Monday, Grumpy Monday

I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. That’s not an altogether unusual thing for me on a Monday morning, but I generally try to avoid human contact until noon or later on Monday so I can spare others having to deal with my mood and spare myself the chances I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I certainly avoid publishing written work on Monday mornings for a broad audience to read. But, despite that, here I am writing this.

Here are just a few things I’m feeling a bit… what’s the word my mom used to use?… “owlish”?… about this morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Twins Stuff

My mood isn’t only reflected in Twins-related topics, but since this is primarily a Twins blog, let’s start with those topics.

Brian Dozier

I like Brian Dozier. I think he has a chance to be a decent infielder, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to be the long-awaited “answer” to the Twins’ revolving door at shortstop. But even if he is, I simply don’t get why he’s being called up now to be inserted as the everyday shortstop.

It’s not that I think Jamey Carroll is irreplaceable, nor is Alexi Casilla necessarily entitled to be an everyday infielder at the Major League level. But if you start a list of all the things that have worked WELL for the Twins this season, middle infield defense would be one of a very short number of things on that list.

Have Carroll and Casilla turned EVERY double play opportunity in to two outs? No. But if you can’t see the improvement over the swisscheese-like pairings that were on the field last year for the Twins, your memory sucks. The Twins’ pitchers are, by and large, awful and the results aren’t going to get better by changing the middle infield defense.

Speaking of the Twins pitching… talk about your mood dampeners. Can these guys get ANYONE out? If the Twins sent their entire rotation to Rochester and brought up the Red Wings’ starting pitchers, Wings fans would complain about getting the raw end of the deal… and rightfully so. Not that the starting quintet in Rochester has been all that good, but the Twins’ rotation has been THAT bad. Sending Hendriks down and bringing Scott Diamond up is a start, I guess, but both the Dozier and Diamond moves feel an awful lot like the proverbial, “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” to me.

I don’t envy Terry Ryan these days. There are no easy answers to fixing the Twins. There really aren’t even any difficult answers, if you’re thinking in terms of salvaging anything this season. He’s got a fan base spoiled by a decade of relative success, at least as measured by contention at the Divisional level. He’s got ownership that ‘s providing payroll levels at least 30% higher than the Metrodome days and expecting at least competence in return. That combination is resulting in fewer people showing up at Target Field, which means lower revenues, which means lower future payrolls, which means a tougher job to assemble a roster that can turn things around any time soon.

But while I may not envy Ryan, I don’t feel sorry for him, either. He may have just recently taken over Bill Smith’s mess, but his hands weren’t clean. He was playing a significant role in the scouting and player evaluation process, even while Smith sat in the GM chair. As a result, the players on this team right now and in the minor league pipeline are just as much Ryan’s responsibility as they were Smith’s.

I don’t consider Ron Gardenhire blameless, either, but I really don’t know what manager could win with this collection of pitchers. I don’t know enough about the pitchers individually to know whether better “coaching” from Rick Anderson would help. But I do know that the organization is fast approaching a need to DO “something” to keep fans’ interest… or at least give us some sign that they’ve at least noticed that the wheels have come off.

Maybe it’s my mood this morning, but if I were Terry Ryan, I’d probably make a change right now in my manager and pitching coach. The problem is, I wouldn’t necessarily want to promote anyone from within my organization to the manager’s job that would give the impression he was going to be my manager for the next decade. Maybe Gene Glynn or Tom Brunansky or Jeff Smith will be logical selections or maybe I’d want to open up the search to outside candidates, but I don’t want to make such an important decision hastily.

Paul Molitor

So here’s my Monday Morning suggestion to Terry: Get on your knees and beg Paul Molitor to finish out 2012 as your manager. He’s supposedly not been interested in a field job with the Twins, but maybe on an interim basis, he could be convinced to take things over.

As for the pitching coach…  I really have no idea who in the organization would work on an interim basis, but try this name on for size: Bert Blyleven. OK, OK… once you’ve stopped laughing, think about it… he couldn’t screw the staff up any worse than they are already and at least he wouldn’t be up in the booth the rest of the year. Then again, I’m not sure how they’d get the monitor hooked up in the dugout in a way that would allow him to circle fans in the stands, so maybe it wouldn’t work after all.

Vikings Stuff

I’m a Vikings fan, not necessarily a “Minnesota” fan, so I’ll root for the Vikings wherever they call home in the future. That said, I’d REALLY prefer they stay in Minnesota. It’s where they belong, in my mind.

Philosophically, I understand the opinion that public money shouldn’t be used for stadiums. Then again, I think we use public money for a lot of crap that it shouldn’t be used for, while our health care system in this country is the laughingstock of the rest of the world’s modern civilizations.

Some things just are what they are and among those things is that communities that want major league professional sports teams have to pony up enough public financial support to provide modern playgrounds for those teams every quarter-century or so. This is particularly true with regard to NFL franchises, which are, whether we baseball fans want to admit it or not, the most popular major sports organizations in virtually every community that has one.

For the past couple of decades, this has been a difficult truth for Minnesotans and their political leaders (and I use the term “leaders” loosely here) to grasp.

So, sometime late tonight, I expect the Minnesota legislature to defeat a bill that has been negotiated in good faith by the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the Governor of Minnesota and legislators  from both political parties.

And that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a registered Republican for over three decades and over that period, I’ve been relatively active in state and local politics where I live. While I don’t want to turn this in to a political discussion, I’ll say that I’m disappointed by the way my party has been hijacked by extremists over the past several years at the national level. But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about what’s happened to the GOP at the national level, it’s seeing what a bunch of political hacks seem to be running the GOP in Minnesota.

Sure, there were missteps along the way by all parties and governing is often about compromise. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is more inherent to American politics than separation of powers.

If, as a legislator, you oppose public funding of a stadium, in principle, so that’s how you will cast your vote, I can respect that. But what the GOP leadership is essentially telling the Governor… and the people of Minnesota… is that it’s not so much opposition to the bill in principle that could likely cause its demise tonight, it’s that the Governor wouldn’t give them his signature on a couple of tax and bonding bills and they’re going to vote against the Vikings stadium bill as political “payback.”

If that means the Vikings are playing in LA or Toronto in 2013, so be it… at least the GOP won’t have let a Democratic Governor “win.”

If that’s what passes for statemanship in Minnesota these days, that’s unfortunate.

- JC

GameChat – Twins @ Mariners #3, 3:10pm

Ron Gardenhire has announced that Brian Dozier will be the team’s starting shortstop when he arrives in the clubhouse on Monday.  Jamey Carroll will be shifted to a utility role for the time being,  giving Gardenhire an opportunity to give occasional rest to Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla (or replace them if they continue to struggle).

The Twins’ 9 hits in their last 4 games is the worst streak in the modern era (since 1900).  Ouch.  Let’s hope for something better this afternoon.

Erik Komatsu is in right field again, Mauer is back behind the plate for the first time in almost a week, and Carroll will get a swan-song at shortstop.  Here is the rest:

 Minnesota Twins

@

Seattle Mariners
 Span, CF  Ackley, 2B
 Carroll, SS  Ryan, SS
 Mauer, C  Suzuki, I, RF
 Willingham, LF  Montero, DH
 Doumit, DH  Seager, 3B
 Parmelee, 1B  Jaso, C
 Valencia, 3B  Smoak, 1B
 Komatsu, RF  Carp, LF
 Casilla, A, 2B  Saunders, M, CF
  _Blackburn, P   _Noesi, P

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

2

5

0

Seattle

3

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

X

5

7

2

 

Ryan Doumit was 3/3 with a walk and 2 HR.  The rest of the Twins were 2/27 with 5 walks and 6 strikeouts.  All in all, another pretty disappointing display of baseball from the Twins.

Twins are back home tomorrow to start a 9 game homestand.  Francisco Liriano takes the mound against a no-name pitcher for the Angels, Jered Weaver.

-ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins @ Mariners #2, 8:10pm

One Day without Ron Gardenhire, one win.  Do with that what you will.

Per La Velle E. Neal, Justin Morneau, who is still struggling with wrist, soreness has finally landed on the Disabled List.  When Morneau left the game last Monday against the Angels it seemed like a trip to the DL was inevitable. Now, after playing almost an entire week with 13 pitchers and almost no bench players, the Twins finally make the call.  The Twins probably still get no-hit last Wednesday even if someone was called up, but you never know.

Even Without Gardenhire, Scott Ullger continues the Twins tradition of putting a new player into the lineup, giving Erik Komatsu the start in right field.  Hard to blame Ullger for taking a look at Komatsu as it pushes Ryan Doumit back behind the plate and relegates Drew Butera to the bench.

Here are the lineups:

 Minnesota Twins

@

Seattle Mariners
 Span, CF  Ackley, 2B
 Carroll, SS  Ryan, SS
 Mauer, DH  Suzuki, I, RF
 Willingham, LF  Montero, C
 Doumit, C  Seager, 3B
 Parmelee, 1B  Jaso, DH
 Valencia, 3B  Smoak, 1B
 Komatsu, RF  Carp, LF
 Casilla, A, 2B  Saunders, M, CF
  _Marquis, P   _Hernandez, F, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

 Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

 Seattle

0

0

0

0

0

2

5

0

X

7

7

0

 

Jason Marquis pitched six innings giving up just 2 earned runs, scattering 6 walks and recording only one strike out.  In the 7th Anthony Swarzak, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray combined to give up 5 earned runs and the game was suddenly out of hand.

Regardless of what the pitching staff did, the real story of the night was Felix Hernandez.  He pitched 8 strong innings, struck out 9 Twins and gave up just a single Twins hit. The Twins were held scoreless again tonight and were just one Denard Span single away from being no-hit a 2nd time in a week.

Big changes to the Twins lineup are in the pipeline as Brian Dozier and Scott Diamond should be with the Twins on Monday.  Morneau will officially be moved to the DL and Liam Hendriks will most likely be option to Rochester to make room.

Twins have a chance to win the series tomorrow afternoon at 3pm, but it will take more than just one hit.

-ERolfPleiss

Twins On The Hot Seat

As the Twins near the end of the first month of the season, things aren’t going very well. True, few fans really expected that things WOULD be going well, given the combination of last season’s record and the brutal April schedule that MLB saddled them with. Nonetheless, we can’t really be blamed for being disappointed with some of the performances we’re seeing on the field, thus far.

Given the way their most recent season or two have gone, we all had legitimate questions about what we could expect out of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and even Denard Span. We theorized that, if those three guys could somehow prove to be healthy, this team would have plenty of offense and that alone could allow them to threaten to play .500 ball. Guess what? All three players have been healthy and productive… but the team has still managed to lose twice as many of their first 15 games as they’ve won.

So, who’s to blame? More specifically, who’s roster spots… and perhaps even who’s future in Major League Baseball… are on the line already in this young season? Honestly, the list of underachievers on this Twins team so far is so long that it will be a challenge to list all the players with their heads on the chopping block in one post. But let’s try. We can certainly cover the names at the top of the list.

Alexi Casilla

Alexi Casilla – I’ve always loved Lexi. I admit to that bias, going all the way back to his time here in Cedar Rapids with the Kernels. He’s traditionally a slow starter, so it’s hardly a surprise to see him hitting below .250. But he’s not getting on base at a much higher rate and his fielding has been frustratingly inconsistent. With Brian Dozier hitting over .300 and sporting an .841 OPS through Saturday, you have to wonder how long Lexi’s leash is, at this point.

Of course, Dozier can only play one position and Casilla isn’t the only Twins infielder performing at a disappointing level. Which brings us to…

Danny Valencia - Unlike Casilla, I’ve never had a warm and fuzzy feeling toward Valencia. There’s something about his personality that just rubs me the wrong way. Then again, I don’t need to “like” a player to appreciate their talents if they’re contributing a little something to my favorite team’s success. So if Danny would… say… hit the friggin baseball once in a while, I’d overlook the whole personality thing. But he hasn’t done that. Not this year and, really, not last year. So exactly why should we assume he’s entitled to a regular position in the Twins line up?

Brian Dozier

Dozier could take his spot just as easily as Casilla’s. Either Casilla or Jamey Carroll would likely be an upgrade at 3B over Valencia defensively, making room for Dozier in the middle infield somewhere.

In fact, if the Twins really wanted to send a message (or if they could find another team foolish enough to take one or both of Casilla and Valencia off their hands), there’s another infielder in Rochester more than holding his own. Mike Hollimon was somewhat impressive during a short stint with the Big League club in Spring Training and he’s carried that production in to the season. He’s only hitting .256, but he’s getting on base and hitting with a little pop. In other words, he’s doing the things Valencia is supposed to be doing… and isn’t.

But let’s be honest, there’s one guy who’s Big League future is in even graver danger of coming to an end. We’re speaking, of course, about…

Francisco Liriano - Remember when he was known as “The Franchise”? If he’s been saving his money, maybe he’ll be able to buy a Popeye’s Chicken franchise, but his days as a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins are running short.

Francisco Liriano

We all know that Spring Training numbers are not necessarily predictive of regular season performance (if they were, Luke Hughes would be in his second year as a starting infielder for the Twins instead of awaiting word of his fate after being Designated for Assignment last week), but how in the world does a pitcher go from giving up just four runs on 10 hits in 18 Spring Training innings to the level of suckage we’re seeing out of Frankie now? An 11.91 ERA? 22 hits and 9 walks in 11.1 innings? Really?

Liriano’s facing the Tampa Bay Rays today… a Rays team that isn’t shy about swinging at pretty much anything that’s thrown near the plate. If he can’t put something together resembling a decent start against these guys, it might be time to think about moving on. Maybe Frankie can be effective out of the bullpen. Pitching one inning at a time gives a pitcher less to think about and, in his case, that has to be a good thing, right?

But who would replace him in the Twins rotation? It’s not like the organization is brimming with high level pitching prospects. Scott Diamond, however, is sporting a nifty little 3-0 record in Rochester, with a 1.47 ERA. If you don’t like Wins and ERA as measuring sticks (and, really, who does?), that’s fine. He’s also struck out 14 hitters and walked only 5 in his 18.1 innings of work and fashioned a nice 1.200 WHIP. He’s given up only one home run.

With Dozier and Diamond looking very good in Rochester, the Twins have some options… and while it’s only the end of April, we’ve seen enough of Casilla, Valencia and Liriano over the past several seasons to pretty much know that they are who they are… and who they are is not terribly good.

- JC

Greatness Must Be More Than a Tradition

Perhaps my favorite quote is one that has been attributed to Charles Lindbergh and it goes something like this: “A great tradition may be inherited, but true greatness must be achieved.”

I’ve been thinking about that lately, in the context of the Minnesota Twins. It’s not that I believe the current roster is great or really even has much of a chance of achieving greatness. They certainly haven’t given us reason to expect greatness in their first handful of games this season.

I wonder, though, how many members of this team understand what it takes to acheive greatness… or even a level approaching the near-greatness that the Twins class of 2002 that was honored Monday arguably captured. Not to understate the talent of the group, as a whole, but it seems like they had a spirit that drove them to at least strive for greatness.

They never really reached their goal… which, of course, was to win a World Series in Minnesota. They did, however, restore respectability to the organization and win a lot of baseball games, including a number of Division titles, in the process. They may not have achieved greatness, but they certainly achieved very-goodness… and the current crop of Twins have inherited that legacy.

Do they know what to do with that legacy, though? Do they recognize the need to achieve greatness for themselves or do they think that they should just be very good because the Twins teams that preceded them for most of the past decade have been very good?

It’s difficult to maintain greatness in pretty much any organization. Most consistently successful companies have formal or informal “succession planning” programs that assure continuity of purpose and philosophy. It’s not something that’s easy to do, even in the most conducive of corporate environments. Trying to develop such a philosophy in a Major League clubhouse where today’s team mate is tomorrow’s opponent and the hot-hitting rookie is a threat to take away a veteran’s livelihood is probably all but impossible.

Some mentoring goes on, of course. Not every veteran ballplayer has the, “it’s all about me and screw the guy coming up behind me,” mentality (let’s call that the Bret Favre mentality, shall we?). Kirby Puckett supposedly mentored Torii Hunter and Hunter supposedly did likewise with Denard Span. It happens, but it happens so seldom that it tends to gets elevated to mythical proportions when it does happen.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it occurs to me that this group of Twins… from the front office management to the on-field management to the veteran players to the rookies… have not achieved anything close to greatness. I suppose an argument can be made that Carl Pavano has acheived greatness, at least briefly, in his younger days with the Marlins. Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan deserve some credit for guiding that class of 2002 through their period of very-goodness.

What the Twins have in their clubhouse is an combination of a couple of very good baseball players who inherited the near-great tradition of the teams led by guys like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Corey Koskie, along with a few decent new players who, frankly, came from organizations that haven’t even had the kind of tradition the Twins have had, and a bunch of young players that really haven’t experienced anything approaching greatness in their professional careers.

When the Yankees or Red Sox or even the Braves start out a season by getting swept in their first series, there’s no cause for ledge jumping. Those teams have players who know what it takes to be great and are confident in their abilities to achieve greatness once again, despite a temporary set back. Who in the Twins’ clubhouse has that experience to fall back on, much less the ability to share it with team mates in a manner that instills confidence?

It’s difficult for a young player to step in to such a role. Most of them are too busy pinching themselves over the realization they’re Major League ballplayers playing a game in front of 40,000 people to think beyond the moment. But once they settle in to the routine, do any of them have the drive necessary to lead a team to achieve greatness? I hope so.

And what of management? Where will the next great leader of this organization come from? I doubt Ron Gardenhire’s job is in immediate jeopardy, but it’s almost impossible for me to imagine him leading the team through the next generation of ballplayers. Who will Terry Ryan and the Pohlads charge with the responsibility of leading the team of Joe Benson, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Kyle Gibson to a level of greatness not achieved in over two decades?

How will the current Twins and those coming up behind them learn to achieve greatness? In the absence of credible mentors to learn from, it will take someone (or better yet, multiple someones) with incredible leadership skills to build a winning mentality back nearly from scratch.

Ron Gardenhire and Tom Brunansky (photo: Jim Crikket)

I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough about the Twins organization to predict who will step up to provide that kind of leadership or when it might arrive. Outside of watching the Beloit Snappers a few times a year and spending a week or so at the Twins’ spring training site every March, I have little to base an opinion on. Maybe players like Benson, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks and Liam Hendriks will eventually fill leadership roles on the field and in a future Twins clubhouse, but the guy I expect to see eventually establish a presence with the Big Club is former Twin Tom Brunansky.

If you spend any time hanging out around the minor league fields during spring training, you can tell which coaches tend to attract an audience when they speak. Two men have stood out to me as guys that always seem to have the attention of any player within earshot of them: Paul Molitor and Brunansky. Molitor serves in an instructional capacity every spring and it seems he’s pretty satisfied with that limited role, but Bruno has been moving up the organizational ranks as a hitting coach and is with the AAA team in Rochester this year.

I know there are people who feel Brunansky could or even should be promoted to the Twins’ hitting coach position to replace Joe Vavra. Personally, I think he’s fine right where he is… teaching the next generation of Twins how to play baseball. He’s the kind of coach… and, potentially, the kind of manager… that could bring credibility to a field management job if and when he gets his opportunity in Minnesota.

For now, this is admitedly all just idle conjecture. Then again, until the current Twins start winning some ball games and give us something else to focus on, idle conjecture is likely to lead to more interesting discussions than anything going on between the white lines.

- JC

 

159-3 is not so Bad

The Twins were swept out of Baltimore in their first series of the year, three games to zero.  Over those three games the Twins managed just 5 runs, and 15 hits to go along with two errors and 16 strike outs.  As bad as those numbers are, it could have been worse, as the Twins scored late in all three games, with all 5 runs coming in the 8th inning or later.  Eerily similar to 2011, the Twins have found themselves down early, offensively challenged and relying on an inexperienced bullpen.

All of that means that the Twins are going to fight an uphill battle to come out of 2012 with a winning record, but it is only three games.  In2006, the 5th best team in Minnesota’s franchise history, the Twins won 96 games.  That teams started the year just 1-5, and had losing streaks of 3 or more games 8 times.  On May 1 that teams was 9-16 and was just routed 8-2 (giving up 19 hits) by a Mariners team that would go on to lose 86 games.  That team would go on to lose to the Cleveland Indians by a score of 11-0 TWICE and another 18-1 loss at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.  Every team is going to have a couple of bad days.

I am certainly not trying to say that the current version of the Minnesota Twins is going to be 30 games over .500, but I think we can hold on to the doomsday conversations for a couple more weeks, after all, those 3 games represent less than 2% of the 2012 schedule, and three losses are only three losses.

For those fans (and players) that may not remember what it looks like, this is Target Field

There are still a couple of positives to take away from this poor start, and the Twins can build on the things they’re doing well in the home opener later today.

  1.  Justin Morneau continues to hit the ball hard.  He’s hitting .400 with 2 doubles and a walk, and a couple of hard line drives that were hit right at defenders for outs.  Focusing on hitting the ball is working for Morneau, if he continues to hit the ball like this, it will not matter what Parmelee is doing with the bat (assuming he starts hitting better than the .125 he’s showing now).
  2. Brian Duensing has made two appearances out of the bullpen, has yet to give up a run and has recorded 2 strike outs.  With the exception of newcomes Matt Maloney and Jared Burton, the Twins bullpen has yet to give up any runs.  Alex Burnett, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing,  and Jeff Gray have combined to go 5.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA along with 4 strike outs and just 2 hits.  Granted, Maloney and Burton have been bad, but the bullpen is not as bad as it seems, there are plenty of guys going out there and succeeding.
  3. Josh Willingham has a home run, a double, and an outfield assist, throwing out Nick Markakis at home plate in the season opener.  Willingham has not looked great in left field (two errors on Saturday), and he will have to turn that around going forward, but if the rest of the Twins lineup warms up a little bit, this team is going to have an offensive to help mitigate some of the problems with the starting rotation.
  4. Jamey Carroll appears to be a real shortstop.  He is not going to win any Gold Gloves, and he might not be as fresh after 40 games at short, but for the time being Carroll is making all the plays and getting to all the balls in his area.  Outside of J.J. Hardy‘s injury plagued 2010 season the Twins have struggled to find consistent play from their shortstops for the better part of the last decade.  Carroll might just be keeping the spot warm for Brian Dozier, but as long as he’s here, he’s doing everything that’s been asked of him (except hit, despite being a high On Base Percentage guy he has yet to tally a base hit in three games, and has just one walk).

Five runs in three games will not be the norm for this bunch of ball players, unfortunately five runs in three games to start the season takes off a lot of the opening weekend optimism held by fans.  But hang in there, 159-3 is still within reach.

-ERolfPleiss

Spring Training: Photos of the Twins Busting the Bucs

There are plenty of accounts elsewhere about the Twins’ win over the Pirates in Bradenton Thursday, so I’m not about to give yet another one. Suffice to say the Twins looked really good for the first five innings and then coasted to an 11-6 win.

At least Chris Parmelee isn't chewing tobacco at 1B

I was in the first row down the right field line for this game, in a position where I was glad every throw from third base to first baseman Chris Parmelee was on target, because anything that would have gotten by him would have been dangerously close to my nose. But neither overthrow nor line drive foul ball threatened my health and well being today.

Few of the Twins regulars made the trip up to Bradenton. We probably might as well start thinking of Parmelee as a regular, of course. In addition, Danny Valencia DH’d, Luke Hughes manned 3B and Ben Revere patroled CF. Otherwise, this was largely a team bound for Rochester or New Britain and looking to leave an impression on manager Ron Gardenhire and the other coaches. Some of them, most notably a couple guys named Brian, did just that.

Brian Dozier looked good at SS, but he impressed more with his HR

Dinkelman and Dozier both homered for the Twins, backing up Matt Maloney, who looked plenty good again while getting stretched out to three innings after largely pitching an inning at a time so far this spring.

Ben Revere showed his speed, of course, and prospect Angel Morales, who was called up for a spot start in RF, not only showed off his speed but also the cannon attached to his right shoulder.

Former Twin Garrett Jones signed some autographs before the game

All in all, just a very enjoyable day at the ballpark watching some young players show their stuff.

Friday, I’m going to catch a few innings of the Orioles vs Tigers game in Sarasota before heading south to Ft. Myers.

- JC

 

If Twins prospect Angel Morales felt like he was being observed by more than just his manager, maybe he had good reason to feel that way

 

St. Patty’s Day is Separation Day

St. Patrck’s Day means different things to different people. But if you’re a baseball player trying to make a Big League ballclub, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand with your manager and General Manager by the time you lift your first green beer of the evening on March 17.

At this point, there are just over two weeks left of Spring Training, so if you have any hope of heading north with the Big Club, you had better have made some sort of positive impression by now. You simply can’t look like Leprechaun feces on the field for the first half of March and expect to be wearing a Major League uniform on Opening Day.

The Twins had 67 players in their Big League camp to begin with and will take only 25 with them to Baltimore to begin the regular season. In reality, there were only a handful of spots open on the Twins roster to begin with and not much has changed with regard to those players that were “locks.” Of course, Joel Zumaya’s injury immediately made one more bullpen spot available and now there’s some question whether Scott Baker’s tender elbow could cause him to start the season on the Disabled List, which would open up another pitching spot. Otherwise, the Twins were really only looking to determine who their bench position players would be and fill out the back end of their bullpen.

So let’s look at who the leaders are as the guys take that long bus ride across the state of Florida for a St. Patty’s Day contest with Ozzie’s new-look Miami Marlins this afternoon. (Our friend and fellow blogger, Thrylos, has been maintaining “scorecards” that track game-by-game performance of those contending for bench positions and bullpen spots over at The Tenth Inning Stretch. It’s a handy tool that you should glance at regularly.)

All statistics are through Friday, March 16.

Third Catcher:

It’s been almost a foregone conclusion that the Twins would carry a third catcher, in addition to Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, They’re still carrying six other catchers, but Danny Lehmann, Chris Herrmann and Daniel Rolfing will be heading back to minor league camp as the number of pitchers is thinned out.

The assumption has been that non-roster invite J.R. Towles would challenge Drew Butera, but Rene Rivera has perhaps been the most consistent performer of the group. Towles made a good first impression early in the month, but has been mediocre, at best, since then. Don’t rule out Butera, however. After a slow start, he’s had a couple of good games recently. I think Drew remains the odds-on favorite to keep his spot on the Twins bench. Here’s a fun small sample size Spring Training fact, however: Going in to today’s game, all three of these potential back-up back-up catchers are hitting at least .300 in official Spring Training games.

Other bench players:

The Twins really only have open spots for a utility infielder or two, if we assume that Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe have secure spots as the third and fourth outfielders. There was no shortage of infield candidates, but to be brutally honest, there haven’t been three guys who have thus far demonstrated that they deserve to get a MLB paycheck.

The best of the bunch, so far, is Chris Parmelee (.368/.478/,684). His performance this spring would seem to indicate that his impressive September call-up was not a fluke. The problem is, it’s unlikely that the Twins really want him to spend 2012 sitting on the Twins bench. He needs to play baseball every day and, unless Justin Morneau is unable to answer the bell in April, Parmelee is going to be the Rochester first baseman.

Non-roster invite Mike Hollimon has looked good (.400/.455/.700), but he has to keep it up if he’s going to force the front office to give him someone else’s spot on the 40-man roster. On the other hand, unlike with Parmelee, the Twins wouldn’t think twice about letting him collect splinters on the Big League club’s bench if he can fill in around the infield and be effective in a pinch-hitting role.

Luke Hughes (.273/.333/.500) is definitely still in the hunt for a bench spot, as well. He’s out of options, which helps his cause. He also started out physically behind other contenders, as he nursed his shoulder back to health. Since returning to regular playing time at bat and in the field, his performance has picked up considerably and he finished this week strong.

Of the rest of the candidates for bench spots, nobody as been absolutely terrible, but nobody has been consistently good, either. Outfielder Joe Benson (.250/.304/.400) has been impressive at times, especially defensively, but he’s got the same issue Parmelee does… the Twins won’t keep him just to sit on the bench. Brian Dozier (.250/.294/.375) is probably in the same boat.

Handicapping the race with two weeks left, I’d say the early favorites remain the most likely players to open the year in Twins uniforms. Luke Hughes has a spot unless he kicks it away. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.261/.292/..348) probably does, too, not so much because he’s looked good, but because almost nobody else has looked a heck of a lot better. Keep an eye on Hollimon, though, because if he finishes strong, he could force the Twins to make a very difficult decision regarding Nishioka.

The rest… Aaron Bates, Sean Burroughs, Ray Chang, Brian Dinkelman and Pedro Florimon… have had a moment or two they can be proud of, but I look for each of them to be sent down or released over the next 7-10 days.

Pitchers:

Things are much more interesting… and surprisingly optimistic… on the pitching front. For all the fretting about how the Twins would manage to cobble together a bullpen capable of backing up one of the most mediocre rotations in baseball last season, we’ve seen a number of candidates make strong cases that they deserve a shot.

Let’s start with Liam Hendriks (7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP). He started out pitching just an inning in his outings, but threw three hitless innings at the Red Sox when he got a chance to start. He was never likely to fill a bullpen role for the Twins to start the season, but if Baker has to postpone his season debut a while, Hendriks has looked good enough to step in to his spot. Whether he’s a Twin on Opening Day or not, I look for Hendriks to play a significant role for the Twins over the course of the season.

Alex Burnett, Carlos Gutierrez, Jeff Manship and Kyle Waldrop needed to perform well this spring. Those are guys who have been brought up in the organization and who the Twins expected to be developed enough at this point to be contributing at the Major League level. A big reason there are so many pitchers in camp that have been signed from other organizations within the past year or two is that those four pitchers have not yet proved they can do the job.

Burnett (2.2 IP, 16.87 ERA) has struggled, but the other three guys have been pitching well. They are getting some competition from Matt Maloney, Jared Burton, Casey Fien and P.J. Walters, all of whom have been pretty impressive, as well.

Others have had a good day here and there, as well, but I think the field has been narrowed to Gutierrez (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.200 WHIP ), Manship (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.462 WHIP), Waldrop (4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Maloney (5.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.750 WHIP), Burton (5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.000 WHIP), Fien (3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.300 WHIP) and Walters (5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP).

Keep in mind that Gutierrez, Manship and Waldrop are all already on the Twins’ 40-man roster, while the four “outsiders” are not which means the Twins would need to find room for any of them they decide to keep. [EDIT: Matt Maloney is also already on the 40-man roster... my bad.] This race is still too close to call, but I’m excited that there are so many guys who are meeting and even exceeding expectations as we head in to the final couple of weeks of Spring Training.

I’ll be heading down to Ft. Myers for the final week of Spring Training and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.

- 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