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Four Words That Make Me Smile: Pitchers and Catchers Report!

17 Feb

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

We’ve been patient, at least as patient as we can. But it is really difficult. I mean, the last time we saw the Minnesota Twins play was September 28, 2011. What a game it was. Twins starter Carl Pavano threw nine shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals. Bruce Chen tossed eight scoreless at the Twins. Thankfully, the Royals brought reliever Blake Wood into the game, and you all remember, Trevor Plouffe lined a single that scored Denard Span and gave the Twins the win. That win came 143 days ago! 143 days! That’s almost five full months. Simply… that’s far too long to go without watching or favorite team. Since that day, the Twins lost several players including Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan, Jason Repko, Matt Tolbert and more. Jim Pohlad also decided to relieve Bill Smith of his GM duties and replace him with an old friend, Terry Ryan. Ryan has added free agents Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit, Jason Marquis, Joel Zumaya and a boat load of strong-armed minor league free agents. We have celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Many of us had the opportunity to start getting prepped for the 2012 season by attending a Twins Caravan. Then many of us met at the Metrodome for Twins Fest. The last three weeks have been difficult. We’re all ready for things to get started.

And this morning, we can finally say the four words that mean so much to baseball fans. Sure, many in the world want to talk about the Three Little Words that get uttered on Valentine’s Day. But for a baseball fan, no four words are more exciting than “Pitchers and Catchers Report.” This morning in Ft. Myers, Twins pitchers and catchers will report to Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers. They won’t hold a full workout. That will happen on Sunday. Last night, Twins Director of Communications tweeted that “33 pitchers and catchers are ready to report in Ft. Myers tomorrow. (This) includes 11 non-roster pitchers and 5 non-roster catchers.” The other 25 position players will report in just a few days. Spring Training games begin in less than two weeks.

Spring Training is about a fresh start. The sounds of baseball. The pop of catchers’ mitts. The encouraging shouts of coaches. The opportunity for a new beginning. Hope. Joy. Optimism. All great words. All appropriate today because of those four special words that baseball fans wait for all winter: Pitchers and Catchers Report! 

Any thoughts? Please feel free to e-mail me or use the Comments Section!

A Diamonds’ Value

24 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

We know that the Twins have been quite high on left-hander Scott Diamond for a few years, back to the days he was pitching at Binghampton University in New York. The Braves signed him and he has become a solid starting pitching prospect for the Braves. However, following the 2010 season, Atlanta made the decision not to protect him on the 40 man roster. They left Billy Wagner on their 40 man roster, and they protected just 39 on their 40 man roster.

The Twins, who drafted late in the Rule 5 draft, had him as the top player on their wish list. They were shocked that Diamond was available to them with their selection.

The Twins like his four-pitch mix, his presence on the mound, how he works quickly, etc. He has just ten games at Triple-A and another half-season or more in the minor leagues would be beneficial for him. However, the rules of the Rule 5 draft dictate that the Twins have to keep him on their 25 man roster all season or offer him back to the Braves.

Diamond has struggled at times this spring. The coaching staff expressed disappointment in him control and in his slow pace on the mound. They said that it was not the Diamond that they had been scouting for years. Clearly the Twins will trust what their scouting reports over the past several years over what they saw in spring training’s first week or two of games.

Diamond is still with the Twins, and he is still a candidate for one of three bullpen spots believed to be remaining. Dusty Hughes appears to all but have one. Glen Perkins is out of options and pitching well again this spring. Diamond likely would not make the Twins 25 man roster, so reports indicate that the Twins will attempt to work out a trade with the Braves in order to keep him.

Oddly enough, next week the Twins will play two exhibition games in Atlanta against the Braves. This situation could go right up to that series. At the end of those two games, Diamond could pack up his stuff and head back to Gwinnett to play for the Braves Triple-A affiliate again. He could pack up his bags and make the trip to his native Canada, joining the Twins in Toronto for Opening Day. The other option is that the Twins and Braves work out a trade and he goes back to Ft. Myers before heading up to Rochester and joining the Red Wings.

The question I often get is “What would the Braves need to get back in return for Diamond?” or “What would be a fair deal to keep Diamond?” The general feeling on Diamond is that his ceiling is probably a #4 starter and his fall-back would be a bullpen spot.

I assume that the Braves will ask for too much. Bill Smith will wisely say no. The two teams will go back and forth. For some reason, I assume that the Braves woujld prefer to get a non-40-man roster player.                                                                                            

If the Braves would require a Top 10 type of prospect for Diamond, well, he will be going back to the Braves. In my Twins Prospect Handbook, I rank Scott Diamond as the Twins #28 prospect. According to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, they rank Diamond as the Twins #29 prospect. I wanted to look at which Twins prospects Baseball America and myself ranked in that 26-30 range to determine fair return..

Seth’s Rankings: 26.) Niko Goodrum, IF, 27.) Steve Singleton, IF, 28.) Diamond, LHP, 29.) Martire Garcia, LHP, 30.) Tom Stuifbergen, RHP.

Baseball America’s Rankings: 26.) Bruce Pugh, RHP, 27.) Tom Stuifbergen, 28.) Anthony Slama, RHP, 29.) Diamond, 30.) Brian Dozier, SS.

John Sickels is another well-respected minor league evaluator. In his The Baseball Prospect Book 2011, he gives Diamond a grade of C+. Other Twins with that same ranking include: Joe Benson, David Bromberg, Pat Dean, Carlos Gutierrez, BJ Hermsen, Angel Morales, Nate Roberts, Eddie Rosario, Manuel Soliman, Tom Stuifbergen.

Again, the Twins aren’t going to trade Benson, Bromberg, Gutierrez, Hermsen, or Morales for Diamond. 2010 draft picks (Goodrum, Dean, Rosario, Roberts) can’t be traded until July (1 year after they sign). I would have a hard time trading Bruce Pugh and Martire Garcia because the Twins don’t havce a lot of guys that would classify as ‘hard-throwers.’

There is one name that appears on all three of these lists, Tom Stuifbergen. The 22 year old went 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA last year in Beloit. He struck out 88 in 93.2 innings on the season. Unfortunately, he had a couple of stints on the Disabled List with arm issues. If he can stay healthy, he can jump quickly up these rankings. We all remember what he did in his 2009 WBC start against the Dominican Republic team. He is very smart and knows how to pitch. I have heard rumblings on a couple of occasions that Stuifbergen’s name has appeared in trade discussions this spring, so it would not surprise me if a Diamond-for-Stuifbergen deal went down. I would be disappointed, but it would be a very fair trade.

The other name that jumps out to me is Steve Singleton. He spent the entire 2010 season in New Britain and led the organization in doubles. He has played a lot of second base, but also is solid at SS and 3B. The fact that the Twins loaded up on minor league veteran middle infielders makes me think he could be a trade candidate. It might be a great thing for him to get an opportunity with another organization.

If the Braves are fair and are asking for a ‘fair’ return for Diamond, you’ve seen some names here that might make sense. Of course, it is also possible that it would take two minor leaguers to get the job done. It’s possible that the Twins would not want a pitcher. Maybe they would want a middle infielder and names like Brian Dozier and James Beresford would be in this range.

It would be great to be a fly on the wall of the discussions between the Twins and the Braves. Hopefully this helps people understand what would be fair return for Diamond.

—————————————–

Sometime on Wednesday morning, the Maple Street Press Twins 2011 Annual will be updating its price to just $9.99 PLUS free shipping in the U.S. It’s really a very good deal for the 128 page, full-color, ad-free magazine full of terrific Twins content.

Congratulations to the Perham Boys Basketball team for their 57-40 win against Virginia in the first-round of the state tournament. One Big Clap, Zach Gabbard surprised his teammates by being at Williams Arena for the game! They advance to play Waterville-Elysian-Morristown on Friday night.

If you like, please feel free to comment.

Live Twins Chat Tonight at 6

23 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

The Twins play tonight on Fox Sports North at 6:05 p.m. The 13-11 Twins will welcome JJ Hardy, Brendan Harris and the Baltimore Orioles to Hammond Stadium for one of their final tune ups of the year. Gardy has said that we are likely to see the Twins’ A lineup tonight. To me, that would be something like:

Denard Span CF, Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2B, Joe Mauer C, Justin Morneau 1B, Delmon Young LF, Jason Kubel DH, Michael Cuddyer RF, Danny Valencia 3B, Alexi Casilla SS.

That looks like a pretty strong lineup to me, a lineup that could score a lot of runs over the course of a season. It will be fun to watch them for six or seven innings and then get the chance to see some minor leaguers get some time. One of those minor leaguers scheduled to dress with the Twins is Minnesota native and Minnesota State-Mankato alum Mark Dolenc.

Throughout the game, I will be answering your questions in a Live Twins Chat starting at 6:00 CST. I have been doing these for several Wednesdays of late and it will be fun to do in-game. So, if you want an e-mail reminder for the chat, to participate in the chat, or to read the transcript later, Click Here.

It will be a lot of fun to watch the Twins and talk about them as well.

One Week, Who’s Left?

22 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

In one week, the Twins will travel to Atlanta to take on the Braves in two exhibition games leading to Opening Day next weekend. They will likely bring a bunch of extra players, and who knows, they may even have a roster decision or two yet to make. The season is fast approaching, and although most of the jobs on the roster are pretty well set, the Twins still have a lot of players in camp battling for one or two more spots.

Let’s start with the givens. Who will be on the roster (assuming health and no trades)?

  • Catchers: Joe Mauer, Drew Butera (2)
  • Infielders: Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia (4)
  • Outfielders: Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Repko (4)
  • Designated Hitters: Jason Kubel, Jim Thome (2)
  • Starting Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Scott Baker (5)
  • Relief Pitchers: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes, Kevin Slowey (5)

So there are 22 spots that are essentially accounted for. As you can see, I have included Dusty Hughes in the ‘given’ category, although I acknowledge that some may not find that to be the case. We have 12 hitters and 10 pitchers that are givens. The Twins will most likely go to Opening Day with a roster consisting of 13 hitters and 12 pitchers. (Again, that is not a given. They could go with 14 hitters and 11 pitchers, although that is unlikely.)

There are still a lot of players in camp. Obviously some of them have a better chance to make the Twins roster than others, but the fact that they are still there must mean something, right? Today I will take a look at who is still in spring training without a ‘given’ roster spot.

Catchers

  • Steve Holm - The 31 year old backstop has been around a long time, getting a couple of cups of coffee with the Giants over the past few seasons.
  • Rene Rivera - Another 6 year minor league free agent, he is just 27 years old. He was a huge prospect for the Mariners five and six years ago, but they called him up as a backup and his career stagnated.
  • Danny Lehmann - The Twins brought in the two veterans, and yet an in-house candidate for the 3rd catcher spot emerged. Lehmann has won the Twins minor league catcher of the year award the last two years, displays terrific defense, and although he won’t win any Silver Slugger Awards, he can put the ball in play.

Summary - Joe Mauer and Drew Butera will be the Twins catchers. If Butera gets hurt, there are three really solid options to backup Joe Mauer. If Joe Mauer gets hurt, it is a little scary, but that is always the case when a top player gets hurt.

Infielders

  • Jeff Bailey - The 32 year old has had a terrific AAA career. When he got shots with the Red Sox during parts of three years, he displayed some power. He can play first base and the corner outfield positions.
  • Luke Hughes - For the second straight season, Hughes has put together a terrific spring resume. The 26 year old is a major candidate for a bench role. He can play 1B, 2B, and 3B adequately in part-time duty, the question mark is at SS where he simply has not had much time. He has five spring homers, and that isn’t a mirage. When he has been healthy the last four years, he has shown very good power.
  • Chase Lambin - Like Bailey, 31-year-old Lambin was one of the first six-year minor league free agents that Twins signed to bolster the Rochester roster. He has primarily played 3B and some 2B this spring. Early, he played a little SS, but that is not a good position for him. He has double-digit HR power in AAA, and he will likely play well for the Red Wings all season.
  • Matt Tolbert - It seems like the 28 year old has been around forever, doesn’t it? It’s hard to believe that he has an option left. He doesn’t come close to Nick Punto defensively, but he can play all four infield spots without hurting the team at all. Offensively, he may be a little better than Punto. Fit’s the “scrappy” mold. 

Summary - The utility spot is between Hughes and Tolbert. When Punto signed with the Cardinals, many believed that Tolbert was the given to be the utility infield spot, although Trevor Plouffe might get a shot. Plouffe has already been sent to minor league camp, and it is Hughes who has taken Ft. Myers by storm. Bailey is worth watching in Rochester because he can be a right-handed power bat off the bench. He also could play into the Opening Day roster thoughts if Justin Morneau can’t play every day and Michael Cuddyer is also unable to contribute.

Outfielders

  • Brian Dinkelman - the 27 year old is not hitting much this spring, but I do think he has impressed some with his improved defense in both corner outfield spots. 

Summary - The outfield is set. Jason Repko is the 4th outfielder. Jason Kubel can play the corners adequately as well. If there was an injury to Delmon Young or Denard Span, Ben Revere would be the guy called up. Dinkelman will go to Rochester and can hit in the 2-spot or down in the order. 

Starting Pitchers

Summary - Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker. Baker was named to the starting spot just this morning. Kevin Slowey goes to the bullpen… or he could be traded as those rumors haven’t totally disappeared either. Kyle Gibson and David Bromberg will be in Rochester awaiting an opportunity.

Relief Pitchers

  • Scott Diamond - 24 year old Rule 5 pick has to remain with the Twins the full season or clear waivers and be offered back to the Braves. The Twins like him but can he make the roster? What would they need to trade to the Braves to keep him around? If they can work out a trade, great. If not, would they be willing to give him a roster spot to not lose him?
  • Phil Dumatrait - The 29 year old lefty is a former first-round pick. He’s done well in the minor leagues, but he has never been able to secure a big league job for a long period of time.
  • Carlos Gutierrez - The Twins 2nd first round pick in 2008 out of the U of Miami, the 24-year-old throws very hard and has a good sinker. No, the non-roster invite’s minor league numbers don’t look great, but assuming he’s moving to the bullpen full-time this year, he could be a mid-season call up who could really help the Twins down the stretch. He also has not allowed a run yet this spring.
  • Jim Hoey - The 27 year old with the great fastball came to the Twins this offseason in the JJ Hardy trade. He was viewed as a big part of the future of the Orioles bullpen in 2006 and 2007, but arm surgery set him back. He came back last year in AA and AAA with a lot of strikeouts, and a lot of walks. The coaches want a hard thrower. That is Hoey.
  • Chuck James - The 29 year old lefty won 24 games for the Braves between 2006 and 2008, and then he had arm problems. After missing all of 2009, he signed with the Nationals a year ago and went 10-1 between AA and AAA. He likely will start with Rochester and is worth watching.
  • Jeff Manship - Manship has been up and down with the Twins the last two years, including five trips last year alone. He has started and been a long reliever. This year, he is moving to a short-reliever role. His “stuff” does compare to Matt Guerrier, as the coaches have said. He has had ups and downs this spring. The Twins believe he can be very good in relief, but if he goes to Rochester and works out of that role, it may be a good thing for him.
  • Glen Perkins - The still-just 27-year old lefty has had some ups and downs in his career. He did well as a starter early in his career, but he has really struggled the last couple of years on the mound and with the front office. But he has talent and stuff, and he is out of options. He can’t get left-handed batters out, but he does throw 93 with two other good pitches that SHOULD transfer well.
  • Anthony Slama - He has only pitched once this spring due to elbow problems. He is on a throwing program which may mean he starts season on the DL, but most likely would not be on the active roster.
  • Kyle Waldrop - Waldrop could have become a six-year minor league free agent after last season, but instead, he quickly signed a minor league deal with the Twins. Since returning from shoulder surgery that cost him his 2008 season, he moved to the bullpen and has been terrific. He tired late last year, but he is back this spring and pitching well, throwing hard with a sinker.

Summary - With Pat Neshek now with the Padres, the Twins are at 39 on the 40 man roster. Does that mean that Waldrop or Gutierrez could get added to the 40 man roster so that they can be on the 25 man roster? Not necessarily. Interestingly, the Diamond situation will be resolved this week in some manner. The Twins will have to make a decision on Perkins. There are two spots open, and assuming that Hughes is a given, those two spots can but do not need to include a left-hander.

Overall Summary -

For the one hitter spot, Matt Tolbert and Luke Hughes appear to be neck and neck, with Jeff Bailey being an option only depending upon the Morneau and Cuddyer situations (in which case the 14 hitters/11 pitchers scenario may be required.)

For the two bullpen spots, it would appear that Glen Perkins has the best shot due to being out of options. I kind of think, at this point, that the Twins will either work out a trade with the Braves, or offer him back to Atlanta. I would say that Jeff Manship, Kyle Waldrop and Jim Hoey are all pretty evenly matched.

So, what do YOU think will (or should) happen? If you like, please feel free to comment.

The Final Spots

18 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

For the most part, spring training is a formality. Of the 25 man roster, likely 21 or 22 of those positions were set. Joe Mauer doesn’t need to win a job in spring training. Neither does Justin Morneau or Michael Cuddyer. Joe Nathan had to prove that he was healthy, but if he did, he isn’t fighting for a roster spot. Who were the givens coming into spring training?

Hitters: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jason Repko, Jim Thome, Drew Butera (12)

Pitchers: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares (9)

Coming into spring training, the Twins’ brass talked about a bullpen spot or two being up for grabs and the utility infield spot, and based on the above, that is clearly true. The Twins need a utility infielder and three pitchers. There was no shortage of options coming into spring training for those spots either.

For the utility infielder spot: Matt Tolbert, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Chase Lambin

For the three bullpen spots: Jeff Manship, Pat Neshek, Jim Hoey, Glen Perkins, Scott Diamond, Dusty Hughes, Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait, Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop, Alex Burnett, Yorman Bazardo, Eric Hacker, Anthony Slama

Backup Infielder:

Going into spring training, most of us believed that the “competition” was more in name than in reality. Matt Tolbert is a “Gardy Guy.” He can play all three infield positions defensively. He has some speed. Not much of a hitter, but he has shown an ability to hit at times over the last few seasons. Trevor Plouffe has played shortstop and second base, and even logged some innings at first base, but he has struggled this spring with the bat and with the glove.

Meanwhile, Luke Hughes has again shown up to spring training and shown that he can flat-out hit. He is 14-40 (.350) with three doubles and five home runs. We will ignore the 12 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances. He has played adequate defense at 3B, 2B, 1B and even a couple of innings at SS. In his minor league past, he has played all three outfield positions as well. Gardy has been making quotes about defense not being the only thing that matters in the utility infield spot which certainly bodes well for Hughes.

Remember that the utility infielder will hopefully play about once a week, although Hughes would also be a good right-handed bat off the bench to compliment lefty Jim Thome. He may have to play ten to twelve innings of defense a week. How will he adapt to a role position? Can he stay healthy?

Tolbert and Plouffe each are in their final option year. Hughes has two options left. So, options do not need to factor into this decision, which is good.

Gardy’s Decision: Will come down to defense versus offense. Will he want Hughes’ right-handed bat off the bench, or will he want Tolbert’s defense at the three positions?

If the season started today: Hughes would be the man, no question. I think that when spring training started, it was Matt Tolbert’s job to lose. Instead, Luke Hughes has come to spring training likely made such a strong impression that he may have pushed his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Bullpen:

Anthony Swarzak, Yorman Bazardo and Eric Hacker have already been demoted to minor league camp. Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait haven’t done enough to put themselves into Opening Day consideration. Anthony Slama was my choice before camp started, but he has been unable to pitch due to an elbow injury. Alex Burnett will be a big part of the Twins bullpen for years to come, but I don’t think he’s in the competition for an opening day spot right now. Kyle Waldrop probably would be a strong candidate if he was on the 40 man roster. I believe he will be a Twins pitcher, but not by Opening Day. Same with Carlos Gutierrez. So that leaves six pitchers for three spots, and at least one of them (And maybe two) should be left-handed).

Jeff Manship: He has given up five runs on nine hits and three walks in nine innings. He has just two strikeouts. The organization compares his stuff to Matt Guerrier, and it’s hard to argue with that comparison. They both have good fastballs, though not overpowering. They have good control. They both have very good curveballs and changeups. The comparison is fair, but Manship has done little pitching out of the bullpen in his career. He has the stuff to do it well.

Pat Neshek: People talk about Neshek and his velocity. It is seemingly the biggest story. On Thursday, he hit 89. He also has a good changeup and slider. To me, it’s more about pitch movement and mixing up speeds. He has given up three runs on six hits and a walk in 6.1 innings. Of the six hits, three have been home runs. If Neshek makes the team and is given the opportunity to continue to gain strength by pitching in low-leverage situations, he can play a big role in the Twins bullpen as he has in the past.

Jim Hoey: Hoey came over from the Orioles in the JJ Hardy trade. He throws hard, touching 99 mph. As we know, it’s all about throwing strikes for him. If he can harn the velocity, he can be dominant. That is yet to be seen. He has given up five runs on seven hits and four walks in 6.2 innings.

Glen Perkins: Perkins is out of options. He’s left-handed and can’t get left-handed batters out. He really struggled last year. The year before, he got off to a great start and then was hurt most of the season. The year before that, he was a double-digit winner for the Twins. Clearly the Minnesota native has some stuff. He’s left-handed, throws hard, has a good slider and he is breathing. Did I mention that he is out of options? That may be the biggest factor at the end of the day. However, for what it is worth, this spring he has given up two runs on seven hits and two walks in seven innings.

Scott Diamond: He was the Twins Rule 5 pick in December which means that he has to stay on the Twins roster throughout the 2011 season or be offered back to the Braves. Although he has given up just one run on six hits in six innings, he has also walked six batters. Twins brass talks about how slowly he has worked, which is something they have not seen in their years of scouting him.

Dusty Hughes: Inexplicably, the Royals designated the southpaw for assignment and the Twins happily claimed him and added him to the 40 man roster. They speak of his four-pitch mix. He has certainly made a strong impression during spring. In eight shutout innings, he has allowed just three hits. He has walked three also, but all three came in his Thursday outing.

Gardy’s Decision: The coaching staff seems quite high on Manship, and everyone is saying great things about Glen Perkins. Hughes has pitched great this spring, but the team needs to determine what happens with Perkins and Diamond before they determine what they will do with Hughes.

If the season started today: Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Dusty Hughes

The Big Picture:

How good can the Twins be if the roster decisions at this point are for the 12th hitter and 11th and 12th pitchers? That isn’t to minimize their roles at all. Each of the 25 players can help the team win games at any time. How large does a small sample need to be (good or bad) to be large enough to mean something? I mean, Dusty Hughes has been amazing through eight innings, but what if he gives up five runs without getting a batter out in his next outing? Luke Hughes has shown great power from the right-side, but what if he strikes out in his next 14 at bats against big league pitchers and commits two errors a day all around the field? The Twins have been disappointed with Scott Diamond and the pace he has shown on the mound this spring. In an interview on 1500espn on Sunday, assistant GM said that it was something they hadn’t seen in their years of scouting him. That scouting led them to love Diamond, so are they really going to let six innings in spring training completely negate what he had done for three minor league seasons before?

What if the Twins keep Dusty Hughes and let Glen Perkins and Scott Diamond go? If Hughes then struggles, two options are gone.

In the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, I included Luke Hughes on my 2011 roster blueprint, as a right-handed bench bat because of his power. He had a great spring last year and was the first non-catching hitter called up. If not for injuries last year, we would likely have seen much more of him. What he has done this spring with the bat is likely taken a job that going into spring training, he was third on the depth chart. Again, he’s crushed it in spring for a role on the Twins bench that may get him six or seven at bats a week, but I do like the bat.

Sprint Training is always fun and interesting, and there are always great stories. To this point in spring, the Hughes Brothers (who of course are not brothers) have both put together strong springs that probably put them on the big league roster. With two weeks to go, what are the other stories of spring to follow? Are any other jobs up for grabs? What are your thoughts?

Here are some other notes and blogs to peruse:

That’s it for today! Have a great weekend! If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions.

Spring Training: Day 5 (LIVE TWINS CHAT TONIGHT at 7)

16 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

LIVE TWINS CHAT TONIGHT AT 7 – I will answer your Twins-related questions starting at 7:00 p.m. central time tonight. Chat room will open a little early. I’ll answer questions from 7-9 p.m. and then go listen to Fanatic Jack’s Twins Talk podcast at 9. To get an e-mail reminder, join the live chat or read the transcript later, Click Here.

Alright, it is four days later, but I am finally posting my thoughts on my fifth day of viewing spring training. It was the first official practice day of minor league camp. It was the first time that I had ever experienced minor league camp, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to let you know what I saw. I must admit, there was so much going on that it took me awhile just to catch my bearings. So, I will explain what was happening throughout the day. Later, I will talk about some of the players that I saw. I brought a few copies of my Prospect Handbook with and after leaving camp that day, I jotted down a few notes on players that stood out in my mind. Obviously I welcome any questions or comments you may have on any of it.

(Note – Much of this information was posted yesterday on my StarTribune.com TwinsCentric blog, but I have added more player information and more general information on the day.)

For those who have not been to Ft. Myers for spring training, I wanted to post some notes on my observations from the minor league side of the Lee County facilities. To try to paint the picture, Hammond Stadium is the crown jewel of the area. Next to it is a regular sized field where pitchers do Pitchers Fielding Practice and they take batting practice. But as you walk out toward left field of that second field, down a sidewalk, you walk through a gate. Once past the gate, you are in the minor league facilities. There are three full-size fields and an infield-only field. There was a big bullpen area with 10 mounds to throw from. Beyond the mini-field is the minor league clubhouse and training facilities with weight room and batting cage. In the center of the facility is a tall, canopied deck where Twins personnel can sit and oversee the entire minor league facility. It is really a nice facility and a lot happens there.

The minor leaguers had to report on Thursday. On Friday, they took their physicals and all had to run a mile. The goal was to finish in 6:30, and most were right in that neighborhood. Those that finished well better than that included Shooter Hunt, Brad Tippett, Matt Tone, Tony Davis and the incredibly fast, lanky, athletic-looking Adrian Salcedo.

On Saturday, their first official workout took place and I was there for the entire thing. If I write about minor leaguers, it only makes sense for me to see each of them in person, even if just for one day.

When we got to the stadium on Saturday morning, we walked to the big league batting practice field and saw Jim Thome, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel taking batting practice. I watched for a minute before saying, “I am probably the only one in the world that would say, I can watch those guys all season, I’m going to minor league camp.” And I did. I wish I would have waited long enough to notice that Joe Benson was hitting with that group.

When I got to the minor league side of the parking lot and walked through the gates, I saw a LOT of minor leaguers, probably close to 150. They were dispersing over the four fields. As I walked further, I was really, really glad that they were in uniforms with the players’ names on them! Having written so much about most of those players, it was great to be able to see them in person. Of course, walking to the first field I passed, the mini-field, the first pitcher I noticed had the name of “Von Stessel” on his back. How is it possible that the first player I see, I do not know anything about. (I later found out that he is from Australia. He had played in the Phillies organization for a couple of years before leaving the game due to some family issues. He got himself back in shape and the Twins are giving him a second chance.)

In the early sessions, there was a lot of pitcher work. They broke into AAA, AA, Hi-A, Low-A, etc., and went to stations at the various fields. On the mini-field, they worked with infielders on pick off plays. On the next field, the worked on taking ground balls and throwing to second base, and they covered first base on grounders to the right side. On the other field, they fielded bunts and fake-threw to 1B. Then in the bullpen a group of pitchers would work with a catcher and pitch for 10 minutes before a second group of pitchers would do the same. They would then switch stations. Switching between stations every 20 minutes or so covered a lot of the morning. During that time, there was a group of infielders working with Paul Molitor and others taking ground balls on the other field. Outfielders were on one field working on covering ground balls, fielding them and making good throws. On other field, outfielders were working on instinct skills.

Around 11:30 eastern time, I was a guest on the Dez Says Inside Pitch podcast to talk about spring training and my observations. I’m sure you could tell how much I enjoyed it. Part way through the interview, some pitchers were running between stations, and as I was talking, Dakota Watts stuck out his hand and we shook hands as he ran by and I continued the podcast.

Later in the day, the pitchers had to run two 300-yard shuttle runs. That didn’t look like much fun at all. At that time, the hitters broke into groups again. On the three full fields, they took batting practice in two groups in two ten-minute sessions. I would watch two or three rounds on one field and then go to the next, and went around for about eight sessoins worth of hitters. I do believe that I saw at least two rounds from every hitter in the organization.

To be honest, all of this going on was a little (or a lot!) overwhelming at first, but as the day went on, I developed a bit of a plan and strategy.

Here are some brief observations on various players that stood out:

I get a lot of grief, fair or not, about writing about the high-profile prospects more sometimes than others. I really try not to, but I have to say that there is often a reason for talking about those guys, and that is very true about two of the Twins top prospects.

Aaron Hicks – I saw him around the ballpark throughout the week and he was there early and working out on the back fields. The first thing I noticed was that he was significantly bigger than a year ago when I saw him in Beloit. His arms are huge. He is still really, really fast. Most impressively though is that the strength shows in his swing. Everything he hit was on a line to the gaps. He showed terrific power, and did a nice job in centerfield. He was the most impressive prospect that I saw and I feel more strongly about the Twins being wise in keeping him rather than dealing him.

Miguel Sano – He may not have great speed. He may or may not have a position to play defensively. He certainly couldn’t bunt. But the ball comes off of his bat different. It makes that ‘different sound’ that we hear about. He was able to do those “little things” like the hit-and-run swings and such, but when he let loose, he hit the ball really, really hard. He hit some balls a long, long way. He has big legs and is very strong. I shook his hand at one point, and it was Adrian Peterson-like (no, I’ve never shaken AP’s hand, but I hear so much about it). Sano has the world of potential.

A lot of other guys stood out too, even from just one day of practice watching. Please note that it is just one day, and obviously what players are able to do in game situations over the course of the season matters more, but it was a terrific opportunity to get a first glance. Here are some comments:

  • Nick Lockwood – took ground balls at both 2B and SS, and even at 3B, but will likely end up at 2B. He’s not a big guy, but everything he hit was hit with authority, on a line and from gap to gap. He even hit a couple of balls out of the park.
  • Jose Gonzalez – He does have the Mijares-like gut, but he can flat-out throw the baseball. He’s not very tall either (listed at 5-9), but he has good secondary pitches, and quickness off the mound. His minor league numbers are incredible, and I think he throws a little harder than touted.
  • Martire Garcia – Very little guy, also not tall, but he throws hard and left handed. Control and consistency has been his problem, but clearly he has some stuff.
  • Ben Tootle and Matt Bashore – the key note here is that both were pitching off of the mound on Day 1. Tootle has a crazy leg kick in his delivery that is fun to watch, but he does throw hard. Bashore was throwing fastballs at probably 90% and he was not throwing the curveball hard. Really just spinning them. Both have a bunch of potential as high picks, but it was good to see that both were throwing.
  • It was great to see Paul Kelly taking ground balls at shortstop. I believe that he would be the Twins regular shortstop today if injuries had not derailed the majority of the last four years of his career. He’s tall and lanky, smooth fielder and a good, line drive swing. I would just like to see him stay healthy for a full season.
  • 2010 late-round pick Derek Christensen was throwing a bullpen session. He throws from just below a 3/4 delivery, and his fastball tails in on a right-handed batter. Even more impressive was a slider that was sharp and broke well over a foot.
  • Dakota Watts, who was clocked at 99 mph last year in Ft. Myers, definitely throws hard. Steve Blevins, who has never been touted as a real hard thrower, was also throwing very hard, but he also had a very sharp slider.
  • Shooter Hunt – The guy throws hard. He’s got a decent changeup, and his curveball is as good as it is touted. It is sharp and moves a lot. He did throw one pitch that went over the fence behind his catcher, and bounced on the dugout of a connecting field. Man, it would be huge if he could overcome his control issues because there is so much talent there.
  • Daniel Ortiz has great power potential. After missing all of the 2009 season with a knee injury, he hit 11 homers last year in Elizabethton including eight of them in August. He has amazing power despite being really tiny. The ball just jumps off of his bat.
  • Oswaldo Arcia, who was the Appalachian League MVP a year ago, was hitting balls all over the field and over the fence both ways. Incredible power!
  • I was talking with GCL coach and former big leaguer Milt Cuyler was very nice and talked to me for awhile. As a rookie in 1991, Cuyler stole 41 bases for the Detroit Tigers. While pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, he had his outfielders standing in against them. He was explaining to them that how they take pitches is important in how they take pitches and swing during games. Specifically he was talking about balance and weight shift. It was interesting and he used Angel Morales as a ‘perfect example’ of what a hitter should do. Max Kepler did it a little different and yet Cuyler says it is also a good approach. There was another player whose weight was shifting strange and his hip had pulled out that was an example of the opposite. Very interesting conversation.
  • Roy Larson signed as a non-drafted free agent following last season out of the University of St. Thomas. He did a nice job at 3B. He is tall and has very quick hands through the zone.
  • Former Gopher and Minnesotan Nate Hanson put on a power display during his round of batting practice!

EXTRA NOTES FOR SETHSPEAKS.NET READERS

Here are some additional notes that I did not include in the startribune.com blog due to length, timing or remembering:

  • Tom Stuifbergen (and Miguel Sano) really struggled with the mile run. On Saturday morning, I watched Stuifbergen pitch a bullpen session. Afterward, he was getting a drink of water and I said, “Stuif, I much prefer watching you pitch than run.” He laughed and said, “I could have told you that!”
  • I had the chance to talk to Allan de San Miguel, one of the really good people. It was funny, we talked a little about baseball, but we talked as much about his engagement and plans and such.
  • Soon after, I talked to Dan Rohlfing, another really good guy. He is also one of the more vocal catchers, encouraging the pitchers.
  • The Twins picked Nick Alloway in the 35th round last year out of junior college. He is 6-4 and 225 pounds. He throws hard, touching 95 mph. That was easy to see, but he also has a very sharp slider that looked impressive in the bullpen.
  • Chris Cates may be baseball’s shortest player (listed at a generous 5-3), but it is clear that his teammates respect him incredibly. At the same time, the loose group also enjoys laughing. While Cates was running the mile, someone shouted, “Long strides, CC.”
  • Brian Dozier was in big league camp, but in one batting practice session, I saw him launching some baseballs over the left field fence, so he just might have some pop in his bat.
  • Toby Gardenhire is a very well-respected player, almost coach-like on the field. He leads people, no question about that. He was playing all over the infield, including 1B at times. He hits line drives in BP.
  • Niko Goodrum is still very skinny, although bigger than a year ago, I guess. He switch-hits, and does have some pop in his bat. He has a ways to go. Caught him signing to himself while running between fields.
  • Heard on Tuesday that David Gutierrez, 2010 draft pick and the younger brother of Carlos, decided to hang up the cleats.
  • Brett Jacobson throws pretty hard and has a good curveball. He also has a fairly deceptive delivery with an interesting knee-bend that could throw some hitters off and help hide the ball. I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of it, but if he’s good, it’s all good.
  • Max Kepler was unable to run for some reason, but he was able to hit and he did have a nice, smooth swing and exhibited good power.
  • Kelvin Mention is strong and stocky and showed very good power. Meanwhile, his high school teammate and fellow 2010 Twins draft pick JD Williams hit everything straight up into the batting cage from the left and right side of the plate. Obviously nothing to worry about at this point.
  • Derrick Phillips is a big guy and looks very strong. He left the batting cage saying, “Man, I can’t hit a line drive to save my life.” It is a big year for him as he is not able to play in the rookie leagues. He will have to make the Beloit roster.
  • Jorge Polanco certainly didn’t impress offensively last year as a 17 year old in the GCL, but he does have a very nice, line drive swing. And, the reports on his defense certainly seem apt\ at this point.
  • Danny Rams was impressive. Not only did he have the two hard-hit doubles on Tuesday afternoon, but he ‘just-missed’ a couple of curveballs, fouling them off. Hopefully that is a positive sign. He did a nice job behind the plate too.
  • Bruce Pugh looks like a pitcher. Long and lanky, and in the bullpen, it is clear that he does throw very hard.
  • We talk about how the ball comes off of the bat and say that it ‘makes a different sound.” I’m not completely certain if I fully hear that difference, but the ball does come off of the bat of Nate Roberts really, really well. The High Point alum really was impressive in the batting cage. I don’t pretend to be a hitting coach, but mechanically, he looked very sound.
  • Eddie Rosario looks like he is about 18 years old. Oh yeah, he is. But he does have a pretty swing. He’s just got a lot of room to grow!
  • Spencer Steedley was a full participant in the PFP work which tells me that he is recovering well from his elbow surgery last summer that cost him the majority of his 2010 season.
  • Kennys Vargas is a big kid with tremendous power from both side of the plate. He does need to improve his bat speed though if he wants to catch up with fastballs.
  • Romy Trinidad played for the Twins DSL team the last couple of years. He looks to be a solid (small) player. Hit a lot of line drives and runs well. Similar to Candido Pimental.
  • Kelvin Ortiz was my #2 Twins DSL prospect in the Prospect Handbook. He’s stocky but he has a tremendous opposite field swing from the right side. Very strong. Big power potentially.

How’s that? Enough very brief mini-scouting reports? There were a lot more players that stood out to me in my one day. Again, I fully acknowledge that guys can have good days, or that there are some guys who look great in batting practice or the bullpen and it doesn’t carry over into games. There are other guys who don’t Wow you in practice and just consistently get the job done in games. If you have any questions about players, please feel free to ask. I will also be hosting a Live Twins chat on Wednesday night for people to ask questions as well.

Although Nick and Topper had left by about noon, I stayed until the end of practice. I got a ride back down to Naples and although I was dropped off at the beach they said they would be at, I had a ten minute walk along the Gulf of Mexico to get to where they were (believe me… not complaining!). We went do downtown Naples that night and ate at a great place call Yabba (also on LaVelle’s recommendation list). We met a couple of Twitter friends at the Irish Pub next door.

Sunday morning was early again. I had a 7:40 a.m. flight, but it was direct, so I was back in the cities by about 11. Went to Buffalo Wild Wings with my siblings and then some shopping before falling asleep for 4 hours. Yikes! Work has been rough the last two days, but that was expected. It was a great trip. Saw a lot of baseball, hung out with great people, met a lot of great people and really just had a tremendous time. I hope you’ve enjoyed my notes from Ft. Myers… Now back to the grind… Just over two weeks until opening day. Mauer and Morneau are both in the lineup today and all is right. Just gotta get Cuddyer back in the lineup!

If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions.

Spring Training: Day 4

14 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

To all, I want to apologize for not posting regular updates over the weekend. Those were the two days that I spent the most time at the ball park, in the sun, and frankly, was exhausted by the time we got back. That said, I still went out to enjoy some dinners. And then I flew back on Sunday, went to my sister’s, went out to eat with her and my brother, shopped at a couple of places, went back to my sister’s place, fell asleep on the couch and fell asleep for the next four hours. When I got up, I rushed to the hotel room, did some work that I meant to complete while on vacation and by then I was ready to fall asleep again. I don’t want to consolidate two blog entries into one, so I will post the Day 4 and Day 5 separately so it doesn’t get too long.

Before we get started on Day 4, here are a couple of topics for you to peruse throughout the day:

  • First, according to LaVelle Neal, the Twins sent 14 players back to minor league camp this morning. Among those sent across the parking lot to the minor league complex were top prospects Kyle Gibson, Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and David Bromberg. All made very strong impressions at big league camp and solidified themselves as prospects who will get time with the Twins. Gibson and Bromberg were not really in the mix for a big league starting spot, and so it is time to send them back so that they can get stretched out so they are prepared for the start of their seasons. The others sent back were Anthony Swarzak, Erik Hacker, and Rene Tosoni from the 40 man roster. Yorman Bazardo, Jair Fernandez, Chris Herrmann, Ray Chang, Brian Dozier and Justin Huber were non-roster invitees that were sent down.
  • In Florida, I hung out primarily with Topper Anton and Nick Nelson, so be sure to check out their websites for any of their thoughts on the trip. But it was also great to meet so many of you. We met a few guys from North Dakota and chatted with them each day. We met some others who recognized us (and bought us a beverage) and then hung out with them at various times. It was great to meet Greg Lehmann and his wife. I met a lot of people. It was really terrific to be down there and even to be recognized by a few people.
  • Parker Hageman from Over The Baggy was also in Ft. Myers last week. We saw him at the ballpark on Tuesday. Today, he posted some Twins Notes as well, including his observations on David Bromberg and Deolis Guerra.

Day 4 (Friday)

Day 4 began a little bit late. Nick, Topper and I got to the stadium around 10:15. Immediately, we were able to get some tickets to the day’s game, so that was a relief. When we got to the field, we immediately ran into Ed Thoma who writes the tremendous Baseball Outsider blog for the Mankato Free Press although that is only a very, very small part of his job for the newspaper. He has been doing a great job looking at the various bullpen candidates lately, but he is just a great baseball man. He is very knowledgeable. He was spending time down there with his wife, and it was just a great chance to meet him.

While there, we watched batting practice for awhile and ran into some others we had met. We went by the batting cage under Hammond Stadium and saw Denard Span hitting line drive after line drive and Delmon Young just destroying baseballs into the screen. Danny Lehmann was working by himself with a pitching machine, taking swings and hitting line drives back up the middle for what seemed like an hour.

Brian Dozier, Jose Mijares and Trevor Plouffe all signed for fans on there way between the batting practice field and the stadium. Paul Molitor was there, talking to an old friend from his time with the Brewers. Gardy was on the practice field, spending a good ten minutes just talking to a few of the fans and answering questions.

Of course, then I wanted to walk down to minor league camp. They reported Thursday. On Friday morning, they had their physicals, and then they had to do the one-mile run. It is an annual first day of minor league camp thing, just to see where the guys are. They were broken into four groups of pitchers and four groups of hitters based on minor league level or work group that they are starting in. First up was the Rochester pitchers, then the New Britain pitchers and so on. Coaches and teammates cheer them on and encourage. Or, sometimes they mock and ridicule. It was quite interesting to observe. I mean, I’m not one to watch people run. There is no way I’d ever watch a one-mile track meet event. But it was interesting to listen to the interaction and for me, to try to put names to faces that I’ve read about and written so much about. They were mainly in Twins shorts and shirts, no names, so it was much more difficult than you would think.

The general observation is that many of the players just look so young and so small, smaller than you assume based on what we see in the big leagues. Of course, it’s also important to remember that these players are primarily 17 to 21 year olds, and you can see just how young many of them are. It is also interesting to note that some of the players come in very much ready for the mile run, and others don’t do it at all throughout the offseason. While I was watching, I noticed a gentleman who was observing and looking at his watch from time to time. I asked him if he had a son playing or something. He said No, that he was an agent and just watching. His name was Rich Thompson and he had played 13 seasons of professional baseball in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.  He made his big league debut and went 3-8 with a 6.30 ERA in 57 games for Cleveland in 1985. He then resurfaced as a 30 year old in 1989 with the Expos and posted a 2.18 ERA in 19 more games. He pitched a scoreless inning for the Expos in 1990, his last time in the big leagues.

He told me that when he played, they ran the mile and if they didn’t finish under 6 minutes, they had to do it again the next day until they did achieve that mark. While watching the Twins minor leaguers run the mile, they were encouraged and the goal was 6:30.Most finished within about 10-15 seconds of that mark, but probably less than a handful achieved the six minute mark. Three guys really stood out. Matt Tone and Tony Davis both finished at about 5:30 seconds. Brad Tippett and Shooter Hunt ran it very quickly. Adrian Salcedo finished at about 5:15 and he was pretty much sprinting around the field. While Tone and Davis are not tall, Salcedo is long and lanky, with very long arms and legs.

It was fun just to be there and try to recognize faces. As someone told me later, “Tomorrow (Saturday), we’ll wear uniforms with our names on the back just for you.” I appreciate that!

At that point, it was time to get to Hammond Stadium as the Twins-Red Sox game was about to get started. I got inside just as Brian Duensing was throwing his first pitches to Jacoby Ellsbury. I met Nick and Topper at our seats which were nearly behind home plate, and in the second level, but a great view. Duensing looked very good through two innings at which time I tweeted, “DuensingForCY.” I went to go find a high school friend who was at the game, so I missed most of the third inning when he got hit around a little bit.

Being there for Justin Morneau’s first at bat in a semi-official game since last July was pretty neat. When his name was announced, he got a very nice standing ovation which was great to see. Sure, he struck out against Jon Lester, but that really didn’t matter. Other notes from that game:

  • The Twins had a long inning against Jonathan Papelbon in the middle innings. In fact, Papelbon got just one out before being replaced. Jeff Manship was warming up the whole time. Manship came in and after a leadoff single, he got a quick double play and a strikeout. Despite a lack of pitches, I assumed he would be done because of all of the time in the bullpen. Instead, he came out for a second inning and had another very quick inning. It was great to see him pitch well after struggling on Tuesday. In fact, after the game, I was walking out of the stadium and he was out there in street clothes chatting with some friends or family. He saw me approaching and called me over. He said, “I’m glad you got to see that outing and not just Tuesday’s game!” I laughed and asked if he was surprised to go out there for the second inning after warming up for a week and a half. We chatted for just a few minutes, but it was good to talk to him again on such a positive note.
  • The single off of Manship was for David Ortiz. When he got to 1st base, he started chopping Jeff Bailey’s back, like a massage. Of course, the two spent a lot of time together as teammates in the Red Sox system. Bailey was up three times, and they certainly spent spring trainings together.
  • Carlos Gutierrez got to pitch an inning. I don’t trust the Hammond Stadium radar gun. For most of this day, fastballs were not touching 90, so when Gutierrez’s fastball was saying 92 mph, we took notice.
  • He was helped by a tremendous play by catcher Danny Lehmann. With a runner on first and two outs, Gutierrez threw one in the dirt. When it bounced, the runner took off for 2nd base, but Lehmann had backhanded it, and it popped right into his right hand. He made a strong throw to second base, and after way too many throws, he was tagged out.
  • Kyle Waldrop came in for the 9th inning of the 3-2 lead, and he struck out the side. He has never been a big strikeout pitcher, but he dominated in that inning.
  • Ben Revere showed his speed. In this game, he bunted down the third base line, and although the third baseman was playing in, he got a single when the 3B didn’t field the ball. His game-changing kind of speed is noticeable in that it forces the defense to make plays. Later, he was on second base and easily stole third. Finally, when he was on 3B, he scored easily on a medium deep fly ball to left field. Coupled with the play he made on Tuesday, diving in the left centerfield gap, he is very close. I still think he needs to continue his development, but it’s good to know that if there is an injury in LF or CF, he can come up and contribute.

Friday night ended by going to Fernandez the Bull for supper. It is a Cuban restaurant in Naples. Although Nick Nelson finds it to be the greatest restaurant in the history of the world, I found it to be just OK. After dinner, we went to a place and listened to some karaoke for awhile. Then headed back to get a little bit of sleep before another long day on Saturday.

Later, I will post my thoughts and experiences from Saturday which was a very long, but very great day. I was at minor league camp from about 10:30 until 3 and tried to see everyone do everything (which was impossible with almost 150 players, but I tried). If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions.

Spring Training: Day 3 (No Baseball)

10 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

Day 3 of Spring Training involved no baseball (which hopefully means that Day 4 – Friday – will be about a 9-5 day at the ball park, at least if we can find some tickets) whatsoever. Is it weird that I feel a little bit guilty about that? Cuz I do! We had looked at the weather report for Thursday and it said 40% chance of rain. When I woke up around 8:00, it was sunny and looking out over the ocean, the skies were blue. Picturesque might be a very appropriate word. Occasionally I would hear a little rumbling, but thought nothing of it. Well, soon after, the sky turned grain, the clouds became ominous and those loud rumbling, often cracking, sounds became more frequent. The skies opened up and it was absolutely pouring. In fact, at one point, the rain was coming down so hard and in such big water clumps that they appeared white, almost like snow. I thought to myself that I really like rain better than snow right now. Granted, in northern Minnesota, the last rainfall may have been in October, but it was enjoyable to watch that storm and the waves of the Gulf of Mexico.

We had decided that since we didn’t have tickets and a game might not even be played, we just wouldn’t go to Ft. Myers. In reality, it may have been the right choice. The game was delayed by a little over an hour and I’m sure the conditions were wet. And, it sounds like things didn’t go great for the Twins, although Luke Hughes continues to hit the ball well and Joe Nathan seems to be quite impressive. That said, I still would have loved to have been there. Instead, it was a nice, relaxing morning, a trip to CiCi’s Pizza for the lunch buffet, and driving around Naples. We decided that with the weather, we would see a movie. We went to the Bourne Adjustment. You may see its ads on TV for The Adjustment Bureau. It was actually a pretty solid movie, a thinker of sorts with some action and the occasional bit of comic relief. I really enjoyed the premise of the movie, to be sure. I liked it until the end, but of course, I won’t discuss further here.  

We got back, checked on a few things, and then hit the Jacuzzi. Sure, it is cool and breezy for Floridians today, but we are from Minnesota, so it was awesome to sit out there for awhile. Now, we will have to figure out a plan for tonight. Last night we hit one of LaVelle’s choices in his Ft. Myers food guide (Michelbob’s), and tonight we are going to try another one, possibly followed by a little mini-golf! After that… we shall see… and then we will determine if we (as in me) will write about it! Ha!

Then go back to the beginning of this where I pointed out that I plan to be at the ballpark the next couple of days by 9:00 in the morning! The Twins play the Red Sox at 1, and hopefully we will be able to get in. The minor leaguers have their physicals tomorrow and hopefully many of them will stick around for awhile and workout on the fields, or at least come and talk to me! Right? Then they get going full force on Saturday. I really, really would like to be there for that full day!

Be sure to stop by as I do plan a post each day that I am here, so check back tomorrow and Saturday night. If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions or give advice.

Spring Training: Day 2

10 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

Hey all, after a long, exhausting first day of vacation, it was a strange sleep night. I fell asleep typing a couple times, and then I woke up at about 2:35 to use the facilities. Suddenly, I remembered that my alarm was still set to go off at 2:45 a.m. My phone battery was too low to shut it off, so I struggled with it in the dark for almost ten minutes. About a minute before the alarm was to go off, I took the battery out of the phone for a couple of minutes and then re-started it. Took me a while to realize that charging the phone overnight might make sense for a couple of reasons. First, because then when I try to use it, it will work better. Second, because then it isn’t low on battery when I go to the ballpark, so I can take more pictures and spend more time on Twitter. Then, I was up again by 6:45. In the morning. While on vacation. That is so NOT RIGHT!

However, it was alright because Topper Anton and I were able to leave by 8:30 and after a quick Starbucks stop (Strawberry Banana Smoothie and a chocolate chip banana bread slice! YUM!), we arrived at Hammond Stadium by shortly after 9. Tom Kelly was with a group of pitchers doing PFP (Pitcher’s Fielding Practice). It’s the exercise of making a pitch off the mound, and then covering first base. It isn’t exciting, but it is very important and the Twins do it daily. Two pieces of watching that were interesting to me. The first was that not only were grounders hit to first base, where they caught the ball, touched first base and then looked toward home as if a runner was trying to score, but they also covered first base when the second baseman fields the ball. I found it interesting, but occasionally, a grounder will be just out of the reach of the first baseman, the second baseman fields it the pitcher still has to cover. That’s the old coach in me. The other thing that I found interesting, that those reading may find interesting, is that while the pitchers throw the ball to a catcher before covering first base, Anthony Slama did not throw a ball, just made the pitching motion. He looks OK but I have not heard any results yet on his MRI. (According to LaVelle, he has a ‘stress reaction’ in his arm. Remember that Joe Mauer had a stress reaction in his leg two years ago.)

After the pitchers were done, they started running in the outfield and shagging while the catchers were the first round of hitters (Butera, Holm, Lehmann and Huber – not a catcher, but used to be!). Topper sent me a text message from the Twins batting cage under the stadium where Delmon Young and Jim Thome were hitting with Tony Oliva and Ben Revere was working with Rod Carew. By the time I got there, I saw Oliva, Young and Thome talking. Let me restate… Thome was talking and Young and Oliva were taking it all in. It was really neat to watch. Soon after, I went back to the field to watch Thome, Young, Justin Morneau and Ben Revere taking batting practice in a group. It made me laugh when I heard Revere look back at Danny Valencia who was loosening up and say, “You sure you aren’t supposed to be in this group?” Revere hit a lot of line drives while the other three drove baseballs all over the field and many over the fence. But, the last round, they all bunted for hits. Revere’s bunt was perfect. Delmon Young’s was terrific. Morneau’s wasn’t so good. Jim Thome’s left the bat with a thud and would have taken a diving play by a third baseman to keep it from being an opposite field double. Tom Kelly saw it and said, “That’s a big-game player!”

At that point, the next four hitters were Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Jason Repko and Danny Valencia. The Japanese were taking photos and videos of Nishioka the whole time, and Valencia would say funny things and make sure he was in the pictures too. It was funny to watch. At little while later, Valencia was talking to two Japanese media members. He asked them their names and introduced himself. He then said, “So do you guys ever do stories on anyone besides Nishi?” He must have been asked if he had any ideas for who else they should do stories on at which time he said, “Well, Me!” Asked what they should say about him, Valencia said, “It’d be awesome if you promoted my Twitter account. @DannyValencia19… Danny Valencia One-Nine. I want to get one-million Twitter followers in Japan.”

A few minutes later, he came over and said Hi and we chatted for a minute in between rounds of BP.

I then walked back over to the minor league facilities. Several pitchers were throwing bullpens. Tommy Watkins was throwing batting practice. When I got there, Aaron Hicks was stepping into the batting cage. He took all of his swings right-handed. I started thinking I was seeing something there. Had Hicks become just a right-handed batter? He was hitting the ball hard. Hitting some home runs, driving the ball into gaps, and hitting line drives all over the field. A bit later, newly acquired Twins reliever Brett Jacobson took the mound. The right-hander throws pretty hard. He has a good curveball. When Hicks stepped in, he batted left-handed, so I have no scoop. When Jacobson threw strikes, Hicks hit the ball well. In fact, Hicks hit one liner right back at Jacobson who did make the catch.   

Quick note on Aaron Hicks, he is huge. Since last year, he has gotten bigger. His arms are huge. He looks really strong and his swing continues to be very smooth. Left-handed or right-handed, he hit a lot of line drives and also drove the ball.

Other notes from the minor league fields:

  • Rory Rhodes is tall and young… and really talented. He isn’t real big, but obviously at 6-7, he has the frame to gain a lot more strength. He has a strong swing and can hit the ball a long ways. Hopefully he can stay healthy so that we can see if he can produce some big numbers at Elizabethton.
  • Steve Singleton took ground balls at both second base and shortstop. Very smooth glove, very natural, and a terrific swing. I had an opportunity to chat with him a little bit before and then again after their on-field workout. He has been working out at the Twins complex since October.
  • Wang-Wei Lin and Hyeong-rok Choi hit in the same group. Lin is a left-handed batter. Choi is right-handed. Both were impressive in BP and showed very good power.
  • Max Kepler is a big kid. I didn’t see him hit, but he looked pretty natural out in centerfield. He also took some throws at 1B and was fine.

It was about 11:30. I went back to the stadium to meet up with Topper. I was on KFAN at about 11:00 with Paul Allen. Before then, I went into Hammond Stadium and sat down in the lower section, watching the grounds crew work on the field. It may sound corny, but it was actually very much enjoyable to watch. I conducted the PA interview from there. At that point, we left.

We went to a beach bar for lunch down in Naples. Had some fish and chips, and then walked along the beach for a bit. For dinner, we went to Michelbob’s and got ribs. The food was incredible. BBQ Ribs and chicken. Yum! Did you know that Michelbob’s ribs are available at Target Field in the State Fair Classic stand out in centerfield?

That, my friends, was Spring Training Day #2 in a nutshell. It is very possible that I will not be partaking in any baseball-related activities on Thursday. There are expected to be some rain showers in the morning and early afternoon in Ft. Myers, so we may find some other activities to do. No idea what that would be, but I’m on vacation, so I’m sure it’ll be fun. If you like, please feel free to comment, ask questions or give advice.

Training Camp: Day 1

9 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

Radio Notes – I was on ESPN 99.1’s Sports Buffet show in Sioux Falls, SD, yesterday. Today, I am scheduled to be on KFAN, its affiliates and KFAN.com with Paul Allen at about 10:55. Check it out if you are able.

As I type this, I must admit that I am absolutely exhausted. It has been one of the longest days of my life. Literally. I said when I made this Ft. Myers trek, that I would post things from the trip here on this blog. Some of you have been to Ft. Myers for Twins training camp. Others haven’t. So hopefully everyone will enjoy this information.

I am not a morning person, at all. I would love to be able to sleep in every morning. However, as you know, I made arrangements that included a 5:20 a.m. Tuesday morning flight out of Minneapolis airport. Why? Because then I could get to Ft. Myers in time for Tuesday afternoon’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I left the tip-top of Minnesota at about 2:00 on Monday afternoon, and I got to my sister’s place in the cities at about 9:30. Was I smart enough to go right to sleep? Of course not. I mean, I had to watch Skins on MTV, and then there was a fascinating Beyond the Music on VH1 on Nelly. Very entertaining. Very informational. But sleep may have been good considering the alarm was set for 2:45 a.m.

However, when the alarm went off, I only hit snooze two times. I was packed up and left there by 3:30, and I was at the airport by 4:00. Now, I was thinking that, even with it being spring break and all, not many would be there at that time. Wrong! The lines were pretty long, but I safely got through security, and got to my gate on time. Even better, the flight was on time, and with the time zone change, we arrived in Atlanta early. That turned out to be a good thing. We arrived at Gate A1, and I walked through the hectic concourse to Gate A32. I got there, scanned my ticket and was on the plane right away.

While waiting, I went on Twitter and saw that Delmon Young was going to be playing in the B game. I was wishing I would have been there a day earlier so I could have seen Kevin Slowey, Kyle Gibson, David Bromberg and Deolis Guerra pitch, with a defense that included Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Rams and the return of Young.

Again, that flight was on time, and we got to Ft. Myers 15 minutes ahead of time.

When I was able to turn my phone on, it was vibrating like crazy with messages from people telling me that Justin Morneau had not only played in the B game, but he had hit a three-run bases clearing triple. I immediately chuckled because 1.) I wish I had been there, and 2.) The Twins were successful in their attempt to keep Morneau’s return quiet. Apparently Morneau has been cleared and in the big picture, it is a tremendous bit of news for the Twins. It will be interesting to see how he feels on Wednesday. Also, Delmon Young walked twice, which is news in its own right, and he apparently ran pain-free. Also very good news.

When I went to baggage, it wasn’t a couple of minutes before I had my bag, and two minutes later Curve for a Strike’s Topper Anton was there to pick me up. We immediately went to the stadium and parked. It was about an hour before the main game, but over on a back field, the B game was still going. We ran into Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman and his DiamondCentric partner James Martin were watching that game. Nick got to the field just as Morneau was sliding into home after a Trevor Plouffe bloop single drove him in. We got there in time to watch Deolis Guerra pitch the bottom of the 9th. Standing behind the scouts with the radar guns, he was hitting 88-90 on his fastball. I keep saying that he just looks like a pitcher. He has great makeup, teammates love him, he has a good fastball, a very good curveball and a terrific changeup. His one problem remains consistency.

Soon after that game finished, we started walking toward the main stadium. Parker and I were walking along the sidewalk when suddenly we heard, “Please move, we’ve already run over a couple today.” We turned to see Gardy on a golf cart behind us. Someone yelled, “What’s your daily quota” to which Gardy responded, “Seven.”

Tom Kelly was taking some of those that played in the B game to another back field and running them through another series of drills.

As I was walking toward the field, I saw David Bromberg over to the side, signing some autographs. I went over, and he was chatting with each person individually. When he saw me, he came over and said, “Hey Seth. Did you just get down here?” I told him the story and then asked if he had thrown in the B-game. He said he threw two scoreless innings, the first he had to work out of a small jam. I know I mentioned previously that Bromberg had lost over 20 pounds in the offseason. He has been working harder, he says, than at any point in his life. The man is on a mission. He knows that he likely won’t break camp, but since he’s on the 40 man roster, if he keeps working, they won’t be afraid to call him up.

I went to Will Call and picked up my ticket for the game and went inside. I ran into Kyle Waldrop’s dad. It was fun to chat with him. I enjoyed the conversation. Here are some other thoughts from the game:

  • Carl Pavano is really, really good. I mean, he is already in mid-season form. He works fast, throws strikes and hits spots better than anyone we’ve seen since Brad Radke. He worked as efficient a four-inning stint as I’ve seen, then went out to the bullpen and threw another 30 pitches before embarking on a pretty impressive running program on a back field.
  • Drew Butera has an absolute cannon for an arm.
  • So does Jason Repko.
  • Pat Neshek was hitting about 84 mph with the fastball, according to the stadium radar gun. Phil Makcey tweeted that it was actually about 86. I was very impressed with his slider at about 81, and with his changeup that came in about 68 mph. He’s close. If he can make up 3-4 mph, he can be very good again. Because of the delivery, I think he can be just fine even at 86.
  • Neshek was helped out of his inning by a Ben Revere catch that I still can’t believe. On a long drive hit to the left-centerfield gap, Revere basically out-ran the ball, and made a dive back toward the warning track to catch the ball. Putting it into words does not do justice to what a play it was.
  • Danny Rams can absolutely crush the ball when he makes contact. He had two doubles in the game that were just ropes. The ‘when he makes contact’ portion of the sentence is his one issue, as we all know. But if it is something he can get even a little bit better at, Rames has incredible power potential. And defensively, he continues to improve and show a very strong arm.
  • Matt Tolbert started at 1B and did OK there. However, that is reason #42 why having Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer back is so important!
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka. I only saw a couple of at bats and four or five plays on defense, but I have no concerns about him. I really like his swings (left handed and right handed), and defensively, he is very smooth at second base.

Following the game, we did go to Pott’s Sports Bar which is literally just around the block from Hammond Stadium. Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and I represented TwinsCentric with Topper Anton. Steve Lien from Get Up for Twins Baseball was also there. It was very fun to meet several Twins fans there including Danny Lehman’s aunt and uncle. Phil Mackey and Tom Pelissero from 1500espn were able to join us as well. It was also great to meet Ft. Myers play-by-play guru Alex Margulies and also Gary Sharp from the Miracle in person. It was a lot of fun, and we may be doing something similar later in the week.

Had a very nice dinner, checked out some boats in Naples, and walked along the beach of the Gulf of Mexico and saw a few crabs on the water line. All in all, a terrific first day down here. Again, now I’m looking forward to the four days that don’t involve extended travel.

The Twins travel up to Sarasota on Wednesday. We’re not going, but we are going to spend the morning at the ballpark, watching whoever is there. Big leaguers that aren’t traveling will be there, and I know a lot of minor leaguers will be there too as their camp is set to open by week’s end. I plan to be back again later today or tonight with another update.

It should be a fun rest of the week. And yes, I will be sure to wear lots of sunscreen! Please feel free to comment, ask questions or give advice.

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