Johan teaching -- and learning -- at Twins camp

March 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Do-Hyoung Park's Twins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Steven Okert is pretty frank with his diagnosis when asked what exactly is wrong with his pickoff move to first base.

“Pretty much everything,” Okert said. “It's a pretty bad move.”

And while we’re at it, Jhoan Duran was pretty sure he was tipping his curveball in one of his Spring Training appearances, so he was trying to figure out what to do about that.

That’s where the legend in the Twins hoodie standing with his arms crossed and his leg up on a bucket chimes in with some hands-on advice. Johan Santana steps forward, grabs a baseball and for about 10 minutes shows Duran how he used his glove as he came set before delivering -- or he stands next to Okert and raises his right leg, like in his delivery, as they talk for a while.

And in these little one-on-one sessions, they trade ideas and get to work.

“You see it right away,” Santana said. “Experience is everything. I've been around this game long enough to know a few things. When you see it out there, you just step in and say it. That's what I'm here for. That's what they want me here for. That's what I've been doing.”

The funny thing is, though the attention will turn to the teaching Santana is doing during this camp, his goal in making the trek to the Lee Health Sports Complex in the mornings is actually to learn.

Santana doesn’t exactly know what his future will bring, he says, but he definitely has the desire to be more involved with the game moving forward. The Twins will take whatever guidance one of their all-time greats is willing to offer, of course, but Santana is also taking this opportunity to feel out where and how his knowledge can fit into the modern game.

“It's different from when I played, but [it’s] still the same game,” Santana said. “Just the way you play or the stuff, all the tools they have now. I think it's very helpful. I'm just catching up with everything.”

That’s seemingly part of why he’s finding these small, more peripheral things like a pickoff move or pitch tipping to point out to these players, who are developing in a more modern, data-driven, sophisticated game than the one in which Santana played until his retirement in 2012.

There’s no formal goal or target for Santana’s day-to-day involvement, he says; he lives in the Fort Myers area, so he’ll pop in to the Major League and Minor League sides of the Twins’ facility when he has some time before he heads over to help out with his son’s JV team in the afternoons. It’s an easy arrangement in which Santana comes and goes as it works best for him.

Santana’s two older daughters have already moved on to college and beyond, and soon enough, it will come time for Johan Jr. to leave the house, too -- and it’s with an eye on that future that Santana says he’s testing the waters.

“That's one of the reasons why I'm trying to get more involved in this,” Santana said. “I don't know where this is going to take me, but I definitely am enjoying my time, and I know for a fact that I'm not going to stay home flipping channels, seeing what's up. I think having the opportunity to come back in and hang out in baseball is always great.”

As far as this year’s camp? It took a while at first for Santana to learn the names, faces and jersey numbers, and he still carries around a little cheat sheet to tell him what’s what and who’s who.

Once he got settled in, Santana was impressed by Pablo López and thinks this is the year the righty could establish himself as the ace this franchise has lacked since Santana himself took the mound in Twins pinstripes. He loves that Duran continues to work to improve despite already being “lights-out,” he says. He speaks highly of the work Joe Ryan and Chris Paddack have been doing this spring.

But the Twins world might not be ready yet for Santana to start offering up his changeup.

“No, no, no, I don't want a changeup,” Duran says with a laugh.