Danny Santana than Beresford who feels prepared to play all three infield positions as a utility player if needed.
“I’m pretty comfortable playing all three positions. Probably most comfortable at shortstop and second just because that’s where I’ve played the last couple of years. The good thing about third is it’s just a reaction position. Ball is hit hard, you don’t have much time to move and think. So I think third is probably a little easier to pick up. Second base has been good to work on the pivots and double plays. It’s a lot different than shortstop where momentum’s taking you toward first base. At second, there’s a different turn, so that was the biggest adjustment I had to make last year.”
Being an Australian playing baseball in the United States certainly presents challenges not only for the player but for his family. Beresford says that his parents come to the States every year, usually for about two weeks. However, technology has allowed them to watch him play most of his games.
“They get to see me at home, which is nice. They follow at home. At AAA, it was nice because all the games are televised on the computer.”
However, that isn’t as easy as it may appear. Beresford continued, “The day games, the 1:00 games, are usually like 3:00 in the morning. They’re usually up for those as well, provided I’m in the lineup, so they’re along for the ride too.”
Asked if he was disappointed to hear about Zach Greinke’s comments about not wanting to play games this spring, Beresford understood.
“Obviously you have to look at the bigger picture. These guys are established big leaguers and just want to be ready for the season. Obviously traveling to Australia is a long trip. I understand where he’s coming from, but at the same time, it’ll be a great experience. The travel is obviously going to be hard, but I think once they do it, they’re going to see how much of a nice place it is and enjoy it.”
Back to the subject at hand. We’re about two weeks from knowing the Twins opening day roster, and James Beresford is still in camp. Still competing for a job. Still working hard to show the Twins coaches and front office that even if he’s not on the opening day roster, he can contribute to the team in a role when needed later in the season.
What would it mean for him to get that call, whenever it is, that he is heading to the big leagues?
“It would be pretty special. I think it’s so far away. That’s kind of how I look at it. I don’t look at it as trying to get called up. I’m just trying to play hard, have fun and enjoy it. If it does happen sometime, it would be pretty special.”
“I know that if I go out there and do what I’ve been doing the past couple of years which is just take it day by day and as long as my process is right, then the results will take care of themselves.”