Looking for Breakout Seasons

By this point, everyone knows the variables that will determine whether the Twins will have a successful 2012 season, right? Mauer, Morneau, Baker and Span have to stay healthy and the bullpen needs to be vastly improved over last year. We know all of that because every beat writer, columnist and blogger has pointed at those issues over and over again since October.

Sure, if the established veterans all return to the level of productivity we’ve come to expect from them, the Twins should avoid the kind of meltdown they suffered through last season. That said, if the team is going to actually contend in 2012, they’re going to need more. They will need breakout seasons from players that have not yet demonstrated that they belong among the American League’s elite names at their positions.

But where can the Twins expect to find those potential breakout seasons?

The typical arc of a professional baseball player’s career is actually more predictable than one might think. Their prime years are pretty much from ages 26 to 32. We all spent a lot of time discussing the back end of that range during the offseason, as we discussed the pros and cons of offering multi-year contracts to Michael Cuddyer, who is just past that “prime” range, and Joe Nathan, who is well past it.

But when you are looking for potential breakout years, it makes more sense to focus on the front end of the range. The Twins are notorious for bringing their minor league prospects along slowly through the organization and, for a club with a reputation for disregarding advanced statistical analysis, it appears that they may have a basis for this particular proclivity. Projecting that most players hit their strides at age 26, I doubt that it’s a coincidence that most Twins prospects aren’t often starting their Major League careers (and their arbitration clocks) until they’re at least 24 years old. The Twins apparently try to time a player’s Big League debut a year or two before they expect him to break out and become a fully productive Major League ballplayer, then get as much of their peak years as possible while they’re still affordable.

Glen Perkins

For example, Cuddyer was getting his first real full-time duty with the Twins at age 25 and had his first OPS above .800 (or first OPS+ season over 100, if you prefer that metric) in his age 27 season. Torii Hunter got a taste of the Big Leagues in the season during which he turned 24, but he really figured it out in 2001, the season he turned 26. More recently, Glen Perkins may have made his debut at age 24, but it wasn’t until last year, in his age 28 season, that he carved out a meaningful role for himself with the Twins.

Armed with this knowledge, who should we be looking at in 2012 as having the potential to have breakout seasons? Here’s a list of possible candidates:

Trevor Plouffe turns 26 years old in June. He’s shown some pop in his bat and, let’s be honest, if he had demonstrated passable defensive abilities, he’d be the Twins regular shortstop right now. If he can play a decent outfield, Plouffe could establish himself this season. But few players really get it all figured out in their first full year of regular time in the Show, so we should probably hold off on establishing those expectations of Trevor quite yet. Maybe next year.

The same would be true of pitchers Anthony Swarzak and Kyle Waldrop. Both will be 26 years old pretty much throughout the upcoming season, but given their relative lack of Major League experience, it’s probably not realistic to expect them to have Glen Perkins-like results already this season.

Luke Hughes

Infielder Luke Hughes is starting his age 27 season and he got a few swings in at the Big League level last year, so we can hope to see him step his game up a little bit. He’s not currently penciled in for a regular starting job, though, so you have to wonder if he’ll get the plate appearances necessary to make significant strides in 2012.

So if those candidates aren’t likely to break out, who will?

First, keep in mind that Denard Span just turned 28 years old a couple of weeks ago, so while he’s arguably already had his breakout season, he’s still on the front side of his peak years. He’s reached the point of being physically mature and has enough experience that he really should no longer be seeing much of anything offensively or defensively for the first time. That being the case, I’d like to see Span take a big step forward with his game this season, assuming he can stay healthy.

Another familiar name on my list of potential breakout seasons is Francisco Liriano. We’ve been waiting for him to have a true breakout season for what seems like forever. Despite having several seasons of Major League experience in the books, Liriano is still just now entering his age 28 season. That’s slightly past our “breakout season” ages, but it’s not too late to see it happen… yet. That said, this is arguably the last year that anyone can make the, “he’s still a young pitcher with potential,” statement, so it’s now or never (at least with the Twins organization) for Frankie.

If it seems like Alexi Casilla has been around forever, too, it’s because he has. He was rushed a bit after being acquired from the Angels for J.C. Romero and his service clock started while he was still just 23 years old. That means he’s just now entering his age 27 season (he turns 28 in July). Casilla has been inconsistent, to say the least. But this season, he’s starting off at what’s arguably his best defensive position, second base, and so far this spring he’s making good contact from his spot at the bottom of the Twins order. The game should finally be slowing down a bit for Lexi and if he can play decent defense while getting on base with regularity, he could play a significant positive role for the Twins in 2012.

Danny Valencia

Finally, the guy with perhaps the greatest potential for having a true breakout season is third baseman Danny Valencia, who will be 27 years old throughout the first five months of the season. Valencia’s had two full years now to adjust to Big League pitching and there’s no reason he shouldn’t take a major step forward in 2012. Everyone seems to project Valencia as hitting in the #7 spot in the Twins lineup and he very well may start the season there, but if he’s still hitting in the bottom third of the order in August, I’ll be disappointed.

So those are my “breakout season” picks… Liriano, Casilla and Valencia (with some additional improvement also from Span). Talk all you want about Mauer, Morneau, Baker and the bullpen, but in my mind, the Twins’ success, or lack thereof, this season is riding just as much on the ability of these players to make significant strides as any other factor. They are hitting their prime years and it’s time for them to show fans what they’re made of.

– JC

GameChat: Yankees @ Twins, 12:05 FSN

The Twins are putting what’s pretty much their “A” line up out there today against the visiting Yankees. Considering the 2+ hour bus ride from Tampa and the fact that this is a “split squad” day for the Yankees (they have a “home” game today, too), they actually brought a fair number of regular position players to Ft. Myers.

Denard Span was originally listed as the starting CF, but was a late scratch with a stiff neck. I don’t like the sound of that, but I’ll try not to get too worried… yet.

Nick Blackburn takes the mound for the Twins and Phil Hughes does so for the Evil Empire and, best of all (at least for those of you in Minnesota), the game is being shown on FSN. So, once again, we’ll open up a GameChat window for anyone interested in stopping by.

Here’s today’s lineups:

YANKEES

@

TWINS
Gardner, LF Revere, LF
Granderson, CF Carroll, SS
Swisher, RF Mauer, C
Ibanez, DH Morneau, 1B
Cervelli, C Willingham, RF
Vazquez, 3B Doumit, LF
Nix, J, 2B Valencia, 3B
Laird, 1B Benson, CF
Pena, R, SS Casilla, A, 2B
  _Hughes, P, P   _Blackburn, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
NY Yankees 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 9 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 3 x 5 8 0

Admit it, it’s always a good feeling to beat the Yankees, even if it’s just an early exhibition game.

Once again, the Twins pitching had a good day. Nick Blackburn got the job done in his three innings  and the six relief pitchers that followed did just fine, as well. The difference between yesterday and today was that Twins hitters also showed up. Danny Valencia hit his second HR in as many days and today he was joined by Joe Benson and Mike Hollimon who had blasts of their own. None of the damage was done against Yankees starter Phil Hughes, but at this point, I’m just happy to see bats making good contact on baseballs for the Twins against anyone.

This is the week we’re likely to see a few of the 66 players that started the spring in the Big League clubhouse take their gear across the parking lot to the minor league complex. There aren’t likely to be many surprises, but we’ll soon start to get a better idea of who’s in serious consideration for those last roster spots and who isn’t.

– JC

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GameChat: Twins @ Pirates, 12:05

I see the Twins Spring Training game today is on MLB.tv, but I’m not sure if it’s being televised on FSN or not. Either way, I thought I’d put up a GameChat for anyone else who doesn’t have anything else going on today.

It sounds like Scott Baker had a rough couple of innings in a “B: game this morning. He told reporters that there was nothing physically wrong with him, he just couldn’t get the ball down. That’s good news… I think. The Twins did actually score some runs, for a change, however. Oswaldo Arcia homered and Chris Parmelee had a couple of doubles. That’s more offense than they’ve shown in almost a week’s worth of games.

So let’s see how they do in the “real” game this afternoon.

TWINS

@

PIRATES
Span, CF Presley, LF
Carroll, SS McLouth, RF
Willingham, RF Navarro, SS
Morneau, DH Barajas, C
Valencia, 3B McGehee, 3B
Plouffe, LF Fox, 1B
Pearce, 1B Hernandez, Go, CF
Revere, C d’Arnaud, 2B
Casilla, A, 2B Bedard, P
  _Doyle, P   
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 4 6 1
Pittsburgh 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 11 0

Four runs on six hits may not sound like much, but it’s a veritable power surge for the Twins lately. Danny Valencia stepped up today with a 2-run HR and a double. Starting pitcher Terry Doyle was less than impressive, but the relief corps that the Twins sent out to the mound after Doyle all certainly behaved as though they are serious about claiming spots in the Twins bullpen. Swarzak, Burton, Maloney, Waldrip, Oliveros and Walters all pitched scoreless innings and all struck out at least one Pirates hitter. Swarzak gets extra credit for coming in to finish off the 3rd inning for Doyle before pitching his own complete inning in the 4th.

– JC

Spring Training Report #3

Went to my first official baseball game for Spring Training and picked the matchup vs the Rays. I realized how far away I was from where I usually watch my Twins baseball. Of course, I was greeted by familiar faces from the outset so yeah, it was Twins baseball right away. I was amazed at how packed it was even an hour before game time. That’s my usual time to show up because I like to do what I need to and be in my seats before the anthem. I’m just that way. But you know who else is that way? Senior Citizens in Ft Myers, Florida. WOW. Lee County officials had named Thursday Senior Day and they came out in force.

The difference between this day and the B game wasn’t the players since we had had a bunch of the big names on the field the day before. It was the stands being packed with fans. And yes, a lot of Rays fans came down from whereever to see the game too. Hammond’s not really all that big folks, it gets packed easily. I would have to research the actual capacity but I would say it’s somewhat similar to how many we put into Midway for a Saints game. With the games for the entire weekend all sold out before this game even started, I can understand why they are discussing expansion plans – that’s a lot of revenue from fans that could be there that don’t know to hit the brokers outside the parking lot.

The game itself was very interesting despite the results of the score (and for the most part lack of score). It was as close to an opening day lineup option as you’re likely to see in the next few weeks. Still some names that will be new and still some that aren’t likely to make the team but for the most part, it was all familiar places in the places we are used to seeing them. Mauer was catching, Morneau was at 1B, Valencia was at 3B and Span was in CF. Things to get used to you was Plouffe in LF & Willingham in RF. The way they performed out there, I think that is likely to be the arrangement most of the time.

The position of SS was oddly familiar even though it’s manned by a new player to the team. I couldn’t have picked Jamey Carroll out of a lineup even though he’s a veteran in the league. However, he chose a familiar number. I find it even more amusing that he seems to have about the same height as the previous wearer of the #8. Li’l Nicky was built a little thicker & Jamey didn’t do any gymnastics but it was eery nonetheless. The other departure from the norm was Ray Chang playing 2B. He was solid & quick in play and got a GREAT out catch from Mauer on a Strike-out/Throw-out. He may not make the team but he was ok.

Liriano started the game off VERY well. He was confident and throwing well. Had some great K’s, nasty movement on his fast ball that confounded several of the Rays hitters and threw 3 innings in a very, very, very efficient 34 pitches. In other good news, Span definitely showed up to play. You can tell he is feeling himself and putting himself through the paces he expects to use. He’s back to his old speed in the field AND on the bases, stealing 2nd and robbing OF hits. He’s the one guy who was dependably on base during yesterday’s game. The bad news? No one seemed to be able to get him home and he was as frustrated by it as the fans. In fact, the game remained scoreless until the 9th. Other bad news? In the course of the standard spring training game, the position holders changed frequently to give the alternates a chance to get on the field. That worked out better for some than others. I continue to be disappointed by Nishioka who, after a full season and off season to rehab and learn the American style of the game, still played slow and indecisive at SS which is a real problem for me. But at least he got on base!

Not all the young guys are quite up to big league play level either. But then again, they’re not really supposed to be. One I hear mentioned well frequently is Aaron Bates. He needs a bit better work with this glove – a couple of very costly bobbles kept him from making a great impression this particular day. He did try to make up for it with a great diving grab late in the game so he’s willing to do the work – just needs more time to become consistent.

I was fairly impressed with Mastroianni who is apparently already on the 40 man roster even though I can’t recall ever having heard his name. He’s a pretty compact little guy but has a very big presence. I can’t quite describe what I mean but you can feel the energy he brings to the game and a lot of spark to running the bases. It was enough to make me want to keep my eyes on him as he comes up the ranks.

One of the other guys that I HAVE heard a lot about is J.R. Towles. He came out to do a stint behind the plate. I hope I get more chances to see him because he didn’t really do much with this opportunity. From what I saw, he’s not ready to be up yet. He was rough in catching and couldn’t put anything together hitting-wise. But it was a VERY limited opportunity so he will have more chances.

Pitching-wise, we got to see a bunch of guys come out and do their thing after Liriano finished up.  Liam Hendriks came out and looked great, Jeff Manship did a good job and it proceeded to be a “pitchers duel” kind of game from mostly familiar names. One looked familiar to me and I can only assume it’s from LAST spring training because I don’t recall him ever being up. But Daryl Thompson had a great web gem moment grabbing a line drive rebound before fans & players alike could barely blink and know what happened. Considering it was the out that ended the inning if I recall, there were a lot of smiles and high fives. Overall, it was a good day for pitching.

A couple other minor observations from the game: for all my comments yesterday about how thin Justin Morneau is, I noticed something else. He’s SMILING! A LOT. I frequently commented in past years about how tense he could be during a game and how often it worked against him at the plate. To see him relaxed and happy during random moments on and off the field really boosted my confidence about his overall condition. One of the funniest moments of the game to me was after one of the changeovers in position holders. One young guy out in RF wasn’t quite paying attention to the dugout in order to get his instructions on where to position. This left poor Jerry White doing a lot of hand-waving (kind of looked like an airplane guidance guy) trying to get ANYONE’s attention so he could give the instruction to the RF guy to come in. Finally, after practically dancing a jig, he was able to get the attention of the necessary player and get things arranged properly. The Rays 3B coach couldn’t quite hide the snigger & grin as Jerry walked back to the dugout shaking his head. Ahh… Spring Training. Bring on the Cardinals.

I grabbed this last picture just for Jamar!

Spring Training Report #2

Today, I made a solo trip out to Hammond for the B game – which considering who stayed behind to play the Red Sox instead of going to Port Charlotte, you might call it the A game and the Orioles the B game but who’s being technical…

The hard part of a “B” game is that they don’t do anything on the board for scoring and of course you have all the young guys that you aren’t as familiar with. So this is the first time that I didn’t have my score book that I really wished I was scoring the game. I still didn’t track the hitting lineup too well because I was wandering around a lot trying to get pictures but the highlights are that the big boys were mostly in play.

I’m not going to walk you through the game or anything but I enjoyed seeing how people were doing. Blackburn started things off very well. Mauer played 1B with Casilla at 2B and Morneau was DH’ing I think. That was about the end of the REALLY familiar – I still recognized most of the young guys since we saw half of them up in the bigs at the end of last year – Trevor Plouffe, Joe Benson, Rene Rivera… A couple I had to actually go look up. Our 3B for the whole game was a kid named Michael Hollimon. Not too bad actually. I was a little less impressed with two outfield invitees – Wilkin Ramirez & Matt Carson. It was also fun to see Paul Moliter coaching 1B since Jerry was on the road.

The sight that shocked me the most was watching Morneau come up to bat. He walked once, hit a really fun stand up double but.. you know how people have been saying he’s thinner?? HOLY CRAP, HE’S SKINNY! He still has the big shoulders but his lower body muscle mass is just gone. The tree-trunk thighs are very normal looking now for a guy of his height. Do I think it’s a problem that he looks normal? Not precisely but when you lose that much of your leg muscle mass, he is going to have to do things differently. The sad part is that he’s still wearing his pants from last year and they are super huge on him – like Liriano oversized style.

What hasn’t changed at all is Mauer’s ability to stand in the batters box and watch a pitch go by… LOL I don’t even know if the ump called this a strike or a ball but it just made me laugh anyway. As it was, Mauer was 0-2 but Chris Parmelee came out and replaced him after his two AB’s so it was just a light day at the park for him. He seems pretty comfortable at 1B now though.  It gave Rene Rivera a chance to get a little more time at catcher. I was kind of hoping to see one of the invitee or younger guys, like Towles or Herrmann but I am never really going to complain when I am getting to watch baseball. Besides, I never even looked to see who was in the lineup for the “A” game.

Even Dick Bremer preferred the B game! For the record, he’s looking skinnier too. ;)

PS. Tomorrow, I’m bringing the hubby along & we’re hitting the Rays game at home.

Hump Day Humbug

I’ve written often lately about how Spring Training is the time for just enjoying the fact that baseball is being played by our guys in Florida and setting aside the disagreements we’ve had with Twins management over roster decisions the past few months. I still believe that.

Image: zazzle.com

But I’m sitting here this morning realizing that it’s only Wednesday AND that my original Spring Training plans, had they worked out, would have had me leaving for Ft. Myers a week from today. Instead, it will be two weeks later, so I’ve got a whole THREE WEEKS to wait. Humbug.

So, perhaps it’s just my mood, but I’m going to share my grouchiness with all of you this morning.

I’ve watched most of the three Twins games that have been available on the internet and let me just say this… if Ron Gardenhire thought starting camp three days earlier than usual to work more on fundamentals was going to return this team to the days of playing baseball the “Twins Way,” he must be wanting to throw up about now.

I know the wind has been crazy during a couple of the games and that some outfielders are playing out of position a bit (Ryan Doumit played LF the other night for the first time since HIGH SCHOOL), but so far the way guys are fielding, throwing and running bases, I’m not sure three extra WEEKS would have been enough to instill fundamentals in some of these players.

With so many pitchers in camp, there’s a ton of guys who have to know they’re going to have to really stand out every time they get even an inning of work in a game. That’s unfortunate, because ideally you want to use Spring Training games to simply work on location or release point for specific pitches, without being overly concerned about whether the hitter figures out you’re throwing the same pitch over and over until it feels good.

But most of these pitchers don’t have that luxury right now. Every time one of them goes out there and walks a couple of guys or gives up more than one hit in their inning of work, they know they’re one step across the parking lot to the minor league clubhouse (or one step toward outright release). I’m not going to name names, but if you’ve been watching, you know there’s a couple of guys feeling the heat right now.

The Twins are playing another “B” game as I write this Wednesday morning. I’m not sure I like the trend toward more “B” games. I understand that with so many pitchers in camp, they simply need to get more live innings in, but those games also start to become excuses to leave starting position players home, rather than making them bus an hour away to play in that day’s “real” game.

For example, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are all playing in the “B” game today, while Denard Span and Josh Willingham are the only certain starting position players making the trip to Sarasota to play the Orioles (unless you want to count Ben Revere as a starter). Teams already tend not to take a full group of starters to road games, but if it gets to the point where they never take their best players, it will mean two things: The games will be less interesting for fans and pitchers will face fewer legitimate Major Leaguers as they prepare for the season.

I understand there are pros and cons to this. For example, if Babs and Andrew got their butts out of bed early enough today, they had a chance to see Lexi and the M&M boys support Nick Blackburn up close and personal without paying a nickel to do so. Also, now that minor league camp has opened, there will be guys sent across the lot every few days, so the need for “B” games becomes less important. In other words, I’m probably concerned over nothing… but hey, I’m in one of those moods so I thought I’d mention it.

Here’s another thing that’s really a good thing, but I’m going to grouch about it anyway. All-Star Twins blogger Aaron Gleeman shared the news in his blog this morning that he’s had a very successful year on the weight-loss front. This is great for Aaron and I’m happy for him… but realizing that a year ago, he outweighed me by about 120 pounds and now he’s dropped at least 25 pounds below what I’m carrying just reminds me how unsuccessful I’ve been on that front.

Finally, tomorrow is the opening day of the Big Ten Conference mens’ basketball tournament. This is usually something I more or less celebrate. In fact, for the first several years it was held, I made the trip to Chicago to attend it in person (this was before I realized that instead of fighting blizzards to attend this event, I could go to Florida to watch baseball in 80 degree weather). But this year, my Hawkeyes not only are unlikely to advance far in the tournament (I’ve become accustomed to that lately), their first game is at 10:30 in the frigging morning on Thursday! And if they beat Illinois, they turn around and play early again on Friday!

So the bad news is that I have to essentially take the entire day off from work Thursday (and maybe Friday, too) to watch Big Ten basketball all day. Hey… wait a minute… that means that, from a work perspective, this kinda may be “Friday.”

Hmmmm… I think I feel my mood improving, after all.

– JC

Spring Training Report #1

As this is my honeymoon and my attentions are naturally driven in multiple directions, you’ll have to forgive my less than timely addition to the baseball information. I have to admit that while JC would have spent just about every day at the baseball park, I have been distracted by many other things – including a good chunk of sitting on my ass watching the birds. In fact, until today, the only baseball-oriented activity I’ve taken part in was talking to the various baseball fans I ran into about their respective teams which included the Orioles, the Twins, the Phillies, the Red Sox

Of course, the whole reason PLANNED to come down here in March was so that we could work some baseball into the mix. So of course you knew it had to come up the schedule eventually. We had left the possible attendance of the Monday night Red Sox game as a “gameday decision” and once we saw the traffic backup going in the direction of the Lee County Sports Complex? yeah, we decided to go for a day game. Silly me thought I’d be able to find somewhere on Ft Myers TV a place that carried Spring Training games.. I was wrong.

(As it turns out, I saw from the score that that was likely a very good decision! Especially as our replacement plans included a fantastic seafood dinner off Ft Myers beach with a view of the marina & the pelicans.)

So today we ventured out to Hammond Stadium, knowing that the team had an away game so the place would be mostly empty and be a good time to acquaint ourselves with the park, the seating, and maybe even see some of the players who stayed behind. That made for a great couple of hours. We got to see Justin Morneau, Drew Butera, Denard Span and a bunch of other guys that I didn’t really recognize but a couple looked familiar.

We also checked out the field and planned out what seats we would like to be able to get.. tried to buy tix at the window but they didn’t have what we wanted so we’ll have to hit the ticket brokers in the parking lot when we get there on Thursday. We decided we’re going to go to the Rays game. Of course, it’s Senior Day that game so… that could make things interesting. Not to mention what it could do to the parking & traffic situation.

While we were hanging out, we started a convo with an older guy who was wearing “official-looking” Twins paraphanalia so I thought he worked for the team. Turns out it was Twins minor league catcher, Danny Lehmann’s dad! We were able to say hi briefly when Danny came out of the training room to meet up with pops. Reportedly there was going to be a “B” game going on later but we hung out for awhile and left when there was not visible activity for set up. Besides, I figured it was time to head out when I started to get distracted by the birds again..

We’ll have more to share on Thursday! (and just maybe something before that)

 

Talkin’ Big Ten Basketball

Yes, I know this is a Minnesota Twins blog first and foremost. But, as many of you know, my interests do extend beyond the Twins and even beyond baseball.

I’m also a fan of NCAA basketball and, in particular, Iowa Hawkeyes basketball.

Monday night, I joined the Phil Naessens’ podcast to talk about the Big Ten conference as they get ready to open the BIG tournament later this week.

We discussed each Big Ten team and Phil & I each made our Big Ten Tournament champion picks and I picked one of the teams that have to play four games to make a huge run (no… unfortunately… it’s not the Hawkeyes).

So, if you’re interested in listening to Phil and I talk Big Ten hoops for a half hour or so, click here and feel free to leave comments!

– JC

GameChat: Red Sox @ Twins 6:05

Tough to get this GameChat up before game time when I work until almost 6:00, but I’ll put it up and then go add the lineups.

And here they are:

RED SOX

@

TWINS
Iglesias, SS Span, CF
Sweeney, RF Nishioka, 2B
Youkilis, 3B Mauer, C
Ortiz, 1B Morneau, 1B
McDonald, D, DH Willingham, RF
Kroeger, LF Doumit, LF
Shoppach, C Hughes, L, DH
Punto, 2B Dozier, SS
Repko, CF Hollimon, 3B
  Buchholz, C, P   _Marquis, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Boston 0 4 1 0 0 0 5 0 0 10 11 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 2 7 2

I think the technical baseball term for that kind of game is “butt-ugly,” even for a Spring Training game.

Jason Marquis was certainly less than impressive in his Twins ST debut, though his defense didn’t exactly help him out either.

On the positive side, Liam Hendriks looked sharp with 3 Ks in two scoreless innings and Carlos Gutierrez, Brendan Wise and Tyler Robertson all added an inning of scoreless pitching each. Joe Mauer was the only Twins hitter with more than one hit, contributing two singles.

– JC

Our 2nd Knuckle-versary

Two years of Knuckleballs. Who-da thunk it?

A year ago, CapitalBabs wrote about how surprised we all were that 30,000 visited our site in our first year of existence, so you really can’t believe how shocked we are that more than 50,000 more of you people stopped by to see us during our second year!

The Twins blogging community has become an amazing place. It grew to the point where there have been literally dozens of blogs worthy of regular reading. We have blogs by the professional journalists, by people focused on the science and mathematics of baseball, by people who have devoted a good segment of their lives to studying the Twins minor league system, and by people like us who are mostly just doing this blogging thing to provide an outlet for our viewpoints and to have some fun with others in the process.

What’s great is that all of these people with very different backgrounds, talents and viewpoints all come together thanks to a common interest in the Minnesota Twins and a willingness to put themselves and their opinions out there for others to read, enjoy and, yes, often times criticize. But that’s OK. Free and open civil debate is the cornerstone of our country. The number of people willing to open themselves up and participate in that process enhances the experience of being a Twins fan.

The creation of Twins Daily by the TwinsCentric crew is a new and exciting event for Twins fans. It has the potential to be a real “game changer” for the Twins blogging community. I will admit to having a concern that it may become such an overwhelming focal point for Twins fans looking for blogging content that it makes it more difficult for the rest of us to keep our own “lesser” blogs alive. It certainly means we need to step up our game to assure our content is worth the effort for those readers willing to click a few extra keys to come see us. If we prove unable to do that, then our readership will likely drop off and we may find ourselves faced with some difficult decisions.

But that’s something for another day. Today, as we anxiously await the opening of another Twins season, we’re celebrating the fact that we’ve not only survived for two years, but by any measure of our original expectations, we’ve thrived beyond what we could have imagined.

And we have you, our readers, to thank for that. Thank you for your support and we look forward to sharing another Twins season with all of you!

– JC