MINNEAPOLIS—It’s the burden of minor leaguers every spring: When the Grapefruit League schedule calls for a long, crack-of-dawn bus ride, the Daniel Palkas of the world wind up in that day’s lineup.
Not that any of those aspiring big leaguers would complain. For Palka, a right fielder, those lengthy trips turned into opportunities.
“I remember that,” interim general manager Rob Antony said with a laugh. “Every time he got stuck with a two-hour bus ride, he hit a home run.”
The former Georgia Tech star crushed three home runs in his six at-bats as a road-trip roster-filler last March, reminding the Twins that last spring’s afterthought is a plausible candidate for a 2017 role in Minnesota.
“Lefthanded power—you’re always looking for more,” Antony said. “He’s a guy who (pitchers) can’t make a mistake against.”
Palka went on a tear in early June for Double-A Chattanooga, smacking nine homers in 12 games, and the Twins quickly moved him to Triple-A Rochester. His first day in Triple-A? Two home runs.
“He definitely has a way of getting your attention,” Antony said of Palka, who hit .254/.327/.521 with 34 home runs and 90 RBIs in 133 games. “When we moved him up, he didn’t miss a beat. We didn’t know how big a problem strikeouts would be, but he’s trying to take better at-bats.”
It’s a slow process. Palka struck out 186 times in 2016, but he drew 56 walks, too. The Twins acquired Palka, a 2013 third-round pick by the Diamondbacks, when they shipped catcher Chris Herrmann to Arizona last November.
“The power really plays, and he doesn’t get himself out,” Antony said. “Once he can control the (strike) zone a little better, he’s going to take that next step.”
• The Twins cleared 40-man roster space by sending five players outright to Rochester: lefthanders Tommy Milone, Andrew Albers and Pat Dean, second baseman James Beresford and outfielder Logan Schafer.
• The Twins hired Indians assistant GM Derek Falvey as chief baseball officer, but he could not join the organization until he fulfilled his obligation to Cleveland on its World Series run. That put the Twins’ offseason on hold. Thus coaching staffs at the major and minor league levels had not been told whether they will be retained for 2017.