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Twins Need Catching Help Now

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June 12, 2018

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A Tuesday notes column:

Catcher is the position where the Twins, currently with a 28-34 record, have their biggest need. The position is unsettled on the franchise’s major league roster, and in the minor league system the talent is thin. It wouldn’t be surprising if front office decision makers Derek Falvey and Thad Levine announce a trade this month involving a catcher, or acquiring a player at another position who can help the struggling offense.

Falvey & Levine

Only seven of 30 MLB teams have scored fewer runs than the Twins. Minnesota is 3-13 in one-run games, and 17-26 in games decided by two runs or less.

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto might be available. The 27-year-old is hitting .301 and is a rising star. Miami is a bad team, struggling to draw fans and has a front office that can be unpredictable.

Falvey and Levine possess some trade pieces that could be attractive to other clubs including 30-year-old starting pitcher Kyle Gibson. Despite a 1-4 record and an inconsistent career path, Gibson this season has held opponents to two or fewer runs eight times. Gibson could be expendable because the Twins have depth in their starting rotation and quality prospects in the minor leagues.

The Twins also have numbers in middle infielders and that could mean minor league prospects and veterans Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar are likely to come up in trade talks. Both are free agents after this season.

The 31-year-old Dozier, who led the Twins in home runs the last two seasons, is struggling this year with a .239 batting average. The 29-year-old Escobar, though, is hitting a career high .289 that also includes 12 home runs, three more than Dozier. The Twins could be more likely to retain Escobar because he can play three infield positions and figures to command less money as a free agent than Dozier.

Rob Fornasiere’s last day as Golden Gophers assistant head baseball coach is July 2. The 62-year-old Fornasiere is retiring from his position at Minnesota and is unsure of future plans. For now he “will take a deep breath.”

Fornasiere is paid $79,000 annually at Minnesota and he has supplemented his income with baseball camps. Fornasiere said he and his wife Ruth have worked with a financial planner and “prepared for over 20 years” for retirement, leaving the couple confident they can maintain a lifestyle they are comfortable with.

Who will succeed the popular and admired assistant who has coached 33 years at Minnesota? Fornasiere doesn’t know but he praised former Gopher Dan Wilson when asked about him. “In my 39 years as a college coach, he is the greatest kid I ever met,” Fornasiere said.

Wilson works for the Mariners where his responsibilities include scouting and it’s not publicly known whether he would have an interest in coming to Minnesota. His son Eli is a catcher with the Gophers who has proven to be a productive leader and player. Minnesota went 33-7 when Wilson was the regular catcher.

Fornasiere couldn’t have asked for a better last season with the Gopher program. Minnesota won Big Ten regular season and conference tournament championships. For the first time ever during Fornasiere’s tenure with head coach John Anderson the Gophers were able to win an NCAA regional tournament.

The dream run ended last weekend in the Super Regional against an Oregon State team with better talent and playing on its home field. Fornasiere thinks the Beavers might win the NCAA title and “arguably has” the best pitcher in the country in Luke Heimlich, 16-1. He was outstanding in a Beaver win Friday night, striking out nine Gophers in 8.2 innings.

Jim Carter, who has been a close observer of the issues that led to the lawsuit by former and current Gopher football players against the University of Minnesota, said the two sides failed to reach a settlement before the lawsuit was filed. Carter, a former Gopher football captain in the late 1960s and loyal supporter of the program under ex-head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys, said the nine players are seeking $45 million in damages, or about $5 million per player.

Carter predicted it could be a “couple of years” before the lawsuit is tried in federal court before a jury. The players allege they were the victims of racial and gender discrimination involving a 2016 incident.

Jirehl Brock, the four-star running back from Quincy, Illinois, visited the U over the weekend and spent time with No. 1 Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan, according to recruiting authority Ryan Burns from GopherIllustrated.  Burns told Sports Headliners Brock will make a seventh visit to Iowa June 22, and then a decision regarding his college choice is expected by month’s end.

Burns said Vic Viramontes decided to give up on his future as a quarterback after not meeting his expectations this spring. Viramontes wants to play linebacker and decided not to try that position at Minnesota because of the competition for playing time, opting instead to gain experience this fall in junior college, according to Burns.

Viramontes’ departure leaves the Gophers with one scholarship quarterback in redshirt freshman Morgan who has never played in a college game. That’s not only an unusual situation but a precarious one if Morgan is injured. True freshman Zack Annexstad is the backup and Burns said tight end Seth Green will be an emergency back up at the position.

The Vikings have their third offensive coordinator in two years and veteran defensive end Brian Robison sees the benefit of that for his unit. “The things that they’re doing, it kind of has changed from year to year,” Robison said. “It kind of allows us to see a broad spectrum of plays and a broad spectrum of the way the offense likes to do things. For us that keeps us on our toes and it’s kind of ever evolving as far as our learning process.”

Some NFL authorities see the Packers, with injured Aaron Rodgers recovered, as more likely to win the 2018 NFC North title than the defending champion Vikings. But Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said he is focused on spring work at OTAs and hasn’t heard the word. “Oh, yeah, I haven’t even noticed,” he told Sports Headliners. “I haven’t heard anything about it.”

Thielen, a Minnesota native, enjoyed talking with Gophers coach P.J. Fleck at OTAs last week. “I got a ton of respect for him and what he’s doing with that program, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what they’re going to do in the future,” Thielen said.

Ross Miller defeated Robert Bell and Don Berry in a playoff to win the 47th Tapemark Charity Pro-Am at Southview Country Club last weekend. Jeff Sorenson finished two strokes behind the leaders. Sorenson shot a course record 62 this spring to win a tournament at Redwood Falls Golf Club.

Ex-Cretin-Derham Hall and University of St. Thomas basketball guard Sean Sweeney, who has been on the NBA Bucks staff since 2014, will remain an assistant under new head coach Mike Budenholzer. Sweeney is valued for his defensive expertise and relationship with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story last Friday described the two as “virtually inseparable.”

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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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