Minnesota Twins Rookies

Last night, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were awarded the Rookie of the Year awards, in the National and American League, respectively.  Harper and Trout did amazing things as rookies, and in the case of Mike Trout, had the best season a rookie has ever had.  Harper helped the Washington Nationals win their division, and Trout did his part to keep the Los Angeles Angels relevant until the final week of the season.  Minnesota Twins, on the other hand, had plenty of rookies suit up for them in 2012, but outside of Scott Diamond, none of them did much of anything to help the Twins win games (in fairness, the rest of the team was not exactly doing a lot to help the Twins win games either).

Scott Diamond (photo: Genevieve Ross/AP)

MLB classifies rookies as any player with less than 130 at bats or 50 innings pitched  or any player with less 45 or less days on the active roster during any part of the season other than September).  Using the at bat and innings pitched limits, the Twins used 16 different players in 2012 that qualified as rookies: Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, Darin Mastroianni, Pedro Florimon, Matt Carson, Eduardo Escobar, Erik Komatsu, Chris Herrmann, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Tyler Robertson, Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop, and Casey Fien.  That’s 16 out of 47 total players used in 2012 for the Twins, or a little bit more than 1 out of every 3 Twins.  That is a lot of youth especially considering the Twins only called up a limited number of players in September, and just two rookies (Herrmann and Escobar).

As a group, those 16 rookies accounted for a grand total of 4.1 Wins Above Replacement.  They were led by Scott Diamond with 2.2 WAR, and at the other end was Liam Hendriks, -1.2 WAR.  In between the Twins saw surprisingly positive performances from waiver claim Darin Mastroianni(.8 WAR) and defensive specialist Pedro Florimon (.8 WAR).   The Twins were also disappointed by break-out candidate Chris Parmelee (-.6 WAR) and would-be lefty-specialist Tyler Robertson.

Here, alphabetically, is a closer look at each of the Twins’ 2012 rookies, including their status heading into 2013, as several players will still retain their rookie eligibility.

Matt Carson - 31, OF, .227/.246/.242 (BA/OBP/SLG) – Carson exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2012, which is pretty impressive for a guy that is 31 years old and had played in parts of two previous seasons.  The Twins called Matt Carson up late in the season when they were a little short on outfielders and Ron Gardenhire really seemed to enjoy having him around.  He’s unlikely to return to Minneapolis in 2013, as he is off of the 40 man roster, and the Twins have plenty of young outfielders just waiting to break onto the Major League roster.

Cole De Vries - 27, RHP, 87.2/4.11/58/18 (IP/ERA/SO/BB) – Cole De Vries was the right guy in the right place at the right time in 2012.  After signing as an undrafted free-agent in 2006 out of the University of Minnesota, De Vries spent the better part of the last six years quietly working his way through the Minnesota’s farm system.  De Vries struggled in 2010 (after being converted to a bullpen guy) between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester, but in 2011 he turned things around and despite starting the year back in Double-A, he finished the year in Rochester with a combined 3.40 ERA.  De Vries started 2012 in Rochester (once again as a starting pitcher) and when the arms were falling off of every Twins starting pitcher with a hear beat, he was called up to the big leagues and performed better than many had expected.  De Vries has lost his rookie eligibility heading into 2013, but he remains on the 40-man roster and has an outside chance of being the Twins’ 5th starter this spring.

Samuel Deduno - 29, RHP, 79.0/4.44/57/53 – Deduno was having himself a very surprising 2012 campaign until a string of bad starts toward the tail end of the season ballooned his ERA over 4.  Deduno is a guy that has great movement on his pitches, but unfortunately not even he knows where the ball is likely to end up and as a result, Deduno finished the year with almost as many walks as strike outs.  Deduno seemed to get a handle on his wildness about half way through his season, and will need to show increased control this spring but could battle De Vries for that 5th spot in the rotation.  Deduno is on the 40-man roster and has exhausted his rookie eligibility.

Scott Diamond - 26, LHP, 173.0/3.54/90/31 – He turned out to be the Twins’ most effective starting pitcher in 2012, leading the team in innings, and providing the Twins with a reliable performance every fifth day.  Without Diamond the Twins’ best starter would have been Samuel Deduno, certainly not anyone’s idea of a staff ace.  Diamond is the only starting pitcher from the 2012 staff that has been guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, and if the Twins can do enough in free agency, Diamond slots in as a solid number 3.  Like Deduno, Diamond remains on the 40-man roster and is no longer eligible as a rookie.

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Looking Back… and Ahead

I have a poor memory.  I have trouble remembering names and all sorts of other things. I need to be reminded of appointments and family events I’m supposed to show up at. This may well be indicative of some pretty unpleasant final years of my life, but for right now I’m trying to look at the positive side to having a bad memory.

For example, I can tell you I don’t remember predicting before the season started that the Twins would come through with an 86-76 record for 2012.

I can tell you I sure as hell don’t remember predicting Francisco Liriano would be the Twins “pitcher of the year,” before the season got underway or that Liam Hendriks was likely to be the team’s “rookie of the year.”

The problem is that Eric went and made all of those predictions public back in April, so there’s a record of my preseason bout of insanity. Then again, maybe he just made that stuff up?

Scott Diamond

The reality is that the Twins pitcher of the year was probably Glen Perkins and when your best pitcher is a member of your bullpen, that’s probably not good. I suppose Scott Diamond should get some consideration for this award, as well, however. He certainly was the lone bright spot in the rotation (though I suspect he just seems brighter because of how totally dull the rest of the rotation was, by comparison).

Eric and I both apparently thought Justin Morneau was poised for a huge rebound season and predicted he would be the team’s hitter of the year. Justin certainly bounced back well, but Josh Willingham had a huge season and Joe Mauer is once again leading the league in on-base percentage and fighting for the batting title. Either of those two would be legitimate choices for the Twins hitter of the year, but I’d go with Willingham.

I predicted Denard Span would be the team’s defender of the year and I could make a pretty good case for that having turned out to be accurate. But Ben Revere would probably get my vote at this point.

I’m a bit fuzzy on who’s eligible to be considered a rookie and who isn’t, but assuming they’re both eligible, my choices would be Revere and Trevor Plouffe, in that order.

Morneau didn’t turn out to be a bad choice for Twins comeback player of the year, but I’d probably vote for Mauer.

Twins MVP would come down to Willingham and Mauer, but I’d probably go with Mauer because he contributed so much more than Willingham defensively. Then again, does anyone really want to be considered the most valuable player on a 90+ loss team?

I did get one prediction right. I said up front that the Tigers had to be the favorites to win the AL Central Division, but that their defense was going to be bad enough that they’d struggle more than a lot of experts were predicting. I did not, however, expect the White Sox to be the team that challenged them. It does appear that I was slightly overly optimistic about the Twins doing the challenging. (OK, more than slightly.)

But enough about the past, let’s look ahead a bit.

The big question being tossed around these days seems to be whether the Twins will (or should) blow up the roster and rebuild with an eye toward competing in 2016 and beyond or try to improve enough to get competitive again as early as next year.

It’s a fair question. But there’s only one realistic answer.

In a fantasy world where revenue streams are secondary to strategy, you could make an argument that the Twins should blow off the next couple of years and plan for the days when some of their current Class A and AA prospects are arriving at Target Field. But this is the real world and the Twins are a real business.

If they trade away Willingham, Span, Morneau and anyone else with any value who might not be expected to be around in 2016, attendance over the next couple of years will continue to drop even more dramatically, right along with television ratings. That means lower revenues. That means lower payrolls.

Granted, those prospects we’re counting on will be playing for the league minimum for a while, but even by 2016, this team will still be paying $23 million a year to Joe Mauer through the 2018 season. The bottom line is that, regardless of how good prospects look in the Eastern League, Florida State League and Midwest League, the odds are that more than half of them will never become above average MLB ballplayers. That means that blowing the team up now is just as likely to result in bad teams in 2016 and beyond as it is championship caliber teams. Taking that risk might be gutsy to some, but to me it would just be stupid.

Terry Ryan

Building from within with young players is necessary. But it’s not necessary to do so exclusively. Terry Ryan has told media and fans that he and his front office simply need to do better. They need to scout better. They need to trade better. They need to do better at finding the right free agents. He may not have come right out and said it, but he’s certainly hinted that the front office needs to take a very close look at the coaching and training staffs throughout the organization and make better decisions concerning those positions, as well.

Ryan is right. The Twins can’t be satisfied with two or three more seasons of bad baseball while they wait for their top prospects to be ready for prime time. They need to spend the next couple of years improving every. single. year. They need to reinstitute an expectation of competitiveness among their fan base AND in their clubhouse. They obviously need to start that search with their rotation, but whether by trade or free agency, they do need to improve the product on the field immediately.

That may not be the popular approach with some fans, but it is the right approach.

- JC

Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

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 #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

Hendriks vs Trout… I’ve Seen This Before

Barring something unforeseen happening, when Twins starting pitcher Liam Hendriks toes the rubber Wednesday night, he’ll be staring down Angels’ top prospect Mike Trout, who’s been hitting in the leadoff spot for the Halos since being promoted a few days ago.

Talk about déjà vu flashbacks.

Liam Hendriks

Just over two years ago, the Beloit Snappers opened their season against the Angels’ Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and I sat through a 10-inning 1-0 Snappers win in 37 degree temperatures. You can read all about it and see how photo-happy I was in those days by clicking here to go back to a Knuckleballs post I put up after the game.

You’ll note from the story that Liam Hendriks started that game for the Snappers and pitched five strong innings. What you won’t read in that story, because I focused so much on the Snappers, is that Mike Trout was the starting centerfielder for the Kernels.

Mike Trout

By the way, I’ve already started gathering my Mike Trout collectables… I’ve got a pack of Kernels baseball cards from 2010 with Trout’s card right up there on top and the Kernels gave away Mike Trout bobbleheads at their home opener this season. Yes, I made sure I was there early enough to be one of the first 1,000 in the gate (which I needn’t have done… they were still handing them out to people who came through the turnstiles at game time).

So, yes, I’ve seen Liam Hendriks face Mike Trout already.

If you regularly attend minor league games, you become accustomed to seeing a fortunate few of these kids eventually wear Major League uniforms, but I have to admit that seeing two of them rise to become Big Leaguers in just two years after playing here in Cedar Rapids seems rare. As it turns out, though, maybe it’s not as rare as I think. Three of Trout’s team mates on that 2010 Kernels team have already made their MLB debuts. Trout’s the only position player, but pitchers David Carpenter, Garrett Richards and Patrick Corbin have all already made appearances for the Angels or, in Corbin’s case, the D’Backs.

That Snappers line up on Opening Day 2010 was nothing to sneeze at either. Hendriks is the only 2010 Snapper to make the Big Leagues (unless you count JJ Hardy, who rehabbed with Beloit for three games that season), but it won’t be that way for long. Check out the picture I posted of my scorecard from that game in April, 2010.

See any familiar names? How about… Brian Dozier at SS. He’s still in Rochester, but it shouldn’t be long before he joins his former Snapper team mate Hendriks in Minnesota.

Aaron Hicks and James Beresford were in the line up that day… both have reached AA New Britain now. So has pitcher Dakota Watts, who also was with Beloit at the start of 2010. BJ Hermsen pitched in Beloit that year, as well, but I don’t believe he even began the year there. Now, he’s also a Rock Cat after being promoted recently.

You’ll also see names like Angel Morales, Michael Gonzales, Danny Rams and Anderson Hidalgo on that scorecard. While their former team mate Hendriks is in The Show, they’ve progressed just one rung up the ladder to High-A Ft. Myers since that Opening Day two years ago. But they’re still chasing that dream.

Wednesday night (and likely Thursday and Friday, as well), I’ll be out at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids again… watching this year’s Beloit Snappers face the current Cedar Rapids Kernels. I’ll have my eyes on the “big names” like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, arguably the Twins two top prospects, but who else will stand out? Which of these “kids” will have a chance to live the fairy tale some day and wear a Big League uniform for the Twins or Angels… or maybe another organization if that should be their fate?

For about $10, you can get the best seat in the house at a minor league ballpark like the one we have here in Cedar Rapids. For that price, you get to watch future Major League ballplayers play baseball. How can you beat that?

Man, I love this game.

- JC

Two Weeks In: Who Is This Team?

I swear if there’s one thing I’ve grown more tired of than people using small sample sizes to “prove” how good or bad a player is, at this still-early point in the season, it’s people who do so while even admitting that they’re using small sample sizes. Let’s be brutally honest here, statheads, stats over a single two week period, even if it’s the first two weeks of the season, are almost completely worthless.

That’s one reason that, despite the disadvantage I have of living in blacked out Iowa, I’ve made considerable efforts to hang out in the local Cedar Rapids sports bars as often as possible this month. This allows me to actually watch the Twins, rather than just look at the box scores, to judge who’s doing well and who isn’t. Naturally, it also gives me the opportunity to purchase overpriced beer and fried food, but that’s just a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my team and our readers.

One thing about having a blog like this is that you eventually feel compelled to write something, even if almost everything you have to say has most likely been expressed elsewhere. With that said, here’s what I think about what I’ve seen of the 2012 Minnesota Twins:

I don’t know what to think.

Are they the team that might just as well have been using toothpicks for bats in their opening series sweep at the hands of the mighty Baltimore Orioles? (That’s the American League East Division LEADING Baltimore Orioles to you, Mack!) Or are they the team that took two of three games from Albert Pujols’ Angels? Or the one that got swept by Joe Nathan’s new buddies from Texas? Or the guys that have taken two out of the first three games from the Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium, no less?

It’s probably just stating the obvious, but since that’s one of the things I do best, here’s a rundown of a few things we probably have found out about this season’s edition of the Twins:

Spring Training numbers mean zip, zilch, nada, not a friggin’ thing.

  • Remember all those good vibrations we were getting in March from Francisco Liriano? Three starts in to the season and he’s the same head case he was last year. Maybe he’ll turn things around yet, but man has he looked bad after being pretty much unhittable in Ft. Myers.

    Luke Hughes, we hardly knew ye

  • For the second season in a row, Luke Hughes put up very impressive numbers in Spring Training. The same Luke Hughes who’s now been Designated for Assignment because the team needed his roster spot for Jason Marquis on Wednesday and Hughes is out of options. I suppose he COULD pass through waivers, but expectations are that some team will claim him and he’ll get a chance to join another organization’s Big League roster. Best of luck to Luke (unless he ends up with the F’ing Yankees or White Sox, of course).
  • There was a lot of hand-wringing in Spring Training over Justin Morneau with many people pretty much writing off his career. He’s attacking the ball at the plate with an intensity we haven’t seen since before his head came in to contact with a Blue Jay knee at second base almost two years ago. Three home runs in the two games he’s played at Yankee Stadium so far this week isn’t too shabby.

Josh Willingham can hit baseballs really, really well. Yes, defensively, balls hit in his direction can turn in to an adventure, but this is a fan base that’s been watching Delmon Young in LF for a couple of years… we can deal with Willingham. Especially if he keeps hitting the ball consistently. You can’t get much more consistent than starting the season with a 12 game hitting streak.

Reports of the demise of Joe Mauer and Denard Span were a tad premature. Both are still really good at baseball. Mauer still hits in to too many 4-6-3 double plays, but as is the case with Morneau, we’re seeing a version of Mauer we haven’t seen on the field in far too long. Span looks poised to reclaim his spot atop the rankings of AL lead-off center fielders.

Jamey Carroll is pretty much exactly what we thought he was… a solid shortstop that will field the balls hit near him and make good throws to first base. If the position hadn’t been such a disaster last year, that might not be big news, but I enjoy not having to hold my breath every time a ground ball gets hit that direction.

Alexi Casilla is really bad… or really good… face it, none of us have figured that out for sure ever since the Twins got him in return for JC Romero. We still don’t know, but I like the Lexi that’s been playing in Yankee Stadium this week.

The bullpen hasn’t sucked. Again, faint praise, perhaps. But given the angst most of us felt about the situation and the fact that a couple of guys that were counted on to fortify the pen have either been injured or pushed to the rotation, things could be much worse out there. I’m a bit nervous about Glen Perkins, though.

So with all of this stuff going well, why the hell have the Twins lost twice as many games as they’ve won?

The answer, of course, is a familiar one. This team has a rotation that simply is not very good and the pitchers are being backed up by a defense that’s not much better. I don’t need two weeks worth of statistics to tell me that’s a dangerous combination.

Liam Hendriks and Anthony Swarzak have looked marginally promising. Carl Pavano looks to be what we all know he is… a marginal, but gutsy, innings-eater. Maybe Jason Marquis will be something similar. Nick Blackburn hasn’t been awful, but his ceiling isn’t terribly high, not to mention this “mystery shoulder tightness” thing he came down with this week.

The bottom line is that we still really don’t know what to expect from this team after two weeks. The rest of April will continue to be a challenge, due to the brutal scheduling this month and the iffy pitching situation, but there’s nothing like a couple of wins against the F’ing Yankees at their place to raise spirits a bit. Win another game to claim the series tonight and I may not be able to contain my giddiness!

- 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

 

What, Me Worry?

(This image is almost certainly the property of whomever owns the rights to MAD Magazine these days.)

Yes, I’m feeling a bit Alfred E. Neuman-ish today.

Yes, the Twins are 0-4, a trait they share with the Atlanta Braves. Yes, they’ve hit at a pathetic .165 clip and struggled to score a run or two, at most, each game. Yes, three of their four starting pitchers currently sport ERAs of 5.14, 7.50 and 11.25 after their first time through the rotation. 

But is all of that really enough to make everyone bail on the entire season?

Given that so many fans had pretty much written this season off before it started, I guess it’s not surprising that the answer to that question for just as many people is, “yes.” It just seems a tad premature, to me, after just four games, especially when everyone knew (or should have known) that April was going to be a brutal month.

No, the Orioles are not among the American League’s elite teams, but the Twins have struggled with them recently, especially on the road. And, yes, this team is likely to remain at or near the bottom of their Division through the rest of the month, given the nature of the upcoming schedule (the next 15 games are against what are probably five of the six best teams in the AL).  

But let’s keep a little perspective here. Despite the losses, there are a handful of things that haven’t gone too badly so far:

  • Josh Willingham will never be mistaken for a gold glove outfielder, but he’s done what he was brought in to do… hit the baseball hard. He’s hit .385 and has an OPS of 1.390 with a home run in Baltimore and, just to prove it can be done, another home run in Target Field Monday. (Hey, if others can use a small sample size to “prove” the team sucks, I can use it, too.)
  • Justin Morneau is hitting the ball hard. Do I wish he was playing 1B while hitting the ball hard? Of course. But given my limited expectations a month ago, I like what I see.
  • Most of the bullpen arms are looking OK. Matt Capps hasn’t blown a save (then again, there hasn’t been a save situation, yet) and he, along with Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins, Jeff Gray and Alex Burnett, have managed to hold opponents scoreless in their limited work.
  • Speaking of limited bullpen work, only Francisco Liriano failed to go at least five innings in his first start and the WHIPs (walks + hits per inning pitched) for the other three starters were very reasonable (1.20 for Anthony Swarzak, 1.17 for Nick Blackburn and 1.00 for Carl Pavano).

The bottom line, for me anyway, is that I believe this team will score some runs. My greatest fear entering the season was that the pitching staff would implode. In fact, that’s still my greatest fear. But the arms are off to a reasonably decent start, with a couple of exceptions (that would be you, Mr. Burton and Mr. Maloney, along with Mr. Liriano), so when the bats start to come around, maybe things won’t look so bad.

Even in the middle infield, where Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla have managed a total of one hit between them, at least they are making most of the plays they need to defensively, which is more than we could say a year ago. And if their bats don’t come around soon, Brian Dozier is already raking down in Rochester and he’s only a phone call away.

I really don’t expect a lot of wins over the next couple of weeks and I’m sure that will only intensify the grumbling among the fan base. But I’m anxious to see whether some of the young players like Swarzak, Liam Hendriks, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee and, eventually, Dozier, can do when they get past the, “Oh my God, I’m in the Big Leagues!” phase of their seasons.

I’m still interested in this team and I hope most of the rest of you are, too. But if you really just can’t imagine the start to a season being any worse, keep in mind that things could be much worse.

Ask Ozzie Guillen.

- JC

Twins Predictions

Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore.  With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:

Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List.  I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great.  Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year.   His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs.  Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible.  Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.

Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau  “Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket  Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire.  Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau.  Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.

Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career.  Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).

Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie.  The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks.  Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated.  If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.

Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins.  If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.

Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball.  If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.

Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean).  Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9?  My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins.  Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September.  Will any of this come to pass?   I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out.  Bring on the baseball!

-ERolfPleiss