FORT MYERS, FLA. – Sometimes the conversation is a difficult one, when a manager has to cut a player from camp during the final days. It could crush a youngster who pushed hard to realize a dream. It could mean the end for a veteran who is trying to hold on.
On Monday, it was the opposite, as Twins manager Rocco Baldelli beamed about informing righthander Ryne Harper that he had made the team. Harper turns 30 Wednesday, was a 37th round draft pick in 2011 and had never been in a major league spring training camp until this year. He’s credited with service time in 2017, but never appeared in a game.
“Well, it’s a wonderful feeling, knowing on the other end of the table, however special it is for people who get to be in the room for something like that, I know how special it is for him as well,” Baldelli said. “He earned it. He’s earned it his entire baseball career. He’s earned it this spring. I couldn’t be happier for him and for us.”
Harper earned a spot by throwing 11 scoreless innings during exhibition games. He earned it with a scintillating curveball he throws at different speeds. He’s struck out 11.0 batters per nine innings during his professional career.
“It’s everything I’ve worked for my career,” Harper said moments before his spot was made official. “That’s why I’m still playing. As you guys asked earlier, I turn 30 in a couple of days, and I wouldn’t still be playing if I didn’t think I still had more in the tank to keep going. I feel as good as I’ve always felt, so hopefully I play as long as I can and keep enjoying it. It’s fun. It’s a great group of guys, staff, everybody’s been great to me. All the players. I’ve been having a lot of fun.”
As the end of camp nears, there will be players like Harper who can look forward to heading north with the club. Others are heading somewhere else — the injured list. And that is how the 2019 Twins Opening Day roster will be settled.
The Twins reassigned righthanders Preston Guilmet and Mike Morin to the minor league camp. Three other relievers, righthanders Addison Reed and Matt Magill and lefthander Gabriel Moya, will likely start the season on the IL.
Baldelli confirmed Reed will open the season on the IL, but noted that Moya and Magill have started throwing programs and their cases will be re-evaluated in the next day or so. Still, it looks like they will wind up with Reed.
That brings the staff to 11 pitchers. Harper will join a bullpen that includes righthanders Trevor May, Trevor Hildenberger, Blake Parker and lefthander Taylor Rogers, Adalberto Mejia and Martin Perez. Perez will work out of the bullpen until the Twins need a fifth starter on April 16.
“We suggested it to him and he very unselfishly said yes I’m happy to do that. I will do that,” Baldelli said of Perez. “He does have the experience doing it. I think, factoring all the circumstances which are definitely suboptimal, scheduling-wise, I think this is a good set-up for us.”
The only drama left in camp is, the Twins hope, a minor one. Shortstop Jorge Polanco hasn’t played since Friday because of arm fatigue, and the Twins are keeping infielder Ronald Torreyes around in camp as a precaution.
“As I sit here right now, I think he’s on track to be OK and to break with us,” Baldelli said. “But I’m also going to keep having conversations with him to make sure that’s the case.”
Polanco on Monday was the designated hitter in a minor league intrasquad game on the other side of the CenturyLink Sports Complex. Polanco, who recently left camp for a few days after his grandmother passed away, is batting .303 in 11 exhibition games.
Once the Twins are sure Polanco is ready, they will send Torreyes to the minors, place Miguel Sano — who is recovering from a laceration on the back of his lower leg, near the Achilles — on the IL and get down to 14 position players and 25 overall. That means the Twins should open the season with a bench of Willians Astudillo, Mitch Garver, Ehrie Adrianza, Jake Cave and Tyler Austin.
But all of this could change later this month, when the Twins move Perez to the bullpen and decide to go to 12 pitchers. They might have to make a decision about Austin or Adrianza, who are out of minor league options.
Twins play Twins
Class AAA Rochester, led by guest manager Nelson Cruz, defeated the Twins, led by guest manager Eddie Rosario, 5-2 in an exhibition game on Monday. Both rosters were full of major leaguers, though.
The Twins play the Rockies — a team that trains in Arizona but opens the season Thursday in Miami — on Tuesday before breaking camp.
Rosario’s team tried to fire themselves up with a war-like chant before the first pitch, which Cruz waved off. But Cruz did demand that Rosario be charged with a visit to the mound when he un-necessarily checked on starter Jake Odorizzi in the first inning.
The idea of guest managers was hatched in Baldelli’s office before the game.
“Eddie competed well on the other side,” Cruz said. “He played hard. Managed hard. Went out and made sure his players were healthy and feeling OK. He was on point all day. But Nelson brought it home. It was good.”
The highlight was Astudillo drawing his first walk of camp — in 52 plate appearances — in the first inning, then stealing second.
The Twins will start Jose Berrios, Odorizzi and Michael Pineda in the three game series against Cleveland. The Indians will counter with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco.
Kyle Gibson will stay behind in Florida and throw one more time, on Wednesday, before joining the team in the Twin Cities. Gibson’s late start due to his battle with E. coli in January was taken into consideration when pushing his first start back to April 2 at Kansas City.