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Don’t Buy Into Twins Exhibition Record

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March 31, 2017

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A notes column, with emphasis on the Twins who open their 2017 regular season at home on Monday against the Royals.

The Twins lost 103 games last year but have a 2017 winning record of 16-13 in spring training as the club prepares to head north. Does a team’s exhibition record mean anything?

“Zip, zero.”

Those are the words of former Twins catcher Tim Laudner who now works as an analyst on Fox Sports North. Laudner, who will work Twins pregame and postgame programs, told Sports Headliners spring training wins and losses are misleading because MLB teams split their rosters for same day games, schedule more home games than away and often use marginal big leaguers instead of regulars.

Before the Twins compiled a regular season record of 59 wins and 102 losses last year, the club was 19-11-2 in exhibition games. Two years ago Minnesota’s regular season record was 83-79 after being 13-16-3 in spring training.

Sports Illustrated’s March 27-April 3 issue included an extensive preview of all 30 MLB teams, and the publication predicts the Twins’ record will be 69-93. The forecast is a fourth place finish in the American League Central behind the Indians, Tigers and Royals, but ahead of the White Sox.

An anonymous scout quoted in the magazine is critical of the team’s starting pitching and warns that if injured closer Glen Perkins isn’t available, it’s a big problem for the Twins. “Well, they’re in big trouble anyway,” the scout said.

Max Kepler (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

Looks like the Twins will have four new faces in their opening day lineup and batting order compared with a year ago—and one player, Miguel Sano, at a different position. It’s expected Jason Castro will be the catcher, with Jorge Polanco at shortstop, Max Kepler in right field and a yet to be determined player filling the Designated Hitter role when the Twins open the regular season. Sano is expected to play third base instead of right field.

The lineup for the opener last year was: Ervin Santana, pitcher; Kurt Suzuki, catcher; Joe Mauer, first base; Brian Dozier, second base; Eduardo Escobar, shortstop; Trevor Plouffe, third base; Eddie Rosario, left field; Byron Buxton, center fielder; Sano in right; and ByungHo Park at DH.

Many Twins players need to have better performances than last year for the club to make a major step forward, and near the top of any needs list is Mauer. He turns 34 next month and is coming off his lowest batting average in 13 years with the Twins. After hitting .261 in 2016 and .265 two years ago, the career .300 hitter is no longer assured of being No. 3 in batting order this season.

“There might be days against some left-handers that we might not see Joe in the lineup at all,” Laudner said. “Joe is getting a little long in the tooth. I am not going to say that Joe is a platoon player. Joe in the past has shown that he has done a really nice job of hitting left-handers. There’s going to be some tough decisions for (manager) Paul Molitor to make as to why he’s going to fit. Sometimes it might come down to the analytics, (and) sometimes it might come down to the gut instincts of…Molitor as to where he is going to bat in the order, or if he is going to be in the lineup at all.”

Laudner said Mauer still has “batting skills” and is capable of a much higher average this season than in the recent past. Whether he stages a comeback, Laundner said, is predicated on staying healthy. The last few years Mauer’s health chart has sometimes been as interesting as his hitting stats.

The Twins surprised yesterday by giving Park a minor league reassignment and opening up the DH role to what looks like a platoon plan with perhaps Robbie Grossman, Kennys Vargas and others. In spring training this year Park came to camp as a non-roster player but led the club in home runs with six and RBI with 13.  The Twins decision makers reportedly want to have a roster of 13 pitchers, not 12, and that doomed Park for now, although he could be recalled later this spring.

Park, who will be 31 in May, had a difficult adjustment last year coming from his home in South Korea and trying to break into the big leagues with the Twins. Faced with a new culture, injuries and big league fast balls, Park hit just .191—although he did have nine home runs in his first 29 games.

Laudner predicted last year it would be a difficult adjustment. “I’ve played in Japan and that’s different than playing in the United States,” Laudner said referring to his owner international experience. …

Gary Trent Jr., the former Apple Valley star who played his 2016-2017 senior season for a school in northern California, scored seven points on 3 of 11 shooting Wednesday night in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago. Trent, who will be a freshman at Duke in the fall, played 21 minutes for the West team that defeated the East, 109-107.

The website Casualhoya.com has been speculating about candidates for the Georgetown head basketball coaching vacancy. Minnesota’s Richard Pitino was included in a poll where 81 percent of voters said they didn’t want him as the Hoyas coach, while 19 percent did. …

ESPN will be televising 21 spring college football games. No, the Gophers game on April 15 at TCF Bank Stadium isn’t on the list. …

CollegeAD.com reported Monday the Gophers athletic department will be receiving more than $1 million as part of the NCAA’s one-time $200 million distribution to Division I schools in mid-April. Distributions are being made based on the number of athletic scholarships in place during the 2013-2014 school year. Schools with the largest athletic programs reportedly receive the largest amounts. The Gophers have a 23-teams program for men and women. …

The Wild’s Eric Staal played in his 1,000th NHL game on March 19 and will be honored in a pregame ceremony next Tuesday before Minnesota’s game against the Hurricanes at Xcel Energy Center.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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