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Guess Who’s Back? Twins Notes

19 Dec

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

It started out with all good intentions. I had been extremely busy with work for a couple of weeks. We had been putting together nightly Twins podcasts during the Winter Meetings. I took a day off of work and had a fun weekend in the Cities with my daughter and my sister. On Friday night, I enjoyed being a guest on the Gleeman and the Geek podcast. That was a ton of fun! Then on Saturday we went to the Como Zoo which was a blast as always. After some time at the mall, it was a lot of fun to hang out with Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, Aaron Gleeman, Cody Christie, Howard Sinker, Darren “Doogie” Wolfson, Rhett Bollinger, Judd Zulgad, and Phil Mackey on Saturday night. I got to enjoy the role of DD yet again! It was a great weekend. The only concern was how tired I would be making the drive back up to Warroad, a good seven hour drive.

However, that’s where all the positivity ended for the past week. Around 3:30 Sunday morning, I woke up not quite feeling right. But about 6:30, I had figured out what my problem was. It was a problem I had twice previously, five and six years ago. I had a kidney stone. You don’t want all the details. This is probably more than enough, but a trip to the doctor on Monday was followed by a ‘passed stone’ on Wednesday morning. I thought that was it. Nope! Increased pain Wednesday night meant a trip to the hospital which turned into a trip to Fargo and a Saturday surgery that frankly didn’t rid the remaining stone. However, enough was done to alleviate the pain until I can have another surgery next week sometime to finish.

I apologize for being away from my computer completely for over a week. I read some of the comments on my phone that talked about how I ‘used to’ blog all the time about the Twins. OK, not going to apologize. I literally could not look at my computer screen for more than a minute at a time without getting nauseous.

But, I do need to thank my parents who were great, helpful all week and were there the whole time. My siblings were constantly asking questions. And there are a ton of you who sent messages and notes and well wishes. I just needed to say thank you to everyone and there’s no easy way to do that. So, here I’ll just blog it. Thank you!

Unfortunately, in the one week where I literally had to stay away from the computer, the Twins were quite busy. So, without going into too much detail, I thought I’d post my thoughts on several of the topics in an attempt to catch up.

CUDDYER FOR WILLINGHAM

OK, it wasn’t a trade, of course, but in essence, the Twins ‘traded’ Michael Cuddyer for Josh Willingham. As you know by now, Cuddyer inked a three year, $31.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies. I hate to see Cuddyer leave. He had been with the Twins and in the organization since he was drafted in the first round of the 1997 draft. Although he certainly had his ups and downs, he was a very popular, major contributor to the Twins success for nearly a decade. And yes, part of that is his good-guy attitude, his willingness to talk to the media all the time, his work in the community, and to some demographics, there were the dimples.

Willingham is the same age as Cuddyer and has been equal, if not a little better, offensive player. The Twins got a very similar player for the same three year tenure but for $10.5 million less. The Twins also will get two draft picks for losing Cuddyer. I’ve liked Willingham for a long time. I named him as a Top 20 Rookie Hitters for 2006 because of his power and Isolated Discipline. That is what makes him. He won’t hit for a high average, and like Cuddyer, he won’t play great defense, but he can be a force in the Twins lineup.  

So, although I will miss Cuddyer and his presence on the roster and in the city, at the end of the day, the Twins got the same player for less money and added two draft picks.  As I’ve written previously, Michael Cuddyer will always be a Minnesota Twin. I am curious where he would rank among the all-time best Twins players. Off the top of my head, he has to easily be in the Top 20.    

INTERESTED IN KUBEL?

I keep hearing and reading that the Twins are now targeting Jason Kubel, even after bringing in Willingham. Like Cuddyer, Kubel has been in the Twins organization since being drafted in the previous millennium. I think Kubel is an impact free agent who will really help whatever team that he signs with. Its’ pretty clear that he doesn’t want to return to Target Field. And with Ben Revere, Denard Span, Trevor Plouffe, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit on the roster and the likes of Rene Tosoni and Joe Benson on the horizon, I just don’t think that the Twins really need to spend $5-7 million for a year or two on Kubel. That is especially the case if the Twins have a lower payroll. They need to add another pitcher. I would love to see Edwin Jackson in a Twins uniform, but if I had to put money on which free agent pitcher the Twins will sign, I’d have to say Paul Maholm. I know that the Twins have been linked more to Jeff Francis and Joel Pineiro, but I can’t get past Maholm as the right option.

HOEY AND FLORIMON DESIGNATED

The Twins designated two players off of their 40 man roster. RHP Jim Hoey was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays. The hard-thrower just could not get his straight fastball by big league (or often AAA) hitters because he never did find a secondary pitch. The Twins have added several players who throw hard and struggle with their control.

SS Pedro Floriman, who the Twins claimed a week earlier, as also DFAd, but he was able to clear waivers and will remain in the Twins organization. He still has an option remaining, so this is great news for the Twins.

TWINS NON-TENDER MIJARES

In a somewhat surprising move, the Twins did not tender a contract for 2012 to LHP Jose Mijares. It isn’t that he has pitched well the last couple of years (He Hasn’t), but he is still young and does have really good stuff when he’s on. Because of how he has pitched the last couple of years, he would likely have made around $750,000, just over $250,000 over the league minimum. That said, it also is a clear indication that the Twins will be moving Brian Duensing to the bullpen where he’ll join Glen Perkins. Not a huge loss, although I will not be at all surprised when Mijares resurfaces elsewhere and becomes a dominant reliever again.

INTERNATIONAL DRAFT

Imagine if there was an international draft in place today? The Twins would have the second overall pick. Even though that probably means that Yu Darvish would not have made himself available, the Twins could have been left with either Yoenis Cespedes or Jorge Soler, both incredibly talented outfielders from Cuba.

TWINS SIGN MORE MINOR LEAGUE FREE AGENTS

I thought the Twins had already signed a bunch of minor league free agents, but they signed a few more pretty impressive names.

  • Sean Burroughs – the former Little League World Series hero hasn’t done much in the big leagues, but is a very solid AAA player who did some pinch hitting in 2011 with the Diamondbacks. With a big league invitation, is it at all possible the team could be signing him as competition for Danny Valencia?
  • Rene Rivera – We saw what the catcher could do in 2011. Decent behind the plate. Horrifying offensively.
  • PJ Walters – The RHP is 26 years old and pitched in five big league games in 2011 between the Cardinals and the Blue Jays. In 24 AAA starts, he went 8-7 with a 5.17 ERA between Memphis and Las Vegas (AAA). He went 7-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 17 starts in the International League before heading to the PCL where he posted a 8+ ERA. Looks like a solid AAA starter.
  • JR Towles – The former Astros backstop used to be a pretty good prospect, the guy in line to take over for Brad Ausmus years ago. In parts of four years in the big leagues, he has hit .187.
  • Steve Pearce – In 2007, Pearce hit a combined .333/.394/.622 with 40 doubles and 31 home runs between High-A, AA and AAA. He became a Top 100 prospect, and although he has continued to hit well in the minor leagues since, it hasn’t transferred to the big leagues. In parts of five big league seasons, he has hit .232/.302/.366 with 29 doubles and nine homers in 521 plate appearances. No surprise that the Twins drafted Pearce out of high school in the 45th round.
  • Daryl Thompson – He made one appearance with the Reds in 2011 and in three innings, he gave up five runs on six hits and five walks. Not so good. Last year, between AA and AAA, the 25-year-old went 4-8 with a 4.26 ERA. In 137.1 innings, he walked 40 and struck out 123.

 BILL SMITH RETURNS TO TWINS FRONT OFFICE

It is no surprise to hear that Bill Smith will be back with the Twins as a special assistant to the president and GM. Hey, the guy did a ton of great things for the organization for the 25 years prior to him becoming the Twins GM, back when no one knew his name. So, I think it’s great news that Smith will return to the organization in his new role.

So, did I miss anything? Am I all caught up? Feel free to comment.

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Red Wings Combine on No-Hitter!

6 Jul

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Yesterday the talk was about getting Trevor Plouffe back to the Twins from Rochester. Tonight, there was another great story in the Red Wings 7-0 win over the division-leading Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Not only did four pitchers combine for a shutout, four pitchers combined for a no-hitter.

Jeff Manship made his first appearance May 15. He started and threw four no-hit innings. He walked two and struck out four. Jake Stevens, who was just called up today from New Britain when Anthony Slama was put on the Disabled List, threw the next three no-hit innings. Kyle Waldrop pitched the 8th, and Jim Hoey pitched the 9th frame to complete the no-hitter. With an out in the 9th, Toby Gardenhire ranged far to his right, dove, and came up firing to get Pete Orr at first base.

It was the 21st no-hitter in Red Wings history. The first, according to play-by-play man Josh Whetzel came exactly 123 years ago today, July 6, 1888.

Offensively, Dustin Martin led the way by going 2-3 with his 14th and 15th doubles. Brandon Roberts was 2-4. Delmon Young was 1-4 with a double.

Trevor Plouffe, after Ron Gardenhire called manager Tom Nieto to make it happen, started at 1B where he played the first eight innings. In the ninth inning, Plouffe went out to right field, switching spots with Jeff Bailey.

It’s been another frustrating year for the Red Wings and their fans, but this is a pretty exciting event. Congratulations to all involved, but especially to Jeff Manship on his return and to all of those pitchers!

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 Set Opening Day Roster

28 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

On Sunday morning, the Twins decided to option Anthony Slama, Jim Hoey and Luke Hughes to Rochester. In doing so, the 25 man roster is set. Jeff Manship and Matt Tolbert make the Opening Day roster. The only thing to determine yet is whether or not Scott Diamond will be sent back to the Braves or if the teams can work out a trade. Of course, it is also possible that he could be claimed by another team.

Minnesota Twins Opening Day Roster

Starting Pitchers: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing

Relief Pitchers: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Dusty Hughes, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Jeff Manship.

Catchers: Joe Mauer, Drew Butera

Infielders: Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Matt Tolbert

Outfielders: Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Delmon Young, Jason Repko

Designated Hitters: Jason Kubel, Jim Thome

That’s it! That is the Twins Opening Day roster barring any injury. It looks like a pretty solid roster to me.  

Anthony Slama has been hurt most of spring training, so it is no surprise that he is being sent to Rochester to start the season. I believe, if healthy, he would likely be on the Opening Day roster. However, it will be good for him to ease back into pitching before he is ready to contribute for the Twins. Manship showed ups and downs this spring, but there is no doubt that he has enough stuff to be a quality major league reliever. He has been a starter throughout his minor league career, but between a 92 mph fastball, a terrific changeup and an excellent curveball, the comparisons to Matt Guerrier certainly make sense. It will, however, be a different role for him. Instead of getting ready to start every fifth day, he will likely be used in the 7th inning. The Twins likely won’t throw him into the more high-leverage, late-inning situations. That’s what Matt Capps and Jose Mijares are for. But Manship will need to get outs in the 7th, sometimes in big situations. Hoey throws hard, no question. He walked a bunch early in spring, but he had just one walk in his final five outings.

Bullpen Analysis: The Twins really like Manship and see a high deal of potential with him in the role. There are a lot of question marks in the back end of the bullpen due to lack of big league time or bullpen experience. However, they have a lot of arms, a lot of arms with great stuff. Glen Perkins is out of options. There are currently three left-handers. Kevin Slowey provides a guy who can give innings. What is exciting is that if anyone really struggles, there are options in Rochester. Slama could be ready soon, and Hoey may be the first guy to be promoted. Kyle Waldrop is not on the roster, but clearly the Twins really like him. Likewise, Carlos Gutierrez isn’t on the 40 man roster, but he has incredible upside in the bullpen and will likely have a big impact in the season’s second half. And too many people are forgetting about Alex Burnett who is still young and has very good stuff.

The big talker among Twins fans has been who will be the Twins utility infielder. Would it be Matt Tolbert or Luke Hughes? Matt Tolbert is a line drive hitter with little power who generally takes good at bats and plays some good defense at all four infield positions. Luke Hughes led the Twins in home runs and RBI this spring, but also in at bats. In the end, Hughes made the decision very easy for Ron Gardenhire. Had the decision been made two weeks ago, there was a shot that Hughes could have made the roster, but he has really struggled with the bat the last week to ten days. He had just three hits in his last 30 at bats (although two of them were home runs). Hitting is his thing, and specifically, he provides power from the right side of the plate. Note that he struck out 17 times this spring with just two walks and an OPS well below the .300 mark. He could play four infield positions, and Gardy even gave him opportunities at shortstop.

I am not a big Matt Tolbert backer at all. He is not great defensively at any of those four positions, although he is solid. He is so rigid and uptight, and he probably would be better if he just relaxed. But I do think that this the right decision for the team. I would love to see Luke Hughes on this roster because his right-handed power is terrific.

Infield Analysis: Had Justin Morneau not been able to start the season on the active list, Hughes probably makes the roster. However, there are question marks and guys getting opportunities around the rest of the infield. Danny Valencia had a huge impact in the second half of the Twins and it will be interesting to see how the league adjusts to him, and more importantly, how he adjusts back to the rest of the league. Alexi Casilla is very talented, and he is being given another opportunity as a starter. Maybe his last opportunity. Tsuyoshi Nishioka showed in spring training that he can be very solid, but the regular season will create new challenges. However, to be fair, each of them should get at least six to eight weeks of playing nearly every day to see where they are at. That means less playing time for the utility guy, and that suits Tolbert better in that he is a little better with the glove than Hughes. Hughes can go back to Rochester and play nearly every day. Hopefully he stays healthy.

Spring Training Analysis: I say frequently that spring training play means very little to who makes the opening day roster. We saw it last year in the Wilson Ramos/Drew Butera decision. This year, it is clear that Tolbert and Manship were the guys that had the first opportunity to make the roster. It would have taken a lot to beat either of them out of a spot. Hughes was terrific through the first two weeks, but his late struggles meant that Tolbert would get the utility job to start the season. Manship wasn’t great in the spring, but none of the other options stood out enough to move ahead of him. That doesn’t mean that spring training means nothing. Heading into spring, the assumption was that Trevor Plouffe might have an outside shot at the utility infield job. He struggled and Hughes showed off him power. If the Twins have a need early in the season, Hughes’ spring impression likely means he is the first player to be promoted. Likewise, there are still several questions at the back of the Twins bullpen. Hoey showed a lot, but so did Kyle Waldrop. An open 40 man roster spot, so it would not be surprising if he Waldrop debuts with the Twins early in the season. What Carlos Gutierrez did this spring has to have the Twins brass excited for what he can do. Now he needs to work out the final kinks in Rochester.

The Twins play at noon today against the Pirates. After the game, the team will fly to Atlanta and play the Braves in two exhibition games. On Thursday, the team will travel to Toronto, and on Friday, Opening Night will be here!

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Last night, I hosted the SethSpeaks.net Sunday Night Twins podcast with guest Dan Wade (of TwinsMVB.com). It was a fun discussion of the Twins entire roster and many of the decisions that have been made.

If you like, please feel free to comment.

Early Impressions

22 Mar

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

There are a lot of clichés surrounding spring training. Some say statistics don’t matter at all. I would fully agree with that as it relates to the players with sure roster spots. The Twins have 21 or 22 spots on their roster that are already determined. The statistics of those players are essentially meaningless. There is little, if any, correlation between spring statistics (good or bad) and regular season success.

Spring stats matter to those who are fighting for a roster spot. As I wrote yesterday, this probably indicates that spring performance matters to Dusty Hughes, Jim Hoey, Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Manship, Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes and Jeff Bailey.

Another adage that many baseball people say frequently is that spring numbers and performance do not matter until the final two weeks of spring leading up to Opening Day. At that point, many players have been sent to minor league camp. Hitters are getting three or four at bats most games and they are against pitchers who are likely to be on a big league roster at some point in 2011.

If that is true, and we have one more week of spring training, then the stats from the past week matter a little bit, right? The Twins had an off day last Tuesday, so below are the stats for many of the Twins players over the last week, starting with the hitters:

  • Denard Span has a hit in all five games he has played in this past week.
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka has also played in five games and gone 6-15 (.400).
  • Delmon Young has played in six games and gone 6-18 (.333).
  • Danny Valencia is 1-13 in his last four games.
  • Luke Hughes, the guy everyone seems to think should be given the Twins utility infield spot, has played in six games and is 2-21 (.095), including going 0-13 in his past four games.
  • Matt Tolbert has started twice in the last week and gone 5-8 in those two games, including a home run.
  • Jeff Bailey is 4-11 in his past three games. He is the one player who has played in all seven games.

Here are the numbers over the past week for a few of the Twins pitchers:

  • Jim Hoey, who was hit hard early in camp and walked quite a few, pitched three times in the last week. In three innings, he has not given up a run. He has given up just one hit, walked none and struck out four.
  • Glen Perkins has pitched twice. In his two innings, he has not allowed a run.
  • Carlos Gutierrez has got three innings and not allowed a run despite four hits and three walks.
  • Dusty Hughes, who many (including me) are calling a given at this point, pitched in three games in the past week. He has thrown four scoreless innings, but he has given up four hits and walked five batters. Those are the types of numbers that Scott Diamond put up in his first two outings that got him called “disappointing” by Twins brass.

What does all this mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe it will matter as the final roster spots are chosen. I think looking at stats from the entire spring, Luke Hughes and Dusty Hughes would be favorites for roster spots with the Twins. However, if stats from the past week are to mean more, then maybe we need to take a second look at guys like Jim Hoey, Matt Tolbert and Jeff Bailey.

You all know how I feel about small sample sizes, good or bad. We all acknowledge that we don’t see what happens outside of box scores. We all understand that there are intangibles that go beyond those box scores as well.

If you like, please feel free to comment.

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 to Trade Hardy to Orioles

9 Dec

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

Just after midnight central time, it came out that the Twins are very close to trading JJ Hardy to the Orioles. Rumors arose on Wednesday afternoon that the Twins may be dealing Hardy to Baltimore for two minor league relievers, but soon after, word came that the teams had much more to discuss. When the more formal announcement was made late last night, Hardy was traded with Brendan Harris in exchange for relief pitchers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. As this transaction becomes more formal, and if there are any updates or edits, I will make them.

For the last month, the Twins have continued to speak on and on about this need for speed. They then added Tsuyoshi Nishioka  to the mix when they bid over $5 million just to negotiate with him. They have also committed to giving Alexi Casilla an opportunity to be an everyday player. It is assumed Casilla would play SS and Nishioka would play second base, although that will be determined this spring.

Although Twins fans, myself included, would love to get more for one of the top shortstops in the league, it is pretty clear that this is all the Twins could get and they decided to settle for it. I think that the Twins made the decision that they wanted to go a different direction than Hardy after he missed 60 games in 2010. They truly want to add speed. I actually don’t think that trading Hardy is a salary dump alone. Getting Brendan Harris added to the deal, assuming that the O’s are picking up Hardy and Harris’s contracts, is just a great job by Bill Smith. That’s an extra $1.75 million that the Twins would have had to play regardless. As I said all along, I think the idea situation was to have JJ Hardy at shortstop with Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second base and Alexi Casilla as the utilty player. I also am a realist and knew that was pretty unlikely.

What do we know about the two relievers coming to the Twins?

Brett Jacobson – A 6-6, 205 pound right-hander, Jacobson throws hard. He hits between 95 and 98 with his fastball. He was the team’s fourth-round pick in 2008 out of the University of Vanderbilt. He was traded in 2009 from the Tigers to the Orioles in the Aubrey Huff deal. He went back to Hi-A in 2010 to work on his secondary pitches, and he was very good. He is the type of power arm that the Twins should be looking for. He just turned 24 years old in November and should advance quickly in 2011.

Jim Hoey – He was a member of the Orioles’ bullpen in 2006 and 2007. He had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and missed the entire year. He slowly returned in 2009. In 2009, he threw 52.2 innings between AA and AAA and struck out 70 in 52.2 innings of work. He also walked 34 which isn’t ideal, but he will certainly play a part in the Twins bullpen in 2011. The 6-6 righty will turn 28 years old later this month.

Please note that if more information and specifics of this trade come out, I will update this page. I am also hoping to get some more detailed scouting reports on these pitchers and will post them when I receive them. The deal is expected to be formalized following Thursday’s Rule 5 draft as Harris is eligible for the draft. Hoey is on the 40 man roster and Jacobson does not yet need to be protected for another year.

Alright, here you go. What do you think? Please feel free to leave your comments here.