The Minnesota Twins were back playing a 7:10 p.m. start at Target Field on Wednesday, suiting up against ... themselves.
In the Blue vs. White scrimmage, Kenta Maeda started for White and took on Devin Smeltzer and the Blue squad. The lineups featured what can only be described as a perfect blend of regulars and prospects, so there was something for everyone.
Let’s talk through the top five takeaways from the the seven-and-a-half-inning affair that, of course, ended in a tie. Because why not?
1. Professional Pitching
I’m not the only one who has always been bothered by the phrase, “He’s just a professional hitter”, often uttered by the ... unforgettable Bert Blyleven. Of that I’m certain. It’s just one of those old-fashioned baseball-isms that is so nonsensical that it make sense, if that makes any sense.
Well, at risk of sounding like Bert, let me just say that there was quite a bit of professional pitching going on at Target Field on Wednesday night.
Outside of a home run on each side, both starting pitchers were impressive. Maeda showcased that nasty movement that he’s bringing from Hollywood to the Twin Cities, with only Max Kepler’s leadoff blast and a handful of singles marring his line over five innings.
Smeltzer was solid, giving up a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz but not much else over the course of four innings. That’s what Smeltzer is: solid, with impressive spin-rate and the ability to keep hitters off-balance. And that’s exactly what he did.
2. Home Runs
Kepler started things off exactly how one might expect by homering off Maeda in the first at-bat of the game. Cruz hit a two-run bomb later, and catching prospect Ryan Jeffers hit one off of Tyler Clippard.
Yes, this is something that fans are expecting, but it was refreshing to see it continue, and continue against solid pitchers, too.
3. Positional Alignment
With Miguel Sano still working his way back from a positive COVID-19 test, the Twins needed to get creative in filling in their infield on both sides.
Last week, yours truly surmised that Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, and Mitch Garver could be the first three options with Zander Wiel, Travis Blankenhorn, Alex Avila, and LaMonte Wade, Jr. waiting in the wings.
Alas, I almost had it. But, not really.
All of the above, save for Wiel, who is with the non 30-man group in St. Paul, were in the lineup. But none were at first base. Gonzalez was, somewhat surprisingly, playing second base. Adrianza was at shortstop, Garver and Avila were the catchers, Wade played left field, and Blankenhorn entered mid-game.
Instead, the Twins trotted out a pair of prospects left off my list last week simply because I didn’t have the guts to project them as playing any first base after only playing there sparingly in the minors: Alex Kirilloff and Brent Rooker.
Both played well, with Rooker making a diving stop and a couple of nice scoops, and Kirilloff had a single.
4. Prospect Performances
As mentioned above, there were quite a few prospects who showed out in this game.
Rooker and Kirilloff were solid. Trevor Larnach had two well-hit singles. Jeffers clubbed a home run. Blankenhorn had a well-struck RBI double.
There weren’t any young pitchers who took the mound other than Smeltzer, but the position players were impressive. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see at least two or three from the above list get their first taste of the big leagues this season.
5. Ambience (or lack thereof)
The scrimmage was broadcast as the in-house game feed, complete with the graphics package you’d see on the TVs throughout Target Field. Added on top was the dulcet tones of Dick Bremer, Fox Sports play-by-play extraordinaire, and the fantastic Justin Morneau, who Dick unknowingly threw under the figurative bus for apparently never riding the literal bus in the Twins Caravan. (Seriously. It was hilarious.)
There was the occasional player-specific hype video that was clearly piped in as part of the in-house feed, and there was no attempt to make it feel like a real broadcast outside of the scorebug in the corner. Obviously, this was a unique experience and kudos to the Twins for allowing it to be seen online by the masses.
What was most interesting was the piped-in crowd noise. It actually sounded somewhat realistic. There were “ooos” and “ahhhs” at the appropriate times, the PA announcer gave life to the game, and the walk-up music was on point.
It will be fascinating to watch how this aspect of baseball evolves over time. For instance, where will the line be drawn on crowd noise when the visiting team is batting, or having a meeting at the mound? Will there be regulations on that at all, or will we have a battle of the audio booths a central controversy down the stretch in September?
Kidding aside (but seriously, is MLB regulating the fake crowd noise at all?), it was a ton of fun to see the Twins play each other. In some ways, it was twice as fun as an actual game, because we got to see 20 Twins players participate in the same game at the same time and didn’t have to watch any non-Twins.
Despite the final score of 3-3 and the shortened nature of the game, it’s safe to say that this was a win for everyone.
Good job, Twins.