Minor League Report: Jose Morales

Morales battling back after ankle injury

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Catcher Jose Morales knew that his ankle injury was bad as soon as slid into the base awkwardly.

The injury occurred in mid-September during a series with the White Sox in Chicago. It was Morales' first big league game, and his unfortunate slide came after he had gone 3-for-3.

"Right away I was on the ground thinking, 'This is not possible,' " Morales said. "I knew I was going to be out a long time. It hurt really bad. Then I saw it. I have that game on my computer. And after I saw it, I knew for sure I [was] going to be out a while."

The entire day turned out to be bittersweet for Morales. The fact that his father was on hand to see him do so well was comforting, but then again, Morales knew he wouldn't be returning to the Majors for at least the rest of the season.

Morales spent the offseason in Puerto Rico resting his ankle. The injury was so bad that he didn't even start working out until he arrived for Spring Training on Feb. 17.

When Morales attended TwinsFest in January, he still had somewhat of a noticeable limp. That limp was barely detectable when he arrived at camp, but because of the injury, he's had to compensate by changing his catching stance.

Before, Morales tended to bend his left knee toward the inside of his body in his squat. Now that position puts an incredible strain on the outside of his ankle, making it impossible for him to remain in that stance.

"The way I used to catch, I can't do that anymore," he said. "So I've been working on a new style in the bullpen. It's different, but I'll be fine."

Because Morales is the third-string catcher in the Twins system, his health could come into play if the team decides it needs an extra body behind the plate.

Morales has seen progress in the ankle, especially recently. But despite the changes he's made to help reduce the stress, he doesn't expect it to fully heal anytime soon.

"It's not going to be 100 percent for a while," he said. "It was major ligament damage. But it's just a matter of getting used to it. It feels like I have a new foot. It's been getting better the last couple of months, but it's a really slow process."

A whole new world: Left-hander Brian Duensing spent part of his fall in a country not frequently visited by baseball players -- Taiwan.

Duensing pitched for Team USA in this year's IBAF World Cup. The lefty helped the U.S. to its first gold medal in the event since 1974, as he started the medal-clinching game against Cuba.

Though ending Cuba's streak of nine straight titles was a highlight of the trip, Duensing said it was the unique environment of Taiwan that made the trip quite memorable.

"The hotels we stayed in were very Americanized," Duensing said. "But if you left our hotel and headed to the left, there was a restaurant where they were butchering a goat on a table outside. Then, if you headed to the right of the hotel, there was a McDonald's and a 7-11. It was very surreal."

Early arrivals: Twins Minor League camp is not set to begin until March 6, but there have been plenty of familiar faces working out on the back fields this past week.

Among the Minor Leaguers who arrived early to work out are Trevor Plouffe, Toby Gardenhire, Korey Feiner, Dustin Martin, Doug Deeds, Garrett Olson, Erik Lis, Joe Benson and Drew Thompson.

Martin and Thompson are currently rehabbing back injuries. An outfielder obtained from the Mets in the Luis Castillo trade along with catcher Drew Butera, Martin is trying to recover from a herniated disk. Thompson is in the middle of a longer comeback road. The infielder fractured his back in 2006 and missed the entire '07 season. Now he's attempting to regain his form in the field.

Gardenhire happy for Cuddyer: It took Michael Cuddyer nearly five years to solidify his spot within the Twins lineup.

But following two successful seasons in right field, Cuddyer cemented his place as a cornerstone player for the franchise this winter. The Twins 1997 first-round Draft pick signed a three-year, $24 million deal in late January that included an option for a fourth season.

Manager Ron Gardenhire admitted that seeing success for a guy like Cuddyer, who as recently as the start of the 2006 season was riding the bench, is somewhat sweeter than it is for most.

"We moved him a lot and tried a lot of different things with him until we found out where he was most comfortable and where he fit in," Gardenhire said. "He understands a little bit about himself and what he needs to do now that he is in one place.

"I'm absolutely happy for him. I love it when these guys are able to sign and stay here. That makes it easier on the manager when you've got guys who get deals [that mean] they are staying here. We're trying to do that a lot more."

What they're saying: "As far as making a statement, I don't think he came out like Muhammad Ali and was like 'You! You!' I think he just says, 'Hey, I'm here to win this job. I'm on a mission.' And there's nothing wrong with that. ... It's pretty impressive, to tell you the truth. That's what I expected." -- Gardenhire, in response to Denard Span's comments that he "was ready for war" in regard to the battle for center field

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.