Talk to Contact Episode 56: Ushererererererer

Episode 56 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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This week we are joined by a couple of special guests including our new producter/media relations guro, Jay Corn (@Jay__Corn) to talk about the pros and cons of being a season ticket holder for 2014. We are also joined by the famous/infamous Andrew Bryz-Gornia of Twinkie Town (@BryzTwinkieTown) to talk all sorts of things Twins (Platoon splits, off-season acquisitions, Ushering). Paul, Eric, Cody, Jay, and Bryz are essentially porno for your ears, but for baseball. We discuss Paul Molitor’s new job with the Twins, minor league acquisitions and the Diamond award winners, among other things (namely Beer, pie and WS predictions). It’s 103 minutes of pure ear awesome. The off-season is fun, you guys.

Thanks for listening!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

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).

Molitor is a Good Addition to Twins Staff

The Twins used the off-day today before the 2013 World Series gets going and MLB reimposes its “don’t make news on any day we play a post-season game” gag order to announce that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor has been added to manager Ron Gardenhire’s coaching staff.

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League spring training fields

Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor on the Minor League spring training fields

MLB has begun allowing teams to dress seven coaches and while the Twins did not take advantage of that option in 2013, Gardy will have a full contingent of coaches in the dugout next season.

When the Twins announced a year ago that some of the coaching staff would not be retained, Molitor told the media he’d be open to interviewing for a coaching job with the big league staff. However, at that time, General Manager Terry Ryan said, “At this time he is not going to be a fit. I’ve talked to him about it. We had the discussion. And I know he has interest.”

What a difference a year (and another 96 losses) makes, apparently.

But what exactly has changed?

I think we can begin and end that discussion with the obvious: A year ago, the Twins had announced that Gardenhire would not be getting what had become a near-automatic contract extension and would therefore be managing through 2013 without any assurance he’d be around beyond that.

Paul Molitor (4) observing CR Kernels batting practice

Paul Molitor (4) observing CR Kernels batting practice

Having Molitor lurking in the dugout would arguably just feed media and fan speculation that Gardy’s replacement was already on board and looking over his shoulder if (when) the Twins started losing.

Now, however, the manager has a new two-year extension so, in theory, there should be no speculation about Gardenhire being inevitably replaced by his high-profile coach.

I think that theory held for all of about 20 seconds after the announcement of Molitor’s hiring. The speculation will become even louder the first time the Twins get swept in a 2014 series (which shouldn’t take long next season unless the roster gets an uncharacteristic off-season overhaul).

Personally, I don’t think Molitor is the heir apparent as Twins manager. I have another favorite in that race, but I certainly could see Molitor serving as an “interim manager” in a worst-case scenario involving a mid-season change at the top. Then again, every worst-case scenario involving the Twins these days seems to come to pass, so don’t bet against this one.

Despite the drama it will inevitably lead to next summer, I like the hiring of Molitor. I would have been fine with the Twins bringing in someone with no prior ties to the organization, too. I’d have liked it even more if they had added a qualified Latin American coach.

But having someone with Molitor’s baseball IQ in the dugout certainly is not a bad thing.

I had some opportunities to talk to Molitor this summer when he spent the better part of a week in Cedar Rapids working with Kernels playes in his role as a roving minor league instructor focusing on baserunning and infield play (you can click here for my interview Molitor) I came away with a very positive impression of him personally, but more importantly, as someone who knows the game and knows how to communicate that knowledge.

Molitor has established coach/pupil relationships with most of the players the Twins will be relying on to bring the franchise back to relevancy. he has worked with Byron Buxton on baserunning. He’s worked with Miguel Sano and virtually every other minor league infielder on improving their defensive skills.

And, oh yeah, he’s someone who knows a little something about winning.

Rochester Red Wings (AAA) manager Gene Glynn was rumored to be another leading candidate for the coaching job with the Twins. With Molitor getting that gig, it would seem likely that Glynn will be assigned to manage the Red Wings again in 2014.

Had Glynn joined the Twins’ staff, we may have seen some shifting in assignments among the other minor league managers in the organization. Now, it would seem logical to assume that Jeff Smith will return to AA New Britain, Doug Mientkiewicz to high-A Fort Myers and Jake Mauer to Class A Cedar Rapids.

Last year, it seems like the Twins waited until December to announce their minor league coaching assignments, but if things will remain pretty much the status quo, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to delay those announcements.

I suppose, though, that the Twins may, once again, wait until the World Series is over or at least for the next off-day in the Series rather than endure the “wrath of Bud” for breaking news on a World Series game day.

I’m not sure what the chances are that anyone who cares about the Twins minor league managing/coaching assignments still gives a damn about the Red Sox and Cardinals or whether those that do have minds that are incapable of absorbing Twins news AND remembering to watch World Series games, but who are we to question Bud’s edicts, right?

Anyway, this final thought concerning the Molitor hiring: The Twins won’t suddenly become champions because Paul Molitor has been added to their coaching staff unless they can run him through a time machine and put him in the batting order and on the field. But by adding him to two of last season’s coaching additions, Tom Brunansky and Terry Steinbach, does bring more credibility to the staff.

That may not translate in to immediate success in the win column, but I believe it will pay dividends long-term.

JC

Sickels’ “Twins Top 20″ Features Past/Future Kernels

The 2013 season was, by almost all measures, a successful maiden season for the affiliation between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and their new Major League parent, the Minnesota Twins. Now, fall is bringing out the first of what will be many published organizational “top prospect” lists, signaling that it’s not too early to begin looking at what kind of talent the Twins will be sending to Cedar Rapids in 2014.

John Sickels publishes The Baseball Prospect Book yearly and is one of the more respected minor league experts in the business. This week, he released his list of the Twins’ Top Twenty Prospects at his minorleagueball.com website.

A peek at that list not only confirms for Kernels fans that they had the opportunity to watch a number of future Major Leaguers on Perfect Game Field this year, but also gives a clue as to what Cedar Rapids fans can expect to see next summer.

Sickels wrote that the “Twins system is among the elite in the game,” and a number of recent Kernels are among the reasons for that high praise. He also believes that, “there are some lively arms of promise at the lower levels,” in the Twins organization, which should tip off Kernels fans to what they can expect to see in 2014.

Sickels uses a grading system (A, B, C, etc.) to rank the prospect status of minor leaguers and he is not an easy grader. As he writes, “Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.” Of the hundreds of minor league players in the Twins organization, 24 attained that C+ grade, or better, from Sickels this fall. That may not sound like many, but it’s actually a high number for one organization.

Byron Buxton, who patrolled centerfield for the Kernels during the first half of the 2013 campaign, was one of two Twins prospects (along with Class AA slugger Miguel Sano) to attain Grade A prospect status from Sickels. Wrote Sickels, “Few organizations can boast a pair of potential superstar Grade A talents like Buxton and Sano, and the Twins have good depth beyond them…”

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Buxton ranks as the number one prospect in the organization, on Sickels’ list, but five other Kernels alumni also rank in his Top Twenty.

Right handed pitcher Jose Berrios gets a B grade from Sickels and ranks sixth among Twins prospects. Both infielder Jorge Polanco (B) and outfielder/first baseman Max Kepler (B) make the organizational Top Ten, coming in at numbers nine and ten, respectively, in Sickels’ rankings.

Third baseman Travis Harrison earns a B-/C+ from Sickels and the number 11 ranking, while outfielder Adam Brett Walker’s C+/B- grade placed him at number 13.

Four additional Kernels, infielder Niko Goodrum and pitchers Mason Melotakis, Taylor Rogers and Miguel Sulbaran pulled C+ grades from Sickels and fell just outside the Top Twenty. In essence, this means ten members of the 2013 Kernels are among Sickels’ Top 24 Twins Prospects going in to the offseason.

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum

As for the future, grading recently signed or drafted ballplayers that haven’t yet competed in a full season of professional baseball is a tricky business, but Sickels placed five such Twins prospects among his organizational Top Twenty. All five are pitchers.

Kohl Stewart, a right hander who was the Twins top draft pick in last summer, leads that list with a B+ grade from Sickels and his number three ranking in the organization. Sickels’ wrote that Stewart, “was the best high school pitcher in the draft and showed good command of plus stuff in his pro debut.”

Lefty Lewis Thorpe, an Australian 17-year-old, reportedly grew an inch and added something close to 50 pounds and several miles per hour to his fastball this past summer. Sickels grades him at a B- and places him seventh among Twins’ prospects. Thorpe pitched in the Gulf Coast League (the lowest US rookie league team among Twins affiliates) in 2013 making it highly unlikely that he starts 2014 in Cedar Rapids and may not arrive until the following summer.

Felix Jorge (number 17), Stephen Gonsalves (19) and Ryan Eades (20) slip in to Sickels’ Top Twenty, as well, all with C+ grades.

Jorge is a righthander from the Dominican Republic who had a very good year for Elizabethton in 2013, striking out 72 hitters in just 61 innings covering his 12 starts.

Gonsalves, a lefty and the Twins’ fourth round pick last June, only threw 28 innings combined during time with both Twins rookie league teams in 2013 but was a strike out machine and posted a 0.95 Earned Run Average.

Eades, another righthander, was the Twins’ second round pick in 2013 out of LSU. He accumulated just 15 2/3 innings of work for Elizabethton this summer but will be 22 years old by opening day in 2014, making it possible the Twins would try to accelerate his movement through the organization.

It could be years before Cedar Rapids fans see another collection of hitters in Kernels uniforms the likes of the group that the Twins sent through town in 2013. Buxton could well be wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform and calling Target Field in Minneapolis his home by the end of the coming season. By 2016, several of his Kernels teammates could join him with the Twins.

While Kernels hitters in 2014 are not likely to measure up to what fans saw this year, a pitching staff that could include Stewart, Jorge, Gonsalves, Eades and, possibly by the end of the season Thorpe as well, has the potential to be among the best in the Midwest League.

– JC

Talk to Contact Episode 55: Canadian Meat Sticks and Infield Woes

Episode 55 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Sep 3, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Doug Bernier (17) sprints home against the Houston Astros during the twelfth inning at Minute Maid Park. The Twins won 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 3, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Doug Bernier (17) sprints home against the Houston Astros during the twelfth inning at Minute Maid Park. The Twins won 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

We’re essentially geniuses, that’s the only conclusion I could come to after recording and listening to this week’s episode. Pure baseball genius. We talk about some issues surrounding the infield this off-season (The return of Justin Morneau? What Miguel Sano means to Trevor Plouffe and if anyone can or should challenge Pedro Florimon at SS), talk a little bit about the farm system and some possible trades that might develop. We also talk about beer. Eric was fired for drinking water, then immediately hired back, because he’s my brother. We also made a wager of 100 beers while debating if Doug Bernier will ever post an OBP over .330 again in his career.

Thanks for listening!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

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).

Twins First “Game 7″: 48 Years Ago

It was October 14, 1965.

It was Game 7 of the 1965 World Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers sent Sandy Koufax to the mound to face the Minnesota Twins and Jim Kaat. Both pitchers were starting on two days’ rest.

That’s right. TWO days’s rest. The two pitchers had faced one another in Game 5 in Los Angeles.

Thanks to Jesse Lund of Twinkietown.com, I spent my late afternoon and early evening thoroughly enjoying a walk down memory lane while watching the video below. It’s the 1965 Game 7 in its entirety.

Ray Scott, who was one of the voices who brought the Twins in to my room so many nights as a child through the magic of a transistor radio, had the play-by-play of the first four and a half innings and Vin Scully took it from there. Scott returned for the bottom of the ninth as Scully made the trek to the Dodgers clubhouse for the postgame interviews. (You don’t want to miss his interview of Koufax after the game near the end of the video.)

A few interesting things I noticed as I watched that brought back so many memories of the games from my childhood. Some are things you certainly don’t see or hear any more, others are just interesting given the context of the times:

  • The voice of Twins PA announcer Bob Casey and the sound of jets flying low overhead at Metropolitan Stadium
  • “Around the horn” that features every infielder, including the catcher, involved.
  • Scott mentioning that Tony Oliva was not wearing a glove when he batted. Today, broadcasters mention that occasionally when the rare player comes to the plate without batting gloves. In Oliva’s case, it was notable because Oliva had become one of the first (if not the first) players to wear a glove on one hand when he hit because of his tendency to lose control of the bat and fling it down the first base line or even in to the crowd when he swung. In fact, Oliva would lose his bat twice in Game 7 without the glove.
  • The bats appear so big. Thick handles, with so many players choking up an inch or more.
  • Many players tossed aside their batting helmets once they reached base and just ran the bases wearing their caps.
  • Umpires occasionally would inspect the baseball, but seldom tossed it out. Almost the only outs or foul balls that didn’t get thrown back to the pitcher for continued use were balls hit in to the stands.
  • Check out the height of that pitchers mound. In 1965, the mound supposedly had a height limit of 15 inches. There’s an interesting comment from Dodgers manager Walt Alston about how the Dodgers mound at home had a steeper drop off. In fact, it was rumored that the Dodgers’ mound at the time was closer to 20 inches high. Beginning, I believe, in 1969, the height was reduced to 10 inches maximum and the grade was required to be a uniform 1 inch per foot from the rubber to the front of the mound.
  • The positioning of the umpires. Those guys got right on top of the call. Tony Oliva made a diving catch in the top of the first inning and the umpire ends up standing right in front of where he’s lying on the ground. Base umpires, similarly, are right on top of calls at first and second base.
  • In the top of the second inning, Scott mentions that Kaat does some radio broadcasting work locally during the offseason. Of course Kaat has gone on to a long, successful career in the broadcast booth, which continues today.
  • The mention, early in the game, that Koufax had thrown 336 innings in 1965, striking out 382 and walking just 77. Of course, Koufax would throw over 300 innings again in 1966 (making three times in a four year period) and retire with “arthritis” in his pitching elbow at the ripe old age of 30.
  • Twins Manager Sam Mele had two relief pitchers warming up at the very beginning of the first inning, just in case Kaat got in to early trouble.
  • A mention, when Kaat came to the plate for the first time, that he was “very fast,” and that Mele would occasionally use him as a pinch-runner and that Kaat liked to bunt for a base hit.
  • Al Worthington, the “Twins top reliever” (per Ray Scott), began warming up in the third inning and relieved Kaat with no outs in the fourth. I bet if you had suggested to Mele that he needed to save Worthington to “close” at the end of the game, he’d have thought you were nuts. By the way, it worked. Kaat gave up 2 runs before being relieved and Worthington came in with two on and no outs and didn’t let anyone score. The Twins bullpen shut out the Dodgers for the final six innings.
  • Kaat and other Twins pitchers waited on the mound until the relief pitcher walked in from the bullpen before walking off the mound to the dugout. We know this to be true because there were no commercial breaks during the pitching changes, only between innings.
  • Before the bottom of the third inning, Scott does an NBC promo for the network’s weekend slate of “American Football League” games, which, according to Scott, would be televised, “live, mostly in color.”
  • NBC had instant replay, but it obviously was very limited. There might have been five replays shown the entire game.
  • Finally, as a precursor of what was to come years later, even as a third base coach, Billy Martin couldn’t resist getting in to bit of a rhubarb with the plate umpire during the bottom of the third when he felt Koufax wasn’t coming to a complete stop from the stretch (and Martin was right, by the way).

Those are just a few of the things I found interesting.

For Twins fans of my generation, the video is two and a half hours well spent, despite the result of the game. Just getting to see Oliva and Killebrew at the plate again is pretty special.

For the rest of you, it’s still some history worth seeing one time.

– JC

Talk to Contact Episode 54: The Offseason Primer

Episode 54 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Glendale Desert Dogs

Glendale Desert Dogs

This week we keep things relatively brief (only 50 minutes of audio gold) and check in on Ron Gardenhire, the 40-man roster, and the Arizona Fall League. We talk a little bit about May and Meyer pitching FAST, and Buxton, Rosario and Kepler making their AFL debuts.

We spend some time discussing Wisconsin beer and Ginger Whiskey before we do a quick dive through the MLB postseason.

Thanks for listening!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

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).

Getting Out of a Hole (a Parable)

A guy falls in to an eight foot deep hole while at work. His boss comes along and the guy says, “hey boss can you get me out of here?”

The boss says, “Things are pretty tight around here so we can’t afford to buy a ladder, but we have this old shovel sitting around. I’ll throw it down and you can dig yourself out.”

It takes a long time, but after a lot of trial and error (sometimes even digging in the wrong place and making the hole deeper) our guy manages to dig himself out of the hole. And of course, he’s damn proud of himself for that accomplishment. It certainly wasn’t easy. He’s recognized far and wide for his perseverance.

The boss is so impressed that, not long after, the guy gets a promotion. And, while everyone thinks it’s a bit odd, the guy never goes anywhere without that old shovel.

A couple of years later, company revenues have grown significantly but, alas, holes still happen and one day the guy’s replacement in his old job falls into another eight foot hole. Sure enough, our guy is the first person to walk by and he hears, “Hey, can you get me out of here?”

Still holding on to that old shovel, the guy jumps down in to the hole, too.

“What the hell, man? Why didn’t you just reach down and pull me out?”

“Don’t worry,” our guy answers, “I’ve been down here before and I know how to dig us out.”

HoleLadderAfter a couple hours of digging, the boss comes by. He looks down in to the hole and shakes his head. “Hold on a minute, guys, we can afford a ladder now. I’ll be right back.” He walks in to a nearby hardware store and returns a few minutes later with an extension ladder and lowers it in to the hole.

The new guy climbs up the ladder and walks away.

But our guy looks distrustfully at the ladder and keeps on digging.

A couple of days later, the boss walks by the hole again and, to his surprise, the guy is still down there digging, only now the hole is 12 feet deep. The boss kind of shakes his head and laughs, but when customers question why the hole is getting deeper, he just tells them this guy has done this before and knows what he’s doing.

Days later, a crowd has gathered and they’re all exasperatedly trying to tell the guy that all he has to do is extend the ladder and climb out. Pretty soon, a reporter shows up and asks the guy why he won’t use the ladder.

“We’ve got a lot different revenue streams now,” says the guy, “but if you’ve got to try to get out using a ladder, you’re probably going to fall. It just doesn’t work.”

Soon after, the boss walks by again and he doesn’t seem as amused now. These people gathered around are all potential customers and the guy in the hole is making him and his company look foolish or like they’re too cheap to give the guy the right tools to get out of the hole.

The reporter asks the boss to comment on the guy digging in the hole and the boss replies, “We have to acknowledge we probably have to use that ladder to get out of that hole.  Our guy is committed to using the ladder. He can speak for himself, but I believe he’s enthusiastic about doing that.”

Of course, the guy continues to dig.

Eventually, the crowd turns angry because the hole just keeps getting bigger and the police have to clear the area until the only people left are the guy in the hole and his boss.

When he’s certain nobody but the guy in the hole can hear what he says, the boss looks down in to the hole and says firmly, “Enough with the digging. Use the damn ladder to get out of that hole. Now!”

Of course, since there was nobody else around to hear it, we can’t be 100% positive that’s what the boss finally said.

But I sure hope it is.

– JC

Talk to Contact Episode 53 – End of the Year Awards, but better

Episode 53 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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The 1st Annual Talk to Contact Awards Banquet!

This week the boys discuss Ron Gardenhire’s tenure in Minnesota and talk about what his new contact means. Everyone will hear plenty of talk about the regular season awards, ROY, MVP, Cy Young etc, but the Talk to Contact crew has invented a whole slew of awards you’ll hear no where else, including: Best season by a former Twin, Most entertaining player, Best Broadcast moment and much much more.

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

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).