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Friday Game Notes

9 Apr

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Happy Saturday morning! The Twins opened up Target Field with their home opener for 2011 on Friday afternoon. The weather could not have been better. Joe Mauer took his rightful spot in the #2 spot in the lineup. Luke Hughes got to the stadium on time and was in the starting lineup, batting 8th and playing 2B. He went 0-3 but listening on the radio, he hit a ball that got John Gordon excited late in the game (it was, of course, caught on or near the warning track.) Carl Pavano probably couldn’t have been better. The Twins recorded a late win thanks to two runs in the bottom of the 8th and held on for a 2-1 win. Emotions were heavy when following the 8th inning rally, the drum beat from Stand Up and Shout started and Joe Nathan ran in from the bullpen to take the mound for the first time at Target Field. He came through though, notching his third save in as many attempts.

The Twins bats didn’t show up, again, but I’m one to credit the opponents’ pitchers too. Brett Anderson may not be a household name to some, but take a moment and check out his numbers sometime. He’s good.

I made half of the trek down to the Twin Cities on Friday night, and I will make my way down to Target Field on Saturday for my first Twins game of the season. I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes in person. Hopefully I will see many of you at the game. We’ll also get to see Nick Blackburn for the Twins and another one of my favorite young pitchers, Gio Gonzalez, for the A’s.

Below are game notes and highlights from the Twins affiliates’ Friday night games. Again, my plan is to post highlights, extra base hits and pitching performances throughout the season. I’ll also discuss some notes when applicable. Please feel free to share topic ideas or notes with me. If you have any articles on Twins prospects in their local papers, notes or more, please feel free to e-mail me.

By the way, it is also Saturday morning, so you will want to go to Twinkie Town for Roger’s Minor League Report.

SethSpeaks.net Minor League Hitter of the DayBrian Dozier, Ft. Myers Miracle

Seth Speaks.net Minor League Pitcher of the DayEric Hacker, Rochester Red Wings

Red Wings Ramblings

Friday – Red Wings 7, Pawtucket 2 – Starting pitching was the problem for the Red Wings in 2010. Through (admittedly just) two games in 2011, it has been a strength. Eric Hacker was perfect one time through the batting order. The right-hander through five shutout innings, allowing just two hits, no walks and striking out five. Carlos Gutierrez came in and struggled. In his one inning, he gave up two runs on two hits and two walks. Jim Hoey worked two scoreless innings and struck out four while walking just one. He gave up two hits. Despite a hit, a walk and a hit batter, Kyle Waldrop got a ground ball double play to end the game without the Paw Sox scoring on him.

The bats showed up for the Red Wings as well, led by Trevor Plouffe. The Twins shortstop went 3-5 with a double, a home run and three RBI. Steve Holm not only did a great job of helping the pitchers, but he was 2-3 with a walk. Dustin Martin was 2-4 with a walk, a triple and a stolen base. Brian Dinkelman had two doubles in five at bats. Rene Tosoni added a double. Ben Revere got the scoring started with a bases loaded single in the second inning that scored two.   

On Saturday afternoon, the Red Wings will play their home opener with Kyle Gibson on the mound.

Rock Cats Report

Friday – Rock Cats 7, Richmond 1 – Have I mentioned that I heart “IHeartRadio?” Cuz I do. I was able to listen to the Richmond broadcast of this game.

It is obviously a big year for Deolis Guerra. The 21-year-old will be out of options at the end of this season. As he did a year ago, he made a great start in his season debut. The right-hander gave up just three hits and a walk in five scoreless innings. He struck out two. Cole DeVries came in and was perfect for three innings, including five strikeouts. Tyler Robertson gave up a run on two hits in the 9th, and even the outs were hit hard. Chris Parmelee led the way for the Rockcats with a 3-5 day. Joe Benson was 2-5 as well. Yangervis Solarte and Evan Bigley were each 2-5 with a double. Michael Hollimon got things started with a long, two-run homer for the Rock Cats in the 5th inning that made it 2-0.

Bobby Lanigan will make his season debut for New Britain tonight.

Miracle Matters

Friday – Miracle 5, Jupiter 1 – Brian Dozier is doing a great job of showing fans of the Twins minor league fans that he was worthy of that non-roster invite to big league camp. In this game, Dozier went 4-5 with his first homer of the year, three runs scored and a stolen base. Chris Herrmann was 2-4 with a walk. James Beresford was 2-4. Nick Romero was 0-2 with three walks. Miguel Munoz got the start and he gave up just one run on two hits in 5.2 innings. He did allow four walks with just one strikeout. Edgar Ibarra got the next four outs, three of them on strikeouts. Shooter Hunt made his 2011 debut and in two innings, he gave up no runs on one hit, one walk and on strikeout.  

Tom Stuifbergen will be on the mound tonight for the Miracle. The team will again play Jupiter although it will be in Ft. Myers.

Snappers Bites

Friday – Snappers 4, Quad Cities 7 – The Snappers’ season started a day late, and one could argue that much of the team might have missed the memo. BJ Hermsen made the start and in 5.1 innings, he gave up four runs but none of them were earned. He did give up seven hits, but the night was full of errors for the Snappers. They committed five errors in this game. Clinton Dempster got the final two outs of the 6th inning. Manuel Soliman pitched a scoreless seventh inning with a walk and two strikeouts. Jose Gonzalez came in and gave up three runs (2 earned) on two hits and a walk and got just two outs in the 8th inning. Ryan O’Rourke got a strikeout to end the inning. Danny Ortiz inexplicably batted ninth, but he had two of the team’s five hits including his first home run of the year and two RBI. Oswaldo Arcia went 1-3 with a walk and an RBI double. Here are some of the not-so-pretty season debuts: Danny Santana went 0-5 with four strikeouts and committed two errors. Josmile Pinto went 0-4 with four strikeouts. Lance Ray was 0-4 with three strikeouts. Andy Leer had one hit in four at bats, and then struckout three times.  

The Snappers will play a double header this afternoon. Adrian Salcedo will make one of the starts. The second starter is not yet determined.  

Feel free to leave your thoughts, questions or comments.

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Roster Projections: Rochester Red Wings

29 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Step 1: Finalize 2011 Minnesota Twins roster – Check.

Step 2: Find a way to keep Scott Diamond in the organization – Check.

Step 3: Configure that 2011 Triple-A Rochester Red Wings 24-man roster – In progress.

Now that the Twins have set their own roster, what does it mean for the Triple-A team? After the Red Wings lost nearly 100 games last year, the Twins went out and acquired a lot of minor league veterans. They did this for a few reasons, but the primary one had to be to win more games and keep the Rochester fan base happy. Secondly, it does allow the Twins to be more patient with actual prospects so that they can play and develop at the proper pace. So, let’s take a look at a projected Red Wings roster. These are the guys who could be called up at any time to play for the Twins if needed. I will include whether or not they are on the Twins 40 man roster because if they are not, they will need to be added before being called up.)

(the below roster is my opinion and my guesses, and nothing official.)

Catchers: Rene Rivera (40 man – No) – Steve Holm (40 man – No) 

With Wilson Ramos with the Nationals and Jose Morales with the Rockies, the Twins went out and acquired two minor league veterans, each with Major League service time and many years of AAA experience. Danny Lehmann impressed in spring training and although I believe he will start at AA New Britain, he is also an option for a call up should Drew Butera be hurt.

Infielders: 1B – Jeff Bailey (40 man – No), 2B – Luke Hughes (40 man – Yes), 3B – Chase Lambin (40 man – No), SS – Trevor Plouffe (40 man – Yes), Utility – Michael Hollimon (40 man – No), 1B/DH – Erik Lis – (40 man – No)

Bailey and Lambin were the first two minor league free agents that they signed. Bailey got some playing time and displayed power with the Red Sox in parts of three season. He and Lambin both have a lot of experience. Lambin was an International League All-Star last year. Luke Hughes showed his power in spring training. He will just need to stay healthy in 2011 (something he hasn’t been able to do in recent years) and he will be with the Twins at some point. So will Trevor Plouffe, despite a tough spring. Bailey can play some right field. The other four infielders listed should move around the infield, including 1B, because their role with the Twins would likely be off the bench. Yes, it is possible that Toby Gardenhire is on the roster, although my guess is that he will be on the “Disabled List.” Steve Singleton and his organization-leading 43 doubles will likely begin the season back in New Britain due to the veterans brought in. Matt Brown and Ray Chang, who each got a Non-Roster Invite to spring training, are also possibilities for the Red Wings roster. Justin Huber, who was another Non-Roster invite, was recently released which likely means that Erik Lis could get a lot of at bats as the Designated Hitter. It is possible Chris Parmelee will end the season with the Red Wings.

Outfielders: LF – Dustin Martin (40 man – No), CF – Ben Revere (40 man – Yes), RF – Brian Dinkelman (40 man – No), 4th outfielder – Brandon Roberts (40 man – No).

Martin will return for his third season with the Red Wings. Dinkelman will be there for his second full season. Both should have better seasons in 2011. Brandon Roberts has missed so much time the last few years with leg injuries. When he was healthy last year, he played really well, and in 153 at bats with the Red Wings at the end of 2010, he hit .333. He has primarily played CF in his career. As mentioned above, Bailey can play right field. Ben Revere will be making his Triple-A debut in 2011, even though he made his major league debut in 2010. Some believe he is ready for the big leagues. I believe he is close, but getting a year at AAA can only help him. He will likely be the one promoted to the Twins if there is a need. Joe Benson and Rene Tosoni impressed in spring training, and Tosoni could be the first promoted to AAA, if needed.

Starting Pitchers: RHP Eric Hacker (40 man – Yes), LHP Scott Diamond (40 man – No), RHP Kyle Gibson (40 man – No), Chuck James (40 man – No), Anthony Swarzak (40 man – Yes)

Obviously Gibson is the guy that everyone is going to be anxiously waiting for, but it will be good for him to get at least another 12-15 starts in Rochester. Triple-A hitters frequently have some big league time, and it is a good transition for pitchers to get to see hitters who are usually much more patient. Swarzak lost a lot of weight and he has regained some of the velocity he showed two years ago. Hopefully he can regain some of the effectiveness. The Twins gave up a lot (Billy Bullock) to retain the services of Scott Diamond. Hopefully it will be a good move. Diamond has put up terrific numbers throughout his minor league career, never posting an ERA above 3.52 at any level and striking out 7.3 per nine innings. Chuck James has 24 big league wins, and went 10-1 between AA and AAA last year with the Nationals organization in his return from surgery. Hacker went 16-8 with a league-average 4.51 ERA last year in the Pacific Coast League. He didn’t have a strong showing in big league camp, but he can provide Rochester with a solid season. The surprise omission here is David Bromberg. He made nine starts with the Red Wings last year and pitched well. He was added to the 40 man roster after the season, and he is a very good prospect, but it could be a positive in the long run for him to get a few more starts in AA and use what he learned in AAA late last year and in spring training this year.

Bullpen: RHP Alex Burnett (40 man – Yes), RHP Kyle Waldrop (40 man – No), RHP Jim Hoey (40 man – Yes), LHP Phil Dumatrait (40 man – No), RHP Chris Province (40 man – No), Yorman Bazardo (40 man – No), Andy Baldwin (40 man – No) RHP Anthony Slama (40 man – Yes)

I assume based on his arm issues during spring training that Anthony Slama could start the season on the Disabled List. Jim Hoey was the last guy with a chance to make the team to be sent down. He and his fastball could be promoted soon if he shows any semblance of control. Kyle Waldrop made another very strong impression this spring, and with the open 40 man roster spots, he could be added if needed. Alex Burnett was on the Twins opening day roster one year ago without any time in Rochester. He was sent back down in July before a September call-up. He will get more opportunities with the Twins. Phil Dumatrait is a former first-round pick who has quite a bit of big league time. He was the #4 lefty on a roster that kept three lefties in the bullpen. Chris Province came to the Twins last year from the Red Sox in exchange for Boof Bonser. He pitched mainly in New Britain last year. He did make a couple of starts for the Red Wings late in 2010, but he is a bullpen arm. Bazardo pitched well for the Tigres de Aragua this winter in Venezuela and got a minor league deal with the Twins. Low strikeout numbers, but he could be a long reliever. Baldwin is a Minnesota native who has spent the last three seasons pitching in AAA for the Mariners organization. You likely noticed that I did not include Carlos Gutierrez on this roster which may be a surprise to you. It was also somewhat of a surprise to me as well because he ended 2010 with two games for the Red Wings. I just think that with the minor league veterans, it would be good for him to begin the season pitching as the closer in New Britain. Remember, he has been doing a lot of starting in his pro career. It will be good for him to get some development time in the late innings for the Rockcats.He will get to AAA quickly. Additionally, Ryan Mullins and Minnesota-native Cole Devries remain options for the Red Wings bullpen.

Overall: This is a very veteran team which should mean a lot more wins in Rochester in 2011. I do believe that it is best for most of the prospects in the system in the long run, but there are not many prospects to watch in Rochester this year. Ben Revere and Kyle Gibson are the two that would be deemed top prospects. Plouffe is still just 24 and a prospect, but he is now in his fourth season with the Red Wings. Hughes and Waldrop made great impressions in spring training again, and we could see both of them this year.. Hoey and Burnett are exciting, but no longer “prospects” due to their time in the big leagues.

Due to the minor league free agents, AA New Britain should be filled with several exciting prospects such as Joe Benson, David Bromberg, Chris Parmelee, Carlos Gutierrez, Dakota Watts, Steve Singleton and more.

The minor league rosters should be announced later this week as their seasons get started next week. It will be very interesting to see where some of the team’s top prospects end up. There were more releases in the last couple of days, a couple that surprised me, and there will likely need to be more in the coming days to bring the rosters down to the appropriate level.

If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to comment or ask.

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Twins 2011 Impact Prospects

15 Feb

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

As you have seen, Danny Valencia graces the cover of my Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2011. Under his picture reads, “Danny Valencia arrived in 2010 and held the Twins to the A. L. Central Title.” Under four pictures of Twins minor leaguers, the question is asked, “Which Prospect(s) will help the Twins in 2011?”

Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2011

Now, as you know, there are over 160 profiles of Twins minor leaguers in the book. How many of them could we see in Minnesota, and under what circumstance would we see them? Here are some names (alphabetically) to keep in the back of your mind heading into spring training.

Let’s start with the prospects that we have already seen play for the Twins.

Luke Hughes – We didn’t get to see a lot of Hughes in 2010, but what we saw was positive. I mean, he became the first Twins player since 1984 to hit a home run in his first at bat. Hughes struggles defensively, but at least he can play multiple positions, and most important, he is right-handed and has a lot of power in his bat. His role with the Twins could be a right-handed bench bat and designated hitter who can fill in from time to time around the field.

Trevor Plouffe – Plouffe was back and forth between Rochester and the Twins throughout last summer. He struggled late in the Triple-A season, but he displayed power and improved his defense. I think he’ll compete with Alexi Casilla for the starting shortstop job. As this is his final option season, I would anticipate that he will play at 3B and 2B in 2011 than he did in 2010 as he could potentially be a utility infielder as well.

Ben Revere – We got a glimpse of Revere in September and I think that is the role we will see him fill in 2011 as well. If Denard Span is hurt, Revere could replace him for a couple of weeks in centerfield and in the leadoff spot. Some think he should be a fourth outfielder already, but he is just 22, hasn’t spent a day in AAA, and despite hitting .300 yet again and having game-changing speed, he still has parts of his game that need to improve, specifically defense.

Next, there are two guys that we haven’t seen yet, but we know we will hear a lot about this spring:

Scott Diamond – The Twins Rule 5 pick from the Atlanta Braves organization has to spend the season with the Twins or go through waivers and be offered back to the Braves. It is likely he would be claimed or the Braves would take him back, so the Twins will likely give the left-hander every opportunity to make the team.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka – The Twins made big news last Thanksgiving when they won the bid to negotiate exclusively with Nishioka. The two sides agreed to a three year contract with an option for a fourth year. It’s almost a given that Nishioka will be with the Twins and playing at 2B, although he will also see time at shortstop in spring.

The following are Twins minor leaguers that I think have at least some chance of debuting with the Twins in 2011:

Joe Benson – The Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year hit 31 doubles and 27 home runs in 2010. He is an excellent defender with Revere-like speed, and a Cuddyer-like arm. He has work to do before he’s ready for a full-time big league job. It woudl be great if he could spend the year at Double-A.  He has to work on putting the ball in play more consistently, but if he does, he could get a September call-up.

David Bromberg – After leading three minor league levels in strikeouts from 2007 to 2009, his strikeout rate was down at Double-A last year. However, he ended the season with nine starts and AAA where he struck out just over eight per nine innings. He will start the season in the Rochester rotation, and if the Twins have a need for a starter and Bromberg is pitching well, he very easily could be the one promoted for a spot start, or even possibly a long-relief role.

Billy Bullock – Bullock throws gas. The 2nd round pick from 2009 consistently throws around 95 mph with a very good slider. He began the 2010 season by striking out 45 in 37.1 innings at Ft. Myers. After being promoted to Double-A, he struck out and incredible 60 batters in 36.2 innings. Of course, he also walked 24. If he can display any semblance of control in 2010 in the upper levels of the minor leagues, he becomes very intriguing for the Twins in the second half of the season.

Tony Davis – Bullock’s college teammate is a left-hander who also pitched well in his first full season. He began the season by posting a 2.87 ERA in Ft. Myers and followed it up with a 2.64 ERA in New Britain. Again, control is his issue. He walked 46 batters and struck out 45 batters in 2010. The Twins added some left-handed veterans this offseason, so it would take a lot of control and some breaks for Davis to debut in 2011.

Kyle Gibson – The 2009 top pick is clearly the Twins top pitching prospect. He moved from Ft. Myers to New Britain and ended the season with three starts at Rochester. Gibson is clearly going to be a starter for the Twins at some point. The question is whether it is in June, August, or if they can wait for him to debut until 2012. If he pitches well early in the 2011 season, he should be starting for the Twins by June. If he’s pitching well later in the season, but the Twins starters are doing their part, there is some opportunity for him to debut later in the summer in the bullpen.

Carlos Gutierrez – The Twins second first round pick in 2008 throws hard and induces a lot of ground balls because he gets a lot of sink on his pitches. He has struggled as a starter, and he thrives in the bullpen. He has a chance to contribute to the Twins in the second half of the 2011 season if he is pitching well.

Chris Parmelee – The Twins 2006 first-round pick had always shown an ability to take a walk and hit for some power. In 2010, he made major strides in putting the ball in play and hitting for average. Hopefully in 2011, he can put it all together and become a big-time, all-around hitting prospect. It would be great if he could spend the full season in AA, but if he’s hitting well and (the worst-case scenario occurs and) Justin Morneau needs to miss extended time, Parmelee becomes an option for the big league club.

Chris Province – Province came to the Twins last year in spring training from the Red Sox in exchange for Boof Bonser. He is a reliever, although he made several starts a year ago between Double-A and Triple-A. A lot would need to happen for him to debut with the Twins, but he has a fastball that darts in on a right-hander’s hands. If he’s pitching well at a given time when there is a need, he has an outside shot.

Brandon Roberts – Roberts has generally played well throughout the four years he has been in the Twins organization. The problem is that he has been hurt so much. Last year, he finally remained healthy enough to work up to AAA where the CF hit over .300. He has had some knee problems, but speed is his game. Again, there is a smaller chance, but if he stays healthy and produces like he did last year, you never know.

Steve Singleton – After a slow start in 2010, he came on well late in the season. He led the organization with 43 doubles, and had 54 extra base hits on the year. He puts the ball in play and plays solid defense at 2B and has also played 3B and shortstop. He has a lot of pop for a second baseman, and if he can continue to play well, if there is an injury, he deserves an opportunity.

Rene Tosoni – Tosoni is just a solid all-around player. The only weak part of his game has been an inability to hit left-handed pitching. He tried to play in 2010, but his shoulder was experiencing just too much pain, so his season ended with surgery. He profiles similarly to Jason Kubel in terms of hitter. He is a little better defensively, has a little bit more speed, and has a strong arm. It will be interesting to see how he returns from missing so much time last year.

Kyle Waldrop – He had an absolutely incredible first-half of the season a year ago. It started with a great spring training before being sent to Rochester. Prior to the AAA All-Star game, he had posted both an ERA and a WHIP of under 1.00. He struggled some in the second half. He is not a strikeout pitcher, but he gets a lot of movement and sink on the fastball and could be a groundball reliever option sometime this season.

Dakota Watts – Maybe the biggest long-shot on the list, the Twins 16th round pick in 2009 pitched at Beloit, Ft. Myers and New Britain in 2010. He was clocked at 99 mph while in Ft. Myers. That along makes him worth watching. He can get a strikeout, probably walks too many, but is at least worth watching, and maybe he would be a long-shot September call-up.

Finally, there are some more veteran minor leaguers that the Twins brought in for the 2010 season that are worth noting:

Justin Huber is back after a year in Japan. Consider the day that Michael Cuddyer took over at 1B for an injured Justin Morneau in September of 2009, Huber was initially supposed to play 1B, but an oblique injury took him out of the lineup the rest of the season. Jeff Bailey spent parts of three seasons with the Red Sox from 2007 to 2009 and showed some power.  He can play 1B and the corner outfield positions. Chase Lambin was an International League All Star a year ago. He can play 3B, 2B and 1B. Matt Brown has spent a little bit of time in the big leagues and can play the four infield positions and spent time in the OF last year. Ray Chang is an option at 3B and 2B. Rene Rivera and Steve Holm are backup catcher options with big league service time.

Yorman Bazardo has always pitched well in the minor leagues, but still just 26, it hasn’t transferred to success in the big leagues. He pitched well in Venezuela this winter. Chuck James pitched well for the Braves for a couple of years before he was injured. The lefty went 10-1 between AA and AAA with the Nationals organization. Phil Dumatrait is a lefty-reliever option with big league time. Eric Hacker had a decent 2010 with the Giants AAA team and got a 40 man roster spot for it.

In a typical year, the Twins will promote between 12 and 18 players from Rochester throughout a season . Sometimes it is a straight promotion. Sometimes it is an injury-fill. There are various reasons. I mentioned 18 names above before discussing the minor league veterans that the organization added.

How many of these guys will come up and contribute in some way? Who will be surprise candidates? Can any of them have an impact in 2011 the way that Danny Valencia did in 2010? That is the fun part about following prospects. We can guess, but once the season gets started, you never know how it will play out.

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John and the TwinsCentric guys helped put together the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2011, and it has been quite the project. However, the results are tremendous. The magazine is 128 pages of Twins content, with no advertisements. Just pure Twins talk. The TwinsCentric crew wrote player profiles on the Twins roster, and we each wrote an additional article or two.

I wrote one article on the success that the Twins Advanced-Rookie League team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, has had over the last 25 years and the role that consistency has played in that. Their manager, Ray Smith, signed with the Twins as a non-drafted free agent in 1978 and debuted with the Twins in the strike-shortened 1981 season. He spent parts of three years with the Twins. When his playing career ended, he became the Elizabethton Twins manager, in 1987. 25 years later, he has won a lot of games and a lot of championships, but more important, he has helped a lot of young men and young ball players begin their path up the Twins system. His pitching coach, Jim Shellenbeck, and his hitting coach, Jeff Reed, have ton of playing and coaching experience. It was a really fun article to research and write, and I think it turned out very well.

The other article I wrote was essentially an organizational depth chart. In the article, as I did last year, I broke out the Twins prospects into Infielders, Outfielders, Catchers, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers, and gave my top five prospects in each category along with a Sleeper and One to Watch. There are also charts with 2011 roster projections.

Minnesota Twins Organizational Depth Chart Article

There is a lot of Twins information in the magazine. There is information on the current roster, Target Field, the minor leagues, several historical articles and much, much more.

The magazine is now available for pre-order at the Maple Street Press website. The magazine will be available on news stands around Minnesota starting March 1. However, if you pre-order, the magazines are set to ship out on February 17, so you can get it before it hits the news stands. For those of you outside the Minnesota areas, it will not be available in your market, so ordering online is the way to go if you are interested.

Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2011

Still Building from Within

21 Dec

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net and www.startribune.com/blogs/twinscentric.

Look back a decade: Torii Hunter spent a couple of seasons making people wonder about his skills before becoming a star. Look back a generation: Frank Viola spent two seasons with a five-plus ERA before blossoming. Tell me why Casilla is utterly hopeless?

Howard Sinker in his A Fan’s View blog yesterday made a tremendous point. It is important to remain patient. Of course, in Viola’s third year, he posted a 3.21 ERA over 257.2 innings. I think Alexi Casilla will be fine. I think that Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be just fine. Will either post a .730 OPS? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t fill their roles adequately. I just don’t think that offense will be the biggest issue for the Twins in 2011. Pitching, both starting and bullpen, is where there are question marks, but the cupboard is not empty.

What I would like to see is if 29-year-old Scott Baker, in his seventh season with the Twins, can hit 200 innings (or post a sub-4.20 ERA) for just the second time, and earn his $5 million salary. I’d like to see Kevin Slowey, in his fifth big league season, be 100% healthy, and see what he can do. He threw 199 innings in 2007 between Rochester and Minnesota. I’d like to see Nick Blackburn get back to going 11-11 with an ERA between 4.03 and 4.05 like he did in 2008 and 2009. As bad as portions of their 2010 seasons were, none of this is unrealistic. They have done it before. Along with that, maybe Brian Duensing can prove a lot of us wrong and put together another strong season in 2011, hopefully the full season as a starter. And, Francisco Liriano put himself back in discussion for best pitchers in the league (which is also helped by Cliff Lee moving to the NL). If healthy, he can still continue to improve.

So, if Carl Pavano leaves for greener pastures in places like Washington, D.C., or Pittsburgh, it really is not the end of the world. What are the odds that he could post a 3.75 ERA again or throw another 221 innings in a season? Not terribly good.

The Twins have a history of building from within, or giving opportunities to players who have come up through their system, and to stand behind them through struggles. We have seen it time and again. And for the most part over the last decade, it has paid off. The Twins have used free agents to complement their core of home-grown players. Last year, there wasn’t a solid internal option at second base, so they signed Orlando Hudson.

Last week, the Twins lost Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier to free agency. It is likely that they will not bring back Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch or Ron Mahay either. Fans, understandably, are up in arms about the lack of certainty in the Twins bullpen. There is no certainty that Joe Nathan will return to form in 2011. Jose Mijares is immensely talented, but he was up and down in 2010. Matt Capps is the given in the Twins bullpen, and he is what he is (a solid reliever). Beyond that, there are a lot of question marks.

Twins fans don’t want to hear about someone like Glen Perkins being a bullpen option in 2011. There are also a lot of guys with little or no big league experience being mentioned as options. I understand that is scary. We want certainty in the bullpen, right? Certainty, in this case, would have been retaining Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier because they are veterans, right? But if I read the comments here at the StarTribune.com blogs or many Twins blogs, most blog commenters were not big fans of Jesse Crain. Most blog commenters were not exactly confident when Matt Guerrier would come into games. But aside from Rafael Soriano, Brian Fuentes and Type A free agent and former Twins pitcher Grant Balfour, few relievers have been more reliable than Crain and Guerrier. And you didn’t want them back. So, who would be out there at this stage that could be counted on more? I am a proponent of signing RHP Jose Veras and LHP Hideki Okajima, but in each case, there are reasons that their 2010 team non-tendered them. Certainly not guarantees.

Simply stated, there are very few reliable relief pitchers from year to year. Most (or at least many) relief pitchers are failed starters. There are a lot of injuries. It is in the bullpen where you can find diamonds in the rough. It’s where guys (like Guerrier) who are out of options to get an opportunity, and a few take advantage of it. Look at the Yankees’ David Robertson. In 2009, he was a question mark. In 2010, he was getting put into some pretty big situations for the pinstripes.

With that said, there are a lot of options for breakout types in the Twins bullpen. Remember that they only need three or four of these guys to produce for the Twins in 2011:

  • Anthony Slama – It amazes me that many Twins fans seem to think he can’t contribute to the team. Are people really willing to say that a poor 4.2 inning debut in the big leagues tells us that he can’t pitch up there? Really? His 1.95 ERA over four minor league seasons mean nothing? His 12.5 K/9 means nothing? His 1.06 WHIP? His 2.44 ERA in one-plus seasons at AAA mean nothing? Bloggers and blog commenters have been clamoring for Slama for a few years, and now they’ll give up on him? Because of 4.2 bad innings? I think Slama can be a solid 7th inning guy.
  • Alex Burnett – he has a chance to be really good. He came up as a starter, a successful starter, but in 2009, he moved to the bullpen. Despite not pitching in AAA, and only a short time in AA, he was on teh Twins Opening Day roster and spent most of the first half with the Twins. He struggled as the season went along, but he has great stuff and will definitely be back with the Twins, eventually pitching late innings.
  • Pat Neshek – It amazes me how quickly some Twins fans turned on the sind-winding reliever. Yes, his velocity was down. I get that. But this year, he will get an actual offseason of working out and preparing, not an offseason of rehabilitation. Will he come back and be as incredible as he was in 2006 and 2007? Maybe, maybe not, but I’m willing to give him that opportunity.
  • James Hoey – Similarly, there was a lot of excitement about Hoey with the Orioles in 2006 and 2007. The righty throws hard and was generally thought to be the closer of the future with Baltimore. And then he had shoulder surgery, and he worked his way back up the ladder. His velocity is back. The strikeouts are back. He will need to cut down walks, but he is a power arm that the Twins bullpen needs.
  • Rob Delaney – Delaney was undrafted in 2006 and dominated the lower levels of the minor leagues, including AA. AAA has been more of a struggle, but consider that in 80 AAA innings, he walked just 23 and struck out 92. Sure, his one inning in the big leagues last September wasn’t pretty. He looked nervous and gave up a homer, a single and a walk before getting the three outs. But again, I’ve heard some say that he can’t handle the big leagues because of that one outing.
  • Kyle Waldrop – It surprised a lot of people that the Twins didn’t protece Waldrop after a terrific 2010 season with the Rochester Red Wings. Since returning from his shoulder surgery, he has been incredible out of the bullpen. After 20 games in Ft. Myers, he posted a 1.46 ERA in 31 New Britain games. He posted a 2.57 ERA in 2010 in Rochester, but his ERA was at ONE halfway through the 2010 season. Yes, he was not good in the Arizona Fall League, but he still has a chance to be a very good, groundball reliever.
  • Glen Perkins – A left-hander who did succeed a few years ago as a starter, he looks to be a lefty reliever in 2010. Of course, he doesn’t get left-handed batters out, so I just don’t know how he can contribute, but stranger things have happened when players get opportunities.
  • Eric Hacker, Yorman Bazardo, Jeff Manship, Anthony Swarzak, Chuck James – These guys could all get an opportunity for a long relief role. Manship filled the role toward the end of 2010 and could do so again, but the others are options.
  • Carlos Gutierrez – In a podcast just last week, Gutierrez informed me that he wants to pitch out of the bullpen, that it is where he is ‘at home.’ However, he acknowledged that spending the last couple of years as a starter has been valuable in helping him develop secondary pitches. I’m frequently asked who could be the 2011 version of Danny Valencia. Kyle Gibson certainly could come up in June and contributed as a starter. Carlos Gutierrez could come up in June and really help out the Twins bullpen.

Are any of those big name acquisitions? No. They are internal options. Can any of them contribute to the Twins in 2011? Absolutely. Can three of four of them join Nathan, Capps and Mijares to form a solid bullpen? Defintely. Am I just trying to be positive here? Probably. But can the internal choices be equal or better than the external, high-cost free agents? Absolutely.

The Twins historically have relied upon their own players, on building from within. It’s been a philosophy that has worked well for them. Even if their payroll has gone from $65 million to $100 million to $115 million, there is no reason to start spending foolishly on free agents or giving up the farm for players who might help. Can the Twins win the division with their current roster? I think so. It’d be tough, but I would not put it against them.

To be fair (and honest), I have been immensely frustrated with the Twins offseason. I expected them to wisely stay away from high-dollar free agents. I thought we might hear more about trades than we have. The Twins might soon spend a lot of money for two or three years on a guy who is already 35 years old. They could also give two years to a 40 year old one-dimensional player. I’m sure those moves will make a lot of fans happy. Maybe I’m strange. I figure there are six or seven weeks until pitchers and catchers report, so I still hold out that the team will add an impact player, the type of player who can make a difference without breaking the bank. But I don’t know that the team is better. I also don’t know what the Twins plans are, or their contingency plans are (if Pavano and/or Thome were to sign elsewhere). No one does because the Twins front office is great at not letting information leak We can’t all be Jim Breen!

Finally, Twins fans need to remember one important thing… at least the Twins and their stability is a lot better than following the Vikings and their chaos this year!

MORE TO READ TODAY:

Here are a few more articles for you to peruse throughout the day:

·         JJ Stankevitz has been a frequent guest of the SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast. He does a great job as the blogger for the White Sox site on Examiner.com. He is also a student at the University of Missouri where he writes for KBIA Sports Extra as well. He recently had the opportunity to meet fellow Missouri student/alumni and current Twins prospect Kyle Gibson. The results were a terrific article on Gibson.

·         Parker from Over the Baggy posted an article on the blueprint for a bullpen.

·         Needless to say, Fanatic Jack is Dazed and Confused about what is going on with the Twins offseason. It is really hard to disagree with him.

·         Twinkie Town has now completed its Top Ten Twins Prospects and you can now vote for Twins Prospect #11. Roger Dehring is going a great job of running the polls, and the discussion is terrific for anyone interested in Twins prospects.

Be sure to tune in to tonight’s SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast, live at 9:00.

Twins Sign Eric Hacker

9 Nov

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted not long ago that, according to the player’s agent, the Twins have signed RHP Eric Hacker. It has now been confirmed by Star Tribune beat writer Joe Christensen that Hacker has been added to the Twins 40 man roster.

A quick look at Hacker should give Twins fans no reason for excitement. Last year with Fresno, the AAA affiliate of the Giants, he went 16-8 with a 4.51 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. He was named the top RH starting pitcher in the Pacific Coast League which is pretty sad. The Giants recently decided not to put him on their 40 man roster which meant that he became a six-year minor league free agent. He is actually an eight-year minor league free agent because he was originally drafted by the Yankees in the 23rd round of the 2002 draft. By Opening Day 2011, Hacker will be 28 years old. In 2009, he was let go by the Yankees and signed with the Pirates. He even got into three games (gave up two runs in three innings). Last year, the Giants put him on their 40 man roster, but he pitched the entire season in Fresno.

The initial glance at his numbers are anything but awe-inspiring, so I wanted to take a look at league averages in 2010 to see if his bad numbers could be blamed on the PCL, a notoriously hitter friendly league.

  • Hacker    4.51 ERA      1.47 WHIP
  • PCL        4.78 ERA      1.48 WHIP
  • Int Lg      4.15 ERA      1.37 WHIP

Based on that, Hacker’s ERA was slightly better than league average and his WHIP was essentially average. If that translated to the International League, typically more of a pitcher friendly league, it might translate into an ERA between 3.90 and 4.10 with a WHIP around 1.37.

These numbers are not terrible, by any means. Most important, those types of numbers would have been welcomed with open arms for the Rochester Red Wings. Here are the ERAs in 2010 at Rochester for various starting pitchers: Glen Perkins (5.81), Matt Fox (3.95), Anthony Swarzak (6.21), Jeff Manship (5.13), Ryan Mullins (4.60), David Bromberg (3.98), Yoslan Herrera (6.08), Deolis Guerra (6.84). Based on this, he ranks pretty similarly to Matt Fox, which again, isn’t a bad thing. I just don’t know that it is worth a roster spot. The fact that Hacker is 28 puts the numbers into perspective when considering what Bromberg did in nine starts.

The baffling thing to me is why you would use up a 40 man roster spot on someone like this. He wouldn’t have been available on a minor league deal? Based on the Twins signing, I’m guessing the answer was no. I think that the Twins have a few extra 40 man roster spots to ‘play’ with, so this shouldn’t affect anything else they decide to do this offseason. It does make me wonder why they would pick this guy over Kyle Waldrop (if they decide that they will not put Waldrop on the 40 man roster by November 20th). It also makes me wonder why Waldrop agreed to sign a minor league deal with the Twins rather than test his free agent opportunities, a decision that would have put the Twins in a position to have to make a 40 man roster decision on him right away.

Listen, I do not understand a move like this at all. Adding a guy like Hacker to a AAA roster makes a ton of sense. He could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Red Wings. If the Twins starting pitching ends up performing as it did for periods in 2010, he could see time with the Twins. It’s hard to be completely critical of the move when I know so little about Eric Hacker. Also, the Twins typically do a nice job signing and getting the best out of fringe types of players. That’s what Hacker is. At 28, he is what he is. A tweet from Ben Badler says, “Scout on Eric Hacker: 88-92, works both sides, average slider, stuff very hittable, solid AAA-type arm.”

It’s hard to get excited about such a move, but it’s always important to remember that division and league and World Series championships are won by the 40 man roster and more, so depth is never a bad thing.

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