The Minnesota Twins officially started training camp on Friday as pitchers and catchers took the field with coaches at the team’s Hammond Stadium complex in Fort Myers, Fla.
It was not a full house.
For reasons ranging from travel delays to COVID-19 intake testing, a baker’s dozen of players were unable to take part, including new starting pitchers J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker and bullpen mainstay Tyler Duffey.
“We’re not a full pitchers-and-catchers camp today, and wouldn’t expect to be over the next couple of days,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.
The Twins can’t share COVID-testing information without a player’s consent, so it was unclear how many, if any, of Friday’s absences were the result of intake testing. That in itself could include a positive test, exposure to a confirmed case or simply not having yet been tested.
The polar vortex that has disrupted much of the country this week, and resulted in at least 40 deaths, also has played a role in travel delays.
In addition to Duffey, Happ and Shoemaker, pitchers Jorge Alcala, Andrew Albers, Danny Coulombe, Jhoan Duran, Ian Gibaut, Derek Law, Robinson Leyer, Juan Minaya and Glenn Sparkman, and catcher Tomás Telis, were not on the field Friday.
Full-squad workouts aren’t scheduled until Tuesday, although several position players were working on their own at the complex on Friday, including Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Josh Donaldson, who missed the playoffs last season because of a calf strain.
The good news was that players who worked out Friday were healthy. That has rarely, if ever been the case during Falvey’s career in Cleveland and Minnesota.
“Normally at this time of the year, we’re transitioning someone to the 60-day disabled list, or somebody is coming back from surgery and isn’t quite ready to start camp,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate so far with everybody who has arrived; we haven’t had any issues upon clearance from a physical standpoint.”
Some pitchers threw their first bullpen sessions, others played catch and did light drills. Catchers worked on defense and throwing programs. But, manager Rocco Baldelli said, player health was the priority.
“We tell them that no one’s making the club over the next couple of days,” he said. “So, what we do is we get them loose, we get them moving. … We use these days for them to settle in.”
Last season was abridged to 60 regular-season games because of the coronavirus pandemic, and while COVID protocols have been updated, they remain in place. The entire spring training roster is limited to 75 players, including “depth camp” players not expected to be competing for the Opening Day roster.
The team also is using more of the Fort Myers complex than it would normally at this time of the year, Baldelli said. While position players and coaches are using the Hammond Stadium locker room and offices, pitchers and their coaches are on the minor-league side.
That was the case during the two-week summer camp at Target Field last July, when pitchers used the visiting locker room and the team spread out throughout the park for social distancing.
“So, we’re separated, and normally we want to be together,” Baldelli said. “We want to be right next door so we can talk, so we can spend time with each other, both staff and players. So, that’s been a little bit different. Again, it’s just another adjustment we have to make.”
The Twins adjusted well last season; no players or staff members tested positive for COVID during the season, and the team won its second straight American League Central title — although it was swept in the postseason again, this time 2-0 by the Houston Astros, and has now lost a major league-record 18 straight postseason games.