Always Leave ‘em Wanting More

It’s an old show business axiom, I know, but it certainly applies to Twins pitching prospect Alex Meyer, as well. “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Just give the crowd a little taste of what you’ve got, then leave them walking away and talking about how they can’t wait to come back the next time you’re in town.

Alex Meyer (Photo: Jeff Roberson/AP)Twins fans got a taste of Alex Meyer over the weekend and it certainly got folks buzzing. Meyer pitched three innings against the Pirates on Saturday. He faced just two hitters more than the minimum, giving up one hit and hitting a batter. He struck out three and walked nobody. His fastball was consistently clocked between 93 and 96 mph and touched 97 a couple of times. His breaking ball, a “knuckle-curve,” ran about 10 mph slower with good late break.

That’s the kind of stuff Twins fans (not to mention the team’s manager and pitching coach) have been looking for in a starting pitcher ever since Francisco Liriano’s elbow blew up.

Then, just like a Vaudeville veteran, Meyer walked off the stage and over to the minor league side of the Twins’ spring training camp, leaving fans to dream of what they might see when he finally arrives at The Show for real.

His timing… in combination with that of General Manager Terry Ryan, who no doubt made the decision to cut Meyer from the Major League camp on Sunday (before Gardy could see enough to start begging Ryan to let him keep the kid)… was perfect.

So by Monday morning, Meyer was on the back practice fields with his fellow minor league pitchers, working on the things that he’ll need to get right before he can even think of a Target Field debut. Things like pick-off moves and covering first base on a ground ball to his left. Those mundane “little things” that have to become instinctive before he’ll get a shot at a spot in the Twins’ rotation.

Alex Meyer never had a shot at opening the season in that Big League rotation. He was invited to the Twins’ Major League camp when pitchers and catchers reported primarily for one reason. As a newcomer, acquired from the Nationals for outfielder Denard Span, the Twins front office, manager and coaching staff wanted to get a first hand look at what they received in return for one of the best centerfielders in the league.

Now they’ve had that look.

You couldn’t blame Ron Gardenhire if he wanted a little longer look. His job is on the line this season and his future as the Twins manager is going to be determined, in large part, by whether or not his rotation is significantly improved over last year’s mess. From his perspective, if the 6’9″ Meyer is among the best five pitchers in camp at getting hitters out, he’d want him in a Twins uniform come April 1.

You also can’t blame Terry Ryan for taking a more conservative approach. Meyer is yet to pitch an inning above Advanced-Class A (with only has seven starts at that level) and it’s rare, to say the least, that a pitcher with so little professional experience is really ready to pitch successfully in the Major Leagues. And that’s part of Ryan’s job… to make sure that when the time comes for Meyer to take to the Target Field mound, he’s ready to be successful there.

Some projected that Meyer would open the season with the Advanced-A Fort Myers Miracle, given his limited time at that level last season in the Nationals organization. Barring some kind of regression over the next three weeks over on the minor league fields, it would seem likely he’ll get to open the season at AA New Britain.

If he’s as dominant there as his performance Saturday indicated he’s capable of being, he could find himself promoted sooner, rather than later. That’s a pretty big “if” considering much of this optimism is based on a few innings of work in spring training. Fans, as well as decision-makers in the organization, need to remember that it’s folly to get too excited over any player’s statistics even during an entire spring training, much less a few innings early on.

But for fans, that’s what spring training is for, right? To renew hope!

So it’s OK for us to dream of a scenario that sees Meyer promoted not just to Rochester by July, but all the way to the Twin Cities.

Just don’t expect Terry Ryan to be too anxious to allow that dream to become reality.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 28

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).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins vs. Red Sox – 6:05pm

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.

 Minnesota Twins

@

 Boston Red Sox
 Hicks, CF  Ellsbury, CF
 Dozier, 2B  Pedroia, 2B
 Willingham, DH  Sweeney, RF
 Doumit, C  Gomes, J, LF
 Plouffe, 3B  Nava, 1B
 Boggs, LF  Middlebrooks, 3B
 Benson, RF  Lavarnway, C
 Clement, 1B  Overbay, DH
 Florimon, SS  Iglesias, SS
    Pelfrey, P     Dempster, P

PLAY BALL!

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.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 10 0
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

Do Twins Have Any Answers Yet?

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.

Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond

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. 

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks

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.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 27

Episode 27 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

sausage

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).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Eddie Rosario turning Heads

Twenty one year old Eddie Rosario is with the Minnesota Twins in Big League camp this spring so he can get some extra work in before playing in the World Baseball Classic with his native Puerto Rico.  Rosario, who has not played above Low-A baseball, has made appearances in both of the Twins Spring Training games and he played in an intra-squad game prior to Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

In Saturday’s Spring Training opener, Rosario was 1 for 3 with single and on Sunday he was 2 for 2 with an RBI and a walk.  Offensively, things seem to going well for the youngster, despite his lack of experience against high-profile talent.

Eddie  Rosario (Photo credit Pioneer Press: John Autey)

Eddie Rosario (Photo credit Pioneer Press: John Autey)

Defensively, things have been a little rockier for Rosario.  A converted outfielder, Rosario has only one full season of play at second base, and this winter played outfield for his club in the Puerto Rican Winter League.  Jumping back into the infield Rosario likely has a few cobwebs to knock out.  In Saturday’s game Rosario missed an opportunity to throw out the lead runner at the plate when he was unsure where to go with the ball immediately after fielding it in the fifth.  On Sunday, Rosario misplayed a ground ball and was charged with an error on what should have been the first out in an inning where the Twins eventually gave up 3 runs.  When asked about the poor defensive play of the Twins in Sunday’s game, Ron Gardenhire said, “We’re seeing a lot of stuff you can talk about and hopefully make them better at the end.”

When Puerto Rico begins pool play in the WBC on March 8, Rosario will be back in the outfield, so he will have to transition back to second base when he rejoins the Twins.  Rosario’s future with the Twins will be largely based on his ability to play passable defense at second base, as the Twins outfield is packed fill of high end prospects and Rosario’s bat plays much better at second base because he does not have the requisite power to compete with a typical corner outfielder.

At the conclusion of the World Baseball Classic Rosario will likely return to Minor League camp, but for now he certainly seems like he is enjoying his time with the Big Leaguers and while he is not listed in the starting line up for Monday’s game against the Pirates he will likely be making an appearance after the first few innings.

-ERolfPleiss

Baseball is Back! Twins Spring Opener

Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota

Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota

While it may be taking place 1,000 miles away from almost everyone who cares, the fact remains that baseball is being played today by the Minnesota Twins… or at least a bunch of guys wearing Twins uniforms, anyway. The Twins kick off their Spring Training schedule with a game today at 12:05 CT against the Orioles from Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

Actually, the starting lineup includes a lot of players that Twins fans will recognize and newcomer Kevin Correia starts on the mound. There won’t be a lot of recognizable names among the pitchers that follow Correia, however.

The Twins will send out Mastroianni (CF), Escobar (3B), Willingham (LF), Doumit (DH), Parmelee (RF), Colabello (1B), Dozier (2B), Butera (C) and Florimon (SS) to face Orioles’ pitcher Zach Britton.

The game isn’t televised but it is being broadcast on the Twins new radio affiliate, 96.3 FM in the Twin Cities. No change for me, of course, I’ll be listening on mlb.com, as usual.

No matter what happens during the game, the important thing is that baseball is officially back! – JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 26

Episode 26 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!

Now more than 6 months into the podcasting experiment the Pleiss brothers tackle the glory and excitement that is the dawn of the 2013 baseball season. Among things discussed are the real value of spring training stats (none), things to watch around the diamond in 2013 for the Twins (infield, outfield, rotation, bullpen) and a discussion of arguably the biggest post MVP flop in baseball history (Zoilo Versalles); toss in some banter about whether or not bigger is actually better, prospect talk (Jorge Polanco and Niko Goodrum) with Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) and some other baseball banter and you’ve got a fine mess for your listening enjoyment.

http://talk2contact.podomatic.com/entry/2013-02-21T21_18_03-08_00

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 increase our Spring Training stats).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss