As the 2013 season came to yet-another frustrating end, many Twins fans found baseball difficult to watch. Many Septembers, prospects are called up and fans can catch a glimpse of the future. Last September, Twins fans got to see catcher Josmil Pinto make a strong first impression. However, other September call-ups were journeymen. I recall telling anyone who would listen that it was a tough to watch, but we knew there would be many more reasons to watch in 2014. Yet, as this season opens, there is a lot of negativity surrounding the Twins, even more than the last couple of seasons. So, what happened?
Where did all this negativity come from?
In my opinion, the day the attitude for the 2014 season changed is the day Miguel Sano fielded a slow roller and made an off-balance throw to first base. Since then, we found out he needed Tommy John surgery, had the surgery and will miss most of the season.
After Sano hit 35 home runs between Ft. Myers and New Britain in 2014 and showed enough improvement defensively at third base that many, myself included, thought he would be up with the Twins no later than July. Who knows? With the Twins offense this spring, maybe it would have been as early as May! He was generally ranked among the Top 10 prospects in all baseball.
The concern really started after playing just two games in the Dominican Winter League. He was shut down with a strained UCL. Many, myself included (and apparently Dr. James Andrews), chose to believe that because he was a position player the elbow could be rested, and he could come back and play at 100% in 2014. And then came that slow roller. And surgery. And the big cast over his arm.
Sure, he'll pick up a bat in early August and could get a couple at-bats in GCL games before the end of the year, but he will (without something crazy happening) not make his big league debut until early in the 2015 season.
I truly believe when fans found out that Miguel Sano would not be promoted this season, optimism for 2014 dropped.
Of course, at the same time we heard about Miguel Sano being shut down in the Dominican, reports came out of Puerto Rico that Eddie Rosario would likely face a 50-game suspension.
The second baseman had a very strong 2013 season. He began the year in Ft. Myers and he was promoted to New Britain the same day as Sano. Rosario more than held his own at AA. Before spring training began, news came out that he officially had been suspended, but not for a PED. Instead, he was suspended for a drug of abuse. This meant he had previously failed a drug test and got caught again. My personal thought was that his season would begin in late May, possibly with a handful of games in Ft. Myers. He would quickly move up to New Britain and could still be called up in August or September.
However, when minor league spring training started in early March, we learned that Rosario had been given permission by the club to report late. Rumors were rampant as to what the drug of abuse was and where he was during this time. Well, as minor league spring training is now complete (and his suspension begins), he has still not reported. Of course, that doesnít necessarily mean anything, but the level of concern is certainly higher at this point. Again though, we most likely will not see him until 2015.
Byron Buxton dominated as a 19 year old at Cedar Rapids and in Ft. Myers. In the offseason, he was the consensus #1 prospect in all baseball and was invited to big league camp. Although he didnít hit much in big league camp, there was no question about his talent and his future. Again, Jeremy Nygaard and I talked (on the Twins Hangouts podcast) about how we felt there was a chance Buxton could play in the Futures Game at Target Field and stick with the team.
To be fair, that was probably a little over-aggressive. However, the thought was not completely out of the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, in mid-March, on a back field in minor league camp, he made a diving catch in a game and hurt his wrist. After further evaluation, it was decided he will start the season on the disabled list and likely miss at least two weeks at the start of the season. My assumption is he will get at least a handful of games with the Ft. Myers Miracle to start his season before moving up to New Britain (where he would otherwise have started his season).
The delayed start (and hopefully it is only two to three weeks) changes my thinking. I thought he could make a July/August debut. Now, I think heíll spend the entire season at New Britain (again, after those initial games with the Miracle). That is not a bad thing at all, far from it. Itís just that instead of debuting as a 20 year old in 2014, he will likely debut in the middle of the 2015 season.
As those three situations were happening with three of the Top Five Minnesota Twins prospects, top pitching prospect Alex Meyer is pitching after missing two months last season.
Of course, it didnít help much that the Twins offense did pretty much nothing during spring training games. Over time, more and more concern about the Twins offense (or lack thereof) was voiced publicly.
So again, I am of the opinion that optimism for 2014 was not about the major league team suddenly winning 80 games or competing for a division title. The cause of optimism was that some key building blocks for the future would get their first glimpse of big league ball and go through their rookie season ups and downs so that in 2015 they could improve even more and maybe the Twins would start competing.
I donít think the upside and potential of the prospects is any less now than it was two months ago, but I do think the timeline has unfortunately been pushed back a year. In my opinion, these minor leaguer situations have affected the enthusiasm of the Minnesota Twins fans.
The Twins went out and added a couple of pitchers in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. However, they did little to improve the offense. I believe a big reason for that is because of the belief that with Sano and Rosario (along with Aaron Hicks and Josmil Pinto, and eventually Danny Santana and Byron Buxton), the changing of the guard would be taking place.
The lack of offense in spring training certainly didnít help the enthusiasm and hope of Twins fans. One canít help but wonder what ticket sales would look like this year if not for hosting the All-Star Game in July.