With Twins, perception isn’t necessarily reality

For years, we’ve heard the old saying that tells us perception is reality.
I’m here to tell you, after attending a Twins-Rays game in Port Charlotte, Fla., last week, it ain’t necessarily so.
After Jason Kubel hit a long, high homer off Tampa Bay ace David Price in the second inning, a nearby Rays fan was heard to say: “Price needs another pitch. They’re sitting on his fastball.”

Jason Kubel accepts congratulations from coach Joe Vavra after hitting a home run off Tampa Bay pitcher David Price.                     Photos by Luther Dorr

Jason Kubel accepts congratulations from coach Joe Vavra after hitting a home run off Tampa Bay pitcher David Price. Photos by Luther Dorr

I turned to him and said, “We (Twins) will take him the way he is right now.”
Three innings later, after Price had struck out eight hitters in five innings, during which he was virtually unhittable, the fan admitted he might be wrong.
In fact, Price said after the game that his slider was very good.
“And it’s the best curve I’ve had in a long time,” he said in a post-game interview.
And then the same fan, a knowledgeable follower of the Rays, said, “You guys have one of the best managers in baseball in Ron Gardenhire.”
My response was that after more than 90 losses in three straight seasons, there were many fans in Minnesota who would disagree with him.
Such is the beauty of spring training baseball.
Opinions of fans watching the same game, or talking about the same player, can vary widely.
In a move that left many faithful Twins fans shaking their heads after the 2011 season, the team jettisoned veteran sluggers Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.

Ricky Nolasco, since named Opening Day  pitcher by manager Ron Gardenhire, delivers a pitch against Tampa Bay at Port Charlotte, Fla. Nolasco signed a free agent contract worth $48 million for four years.

Ricky Nolasco, since named Opening Day pitcher by manager Ron Gardenhire, delivers a pitch against Tampa Bay at Port Charlotte, Fla. Nolasco signed a free agent contract worth $48 million for four years.

Kubel responded by hitting 30 homers for Arizona in 2012 and last year Cuddyer, unbelievably, won the National League batting title and reached base in 46 straight games, a Rockies record.
Kubel, who averaged 26 doubles, 22 homers and 84 RBIs from 2008 to 2012, promptly went in the tank in 2013 and managed only five homers in 259 at-bats with Arizona and Cleveland.
And now the spring of 2014 finds the Twins conducting a reclamation project with Kubel, hoping he can regain his stroke and provide some Target Field power for a team that is woefully short of proven home run hitters.
In fact, second baseman Brian Dozier led the team last year with 18 homers.
So Kubel’s blast off one of the best lefties in the game (Price is 71-39 lifetime) gave Minnesota fans some hope as they sat in the Florida sun.
Of course, what he will do — if he makes the team — in the cool April weather of Target Field is another thing.
Performing on the same day for the locals was Ricky Nolasco, who got a $48 million, four-year contract as the Twins take another chance with a National League pitcher, hoping he will be the ace of the staff.
Last year the three NL signees were terrible (Vance Worley, from Philly), so-so (Mike Pelfrey from the Mets) and decent (Kevin Correia from the Pirates).
Nolasco, with a fastball topping out at only 90 mph, pitched four decent innings against the Rays, giving up two runs, all coming in one inning. And then Sunday, against a weak Miami team, he went five innings and gave up two runs.
Nolasco, Kubel (if he makes the team), Phil Hughes, late of the New York Yankees, and new catcher Kurt Suzuki will all be important players as the Twins seek a return to the glory of the first decade of this century.
You’ll notice that neither Byron Buxton nor Miguel Sano, two very promising minor leaguers who many Twins fans thought or hoped would make their Target Field debut this summer, aren’t mentioned.
They shouldn’t be. Buxton, on the same day he hit a homer, was sent down, and Sano is out for the season with an injury. But neither would likely have been ready anyway.
Remember Aaron Hicks? The Twins rushed him from the minors last year. He couldn’t hit even .200 and was sent back to the minors for the rest of the year.
Hicks could help this year, a year that will be a year of decision for him and for Trevor Plouffe, Oswoldo Arcia, Pedro Florimon, Chris Parmelee and others. Are they good enough to contribute on a regular basis in the majors? And can Josh Willingham rebound from a horrible 2013 season (14 HR, 48 RBI, .208) after an outstanding 2012 season (35 HR, 110 RBI, .268)?
There are lots of questions at this point for the Twins and very few answers. A lot of players need to have better seasons if the Twins are even to get to .500.
Twins tidbits
The team’s best hitter so far this spring has been Chris Colabello. Can he be a reliable DH/outfielder/first baseman and provide some much-needed power?
Eduardo Escobar, with shortstop Pedro Florimon out with an injury, has been decent. He had a game-winning hit Sunday against the Marlins.
Plouffe, who seemed to change his style at the plate last September, has had some good games. Sunday he lined an outside pitch to right center on an 0-2 count and then singled on a pitch away in his next at-bat. Will he do that in the regular season or revert to trying to pull everything?
Arcia and Kubel both had some good at-bats Sunday. Arcia seems ready to be a solid player and the Twins sorely need Kubel to return to form.
Former Twin Jason Bartlett is trying to make the team as a utility infielder but is 0 for 23 at the plate.
The Twins have hit only 12 homers, Brandon Waring leading the way with two. The Twins cut Waring Sunday, perhaps proving that spring training statistics don’t mean a thing.

Next week: A look at some of the possibilities for manager Ron Gardenhire, definitely a guy on the hot seat in 2014.  He’s got some decisions to make.

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