Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fan Forum Conference Call: Brunansky and Steinbach

The Twins conducted another Fan Form conference call for season-ticket holders, this time featuring new hitting coach Tom Brunansky and new bench and catchers' coach Terry Steinbach. I furiously scribbled notes as fast as a could so I can recap the call for you. As always, I'm pretty crappy at taking dictation, so please don't consider any of this true quotes, but rather regard it as paraphrases and general ideas. I apologize in advance if I get any of this wrong. Also, my phone rang a few moments after the call started, so I think I missed the first question.

Does Joe Mauer have the capability to hit for more power?
Response from Tom Brunansky: The Twins think he will. When you have a leg injury, you have doubt on the strength of the back leg. Now that his legs are healthy, he can generate more power. He's excited to start hitting because he feels good.

What are the primary responsibilities of a bench coach (other than hoping Gardy doesn't get ejected)?
Response from Terry Steinbach: Be Gardy's right hand man. Worry about matchups between your bench guys and the opponents bullpen. Worry about your bullpen and make sure the BP coach knows who should be warming up. Double check everything. Communicate. Be like a secondary manager (emphasis on secondary).
Fans were sad when Bruno was traded. What brought him back to Minnesota? What's the draw?
Bruno: I was sad too. The draw is that the Twins are a family. When I decided to come back to baseball, I only called Jim Rantz. When an opportunity opened up in the minors, I took it. I didn't know if I could handle it, but I worked everything out. Now I'm hoping to catch some of that same chemistry in the big leagues.

Who has pleasantly surprised you the most?
Steiny: The guys competing for outfield spots, Mastrioanni, Hicks, and Benson, have been really fun to watch. Hicks has opened a lot of eyes, not only with his hitting, but also with the way he patrols center field. He makes great jumps and covers a lot of ground.
Bruno: Terry took my answer. Hicks is going about this opportunity in a great way. He carries himself well. Also, Pedro Florimon has been fun to watch play shortstop. He's been working on his offense. Dozier is also fun to watch. It's too bad we've missed watching some of the guys due to the WBC.
How much input do you have on deciding which guys make the roster?
Bruno: I'm a newbie, but Gardy asks my opinion and we discuss.
Steiny: Gardy wants our opinion and wants to know what we think. We can give him input on both sides of a player: from the cages and from the practice fields. 
What's your perspective on how the starting rotation will fill out?
Steiny: It's a work-in-progress. We've got Pelfrey, Worley, and Correia ready. There's a lot of healthy competition of the rest of the spots. There are 12 games left to figure that out.
Bruno: I specialize in the hitting side, but I can see how opposing hitters approach our pitchers. A lot of guys are throwing well, they have to go grab it.
What's the biggest change in the game since your playing days?
Steiny: The social media. Everyone in the clubhouse is looking at their devices with their Tweeter [sic] accounts and stuff. But once they leave that on the sidelines, the game is still the same. Fundamentals are still important.
Bruno: The game itself is the same, with an emphasis on fundamentals. But I think the biggest change is the training staff, and conditioning. There's more emphasis on nutrition and diet. When I played, I always grabbed a cup of coffee and a donut. Now there's even sports psychologists.
If the weather doesn't warm up soon, how will the cold affect the game on Opening Day?
Bruno: No matter the weather, I'm nice and warm next to the heater in the dugout. I feel bad for Vav [Joe Vavra, third-base coach] and Scotty [Ullger, first-base coach] out there. The players bundle up to stay warm, but it's harder to move around or swing the bat. The ball doesn't carry as well. And, as a hitter, if a pitcher gets in on the hands, it hurts.
Steiny: A lot of it is mental; if you believe you're cold and miserable, then you'll be cold and miserable. But, if you go out there with a winning attitude, you're more apt to play well. Being a catcher has it's drawbacks, but it's great being a catcher on cold days with all the gear and working to keep you warm.
Do you think Trevor Plouffe is able to become a consistent power hitter?
Bruno: Absolutely! A good power hitter puts back spin on the ball. Trevor became a little pull-conscious and didn't adjust. He's been working on it all off-season. His plate coverage is better. And he's beginning to believe it.
As much as fans appreciate manufacturing runs, is this going to be a more power-hitting club?
Bruno: Hitting homers at the Dome was fun and it happened often. Target Field isn't as conducive for hitting homers. We're trying to encourage creating damage. Creating damage happens many ways: hitting to the gap, get extra-base hits. They still like reaching the seats, but it's about creating damage.
Will the club carry three catchers again? If not, who can do it in an emergency?
Steiny: We have had discussions about this, it's ultimately up to Gardy. With three, if one's starting at catcher and the other is at DH, there's another one available if one gets hurt. With two, if one's starting and the other's at DH, an one gets hurt, either you lose your DH and the pitchers have to hit, or someone comes in as an emergency catcher. Jeff Clement was drafted as a catcher, so he could do it. Escobar can do it do. Having these guys available keeps the options open.
How's Brain Dozier coming along?
Bruno: When he was sent down to Rochester last season, he was a lost ballplayer. The game had become too quick for him. I told him "just remember who you are." During the off-season, he went back to the basics. He was on his back leg too much. I want him to be an aggressive hitter, to drive the ball and hit the gaps. I don't want him to swing meekly; he should let loose.
Caller saw Bruno with Morneau hitting off a tee. What were they working on?
Bruno: Tee work is good for youngsters, but it's also very good for veterans. They were working on getting the feel of working on the back side and flattening the back swing until he gets a consistent feel. Then we'll move the tee out a little to get used to the feel of pulling the ball. They use all kinds of tee drills, depending on the players. With Joe Mauer, we work on the feel of his legs. With Brain Dozier, its the feel of his follow through.
How confident are you with the infield defense?
Steiny: A key aspect of Twins baseball has let them down the last few years. Florimon has improved at short. And Dozier moving to second has made a very healthy competition with Carroll. Every morning, they go to Tom Kelly field and work on fielding drills. They also make the pitchers watch so they can learn how the defense behind them will work.
What's Joe Mauer's value at calling games and handling the pitching staff?
Steiny: Joe absolutely has an impact on the pitchers and the outcome of the game. He has tremendous experience, and he's very good back there. We want him back there as much as he can be, but to keep him healthy, he can't be back there every day -- no catcher can. You just can't catch 162 games. So we'll try to make matchups accordingly and put Doumit in there when it works out. But Joe's fantastic.
Bruno: I think the two toughest positions are bench hitter and designated hitter. Most hitters do better when they can play out in the field. So we want Joe out in the field as much as possible.
Do you worry about the results of Spring Training games?
Bruno: I don't pay attention to win/loss records in Spring Training. I want the players to develop every day. Sometime a pitcher might be working on stuff, so we don't regard wins and losses. We still play to win so we feel like we're a winning team. 
Steiny: We want to find out what the veterans need: some like to ramp up towards Opening Day, some guys like to dial it back towards the end of Spring Training. Plus with so many guys in camp, there are a lot of guys to evaluate, and they have to play. We want a winning attitude and the guys want to win. 
Joe Mauer is a special hitter. What separates special hitters from good hitters?
Bruno: The best hitters, like Joe, make hitting look so easy. And that's saying something. First, they have a gift, but they also keep it simple. They have simple mechanics. There isn't a lot of stress. They also trust their ability. Confidence is key.
Steiny: They have to have the ability. They find a way to get it done. They can do so much with the bat. Great hitters don't get nervous regardless of the count. They trust themselves.
What kind of power potential do you see in Hicks and Parmelee?
Bruno: Hicks is a switch hitter. He has a good, strong core. Good base. I see 10-20 homers until he learns his true potential. Parmelee is a little more advanced, 15-25 homer potential. [He said a whole bunch more good stuff about both players, but he was talking so fast, I couldn't keep up.]
What are the differences in the mental approach for someone like Willingham and someone like Florimon?
Bruno: It's a different approach with each. For expample, if there's a runner at second, we're not going to ask Hammer to ground out on the right side to move the runner over. His approach is always going to be the same -- drive the ball. With Florimon, he may have to shorten his swing and avoid high pitches in order to get the grounder to move runners over. He's getting better with his command of the strike zone.
Asked again: what does the bench coach do?
Steiny: [Pretty much the same answer as before.] Also, keep track of the opponent's running game. Decide when to call a pitch out or a throw over to first.
You both took over for guys who are still with the team. How's that going?
Steiny: I'm the new kid on the block, so I'm doing everything I can to tap into these guys and use them as a resource. We're good friends. I'm always asking for advice. The key is we all check our egos at the door. We always learn. Everyone wants to win.
Bruno: Yes, we check our egos at the door. We work as a staff. We use them as resources. They're different eyes, different points of view. They will be watching from the bases. We're all watching batting practice and communicating. We're pretty well bonded.

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