A Weekend in Beloit
Fans of the Twins and their minor league system know that Beloit is the home of the Snappers, the Twins Low Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. It is a step above the short-season team in Elizabethton and most of these players hope the next step in their career leads them to Ft. Myers, where the Miracle is the Twins High Class A affiliate in the Florida State League.
Fans of minor league baseball and specifically the Twins know that it is important to develop players in the minor leagues for one of two purposes. Generally the goal is for the players to make it up to the Twins. The other possibility is that they can be used in a trade for big league talent.
Along with my Twins Minor League Weekly co-host Travis Aune, I left Chanhassen at 7:13 in the morning on Friday. A quick stop for breakfast in Menomonie and at an open Rest Area in Wisconsin, and we arrived at the hotel in Beloit at 1:13. So, as I have mentioned before, Twins fans can see some of the team's best prospects and only need to drive about five and a half hours to see them (from the Twin Cities).
Once there, we got to the ballpark early and met with Jeff Vohs (GM of the Snappers) on the field and he was kind enough to spend about a half-hour with us answering our questions. I mention that because along with the GM duties, he also has to make sure all is going well in the concessions, on the complex, and even helps with the grounds crew. I joked with him that his quietest time is probably when he is dragging the field on the tractor before games.
We went to the games on Friday night, Saturday night and even in the scorching heat on Sunday afternoon. They were kind enough to let Travis and I in to watch the Snappers pre-game activities such as infield work and batting practice. And it is through viewing all of that that you realize just how hard these guys work. I've written each year in my prospect handbook that the minor leaguers deserve to be recognized because they were just as hard as the big leaguers, they just do it with less fan fare, smaller per diems, lesser travel accommodations and wallets that aren't as thick due to paychecks with far less digits.
The Twins do a great job with their affiliates and upper management is almost always represented. While we were there, minor league hitting coordinator Bill Springman, minor league pitching coordinator Erik Rasmussen, Minor League Field Coordinator Joel Lepel, Senior Advisor to the GM and former Twins GM Terry Ryan, and Special Assistant, Roving Minor League Instructor and Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, were also there. They were working right alongside the Snappers coaching staff which includes manager Nelson Prada, pitching coach and former big leaguer Gary Lucas, and hitting coach and former Twins player Tommy Watkins.
One of the coolest things about Pohlman Field in Beloit is that it is the only stadium in the Midwest League where the players have to go on the concourse to get to the locker rooms. In other words, the players walk right in the midst of the fans which presents a great opportunity for autograph collectors or for fans just getting say hi or shake hands with players. The batting cage is also under the bleachers down the 3B line. I was able to catch up with Reggie Williams. He came and shook my hands as if we talked all the time. He was just sent down from Ft. Myers that day, but he was such a positive person.
Snappers Media Relations man Justin Waters gave us access to some of the players. Travis and I had the opportunity to interview several players. First, we had the chance to talk to Ben Tootle about his return from rotator cuff surgery last year. We talked to Lance Ray about how he overcame his early struggles to dominate as a hitter. We talked to BJ Hermsen about his work ethic and his improvement from 2010. On Sunday, we first talked to Michael Gonzales about his dominant 2011 season, his weight loss and his power. We then talked to 2011 9th round pick Adam Bryant about the transition from college to the pro game. Finally, we talked to North Dakotan Andy Leer about being drafted and then playing in the farm system of the team he grew up watching.
We met some really cool fans too. First, there is the little old lady (who must be in her 80s maybe) who stands between the clubhouse and the Snappers dugout before each game and gives high fives and fist pumps as the players go to the dugout. Some spend time chatting with her. When the lineups are announced, she sits in her box seat and rings her cow bell.
On Sunday, three Snappers fans came over and introduced themselves. They go to most of the games with their kids. In fact, as players were entering the field area, they were all giving the daughter a big hug or a high five. The fans said that a couple of times a year, they invite players over to their home for a barbecue, and it’s all about fun and relaxation, no autographs. They said that they were disappointed when the Brewers’ affiliate left Beloit (and went to Appleton), but they love the Twins and the fact that all of the players they sign are great people as well as good ball players.
There are things to do for all ages, all around the stadium. One of the greatest features of the stadium is the All-You-Can-Eat section. For $25 (if you call ahead, otherwise $30), you can sit in a picnic area along the right field line. We spent one game out there, and although we didn’t, you certainly could get your money’s worth of food and beverage. It’s great for groups, for sure.
In the end though, you also get to see a pretty good brand of baseball. Most of the players are between 20 and 23 and still developing. It is fun to watch and do a little of your own scouting. I wrote scouting reports on Friday night and Saturday night, if you want to read more specifics about more of the players. Last year when I went, I was able to see Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales, James Beresford and more. Next year, the Snappers could be the team where the likes of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and other top prospects will play. This year’s Snappers team only has one player that is generally ranked among top ten Twins prospects, and that is Adrian Salcedo. However, you never know what other players will develop and get to the Twins and contribute. There were a couple of guys that really stood out to me:
Lance Ray – 1B/OF – I know I ranked him in my top 20 coming into the season, but seeing him take quality at bat after quality at bat which ends in a rocket shot off the bat was impressive. In his past five games, he is 8-19 with five doubles and two home runs. We saw the lefty-hitter drill a couple of doubles off the wall in right field, and he also hit an opposite field home run off the stadium’s new scoreboard. He is not a huge guy, but he seemingly finds a way to get the good part of the bat on the ball with regularity. In the three games, he played about a game-and-a-half at both 1B and RF.
Ryan O’Rourke – LHP – The left-handed pitcher came into the game with an ERA of just 1.98. He actually didn’t probably pitch his best game, but he has a slider that may be able to get big league left-handed hitters out now. He has a good fastball. If he can improve his changeup over time, he could be a big league starter. If not, he still could help a big league bullpen a lot!
Danny Santana – SS – We saw him play a game at 2B and do very well. We saw him play a game at shortstop and make an absolutely incredible play showing great range and a very strong arm, and we saw him boot a routine double play ball. That’s been Santana so far. Offensively, we saw a great drag bunt, and we saw him turn a single into a double on a line drive over the 2B head. We saw him pop up and strike out looking silly at times. He is incredibly fast.
Michael Gonzales – 1B – the 6-6 first baseman lost over 30 pounds in the offseason, in part, to stay healthy and on the field. To this point, he has been able to do that. Watching him this year, compared to last year, and it is like night and day. He looks different, but he also has much better range at 1B, scoops better, has a much quicker swing and has shown great power.
Jose Gonzalez – LHP – He is not tall and he has the Jose Mijares body type, but he does throw pretty hard, has good control, He also has a good slider to left-handers. He can be dominant in one-inning stint. When he has struggled, it has generally been when he’s asked to go more than two innings.
Daniel Ortiz – He was the minor league player of the month in April when he hit for huge power numbers and average. It has been a struggle since that time. However, he has a very nice, left-handed swing. He is a line drive hitter who may get a little pull-happy at times, but when he stays down and used the whole field, he hits that ball with authority. He also hit a ball hard off of the base of the wall in right field. He looks natural in both left field and right field. Had two base running blunders in two games.
Again, you can find more player notes by clicking here. But again, if you’re interested in the Twins minor leaguers, having the opportunity to gain your own opinions by viewing players in games is something that sticks in your mind.
In the end, this isn’t really a blog today on stats or technical stuff. It is a blog about experiences because that’s what the trip over to Beloit to watch the Snappers is, a series of tremendous memories that will last!
The final memory, for me, happened at the end of the Sunday afternoon game. As we were walking out, Reggie Williams saw us, and he took a few more steps and when things cleared, he came back to us, shook our hands, and thanked us for being there and for our support. There may not be a more classy player than Reggie Williams.
Soon after, Terry Ryan came walking toward us. He shook Travis’s hand and introduced himself. Then he reached out his hand to me, and I said, “Hi, my name is…” He cut me off and said, “I know who you are.”
That made me nervous. What had I written? What had I said? Instead, he said, “Why didn’t you come seek me out? I check out your sites a lot and wanted to thank you for all you do, for your interest.” He introduced me to Joel Lepel, and said something like, “This guy probably knows more about our minor leaguers than I do.” (which of course is completely wrong, but still nice.)
We had a 5-7 minute conversation, and it was just really cool. I was calm during the conversation, but after saying our good byes, I turned to Travis and said, “Wow! That was cool!”
People can talk about the players that are in the Twins system. There are a lot of great people in the Twins system and it starts right from the top.
· Beloit Starting Pitcher AJ Achter joined Seth on the SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins Podcast last night.
· By the way, I just finished watching the Brent Hanson-produced and directed movie For Three. I have to say, it is so much better than I had expected. The mood of the team and the community was summed up perfectly in documentary form. The movie takes a look at the 2010-11 Perham Yellowjacket season that started with high hopes before an on-court heart attack by one of their top players, Zach Gabbard, in mid-January jarred the team and the community. How the team came together behind coach Dave Cresap was incredible. The team faced several more obstacles on their way to capturing the 2011 Class AA state basketball championship. Seriously, if you're at all a basketball fan, this is a great movie. Honestly, it's right up there with Hoop Dreams for me. Plus, my name is found in the movie twice! So, you have to like that, right?
· Liam Hendriks was promoted to AAA Rochester. In his first start last night, he gave up two runs on six hits. In 6.2 innings, he walked none and struck out two.
· David Bromberg pitched one inning in the GCL on Monday afternoon and struck out two. In talking to him yesterday, he could be back in New Britain before the end of the month which is impressive after breaking his ulna on a come backer on April 26.
· After being released by the Twins on Saturday, it didn't take infielder Steve Singleton long to sign with another organization. Hopefully he will go to a place where he will be given an opportunity to get to the big leagues.
· Miguel Sano hit his fourth and fifth home runs for the Elizabethton Twins last night. Eddie Rosario hit his seventh.
· Be sure to check out Travis’s most recent prospect profile on Joe Benson.