Episode 28 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Eric and Paul are joined this week by not one, but two guests with international flavor. In the first segment the twins are joined by Gary from Italy (@ForzaGemelli) to talk about baseball in Italy and hopes for the Italian team in the WBC (including Drew Butera, the boat anchor). Later in the podcast fellow international traveler Thrylos (@Thrylos98) of tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com to talk about spring training battles and baseball in general. Eric and Paul go on to discuss injury news coming out of spring training, J.T. Chargois, Camile Pascual, the World Baseball Classic in both generalities and specifics before getting sidetracked talking about beer, and other nonsensical things.
Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help the Twins in games).
We’re back! Opening Day is just 23 days away and we need to kick off the snow and salt we’ve accumulated on our GameChats all winter. Tonight marks the first televised Fox Sports North broadcast of the year for the Minnesota Twins (game available locally on FSN+) so that seemed like a pretty good time to pull out the GameChat and get back into the swing of things. We’re putting the GameChat up an hour early tonight to give folks some time to catch up before the game starts.
If you’re a new reader at Knuckleballs, feel free to stop into the chat and say hello. We will have a GameChat up for every game of the regular season, so come back often and join us for some Twins chatter. Many of the regular folks that stop by (and JC and I) live outside of Minnesota’s boarders so the GameChats are an excellent opportunity for us to “talk shop” with other Twins fans. We’re creating a virtual neighborhood bar, and you can bring your own beverage!
The Twins still have a whole bunch of players off participating in the World Baseball Classic, so we will see some interesting line-ups over the next several days, and tonight is no exception.
The first Boyfriend of the Day (BOD, the Knuckleballs version of MVP) award goes to Mike Pelfry for three scoreless inning in which he recorded five strike outs while allowing just two hits and one walk. The offense did just enough to give the Twins a win and the the boys from Minneapolis escaped with a 2-0 victory over the Red Sox.
We are about at what could be considered the half-way point of the Twins’ Spring Training, believe it or not. We’re hitting that point a little early this spring because of the way the World Baseball Classic has caused an elongation of the process. But regardless of how we got here, with all of the question marks the Twins had when pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers, it’s as good a time as any to check in to see if any of those questions are any closer to being answered.
Will the Twins rotation be better?
Of course, the smart-ass answer to that is that it could hardly be worse than it was last season, so it almost has to be better. But based on early appearances, the “real” answer is also, “yes, it will be better.” Of course, it’s way too early to predict how much better.
With Scott Diamond as yet untested in games, all we’ve really been able to see are the newly acquired pitchers (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia) and the young pitchers trying to translate minor league success in to Major League careers (Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson). To be fair, holdovers from last season such as Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno also have to be considered in the mix, but unless those guys show something that makes everyone believe they’ve significantly improved, the fact remains that if they’re part of the Twins rotation for a significant part of the season, it probably means the answer to this question is that the rotation has not improved enough to make a real difference in the Twins short-term fortunes.
The good news is that, on balance, the leading candidates for rotation spots have not looked too bad in their first few outings. Worley looks like what we expected him to be, a legitimate mid-rotation arm. Pelfrey isn’t yet hitting his normal pre-Tommy John surgery velocity, but he hasn’t had any sort of medical setback that we feared he might have given his accelerated rehab schedule. Corriea missed a little time to be with his wife for the birth of their new son and showed some rust in his first game back on Thursday, but he hasn’t been getting rocked the way you might have expected if you believed all the harpoons directed toward him by writers and fans since signing with the Twins. Finally, both Hendriks and Gibson have had ups and downs but have generally demonstrated why they’re considered legitimate rotation options to start the season with the Twins.
Scott Diamond is scheduled to get his first Spring Training start on March 18 so we may not know until the final week of camp whether he’ll be ready for the Opening Day roster. That said, if the Twins had to open the season with a rotation of Worley, Pelfrey, Correia, Hendriks and Gibson, I could live with that and feel somewhat confident that said rotation would lead to better results than we saw in 2012, despite the obvious shortcoming of being without a lefty until Diamond returns.
Who’s going to be the centerfielder?
The Twins entered Spring Training telling us that three players would compete for the CF job… their 4th outfielder from 2012, Darin Mastroianni, and two young outfield prospects trying to make the Opening Day roster for the first time, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson.
The competition going in seemed set up in a way that made job Hicks’ to lose. He’s definitely the player with the highest ceiling and it was just a matter of whether he would prove to the decision-makers that he’s ready for prime time, despite never playing an inning of AAA baseball. If he failed to impress, Mastroanni was likely to get the job, by default. Benson’s only real shot to win the job would be if Hicks and Mastroianni both failed miserably and/or don’t survive Spring Training healthy.
Thus far, it’s been all about Aaron Hicks. He already has three home runs after leading off both Wednesday’s game against Puerto Rico’s WBC team and Thursday’s game against the Phillies with home runs. The former wasn’t “official,” of course, since it came in an exhibition game, but the latter came against Cliff Lee.
UPDATE: Almost before I could get this article posted, Hicks hit ANOTHER home run in that Phillies game Thursday afternoon. At this rate, he’s going to screw up his chances to open the season as the Twins’ leadoff hitter by showing too much power. That said, two words of caution for Twins fans who might be tempted to read too much in to Spring Training power displays: “Luke Hughes”.
UPDATED UPDATE: Hicks has hit a THIRD home run in that Phillies game. Just… wow.
There’s still a lot of games to play before Opening Day and it wouldn’t be unheard of for a rookie to start hot and then begin tightening up at the end of the spring as the pressure of knowing he’s really playing for a spot in a Major League starting line up hits him. Still, you definitely have to say that Hicks has grabbed hold of this opportunity with both hands.
Who’s going to get the middle infield jobs?
It was generally assumed that three of the four infielders competing for middle infield spots would move north with the Twins, while one headed for Rochester. However, while Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon appear to be the early leaders in the race for starting positions at 2B and SS, respectively, it is now looking like both Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar could stick, as well. Carroll brings a veteran presence along with the versatility to play multiple positions. Escobar, though, has been impressing coaches with his glove and, it turns out, could serve as an “emergency” catcher. His bat, frankly, may not be much more of a threat than Drew Butera’s, but he would provide much greater utility around the field than Butera would. This decision could come down to the wire in late March, so stay tuned.
In the end, none of the questions have truly been answered yet, but we can definitely see the roster starting to take shape. The first round of roster cuts could be announced almost any time, now that the minor league camp has opened up and pitchers are starting to get stretched out to four innings or so. Still, with several players still participating in WBC games, there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for young players to impress someone.
For now, the two most important things Twins fans need to hope for are (1) that the potential rotation members continue to improve as Spring Training rolls on, and (2) that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau return from the WBC healthy.
That is a list of 23 players, I would feel comfortable considering these the 23 best Twins prospects in the Twins system. Of these 23 players, six appear more frequently on lists, and higher up on lists, than any of the others: Oswaldo Arcia, Byron Buxton, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Alex Meyer, and Miguel Sano. No real surprise there, these are the six players that both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus included in their recent Top 100 (101 for BP) lists. Paul and I talked about those players at some length in the recent episode of Talk to Contact, and compared where each of those two sites had the players listed. If you have a copy of Seth Stoh’s Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2013 you can find several additional prospect lists in there. Again, the same six names generally top those prospect lists in some order, with Buxton and Sano at the top, and the other four usually clumped together.
The other names on the list, I think, then are much more interesting, as they are less likely to have drool all over them from prospect hungry Twins fans looking toward the not-to-distant future when the Twins might not be terrible again. Of the 17 other players included on FantasyRundown.com’s list, the most recognizable names are probably Trevor May, Eddie Rosario, J.O. Berios, and Max Kepler. Those four players will usually round out the Top 10 lists for most Twins prospects, and in fact, in the Top 15 Twins Prospect list that Fangraphs released yesterday, three of those four appeared in their top 10. Trevor May was the one on the outside (12), and in his place in the top 10 was middle infielder Jorge Polanco, who is not even listed above, and has yet to play full-season baseball for the Twins. Eventually the list over at BP will be updated and the Fangraphs rankings will be included and not only will Jorge Polanco be added, but Travis Harrison, a promising third basemen who also has yet to play full-season ball will be on the list as well.
Get to know some of the names on this list, they’ll be a big part of the Twins future, and when you get tired of watching the Twins lose in 2013, you can follow these players through the Minor Leagues.
*The following prospect lists were used in compiling the list of Twins prospects listed above:
Baseball America – Long-term Rankings
SeedlingstoStars.com – Long-term Rankings
Scout.com – Long-term Rankings
TopProspectAlert.com – Long-term Rankings
BaseballProspectus.com – Long-term Rankings
FanGraphs.com – Long-term Rankings
ScoutingBook.com – Long-term Rankings updated as of 02/06/13
ProjectProspect.com – Long-term Rankings
BaseballInstinct.com – Long-term Rankings
ESPN.com’s Keith Law – Long-term Rankings
Prospect361.com – Long-term Rankings
TheBaseballHaven.MLBlogs.com – Long-term Rankings
BullpenBanter.com – Long-term Rankings
MLB.com – Long-term Rankings
DeepLeagues.com – Long-term Rankings
ThroughtheFenceBaseball.com – Long-term Rankings
TheDynastyGuru.com – Top 150 Dynasty Lge Fantasy Prospects
Prospect361.com – Top 100 Longterm Fantasy Prospects
CBSSports.com – Top 100 Longterm Fantasy Prospects
In the days following last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, most of the chatter among Twins fans seemed focused on two subjects: Byron Buxton, the high school outfielder that the Twins selected with the second overall pick of the draft; and the number of hard throwing college-age relief pitchers that the team selected in first couple of rounds.
Everyone wanted to discuss just how good Buxton might become and whether or not the Twins would be able to successfully convert any of those strong college arms in to starting pitchers. Almost overlooked in the discussions was Jose Berrios, a young high school pitcher the Twins drafted used a supplemental first round pick to select out of Papa Juan XXIII High School in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
It’s understandable, perhaps. Buxton was the near-consensus “best athlete in the draft” and the college pitchers all seemed to be at least 6′ 4″ 210 pound men with mid 90s fastballs who had proven themselves with some of the premier college baseball programs in the country. Berrios, on the other hand, appeared to have to stretch to reach six feet in height and reportedly packed on about 20 pounds during his senior year of high school just to get up near 185.
Some even suggested that the Twins had reached a bit in selecting Berrios where they did. ESPN’s Keith Law had the young righty pegged as the 73rd best ballplayer available in the draft, but the Twins used the 32nd overall pick to select him. Almost immediately, there was speculation that Berrios’ size and mechanics indicated he’d likely need to convert to a bullpen role.
Berrios pitched at both Rookie League levels in the Twins organization after inking a deal with the Twins for a $1.55 million signing bonus. He threw 30.2 innings across 11 games (four of them starts) and put up a combined 1.17 ERA. That’s nice, but here are the real eye-popping numbers: Berrios struck out 49 batters in those 30.2 innings, while walking just four. No matter what level of minor league ball you’re at, those are impressive stats!
His effort didn’t go unnoticed outside the Twins organization either. In January, Berrios was named to Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic pitching staff. That honor also got the young pitcher an invitation to the Twins’ Major League Spring Training, where he would not only get much needed work in preparation for the WBC tournament, but would also have the opportunity to get in front of the eyes of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the big club’s coaching staff.
While Berrios has not pitched in any of the Twins’ “official” Spring Training games, he has pitched in the ‘B’ games and intersquad games that the team has scheduled over the past week or so in order to get enough work in for the expanded roster they’ve got in camp this year.
Even without taking the mound for an official Spring Training game, however, he’s made an impression. Gardenhire observed after Berrios took one of his turns throwing live batting practice to the Big Leaguers, “He can throw it. He can wing it.” Star-Tribune Twins beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III has also been impressed with Berrios, writing, “I can’t believe he’s just 18. His stuff is live and he goes after people.”
In what’s likely to have been his final game experience prior to leaving to join his team mates for the WBC in Puerto Rico, Berrios threw two innings against a team of Red Sox prospects in a ‘B’ game on Thursday and retired all six hitters he faced.
Puerto Rico opens their WBC play against Spain this coming Friday. They’ll have their work cut out for them to advance beyond the first round, however, as traditional powers Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are both also in Puerto Rico’s pool.
It will be interesting to see how the Twins handle Berrios once the WBC wraps up and the minor league season gets underway. The Twins are not an organization known for overtaxing the arms of their young pitching prospects and ordinarily it wouldn’t have been surprising to see an 18 year old like Berrios stay back in extended spring training for a few weeks rather than subjecting him to the chilly Iowa weather in April. But with his early start and the WBC work, they may be more likely to send him north to Cedar Rapids for Opening Day.
In any event, it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when” we’ll see Berrios on the mound in Cedar Rapids this season. Hopefully, he’ll show fans of the Kernels and Twins in Eastern Iowa a bit of what has been impressing everyone in Ft. Myers this spring.
In parting, click here to take a look at a great, emotional video taken on draft day last June, when Berrios and his family & friends learned he’d been drafted by the Twins.
I’m as well aware as anyone that once you reach a certain age, you prefer to stop counting your birthdays. I tried to stop a couple of decades ago. But anniversaries are always worth celebrating, right?
Our humble little blog here at Knuckleballs turns just three years old this week and we’re still counting!
In fact, not only are we still counting, but we’re still growing and we have all of you, our readers, to thank for that!
A year ago, as we were looking back at our first two years in the Twins blogging community and at the upcoming year, we were thrilled that our readership had grown from about 30,000 visitors the first year to more than 50,000 in the second year. At the same time, we questioned whether we might see our readership plateau a bit or maybe even drop off. The super-bloggers over at TwinsDaily were just kicking off their fantasic site and we recognized that, while it was a brilliant idea, it could have a dampening effect on readership for smaller “independent” blogs like ours.
Apparently, we needn’t have worried about that. In the past 12 months, we’ve had over 92,000 visitors stop by Knuckleballs. (Some of you even stay long enough to read something.) I’m not sure what to attribute the continued increase to, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt to add Eric and his contributions to our group!
We don’t have any significant changes planned for the coming season, though we may tweak a few things here and there. We’ll continue to open up GameChat windows for almost every Twins game and, of course, we’ll continue our usual not-so-serious approach to being Twins fans. I’m personally also really looking forward to including more posts focused on my home town Cedar Rapids Kernels this summer, now that they’re affiliated with the Twins.
We never really got in to this project with the expectation of huge readership numbers, but it is gratifying that so many people find the work we do to be worth the time to check in from time to time.
Episode 27 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.
Eric and Paul discuss the Twins news of the week, ranging from the Oswaldo Arcia injury, the CF competition, Joe Mauer‘s twins to the Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings. They are joined this week by Kristen Brown (kbrobaseball.blogspot.com) to talk about spring training, voodoo paper dolls and being a female sports writer in a male dominated world. After K-Bro the twins take a closer look at Gary Gaetti‘s time in Minnesota, and Deolis Guerra‘s future with the organization before getting into the world of beer and stolen sausages.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which buy us beers).