Inside Look at Florida Instructional League 9/19 Camp Day

So having my office closed on Thursday's does have it's perks and one being that I can sneak over Hammond Stadium and the rest of the Complex here in Fort Myers. Yesterday, I made it over early (8am) beating most of the players and coaches to the complex as they arrive between 8-8:30am before they have to be ready to start by 9am. There were no games scheduled for the day which when they do involves scrimmages against the Red Sox (Ft. Myers), Rays (Port Charlotte), and Orioles (Sarasota). Instead it was camp day so all players were at the complex and participating in drills.

At 9am, hitters reported to the cages under Hammond Stadium which is fully accessible to the public to view, watching players take early morning cuts I did notice something unique. In addition to the Twins players on the roster, there were five players from the Kia Tigers of the Korea Professional Baseball League present in camp. Three positional players, two of which were middle infielders and two pitchers (J. Park, and H. Lee)

While the hitters were in the cages, the pitchers were watching video and going over preparations. After about 45 minutes the pitchers and hitters took to separate practice fields. While the pitchers were warming up, Paul Molitor took task with the positional players talking about in-game stratedgy. In one video clip I took, Molly was talking about how there is a time and place to make the 3rd out of the inning trying to stretch to 3rd base.

While that was going on the pitchers were stretching it out in the outfield. Most just played short catch but Alex Meyer and Alex Wimmers who were playing catch together were playing some serious long toss.

That's probably because those two were airing it out in side sessions especially Meyer. Meyer was creating some serious pop with his fastball and was drawing some ohhs and ahhs from the rest of the pitchers in camp. At one point every else stopped what they were doing just to watch Meyer on the rubber. Brian Navarreto (6th Rd 2013) was catching for him. I took alot of video of him and choose these two as his best. The first is a closeup of him and gives you the impression of what its like to be in the box with him.

The other is video of him working on a split finger fastball that Rasmussen was showing him. Don't know if that is something new for Meyer but I also know that one of the things he's working on is consistency with his delivery and a changeup.

While Meyer was extremely impressive, the other Alex, Alex Wimmers was no slouch either. Wimmers was throwing side by side with Meyer and showed some good movement. Michael Quesada (24th Rd 2010) was catching Wimmers. The first video is of him closeup and he spins off a nice curve.

Before that Jeff Reed, former MLB catcher, gave the catchers a pep talk and some advice, "let your ass relax"

When the pitchers finished with their sidework they joined the positional players for some defensive drills (mainly working on hitting the cutoff man, and positional coverage) which was led by Paul Molitor. Paul would call out game situations and used half the pitchers as baserunners while the other half as fielding pitchers. I can tell you Molitor still has a slick bat for an old man, hitting the ball at will to wherever he wanted with backspin, slice, etc; it was quite impressive.

During this process, the Red team pitchers were taking infield drills and how to be ready after releasing the pitch. Coach Henry Bonilla was directing the action here and apparently plays in the same fantasy football team as Ethan Mildren, 2013 12th rounder RHP, and took it out on him for not accepting a lopsided trade by hitting his dribbler over the fence and into the parking lot. It was quite comical to see.

By this time, it was 11am and the players broke for lunch which is provided for them if they desire. They returned to the field at 12:15 for a practice squad game of Red vs Blue team. There was no score being kept, balls/strikes/outs were subjective as was a lineup; it was a 3 inning game give or take. Throwing in the game was Meyer, Wimmers and Irby for the Blue team and Yorman Landa, Stephen Gonsalves, and Luke Bard for the Red team.

Other notes that were made during my Instructional League visit: pitchers Kohl Stewart (1st Rd 2013), Ethan Mildren (13th Rd 2013), and Aaron Slegers (5th Rd 2013) are pretty close in terms of friendship on the squad. Apparently, Grand Theft Auto 5 is played among most of the players and Mildren has made it to the 4 star level already (I don't know what that means but the rest of the players were impressed). Also, Austin Melotakis (16th Rd 2011) and Lewis Thorpe (UFA 2013 Australia) introduced chew to Kia Tiger's pitchers J.Park and H.Lee and their reaction was priceless. It was one of disgust and repeated spitting much like my one and only time ever trying to dip. Of the players, Levi Michael and Kennys Vargas could not be nicer

Anyone thinking of going to a Florida Instructional League game or camp, it is much more up and personal than anything else you can do in the minor leagues. Not many places can one go and be side by side with a Hall of Famer such as Paul Molitor with no fanfare as well as seeing future big league contributors. Also players reporting for the Arizona Fall League will show up for the Instructional League the week before they head out to Arizona to prep up. I'll be back at least once more before they close out for the year on the 8th of October.

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