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

Who will be the Twins’ Opening Day Starter?

With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter.  With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road.  The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles.  An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.

opening day optimism

Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions.  Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.

Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter.  I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.

Rafael Perez  (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago.  He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008.  He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate.  Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.

Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal.  Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009.  There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season.  I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.

Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery.  Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation.  Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation.  If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.

Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season.  Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.

Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract.  Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012).  Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.

Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience.  If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond.  But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves.  The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.

Scott Diamond (15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day.  If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st.  But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated.  There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.

Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it.  He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).

When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.

-ERolfPleiss