FORT MYERS, FLA. – Road teams are expected to field lineups with at least four regulars from the previous season during spring training games, and Major League Baseball is getting aggressive about enforcing that edict. It’s to ensure that the ticket-buying fan sees some recognizable faces and is not stuck watching a bunch of anonymous minor leaguers wearing uniform numbers in the 80s.
MLB’s cutoff to be considered a recognizable face: 300 plate appearances.
Complaints about how teams fill out their travel rosters have been on the rise in recent years. And Twins manager Paul Molitor acknowledged Wednesday that his club is one of several to have received a phone call from the commissioner’s office about a couple of the lineups this spring.
“We were a little bit on the line with a couple lineups, from what I heard,” Molitor said. “I’m going to have to spread out guys a little bit.”
The Twins have 10 position players who had at least 300 plate appearances last season, and Kennys Vargas, with 264, was just short of that cutoff.
MLB has threatened to punish teams who break the rule, which is much more difficult for Florida teams. All 15 Cactus League teams hold spring training in the Phoenix metro area, making rides longer than 45 minutes rare. Grapefruit League travel is different, with three-hour bus rides unavoidable.
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire recently told Detroit reporters that he doesn’t want to risk one of his veteran players getting a sore back from a two-hour bus ride. And he has a rebuilding job on his hands.
“You try to be respectful. I do,” Gardenhire said. “But a lot of times with the Twins, we didn’t have five regulars. … It’s the same situation [with the Tigers]. We have a lot of young people and a lot of people aren’t going to know their names.”
Helmets with pop
The Twins’ uniforms aren’t changing this season, but they have made one alteration that sharp-eyed fans will notice right away. It’s a change players have already embraced.
“I like these new helmets,” said outfielder Eddie Rosario, holding up his 2018 team-issued headgear. “[They] make us look really good.”
The Twins’ batting helmets this season have a matte finish, a metallic look that doesn’t reflect light the way their traditional shiny helmets do. The flatter-colored dark blue color also doesn’t show scuffs and scrapes like the previous ones. In addition, the TC logo on the front is in three dimensions, rising about a quarter-inch off the surface, rather than a sticker applied to the front.
“I like them. The Padres were wearing them when we played them last year, and they looked really good,” first baseman Joe Mauer said. “I’m not sure the blue on the helmet exactly matches the [blue on the] jersey, but they’re pretty sharp.”
The change came at the suggestion of Donna Pohlad, wife of Twins owner Jim Pohlad, according to equipment manager Rod McCormick. “She’d seen other teams with them, and it was something she liked,” he said. “We looked into it and decided to go forward with it, and they look great.”
Staying on his every-fifth-day schedule that would have him start Opening Day, Jose Berrios will be on the mound Friday as the Twins travel to Port Charlotte to face the Rays.
PHIL MILLER and La VELLE E. NEAL III