Well for good or ill, the 2014 Twins season is finally here! Whatever your opinion of the off-season this year, and/or the Twins preparedness, it’s really good to have baseball again!
Given my extremely “busy” Spring Training, I am excited to actually have a little time off to watch some early baseball this year. Of course, maternity leave ends sooner than any mom wants regardless of baseball season so my ability to watch (or manage) day games certainly won’t last long enough but I’m grateful for it today! Baby Girl and I are all geared up and ready for BASEBALL!! (as my little bro noted, I even put on MAKEUP for you people so you should appreciate the effort 😉 )
How about you?
Let’s hope that Nolasco has something to throw at the Sox today – something good anyway. Like I say at the start of a lot of seasons (ok ALWAYS), this year is going go however our pitching goes. We can bring back Kubel and Bartlett and like it or not but I don’t think that is going to be the determining factor of whether we do better than last year (or even better than the last time those guys were on the roster)…
But it’s opening day of a new season and EVERY team starts with a clean slate! Let’s see what they have to offer!
Twins baseball is finally here!! and boy does it feel familiar…
This is the 6th straight opening day that the Twins have fallen – and it hurts a little bit more that it comes at the hands of the White Sox, I have to admit. Once again, I was less than impressed with the outing from our starting pitcher. Nolasco just didn’t do much to claim the “ace” title and he might just have become De Aza’s favorite pitcher in the process. It’s only one game and I’m sure he’ll have better days to come but it wasn’t today.
There were some positives though. Suzuki looked great in his new uniform and drove in all three of the Twins runs. The rest of the lineup didn’t look horrible so I think if we can actually get the pitching on the right path, we could win some games!
There seemed to be much consternation in some corners of the Twins blogosphere the last couple of days as the final roster decisions became evident.
Alex Presley began spring training as a competitor for the Twins centerfield job. He leaves spring training a member of the Astros after Houston claimed him from the Twins on waivers.
Lefty pitcher Scott Diamond and 1B/OF Chris Parmelee had inside lanes on roster spots entering camp, but neither made much of an impression on the Twins. In fact, they obviously didn’t make much of an impression on anyone else, either, since both players cleared waivers. Both are now members of the Rochester Red Wings (AAA).
Saturday, catcher Dan Rohlfing was sent to Rochester, as well, in a move that was generally expected.
It’s hard to make an argument that any of the players who didn’t stick with the Twins were unfairly deprived of their roster spots. In fact, almost immediately upon learning he’d been passed over in favor of Kyle Gibson for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation, Diamond told reporters he agreed with the Twins’ decision.
No, none of these players really impressed, so that’s not where the disagreements come from.
The problem many fans seem to have is with regard to a couple of players that DID make the Twins Opening Day roster; veterans Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett.
The argument is that neither Jason put up spring training numbers that were any better than other, younger, players who were let go.
That’s a valid point. Kubel hit just .196 this spring and yet, remarkably, outhit Bartlett by over 100 points. Still, both were officially added to the Twins roster on Saturday.
I would agree with those who claim they didn’t “earn” their roster spots, but I’m not getting worked up over it because, frankly, nobody else earned those roster spots, either.
It’s not a case of Bartlett and Kubel being handed spots while young players who are likely to be significant parts of the next generation of competitive Twins teams are being blocked from getting valuable Major League experience. Diamond and Parmelee could yet become serviceable MLB players, but when you project the lineups/rotations of the next great Twins teams, neither are likely to be listed.
Likewise, while Presley certainly could contribute as a spare outfielder capable of playing some centerfield, losing him is not debilitating. By mid 2014, if the Twins decide another guy capable of playing CF would be nice to have, they’ll still have Darin Mastroianni around somewhere to call on. But, honestly, you know the Twins front office is silently hoping the next CF that joins the big league club is Byron Buxton.
The Twins candidly stated that Bartlett and Kubel are on the roster because nobody proved they were clearly better than those two guys, they have significant Major League experience with winning ballclubs, and it was clearly felt that the young players with the Twins could benefit from seeing how that kind of veteran conducts himself on and off the field.
That roster decisions are made based on such “intangibles” rubs some fans the wrong way. I understand that. But in the absence of tangible advantages demonstrated by someone else, I have no issue with going the route that provides some veteran leadership. And if having a couple more familiar names on the roster gives casual fans more reason to attend a game or two early in the season, too, that’s fine.
The young players that showed that they deserved to stick with the team to open the season are on the squad. Kyle Gibson, Sam Deduno, Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks may all be part of the next great Twins teams and all of them earned their roster spots. If any of them had been held back to make room for Bartlett and Kubel, I’d have been disappointed.
But that’s not what happened.
So with the last two roster spots, the Twins decided to keep a couple of guys who have more past than futures on the field, yet provide a clubhouse presence that the organization thinks might be helpful in developing the aforementioned young players instead of a couple other guys who likely don’t have significant futures, either. I honestly can’t argue with that logic.
The critics point out that Ron Gardenhire may be relying on Bartlett to fill in as the fourth outfielder, despite having no outfield experience at any professional level. That’s a fair point, too. But I watched Bartlett play a few games in the outfield in Florida and I have to say he looked like he knew what he was doing out there. Enough so, anyway, for me not to get too worked up over the fact that he might see a little time out there occasionally.
Now, if you want to argue that Bartlett and Kubel are getting roster spots that woulda-coulda-shoulda gone to other players from outside the organization that would have provided more punch to what is clearly looking like another punchless Twins offense, I heartily agree. But the decision to bypass other external options was made weeks and months ago and I see that as a separate set of decisions than what we’re talking about here.
From what I’ve seen of the Twins pitching this spring, I think the rotation will be considerably improved over last year’s disaster. But the offense remains offensive and, at some point, I think the front office is going to realize they could have… and should have… done more to shore it up during the offseason.
But fretting over whether Bartlett and Kubel should have made the team over Presley and Parmelee? That’s the very definition of Much Ado About Nothing.
The final week of spring training is a big week for the new batch of Kernels getting ready to head north to Cedar Rapids.
On Thursday, four days before the Kernels will break camp in Fort Myers and head north, the roster for the Kernels still included 29 names. That’s four more than the 25 players that will make up the club’s Opening Day roster.
That means at least four of the current group being managed by Jake Mauer on the back fields of the Lee County Sports Complex will be staying behind for Extended Spring Training in Fort Myers.
On top of that, each of the other levels in the Twins organization, from the Major League club through each of the three minor league levels above the Kernels, all also were a few players over their Opening Day limits. As players at higher levels get “sent down,” they can bump other players down to the next lower level, as well.
After Thursday’s game with the Red Sox’ Class A affiliate, I spoke briefly with a pair of potential Kernels who, while similar in age, demonstrate two different perspectives as they prepare to open the 2014 season.
Catcher Michael Quesada was drafted as a 20-year-old by the Twins in the 24th round of the 2010 Amateur Player Draft out of Sierra College in Rocklin, California. He played only three games in 2010 after signing with the Twins and has spent the past three years moving step-by-step up the organizational ladder.
Quesada spent most of the 2013 season with the Kernels, getting in to 62 games while sharing catching duties with a number of other backstops that passed through the Kernels roster during the year. He didn’t set the world on fire with the bat, but improved his game-calling behind the plate and showed off a strong arm.
A week ago, Quesada was getting an opportunity to work with the Twins’ Class AA group,. But as catchers on the Major League side of the camp were sent down, setting off the natural chain reaction at the minor league levels, Quesada was likewise destined to drop a rung.
However, instead of dropping one rung, to the Class high-A Miracle, Quesada was returned to the same Kernels roster he was part of last season and where it appears he’s likely to open the season alongside other returning players, such as infielder Joel Licon and pitcher Hudson Boyd, among others.
If the drop bothers Quesada, he doesn’t let it show. Rather, he talks of appreciating the opportunity to see how things are done at a higher level in the organization, while looking forward to starting another season with the Kernels.
“Yeah, it was a good experience just to see more mature players, how they handle themselves,” said Quesada. “I’m just coming back (to Cedar Rapids), looking to play as much as possible and get (at-bats). I had a great time in Cedar Rapids last year, so I’m real excited to come back. It’s going to be a good time.”
Despite being less than a year younger than Quesada, infielder/outfielder Chad Christensen has just started his professional career. Christensen was drafted by the Twins in the 25th round of last year’s Amateur Draft and played just 47 games for the Twins’ lowest rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League following the end of his senior season at the University of Nebraska.
Typically, a player like Christensen would be targeted to spend the next couple of months in Extended Spring Training before joining the Twins’ Appalachian League squad in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Then, depending upon performance, he could work his way up to the Kernels later in the summer.
But Christensen, who attended Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, is still a part of the Kernels group just four days before camp breaks and is squarely in the mix for one of the final spots on the Opening Day roster with the Kernels. That would mean spending 2014 playing before friends and family in his hometown.
Kernels manager Jake Mauer has said he’d like to have the flexibility that a player like Christensen brings to the table. Mauer indicated he’d have no qualms about playing Christensen at either corner outfield position, either corner infield position, or even at shortstop on occasion.
Nonetheless, Christensen is well aware that his roster spot with the Kernels is precarious and he’s still got work to do over the final few days of spring training in order to nail down that spot.
“I’m still trying to do what I can to make this team so that’s kind of where I’m at,” Christensen said on Thursday. “(Playing in Cedar Rapids) would be real exciting, I grew up there and everything. It would be a lot of fun to come home.”
Some athletes have been known to struggle with playing at the professional level in their hometown, but Christensen doesn’t believe he’ll feel an extra pressure from playing in Cedar Rapids, if and when that opportunity arises.
“No, I’m not so concerned about that,” he said. “Just trying to keep focused on the field and separate the baseball from the friends and family. I’ll be excited about it.”
A year ago, the Kernels were at or near the top of the Midwest League in almost every offensive category. But the hitters that made up the heart of the batting order a year ago have all moved up at least one level entering the new season and Quesada allowed that this year’s Kernels will take a different approach to win games.
“We’re not really trying to match (the 2013 Kernels hitters),” acknowledged Quesada. “We’re just trying to put more runs up on the board (than the opponent) that day. Maybe it’s two, maybe it’s one. But no, we don’t have the offense of last year, but our pitching is going to win us ballgames.”
The Kernels pitching corps is expected to include a number of the Twins organization’s top young arms during the course of the 2014 season and Quesada is clearly impressed with the pitchers he’s been working with.
“The pitching staff is going to be less experienced, but with way better stuff. They’re going to have live arms, young guys that are learning how to pitch. It’s our job, myself and (fellow catchers) Mitch Garver, Bo Altobelli and (pitching coach) Ivan Arteaga to teach them. They’re definitely good throwers right now, but they have a big opportunity to turn in to some serious pitchers. I’m really excited to work with them.”
Quesada’s work this spring extends beyond the field, as a number of those young pitchers are from Latin America, which can present a communication challenge for a catcher.
“I’m working with Ivan right now to get my Spanish a little better to where I can go out to the mound and talk to them, so they’re comfortable. I’m trying to make their lives as easy as possible because it’s going to be a fun pitching staff to work with.”
Thursday was likely my final look at the Kernels in spring training. I’m planning to go to the Twins/Red Sox game on Friday afternoon and, alas, my flight home from not-so-sunny-but-warmer-than-home Florida is early Saturday morning.
On this week’s show there is a lot of discussion about recent subtractions (and an addition) to the Twins roster as they continue to trim down to their 25-man roster. Jason Kubel will make the team and both Scott Diamond and Vance Worley will be pitching elsewhere in 2014.
We discuss who is the last man in/out as the Twins trim the roster to 25 and then we take a look ahead at who will be the division winners and playoff contenders for 2014. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
We take a closer look at Twins pitching prospect and Eden Prairie native, Madison Boer before wondering aloud how Max Scherzer could possibly turn down $144 million.
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help us in our quest to create a land grant university in Minnesota to help budding young podcasters create radio gold.
There was no rain in Fort Myers on Wednesday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it was pretty breezy and high temperatures for the day barely, if at all, reached 70 degrees.
I know that sounds good to a lot of people, but I had to wear long sleeves much of the day at the ballpark and was a bit chilly eating dinner outdoors tonight!
But I toughed it out, because I know my readers expect me to do whatever it takes to get the story.
Today, that story comes from the minor league side of the Twins organization. Rather than watch the Twins and Pirates at Hammond Stadium, I fought the Daniels Parkway traffic toward the Red Sox complex to watch the Twins’ Class A groups take on their Sox counterparts.
After the game, Kernels manager Jake Mauer shared some thoughts about the way his club is shaping up as they enter the final few days of camp. Mauer indicated that just a handful of roster spots are still unresolved.
One player still “on the bubble” with the Kernels as final decisions are being made is Chad Christensen, who prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington High School before playing ball for the University of Nebraska. Christensen was drafted by the Twins last June and played last summer for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League rookie level affiliate in Fort Myers.
It sounds like the Kernels’ manager would like to bring Christiansen to Cedar Rapids next week.
“Chad’s been working real hard and he’s somebody that gives us some flexibility. He’s played both (corner) outfield positions and both corner infield positions and I wouldn’t be afraid to put him at shortstop once in a while,” said Mauer. “We’ve got about six or seven guys we’ve got to make decisions on and he’s in that mix, but there’s no doubt that he’s somebody we’d like to take north with us.”
Mauer knows his squad of Kernels is going to have to take a different approach than last year’s team, now that last year’s power hitters have moved up the organizational ladder.
“We’re going to have to be real good at the small things right away,” the manager acknowledged. “We’re going to have to run the bases well. We’re going to have to be able to execute the small game, hit and runs, getting bunts down, doing things like that. Try to create runs that way.”
According to Mauer, there should be five or six familiar faces for Kernels fans to welcome back to Cedar Rapids.
Among the likely returnees are catchers Michael Quesada and Bo Altobelli. Said Mauer, “We plan on taking both those guys north, along with (Mitchell) Garver. We’re probably going to take three (catchers) to start, at least.”
That means flexibility will be key among other position players because, according to the skipper, he expects the final roster to contain just 12 position players, allowing 13 roster spots for the pitching staff that will once again utilize a six-man starting rotation.
It’s that pitching staff that many in the Twins organization, as well as their fans, are anxious to see.
“I think we’ll be starter-heavy. We should have some quality arms, starting-wise,” said Mauer. “We’ve got a lot of young, quality arms. It just depends on how many we decide to bring up with us.”
In particular, there are a number of pitchers that will push their fastballs consistently in to the middle-to-upper 90s on the speed gun, including young Dominican pitchers Yorman Landa, who was hitting 96 mph in Wednesday’s game, and Randy Rosario. In addition, the Twins’ first round pick in 2013 (and second pick overall) Kohl Stewart is a hard throwing 19 year old who is still on the Kernels roster as camp is drawing to a close.
As Kernels fans know, however, the team’s success is not solely determined by the players that start the season with the club. Between injuries and promotions, it’s equally important to have talented players at the lower levels of the organization preparing to join the Kernels as the season develops.
According to Mauer, there’s plenty of potential mid-season help available, as well. “You know we’ve got some young boys down there, too, (Lewis) Thorpe and (Stephen) Gonsalves. Kids that have some pretty good arms that we’ll probably see at some point throughout the year.”
The Kernels will break camp on Monday. There will be a “Meet the Kernels” event open to the public at no charge on April 1 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids and Opening Day is Thursday, April 3, when the Kernels host the Clinton Lumber Kings.
I know most of the people reading this are in the Minnesota/Iowa region and have been dealing with late March snowfalls, so I don’t want to whine too much, but with that said, I did NOT fly all the way to Fort Myers, Florida, to get rained on all day! And what’s worse, it certainly appears that Monday wasn’t the last day this week we’ll be getting wet down here.
The good news is that I wasn’t planning on attending the Twins/Rays game Monday afternoon, so the fact that it got rained out didn’t affect my plans at all. The bad news is that I WAS planning on driving up to Port Charlotte to watch the current Kernels and Miracle groups play games against their Rays counterparts and those games got rained out, as well. Fortunately, I made plans to drop in on the Twins’ complex about 9:00 am Monday morning to see if anyone was putting in an early workout. It was fortunate because, when I got there, Kernels coach Tommy Watkins let me know they had already canceled that afternoon’s minor league games and the Kernels and Miracle were going to face off head-to-head for a couple of hours in the morning before the rain was expected to get serious. Brett Lee was on the mound for the Kernels and Jose Berrios was his counterpart for the Miracle. On an adjacent field, the AAA and AA groups were also facing one another. There was a steady light rain falling through much of the time the players were on the field but it was fun to watch some of last year’s Kernels, as well as many of the players expected to head north to Cedar Rapids when camp breaks on March 31. Watching Jorge Polanco and Adam Brett Walker rip back to back doubles brought back memories of last season early on. Later, I got perhaps a sneak preview in to the Kernels upcoming season when the centerfielder for the Kernels group, Jason Kanzler, throw a perfect bullet to third base to cut down Polanco, who was attempting to go from first base around to third on a base hit. Weather permitting, I’m hoping to see the Twins take on the Orioles on Tuesday and then drive up the road to the Red Sox facility on Wednesday afternoon to watch the Kernels take on their Red Sox Class A counterparts. Thursday and Friday will be “play it by ear” days, depending on how wet the next two days are.
The trip hasn’t been a total washout. I flew down from Iowa to St. Petersburg on Saturday night (only about four hours later than originally planned) and stayed overnight there so I could watch the Twins take on the Phillies on Sunday in Clearwater before making the drive down I-75 to Fort Myers. The Twins lost, scoring only one run in the process. It’s probably my imagination, but it seems to me they score one run just about every game. That should be no problem, however, since the Twins pitching staff will probably hurl shutouts at least half the time anyway, right? But the weather Sunday was beautiful, I remembered to use sunscreen on every exposed area (except my arms, apparently) and the beer was cold, so I really didn’t care much about the outcome. There wasn’t a snowflake in sight and that’s about all I needed to be happy that day. If it rains for the next four days, I may be a bit less philosophical about the weather thing, however. JC UPDATE: Still haven’t got the video uploaded but I did manage to get some pictures added:
On Episode 75 the gang talks about Cody’s basketball coaching prowess, the recent rounds of Twins Spring Training cuts that have more solidified the roster, and try and break down any remaining position battles. Eddie Rosario is still absent from Minor League Spring Training, and Eric is a little worried about what this means about Rosario as a person. Cody tries to find a downside to Glen Perkin’s contract extension, and then we bring back the long defunct Hitter/Pitcher of the Week segment. Down on the Pond we take a look at Dan Rohlfing (TEAM ROLF!) and then we talk beer and general baseball news.
Wooohooo!! My first gamechat of the season! This is going to be a funny year for me since I have no clue how being responsible for the newest Twins fan on the blog will play with my schedule but I am going to enjoy any and every game I get the chance to participate in!
I finally got to watch yesterday’s game on replay and that was NOT what I wanted to see.. in fact, I ACTUALLY thought the replay was from last fall… very eerily familiar and not in a good way.
Let’s hope today goes better.. I won’t be able to be here for the WHOLE game as gotta take “kirbee” (which no, will not be her nickname but might work great as an internet handle 😉 ) to get her first checkup. Of course, this means that while we are sitting in perennial doctors waiting room hell, I’ll have something to pop in and check! Hope that there are people out there who actually have the opportunity to join me during a day game. And like last year, it seems like the only games that are televised are the ones that most people can’t watch on TV because they’re weekday day games. *shrug* I won’t be in the office for a bit so lets hope that I can actually see a little more spring ball this year than I got to last year!
With just two weeks left before Opening Day, it’s time for us here at Knuckleballs to have a little Spring Training of our own. Let’s find out if the GameChat widget is ready for the new season, shall we?
The Twins lineup today looks will be facing off against former Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey, who’s on the mound for Miami. I can’t say I recognize much of anyone else in the Marlins’ lineup. Maybe none of their regulars made the trip or maybe these are their regulars and I just have no idea who they are.
The Twins, on the other hand, are sending out a group that is perhaps pretty close to what we might see on Opening Day, with 2-3 possible exceptions.
With Darin Mastroianni sent to minor league camp this morning, I think the Twins signaled that Aaron Hicks will be their starting CF, rather than Alex Presley. But other than that, I think today’s lineup could easily be what we see when the Twins open up against the White Sox in Chicago.
I know people still think Jason Kubel hasn’t shown enough this spring to earn the DH job and I can’t argue that he has, but he’s going to get every opportunity to seal the deal over the next two weeks.
I’m sure the Twins are still hoping Pedro Florimon will be ready by Opening Day, but if he’s not, today’s shortstop, Eduardo Escobar, is likely to be the guy there.
Ricky Nolasco had to work a bit too hard to get through five innings, maybe, but his last couple innings were efficient enough and all of the relief pitchers (Thielbar, Perkins, Burton and Guerra) looked good.
Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia each had a pair of hits to lead the offense. It still looks far from potent, but they outscored the other guys and that’s what the game is about.
Monday is a night game against the Orioles up in Sarasota.
It’s Sunday morning and that usually means a “Sunday Morning Comic Relief” post from CapitalBabs, but Babs is otherwise occupied this weekend.
It seems we have a new member of the Knuckleballs family. I got an email from Babs on Friday announcing that she had given birth to a seven pound, 15 ounce, baby girl!
Babs and her hubby may feel otherwise, but I think it’s obvious that, given she shares a birthday with a certain Twins Hall of Fame outfielder, little Margaret Ann should hereafter be referred to here at Knuckleballs as “Kirbee”.
Please join us here in congratulating Babs and Andrew.
In Twins news, another round of roster moves were made this morning. Eight more players were moved across the parking lot to the minor league clubhouse, leaving 40 guys still in big league camp.
Pitchers Kris Johnson and Sean Gilmartin were never really expected to stick on the Twins staff, though either or both could see time with the Twins during the season. The same would be true of outfielder Jermaine Mitchell and infilelders James Beresford and Brandon Waring. It wasn’t a shock to see that fivesome moved to the minor league camp.
The three other demotions were perhaps a bit more surprising to some.
Shortstop Danny Santana has been hitting well (though fielding not nearly so well) and, with Pedro Florimon still working his way back from an appendectomy, Santana has been getting a long look. But Florimon is ready to return and he’s going to need all the innings he can get to be ready by Opening Day. Santana was never going to make the Twins roster out of camp and he really needs to get innings in the field every day.
Darin Mastroianni has been competing for the centerfield job, but also got his walking papers. That would appear to mean Aaron Hicks will be the starting outfielder for the Twins, with Alex Presley as the club’s fourth outfielder. The Twins will want Hicks playing every day, so if he was not going to be starting for them, he’d probably have been the guy walking across the parking lot.
The Twins also pared down the competition at catcher, sending down Eric Fryer. That leaves Josmil Pinto and Chris Herrmann continuing to fight for a spot, along with Kurt Suzuki, among the Twins’ backstop corps. There had been speculation that Fryer would be kept as Suzuki’s backup, while Pinto refined his trade in Rochester.
Today’s game against the Marlins is on TV, I believe, so perhaps we’ll open up a GameChat window, if anyone feels like stopping by. Ricky Nolasco is starting for the Twins and old friend Kevin Slowey will be on the mound for Miami. The posted Twins lineup looks a lot like what we might expect to see on Opening Day.