Butterflies With Hiccups

“Like butterflies with hiccups” is our tagline at Knuckleballs and today it’s a pretty appropriate heading for the following post.

I seem to find myself in a “very little to say about several unrelated things” situation a lot lately. Maybe I’ll make this a quasi-regular thing here. Or maybe this will be a one-time thing. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve read here and there that I feel inclined to comment about. Most are baseball related, but not all.

The Twins

Will Nick Blackburn be at Twins Spring Training in 2013?

On Monday, the Twins outrighted both Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, meaning they both cleared waivers and were removed from the Twins’ 40-man roster. Arguably, they were among the last remaining “scholarship” players on the Twins roster and clearly Terry Ryan finally had seen enough of both of them. I certainly won’t be surprised to see both players invited to Spring Training next year and given opportunities to regain spots with the Twins. Then again, I won’t be surprised NOT to see them in Ft. Myers, either.

With 42 games remaining on their schedule, through Monday night, the Twins are 51-70. That means, in order to improve on their 99-loss record of a year ago, they need to go 13-28 from here on out. A bit more than half of their remaining games are against teams that currently still have some playoff hopes, so winning 1/3 of their remaining games may not be as easy at you’d think it should be. Factor in that the final month’s games will pretty much all include line ups with at least one “September call-up” and the task of avoiding 100 losses gets’ trickier yet.

Still, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the Rochester and New Britain players show us what they can do in a Twins uniform. It will at least give me some reason to pay attention to the games, which I admittedly have struggled to muster much interest in doing lately.

The Playoffs

Way before MLB announced its new playoff structure, with 2 wild cards playing a single “play in” game in each league, I was on record here of liking that format. I’ve certainly seen nothing so far this year to change my opinion. I understand that some people (in particular, managers and players) aren’t as enthusiastic about it as I am. But even in expressing their dislike for it, they actually make the exact case FOR the new format. In one of Jayson Stark’s recent pieces over at ESPN.com, he related the following quotes from the Braves’ Chipper Jones:

“I’m not a big advocate of playing 162 games for a one-game playoff,” Jones told Rumblings. “You could easily see two teams in the same division have the two best records in the league, and one of them has the luxury of waiting a couple of days to play a best-three-out-of-five [series], while the other one has that one-game playoff. And I don’t see that as fair.

“It’s basically a Game 7, right off the gut,” Jones went on. “It’s win or go home — and three other teams [in that league] get to sit back and watch it. So that’s why, at least for the guys in this clubhouse, we’re putting the utmost emphasis on every game from here on out. For us, these are must-win games the rest of the way, because we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, for that one game.”

Exactly, Chipper!

Winning your division SHOULD mean something. It should give you an advantage over a team that just happens to make the playoffs as a wild card for no other reason than that there happens to be an odd number of divisions in each league.

We’re already seeing writers speculate “what if” scenarios where managers may have to decide whether to use a Justin Verlander or Jared Weaver in the wild card game. Unlike many recent years, we won’t be seeing every playoff manager spend the final two weeks more concerned about setting his rotation than winning baseball games.

I have read that the new format meant there weren’t enough “sellers” at the non-waiver trade deadline for all of the potential playoff teams to pick from to help fortify their rosters. Gosh, I guess more teams will just have to try to win primarily with the players that they had on their rosters during the first four months of the season. Such a shame. #sarcasm

Keith Law on Miguel Sano

ESPN’s Keith Law got the attention of many of us who pay close attention to the Twins’ farm system last week when he Tweeted that he would be in Beloit over the weekend to watch the Twins’ prospects there. We were all anxious to find out what he had to say about Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, et al.

Law’s Monday post requires ESPN Insider membership to read, so we certainly will respect ESPN’s copyright to the material and not paste all of what he had to say here. In a nutshell, however, Law was impressed with Sano’s offensive talent and potential, but called Sano out for what he termed his “obvious disdain” for playing defense. He went on to compare Sano’s enthusiasm for defense to that of his own daughter’s enthusiasm for cleaning her room. Ouch.

Miguel Sano

Then again, Law admittedly only watched one game on the Friday night of that weekend.

I have nothing against Keith Law and he may be a pretty good judge of baseball talent. That said, I believe if you’re going to call in to question a young player’s work ethic (which he certainly did in this case), you should provide a little more information concerning the basis for doing so. Was it body language? Did he lollygag around the infield? Did Law speak to coaches, team mates, scouts or front office types?

I’ve seen Sano play 6-7 times this year and will see him some more this weekend. His defensive skills are not good at 3B. This is not news. But if there’s cause to question his work ethic and his interest in improving those skills, that IS news… and I’d be interested in knowing the basis for that conclusion (giving Law benefit of the doubt enough to assume it’s not based on seeing Sano play one game).

Joe Poz on JoePa

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big Joe Posnanski fan. I may have also mentioned at some point that I’ve never been a huge Joe Paterno fan (even before the Sandusky s**t hit the fan).

If you also happen to follow Poz, you are probably aware that at the time of Paterno’s abrupt dismissal as Penn State’s football coach last November, Posnanski had pretty much moved his family to Happy Valley and was spending the better part of a year shadowing Paterno, his family and the Penn State football program as he researched an authorized biography he was writing on JoePa. Talk about finding yourself in the eye of a hurricane!

In the days and weeks that followed Paterno’s dismissal and, ultimately, his death, Posnanski kept almost completely mum on the subject of the coach. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if the plans for the book were even going forward. However, now we know.

The book, cleverly entitled Paterno, hits bookstores today (August 21) and excerpts have been in GQ (and on GQ.com) in the days ahead of the book’s release.

I can’t help but feel Posnanski’s in a no-win situation in terms of the public’s response. Based on the excerpts I read, I’m pretty sure that Paterno’s family and defenders will object to much of what’s written and will probably feel betrayed for having allowed Posnanski inside their “circle.” I’m even more convinced that the anti-Paterno crowd will accuse Posnanski of going too soft on Paterno.

That’s enough for today. Maybe I’ll post some sort of “review” after I’ve read Paterno. Almost certainly, I’ll be posting something (a bunch of pictures, if nothing else) during or after the Snappers four-game series with my home town Cedar Rapids Kernels this weekend (the series runs Saturday through Tuesday). Until then, someone let me know if the Twins do anything noteworthy, ok?

- JC

A Road Trip to Beloit

I drove up to Beloit over the weekend to catch a couple of baseball games between the Twins’ Class A affiliate, the Snappers, and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The Rattlers and Snappers finished first and second, respectively, in the first-half standings of the Midwest League’s Western Division, so I anticipated that they would play some decent baseball. They did.

If you want to read a lot about the games themselves, I’m going to refer you to the daily reports being posted by Seth Stohs over at Twins Daily. Seth and Travis Aune were in Beloit the past few days, as well, and I got to spend some time with them. I also met Jeremy Nygaard and his brother Jed on Saturday. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk a little baseball with the group and appreciated their willingness to let an old man like me tag along with them for a day and a half.

For my part, I’m going to simply post a whole bunch of pictures I took and let it go at that. Except for this one thing… I’ve mentioned from time to time rumors that the Twins and my own local MWL team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, might consider entering in to a Player Development Contract starting next year. That’s all they are, at this point, just rumors. Neither party is allowed to discuss the possibility or make any comment on the topic until September. As I think I’ve also posted before, I think the odds are about 50-50. I’m aware that some others think the odds are a bit greater.

Of course, in Beloit there is some concern. They don’t want to lose the Twins. I don’t blame them. They were abandoned by the Brewers a few years ago and nobody likes being told, “we don’t want to be your MLB affiliate anymore.”

The Beloit staff don’t deserve to go through that. They are hard working people who put on a good show at Pohlman Field. The word you hear is that they don’t draw well in Beloit. I suppose that may be true, but I saw a good crowd on Saturday night and an even much better crowd on Sunday. Fireworks Saturday night and a Prince Fielder “BobbleArm” promotion Sunday probably helped, but all minor league teams rely on promotions to draw crowds. It was fun to see the hard work of the Snapper staff rewarded by appreciative crowds.

The problem is the stadium, not the Snappers operation or the fans themselves. Pohlman Field is beyond outdated. I’ve heard it said that it’s the “worst” facility among the 16 teams in the MWL. I’ve only been to three of them, so I can’t speak to how accurate that is. I know it’s tough to come up with funds to build new ballparks or even remodel old ones to bring them up to acceptable standards. I don’t know if Beloit will ever solve that problem. I hope they do.

But professional baseball is a business. A dozen years ago, Cedar Rapids faced losing its team if it didn’t replace their old stadium. The same choice has faced a number of other MWL communities over the past 20 years. Some, like CR, built new ballparks. Some, like Davenport, remodeled old ones. Others determined that they simply could not raise the funds to do so and gave up their franchises to other communities that were able to provide appropriate facilities. I felt bad for some of those cities and I don’t wish to see that kind of thing happen to Beloit. Whether the Twins stay there or elect to move their affiliation elsewhere, I hope Beloit can find a way to survive and eventually thrive as a member of the league.

So here are the pictures. Several of them, actually. I was going to just post a few but then I decided there’s no reason to hold back. We don’t pay for blog space by the inch around here.

- JC

This building serves as both the entrance to the ballpark as well as home to the team’s administrative offices

Don’t tell the people lined up long before gates opened Sunday that the Snappers can’t draw a crowd

Here’s what the crowd was hoping for. The first 500 fans got Prince Fielder “Bobblearm” figures

The Sunday crowd at Pohlman Field

The concourse area inside the gate, but outside the stadium itself. Yes, it did rain hard on Saturday, but the staff got the field ready well before scheduled game time.

The players walk through the concourse behind the stands to get from their locker rooms to the dugouts, giving fans lots of opportunities for autographs

Young fans exchange high fives with Snappers players as they walk from their outfield pregame stretching to their dugout

Saturday’s starting pitcher Jason Wheeler gave up 2 runs in the first inning, then went on to strike out 10 hitters in eight innings of work.

Manager Nelson Prada and Hitting Coach Tommy Watkins

David Hurlbut went six innings Sunday, giving up just one run on two hits, while striking out five Rattlers

Drew Leachman had supporters from Alabama on hand Saturday night. Made my little drive seem pretty insignificant

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez had warm duty on Sunday afternoon

1B Kennys Vargas’ solo HR accounted for the only Snapper run on Saturday night.

Eddie Rosario seems to be more comfortable at 2B than when I saw him in CR early in the season.

Sunday, it was Miguel Sano’s turn to “go yard”

 

Twins All Stars – Today’s and Tomorrow’s

Apparently, when Twins catcher Joe Mauer’s name was announced as the team’s representative to the All Star game, the Twinsville Twitterverse lit up with tweets condemning his selection. I didn’t notice this so much, myself, which is perhaps a testament to the intelligence of both those who follow me on Twitter and those I personally follow.

Joe Mauer

From what others were writing, however, it seems that a significant segment of Twinsville does not believe Joe Mauer is All Star worthy and/or they believe Josh Willingham was more worthy. Whichever the reason, those fans are wrong, of course. Not only is Mauer worthy of being named to the team to represent the Twins, he should have been voted by fans to start the game over the Rangers’ Mike Napoli.

Napoli’s split line is .235/.335/.438 for an OPS of .773. Mauer’s is .324/.414/.445 which gets him an .859 OPS. Napoli does have 12 home runs, of course, but nobody with a lick of baseball sense would consider that stat alone to be enough to overcome 86 OPS points, especially given the difference in stadiums the two call home. No, there’s absolutely no rational reason for Napoli being the starting AL catcher over Mauer. The fans blew that one. Of course, you won’t hear the talking heads mentioning that because Napoli is playing for the two-time defending AL champion (and World Series loser) Texas Rangers.

I did see someone raise the “but he’s not a real catcher” argument yesterday, in regard to Mauer. Yes, he DHs and plays some first base. But guess what, so does Napoli, who’s played more than 20 games at 1B himself this season. Smart managers (and even not-so-smart ones like Gardy and Ron Washington) find a way to give their catchers… especially those that hit like Mauer and Napoli… some time off from duty behind the plate in order to keep them healthy.

Josh Willingham

I would have liked to see Josh Willingham get his first All Star selection. Maybe if one of the AL All Star outfielders can’t participate, he could still get selected, but it’s not likely. Willingham’s year is All Star worthy, but every year there are All Star worthy players who don’t get selected and they’re usually from teams that have lost more games than they’ve won. Just as every year there are players named to the All Star team who are less worthy than others and they’re usually from the team managed by the guy managing the All Star team. This year is no exception. Ron Washington had seven “managers choice” slots to fill. Four of those selections had to come from teams that had no representative voted in. The other three selections were all members of his Rangers team. To the victor goes the spoils, I guess.

Willingham isn’t on the All Star team for three reasons: (1) He plays a position that requires him to compete with a lot of All Star worthy players; (2) He plays on a bad baseball team in a mid-level market; and (3) He is not the best player on his team.

I’d actually boil that down to one big reason he isn’t on the All Star team: The Twins starting pitching has flat out sucked for most of the season. If the Twins had better pitching, their offense is good enough to  have them in contention and they wouldn’t be relegated to the “must have a representative” class of teams. He would be getting the recognition he deserves as one of the top Free Agent pick-ups off the past offseason and his name would be getting mentioned as one of the best hitting outfielders in the league.

So, those of you who want to complain about Josh Willingham not being selected to the All Star team, lay off of Joe Mauer. It isn’t his fault. Blame Ron Washington, if you like, but he’s just doing what managers do every year… reward the guys in his own clubhouse. If MLB didn’t want managers to do that, they can stop it easily by simply taking the manager’s choices away. The real blame for Willingham’s “snub”, if you feel he was snubbed, gets laid at the feet of Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Liam Hendriks, et al.

Speaking of All Star snubs, I can’t help but wonder why nobody is up in arms over Trevor Plouffe not being selected. He arrived on the scene in Minnesota about the same time phenom Mike Trout arrived in Disneyland and their stats since arriving are similar (though Trout is admittedly the far superior defender). If Ron Washington is really serious about setting his Rangers team up with home field advantage in the World Series this time, you would think giving some consideration to arguably the hottest player in the league for the month of June might have been in order.

Trevor Plouffe

It’s hard to argue that Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera, the two third basemen on the AL roster, don’t belong. They certainly do. But if I were the AL manager, having a late inning option as a pinch hitter and a guy who could play pretty much any position on the field other than pitcher and catcher (though, admittedly, none of them particularly well) would be an option I might consider valuable.

I’m certainly not arguing that Plouffe SHOULD have been selected over anyone who was so honored, but just pointing out that Willingham isn’t the only Twins player that the team’s crappy overall performance may have cost an All Star spot.

Speaking of Plouffe, I know we’re all waiting for his bubble to pop because there’s no way he keeps up the level of offensive productivity he’s shown in June (and the first day of July), but he’s riding just about the hottest offensive streak I’ve seen in a long time. There’s understandably a lot of attention paid to uber-prospect Miguel Sano down in Class A Beloit, but isn’t Plouffe pretty much putting up the kind of numbers that most of us dare to even hope Sano will put up some day? Over the last four weeks, his split line is .311/.376/.744 for a 1.121 OPS. Yes, small sample size warning is applicable, since that covers only 24 games, but still… that’s one heck of a four weeks!

Plouffe was the Twins’ first round draft pick in 2004 and it seems like we’ve been waiting around forever for his productivity to reach his potential. His stats over the course of parts of eight seasons spent in the Twins’ minor league system were unremarkable, if not downright disappointing, for a first round pick (.258/.320/.406 .726OPS). That said, he put up a 1.019 OPS in 51 games at Rochester last season, so his current hot streak is not completely out of nowhere, either.

Miguel Sano

Sure, his defense still needs work, but trust me when I tell you that, by comparison, Miguel Sano makes Plouffe look like Brooks Robinson at third base. Most people still believe Sano will eventually need to be moved to a less challenging position, though the organization is still holding out hope that he can learn to play a passable third base. Plouffe, on the other hand, didn’t really even start to learn the position until he was thrown in there at the Major League level earlier this season.

And here’s the best part… Trevor Plouffe JUST turned 26 years old a couple of weeks ago. Pitchers around the league won’t allow Plouffe to put up numbers at his recent levels forever, but while he’s hot, he’s certainly got the potential to be one of the few interesting stories to follow through the remainder of this disappointing Twins season. And if he keeps improving year-to-year, by the time Miguel Sano arrives in Minnesota, it won’t matter whether Sano can play 3B, because that position will be claimed for the foreseeable future by Trevor Plouffe.

- JC

Another Snappers Shutout

I have no idea exactly why Twins GM Terry Ryan is in Cedar Rapids watching his organization’s Class A affiliate this weekend, but if he’s here to evaluate the Beloit Snappers’ pitching, he has to like what he’s seen in the first two games!

Pitcher Tim Shibuya and 3B Miguel Sano

The Snappers’ hitters provided plenty of support in Friday night’s 7-0 shutout, but Tim Shibuya wasn’t as fortunate on Saturday night. Like David Hurlbut the night before, Shibuya gave up just one hit before giving way to his bullpen. But Shibuya left after his six innings of work with the Snappers clinging to just a 1-0 lead as Kernels starting pitcher Austin Wood was having a pretty fair night on the mound, as well.

In the end, that one run was enough for the Snappers to come away with a 1-0 win.

The only run of the game was put on the board when Tyler Grimes worked a one-out walk in the third inning and came around to score on JD Williams’ RBI double down the left field line. Steve Liddle had a solid night at the plate with three singles, but nobody else had more than one hit.

Shibuya managed only one strikeout in his six innings of work, but also only walked one hitter. Oddly, he hit as many batters (2) as he allowed hits and walks, combined. Clint Dempster relieved Shibuya to start the 7th inning and put together a couple of strong innings, striking out three Kernels in those innings. He came out for the 9th inning, as well, but couldn’t nail down the save.

After a Miguel Sano error was erased by a double play, Dempster gave up back-to-back base hits, putting runners at the corners. Corey Williams came on at that point and claimed the save by inducing a game ending groundout to second baseman Nate Roberts.

Over 5,000 fans at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids

It was Autism Awareness Night at the ballpark in Cedar Rapids and the Kernels wore special jerseys for the occasion, which were auctioned off during the game. Yes, I claimed one for myself, taking it off the back of Kernels relief pitcher Stephen Tromblee, who was good enough to autograph the jersey after the game.

The game was a virtual sellout, with an announced attendance of 5,277 fans. Thanks to a fireworks show after the game (not to mention one heck of a pitchers’ duel), a significant percentage of the crowd stuck around for the whole game.

The Snappers and Kernels wrap up their series with an afternoon game on Sunday, starting at 2:05.

Let’s wrap up with a few more pictures from tonight’s game.

- JC

CF Jhon Gonclaves and Kernels catcher Abel Baker

C Matt Koch and Kernels 1B Frazier Hall

1B Drew Leachman

Pitcher Tim Shibuya

RF JD Williams following his RBI double, held on by Kernels SS Eric Stamets

My Autism Awareness Night jersey

 

A Snappers Pitching Gem

While the Twins were winning the opening game of their series with the Reds Friday night, I was spending just about a perfect night watching minor league baseball. The Beloit Snappers (the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate) opened the second half of their season here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Close to 20 scouts were easy to spot behind home plate

The temperature was right about 80 degrees with a slight breeze and there was a sizable crowd of a bit over 3,000 people in Memorial Stadium for the game. Among that crowd, I counted at least 18 scouts perched in seats directly behind home plate. It’s not at all unusual to see scouts at a MWL game, but I typically see 6-8 with their notebooks and radar guns, so seeing so many scouts in attendance is a bit unusual.

Terry Ryan (in the cap and white shirt)

Among that group was one familiar face, as well. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was pretty easy to spot as he shook hands with a scout wearing a shirt with a Yankees logo and sat in a nearby seat.

The game itself was never at all competitive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to watch. The Snappers scored a run in the first inning off of Kernels starting pitcher Cam Bedrosian (son of former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian). In fact, they scored a run off of Bedrosian in each of the first three innings and three more runs in the fourth inning.

Pitcher David Hurlbut and first baseman Steven Liddle

Snappers starting pitcher David Hurlbut gave up a single to the second Kernels batter he faced in the first inning… and that would turn out to be the final hit that a Snapper pitcher would give up all night. Hurlbut threw seven shutout innings, walked three hitters and struck out four. Tim Atherton and Corey Williams each added an inning of relief without giving up a hit, as well.

Snappers hitters, on the other hand, racked up 11 hits on their way to a 7-0 win to start off the second half of their MWL season. The only extra base hits for the Snappers on the night were RBI doubles by Nate Hanson, Steve Liddle and Tyler Grimes. Twins top prospect Miguel Sano had a single in four ABs, with one walk and one strikeout on the night.

In fact, the Snapper lineup avoided getting even their first strikeout through six innings. We’ll try to disregard the fact that once the first K got recorded, Kernel relief pitcher Carmine Giardina sat down five Snappers in just the 7th and 8th innings, alone.

A sizable number of the fans in attendance were wearing Twins gear, as is usually the case when the Snappers come to town. I’m still holding out some hope that the Twins will strike an affiliate deal with the local ballclub starting next year. I continue to hear from pretty reliable local sources that there is some level of mutual interest, so we’ll see how that works out after the season.

Yes, I really did ask Terry Ryan for his autograph

After the game, I did approach Terry Ryan just to have him sign the scorecard I’d been keeping of the game. I expected him to either decline or reluctantly sign and walk away, but instead he not only signed my scorecard but initiated a short conversation. He asked if I lived in Cedar Rapids and how I came to be a Twins fan. I told him about having grown up the son of a HS baseball coach in Albert Lea and that my picture is hanging in the Albert Lea Applebees restaurant to prove it. He laughed and said he’d have to stop there some time and check it out. It was just a brief chat, but he couldn’t have been more gracious.

The Snappers will be back at it here on Saturday night and I’ll likely be there taking in the game, as well. The two teams were even accommodating enough to schedule an afternoon game on Sunday so I have a chance to watch that game, too, before I have to catch a flight to Florida Sunday evening.

I’ll add a few more pictures I took at the game below, for your viewing pleasure. (Fellow bloggers, feel free to pilfer them to post in your blogs, as you may find cause to do.)

- JC

Second baseman Adam Bryant

Shortstop Tyler Grimes

Catcher Matt Koch

First baseman Steven Liddle

Rightfielder Wang-Wei Lin

Leftfielder Nate Roberts

Third baseman Miguel Sano

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll probably snap a few more either Saturday or Sunday.

Guest Post – Beloit Snappers Game Review

The following entry comes from one of our faithful Knuckleballs readers and regular GameChat participant Lecroy24fan.  Lecroy24fan chronicles his recent visit to the Twins Low Single-A Affiliate, the Beloit Snappers. Enjoy.

 

I was heading to  Elkhorn, WI this past weekend to visit my girlfriend, and we decided to head a half-hour down the road to Beloit on Saturday night to catch the Snappers game. Pohlman Field was really easy to find. When we arrived, it was posted that the game was moved up to 6:45 PM because of weather moving in. We walked up to the ticket booth and got Section C, Row 3, seats 1-2 for nine dollars apiece. Turns out the first Row was removed at some point, so we were to the right of home plate, second row. The section was covered by a net, so no foul balls could be had. I got to meet Chrissy Scaffidi, Director of Media and Community Relations, as well as PA Announcer extraordinaire

The game itself was a bad night for the Snappers, who were playing the Oakland A’s affiliate, the Burlington Bees. An 11-3 loss started ugly in the first and really got worse by the inning. SP Jason Wheeler just didn’t have it. He struggled through 5 innings, giving up seven runs, four of them earned. Tim Shibuya and Bart Carter also looked like they had nothing. Clint Dempster pitched the ninth and I felt like he was very dominant. Other than 2B Adam Bryant, who was 3 for 4 with a double and a triple, the bats were pretty quiet most of the night.  

Defensively, there were five errors. C Jario Rodriguez made a low throw trying to catch a runner stealing in the first, with the runner moving to third after the ball rolled into CF. JD Williams dropped a routine fly in RF and SS AJ Pettersen had a bad throw to first.

The player I was there to see was 3B Miguel Sano. He made two errors, giving him 24 on the season. The first one was on a routine grounder he never got his glove down and it went right under and into LF. His second error was on a throw that was about two feet over 1B Steven Liddle‘s head. I saw quite a few things about Sano that concern me. Every throw he makes is very high. Every grounder he stutter steps, which makes turning double plays impossible. He’s looks like he’s using an outfielders glove, which is causing him to have major issues getting the ball out of his glove. That could be leading to the stutter steps he takes. I don’t understand why these issues haven’t been fixed by now.

After the game, there was a fireworks show, which happened as planned. The rain started towards the end of the fireworks, so we headed for the exit. I would recommend Pohlman Field to anybody looking to catch a minor league game.

Thanks for sending in the post, Lecroy24fan!  During his post Lecroy24fan mentioned that he had the opportunity to meet Chrissy Scaffidi who, among the other things she does for the Snappers, recently started a blog detailing her adventures in the Minor Leagues.  Definitely an interesting read for anyone interested in some behind-the-scenes action in the Midwest League. If you have a guest post idea of your own feel free to email one of us Knuckleballers or reach out to us in one of our GameChats and we will be more than happy to give you an audience.

-ERolfPleiss

Snappers Series Finale Ends With a Bang

After a rather ugly game Wednesday night and Thursday’s suspended game, the Snappers and Kernels put on a good show on Friday in Cedar Rapids.

In the completion of Thursday’s suspended game, the Snappers got a home run from newcomer Drew Leachman and Miguel Sano hit his 7th home run of the season immediately after an AJ Petterson double in the 8th inning, but it wasn’t enough for the win. The Kernels topped Beloit 9-6.

Miguel Sano's home run stroke in the first of two dingers on the night (Photo: Jim Crikket)

The nightcap was a different story, with the Snappers breaking a 3-3 tie in the top of the 9th inning when Sano followed a JD Williams walk with his 8th home run of the year.

The Kernels thought Sano spent a bit too long admiring the blast and getting around the bases and their catcher, Abel Baker, let Sano know about it as he crossed home plate. The two exchanged words and that led to both benches emptying.

The 5-3 lead held up and the Snappers left town having won two of three games from the Kernels.

There were plenty of good performances among the Snappers in the series finale as starting pitcher Steven Gruver retired the first six hitters he faced and threw five decent innings. Michael Tonkin gave up a run in his 1 1/3 innings of work, but struck out four Kernels, and Clint Dempster finished up with 2 2/3 strong shutout innings, without giving up a hit, to notch the Win.

On the offensive side, Sano, Eddie Rosario, Wang-Wei Lin and Matthew Koch all had two hits and JD Williams & Tyler Grimes added doubles.

But the story of this series was Sano. In the three games in Cedar Rapids, he was 7 for 13 plus one walk. He had two doubles to go with his two home runs. He scored five runs and drove in seven RBI. He did strike out once on Friday, stranding runners at 2nd and 3rd base, so I guess he’s human. Still, in a post-game interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Kernels manager Jamie Burke called Sano, “unbelievable” and, “the best player I’ve seen here – by far.”

Personally, I still believe Mike Trout is the best player I’ve ever seen in the Midwest League, because he literally showed no weaknesses in his game during his time with the Kernels. But Sano’s performance this week was the most impressive offensive series I’ve witnessed.

I know the Twins organization is reluctant to push their position players up the ladder quickly. Selfishly, I hope he’s still with Beloit in mid June when the Snappers return to Cedar Rapids again. But as a Twins fan, I can’t imagine what more he needs to demonstrate in the Midwest League that he can’t just as easily work on in Fort Myers. There’s absolutely no doubt that Sano has work to do with the glove before he’s ready for prime time, but does it really make that much difference whether he works on his defense in Beloit or Fort Myers?

I’m convinced he’s more than ready to face better pitching. Kernels pitchers were feeding him almost nothing but breaking balls and other off-speed pitches. When they did throw a fastball, it wasn’t often anywhere near the strike zone.

I leave you with the following picture. As is the case at many ballparks, the Kernels give some lucky kids the opportunity to stand next to Kernels players on the field during the National Anthem and they give the kids t-shirts to wear. Very large t-shirts. I call this picture “Angels in the Infield.”

Angels In The Infield (Photo: Jim Crikket)

 

First Look at the 2012 Snappers

If you follow me on Twitter (@JimCrikket), you know that the Twins’ low-A affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are making their first trip to Cedar Rapids this week and that I’ve spent the past couple of evenings at the ballpark watching them take on the Kernels (the Angels’ Midwest League affiliate).

They’ve played 1+ games in the series so far (Thursday’s game was suspended by thunderstorms in the 3rd inning and will be resumed at 5:00 today, prior to the scheduled series finale), so I thought I’d put up a quick post with my initial impressions.

The guys who are getting all the attention for the Snappers are infielders Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Sano is the consensus #1 ranked prospect in the Twins organization and Rosario is most often listed as either #2 or #3, so they both have some game. They aren’t the only guys on the team with some talent, though.

Wednesday night, I had arranged use of the suite that my company has out at Memorial Stadium, so I hosted a number of my coworkers and their significant others as we watched what started out as a pretty ugly display of baseball, frankly. To give you an idea of how ugly, the Snappers won the game 6-5, but the teams each scored only two earned runs on the night. That’s not pretty.

After two innings, the teams were tied 2-2 in the runs column, but the Snappers “led” 3-2 in errors. Two of those Snapper errors were charged to Rosario and Sano and they both were the kind that made you cringe. The conventional wisdom is that both players have work to do on defense with Sano’s size perhaps making staying at 3B a challenge and Rosario trying to learn a new position at 2B, after being an outfielder throughout his career. The conventional wisdom may be pretty accurate in this case.

But let’s face it, if Sano and Rosario are fixtures in the Twins 2015 lineup, it won’t be because they’re gold glovers, it will be because they’re capable of hitting the crap out of the baseball. Rosario had a tough night at the plate, going 0-4 (no Ks though) before being lifted after hitting in the 7th inning. Sano fared much better, with three hits in 5 at-bats, including a rocket double down the left field line that Kernel 3B Caleb Cowart managed to get a little leather on.

As I mentioned, though, Sano and Rosario aren’t the only players with some baseball talent. Relief pitcher Corey Williams came in to finish off the final two innings and slammed the door on the Kernels, walking one and striking out two hitters, without giving up a hit, to earn his fourth save on the year. Shortstop Tyler Grimes has only played four innings so far this series, but he’s made a couple of pretty impressive plays in the field. Finally, 1B Rory Rhodes may be struggling to get his BA up over the Mendoza line, but he hit a HR Wednesday night that was a monster. It cleared the fence. It cleared the picnic area beyond the fence. From my vantage point, it appeared to clear the street beyond the picnic area. I’m not 100% sure it’s come down yet.

Eddie Rosario was lifted in the 7th inning Wednesday night, for what I assumed was defensive purposes, but when I arrived at the stadium Thursday night, I saw he wasn’t in the lineup for the Snappers. It made me wonder if he was hurt or, perhaps, had been bumped up to Ft. Myers. But he was in uniform warming up with the rest of the Snappers in LF before the game, so the latter clearly wasn’t the case. I’ll be interested to see if he plays tonight.

Here’s another thing I really liked seeing… Sano and Rosario seemed to be enjoying themselves before and during the games. They were loose and smiling during warm-ups and both were generous with their time signing autographs for fans along the wall by the Snappers dugout before the games. That’s not always the case, especially with visiting teams’ “top prospects.” Then again, there was no shortage of fans in Twins caps and shirts at the ballpark this week. It’s always a bit of a “split crowd” when the Twins’ affiliate comes to Cedar Rapids, so the Snappers get plenty of support.

With that, I’ll wrap up with a few pictures from last night’s abbreviated trip to the ballpark.

 

Miguel Sano signing a few autographs for fans

 

Eddie Rosario warming up before the game... he's changed positions once already, but could he really be thinking about pitching?

 

... or catching? Say it ain't so, Eddie!

 

The Snappers loosen up with that time-honored tradition of a game of "Pepper"

 

Thursday's starting pitcher, Matthew Tomshaw, is off to a nice start for the Snappers, but wouldn't get much of an opportunity to pitch before the rains came

 

OK, this was a swing and a miss by Rory Rhodes Thursday night... but on Wednesday, he launched a ball about as far as I've seen one hit at Memorial Stadium in recent years

 

Tyler Grimes at shortstop for the Snappers in the sunshine... obviously prior to the thunderstorm that was to soon arrive

 

The thunderstorm may have caused the game to be suspended in the 3rd inning, but the crowd didn't let a little thing like that keep them from enjoying "$1.50 beer night"

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

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