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McFeely: New Twins baseball guru banking on young players getting better

Derek Falvey, the new baseball operations chief for the Minnesota Twins, stood inside Hammond Stadium prior to the team playing the St. Louis Cardinals in an exhibition game Monday, March 6, 2017 in Fort Myers, Fla. Mike McFeely / Forum News Service

FORT MYERS, Fla.—The Minnesota Twins shook up their front office in the offseason, which was to be expected after losing a franchise record 103 games in 2016. Gone were familiar faces like longtime general manager Terry Ryan. In their place was new—and young—blood like 33-year old chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and 45-year-old general manager Thad Levine.

I had a chance to chat with Falvey a few moments before the Twins played the St. Louis Cardinals in a spring training game at Hammond Stadium.

Here are a few answers to the many questions I asked:

Q: The No. 1 thing I get in Fargo-Moorhead from fans is ... 'It looks like pretty much the same team as a year ago. They lost 103 games and added a catcher and other than that there hasn't been a lot of moves.' How do you respond to that?

Falvey: I think when you look at this roster, it's a really young roster. Last year, nobody's running from the 100 losses, it was a tough season, but I think sometimes when you have young players get to the major-league level it's not a linear path. We'd all love it to be linear and have guys perform at their peak performance when they get there, but some guys took some lumps last year. Guys like Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are now coming into their own. Our goal is to build around that young core. We think we've seen different spurts from those guys to be the players we ultimately expect them to be. So we want to make sure we surround the young players with the right veteran talent and guys that will fit to build the culture we're looking for. With Jason Castro, we feel we did that at the catcher position and got guys like Matt Belisle and others who are competing camp. We feel we have a nice mix of veteran players to play with those young guys.

Q: Is this an evaluation year? I know every day is an evaluation day, but is there a sense of 'let's sit back and see what the young guys do' and then next year ... say here's what we want to do, A-B-C-D?

Falvey: Like you said, you're always evaluating the team. You're looking at where you can augment and make some changes. The reality is we go into this year with a lot of guys coming back who were those young players, who were growing. You look around the position player group and a lot of those guys are just entering their prime years. We certainly want them to take the next step in their career and add where necessary, but our hope is we have a lot of the core here that we'll seek to build around over the next couple of seasons.

Q: Brian Dozier. What was the decision to not trade him? Was it that you didn't get a good enough offer or that you see him as to valuable to the team?

Falvey: When we go through a trade season, every offseason, there are a number of calls we field. Literally every day, or every couple of days there is somebody calling to inquire about our players. Any time you lose 100 games and have a rough season like we did and you have a player of Brian Dozier's caliber who hits 42 home runs and is one of the best players at his position, you're expecting to get some phone calls from teams on a guy like that. We had phone calls on a number of other players on our team and ultimately we have to set a standard and a bar for any move we make, and if we don't make those moves it's because we haven't gotten over that bar. We're happy Brian is part of the Twins this year and we're happy to see him compete in 2017 because we know he's a meaningful part of this franchise, he's a great guy in that clubhouse and he can lead some of these young guys in the direction we're looking to go.

Q: Do you have enough starting pitching? That's another question I get in Fargo-Moorhead: Do they have enough pitching? Like Tom Kelly always said, 'Momentum begins with the guy on the mound.'

Falvey: The answer to that for all 30 clubs, I would say, is you never have enough starting pitching. You go into every spring hoping to stay healthy and we've been fortunate so far to do that. In that group I think we have some guys coming back who are bouncing back from injury. In Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes coming back, Hector Santiago, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey there are a number of guys on our team who can take that next step. Kyle Gibson. We feel there is still a core group of starters there who if healthy and pitching to their capabilities will lead us in the right direction. But we need to find ways to augment that group. We always do. We'll continue to do that over the course of this year and subsequent seasons.

Read the full interview on my blog at the AreaVoices web site.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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