Another Saturday In The Park(s)

Busy day in Fort Myers on Saturday. This is supposed to be a vacation, for crying out loud!

This is a subject for another day, but there’s been a lot of tweeting lately between traditional media types that cover the Twins and various bloggers, myself included. Some of it has been interesting, some of it somewhat disappointing, but the crux of the discussion revolves around the value of “access” that the reporters have. Today was a perfect example of a situation where a blogger (that would be me) benefited from the access that a beat reporter (in this case, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Strib) has to sources within the Twins organization.

Neal tweeted late Friday that Scott Baker would be pitching in a minor league game on Saturday morning over at the Red Sox home, JetBlue Park. Thanks to that alert, I headed out for JetBlue instead of Hammond Stadium this morning. It seemed like a good opportunity to (a) get a glimpse at the Red Sox’ new digs on the east side of Fort Myers, and (b) see what kind of arm Baker has at this point.

I saw all that and then some.

It turned out that Baker wasn’t the only Big Leaguer scheduled to play in that game. Jon Lester took to the mound for the Red Sox AAA team, while David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (yes, I had to look up the spelling) and former Twin Nick Punto all opted to stick around and face Baker rather than make the bus trip up to Port Charlotte to face the Rays in Boston’s scheduled Big League game.

Baker gave up one run on a solo HR to Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks, but otherwise got through four innings of work relatively unscathed.  Lester definitely was throwing harder than Baker was and the Twins announced later in the day that Baker would open the season on the 15-day Disabled List, retroactive to his last Big League game on March 27.

The regularly scheduled game in the afternoon against the Pirates saw another offensive blowout by the Twins who have been scoring runs in bunches lately. Anthony Swarzak gave the Twins six solid innings on the mound and Denard Span racked up four hits for the Twins as they bludgeoned the Pirates, 15-3. Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe (who played 2B… so much for him being strictly an outfielder, huh?) all doubled. Ryan Doumit and Brian Dozier homered for the Twins. (I have to confess, I missed the Doumit HR… I was standing in line for a beer with fellow Twins blogger Topper Anton of Curve for a Strike when Doumit connected in the 3rd inning.)

But you can read all the reports of the game provided by the reporters who get paid the big bucks to provide that information. What we offer here at Knuckleballs is photographic enhancement of the Spring Training experience. With that in mind, feast your eyes on the following:

Scott Baker looked sharp, but didn't seem to be throwing at full velocity

Jon Lester had Twins AAA hitters swinging late for four innings

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky chat during the AAA game

Papi did no damage to Baker. He even tried (unsuccessfully) to bunt on his final plate appearance.

Anthony Swarzak gave up 1 run on 6 hits with no walks and 6 Ks in six full innings of work for the Twins

Denard Span totalled four hits, including a double, in Saturday's win

Sean Burroughs appears close to making the Opening Day roster for the Twins

Finally, I leave you with this…

And they say Chuck Knoblauch has gone in to seclusion and won’t make appearances at Twins games…

Sunday, I’m hoping to hang out on the minor league fields in the morning before heading down Daniels Parkway to JetBlue Park for the Twins and Red Sox game in the afternoon. Things are starting to wind up here in Fort Myers… it’s time to start getting excited for Opening Day!

– JC

Spring Training: Photos of the Twins Busting the Bucs

There are plenty of accounts elsewhere about the Twins’ win over the Pirates in Bradenton Thursday, so I’m not about to give yet another one. Suffice to say the Twins looked really good for the first five innings and then coasted to an 11-6 win.

At least Chris Parmelee isn't chewing tobacco at 1B

I was in the first row down the right field line for this game, in a position where I was glad every throw from third base to first baseman Chris Parmelee was on target, because anything that would have gotten by him would have been dangerously close to my nose. But neither overthrow nor line drive foul ball threatened my health and well being today.

Few of the Twins regulars made the trip up to Bradenton. We probably might as well start thinking of Parmelee as a regular, of course. In addition, Danny Valencia DH’d, Luke Hughes manned 3B and Ben Revere patroled CF. Otherwise, this was largely a team bound for Rochester or New Britain and looking to leave an impression on manager Ron Gardenhire and the other coaches. Some of them, most notably a couple guys named Brian, did just that.

Brian Dozier looked good at SS, but he impressed more with his HR

Dinkelman and Dozier both homered for the Twins, backing up Matt Maloney, who looked plenty good again while getting stretched out to three innings after largely pitching an inning at a time so far this spring.

Ben Revere showed his speed, of course, and prospect Angel Morales, who was called up for a spot start in RF, not only showed off his speed but also the cannon attached to his right shoulder.

Former Twin Garrett Jones signed some autographs before the game

All in all, just a very enjoyable day at the ballpark watching some young players show their stuff.

Friday, I’m going to catch a few innings of the Orioles vs Tigers game in Sarasota before heading south to Ft. Myers.

– JC

 

If Twins prospect Angel Morales felt like he was being observed by more than just his manager, maybe he had good reason to feel that way

 

Getting closer to the season for MLB FanCave too!

For all of you who worked so hard to help our own Lindsay Guentzel get into the MLB FanCave, I thought you would like an update on her progress! She did make it all the way through and is now one of 9 remaining contestants who will proceed to watch EVERY baseball game this season…  I have to admit, I couldn’t do it. I need the occasional diversion. But she’s made of tough stuff – as you can tell in the video – and she makes sure she looks good in the process…

 

BTW, she’s the one with the baseball bat…

JC’s Spring Training Itinerary

It hasn’t been easy to sit back and read others’ reports from the Twins’ Spring Training home of Ft. Myers while I patiently (or not so patiently, at times) waited for my turn to head south. That time has come. I leave Wednesday morning for Florida.

Hammond Stadium, Home of the Twins

I’ve always felt the best time to go down to Spring Training is toward the middle of March, but that simply wasn’t doable for me this year. Going down for the final week of games is not ideal, but it’s still a week spent in Florida, instead of Iowa, and it’s still baseball… and it will mean I’ll be on hand as the final roster spots are being determined.

I fly to Ft. Myers Wednesday and head back home a week later on April 4. I should be able to see the Twins play up to five times and may try to catch a Tigers/Orioles game in Sarasota, as well. Here are the games I’d be hoping to see:

McKechnie Field, Bradenton

Thursday, March 29: I’m actually not going to stay in Ft. Myers the first two nights. Instead, I’m staying up near Sarasota. It will make for a short drive Thursday morning up to Bradenton. where the Twins are taking on the Pirates. I really do enjoy the environment at the ballpark in Bradenton. It’s an old-fashioned neighborhood ballpark that just makes me feel like I’ve gone back in time about 50 years.

Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota

Friday March 30: The Twins have split squads playing on the 30th, one group hosting the Red Sox in Ft Myers and the other visiting the Blue Jays in Dunedin. But I’ll have other chances to see the Twins play the Red Sox later. Since I’m staying up near Sarasota anyway, I’m thinking I’ll stick around and watch at least a few innings of the Tigers and Orioles, then drive down to Ft. Myers after the game.

Saturday. March 31: I hope to check out the Twins minor league complex in the morning before watching the Twins and Pirates at Hammond Sadium in the afternoon.

Sunday April 1: The Twins are at the Red Sox and I’m really looking forward to seeing the new JetBlue Park, built for the Red Sox just about 15 minutes away from the Twins’ complex. It’s supposedly built to resemble a smaller version of Fenway Park, complete with their own Green Monster in left field.

Charlotte Sports Park

Monday April 2: Yet another “road trip”, and I’m not 100% sure I’ll make this one. The Rays have a nice place up in Port Charlotte, with a boardwalk all the way around the outfield. It’s a great place to just buy a cheap general admission ticket and then hang around out in the outfield. On the other hand, if I don’t feel like making that drive, I may hang out at the Twins minor league complex in the morning. I could even catch the Nationals @ Red Sox game that afternoon without leaving Ft. Myers.

Tuesday April 3: The final day in Ft. Myers may start with another morning on the minor league complex. The Twins host the Rays in the afternoon. I’ve got tickets on the “drink rail” by the beer concession stand down the right field line for this game. I’ve always thought that looked like an interesting area to watch a game, but I’ve never had a chance to find out. This year I will. It will be the Twins’ final Spring Training game against Major League competition (they play the Ft. Myers Miracle on Wednesday, April 4).

I’ll fly home from Ft Myers the next day, Wednesday April 4.

Those are the plans. If you’re planning on being in Ft. Myers the week I’ll be there, drop me an email or leave a comment and maybe we’ll find one another for a beer at some point.

If I pull all of this off, I think I may need a week of vacation to recover from my week of vacation. What I would really like to do is fly home by way of Baltimore and catch the Twins’ season opener at Camden Yards! But there’s no way I could pull that off… right?

However it works out, I’ll certainly be posting reports and pictures here at Knuckleballs from time to time, while I’m there. You may even find a report or two from me over at Howard Sinker’s A Fan’s View from Section 219 blog at the Strib’s website.

Or I may just blow off baseball altogether and spend the entire week on a beach drinking margaritas. Ya just never know.

– JC

Ebay and the Minnesota Twins

Photo credit: http://www.baseball-almanac.com

I really enjoy collecting random, mostly worthless, Minnesota Twins memorabilia.  My 1989 Kirby Puckett bottle cap coin might be the best example of this.  These types of coins are usually sold for $1 on Ebay, and even then, they’re over priced by the time you have paid for shipping.  Still, I could not help but buying up a handful of them and adding them to the growing pile of Twins junk collecting dust in the corner of my bedroom.

My favorite method for acquiring these items is Ebay.  I usually search for “Minnesota Twins” and then sort by items ending soonest.  If I can bid on something that is ending in less than a minute, and pay less than $3, including shipping, I have no problem pulling the trigger.  Several weeks ago I was browsing the quickly expiring Minnesota Twins auctions and I came across a pair of game used pants worn by former Twins player and coach, Rick Renick.  The pants eventually sold outside of my modest price range, but ever since then I have been drawn towards the odd and outrageous Minnesota Twins items on Ebay.  What are the weirdest Twins things on Ebay, and do you need to own them?

To help you make that decision, here are my 10 favorite Minnesota Twins auction listings:

10. Do you have $3,595 extra dollars laying around?  Are you in love with the 1987 World Championship team?  How about buying a 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series trophy?! The item description makes no substantial claim of authenticity, and there is no indication who owned this trophy at the time of the championship (though the author would like you to think it might have been Kirby Puckett’s judging from the auction listing) Enjoy this  “authentic “World Series trophy, it will definitely tie your memorabilia collection together.

9. For only $7.99 this autographed Boof Bonser photograph from 2007 could be yours.  Imagine how jealous your friends will be when they see this 8×10 beauty hanging on the wall of that old fish house that’s been sitting in your back yard for the past 10 years.  Buy this photo if you love awkward stares from number 4 starters.  Don’t buy this photo if you have a jealous lover, because when you love Boof, you cannot love another.

8. Remember when Francisco Liriano was terrible in 2011?  How would you like to own a piece of that miserable history with a Game Worn Jersey!!!  For just a tick under $400 (plus $12.99 shipping) you could own an official game used jersey, that the seller describes and probably maybe kinda sorta game used (at least it has been well worn).  If you have $412.98, and you have not yet bought this, you have the will power of Superman.

7. You might buy this next item if you are Delmon Young‘s biggest fan, and you love autographed rookie cards.  I can’t figure out if the seller is selling just a single card, or a set of four cards, with two that are nearly identical.  Either way, this lot will cost you $375.  Too pricey for me, but certainly not for an eccentric billionaire who hates defense, effort, and tiny lips.  Continue reading

Who’s On First?

Media reports coming out of Ft. Myers point out that Justin Morneau hasn’t played first base for the Twins in the past ten days. The conclusion being drawn is that, at best, Morneau is likely to open the season as the team’s Designated Hitter and, at worst, could open the year on the Disabled List.

Justin Morneau

The Twins entered Spring Training with a lot of question marks, not the least of which concerned Morneau’s health. With under two weeks before Opening Day, there’s been good news and bad news about #33. The good news is that we’ve heard nothing to indicate Justin has had any recurrence of the concussion symptoms that have largely kept him off the field for most of the past season and a half. The bad news is that he’s clearly not hitting the baseball like the old Justin and now, apparently, there’s reason to doubt he’s ready to man first base defensively.

While there’s been no official word about Morneau being unfit for defensive duty from Terry Ryan, who’s assumed responsibility for all communication regarding players’ health, clearly the team doesn’t feel Justin is ready to man his position. So, if that remains the case, who will be the Twins’ regular first baseman when games start to count?

Ryan Doumit would, on the surface, seem like the most likely option. He had been penciled in to the regular DH spot, but if Morneau is going to play that role, how better to get Doumit’s bat in the line up regularly than to simply allow him to swap positions with Morneau? This makes perfect sense… except for the pesky fact that he’s barely been asked to play the position this spring for the Twins. If they truly planned to simply swap Doumit and Morneau around, certainly Ron Gardenhire would be getting Doumit a lot more innings at first base.

So, if not Doumit, who?

If the past is predictive of the future, the best way to figure out who’s in the Twins plans if Morneau can’t take the field on Opening Day may be to look at who’s been playing there lately.

Morneau last played first base in a game on March 13 against the Blue Jays. The Twins have played ten games since then. Here’s the list of players that have taken throws at the first sack:

Doumit and Hughes: 1 game each (both yesterday vs. the Yankees)

Mauer: 2 games

Hollimon: 3 games (none of them as a starter)

Bates: 5 games (two as a starter)

Parmelee: 6 games (five as a starter)

As I write this, Joe Mauer is scheduled to start at 1B against the Rays today, with Morneau once again DH’ing.

Chris Parmelee and Paul Molitor

Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that neither Ryan Doumit nor Luke Hughes will be the Twins’ regular first baseman. Hollimon and Bates are also unlikely candidates. That appears to leave two possible scenarios that the Twins may be considering.

1. Keep Chris Parmelee to open the season and play 1B. Parmelee clearly won’t be kept unless he’s going to play every day, but he’s hit well enough this spring to warrant consideration if Morneau can’t go. This option becomes almost a certainty if Morneau should find himself on the DL to start the year. If Morneau is the regular DH, however, this option means Doumit becomes purely a bench player, backing up at catcher and the corner outfield positions. It also means one less bench position is available for the current group of middle infielders battling for those spots. [EDIT: Parmelee is getting a start in RF today, which certainly indicates he's getting a long look for an Opening Day roster spot.]

2. Make Joe Mauer the regular first baseman and Ryan Doumit the starting catcher. If Morneau is the DH, then the entire expected line up remains intact, with only a shifting of defensive positions.

Of course, the bigger question yet to be answered is whether Justin can get his swing back to the point where he can turn on the ball and drive it the way he used to. It was good to see him drive a double over the center fielder against the Yankees on Friday and we’re all hoping that’s an indication of better days to come because the Twins can’t afford to start the season with a cleanup hitter struggling to reach Drew Butera’s offensive output levels.

– JC

Forbes: Twins Rank 14th in Value Among MLB Teams

Forbes magazine published its annual “Business of Baseball” on Forbes.com on Wednesday and the Minnesota Twins rank pretty much right smack dab in the middle of the pack in just about every financial category that Forbes measures.

The Twins rank 14th among the 30 MLB teams in terms of the team’s value, 15th in operating income ($16.6 million), and 13th in team revenues ($213 million). By the way, based on that revenue figure and the estimated $113 million the team shelled out for Major League salaries last season, it would appear that the Twins paid out 53% of revenues for player salaries, which is pretty much exactly what they claim the try to do annually.

The team’s value increased just 4% over 2010, which ranked them ahead of only three other MLB teams. The Royals’ increased their value just 1%, while the Rays and Mets actually saw their values drop. On average, MLB teams saw their values rise 16%.

What’s holding the Twins back? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. It’s all about the TV money, folks. The teams that are seeing their revenues (and thus their values) rise are those milking significantly more income from broadcast deals. More teams are getting a cut of profits from the Regional Sports Networks that carry their games, while the Twins are getting comparative peanuts from Fox Sports North. That doesn’t bode well for the Twins’ ability to keep up with other teams’ ability to pay players.

The refrain fans heard from the Twins during the 15 years or so before the opening of Target Field was that the Twins needed the new stadium in order to realize similar revenues to those teams that already had their new stadiums. Now, with those revenues flatlining, the story is broadcast revenues.

As the Angels, Rangers and even the Padres are beginning to join traditional big revenue teams like the Yankees and Red Sox at the top of the list of high income teams, it’s obviously not going to take long for the Twins to fall behind on the competitive balance curve again unless they can find a way to wring more money out of FSN.

I’m going to go over the numbers in more detail over the next day or two and may post a bit more if anything interesting comes out of that analysis, but if you’d like to see the list for yourself, just click here to go to the Forbes site.

Information specific to the Twins is found here.

– JC

St. Patty’s Day is Separation Day

St. Patrck’s Day means different things to different people. But if you’re a baseball player trying to make a Big League ballclub, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand with your manager and General Manager by the time you lift your first green beer of the evening on March 17.

At this point, there are just over two weeks left of Spring Training, so if you have any hope of heading north with the Big Club, you had better have made some sort of positive impression by now. You simply can’t look like Leprechaun feces on the field for the first half of March and expect to be wearing a Major League uniform on Opening Day.

The Twins had 67 players in their Big League camp to begin with and will take only 25 with them to Baltimore to begin the regular season. In reality, there were only a handful of spots open on the Twins roster to begin with and not much has changed with regard to those players that were “locks.” Of course, Joel Zumaya’s injury immediately made one more bullpen spot available and now there’s some question whether Scott Baker’s tender elbow could cause him to start the season on the Disabled List, which would open up another pitching spot. Otherwise, the Twins were really only looking to determine who their bench position players would be and fill out the back end of their bullpen.

So let’s look at who the leaders are as the guys take that long bus ride across the state of Florida for a St. Patty’s Day contest with Ozzie’s new-look Miami Marlins this afternoon. (Our friend and fellow blogger, Thrylos, has been maintaining “scorecards” that track game-by-game performance of those contending for bench positions and bullpen spots over at The Tenth Inning Stretch. It’s a handy tool that you should glance at regularly.)

All statistics are through Friday, March 16.

Third Catcher:

It’s been almost a foregone conclusion that the Twins would carry a third catcher, in addition to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, They’re still carrying six other catchers, but Danny Lehmann, Chris Herrmann and Daniel Rolfing will be heading back to minor league camp as the number of pitchers is thinned out.

The assumption has been that non-roster invite J.R. Towles would challenge Drew Butera, but Rene Rivera has perhaps been the most consistent performer of the group. Towles made a good first impression early in the month, but has been mediocre, at best, since then. Don’t rule out Butera, however. After a slow start, he’s had a couple of good games recently. I think Drew remains the odds-on favorite to keep his spot on the Twins bench. Here’s a fun small sample size Spring Training fact, however: Going in to today’s game, all three of these potential back-up back-up catchers are hitting at least .300 in official Spring Training games.

Other bench players:

The Twins really only have open spots for a utility infielder or two, if we assume that Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe have secure spots as the third and fourth outfielders. There was no shortage of infield candidates, but to be brutally honest, there haven’t been three guys who have thus far demonstrated that they deserve to get a MLB paycheck.

The best of the bunch, so far, is Chris Parmelee (.368/.478/,684). His performance this spring would seem to indicate that his impressive September call-up was not a fluke. The problem is, it’s unlikely that the Twins really want him to spend 2012 sitting on the Twins bench. He needs to play baseball every day and, unless Justin Morneau is unable to answer the bell in April, Parmelee is going to be the Rochester first baseman.

Non-roster invite Mike Hollimon has looked good (.400/.455/.700), but he has to keep it up if he’s going to force the front office to give him someone else’s spot on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, unlike with Parmelee, the Twins wouldn’t think twice about letting him collect splinters on the Big League club’s bench if he can fill in around the infield and be effective in a pinch-hitting role.

Luke Hughes (.273/.333/.500) is definitely still in the hunt for a bench spot, as well. He’s out of options, which helps his cause. He also started out physically behind other contenders, as he nursed his shoulder back to health. Since returning to regular playing time at bat and in the field, his performance has picked up considerably and he finished this week strong.

Of the rest of the candidates for bench spots, nobody as been absolutely terrible, but nobody has been consistently good, either. Outfielder Joe Benson (.250/.304/.400) has been impressive at times, especially defensively, but he’s got the same issue Parmelee does… the Twins won’t keep him just to sit on the bench. Brian Dozier (.250/.294/.375) is probably in the same boat.

Handicapping the race with two weeks left, I’d say the early favorites remain the most likely players to open the year in Twins uniforms. Luke Hughes has a spot unless he kicks it away. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.261/.292/..348) probably does, too, not so much because he’s looked good, but because almost nobody else has looked a heck of a lot better. Keep an eye on Hollimon, though, because if he finishes strong, he could force the Twins to make a very difficult decision regarding Nishioka.

The rest… Aaron Bates, Sean Burroughs, Ray Chang, Brian Dinkelman and Pedro Florimon… have had a moment or two they can be proud of, but I look for each of them to be sent down or released over the next 7-10 days.

Pitchers:

Things are much more interesting… and surprisingly optimistic… on the pitching front. For all the fretting about how the Twins would manage to cobble together a bullpen capable of backing up one of the most mediocre rotations in baseball last season, we’ve seen a number of candidates make strong cases that they deserve a shot.

Let’s start with Liam Hendriks (7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP). He started out pitching just an inning in his outings, but threw three hitless innings at the Red Sox when he got a chance to start. He was never likely to fill a bullpen role for the Twins to start the season, but if Baker has to postpone his season debut a while, Hendriks has looked good enough to step in to his spot. Whether he’s a Twin on Opening Day or not, I look for Hendriks to play a significant role for the Twins over the course of the season.

Alex Burnett, Carlos Gutierrez, Jeff Manship and Kyle Waldrop needed to perform well this spring. Those are guys who have been brought up in the organization and who the Twins expected to be developed enough at this point to be contributing at the Major League level. A big reason there are so many pitchers in camp that have been signed from other organizations within the past year or two is that those four pitchers have not yet proved they can do the job.

Burnett (2.2 IP, 16.87 ERA) has struggled, but the other three guys have been pitching well. They are getting some competition from Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and P.J. Walters, all of whom have been pretty impressive, as well.

Others have had a good day here and there, as well, but I think the field has been narrowed to Gutierrez (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.200 WHIP ), Manship (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.462 WHIP), Waldrop (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Maloney (5.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Burton (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP), Fien (3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.300 WHIP) and Walters (5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP).

Keep in mind that Gutierrez, Manship and Waldrop are all already on the Twins’ 40-man roster, while the four “outsiders” are not which means the Twins would need to find room for any of them they decide to keep. [EDIT: Matt Maloney is also already on the 40-man roster... my bad.] This race is still too close to call, but I’m excited that there are so many guys who are meeting and even exceeding expectations as we head in to the final couple of weeks of Spring Training.

I’ll be heading down to Ft. Myers for the final week of Spring Training and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

– JC

Knuckleballs Fantasy Baseball Season

I don’t know if you have noticed but it’s SPRING TRAINING!

Yes, you are allowed to say “duh” but it was the opening I needed to lead into things we’ll do during the REGULAR season – which is just around the corner, mind you.

Several years ago, I started a little fantasy baseball league MOSTLY (but not all) full of beginners who wanted to learn more about baseball in general and play around with fantasy teams in a low pressure, free, environment.

We have a couple spots open this year if anyone is interested in participating. It’s a league hosted by Yahoo and we’ll set it to autodraft at the end of the month so things will be ready to go by the start of the season. We welcome all skill levels as long as you are tolerant of those with less experience than you!

If you’re interested, send me a message and I’ll send you the registration information!