The start of this year's spring training has been a lot of fun for minor league junkies. With eight games in the books, we have seen several good games from a few players who may help the Twins in 2010. There have also been some big games from others who are further away in the system. It is always fun to get a first hand look (or listen) to players we have followed for several years.
There were a few roster moves this week. Seth Stohs is reporting that Trayvone Johnson, who was drafted as a catcher in the 30th round last year, has been moved to pitcher because of his strong arm. It was also reported that the Twins signed former Giants reliever Brad Hennessey. Hennessey missed all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery and will not be available until late spring at the earliest.
Two of the questins the Twins are looking to answer in spring training are who will start at third base and who would back up Denard Span should he be injured? Danny Valencia is getting a look at third base and although a long shot to break camp with the Twins, he certainly could be their third baseman before the season is over. Ben Revere is thought to be at least a year away, yet, he is the closest true centerfielder in the organization should a replacement for Span be needed for more than a few games.
All reports indicate that Valencia's defense continues to improve and his experience from the Caribbean Series championship has made him a better player. Valencia has been contributing with his bat, appearing in five games with 3 hits in 8 at bats including a game winning home run in Tuesday's 7-6 win over the Cardinals. Although it has been only eight games, is Valencia playing so well that he may force management to take him north for the start of the season?
Ever since the Twins announced that Jason Pridie had been lost on waivers, many of us have been asking who plays center field should Denard Span go on the disabled list? They invited Ben Revere to spring training and although he struck out in 5 of his first 11 at bats, he seems to be settling down as he struck out only once in his last 7 at bats. After going hitless in his first six at bats, Revere is 7-12 in his last three games. Hitting .389/.389/.611 in 18 at bats, Revere is beginning to show Twins fans that he may be a legitimate option to replace Span should he be needed later this year.
Although Luke Hughes has played a couple innings at third base, he has spent most of his time defensively at second base. After playing mostly third base and left field the past few years, are the Twins considering moving Hughes back to the position he played his first few years in the organization? With Valencia ahead of him on the depth chart, a move back to second base may be the best way to get Hughes' powerful bat into a future Twins lineup.
Wilson Ramos and Drew Butera continue their battle for a backup spot until Jose Morales returns from wrist surgery. Ramos made a key throw to nab a basestealer in Tuesday's win over the Cardinals. He has also continued to hit as he did this past winter with 3 hits in 8 at bats including a double and 2 RBI. On the other hand, Butera appears to be playing well enough that he will likely win the backup spot so that Ramos can go to Rochester where he will play every day.
Danny Rams is also getting valuable playing time, showing off his strong arm and powerful bat. Rene Tosoni has gotten into four games, getting 1 hit in 9 at bats. Defensively, Dan Gladden has pointed out that Tosoni missed the cut-off man a couple times during the first few games. Brock Peterson is having another good spring, hitting .333/.400/.778 with a home run in last Sunday's 11-0 drubbing of the Yankees.
Jeff Manship has allowed 6 earned runs in 3.0 innings while Anthony Swarzak allowed 5 in 1.2 innings in his only appearance. Both will begin their season in Rochester and will be available if needed during the season. With Joe Nathan likely out for the season, the Twins will be taking a hard look at all short relievers. Rob Delaney has appeared in 2 games (3.0 innings), allowing 7 hits and 4 runs (3 earned). Anthony Slama has also appeared in 2 games (2.0 innings), without allowing a hit or run with 3K/0BB. Lefty Jose Lugo has also appeared in 2 games (2.0 innings), allowing 4 runs (only 1 earned) with 2K/2BB. Look for Slama to get the call early in the season if not in the Twins bullpen on opening day.
Although many Twins fans are beginning to ask who Juan Portes is, we at Twinkie Town have known about this young man for several years. Portes has been my Player of the Week several times, including the week ending June 1, 2008 when he had four multi-hit games (11-24) with 6 runs scored, 2 RBI, 3 doubles and a home run.
After getting hits in his first three at bats in the Twins first three games, Portes caught the attention of management and fans last Sunday against the Yankees when he was 2-2 with 2 homes runs including a grand slam. In his first 10 at bats, Portes has struck out only once while hitting .700/.727/1.700 with 3 home runs.
But just who is this young man? Portes was drafted as a middle infielder out of high school in the fifteenth round of the 2004 draft. Portes, who grew up in Boston, is the son of a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother who is fluent in both spanish and english. At the time he was drafted, it was reported that Portes was a very raw but talented prospect who hadn't played a lot of organized baseball.
Portes began his career with the GCL Twins following the draft where he hit .327/380/.530 in 168 at bats with 8 home runs (no other player on the team had more than 2). The following season, 2005, Portes moved up to Elizabethton where he hit .286/.349/.494 in 245 at bats with a league fourth best 12 home runs. Portes played multiple positions, however, mostly at second base (43 games). Following the season, Baseball America selected Portes as the 17th best prospect in the league.
Portes struggled for the first time the following season at Beloit where he hit .231/.278/.310 in 289 at bats with only 2 home runs. Even though his numbers at Beloit were disappointing, he moved up to Ft. Myers the following year where he hit .269/.336/.410 in 495 at bats with a team high 12 home runs. 2007 was also the first year that he saw considerable time in the outfield (55 games, including 19 in left, 33 in center and 3 in right). He also played 25 games at second and 42 games at third base. He returned to Ft. Myers in 2008 where he had almost identical numbers, .270/.319/.395 in 456 at bats with 12 home runs. He again played six different positions, however, began to settle in as a left fielder where he played 70 games.
Portes was promoted to New Britain last year where he had the second highest average on the team at .297/.366/.434 in 327 at bats with 6 home runs. He again played four positions (third base and all three outfield positions), with 48 games in right field.
On the field, Portes is known as a player who will always hustle and can be counted on to stretch a hit for an extra base. But it is off the field that Portes has earned the reputation as a "jewel of a teammate." Because he is bilingual, he is often the teammate that many of the organization's Latin players will seek out when needing help adjusting to life in America. He is considered a mentor and is often seen taking Latin teammates out to eat, to a grocery store or just out to see the town.
Although Portes isn't likely to make the Twins out of spring training, he certainly has gotten our attention and just may find his way to Target Field sometime during the next year or two.