Well, our annual visit to Twins/Red Wings spring training in Fort Myers wrapped up today.
This has been a great spring weather-wise for the folks down here. Unfortunately, it rained this morning which cancelled the Wings tilt vs. Pawtucket. There was news from camp, however, which impacts the Red Wings roster pretty significantly.
When we arrived this morning at the Lee County Sports Complex, Twins farm director Jim Rantz informed us that the Twins had released Justin Huber. Wings fans were justifiably excited when the Twins signed Huber as a free agent this past offseason. The affable Aussie was the Wings MVP and a Triple A All Star in 2009 when he hit .273 with 22 HR and an .838 OPS. He spent last year playing in Japan. This spring, unfortunately, Huber just didn’t perform well enough to land a job with the Wings who have a glut of players battling for a few precious spots. Hopefully, Huber will land a job soon with another organization. He is an awesome guy whom his teammates and coaches all love.
In the other move that impacts the Wings, the Twins were able to swing a deal with Atlanta to keep LHP Scott Diamond by traded RHP Billy Bullock to the Braves. Diamond was taken last December from Atlanta in the Rule V draft. Because he was taken in that particular draft, the Twins would have had to keep Diamond in the Major Leagues all season or offer him back to Atlanta…or work a trade with the Braves to keep him in the Twins system. That is what happened and now Diamond will start the season with the Red Wings probably as the only lefty in the Wings starting rotation.
Diamond went 4-1 with a 3.36 ERA in 10 starts for Gwinnett last year. That included two very good starts against Rochester. He is a 24-year-old from Guelph, Ontario who signed with Atlanta as a non-drafted free agent out of Binghamton University. Consequently, he is a guy with some ties to the region. Diamond certainly has the stuff to be one of the better lefties in the IL.
The trade is going to cost the Twins a talented pitcher, though. Bullock is a hard-throwing closer type who is considered a very good prospect. He had a good chance to appear with the Wings at some point this season. Now he will try to reach Triple A with Gwinnett.
If Diamond does work as a starter for the Wings, it will be interesting to see who moves into the bullpen. Right now, it looks like the Wings starting rotation will consist of five of the following six pitchers: Kyle Gibson, Anthony Swarzak, Yorman Bazardo, Andy Baldwin, Eric Hacker and Diamond. Again, Diamond is the only lefty in the bunch. Also, notice David Bromberg is not on that list. Bromberg, who had some impressive moments for the Wings late last season, is probably going to start this season back at Double A with New Britain.
While the Wings did not play today due to the weather, the Twins were able to play their final game of the spring at Hammond Stadium. They rallied to beat Garrett Jones and the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3. Possible Wings outfielder Brandon Roberts (whom Rantz says has had a very good spring) ripped a double and a triple for Minnesota. The Twins set a Hammond Stadium single game attendance record today with a crowd of 8,347. The Twins’ overall attendance this spring was their second best ever in Fort Myers.
To conclude our final post from Fort Myers this spring, how about a couple dining recommendations. We had a chance to hit up Fort Myers Beach last night, and The Beached Whale is a cool spot. The food is good and the outdoor deck on top of the restaurant has a great view of the beach with a cool atmosphere. It’s a small world, too. We wound up next to a young couple from Buffalo while sitting at the bar.
Additionally, our final big meal of the trip might have been our best. We ate at Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria on the strong recommendation of Twins beat writer LaVelle Neal, and the pizza lived up to its advanced billing. Without a doubt, in the top 4-5 pizzas I’ve had. For me, it rivals Bob and Timmy’s in Providence which GQ magazine ranked as one of the Top 10 pizza places in the country. Really, really good.
That’s all from here. Keep your eyes open for our spring training edition of Red Wings Insider on Time Warner Cable Sports Net. That show will feature a ton of footage from this visit to balmy Fort Myers. And…don’t forget…the home opener is April 9 at 4:05 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre!!!
Hello once again from sunny and hot Fort Myers where the Twins Major League Spring Training is winding down. The Twins and Red Sox met for the final time this Grapefruit League schedule last night with the Twins using a 9th inning rally to come back and win. The victory gave the Twins the Mayor’s Cup which goes to the team that wins the spring training series between the Twins and Sox who both train here. Last night’s game was also the last game for the Red Sox at City of Palms Park. The Red Sox will move into a brand new complex next spring close to the airport.
Today was a quiet day on the Minor League side…especially in comparison to the MLB side of the Twins complex where the Yankees are in town. The Red Wings faced the Twins Double A affiliate from New Britain and played to a 4-4 tie. Possible Wings outfielder Rene Tosoni went deep with a solo shot in the first inning for the only real highlight for Rochester. Anthony Slama started the game and pitched one effective inning for the Wings.
Slama, the terrific Wings closer last year, was optioned to the Wings today prior to the game. Infielder Luke Hughes and pitcher Jim Hoey were also optioned to the Wings. Hughes had been in a battle with Matt Tolbert for a utility role with the Twins, but ultimately Tolbert’s speed and defense must have won out. Hughes certainly put his best foot forward leading the Twins this spring with 6 HR and 15 RBI.
Hoey, a former Baltimore Oriole, could be real find for the Twins. The right-hander throws very hard. In fact, he will probably be the Wings hardest thrower since Juan Morillo in 2009.
In other transaction news, the Twins will reassign LHP Phil Dumatrait and catcher Danny Lehmann to the Minor League camp after tomorrow’s game. RHPs Carlos Gutierrez and Kyle Waldrop, LHP Chuck James, catcher Rene Rivera, infielder Chase Lambin and outfielder Brian Dinkelman will be reassigned to Minor League camp after the Twins Wednesday exhibition in Atlanta. All or almost all of those players will wind up in Rochester to open the season.
Have had a chance to catch up with some former Wings on some of their memories of Frontier Field as the ballpark gets ready for its 15th anniversary season. Among some of the entertaining responses:
-Brian Duensing will never forget when the Wings presented him with his Olympic jersey in 2008. The Wings players that year also donated memorabilia that was auctioned off to pay for Brian’s wife being able to travel to Beijing for the Games.
-Michael Cuddyer’s memory that really sticks out is a painful one. He was with the Wings on a rehab stint in 2008 when Garrett Jones hit him on the foot with a screaming line drive while Cuddyer led from first base. The rocket broke a bone in Cuddyer’s left foot and he missed a considerable amount of time after that.
-Darnell McDonald still wants a rematch with Zippy Chippy. The famously awful racehorse beat Darnell in one of the Man vs. Beast races at Frontier Field, but Darnell feels a bad scouting report and a late change of the rules cost him a win. He’s ready if Zippy Chippy is.
Miscellaneous: RHP Anthony Swarzak had a rough 2010 season with the Wings despite some high expectations coming into the season. This offseason Swarzek pitched some in Venezuela and lost some weight…initially because he got sick. However, he worked hard to keep the weight off, and everybody is saying that Swarzak is looking very good. His velocity is supposedly back up into the 90-92 mph range while topping out at about 94 mph. He will be one of the Wings starters again to open the season…speaking of velocities, LHP Phil Dumatrait has been throwing in the low 90s as well according to Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff. Dumatrait is a former Red Sox first round pick who has pitched in the big leagues for the Reds and the Pirates. He spent much of last year pitching in Korea and will be a lefty in the Wings bullpen to start the season…Ran into former Wings lefty Mike Venafro last night at the Twins-Red Sox game. (Venafro, who pitched for five MLB teams, pitched briefly for Rochester in 2007.) Venafro is now a scout for the San Diego Padres and he thinks he will spend some time covering the Wings this year.
Red Wings face the Pawtucket Red Sox tomorrow at the Lee County Sports Complex. Should be fun!!!
The Red Wings won this afternoon in blowout fashion at the Lee County Sports Complex blowing out Pawtucket 11-1. Fans at the game were treated to seeing a future Hall of Famer in the Wings lineups as Jim Thome went 3 for 3 with three singles and a walk. OF Dustin Martin clobbered a 3 run HR off the batters eye in center. The Wings pitching obviously stood out too. Kyle Gibson, who has been highly touted all offseason, started and went four VERY strong innings. He allowed only one hit while walking one and striking out three. Scott Diamond, a Rule V pick from the Braves who is trying to stick with Minnesota, went the next two innings and allowed the only Pawtucket run.
A name to file away is Spencer Steedley. He is a lefty out of UNC-Charlotte who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Steedley worked two scoreless innings today and looked impressive. He has a chance to be a southpaw out of the Wings bullpen.
In other news…Toby Gardenhire has stopped switch-hitting. Toby now is strictly batting right-handed…had a good chat with Ben Revere, the former Twins first round pick who figures to be the Wings centerfielder this season. It turns out that Ben has aunt that lives in Rochester so he is very pumped to play in the Flower City. ..it’s always fun to see former Twins great Tony Oliva meandering around camp and checking out the proceedings while in full uniform. He apparently suggested to Revere that he work with HOFer Rod Carew on his bunting this year, and Revere is planning on trying to bunt more for hits this season than in the past…had a great dinner last night at local seafood favorite Prawnbrokers with—among others—Wings GM Dan Mason, Wings manager Tom Nieto, Wings pitching coach Bobby Cuellar., new Wings trainer Chad Jackson, former Wings trainer Tony Leo, new Wings strength coach Tyler Donahue, Twins farm director Jim Rantz and his wife Pearl, Twins assistant farm director Brad Steil and new Wings video production director John Blotzer. A good time and a great meal was had by all.
Now we are off to catch the big league Twins who are in action across town against the Boston Red Sox. Former Red Wing Brian Duensing is starting tonight for Minnesota. We are hoping to bump into former Wing Darnell McDonald with the Red Sox to try and find out his favorite memory of Frontier Field in this—the 15h anniversary—of the ballpark.
Our first day in Fort Myers for Red Wings/Twins Spring Training is in the books.
Unfortunately—on the field—the Red Wings lost 6-3 to the Durham Bulls. All three of the Red Wings runs came in the 8th inning on four straight hits that went like this…
1) Jeff Bailey single
2) Dustin Martin RBI double off the right center field fence
3) Toby Gardenhire RBI single…takes second on throw home
4) Michael Hollimon RBI single
Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful game for the Red Wings offense.
On the pitching front, Anthony Slama…who is still in Major League camp…started and allowed one run in the first inning. Twins reliever Joe Nathan—coming back from Tommy John surgery—pitched a perfect second inning and retired the Bulls in order on 11 pitches. RHP Yorman Bazardo then pitched the next 3.2 innings and allowed four runs. Bazardo reportedly has had a good spring otherwise and appears to be slated to be one of the Wings starting pitchers. Alex Burnett followed Bazardo and looked VERY good over the course of a couple of innings.
Other news so far from the trip…
-seeing former Wings manager Phil Roof throwing BP for the Twins. Phil is going to start the season as the Twins bullpen coach filling in for the ailing Rick Stelmaszek. It will be the first time in 20 years that Phil has been in the big leagues and he couldn’t be more excited.
-Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Twins game vs. Baltimore. Polamalu was in town to film a commercial for Head and Shoulders shampoo with fellow pitchman—and Twins star—Joe Mauer
-speaking of football…sitting two seats away from us on the connecting flight from Atlanta…none other than former Bills coach Gregg Williams. He was sporting quite the Super Bowl ring…something he earned as defensive coordinator a couple years ago with the New Orleans Saints.
-a little bit of a temperature difference between Rochester and Fort Myers. It was 28 degrees when we left the Flower City yesterday. Today’s high in Fort Myers: 92!!!
Be sure to check out Facebook.com/RocRedWings for a few photos from today – including friendly faces Phil Roof, Floyd Rayford and Stu Cliburn.
Looking forward to a staff meal tonight with the Wings coaching staff and Wings GM Dan Mason. Tomorrow should be fun too with super prospect Kyle Gibson expected to pitch for the Wings.
One other note: A co-worker of mine is spending way more time on his AT&T iPhone today than usual…and for good reason. The new Red Wings iPhone app is in beta testing today, with the launch happening before Opening Day; and the Windows Mobile and Android apps launching sometime later in April. It’s a whole new way to stay in touch with all things Wings on your smart phone.