Jorge Alcala's breakthrough 2020 season for the Twins came with an "aha" moment, one where he realized he belonged in the major leagues.
The Twins trailed the Royals 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth in Kansas City on Aug. 21. Relievers were getting ready quickly when starter Jake Odorizzi gave up two hits to start the inning.
"We were warming up," Alcala said. "The phone rang and I opened the door for my teammate to go out. I thought they were calling him. They were calling me.
"And I went out there and I threw three innings against Kansas City. And I think I did pretty well. And after that, that was my turning point that I said I belong here."
The 25-year-old righthander walked in a run, then struck out six of the next seven batters, retiring nine in a row. He finished the shortened season pitching in 16 games, striking out 27 in 24 innings, with a 2.63 ERA.
This season, Alcala figures to be a valuable member of the bullpen from the start. His comfort level should also rise with the addition of free agent relievers Hansel Robles and Alex Colome.
"I was really happy when I saw that, especially because they're Dominicans too," Alcala said through Twins interpreter Elvis Martinez in a Zoom call from Fort Myers, Fla. "It'll be easier for me to pick up their brains and learn from them. And I consider myself, I'm still a rookie and I'm still learning."
Alcala also benefited last year from the mentoring of Twins special assistant LaTroy Hawkins.
"He played 21 years in the big leagues," Alcala said. "He was someone that always was like in my ear the entire season."
A big step for Alcala this season will be improving against lefthanded batters, who hit .364 and slugged .606 off him in 2020.
"My main goal is to make a team out of spring training," he said. "Do my job so I can stay up the entire season and ultimately make the playoffs and go to the World Series. I think that's why we're all here."
Said manager Rocco Baldelli: "He was a guy that multiple pitching coaches have brought up as a guy that looks very, very good early in camp."
Nick Gordon was once a top prospect for the Twins, who took the infielder with the fifth overall choice in the 2014 draft. He got a $3.85 million bonus out of high school, but has languished in the system and battled gastritis issues.
After hitting .298 in 70 games at Class AAA in 2019, Gordon sat out last year after testing positive for COVID-19 before the season resumed.
"This is an important spring for Nick, and the focus for him at first needs to be settling in, getting his feet under him, and consistently taking it out there on the field and getting through long days," Baldelli said. "These are things he hasn't done in a significant period of time. I don't think we need to get too far ahead of us with Nick.
"His focus needs to be on getting back out on the field, finding himself as a player after missing some time, and then we can go from there."
Missing a few
The Twins' special assistants, a group that usually includes Hawkins, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, can't be at spring training because of limitations on the clubhouse population.
"It's an impressive list when looking at the names but it's also a really great mix of personality and knowledge, guys that are a big part of our camp under normal circumstances," Baldelli said. "It's an adjustment that I think a lot of organizations are having to make right now. It's a tough one."
• Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, had knee surgery Friday in Minneapolis. The team planned to give an update on Saturday.
• Jose Berrios threw Friday. "It did not look like a very early season bullpen," Baldelli said of Berrios, who has started 115 games over the past five years. "He looks like he's ready to go so I'm not surprised to see that from him. He knows what he's doing out there, he knows what he has to do and then he goes out there and makes it happen."
• Baldelli said top-five prospect Trevor Larnach will remain a corner outfielder and won't play first base this spring.