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Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox players, coaches and fans arrive in Southwest Florida

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Feb 19, 2020

The Minnesota Twins’ new third baseman Josh Donaldson signs autographs for young fans. NATHAN MAYBERG

Some say nothing is free in life, but Fort Myers baseball fans can count themselves as lucky for not only do they have two Major League Baseball teams they can watch each spring, but free open houses were held for both teams with up-close and personal looks at the players from the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox this past week.

The Red Sox will be looking to recapture the spark which brought them a world championship in 2018 as they undergo a transitional period while the Twins have the look in their eyes of a team on a mission to reach the World Series after losing in the first round of the playoffs last year to the Yankees after a 101-win regular season.

World Series or bust

for Minnesota Twins

There is one clear mission statement emanating out of Twins camp with two words: World Series. The team’s starters all believe in that and it starts with Manager Rocco Baldelli who laid out the terms of the team’s goal after they won 101 games last year but were swept by the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.

The Twins brought in a veteran presence in slugging third-baseman Josh Donaldson, who showed off a quick release and some acrobatic moves during the first full-squad workout and practice Feb. 17 at Hammond Stadium. NATHAN MAYBERG

On Feb. 17, the first day for position players to report to camp, the team’s hitters had the fiery look in their eyes that a football player has before putting on the shoulder pads for the first time in camp or the hockey player looking to connect with a player on the boards at the start of the season.

With the addition of the veteran slugger and three-time All-Star Josh Donaldson on a four-year, $84 million deal, the potent lineup of the Twins just reached super-elite status. They now boast potentially the deepest and most stacked batting order in the game behind bulldozers like Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano. Balanced along with the contact prowess of Luis Arraez, who emerged last year as a stud rookie second baseman with a .334 batting average, the solid play of shortstop Jorge Polanco, utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and the deft play of speedy centerfielder Byron Buxton, the Twins are overloaded with hitters.

While their pitching hasn’t quite measured up against American League rivals like the Astros in the past, the Twins hope the additions of veterans like Homer Bailey and his two no-hitters, Rich Hill, Kent Maeda will join frontline starters Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi in leading the Twins to a shot at the World Series.

“We have high expectations,” Cruz said. “To get to and win the World Series, that’s the goal,” he said.

“I really think we should set our sights high and we should have those sets of expectations,” Baldelli said. “I think our guys know how you get to that point and each game one at a time and you go out and play hard.”

Boston Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez went 19-3 with 213 strikeouts last season in a breakout performance. He looked electric at the team's open house Feb. 15 and will be counted on with the void left by David Price and other question marks in the rotation. NATHAN MAYBERG

Following the completion of the day’s first full-squad workouts, Baldelli said that for the team to reach its goal “I don’t think you can ever get content.

“This is a really good first day for us. I think our energy was really well. I think the guys are excited.”

“We had a successful year (in 2019). “We want to do it better.”

Boston Red Sox look

to recapture old magic

The Red Sox introduced former Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo to the media Feb. 15. Currently injured, he arrived in the trade sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles. NATHAN MAYBERG

For Boston, the loss of one of the game’s best all-around players, Mookie Betts, in an off-season trade will sting, as will the departure of left-handed pitcher David Price in the same deal. In return, they received Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo, who was introduced to the media Feb. 15 at the open house.

The open house was also a chance for the media to get acquainted with new manager Ron Roenicke, the team’s former bench coach and a longtime veteran of the game. Alex Cora, who led Boston to its 2018 title, was fired amid the fallout from the 2017 Houston Astros cheating scandal, in which Cora allegedly took part.

After going a disappointing 84-78 last season, Boston will look up to left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez for another big year. During a throwing session on the mound Feb. 15, Rodriguez looked electric. Rodriguez broke out last year with his best season after having dealt with knee problems in the past. He led the league in games started while leading the Red Sox with a 19-3 record with a career-high 213 strikeouts.

Roenicke said Rodriguez looked “lively” on the mound Friday. “His location is as good as it is in the game,” Roenicke said.

There are question marks throughout the rest of the rotation. Chris Sale will be returning from an elbow injury which short-circuited his season in August and he finished with a lackluster 4.40 ERA. Former Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello signed with the New York Mets in the offseason. Andrew Cashner is currently an unsigned free agent.

Boston signed veteran lefty Martin Perez to a one-year deal. Perez went 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA with the Twins last year. Brian Johnson, a lefty who has been in and out of the Red Sox rotation the last few seasons, will be in the mix for a starter’s job.

Verdugo is expected to be on the shelf through the start of the season, as he is currently dealing with a stress fracture to his back. Roenicke communicated his desire to exercise caution with Verdugo before he returns to action. For his part, Verdugo is saddled with the role of filling the shoes of a major fan favorite in Betts while arriving to the team injured.

“An emotional rollercoaster,” Verdugo said of his back. “The mental thing was the hardest.”

Despite all of their issues, the Red Sox still present one of the toughest lineups in baseball featuring J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. The Red Sox also signed outfielder Kevin Pillar to help fill the void left by Betts.