FORT MYERS, Fla. — If it’s easy to envision a lineup of Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, Trevor Larnach, Ryan Jeffers and Travis Blankenhorn, among others, representing the Twins in the playoffs, it’s because, well, they already have.
Those five, five of the team’s top prospects and likely future core, made up the top of the lineup last fall, representing the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the playoffs. A year earlier, a few were atop the lineup as the Class-A Advanced Fort Myers Miracle won the Florida State League championship.
A group of the Twins’ top prospects — that group plus Brent Rooker and Gilberto Celestino — was on display on Friday in the Twins’ spring opener, a 16-0 win over the Minnesota Gophers at Hammond Stadium. All but Kirilloff played on Friday night, putting on an offensive show for fans in attendance.
“I know throughout the organization we’re excited about the present of this team that we have now because, rightfully so, with all the success they had last year and the number of veteran guys and experienced guys who have had a ton of success returning for this upcoming season. But we think the future also looks pretty good with us guys that are kind of waiting … in the minors,” said Rooker, who is closest to the majors after playing 2019 in Triple-A.
While none are expected to break camp with the Twins, the group of highly-touted prospects are trying to soak up as much as they can during their time in major league camp.
Class has been in session since players have reported, and new signee Josh Donaldson has played teacher multiple times, giving talks in the batting cage as multiple prospects listen in attentively. In a scene from earlier in the week, Larnach raised his hand to ask a question as Torii Hunter and Donaldson held court.
“T-Lar and I have a lot of conversations about hitting and working with Torii and Josh Donaldson and listening in and AK trickling in as well, listening in,” Lewis said. “Now, we can all have those conversations as a trio about, ‘Hey, remember this is what he was saying. Maybe go back to that and try that again, go back to it.’ Just helping each other out through the season, and one day, hopefully trying to get up there.”
Jeffers, a catcher, has his locker in a cluster with other backstops. He’s next to veteran Alex Avila, and he has enjoyed having a chance to talk to both Avila and Mitch Garver about what it takes to become a major leaguer.
“This is a good opportunity for me to learn (the major league pitchers) and then be around guys like Alex and Garver that’s been around the game and seen that big league side of things and see how they handle themselves and take care of their business and try to see what’s worked for them,” Jeffers said.
Rooker, too, said he has been talking to Garver and picking his brain for advice, as well as watching veterans such as Donaldson and Nelson Cruz and how they approach their routines.
The group impressed in its first taste of spring action, with Lewis leading off the game Friday with a double. Celestino drove in three runs in the win, while all were involved in the team’s offensive effort. For one night in March, it was easy to see more of this in the future.
“You talk about all those Cubs teams, young players growing up together, and look at them now, all together, playing with that chemistry and having a lot of fun doing it,” Lewis said. “Even the Astros before we found out what happened … that has no effect on how the chemistry was together. All those young groups playing together and having fun, I think that was a statement on how to do things, and they started that, and the Cubs did it. Now, hopefully, we’re trying to do the same thing.”