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

JC’s Top 10 Twins Prospects List

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

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

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

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

  1. Miguel Sano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JC

Reinforcements: Hendriks, Dinkelman, Waldrop

Media reports have Liam Hendriks joining the Twins in time to start Tuesday’s game and he’ll be joined on his trip to the “Show” by Brian Dinkelman and Kyle Waldrop.

Liam Hendriks

The interesting thing is that apparently none of the three players are currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster. There is one opening on that roster currently, so that means a couple of guys are going to have go.

There are a couple of players I certainly wouldn’t shed tears over if they were sent packing for good, but waiving players is only one way to clear room for the new arrivals. Players placed on the 60-day Disabled List are exempted from the 40-man roster.

Denard Span has returned to Minnesota from his home in Florida and is reportedly working out at Target Field. All the same, given the state of the Twins’ season (in the crapper), it might make sense to just shut Denard down for the season and tell him to focus on coming back ready to go in Spring Training 2012. That would open up one spot on the roster for one of the new arrivals.

As for the other… how about this for an idea. Given that Joe Mauer missed several weeks with “general soreness”, can’t we pretty much assume he’ll miss at least the remaining three weeks of the season with his current bout with “general congestion”, too? If so, let’s just throw him on the 60day DL, too and send him home to Ft. Myers. Maybe by Spring Training, he’ll be over his cold (and hopefully will have found his manhood, as well).

While we’re at it, why not just shut Justin Morneau down, too? Is there really any point in having him continue to try to fight his way back on to the field this month?

Brian Dinkelman

Seriously… there is simply no reason to have any of these guys on the field at this point. The next three weeks are about seeing the young players and letting guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel try to finish out their seasons strong enough to make them Type A free agents so the Twins can get an extra draft pick if they decide to play elsewhere next year.

In any event, congratulations to Liam, Brian and Kyle… make the most of your opportunities, gentlemen!

- JC

Of Snappers and Kernels and Other Minor (League) Stuff

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

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

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

Perfect Game Field at Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids

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

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

Angels #3 Prospect Mike Trout

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

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

Alexi Casilla rehabbed as a Beloit Snapper

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

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

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

Cards #1 Prospect Shelby Miller

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

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

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

How can you beat that? – JC

All-Star Game – Who’s on First? I Don’t Know. He’s on Third and I Don’t Give a Darn. (Do You?)

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine is not only the funniest comedy bit ever done about baseball, it also seems to just about perfectly describe my feelings about the MLB All-Star Game.

It’s a bit sad, really, because (“Because” plays CF) I used to love this game. I got so excited when I found out I got 2 tickets to the 1985 All-Star Game in the Metrodome that I swung a pool cue around and broke 3 beer bottles sitting on a nearby table (the game itself was a bit of a yawner as the National League won 6-1, but I didn’t care). I also remember watching Pete Rose slam in to Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse on television and a number of other great All-Star moments over the years. I never missed the game unless I was playing ball myself.

I don’t really even know why (“Why’s” the left fielder) my feelings changed. It may have been the infamous tie game and the sight of Bud Selig’s “What can I do?” shrug (“What” is on second) that ended the 2002 All-Star Game in a tie. That event led to Selig declaring that home field advantage in the World Series would go to the team representing the League that wins the All-Star Game. I never quite understood how that prevents teams from running out of pitchers in extra-inning All-Star Games, but on the list of Selig decisions I don’t understand, this one probably barely cracks the top 10.

It just feels to me like, for all the bluster about the game, even Major League Baseball doesn’t exactly know whether to take it seriously or not, so why (“Why” is still in LF) should I?

It is refreshing that many of the players still care about it… and I’m willing to give most of them the benefit of the doubt and believe it’s for reasons that go beyond the ASG bonus that many of their agents have had included in their contracts. I feel good for guys like the D’Backs Chris Young, who (“Who” is at 1B) clearly is excited about going to Anaheim for his first ASG. And while I guess I was ambivalent about the whole “Should Steven Strasburg be an All-Star?” question, hearing that a poll of 50 current players resulted in a unanimous 50-0 “NO” vote told me that these guys do care about who (“Who” is on FIRST!) represents them.

Of course, as a Twins fan, it feels good to see two of our guys voted in as starters for the first time since Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew in 1968. That was two years before starting rosters were turned back over to fan voting, by the way. I think a lot of Twins fans have begun to take Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for granted, but this not only serves as a reminder that we are watching two potential Hall of Famers on the field together daily (not to mention shoe-in HOFer, Jim Thome this season), but also demonstrates that the Twins have gotten the attention and appreciation of baseball fans all over the country. Together, Mauer & Morneau have made Twins baseball relevant.

I think it’s great that Delmon Young is included in the “final 5″ vote, even though his chances of winning are slim & none (and you should definitely go vote for him… I did). It’s not that he isn’t deserving, but Kevin Youkilis is such an obvious omission from the AL roster, that I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t double the votes of any other name on the list. To be honest, I thought Francisco Liriano probably deserved as much consideration as Young, if not more.

I don’t know (“I Don’t Know”… third base!) yet which reserves were voted in by the players/managers/coaches as a whole and which were chosen specifically by the ASG managers (the Yankees’ Joe Girardi and Phillies Charlie Manuel), but if it turns out that they chose ARoid over Youk and Ryan Howard over Joey Votto, I think it’s time to take the right to pick ANY pitchers/reserves away from the respective managers.

And don’t be surprised if Girardi replaces CC Sabathia (can’t pitch in the ASG ‘cuz he’ll be pitching Sunday) with Andy Pettite instead of Jared Weaver, who (“Who” is the guy on 1B) not only is more deserving, but the game is being played in his home ballpark. As it stands, only Torii Hunter will represent the Halos. But then an All-Star Game with only FIVE Yankees playing really wouldn’t be an All-Star Game, would it? (UPDATE: Girardi didn’t wait long… he’s named Pettitte to replace the injured Clay Buchholz.)

As for Manuel, if he’s the one responsible for picking Omar Infante over… well… just about everyone else in a National League starting lineup, I think someone needs to require Charlie to undergo a thorough mental health evaluation. That choice is flat out bizarre.

Finally, on the subject of All-Star Games, it really is unfortunate that Twins prospect Liam Hendriks will miss the All-Star Futures Game. (New Britain’s Ben Revere is also representing the Twins organization.) This game gives some of the top prospects in minor league baseball an opportunity to showcase their talents and compete against many of the other top prospects, in addition to giving fans across the country an opportunity to see future stars in action. Hendriks had an emergency appendectomy on Sunday and will be out of action for a month or more. The Aussie has been very impressive (1.76 ERA and 0.845 WHIP) in 16 starts this season, split between Beloit and Ft. Myers. I saw him shut down Cedar Rapids early in the year (7 Ks in 5 shutout innings)  and was looking forward to seeing him match up against the other minor league stars. Get well soon, Liam.

So, am I alone in my general indifference to the All-Star Game and who (for the last time, “Who” is on first!) participates? We don’t have a Twins game to look forward to until tomorrow (“Tomorrow” is our pitcher) night, so let’s do a poll, shall we? I’ll cast the first vote… and I don’t give a darn (Oh, he’s our shortstop!). – 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