Notebook: Twins' freshly signed draft picks get first look at new team
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MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a stark reminder of just how young high school draft picks are Wednesday afternoon at Target Field, as the Minnesota Twins announced the signings of first round pick Kohl Stewart, a right-handed pitcher out of Tomball, Texas, and fourth round left-hander Stephen Gonsalves.
As the media scrum, which was huddled around the two recent high school graduates, adjourned, the young men were dispatched to the clubhouse to meet the current club and get fitted for team-issued batting practice gear.
En route, a familiar face intercepted the two young men.
"The new guys," the former Rookie of the Year and eight-time All Star said. "The new guys. Welcome to the Twins. I'm Tony Oliva."
The pair of 18-year-olds offered handshakes and blank stares.
"I used to play,'' Oliva assured them. "Ask your grandfathers. They might've heard of me."
Indeed, the two draft choices for the Twins are young. They are almost exactly three months apart in age. Gonsalves is older, born just 35 days before the 1994 MLB strike started, while Stewart was born during the 1994 postseason that never was.
But the Twins hold high hopes for the two pitchers, not just Stewart, the fourth overall selection in the draft.
Gonsalves, who regards himself as a groundball pitcher with a low-90s fastball, was in the discussion as a first-round pick at various points in his development.
The future begins for both pitchers Thursday when they will fly to Fort Myers to join up with the Twins' Gulf Coast League affiliate to get their first taste of pro ball.
And where one goes, so will the other -- at least for a while. The two have been good friends since meeting in San Diego at the Perfect Game All American Classic last August. Stewart and Gonsalves were teammates on the West squad.
Not surprisingly, both pitchers are extremely excited about the opportunity.
"Now, we're able to continue this journey together," Gonsalves said.
Stewart is aware of the pressure that goes with being a first round pick, but he feels he is up to the task.
"Talking to people around the organization, there's a lot of pride that comes with wearing the uniform," Stewart said. "I think there's a lot of responsibility that (Gonsalves) and I have to give it everything we have everyday to become the best we can be and help this organization down the road."
And if there's any bitterness about falling to the fourth round, Gonsalves said he's only going to use it to motivate him. He even joked about using it to motivate him to outperform his future roommate.
"He's going to have a target on his back, and I'll be the one chasing him," Gonsalves said.
Kepler finally set for season debut
Outfielder Max Kepler will make his much-anticipated debut with the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels Thursday, as he will be activated in time to play the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
Kepler was bothered by discomfort in his left (throwing) elbow. Despite no structural damage, he simply wasn't ready for game action until now.
"He's healthy, and it's good for all of us," general manager Terry Ryan said, cautioning that Kepler will need to play catch-up after missing 68 games. "He hasn't seen a lot of action this spring."
Kepler will largely play right or left field, but could also fill in at first base and even in centerfield, especially if or when Byron Buxton is promoted to high Single-A Fort Myers.
"It'll be an adjustment for him, because he's behind," Ryan said. "But he's ready for the league. He had a good year last year. He's big and strong. He isn't a little guy any more. He's athletic, he can run, and he's got a good-looking swing. We're glad he's gone (from team facilities in Fort Myers)."
Baseball Prospectus listed Kepler as the Twins' No. 8 prospect entering this season.
Thielbar in a groove
Reliever Caleb Thielbar has been on-point since joining the Twins on May 20, having not yet allowed an earned run over 10 appearances and 11 2/3 innings pitched. Most impressively, Thielbar has struck out nearly a batter per inning and has only allowed 10 baserunners (0.86 WHIP).
How has Thielbar done it? By not changing anything.
"They always tell you not to change anything," Thielbar said. "They figure you're here, your stuff is good enough. You've just got to trust it."
And while Thielbar has made waves mowing down left-handed hitters (.067/.125/.067 batting line), Ryan and Gardenhire both insist he's not doomed to being a future left-hander only specialist. Both cite Thielbar's four-pitch mix, spearheaded by an 89.6 mph average fastball via PITCHf/x, as a reason the Randolph, Minn. native should be able to retire lefties and righties at the major league level.
Thielbar said it has been his ability to locate all four pitches that has elevated his performance in his initial stretch in the majors. The numbers tend to agree, with a first pitch strike rate of 61.9% , more than one percent over the league average (60.3%).
Josh Willingham will be worth monitoring in the next few days. The Twins pulled him back a bit after removing him in the late innings of Tuesday night's game, using him as a designated hitter against the White Sox on Wednesday.
Chalk it up to a case of continued soreness for the left fielder, who had a cortisone shot over the weekend.
Willingham is obviously not back to full strength. Willingham again came up hobbled in Wednesday's game when he went from first base to third on Justin Morneau's third inning single to right field.
Drought over for Morneau
Morneau's sixth inning home run off White Sox reliever Deunte Heath Wednesday night snapped a streak of 189 plate appearances -- the longest of his career -- without a home run, dating back to April 28. The home run, Morneau's third of the season, tied him for fifth on the club's all-time list with Kirby Puckett.
Similarly, Joe Mauer's first inning home run in Tuesday's contest tied him with Corey Koskie for 14th in club history with 101.
Twins fifth-round draft pick Aaron Slegers was the tough-luck loser Wednesday night, as the Indiana Hoosiers lost an elimination game against Oregon State, 1-0 , in the College World Series.
Both starters pitched complete games, and Sleger allowed just one earned run with five strikeouts and two walks.
Slegers finished the season with a 2.04 ERA. Fellow teammate and Twins draft pick Dustin Demuth was 1-for-3, as the Hoosiers could only muster four hits against Matt Boyd, who was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth round of this year's draft.
Who's Hot, Who's Not
Here's a peek at which Twins are and are not clicking in June (all stats through Tuesday night's game):