Twins Prospects: What a Difference a Week Makes

UPDATE (2/13/2012): We have yet another prospect list to include in the discussion… Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has released his “Top 101″ list and while he apparently thinks more of Miguel Sano (#12) than either Mayo or Law do, he has only one other Twin, Rosario (#87) on his list. Twins that dropped off his list since last year include Hicks (#51 in 2011), Gibson (#55 in 2011) and Revere (#62 in 2011… perhaps Revere no longer meets his criteria for “prospect” status). – JC

It almost goes without saying, but if you need more evidence that judging an organization’s minor leaguers is an inexact science, at best, all you need to do is compare prospect rankings of even the most reputable sources.

A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com released his “Top 100″ prospects list and it wasn’t good news for the Minnesota Twins. Only two players in their organization, consensus top Twins prospect Miguel Sano (#23) and Aaron Hicks (#72) made the list. Since there are 30 MLB teams, logic would tell you that to be considered as having an “average” number of highly ranked prospects an organization should have at least three players among any “Top 100″ list.

Predictably, there were a few articles popping up within both mainstream media and social media that discussed the sad state of the Twins minor league talent levels.

Fast forward to yesterday morning and we had a new “Top 100″ list from ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider subcription required). Surprise! The Twins post FOUR players on Law’s list, with Eddie Rosario (#50) and Oswaldo Arcia (#85) joining Sano (#28) and Hicks (#80). Placing four in Law’s “Top 100″ might indicate the Twins organization is a bit above average. Funny how an organization can improve so much over the course of a couple of winter weeks without playing a single game, isn’t it?

So which is it? Is the Twins organization straggling behind the competition when it comes to developing high end prospects or are they a bit above the norm? I suppose we could await Baseball America’s “Top 100″ list to break the tie, but that’s really not necessary. The answer is “yes.”

Aaron Hicks

What’s that you say… that wasn’t a “yes or no” question? I know that. After all I posed the question. But the answer really is that the Twins organization is both a bit below and a bit above the competition.

Why below? Because three of the four players Law thinks highly of are at least two years (and more likely at least three years) away from being Big Leaguers, and the fourth (Hicks) fell like a rock in Law’s rankings from 10th in 2011 to 80th in 2012. Not exactly cause to be optimistic that he’ll be leading the Twins to the playoffs any time real soon.

In addition, in an era when top-end starting pitching has become obscenely expensive on the open market, making “growing your own” an absolute necessity, the Twins have zero pitchers in any “Top 100″ list released to date this year. Sure, they had a bit of bad luck with Kyle Gibson’s injury a year ago, but you don’t get extra points for bad luck.

On the other hand, the Twins obviously intended for this imbalance to occur. While you never can be 100% sure how any 16-21 year old will mature, mentally or physically, there’s usually a reason top draft picks and international signees get big bucks… they are the most likely to become top prospects and, ideally, star players. And the Twins have been focusing on position players above pitchers in the high rounds of the draft and in their international scouting.

So now four of those players appear to be among the top prospects in baseball, which should indicate that the organization’s plans are working out roughly the way they hoped. How comfortable fans should feel about that conclusion is, I suppose, another topic for reasonable debate.

The Twins had some bad luck and some bad drafts a few years back (as the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III has done a good job of reviewing on his blog). So unless you count Gibson, there simply isn’t a “big impact” player in the organization that’s going to be stepping in to a leadership role with the Twins this year or even in 2013… maybe not even by 2014 unless Hicks gets things turned around.

The bottom line is that there is reason for some optimism that help is on the way, but it’s tempered by the fact that such help is likely on the distant horizon, rather than anything imminent. There’s a solid group of young players with the potential to be productive Major League ballplayers making their way up in the organizational ranks and that includes a lot of players over and above the guys you see on any “top prospect” list.

For now, and likely for the next couple of seasons, the Twins will need to continue filling out their Major League roster with mid-level free agents and other teams’ cast-offs. But if Twins fans can be patient, there is the potential for the next wave of stars to be very good.

I know… Twins fans being patient? Not likely.

- JC

P.S. If you want to know more about the Twins prospects mentioned above and about 150 others in the organization, it’s not too late to order your Minnesota Twins 2012 Prospect Handbook. Head on over to SethSpeaks.net for the link and order your copy. I’ve got four copies myself, so what are YOU waiting for?

JC’s Top 10 Twins Prospects List

Everyone else does it, so why shouldn’t Knuckleballs have our own Top 10 Twins Prospects list?

Well, the best reason NOT to do it would be that we don’t know nearly as much about the Twins minor leaguers as others who follow them almost religiously. But we’ve never let the fact that we’re not as smart as other people on a subject stop us from expressing our opinions, so why start now?

The first thing I note about this list (and just about every other list of top Twins prospects that I see elsewhere) is that there aren’t many players likely to be spending much time in a Minnesota Twins uniform in 2012. I actually hope that turns out to be the case, because it would mean the Twins stayed relatively healthy and maybe even in contention throughout the season.

In any event, here’s our Top 10 Twins Prospects as we head in to the 2012 season:

  1. Miguel Sano

    Miguel Sano – I suspect Sano will be the consensus top prospect. He was a boy in a man’s body the last couple of years in Spring Training and destroyed the pitchers he saw in the partial season minor leagues. This year, we’ll see how he fares in a full season of Class A ball, probably starting in Beloit. The Midwest League is infamous as a pitchers’ league, so if he gets anywhere within shouting distance of his Rookie League numbers, it will be impressive. Cross your fingers because Sano could be the only Twins prospect with legitimate superstar potential.

  2. Oswaldo Arcia – He’s a legitimate power hitting prospect who beat up on Low-A pitching, but didn’t have as much success after being promoted to High A Ft. Myers. Watch his walk rate. It dropped (along with pretty much every other offensive statistic) after the promotion and he’s going to need to regain it in order for his power to even matter as he rises up the ladder.
  3. Eddie Rosario – It’s going to be interesting to see if Rosario was able to develop any infield abilities at all during the fall instructional league where he got some time at 2B. He’s got enough offensive talent to be a regular contributor, but may not have enough to hold down a starting corner OF spot at the Major League level. But as a middle infielder? He could be very good.
  4. Aaron Hicks

    Aaron Hicks – It seems like Hicks has been a top-5 prospect for a decade. After seeing him a few times with Beloit a couple of years ago, I was less impressed with him than a lot of people. By last spring in Ft Myers, though, I thought he had matured in to his body well. This is a crucial year for Hicks.

  5. Joe Benson – He didn’t really impress in his cup of coffee with the Twins in 2011, but he didn’t look like he didn’t belong, either. This year we’ll see if he looks likely to be a long-term member of the organization.
  6. Levi Michael – The team’s first draft choice last year hasn’t yet “earned” this spot, but by virtue of his draft position, he probably gets a top 10 spot until he proves he’s NOT worthy of it. That may not be “right”, but it’s the way it is.
  7. Liam Hendriks

    Liam Hendriks – The Aussie shot up through the organization very quickly. Whether or not it was too quickly is something we’ll probably find out this season. If the Twins are going to get any rotation help from within their organization this season, there’s a good chance it would come from Hendriks.

  8. Kyle Gibson – It all comes down to how well he comes back from TJ surgery, but if he was worthy of being at the top of these lists in the past, he still belongs in the Top 10 until he demonstrates otherwise.
  9. Travis Harrison – I hesitate to put any guy on this list who hasn’t actually shown any more than Harrison has, but it’s pretty hard to ignore him completely. He’s got power, for sure, but reports are mixed a bit on whether he’ll be able to handle 3B or LF defensively.
  10. Chris Parmelee – He won’t be found on many other Top 10 lists, but there should be room on this list somewhere for a guy who has actually shown an indication that he is capable of hitting Major League pitching

If I was really ambitious, I’d have made this a “Top 25″ list, but that would reflect a degree of ambition (not to mention knowledge) that I simply do not have. One thing I can truthfully say, however, is that, with the exception of those players who will be attending their first Spring Training with the Twins organization, I’ve seen all of these players on the field with my own eyes during Spring Training and/or while suited up for the Beloit Snappers. I suspect that’s more than a lot of other “Top Prospects List” authors can say.

- JC

Twins Regime Change: Winners and Losers

You may have heard the news… the Twins fired General Manager Bill Smith Monday and replaced him with his predecessor, Terry Ryan.

The news has been received well among most Twins fans. That’s not surprising. Most of us had lost much of whatever confidence we may have once had in Smith’s talent as a GM and what better guy to replace him with than the GM who gets most of the credit for molding the Twins in to a contender for most of the past decade? It does seem pretty convenient though, doesn’t it, that fans tend to overlook the fact that he also failed miserably at the GM job during his first half dozen or so years in the GM chair. Then again, he was barely over 40 years old when he first got the job and we all know that nobody under 50 knows a damn thing, anyway.

In any event, I’m certainly not disappointed to see Ryan back in charge. It was a good and necessary move by the Twins ownership and top management.

But make no mistake, this move means things are going to be done differently and there will be changes, both at Target Field and across the Twins organization, from the minor leagues to the international scouts and beyond. You might not think that someone with merely an “interim” GM title would have the clout to turn an organization on its head, but this is no ordinary “interim” GM. There is nothing “interim” about his level of authority.

All of this has me thinking a bit about who the potential winners and losers are likely to be when the dust settles on this little internal drama that’s playing out within the team’s front office.

WINNERS:

Twins prospect Aaron Hicks

Minor league prospects: If you’re a prospect in the Twins organization and were starting to get concerned that the Twins might go out on the open market and sign a free agent to a multiple-year contract that could essentially block your path to the Big Leagues, you’re a winner in this deal. It wasn’t all that likely to happen in the first place, but now, those chances are considerably smaller.

By association, our friend Seth Stohs over at SethSpeaks.net is a winner, too. Seth lives and breathes minor league baseball and nobody knows that stuff better. I doubt that Seth was ever too concerned that the Twins might become a “trade all your prospects for old guys” organization, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Terry Ryan will make improving the Twins minor league organization a high priority. That’s going to make Seth (and, eventually, the rest of us) very happy.

Ben Revere

Ben Revere: Terry Ryan made perfectly clear on Monday that the Twins need to improve their defense. There are questions about whether you’ll ever be a Major League hitter, but if Ryan truly believes that better defense will lead to better pitchers, I think you just got locked in to a starting spot in the 2012 Twins outfield.

Talented prospects buried in other organizations: Terry Ryan’s forte is identifying young talent, whether in his own organization or others, and bringing that talent to the Twins where they get a chance to prove themselves worthy of a shot at the big time. If your organization has been holding you back, there’s a decent chance Ryan already has a file on you that’s about an inch thick. Make sure your agent has Ryan’s number on speed dial.

Wayne Krivsky: It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for you over the past week. A week ago, you were a frustrated, seldom listened to, advisor in the Mets front office. Then you got the good news… the Twins GM wanted you back in the organization in an advisory capacity. Then you got the bad news… the GM who wanted you back was being canned. Then you got more good news… the new interim GM is your old buddy Terry Ryan and now you’re close enough to sniff your next opportunity to become a Major League GM, once again. That is, if you’re the one person on the planet who actually believes that Terry Ryan is just the “interim” General Manager of the Twins.

LOSERS:

Twins Medics: You may have breathed a sigh of relief a while back when Bill Smith stated publicly that there would be no blood-letting among the organization’s doctors and trainers. Better get back to work on those resumes, folks.

Cuddyer, Nathan, Kubel (assuming any of them wanted to return to the Twins for 2012 and beyond): Bill Smith grew to genuinely like certain players and some feel that he allowed those feelings to affect his decisions. Terry Ryan isn’t heartless, but he is first and foremost an evaluator and appraiser of baseball talent. The next time he overpays for the declining years of a player who’s productivity level has arguably peaked will be the first time.

Mike Radcliff: A week ago, you were being mentioned as a possible GM candidate in Baltimore, then the Twins declined to allow the Birds to interview you. Now, your new boss is publicly talking about how you’ve been spread too thin and will have some of your responsibilities reassigned. Word is that you decided you weren’t interested in their job and the Twins “declined permission” for the Orioles to talk to you merely to allow them to save some face. If that’s the case, you may be regretting that decision. Now, instead of the organization’s highest ranking player-personnel guy and heir apparent to Bill Smith, your new boss is twice the baseball man you are and he’s bringing back his former right-hand man in Krivsky. Ouch.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: There is absolutely no way Terry Ryan would have committed $15 million to acquire you a year ago and given that you embody everything that Ryan feels is wrong with the current roster, your already meager hopes of ever playing another inning of baseball for the Twins just became virtually non-existent. I don’t know where you’ll be playing ball in 2012, but it won’t be in the Twin Cities.

Trevor Plouffe: Did you hear what Ryan said about needing to improve the Twins defense? Yeah… he was talking about you, Trevor. You’re still inexpensive, so if you’ve been improving your glovework, you may get a shot at redemption in Ft. Myers, but you’d better demonstrate marked improvement or you’re going to be the “throw in” player in one of Ryan’s inevitable trades.

Anyone who pitched for the Twins in 2011: Glen Perkins might be the only pitcher on the roster who’s spot is relatively safe. The rest of you, either by virtue of your performance or your contract (or both… see: Blackburn, Nick, et al), are just as likely to be playing elsewhere in 2012 as playing on a Terry Ryan team.

Carl Pavano

Carl Pavano: I don’t believe for an instant that Ryan would have re-signed you to a two-year deal last offseason. If he can find someone willing to take on most of your remaining salary, I believe you’ll be wearing another uniform in 2012.

Bloggers who spent time assembling a 2012 “blueprint” (unless you didn’t really like your blueprint, in which case you’re in luck because now you can start over and do a new one): Back to the drawing board. Any of us that still want to spend $35 million on free agents need to get creative about figuring out how to cut $15 million from the existing commitments. Then again, we can pretty much rule out the Mark Buehrles and anyone else likely to get several million dollars for multiple years.

TOO EARLY TO TELL:

Ron Gardenhire

Ron Gardenhire: You didn’t see eye-to-eye with Smith on a number of personnel issues, so you’re probably feeling pretty good about things right now. But keep in mind that Terry Ryan just actively participated in the firing of one of his best friends. He says he’s going to assemble a team that he thinks should be competitive in 2012. If it isn’t, he’s not going to hesitate for a moment to send you packing, too.

Danny Valencia: On the one hand, Danny, you’re young and cheap and you hit the ball a little bit. On the other hand, your defense is not good and some reports indicate you’re not exactly the prototypical “Twins guy” in the clubhouse. That may not have been a big deal a week ago, but there is absolutely nobody in the organization that’s more of a believer in the “Twins Way” than Terry Ryan. If you thought Gardy was anal about that kind of thing, you’re REALLY gonna love the new sheriff in town.

Denard Span

Denard Span and Alexi Casilla: I’m honestly not sure what Terry will do with you two. You’re not gold-glovers in the field, but by comparison to almost everyone else the Twins have on defense, you almost look the part. I suspect he will start his purge elsewhere, but your salaries are getting to the point where Ryan starts to think he can find someone comparable for less money. Not to mention, you may be two of the few members of the current roster with actual trade value.

Fans: I stand by my previous statements that fans should not accept a slashed payroll without loud objection. We can hold out some hope that Ryan was just tossing out numbers during the press conference and, by the time spring rolls around, the payroll is pretty close to the 2011 levels. At any rate, if (and this is a very big “if”) Ryan can actually unload some dead weight and replace it with players who can actually… you know… play baseball, then fans may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

What are your thoughts? Who do you project to be the big “winners” and “losers” under the Terry Ryan Regime, Part Deux? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

-  JC

A “Minor” Change of Plans

When I set up my plans for this year’s trip to Ft. Myers, I knew the Twins would only have two home games during the six full days I would be here. That’s really not a big deal to me because I kind of enjoy seeing some of the other spring training sites around the state of Florida.

I planned to make the trip up to Lakeland today for my first look at the Tigers’ spring training home, not to mention seeing a bit of action from the only other member of the AL Central Division that trains in Florida. In fact, I was so certain I would be making the 2+ hour drive north that I did something I don’t normally do down here… I bought a ticket in advance.

That ticket is still waiting for me at the Will Call window, I suppose.

When the Twins announced yesterday that the batteries of Carl Pavano/Drew Butera and Matt Capps/Joe Mauer would be getting some work in during a pair of minor league games, I decided to skip the Tiger game and hang around the Lee County Complex today. I’m really glad I did.

Sure, I would have enjoyed seeing Luke Hughes hit home run number five this spring and it sounds like Dusty Hughes, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla provided some highlights. But I didn’t really need to see Brad Penny drill Casilla and Delmon Young with pitches and I certainly didn’t need to see Pat Neshek give up two home runs.

Instead, I got out to the Twins complex around 9:00 this morning and spent some time watching the minor leaguers working out before heading in to Hammond Stadium where some of the Twins who didn’t make the trip to Lakeland were taking batting practice.

The last grouping included Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer (nattily attired in his WIN!/Don’t Be Denied! t-shirt) and sure enough, there next to the batting cage were none other than Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. Oliva has been a fixture at the complex, but Killebrew just arrived Wednesday night.

Killebrew met with the media earlier in the morning and is expected to be on hand for three days. Usually, by the time I get down to Ft. Myers, Killebrew has been here and gone, but this year, his trip was delayed a bit due to his health issues. I hate that Harmon is going through the challenges related to fighting esophageal cancer, but for a child of the 60s like me, it was terrific just to get to see him on a ballfield again.

After the Twins’ BP finished up, I slipped back over to the minor league side of the facility again and struck up a nice conversation with a couple from the Quad Cities while we waited to find out which fields Pavano, Butera, Capps and Mauer would be playing at.

I’ve got to be honest… I’m not a huge Carl Pavano fan. Sure I want him to do well and since Bill Smith couldn’t/wouldn’t come up with a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the off-season, I was fine with bringing Pavano back as long as it wasn’t on a bank-breaking deal. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… when media types write about what a great, fan-friendly group of guys the Twins players are, they aren’t referring to Carl Pavano. He may be a lovely human being among his friends and family and he may even love kittens, but… well… yeah I’d bet he hates kittens… almost as much as he seems to dislike baseball fans.

And in case you think this is just a JC thing… I’ll just mention that it’s an opinion I found to be shared rather widely among other fans I talked to today.

I even have to admit I found it just a little amusing when Pavano got knocked around a bit by a bunch of kids wearing Red Sox minor league uniforms. Some people just seem like they could use an occasional humility lesson. I suspect Pavano is one of those people (then again, some would say I am, too). I also could almost see him do a slow burn when one of those Red Sox punks laid down a bunt that died along the third base line for a hit.

Not to fear, however, the ‘Stache’s trusty sidekick, sweet Drew Butera, gunned down the little twerp when he tried to steal second base.

I was actually more interested in the game on an adjoining field where Matt Capps was pitching the first two innings and Joe Mauer was doing the catching.

Capps looked pretty good to me and I think the young hitters he was facing would probably agree. He didn’t give up any earned runs (a bit of miscommunication between his left and center fielders resulted in an unearned run) and it was good to see he can go more than one inning, when necessary.

Joe Mauer batted in both the first and second innings and while he was 0 for 2, he hit a couple of balls very, very hard. He hit a deep fly ball to CF and almost ended his day by hitting in to a triple play. He hit a shot at the third baseman who immediately doubled off a runner at second base. The second baseman didn’t make a throw to 1B to try to turn the triple play and probably wouldn’t have got that runner if he had made the throw… but it might have been close.

After Capps and Mauer finished up their two innings, I watched Pavano and Butera a bit more. Drew had a nice double to the gap and Pavano settled down after that nasty second inning. I watched Pavano throw five innings before heading out to a Sports Bar to watch some NCAA Tournament basketball. I don’t know if he threw another inning or not, but then again, I really didn’t care all that much.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to have Major League stars play in minor league spring training games, imagine having them show up at your local beer-league softball complex. It makes getting your picture album filled up pretty easy, that’s for sure. Here are just a few examples from the 150 or so I took today.

JIm Thome gets some BP, surrounded by Mauer, Morneau, Killebrew, and Cuddyer (Tony Oliva was behind the cage)

Michael Cuddyer's shirt says it all

From inside Hammond Stadium, looking out over the practice fields

Denard Span doing the autograph thing

Joe Mauer gets loose before his game on the minor league complex

The 'Stache delivers during his game on the minor league fields

Matt Capps was looking good against the RedSox kids

Of course, these were MINOR LEAGUE games, so we really should give a couple of those guys some love. A couple of the Twins top prospects were also playing in these games. Miguel Sano was a team mate of Joe Mauer for the day and Aaron Hicks provided some offense behind Carl Pavano.

Aaron Hicks

Miguel Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today. Friday night, I’ll be making the trip up the highway to Sarasota to watch Francisco Liriano face off with the Orioles (again). Rumor has it that Justin Morneau may make the trip and Joe Mauer may get a few more swings in during another minor league game in the afternoon.

I hope all of you in the great upper midwest are staying warm! Excuse me while I put something on this little sunburn before I head back to the Sports Bar for some more basketball.

- JC

Things That Make Me Go “Hmmm”

George Carlin

I was a big fan of the late George Carlin back in the days of my misspent youth. I mean, I liked Bill Cosby and Gallagher, too… but Carlin always made me laugh. My favorite part of his stand-up routine was when he’d come up with the “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”. You know what I mean… like “Why don’t you ever see the headline ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?”

Well, since Bud Selig and the other geniuses at MLB decided we should all take what seems like a month off between the end of the LCS and the World Series, I thought this would be a good time to share some of what I’ve read lately that made me go “hmmm.” So that’s what I’m going to do. Below are a few things I found interesting and links to where you might read more.

I’ve been a big fan of Zack Greinke and have been up front for some time about wishing there was a way to get him in to a Twins uniform. So this tidbit from Seth Stohs’ post on Sunday caught my attention:

Speaking of the offseason, the Zack Greinke rumors are already in full gear. Apparently the Twins are among the teams that Greinke would accept a trade to. There is talk that due to his social anxiety disorder, he would prefer to stay in a small market. Travis Aune (of) TravisTwinsTalk.blogspot.com tells me that he has heard rumors of a potential deal involving Greinke and David DeJesus coming to the Twins in exchange for Kevin Slowey, Delmon Young and Aaron Hicks.

Zack Greinke

Greinke is due $13.5 million for both 2011 and 2012. DeJesus gets $6 million for 2011. Together, that’s about $12 million more than the Twins would be paying Slowey and Young next season (Hicks would remain a minor leaguer for at least another year with the Twins). I’m not sure the Twins have room for that kind of payroll bump, but it’s an interesting thought.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are chomping at the bit to get moving on making sure they don’t fail to reach the World Series two years in a row. Frustrated, I’m sure, by not being able to throw gazillions of dollars at Cliff Lee while Lee is still pitching for his current team, the Rangers, in the World Series, the Yankees decided to do something immediately to begin the process of fixing their team… they fired their pitching coach, Dave Eiland. Right, guys, it wasn’t your overpaid, underperforming, arms that cost you the World Series berth you feel entitled to, it was your pitching coach.

Coincidentally, while the media seems to have determined it’s a foregone conclusion that Lee will be a Yankee in 2011, those classy Yankee fans at Yankee Stadium may have screwed up GM Brian Cashman’s plans. According to USA Today, it seems Cliff’s wife Kristen was none too impressed with how she was treated at Yankee Stadium during the ALCS.

Perhaps the Rangers’ greatest sales pitch simply was having Kristen sit in the visiting family section at Yankee Stadium during the playoffs. She says there were ugly taunts. Obscenities. Cups of beer thrown. Even fans spitting from the section above.

“The fans did not do good things in my heart,” Kristen says.

“When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

Wouldn’t it be a gas if the typical Yankee fan behavior turned out to be a critical factor in Cliff Lee telling the Yankees  to “shove it” and staying with the Rangers?

While on the subject of the Yankees, I’ve read the following “rumors” about Cashman’s offseason plans (beyond the obvious intent to throw money at Cliff Lee):

  • While Derek Jeter’s value on the open market to teams other than the Yankees would be about $7 million on a one-year deal, the Yankees are likely to sign him to a 3-year contract for about $45 million. HOWEVER… as part of that deal, they should let him know that he should no longer expect to always hit in the top two spots in the order and he should be made aware that he’ll not be playing shortstop every day. He may transition to other positions, including possibly DHing. (Where do I sign up for a gig that gets me paid, by my current employer, twice what I’m worth to anyone else, on the condition that I accept the fact that I won’t be working as much?)
  • One writer speculated that Jeter would begin transitioning to 3B, with Alex Rodriguez beginning to DH.
  • Jorge Posada will not be catching as much next year but would be used as the primary DH. In fact, the Yankees may carry three catchers including current part-time catcher Francisco Cervelli and uber-prospect Jesus Montero, with the plan being to gradually get Montero MLB catching experience and using both Montero and Posada as DHs.
  • In an effort to figure out how to justify spending even more Steinbrenner money to bring in Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth for 2011, there’s speculation that the Yankees might trade current RF Nick Swisher or… if the Yankees find no takers for Swisher and his $9 million contract… move Swisher to DH.

All of which has me wondering just how soon Bud Selig will be proposing a new rule allowing the Yankees to use five DHs in their line up.

Mike Sweeney

Finally, I’ve gone several weeks now without linking to a Joe Posnanski “Curiously Long Post” so I’m going to link/recommend two of them that should be considered “must reads”. One is about Mike Sweeney (caution… if you’re anything like me, reading this may make you feel inclined to wish the Twins would offer Sweeney a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, just to see if they could wring a little more magic out of him as a right handed DH/PH) and the other is actually a re-post of an article he wrote about accompanying Tony Pena on a trip to his native Dominican Republic several years ago when Pena was the Royals’ manager. I have to admit, I loved the way Pena ran a team from the catcher position and wish there was a bit of Pena’s fire in Mr. Mauer.

That’s all for now! – JC

Snappers Wrap

Tuesday night saw the finale of the Beloit/Cedar Rapids series and once again, things didn’t go real well for the Snappers as they fell to the Kernels 5-1. I stuck around through the 7th inning stretch but I couldn’t resist the urge to get home and watch the last half of the Twins/White Sox game.

Rather than give a whole lot of facts and figures from the game, I thought I would just post a few of the short video clips I recorded, with little or no commentary. Hope you enjoy getting a little taste of the Twins’ Class A Midwest League affiliate and I apologize in advance for the poor video quality. I’ve had this camera for about three years now, I think, and it’s the first time I’ve ever tried the ‘video’ feature.

The Snappers lone run in this game was accounted for by a Danny Rams home run in the 2nd inning (don’t you love it when the idiots sitting in front of you decide to stand up to let their ill-behaved kids change seats just as someone launches the ball over the LCF wall?).

 

James Beresford singled…

 

… and Beresford broke up a double play.

Rams catches a pop foul.

Aaron Hicks, out with an injured pinky finger, coaches first base.

Steven Liddle steals second base.

Despite a throwing error, the Snappers nail a runner at home.

Lance Ray singles.

Reggie Williams singles.

Daniel Santana called out on a bunt attempt… looks like he was still in the box to me.

Unless the Snappers find their way in to the MWL Playoffs (not totally out of the question yet, but they need to start kicking it in gear), this will be their last visit to Cedar Rapids for the season. I really enjoyed watching the effort they put out in the three series here this year and I look forward to seeing how they’ve matured by the time I see them in Spring Training in 2011.

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After the Twins finished putting on their woopin’ of the BitchSox Tuesday night, Seth Stohs of sethspeak.net invited me to join him for a few minutes in the second half of his Minor League Weekly podcast. We talked about my impressions and observations concerning many of the Snapper players I saw play here in Cedar Rapids this season (along with a couple of shameless plugs for Knuckleballs, of course). Ft. Myers Miracle pitcher Bruce Pugh was his guest for the first half hour or so of the program and I freely admit he was a heck of a lot more interesting than I was! Give it a listen, if you have some time today. Of course, I’d like to thank Seth for having me on the program. – JC

A Snapper Weekend

As I mentioned in my little essay about minor league baseball on Saturday, the Twins’ Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are in Cedar Rapids taking on the Kernels in a four game series that runs through Tuesday. I’ve been to the first two games of the series, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping to get out to the Tuesday game, as well. Monday’s game is a noon start so that would could be a bit iffy. (The blogging gig hasn’t blossomed to the point where I can quit my day job… yet.)

Saturday night, I was at the game with family and friends and friends of family, so the social aspect was fine. It was a pleasant enough evening, just a bit on the humid side, but nothing compared to what it was a week or so ago (or what it would be on Sunday). But the game itself was among the more difficult professional games to watch I’ve been to in a while.

Snapper/Kernel games are always a bit of a challenge for me, anyway. I’m a Kernels fan, of course, since they’re my hometown team. But when the Snappers come to town, I also look forward to seeing the Twins’ young prospects do well. So I root for the Kernels to win and the Beloit players to do well individually.

Pitcher Pedro Guerra and Danny Rams (1B)

Saturday night, the Kernels won the game 10-4, and it wasn’t among the better efforts I’ve seen out of the Snappers.  Top prospect Aaron Hicks, had a nice double down the LF line in the first inning and I got to see Pedro Guerra get his first start since being called up to Beloit. The Snappers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead through two innings. Guerra had a respectable debut, though he didn’t throw the ball particularly hard. He gave up a couple of runs in the third inning and left after giving up a walk and a double to the first two hitters he faced in the 5th.

That’s when the wheels fell off.

The Kernels sent 8 players to the plate in the 5th inning while taking a 7-5 lead in what had to be one of the longest half innings I’ve witnessed all year, purely in terms of time elapsed. Deliberate pitching, hitters stepping out of the box over and over, an error or two and a pitching change made that half inning drag on forever.

There aren’t many bright spots among your pitching staff in a 10-4 loss, but Nelvin Fuentes entered the game in the bottom of the 7th and went on to strike out 3 in two scoreless, hitless, innings to finish the night. It was also a tough night for the Snappers in the field as they ended up being charged with 5 errors on the game. Second baseman Reggie Williams had a nice night at the plate, going 2 of 4 with a double (that I thought should have been ruled a triple).

After doubling, Aaron Hicks takes his lead in front of Kernel SS Jon Karcich

But the great thing about baseball is that there’s always another game tomorrow. In this case, the Snappers bounced back from Saturday’s 10-4 loss to win Sunday afternoon 10-9. Yes, they did still have some pitching issues and yes, they did rack up 4 more errors, so it may not SEEM like it was much of an improvement, but I’ll guarantee it was a happier clubhouse after the game than the night before.

Pitcher Martire Garcia and 3B Reggie Williams

Danny Rams leads off behind Jeremy Cruz and in front of Jean Segura after a walk. He added a 2B and a HR in the game.

For the second straight game, Beloit manager Nelson Prada sent a pitcher to the mound for his first start as a Snapper. Sunday, it was Martire Garcia making his MWL debut. Garcia got off to a bit of a rocky start the first two innings but settled down and hung a couple of zeros on the board for the Kernels in the 3rd and 4th innings before calling it a day.

Nelson Prada's not telling the umpire a fish story

Of course, Prada didn’t see much of Garcia’s performance as he was tossed early in the bottom of the first inning for arguing with the home plate umpire over whether a Kernel double down the RF line was fair or foul. That left the team in the capable hands of Twins fans’ old friend Tommy Watkins, who’s the Snapper hitting coach.

And his hitters were doing their jobs at the plate (if not so much in the field). 1B Danny Rams and CF Aaron Hicks brought the big lumber. Rams went 2-3 with a walk, double and a home run. He also scored 3 runs. Hicks was 3-4 with two doubles.

Tommy Watkins signals pitches to his catcher

Once again, the pitchers struggled a bit, but lefty reliever Matt Tone managed to shut the Kernels out in his two innings (the 7th and 8th) of relief. That allowed Beloit the cushion to withstand a 9th inning rally and hang on to their 10-9 win.

It was one long, hot day at the ballpark for these guys following a very long game the night before.  We’re approaching mid-August. It’s hot. They’ve been playing baseball virtually every day since they reported for Spring Training over five months ago. But that didn’t stop Aaron Hicks and Steven Liddle from diving for balls in the outfield (Liddle also showed off his arm on an impressive throw to the plate) or Reggie Williams from diving for hard ground balls down the line at 3B or James Beresford and Derek McCallum from hanging tough on double plays at 2B. And Josmil Pinto caught a day game in oppressive heat and humidity after catching the game the night before. The execution isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubting their effort and that bodes well for the future of our favorite Major League team.

Finally, just because we’re all Tommy Watkins fans, one last picture of Tommy positioning his outfielders from the bench Saturday night. – JC

Of Snappers and Kernels and Other Minor (League) Stuff

I’m probably not going to be seeing much of the Twins games this weekend. It’s not because I’m frustrated by their lack of hitting (though I am), but rather because the Beloit Snappers (the Twins Low A affiliate) are in town starting tonight for a four-game series… their final visit to Cedar Rapids of the year.

This is the third trip this season that the Snappers have made to Cedar Rapids this season and I’ve managed to get out to watch over half of the games they’ve played here. The last couple of years, Beloit’s only made the trip down here one or two times, so I’m enjoying getting to see so many games featuring these future Twins.

I don’t know how many of you ever attend minor league games or even live in a community that has a local team. I can only speak for myself, but there really aren’t many more enjoyable ways to spend a summer evening (or afternoon, for that matter) and do so on a budget.

Perfect Game Field at Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids

I’ve attended minor league games in Florida (High A) and Arkansas (AA), in addition to Iowa and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than $10 for a ticket… and usually a bit less. The highest priced ticket at Memorial Stadium here in Cedar Rapids is $10. It will get you a front row seat by the dugout or pretty much anywhere in the first few rows behind home plate from dugout to dugout. $7 gets you and your blanket in to stretch out on the grassy Lawn Seating area next to the visitors bullpen area. My favorite food is a ribeye sandwich that is grilled in a tent right behind the Lawn Seating area. I think they hit me up for about $6 for that and it’s probably about the most expensive food item in the ballpark.

Of course if you really want to live well, you can rent one of the available sky suites for you and a few of your closest friends. That will run you $500 plus food. I know that sounds like a lot, but I’m checking out StubHub for tickets for the Twins/Angels series in a couple of weeks at Target Field and I’ll easily spend $500 for some pretty mediocre seats for my family. So I guess it’s all relative.

Angels #3 Prospect Mike Trout

As for the baseball itself, the Kernels are usually pretty competitive and that’s the case this season as well. Their CF the first half of the season was Mike Trout, the Angels #3 prospect (according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings) who performed well in the Futures All Star Game last month and is already doing very well with his High-A team since being promoted. He’ll be arriving in Anaheim Stadium perhaps as early as September 2011.

The Kernels best pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, is a talented lefty who was also one of the Angels top 10 prospects. I say “was” because he signed his first contract with the Angels one year ago today… and by tomorrow he’ll be announced as the “player to be named later” heading to the D’Backs organization to finalize the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. Trust me, that deal wasn’t nearly as one-sided in favor of the Angels as the ‘talking heads’ have made it out to be.

Alexi Casilla rehabbed as a Beloit Snapper

But this is a Twins blog, so let me just mention a few of the Twins prospects I’ve been able to catch on their trips to Cedar Rapids in just the past couple of years. In fact, let me start with the guy in the picture at the right, Alexi Casilla. Lexi played two rehab assignment games for the Snappers here in Cedar Rapids in 2008 before rejoining the Twins. But that wasn’t the first time we saw Casilla here. He was a member of the Kernels for a few games at the end of the 2004 season and for the first half of the 2005 season, before being promoted to AA. (He was traded from the Angels to the Twins after the 2005 season for J.C. Romero.) You might say he was a local favorite.

Twins #6 and #41 Prospects, Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo

Over the past two seasons, when the Snappers have visited Cedar Rapids, I’ve had the pleasure watching pitchers Steven Blevins, Liam Hendriks (14), B.J. Hermsen (15), Brad Stillings, Tom Stuifbergen (22), Daniel Osterbrock and Billy Bullock (28) pitch against the Kernels. I’ve seen position prospects Danny Rams (33), James Beresford (40), Anderson Hidalgo (41), Steve Liddle (47), Micahel Gonzales, Angel Morales (6) and Aaron Hicks (2) get their swings in. (Those numbers in parens indicate the player’s ranking in Seth Stohs’ “Top 50 Twins Prospects” list this past June.)

Cards #1 Prospect Shelby Miller

Of course, I don’t just go to games when the Snappers come to town. For example, a week or so ago, I went out to catch a game with the Cardinals’ affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits. While Trout is no longer with the Kernels, I did get to watch the Cardinals’ #1 prospect (according to Baseball America) Shelby Miller pitch against the Kernels. His catcher that day was the Cards’ #10 prospect, Robert Stock.

The Kernels play in a nice stadium and the Angels consistently send enough of their top prospects to CR to assure that the team is at least competitive. In fact, they won the first half division title this year so they’re already assured of a spot in the Midwest League playoffs next month.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll probably spend close to $1,000 for tickets, parking, food, hotel rooms and gas to take my family up to Minneapolis for the Twins’ weekend series with the Angels at Target Field (not to mention some time at the Renaissance Festival). I’ll have a great time, I’m sure.  But tonight and tomorrow, I’ll watch future Twins face off with future Angels about 2 miles from where I live and even after ticket, parking (which is free), food and a couple of beers, I probably won’t spend over $20 either day.

How can you beat that? – JC

Snappers & Hermsen get the sweep… and then some

They say, “You can’t go home again.” Boy are ‘they’ wrong.

The pride of West Delaware (IA) HS, BJ Hermsen

BJ Hermsen returned home (or as close to home as he can get and be playing professional baseball) to Cedar Rapids and took the mound for the Beloit Snappers tonight in front of a near-sellout crowd. If you were inclined to rob a small town bank, picking one in Delaware County Iowa tonight would have been a good idea. Nobody was home. They were filling Memorial Stadium to watch Hermsen face the local Kernels on Perfect Game Field.

Snappers 3B Anderson Hidalgo

Some guys tend to press a bit in those situations (how long did it take before Morneau had a good game in Toronto?), but not Hermsen. All he did was shut down the Kernels completely through 7 and 2/3 innings of no-hit ball and finish with a complete game 1-hitter. The Kernels’ Justin Bass lined a solid single to right field with two out and nobody on base in the 8th inning, but that’s the only hit Hermsen gave up as he led the Snappers to a 3 game sweep of the Division leading Kernels. (Cedar Rapids’ magic number is 1, so the loss kept them from clinching the first half Division title.)

Daniel Santana, Snappers LF

He had help. There were no fewer than four extraordinary defensive plays behind him, a fact he was quick to point out in post-game interviews with local media after the game. In addition, Anderson Hidalgo supported Hermsen with three hits while Aaron Hicks and Daniel Santana added two hits each. Hermsen was also treated to the traditional “shaving cream in the face” treatment by team mates during one interview (see video below).

Snappers CF Aaron Hicks held on 1B by the Kernels' Casey Haerther

Memorial Stadium seats a bit over 5,000 fans and just under 4,700 paid their way in tonight. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was “Thirsty Thursday”, with beers $1.50 all evening (if this post is a bit incoherent, you now know why). I think it’s pretty safe to say the Snappers have never had support like that on the road before as it was probably pretty close to a 50-50 split in terms of fan support between the local Kernels and Hermsen and his Snappers.

The Kernels organization made a call to Beloit after Hermsen was promoted to the Snappers and specifically requested that, if possible, their rotation could be set up to allow for Hermsen to get a start in Cedar Rapids. To their credit, the Snappers obliged. I’d like to hope we’ll get another opportunity to see him pitch in Cedar Rapids when the Snappers return to town in August, but with the way players bounce up and down the organizational ladder, you just never know if that opportunity will present itself. But if this ends up being the only chance that BJ’s family and friends get to watch him pitch locally, at least he gave them a night to remember. – JC

Opening Day, down on the ‘farm’ with the Beloit Snappers

Thursday was “Opening Day” for minor league teams across the country and I took advantage of the opportunity to watch the Twins’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League, the Beloit Snappers, open their season on the road here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Beloit Snappers Opening Night 2010

Let me just say, I really intended to catch 6-7 innings and then head home to watch the Twins and Angels by the time they got things going out in California. But with the Snappers and Kernels locked in a scoreless contest, there’s no way I was leaving until the game was decided. That happened, finally, in the 10th inning on a Michael Gonzales single that drove in Brian Dozier with the first run of the game, followed immediately by Derek McCallum scoring an insurance run on a throwing error by the Kernels’  Casey Haerther.

Truth be told, however, the game never should have made it to extra innings. Beloit loaded the bases with one out in the top of the sixth inning with a single by 3B Anderson Hidalgo, a double by RF Angel Morales, and an intentional walk to Aaron Hicks. That’s when Kernels relief pitcher Buddy Boshers uncorked a wild pitch and Hidalgo broke for home. Yes, the plate umpire called Hidalgo out, but you be the judge…

Anderson Hidalgo leads off 3B and Angel Morales is at 2B

Anderson Hidalgo is... out? Yeah... that was the call. Resulting in a scoreless tie headed to extra innings

Snappers pitchers struck out 15 Kernels over the 10 innings. Which is impressive… but not quite as impressive as the 16 K’s tallied by Kernels pitching. Derek McCallum wins some sort of award, I suppose, by virtue of being the only Snapper NOT to strike out, as he doubled in the 2nd inning, grounded to the first baseman in the 5th, and flew out to left field in the 7th, before being hit by a pitch in the 10th and eventually scoring the Snappers’ second run. Michael Gonzales was the sole Snapper with more than one hit, going 2-4, including a single that drove in the game winning run in the 1oth.

Liam Hendriks dominated for his five innings. Michael Gonzales (at 1B) was the only Snapper with more than one hit.

Liam Hendriks struck out 7 Kernels in 5 innings of work, including 5 of the final 6 hitters he faced. Tom Stuifbergen relieved Hendriks in the 6th and barely missed a beat as he recorded three strikeouts, sandwiched around a single, in his one inning of relief.

Tom Stuifbergen struck out three in his sole inning on the mound.

On a personal note, let me just say, for the benefit of those of you considering a visit to Target Field later this month… 10 innings of baseball in temperatures that drop below 40 degrees during the course of a game makes for a very cold evening! By all means, don’t let it dissuade you from going to the game, but dress appropriately!

To wrap up this post, just a few more pictures from Opening Night in Cedar Rapids…

Snappers Catcher Danny Rams

Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo before the game

Aaron Hicks robs Eric Oliver of a hit in the 5th inning.

Brian Dozier scores the game's first run in the top of the 10th.

Snappers are 1-0!

Yes... I stayed through the entire 10 innings, despite the 37 degree weather