'Force fed': 2011 Twins youth movement hardly by design
ST. PAUL The Minnesota Twins might be regularly starting a large handful of rookies as they wind down the 2011 season, but don't compare their predicament to the state of the organization in 2000, manager Ron Gardenhire said. "At the end of 2000 ...
The Minnesota Twins might be regularly starting a large handful of rookies as they wind down the 2011 season, but don't compare their predicament to the state of the organization in 2000, manager Ron Gardenhire said.
"At the end of 2000 and into 2001, that was an organization saying, 'We're going with kids. We're tired of going off the market and buying six-year free agents and filling in with veteran players,'" said Gardenhire, who was the third-base coach on those teams before taking over as manager in 2002.
This year, he added, "has been based on injuries; it's force fed. We've used (nearly) our whole 40-man roster because of injuries. It's different; it's totally different."
So while the Twins are auditioning rookies such as Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes and Scott Diamond - and getting a first look at Joe Benson, Liam Hendriks and Chris Parmelee - they're not recalibrating.
They have two former AL MVPs under contract for next season in Joe Mauer ($23 million) and Justin Morneau ($15 million) and should have established starters in center field (Denard Span), at third (Danny Valencia) and at second (Alexi Casilla) as well.
The fact that four of those five players have missed substantial amounts of time because of injuries this season is a large reason why the Twins have relied so heavily on rookies. If free-agent outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel re-sign this winter, the team still could be veteran-heavy.
"If we get our players back healthy next year, there are a lot fewer holes you have to fill," Gardenhire said. "We need our team healthy and back. We have some guys who are free agents, but there aren't that many spots we have to fill."
Tom Kelly was the manager in 2000 and 2001, and he was asked if it was fun to run those teams, especially after winning two World Series titles with players such as Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Dan Gladden, Jack Morris and Frank Viola.
"You work harder, because there's always something you can do each day to make somebody better, or try to make him better, so there's always work to be done," Kelly said. "There's work to be done every day as it is, but there's more.
"I remember talking to Sparky (Anderson) a couple times when he had that transition of losing (Alan) Trammel and (Lou) Whitaker and (Travis) Fryman and all those guys. He had all these young guys, and he was pulling his hair out because he'd never had to do that, for 40 years.
"We, of course, were a little bit younger, so it was easier for us to adjust. It was constant work, but it was fun. It was a fun thing, and you got rewarded when they responded. There's going to be good times, bad times, exciting times and not-so-good times. It's a roller coaster."
T.K. on hitting: Kelly has a theory about batting: Every player, no matter how good, gives away 100 at-bats a season. The trick to success, he said, is not giving away any more than that.
"It's just how many do you give away through the course of a season? You're going to give a hundred. Already gone," he said. "So it's the next hundred - how many of those are you going to give away? If you give away 20, and he gives away 60, well, you're going to hit for a higher average and score more runs and be a better player, because you've learned not to give away so many at-bats."
Kelly was filling in as analyst this week on the television broadcasts of the Twins' two losses at Kansas City, so he saw a lot of rookies give away at-bats. One stuck in his mind: a quick, three-pitch appearance by Joe Benson, who is making the leap from Class AA to the majors.
"We're just going to have to wait and see what he does," Kelly said Wednesday, "but last night, three pitches - boom, boom, boom, he's gone. He's gone in 18 seconds. That was one of them giveaways. Now, once you get past that hundred, how many more are you going to give away? Fifty? Ten? The guys that can shorten the number are now going to move forward."
Experience 'spectacular': Benson said his first week as a major leaguer has been fantastic. The Twins' minor league player of the year in 2010, he's hitting only .200 (5 for 25) but has three doubles in seven games.
"The experience has been nothing but spectacular," he said, noting the differences in travel, lodging and stadiums between the majors and the Class AA Eastern League. "It's night and day."
Asked if his offseason will change because of the accelerated call-up, Benson said no. He has a contract to play at least a half-season of winter ball in Venezuela between Oct. 9 and Dec. 7. Whether he signs for the second half is yet to be determined.
"As of now, I still have eight weeks of the season left, after this month," he said. "When I come back, then I'll start thinking about spring training goals, or expectations. But for right now, I'm just focused on finishing as strong as I can here and then playing winter ball."
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