GameChat – White Sox @ Twins #2, 7:10pm

So lots to talk about today!

  1. Non-waiver Trade Deadline day has officially gone! The Twins made no further moves. There was a lot of discussion of course and rumors all over the place. They were just that, rumors. It did lead to some amusing tweets from a few Twins players including Denard Span and Glen Perkins. If you are on twitter and don’t follow them already, you REALLY should.  Discussion from our media folk with Terry Ryan seems to imply that by the end of the day, Span was NOT the player of most interest nor does the FO think that a move now was mandatory – or even the Free Agent market. They seem to be setting the groundwork for an honest discussion that rebuilding this team is a LONG TERM effort that needs improvements in the minor leagues as well as the off-season. Well, duh. We told you guys that LAST year.
  2. Random announcement on twitter from Luke Hughes that he was joining an independent league team in Lancaster was very short-lived as mere hours later, he announced that he was going to be playing in Las Vegas as part of the Blue Jays system. Good for him and wow, this was quite a day for him.

For tonight, we get our first opportunity to hit Franky. Anyone else wondering which version of Liriano we’ll be facing tonight? I wonder how many secrets of his pitches our hitters know.. I have to admit I’m kind of looking forward to the challenge he presents. Let’s hope that Blackburn is the one really up to the challenge. One can always hope.

Chi White Sox

@

Minnesota
De Aza, CF Span, CF
Youkilis, 3B Mastroianni, RF
Dunn, A, DH Mauer, DH
Konerko, 1B Willingham, LF
Rios, RF Morneau, 1B
Pierzynski, C Doumit, C
Viciedo, LF Valencia, 3B
Ramirez, Al, SS Dozier, SS
Beckham, 2B Carroll, 2B
  Liriano, P   Blackburn, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Chi White Sox

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

2

4

7

0

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

1

3

7

0

@#$%@#$%$ AJ!

No, really…  Things were actually going pretty well. It was a solid outing from Nick Blackburn who went deeper in today’s game than he has all season. The boys figured out how to get under Franky’s skin which Span contributed to by hitting him every AB and Mastro stole a couple bases on him. All in all, they managed to make this game pretty darn interesting..

And then AJ hit a @#$%@#$% HR off Jeff Gray.

If you’ve noticed a theme, you’re very observant or I’m not very subtle or both. Watch the baseball news tomorrow because I think Mr. Pierzynski is going to be in hot water with the big boys for cussing Nick Blackburn out as he came into home plate – loud enough to be heard by the pitcher, infielders AND the field mics.. oops. That of course means it’s been caught on video.

I know there are still AJ fans here in Twins Territory but I can honestly say that I wasn’t a fan even when he still played here – he’s a jerk who seems to regularly feel the need to prove it and make the game about him. Go figure.

Minor Leagues: It’s Nothing Minor Behind the Scenes

Regular readers of our site are probably aware that I’m a Twins fan exiled in Iowa. While I spent 10 years of my youth growing up in Minnesota, I’ve lived almost all of my life since then in Iowa and I currently call Cedar Rapids “home.” In fact, I’ve lived here in Cedar Rapids for pretty much the past 35 years.

This is Part 2 of my 2-part series focused on the Cedar Rapids Kernels (the Angels’ Class A Midwest League affiliate). In yesterday’s Part 1, I covered a bit of the local team’s history and mentioned many of the future Major Leaguers I’ve watched on the field as they suited up for Cedar Rapids, as well as many others that called the old Veterans Stadium their summer home during the storied history of the organization.

In Part 2, we’re focusing on the present and, more specifically, what goes on behind the scenes of a minor league organization.

Many of us think we may know something about how a Major League team is run, even if all we know is what we saw from Brad Pitt’s portrayal of A’s GM Billy Beane in the movie “Moneyball”. But if any of us think running a minor league team is remotely similar, we couldn’t be more wrong.

Cedar Rapids Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson recently agreed to answer some of my questions about his organization and I found his answers to be enlightening.

Jim Crikket/Knuckleballs: You probably don’t realize it, Doug, but you’ve got what a lot of people (myself included) might consider a “dream job.” You get to spend your day working at a ballpark! I’m sure it looks a lot different to you from the inside, so maybe you could start by telling us a little bit about what all the General Manager of a minor league baseball team does. How do you spend your “typical day”?

Doug Nelson: My typical game day starts at 7:30 am checking and returning messages and reviewing customer survey results and financial reports from the previous night’s game. I meet with staff to discuss the results and to make sure we are ready for that night’s game. The balance of the morning and early afternoon is spent meeting with sponsors, speaking at community events or planning non-baseball extra events at the stadium.       

Kernels GM Doug Nelson (standing) chats with fans during a recent game

By mid-afternoon,  I switch into game mode. I check in with both teams’ managers and the umpires to see if they need anything and to inform them of any special promotions going on during the game. Two hours before game time, we conduct an entertainment meeting to review the game’s pregame activities and the inning break promotions.   

Once gates open,  I monitor the box office, souvenir store, concession stands and our ushers to insure everything is running smoothly. I spend a majority of the game thanking our sponsors and fans for their support and taking care of any issues. At the end of the game, I make sure our fans have safely left the ballpark, discuss any challenges that occurred during the game with the front office staff and by 11:00 to midnight I leave for home.

Knuckleballs: How does it differ when the Kernels are on the road?

Nelson: When the team is on the road, we are busy hosting non-Kernels events at the stadium. These events include: college and high school baseball games, concerts, MMA events, non-profit fundraiser walks and events, business meetings, catering events (weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, etc.) and corporate picnics. Each year we host over 100 non-Kernels events at the stadium. 

Knuckleballs: What about during the off-season or during spring training?

Nelson: During the off-season, the entire front office staff become sales reps. This is the time that we sell 90% of our sponsorships and ticket packages for the upcoming season.   We also spend a considerable amount of time planning promotions, daily specials and booking entertainment acts. We also operate the concessions at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and the Iowa Equestrian Center, which are the busiest during our off-season (from October through March).

Midwest Dueling Pianos perform during a recent Kernels game

Knuckleballs: Tell us a bit about yourself and your staff. What’s your background and what do you see as the GM’s primary role with the Kernels?

Nelson: I’m a CPA and have a BBA and MBA from the University of Iowa. My background is in accounting/finance and administration. Since the LA Angels make all of the baseball personnel decisions, my job is really about running an entertainment venue and concentrating my efforts on insuring our fans have a great experience while attending Kernels games.

Knuckleballs: How many people do you have working for you in the organization and what kind of responsibilities do they have?

Nelson: We  have 11 full time staff,  2 full time seasonal, 6 interns and over 300 part-time staff.

The full time and seasonal staff members include:

Doug Nelson, General Manager
Scott Wilson, Assistant General Manager
Andrea Murphy, Director of Tickets and Group Sales
Andrew Pantini, I/T and Communications Manager
Debra Maier, Director of Food and Beverage
Brandon Clemens, Entertainment and Community Relations Manager
Brett Heikkila, Head Chef
Jessica Fergesen, Director of Corporate Sales and Marketing
Morgan Hawk, Radio Play-By-Play Broadcaster and Sales
Charlie Patrick, Director of Finance
Marcia Moran, Receptionist
Seth Dohrn, Stadium Operations Manager (seasonal)
Jesse Roeder, Sports Turf Manager (seasonal)

Knuckleballs: How does one go about getting a job working for you and the Kernels? Do you look for particular backgrounds/degrees?

Nelson: For part-time positions, an employment application can be downloaded from our web site www.kernels.com  Applicants interested in full time and intern positions should send a resume and cover letter to the Kernels at doug@kernels.com.

I do not concentrate on any one type of background or degree. What is more important is that the individual has successfully completed an internship in baseball. The decision to work in this sport is as much a life style decision as a career decision. During the season, the staff will routinely work 70 – 80 hour weeks. Before an individual accepts a full time position, they and their families must accept this reality of our business.

Kernels Spirit Squad members “shoot” T-shirts in to the crowd between innings

Knuckleballs: Major League teams have a variety of revenue streams, with media deals becoming a bigger factor all the time. I assume a minor league team like the Kernels still must live and die with attendance and revenue from concessions that are also determined by the number of people who show up for games. Clearly, that means you need to be able to draw fans, regardless of the team’s Win-Loss record. How do you make sure fans still want to come to the ballpark even when the team is struggling on the field?

Nelson: A majority of our revenues do come from our baseball operations. Although the team’s record does impact attendance, weather, exciting promotions and providing excellent customer service have a greater impact on attendance. We do rely on other sources of income to supplement our baseball operations. This includes running the concession for the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena and the Iowa Equestrian Center as well as for the Kernels. As I mentioned before, we host over 100 non-Kernels events at the stadium each year, which helps generate additional income for the ball club.

Knuckleballs: This time of year, a MLB General Manager must be on his phone pretty much every minute of the day talking to other GMs about trades, etc. You don’t need to do that, but do you interact much with the other Midwest League General Managers or those of other Angels affiliates?

Nelson: A minor league GM position is completely different from a MLB GM. Since I have no say regarding player movement, my time is spent managing the venue and game promotions. With that said, I talk to my fellow MWL GMs on a regular basis sharing ideas.   

Left Field picnic area of Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium

Knuckleballs: The stadium in Cedar Rapids is now just a bit over a decade old. It seems to be holding up fairly well, but logic would tell us that it’s probably due for some upgrades and maybe even some significant repairs. How does that process work? Is that the kind of thing you have to go to the local governmental body (city council, in Cedar Rapids’ case) to get funding for or does the team need to use their own funds for that kind of thing?

Nelson: It’s hard to believe, but this is the eleventh season for the ballpark. Overall the stadium is in great shape, however we are working on putting together a plan to fund capital repairs over the next ten years. The Kernels are the sole tenant of the stadium, the City owns the facility and the Veterans Commission owns the property the stadium is built on. As a three party partnership, we have created a long-term plan to insure the stadium is maintained and continues to meet our needs for many years to come.  

Knuckleballs: I believe you’re finishing up your second year as the Kernels’ GM. I’d be interested in knowing what you’ve found to be your favorite part of the job. Also, has anything really surprised you… maybe something you had NO idea you’d be dealing with when you took the job?

Nelson: My favorite part of the job is talking baseball with our fans and sponsors during the game. I always enjoy getting to know the players, coaches and umpires. The biggest surprise to me was how cooperative everyone is in minor league baseball. Minor League Baseball Clubs do not view themselves as competitors, but as colleagues.  As such, I can call any team up and get help on any topic.

Knuckleballs: Thank you, Doug. I appreciate you taking time out of that busy schedule to answer my questions!

I don’t know about anyone else, but that “70-80 hours” thing pretty much put to rest the “dream job” idea I started this interview with! I can say, however, that Doug and his staff do a great job with the Kernels and their hard work is evident every time I’m at the ballpark!

– JC

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10pm

So this is the second start in a row, if I recall correctly, for DeVries against the White Sox. I have to wonder if that plays with a guys head just a little bit. Or if the fact that we’ll be facing Liriano tomorrow..

All together, the guys are all probably feeling pretty good about the sweep of the Indians while there are probably some just as much a bit at a loss about Liriano. And whatever else might still happen..

One game at a time, one day at a time. Let’s see if we can get the guys a victory against the WS at home in TF. That would be good..

Chi White Sox

@

Minnesota
De Aza, CF Span, CF
Youkilis, 3B Revere, RF
Dunn, A, DH Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B Willingham, DH
Rios, RF Morneau, 1B
Pierzynski, C Doumit, LF
Viciedo, LF Valencia, 3B
Ramirez, Al, SS Dozier, SS
Beckham, 2B Carroll, 2B
  Quintana, P   De Vries, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 6 10 3
Minnesota 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 12 1

You can’t get a sweep if you don’t win the first game of the series (and you can’t get swept if you DO win the first game of the series) so it’s always good to pick up a W in game 1.

Things didn’t get off to a very good start with Cole DeVries spotting the Sox a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but the offense came right back and evened the game in the bottom of the inning. From that point, Cole did just fine through the rest of his five innings. After that, the bullpen took over. Jared Burton gave up the tying run in the 8th, but otherwise, the pen did just fine.

It’s tempting to give AJ Pierzynski BOD honors for throwing Brian Dozier’s bunt down the RF line to set up the winning run in the 9th, but then we’d have to discount AJ’s 3-run HR in the 1st.

That said, we’ll go with co-BODs again tonight. Denard Span had two web-gem worthy plays in the field to go with a pair of hits. He’ll share the award with Danny Valencia who also had a pair of hits and a pair of RBI that tied the game in the first inning. His other hit was a first-pitch line drive to lead off the 9th inning and set the table for the walk-off victory. – JC

Denard Span

Danny Valencia

Minor Leagues: Seeing Stars Before They’re Stars

Regular readers of our site are probably aware that I’m a Twins fan exiled in Iowa. While I spent 10 years of my youth growing up in Minnesota, I’ve lived almost all of my life since then in Iowa and I currently call Cedar Rapids “home.” In fact, I’ve lived here in Cedar Rapids for pretty much the past 35 years.

When it comes to my baseball fandom, I’m also more than just a Twins fan (and no, I’m not referring to the soft spot I retain for the Baltimore Orioles). I’m also a fan of our local Cedar Rapids minor league ballclub, the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series focused on the Kernels. In this post, I’ll review the organization’s history. In Part 2, I’ll share an interview of Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson, who gives us a glimpse behind the scenes in to the inner workings of a minor league ballclub.

Photo: Kernels.com

The Cedar Rapids Baseball Club has a long, rich history dating back as far as 1890. They’ve been the Bunnies, the Rabbits, the Raiders (and Red Raiders) and the Rockets. They’ve also taken the name of their MLB affiliates, including the Indians, Braves, Cardinals, Astros, Giants and Reds. Currently, the Kernels are affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

John McGraw played professionally here in 1891. Lou Boudreau did likewise in 1938. In fact, if you visit Perfect Game Field at Veterans Stadium in Cedar Rapids, you’ll see “stars” in the concrete of the concourse and “section” signs, both honoring a long list of Big Leaguers that spent time on the ballfield playing for Cedar Rapids. In addition to Boudreau and McGraw, you’ll find Allie Reynolds, Rocky Colavito, John Rosboro, Pedro Borbon, Jerry Reuss, Ted Simmons and Bob Forsch, among many others. You can visit the club’s Hall of Fame, within the souvenir shop at the stadium. There’s also a terrific display of historical old uniforms, press clippings and equipment on the suite level.

The “old” Veterans Memorial Stadium, replaced in 2002 (Photo: ballparkreviews.com)

I’m old, but I haven’t been around long enough to have seen any of those players during their days here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my share of Major Leaguers on the green grass of Cedar Rapids.

I’ve been attending minor league games here for over 30 years. The first summer I lived in Cedar Rapids, I watched an 18 year old Chili Davis play for the Cedar Rapids Giants. By 1980, they were the Cedar Rapids Reds and a 20 year old Les Straker was on the mound. (Seven years later, Straker would be in the rotation of the 1987 World Champion Minnesota Twins). The Reds organization was actually pretty good to Cedar Rapids. They considered Cedar Rapids their “Advanced Class A” affiliate, so the team was competitive more often than not.

The 1982 Reds were led by Jeff Jones, who hit 42 home runs and batted over .300. Jones jumped all the way to Cincinnati by Opening Day 1983. You may not remember Jones, but you probably are familiar with a couple of his team mates on that ’82 Cedar Rapids team, Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill. Reggie Jefferson spent the following year in Cedar Rapids. Rob Dibble entertained the locals in 1985 and Trevor Hoffman honed his talents while racking up 12 saves for Cedar Rapids in 1991.

Erick Aybar (Photo: Sproutingnews.com)

The team became the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 1993 and hooked up with the Angels the same year. Since then, we’ve seen a 19 year old Bengie Molina in 1994 and part of 1995. John Lackey put up a 2.08 ERA in his five starts as a 21 year old Kernel in 2000. The 2001 Kernels had six members that have gone on to MLB careers of some manner, including Mike Napoli, Bobby Jenks and Joel Peralta. Napoli and Peralta returned to Cedar Rapids in 2002 and were joined by ten other future Big Leaguers, including Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Dallas McPherson and Casey Kotchman. 19 year old Erick Aybar hit .308 for the Kernels in 2003, but Alberto Callaspo’s .327 led that team.

In 2004, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood were joined for a late season call-up by 19 year old Alexi Casilla. Casilla started 2005 with the Kernels as well, but spent time that year in Class A, AA and AAA within the Angels organization. He would eventually be traded to the Twins for relief pitcher J. C. Romero.

Mark Trumbo (Photo: Sproutingnews.com)

In 2006, Mark Trumbo hit 13 home runs at age 19 for a team led on the mound by another 19 year old, Nick Adenhart, who went 10-2 with a 1.95 ERA. (A memorial sign, honoring the memory of the late Adenhart remains on the outfield wall of the Kernels’ ballpark.) Trumbo returned to Cedar Rapids in 2007 and brought current Angels Hank Conger and Peter Bourjos with him (at least they’re current Angels as I write this… both are being mentioned often in trade rumors lately).

Toward the end of 2009, the Angels promoted a young 17 year old outfielder to the Kernels where he appeared in just five games, but it wouldn’t be until the following year that Mike Trout would really open the eyes of fans in Cedar Rapids with his .362/.454/.526 split in 81 games as an 18 year old.

Just as an aside, fans of minor league teams don’t always have to wait until a young player makes it to the Big Leagues before seeing their names come up on ESPN. For example, the Angels acquired Zack Greinke from the Brewers on Friday in return for three prospects (Jean Segura, John Hellwig and Ariel Pena) and all of them were team mates of Mike Trout’s on the 2010 Kernels. Maybe Greinke will lead the Angels to the World Series this fall or maybe he won’t, but Segura, Hellwig and Pena are all very good ballplayers and at some point I believe the Brewers will be very glad they made that deal.

As you can tell, I’ve seen a few pretty fair ballplayers over the years, but none of them were as impressive, to me, during their days in Cedar Rapids as Trout was.

I may never see talent like that on the field in a Cedar Rapids uniform again… then again, I might. That’s one of the joys of attending the games. Sure, we want the Kernels to win. It’s great to make the playoffs and you certainly enjoy the games more when the locals are at least competitive.

But there’s something that’s just fun about watching young players who are often still just starting out on their professional baseball careers, beginning what every one of them dreams of being a process that will lead them to The Show. They’re playing for the dream (it certainly isn’t for the money they’re getting paid as minor leaguers).

The Kernels’ Player Development Contract with the Angels is up for renewal after this season. There’s some discussion locally about whether the Kernels should renew that agreement or look to partner with a different Major League organization. Obviously, I’d certainly love to see perhaps Max Kepler and Byron Buxton in Kernels uniforms in the near future, but regardless of how the PDC decision goes, I’ll continue to enjoy spending a lot of time at the ballpark watching some very good baseball next summer and, hopefully, for many more summers beyond that.

If you’ve got a minor league team near you, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about because you probably spend as much time at the ballpark as I do, if not more. If there’s a club near you and you aren’t getting out there, what are you waiting for?

– JC

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #3, 1:10pm

As you already are undoubtedly aware, Francisco Liriano has been traded to the Chicago White Sox for a handful of magic beans, and Jeff Manship has been recalled from Rochester to take his place on the 25-man roster, while Brian Duensing will replace Liriano in the starting rotation this afternoon.  The Twins have a chance to sweep the Cleveland Indians, and they’ve outscored the Tribe 23-5 the past two days.  Let’s hope the bats stay hot.

Note of former Twin activity: Lew Ford has finally made it back to the big leagues!! He hasn’t played Major League ball since 2007; doing stints in Japan, Mexico and Independent Atlantic League baseball. He signed a minor league contract with the Orioles this year – the final destination for all former Twins it seems. He very excitedly tweeted that he arrived with the Orioles to play today since they are having injury issues and really need a versatile player on the bench to cover some holes. We all know that that particular roles suits Lew pretty well and I know I’m not along amongst Twins fans wishing him all the best. – CB

 Cleveland Indians

@

Minnesota Twins 
 Choo, RF  Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS  Revere, RF
 Santana, C, DH  Mauer, DH
 Lopez, Jo, 3B  Willingham, LF
 Brantley, CF  Morneau, 1B
 Duncan, LF  Doumit, C
 Marson, C  Valencia, 3B
 Kotchman, 1B  Dozier, SS
 Lillibridge, 2B  Casilla, A, 2B
 _Jimenez, P  _Duensing, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 0
Minnesota 0 0 0 2 1 0 2 0 x 5 8 0

That’s what it feels like to sweep a series, folks! I know it hasn’t been a frequent occurrence, but it certainly is a good feeling. It’s even sweeter when you do it to a Division rival.

The Twins’ offense “only” scored five runs today, which is less than half of what they put on the board in each of the first two games of the series. Fortunately, a few of the bats were awake enough to do the job. Brian Dozier and Ben Revere each had a pair of hits and Justin Morneau had the big offensive day with three hits, including a monster home run. Revere had the only other extra-base hit, but the Twins stole five bases and scored a run on a wild pitch.

The bullpen was back to being the “good” version today, with Alex Burnett, Jared Burton and Glen Perkins each throwing one shutout inning. But the star of the day… and our Boyfriend of the Day award winner… is Brian Duensing. Pressed in to a spot start following the overnight trade of scheduled starter Francisco Liriano, Duensing gave the Twins six excellent innings. He was efficient (throwing only 70 pitches) and gave up just five hits, striking out a pair and walking nobody. Well done, Brian! – JC

Brain Duensing

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

Frankie Joins AJ on the South Side

Francisco Liriano

Not surprising really that the White Sox released the news before the Twins did so, but regardless, Francisco Liriano is now a Chicago White Sox (Sock?).

In return, the Sox sent two young players who have primarily been minor leaguers, though both have already spent some time in the Big Leagues with the BitchSox.

Lefty pitcher Pedro Hernandez recently made his MLB debut with a four-inning start. He gave up 8 runs (3 homers). I guess his 18.00 ERA is bound to improve, right? The 23 year old Venezuelan has been a starting pitcher pretty much his entire minor league career. He’s got a 3.42 career MiLB ERA and a 1.240 WHIP in his six minor league seasons. In rookie leagues, he was striking out about a hitter per inning, but that rate has dropped as he’s progressed through the levels. Thus far in 2012, with time in AA and AAA, he’s sporting a 5.7 K/9 rate and walking 2.2 hitters per 9 innings. Hernandez is just 5′ 10″, but he weighs in at an even 200 pounds.

The other player coming to the Twins is also a 5′ 10″ 23 year old Venezuelan. However, infielder Eduardo Escobar is just 165 pounds. That’s a good thing, because if he carried Hernandez’ weight, he wouldn’t be “hitting his weight” this season (he’s hit .195 in 32 games for Chicago this season). He has just 99 career plate appearances for Chicago (92 this season). He appears to essentially be a utility infielder, but he’s going to have to learn how to do something with the bat if he’s going to have any kind of career. Escobar has a .270/.315/.351 split in 6 minor league seasons.

I’m sure we’ll learn more about these players in the coming hours and days. Frankly, if Hernandez turns out to be at least a replacement level starting pitcher, then this return is about all I was expecting for Liriano. There’s no doubt in my mind that his implosion in hs last start cost the Twins something in trade value.

Thanks for the memories, Frankie. I wish I could wish you good luck in the future, but given where you’ll be playing, I just can’t bring myself to do so. I do thank you for the good times and I’ll try not to think too much about the bad times.

– JC

 

GameChat – Indians @ Twins #2, 6:10 pm

Danny Valencia is back up with the Twins, with Trevor Plouffe on the DL and Danny is in the lineup tonight.

I haven’t been paying much attention to my Twitter feed today, so if there’s other news involving the Twins, I’m simply not aware of it.

Let’s see if our guys can put a second straight total effort out on the field tonight. Then again, it’s probably asking a bit much for Deduno to replicate Diamond’s performance from last night.

INDIANS

@

TWINS
Choo, RF Span, CF
Brantley, CF Revere, RF
Kipnis, 2B Mauer, C
Santana, C, C Willingham, LF
Hafner, DH Morneau, 1B
Damon, LF Doumit, DH
Kotchman, 1B Valencia, 3B
Hannahan, 3B Dozier, SS
Lillibridge, SS Casilla, A, 2B
  _Masterson, P   _Deduno, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 5 4 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 2 3 5 1 1 x 12 12 1

Big time offense from the Twins two nights in a row? I’m not well versed on the Book of Revelation, but I think maybe that’s a sign of the Apocalypse. Better be prepared. Just our luck, right? The Twins finally pull out of the cellar of the AL Central Division and the world comes to an end.

How do you score 12 runs on just the same number of hits? One way to do it is to go 8-12 with runners in scoring position. Four Twins drove in multiple runs. Ben Revere went 3-5 and Josh Willingham blasted his 27th home run of the season. But the offensive star was Alexi Casilla who had a double and a triple, both with runners on base, giving him 4 RBI on the night.

The Twins also got a second consecutive very good pitching performance from their starter as Sam Deduno went seven innings, giving up just one run and two hits while striking out six. If we wanted to pic nits, we might ask him to cut down on the five walks he issued, but we’re certainly not going to complain tonight.

For their efforts, Casilla and Deduno earn co-BOD awards!

Sam Deduno (Photo: John Swol/TwinsTrivia.com)

Alexi Casilla

GameChat – Indians @ Twins, 7:10pm

Soooo…  Guess who is a late scratch because his thumb still doesn’t work??  yeah, and headed for the DL after being unavailable to play for 7 days… I gotta say that somewhere (probably the managers office) the air has turned blue from all the cussing. Gardy is likely royally PO’d about this because I got the sense early on that his preference all along would have been the DL but he went along with the info he was given.. which clearly was faulty to begin with. With Plouffe going down, the roulette wheel of replacement players has landed on Danny Valencia. Let’s see what he can do with the opportunity.

note: The irony that no one else would ever know about? The official lineups were actually up sooooo early that I thought perhaps I had the game start time wrong. Of course that would be the day that there is actually a late scratch and they have to fix them.

For all the issues of ‘who is playing what base’, our real issues are always ‘who is throwing the ball’. Tonight, it’s Scott Diamond’s turn and I think all of us have more confidence in him than anyone else in our rotation. Let’s hope he’s able to live up to that.

Cleveland

@

Minnesota
Choo, RF Span, CF
Cabrera, A, SS Revere, RF
Kipnis, 2B Mauer, C
Brantley, CF Willingham, LF
Santana, C, 1B Morneau, 1B
Hafner, DH Doumit, DH
Lopez, Jo, 3B Dozier, SS
Duncan, LF Carroll, 3B
Marson, C Casilla, A, 2B
  Tomlin, P   Diamond, P

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Minnesota 3 0 0 5 0 3 0 0 x 11 15 0

It was one of “those” weeks for me at work so I spent a lot of time today/tonight in a bar, but I did remember to have them put the Twins game on one of the TVs, so I was witness to Scott Diamond’s outstanding performance tonight. It was, of course, also a lot of fun to watch Justin Morneau launch a ball on to the plaza and Josh Willingham put one in the bullpens. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, whether I was seeing the last bomb off the bat of either of those gentlemen in a Twins uniform.

In the end, a complete game shutout is pretty much a no-brainer for Boyfriend of the Day and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Diamond was given the opportunity to finish what he started. A perfect game through 4+ innings and, in the end, a three-hitter. Great job, Scott! – JC

Scott Diamond

Less than Great Facial Hair from Former Twins

A less than informative blog post follows:

The Twins were off yesterday.  So naturally I was thinking about facial hair because Luis Perdomo has been called up to replace the injured Anthony Swarzak.  Which reminded me of an excellent tournament of Twins mustachioed men recently moderated by The Platoon Advantage.  This entry is not nearly as all-encompassing or interesting as said tournament.  But it is something, and by definition that means it is not nothing.  Enjoy this not nothing.

 

Delmon Young once lackadaisically roamed left field for the Minnesota Twins, now he grows fantastic mustaches.

Delmon Young’s fine mustache. Image captured from Fox Sports Detroit

 

________________________________________________________________

Wilson Ramos used to throw out base stealers for the Twins in the Minor Leagues.  Then someone tried to steal him.  Now, apparently, someone has stolen his mustache.

Wilson Ramos’ missing mustache. Photo Credit: David Phillip, AP.

 

________________________________________________________________

Ron Davis says more by saying less, with his mustache.

Do the glasses make the mustache better, or vice versa. Photo stolen directly from NotGraphs.

 

________________________________________________________________

Then there is Jon Rauch, sporting some type of death metal goatee/beard combo.  Perhaps tied to the death of his success as a reliever.

Jon Rauch and his unkempt facial hair. Photo Credit Sports Illustrated

 

________________________________________________________________

Are you Gary Gaetti?
Sqinty eyes? Check.
Beaver teeth? Check.
Walrus-esque mustache? Check-PLUS!

Gary Gaetti says, “Hello, Ladies.”

 

________________________________________________________________

And finally Jose Mijares, amidst a trio of bearded Royals, using his beard as a chinstrap to keep his hat firmly attached to his head.

Jose Mijares: Football player wanna-be. Photo Credit John Sleezer, Kansas City Star

 

________________________________________________________________

This has been a collection of less than great facial hair from former Minnesota Twins.

-ERolfPleiss