If you read my Farm Reports from last year, or about the Twins minor leagues anywhere else, you surely remember Daniel Palka. 2016 was Palka’s first year in the Twins organization, having come over from the Diamondbacks in the trade for catcher Chris Herrmann. He made quite the splash, hitting 34 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, and is at big league camp for spring training 2017.
Recently, I was lucky enough to get a one-on-one phone interview with Palka himself, straight from Ft. Myers. I asked about him about coming to the Twins organization, his goals for this year, and some other extremely important topics.
Check out the transcript from the interview below.
Twinkie Town (“TT”): Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, Daniel.
Daniel Palka (“Palka”): You’re welcome.
TT: First off, what was it like coming over to the Twins organization before last season ? Were you surprised about the trade? How were things different?
Palka: It’s definitely a different organization, but I wasn’t really surprised. I was more really excited. When you hear about a young player getting traded, younger is always good. It was a good opportunity, and I don’t know, I was just excited from the start.
TT: What did you think the biggest difference was coming over, between the organizations?
Palka: Well, it’s really all the same concepts. You have your coordinators running everything, and so...
TT: Was it really just just a whole fresh new bunch of faces?
Palka: Yes, definitely. It was awesome to have a new, fresh start with new people and everything. It was exciting, even just networking with new people, and also having all those people that I was with in the Diamondbacks in your back pocket when you need help with something. It’s cool to have both organizations there where you’ve built relationships with people.
TT: I can see that would help having a broader perspective
TT: So I have to ask—where did all the dingers come from last season? I know you were always a bit of a power guy, but there was a stretch there [for the Chattanooga Lookouts] where you were hitting home runs seemingly everyday. Did you change something in your approach, or was it just sort of growing up, or getting more experience?
Palka: A little bit of all of those. I had great hitting guides in Chattanooga with Doug Mientkiewicz and Tommy Watkins. But I think I grew as a hitter and kind of grew up a little bit, and knew my game a bit more. There’s still a lot to improve on, but I felt last year was a big step for me knowing myself as a hitter. Power has always been in my game, but last year I kind of learned how to make it less streaky and keep it more consistent.
TT: One of our writers [Andrew Bryzgornia] wanted me to ask you what was up with your stolen bases in 2015? I looked and you had 24 of them, which is kind of a jump compared to other years.
Palka: I just had a manager who was pretty aggressive. His name was J.R. House. We were sort of on the same page, but he was all about it. He always gave me the green light. It was kind of a scrappy team that I was on. There wasn’t a lot of power. It was a lot of scrappy guys put together and it was an important thing for us to be aggressive on the base paths as a team. It was good—we worked on it a lot. I loved stealing bases, but as much as I loved it, I know that part of my game will never be as important as the run production.
TT: I can see that. We were wondering if you were a secret speedster, but that definitely makes sense.
TT: So when you came over here, and you did touch on this a little bit, were there any particular teammates or coaches who you found particularly helpful?
Palka: Both staffs I had in Double-A and Triple-A were the best I’ve ever had, collectively. Whether it was outfield stuff with Quaddy [Rochester Red Wings manager Mike Quade] or the hitting stuff with Tommy [Watkins], Chad [Allen], and Doug [Mientkiewicz], it was just tons of information. Useful information—not just the stuff you get from guys just showing face [??]. It was nice to have those groups.
TT: Was it information pertaining to your plate approach or other things?
Palka: The speed of the game in general. I don’t know, there was all kinds of stuff. The entire game, not just one aspect of it. Just learning. I don’t know if that’s just something you learn growing up too, coming through the system, but those dudes definitely amplified everybody’s knowledge on the team, not just me.
TT: That sort of goes into my next question here, which is what do you think the biggest change was going from Double-A to Triple-A last year?
Palka: Honestly, it wasn’t a big jump by any means. It was more just... less aggression is accessible, hitting wise. And I found in the field the most important thing, instead of trying to make a play on every ball that’s hit to you, it’s trying to take what you’re given instead of trying to make something out of nothing. That was something Dougie and Quaddy preached to me. Stubbornly, I didn’t take that in until I think I got to Triple-A. But it ended up being a good learning experience. You’re just aggressive and want to make plays on everything, and then that can cause errors.
TT: How do you think the jump from Double-A to Triple-A was compared to other jumps that you’ve made? What was the biggest jumps between the leagues?
Palka: I’ve honestly just had such a steady progression. I spent a year at every level until last year. I felt like playing in the Arizona Fall League after playing in High-A was a great thing. There wasn’t really a jump to Double-A where I was hitting against the pitching and thinking, “Whoa, where am I?” I’ve never felt like that, but I think it’s because of the path I’ve taken so far.
TT: That doesn’t surprise me at all looking at your history, seeing you’ve spent whole years at certain levels. I feel like jumps between leagues would be less salient or noticeable than mid-season jumps.
TT: That makes sense. So turning more to this year, what goals do you have for spring training?
Palka: Well, Spring Training... I kind of just set one goal for the year, and that was to come into every at-bat thinking I’m 0-for-0, instead of either thinking I got a hit my first at-bat and I’m 1-for-1, or if I’m 0-for-1, thinking, “Oh, I need a hit this time.” Instead of thinking anything about my previous at-bats, just going into that at-bat 0-for-0.
Playing wise, I feel like I’ve developed enough to compete at every level. It’s just to the point where mentally, that side of my game will improve the physical side of my game.
TT: Were you disappointed at all about not getting a September call-up last year? Or were you not expecting it?
Palka: I wouldn't say disappointed. I mean, you’re disappointed after every season that you’re not there. Disappointed is not the word. You want to be there, you want to play at the highest level. So I felt the same way last year as I felt after rookie ball. I want to do more. But disappointed? That’s not something I want to be thinking about like, “Could I have been? Could I’ve been there?” I’m not thinking about that what-so-ever.
TT: Just looking forward?
Palka: Yes. Just taking opportunities that I have now. That’s all I’m really worried about.
TT: That sounds good. I have a few other questions that are just a little bit more about you. How did you originally get into baseball? Was it just always a thing you grew up with?
Palka: Yeah. My Grandpa was a big baseball guy, so my Dad and his brother grew up playing for him forever. My Dad was really knowledgeable. He wasn’t the best player, but he was really knowledgeable about the game. Looking back at it now, the stuff I learned from him was pretty impressive for someone who only played in college. He’s almost 60 years old, and [baseball]’s completely different now, but that same stuff still sticks with me. So yes, I grew up around the game.
TT: Did you have a favorite team or player growing up?
TT: I figured the Braves because you’re from South Carolina, but why the Pirates?
Palka: My whole family is from Pittsburgh, and my Grandpa was a scout for them. There’s a bunch of little ties to the Pirates that we’ve always had.
TT: Well that makes sense then. So, you didn’t have a particular favorite player?
Palka: Not really. Just a lot of favorite players. Anybody who was good when I was growing up—I loved to watch them.
TT: Do you have a favorite memory from your career so far? And what would that be?
Palka: I guess my favorite memory so far would be in college [at Georgia Tech]. Really just the entire college baseball experience. It was awesome. You meet your best friends there, spend three years with the same people. It just never gets old. I still work out with the same people I went to school with, with a couple added players.
TT: Where do you usually spend the off-season?
Palka: In Atlanta.
TT:I know that baseball probably takes up most of your time, but do you have hobbies when you’re not playing baseball? What other things do you like to do?
Palka: In the off-season, I literally have tennis rackets and tennis balls. We always play tennis. I always have a basketball in my car, so we play basketball on top of the parking deck in Atlanta a lot. I usually finish my nights swimming. That’s probably my number one thing outside of baseball, as far as being physical, is swimming. I just love swimming a lot.
TT: Wow, lots of sports.
TT: Okay, I have one more question, and it’s probably the most important one.
TT: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Palka: No. It is not a sandwich.
TT: Thank you. That’s what—
Palka: Actually, I had—we had—a big discussion about that this off-season with one of my buddies. And, an Oreo is a sandwich and a hot dog is not.
TT: An Oreo is a sandwich?
Palka: An Oreo is a sandwich because a sandwich is two separate pieces with something in the middle. A hot dog is just—if a hot dog breaks, then it is a hot dog sandwich. If the bun breaks, then it can be a sandwich. But if it’s just a folded bun? Not a sandwich. We had a big poll on Twitter too, and an Oreo was a sandwich, but a hot dog wasn’t.
TT: I haven’t heard the Oreo one. That’s new. I’ve heard lots of different things, like tacos, or some even say a burrito is a sandwich.
Palka: A burrito? No. No way.
TT: Yeah, that’s a little too far for me. But for hot dogs, what I always thought, was that even if it doesn’t have a bun, you still call it a hot dog. Like if you cut it up and put it in macaroni and cheese. So that can’t make it a sandwich.
Palka: That’s definitely not a sandwich.
TT: Well, I’m glad that you are on the right side of that. I will let you go, but thank you so much for talking with us. This was actually very interesting. Good luck this year, and we’ll be watching
Huge thanks again to Daniel Palka for taking the time to talk to us, and good luck to him in 2017! He struck me as a very composed and thoughtful man. I wouldn’t be too surprised if we saw him do a stint in the majors sometime soon.