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Future bright for Rays, Twins

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Mar 11, 2020

Rays prospect and Cape Coral native Shane McClanahan struck out three batters in a scoreless inning against the Twins Friday at Hammond Stadium during a spring training game. NATHAN MAYBERG

These are good times for fans of the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.

Not only do the teams look like major contenders in the American League but they are also using spring training to showcase their deep farm system.

The prospects they showed off this past Friday during a game at Hammond Stadium are indicative of how good the future can be.

The highlight of the game was three-run walk-off home run by Matt Wallmer to win the game for Minnesota in the bottom of the ninth 5-3. The blast off Deck McGuire was his first spring training home run. The Minnesota native and 39th pick in the 2019 draft out of Southern Mississippi should be playing the outfield for the Fort Myers Mussels this year.

The home run scored 23-year-old outfielder Trevor Larnach, who smashed a solo homer earlier in the game off of Dylan Covey. “I was just trying to be on time for the fastball,” Larnach said. “He was throwing cutters and a split change.”

Alex Kirilloff, a former standout hitter with the Fort Myers Miracle, is batting .500 for the Twins in spring training with two home runs. NATHAN MAYBERG

It was the third longball for Larnach this spring in 18 at-bats. Larnach was a first-round pick out of Oregon State in the 2018 draft. In 84 games with the Fort Myers Miracle last season, he had just six home runs but he has never posted a batting average less than .295 with any of his four clubs through Double-A. Larnach said he is learning from teammates like Nelson Cruz (who is two lockers down from him) and Josh Donaldson on preparation techniques. “The difference is how they go about mentally in going about the game,” Larnach said. “Everybody can work hard physically.”

Perhaps the best Twins prospect right now is Alex Kirilloff, who is batting .474 with two home runs in 16 at-bats as of March 8. He is going so good that he reached base twice on infield groundballs and scored a run Friday. His best swing was a towering fly ball to the outfield which went for an out.

Another top prospect flashing talent on the day was Cape Coral’s Shane McClanahan, the Bishop Verot product and Rays prospect who struck out three Twins batters in his one inning of work.

McClanahan dialed his fastball up to 99 mph in the process of getting three outs on nine pitches, his only blemish a first-pitch single off the bat of Nick Gordon. While McClanahan hasn’t had a great spring, he has 10 strikeouts in just 4.2 innings. He will likely start the season at Double-A Montgomery, where he finished last season. “Really impressive. Fun to watch,” said Rays coach Kevin Cash.

Twins prospect Dakota Chalmers, a revelation with the Miracle last season, impressed in his spring training debut. He struck out all three batters he faced on just nine pitches.

“I just wanted to do the same thing I’ve done in the bullpen,” Chalmers said. A hard-throwing right-hander, Chalmers limited opponents to a .164 batting average at Fort Myers last year. A third-round pick by the Oakland Athletics in 2015, he was traded to the Twins for Fernando Rodney in 2018.

Throwing his fastball in the mid-90’s, he notched two of his strikeouts on curveballs Friday. He said he didn’t think he threw his best stuff despite the perfect results. “I was just trying to be aggressive with the fastball,” he said. Chalmers said he has been learning from former Twins greats Bert Blyleven and Johan Santana during the spring, as well as manager Rocco Baldelli. He said Blyleven has helped him with his tempo in the bullpen. “It’s the mental side of things they’ve helped me with the most,” he said.

The Rays received three scoreless innings from starter Yonny Chirinos Friday. Last year, Chirinos had a no-hitter after five innings against the Blue Jays before getting pulled by Cash. “Hopefully, from this point on I will have many more opportunities,” he said. A crafty pitcher, Chirinos showcased his split-finger fastball that plays well off his 96 mph fastball. His slider and sinker were also working well.

Rays starter Brendan McKay made his spring debut with a scoreless inning. The highly touted two-way player who was the fourth pick in the 2017 draft, said he was dealing with shoulder stiffness earlier this spring. “It’s tough sitting there watching games,” he said. “It makes you go crazy.” The University of Louisville product still intends to pitch and hit despite playing in the American League. “It’s just on the backburner,” he said of his hitting. Last year, McKay batted .200 with a home run in 10 at-bats.