The Two Week Warning

You may not have realized it by looking out your window at the new snow this morning, but the Twins’ Opening Day is just two weeks from today. That means it’s probably time to start taking a more serious look at how the team is rounding in to shape in Fort Myers.

Although Spring Training has officially been in gear for about a month, it’s usually pretty pointless to pay a lot of attention to individual performances during the first couple of weeks of Grapefruit League games. Veteran hitters are just shaking the rust off and working on specific things, such as hitting to this or that specific field or hitting particular pitches. Established pitchers use each early outing as an opportunity to refine deliveries or work on specific pitches. Results are of secondary concern.

But as the team gets down to it’s final dozen games or so, the hitters start wanting more plate appearances in the games and the pitchers start using all their pitches as they focus more on getting outs. We should also see with some level of certainty how the starting pitching spots are firming up as the Twins adjust their rotation so that they have pitchers lined up they way they want to open the season. Their final 10 Spring Training games will start this Thursday against the Yankees.

It’s a good thing, too, that we can conveniently discount performances up to this point, because a lot of those performances have been less than awe-inspring thus far. If you were inclined to predict the season’s outcome based on  the first few weeks of Spring Training results, it would be pretty difficult to find cause to believe the 2013 Twins will be much better than last season’s version.

While it’s encouraging to see Justin Morneau looking like his former MVP-level self and Aaron Hicks looking like a legitimate Major League centerfielder in the making, every fan has known all along that it’s the pitching rotation that had to improve significantly if the Twins are to have a chance to show significantly improved results this summer and there hasn’t been too much to get excited about in that area yet.

With Scott Diamond certain to start the season on the Disabled List, there are two rotation spots up for grabs among several of the Twins’ young arms. Kyle Gibson was expected to contend for a spot, but he’s already been sent across the parking lot to minor league camp, so he’ll be starting his season in Rochester. Liam Hendriks is another contender, but he’s struggled in most of his appearances. Hitters have averaged .295 against him and have hit him up four home runs in his 15 innings of work. His WHIP is a lackluster 1.40.

But here’s the kicker… Hendriks arguably has had a better spring, statistically speaking, than any of the three “locks” for Twins rotation spots, Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Those three haven’t been as prone to giving up gopher balls as Hendriks, but through the past weekend, hitters are batting better than .300 against each of them and Worley’s 1.83 WHIP is the best of the trio.

Cole DeVries (Photo: Hannah Foslein - Getty Images

Cole DeVries (Photo: Hannah Foslein – Getty Images

On the other hand, if you want to look for encouraging signs for the Twins among their starting pitching corps, you can take a look in the direction of Cole DeVries. DeVries has only thrown 10 innings in his three starts, but he’s not giving up many hits (.121 batting average against), has not given up any home runs, has a tidy little 0.70 WHIP and, if you’re in to small sample size ERAs, he’s sporting a 0.90 in that category, too. Of course, “small sample size” caveats apply to all stat lines at this point.

Another rotation candidate that’s been at least moderately impressive is a guy who has only thrown one inning for the Twins this spring, Samuel Deduno. While he hasn’t been in camp for the past couple of weeks, Deduno has been getting work in the rotation for the Dominican Republic’s entry in the World Baseball Classic, where he’s had some success. In fact, he was the starting (and winning) pitcher for the Dominicans in their victory over Team USA last week.

Because Deduno is not on the Twins’ 40-man roster at this point, the team would have to make a roster move to keep him when they move north to start the season. Since they hope to have Diamond available by mid-April, it’s quite possible they’ll only need their initial fifth starter for one game before Diamond is activated. That being the case, Hendriks should still be considered the leading candidate for that spot.

So here’s what the rotation seems to be setting up to look like, to my eyes:

Opening Day starter: Vance Worley (started Sunday, will likely start again Friday and have his last Spring Training Start Wednesday, March 27… five days before Opening Day)

#2 starter: Kevin Correia (starting today, leaving remaining starts March 23 and 28)

#3 starter: Mike Pelfrey

#4 starter Cole DeVries

#5 starter: Liam Hendriks (may only be needed for one start, March 7, before Diamond is activated in mid-April)

That’s all pure speculation on my part, of course. The point is merely that, with two weeks remaining before the scheduled Opening Day, now is when these pitchers need to start showing me something more than they have already… something to make me believe they’ll make up a better rotation than the disaster we saw on the mound last season.

– JC

Do Twins Have Any Answers Yet?

We are about at what could be considered the half-way point of the Twins’ Spring Training, believe it or not. We’re hitting that point a little early this spring because of the way the World Baseball Classic has caused an elongation of the process. But regardless of how we got here, with all of the question marks the Twins had when pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Myers, it’s as good a time as any to check in to see if any of those questions are any closer to being answered.

Will the Twins rotation be better?

Of course, the smart-ass answer to that is that it could hardly be worse than it was last season, so it almost has to be better. But based on early appearances, the “real” answer is also, “yes, it will be better.” Of course, it’s way too early to predict how much better.

Scott Diamond

Scott Diamond

With Scott Diamond as yet untested in games, all we’ve really been able to see are the newly acquired pitchers (Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia) and the young pitchers trying to translate minor league success in to Major League careers (Liam Hendriks and Kyle Gibson). To be fair, holdovers from last season such as Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno also have to be considered in the mix, but unless those guys show something that makes everyone believe they’ve significantly improved, the fact remains that if they’re part of the Twins rotation for a significant part of the season, it probably means the answer to this question is that the rotation has not improved enough to make a real difference in the Twins short-term fortunes.

The good news is that, on balance, the leading candidates for rotation spots have not looked too bad in their first few outings. Worley looks like what we expected him to be, a legitimate mid-rotation arm. Pelfrey isn’t yet hitting his normal pre-Tommy John surgery velocity, but he hasn’t had any sort of medical setback that we feared he might have given his accelerated rehab schedule. Corriea missed a little time to be with his wife for the birth of their new son and showed some rust in his first game back on Thursday, but he hasn’t been getting rocked the way you might have expected if you believed all the harpoons directed toward him by writers and fans since signing with the Twins. Finally, both Hendriks and Gibson have had ups and downs but have generally demonstrated why they’re considered legitimate rotation options to start the season with the Twins.

Scott Diamond is scheduled to get his first Spring Training start on March 18 so we may not know until the final week of camp whether he’ll be ready for the Opening Day roster. That said, if the Twins had to open the season with a rotation of Worley, Pelfrey, Correia, Hendriks and Gibson, I could live with that and feel somewhat confident that said rotation would lead to better results than we saw in 2012, despite the obvious shortcoming of being without a lefty until Diamond returns.

Who’s going to be the centerfielder?

The Twins entered Spring Training telling us that three players would compete for the CF job… their 4th outfielder from 2012, Darin Mastroianni, and two young outfield prospects trying to make the Opening Day roster for the first time, Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson. 

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks

The competition going in seemed set up in a way that made job Hicks’ to lose. He’s definitely the player with the highest ceiling and it was just a matter of whether he would prove to the decision-makers that he’s ready for prime time, despite never playing an inning of AAA baseball. If he failed to impress, Mastroanni was likely to get the job, by default. Benson’s only real shot to win the job would be if Hicks and Mastroianni both failed miserably and/or don’t survive Spring Training healthy.

Thus far, it’s been all about Aaron Hicks. He already has three home runs after leading off both Wednesday’s game against Puerto Rico’s WBC team and Thursday’s game against the Phillies with home runs. The former wasn’t “official,” of course, since it came in an exhibition game, but the latter came against Cliff Lee.

UPDATE: Almost before I could get this article posted, Hicks hit ANOTHER home run in that Phillies game Thursday afternoon. At this rate, he’s going to screw up his chances to open the season as the Twins’ leadoff hitter by showing too much power. That said, two words of caution for Twins fans who might be tempted to read too much in to Spring Training power displays: “Luke Hughes”.

UPDATED UPDATE: Hicks has hit a THIRD home run in that Phillies game. Just… wow.

There’s still a lot of games to play before Opening Day and it wouldn’t be unheard of for a rookie to start hot and then begin tightening up at the end of the spring as the pressure of knowing he’s really playing for a spot in a Major League starting line up hits him. Still, you definitely have to say that Hicks has grabbed hold of this opportunity with both hands.

Who’s going to get the middle infield jobs?

It was generally assumed that three of the four infielders competing for middle infield spots would move north with the Twins, while one headed for Rochester. However, while Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon appear to be the early leaders in the race for starting positions at 2B and SS, respectively, it is now looking like both Jamey Carroll and Eduardo Escobar could stick, as well. Carroll brings a veteran presence along with the versatility to play multiple positions. Escobar, though, has been impressing coaches with his glove and, it turns out, could serve as an “emergency” catcher. His bat, frankly, may not be much more of a threat than Drew Butera’s, but he would provide much greater utility around the field than Butera would. This decision could come down to the wire in late March, so stay tuned.

In the end, none of the questions have truly been answered yet, but we can definitely see the roster starting to take shape. The first round of roster cuts could be announced almost any time, now that the minor league camp has opened up and pitchers are starting to get stretched out to four innings or so. Still, with several players still participating in WBC games, there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for young players to impress someone.

For now, the two most important things Twins fans need to hope for are (1) that the potential rotation members continue to improve as Spring Training rolls on, and (2) that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau return from the WBC healthy.

– JC

Who will be the Twins’ Opening Day Starter?

With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter.  With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road.  The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles.  An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.

opening day optimism

Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions.  Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.

Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter.  I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.

Rafael Perez  (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago.  He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008.  He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate.  Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.

Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal.  Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009.  There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season.  I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.

Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery.  Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation.  Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation.  If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.

Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season.  Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.

Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract.  Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012).  Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.

Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience.  If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond.  But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves.  The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.

Scott Diamond (15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day.  If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st.  But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated.  There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.

Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it.  He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).

When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.

-ERolfPleiss

Roster Deconstruction

The 25-man roster is not yet set in stone, but if we take a look at the 40-man roster we can get some kind of idea about where the Twins players closest to the Major Leagues come from.

Drafted out of High School (12, 5 pitchers, 7 position players)

Alex Burnett, 12th round 2005 (375 overall); B.J. Hermsen, 6th round 2008 (186); Tyler Robertson, 3rd round 2006 (96); Anthony Swarzak, 2nd round 2004 (61); Michael Tonkin, 30th round 2008 (906); Joe Mauer, 1st round 2001 (1); Brian Dozier, 8th round 2009 (252); Justin Morneau, 3rd round 1999 (89); Chris Parmelee, 1st round 2006 (20); Trevor Plouffe, 1st round 2004 (20); Joe Benson, 2nd round 2006 (64); Aaron Hicks, 1st round 2008 (14)

Unsurprisingly the Twins largest group of players on the 40-man roster come as high school draftees.  There is a fairly good mix of position players and pitchers, though of the pitchers on the list none of them were drafted in the first round, compared to 4 first round position players*.  This makes sense as the arms on this list are all bullpen guys, not a single player there with really dominant stuff.

*Byron Buxton, the Twins most recent 1st round draft pick was just 5 years old when the Twins drafted Justin Morneau in 1999.  Morny has been with the team a long time, it will be interesting to see if the Twins look to move him later this year.

 

Free Agent (10, 7 pitchers, 3 position players)

Jared Burton, 2011; Kevin Correia, 2012; Cole De Vries, 2006 (undrafted out of University of Minnesota); Casey Fien, 2012; Mike Pelfrey, 2012; Caleb Thielbar, 2011; Tim Wood, 2012; Ryan Doumit, 2011; Jamey Carroll, 2011; Josh Willingham, 2011

Likely because the Twins spent so many high draft picks on position players, the Twins have struggled to develop their own pitching and have turned to the free agent market to balance their roster.  As with the high school draftees, none of the arms on this list are particularly dominant, though Burton was a pleasant surprise in 2012.

Trade (6, 4 pitchers, 2 position players)

Scott Diamond, 2011 (Billy Bullock); Pedro Hernandez, 2012 (Francisco Liriano); Eduardo Escobar, 2012 (Liriano); Trevor May, 2012 (Ben Revere); Vance Worley, 2012 (Revere); Drew Butera, 2007 (Luis Castillo)

I listed Scott Diamond as a player acquired via trade, but he originally joined the Twins through the 2010 Rule 5 draft, but when he failed to make the roster out of Spring Training the Twins completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves in order to keep him with the organization.  Of the other names here, only Butera sticks out, only because with his ties to the organization (his father Sal Butera was with the Twins for parts of 6 Minor League and 4 Major League seasons) I often forget that he was not originally drafted by the Twins.

Drafted out of College (4, 3 pitchers, 1 position player)

Brian Duensing, 3rd round 2005 (84); Kyle Gibson, 1st round 2009 (22); Glen Perkins, 1st round 2004 (22); Chris Herrmann, 6th round 2009 (192)

Again, because the Twins were not drafting and developing high school pitching they have used several early round picks on college pitchers in an effort to balance the system.  Of the two 1st rounders here, only Gibson was the Twins 1st overall pick of the draft, Perkins was selected after Trevor Plouffe, with a compensation pick from the Mariners when they signed Eddie Guardado.  In fact, in the 2004 draft the Twins had 3 first round picks and 2 more supplemental round picks, giving them 5 of the first 39 draft picks and 7 of the first 100.  Of those seven picks, Plouffe, Perkins and Anthony Swarzak are all still with the Twins, 9 years later.

International Free Agent (4, 1 pitcher, 3 position players)

Liam Hendriks, 2007; Josmil Pinto, 2006; Daniel Santana, 2008; Oswaldo Arcia, 2008

Pretty young group of players here, but lots of upside with Santana and Arcia cracking MLB’s list of Top 20 Twins prospects.

Waiver (3, 1 pitcher, 2 position players)

Josh Roenicke, 2012 (Rockies); Pedro Florimon, 2011 (Orioles); Darin Mastroianni, 2012 (Blue Jays)

As you’d expect, no superstars in this trio, but two of these guys could be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

Rule 5 Draft (1, 1 pitcher, 0 position players)

Ryan Pressly, 2012 (Red Sox)

It remains to be seen if Pressly will make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, though the cards are certainly stacked against him.  If the Twins are going to keep him long term, they’ll need to work out a trade with the Boston Red Sox to keep him in the organization if he is not on the big league roster.

So there you have it, 40 players and their origins within the Twins organization.  With high school draft picks making up the lion’s share of the roster, the Twins amateur scouts seem to know what they’re doing.   That bodes well for the future and  Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd, the Twins’ highest drafted high school players in the past two drafts.

-ERolfPleiss

All player information obtained from Baseball-Reference.  If I’ve listed any player origins incorrectly, please let me know.

All Is Well

AllIsWellIt has been pointed out to me more than once that I’m a bit bipolar when it comes to my feelings with regard to the Minnesota Twins and they way they’re operated. That’s probably a fair observation. I can sometimes seemingly blow off steam about a decision by the Twins one moment and then turn around and be really excited about the team and chastise someone else for going too far in their negativity toward the organization. I never claimed to be the most consistent person in the world.

Like most fans (and, it seems, almost all bloggers), I’m quick to point out what I think the decision-makers are doing wrong and what I believe they should do to fix things. This is particularly true at specific times of the year: during spring training when the final roster spots are being filled; at or near trade deadlines in July and August; and during the first couple of months after the season when, presumably, the front office is making and executing their plans to revise their roster for the following season.

When I go on a rant about how Terry Ryan isn’t doing this right or should do that instead, it may even seem like I’m angry. I may, indeed, be frustrated, but I don’t think it often reaches the point of anger. In fact, I’m actually having fun. Putting myself in the General Manager’s role is just one part of what’s fun about being a Twins fan, for me. If you think I come down hard on Terry Ryan at times, you should have been around me during Calvin Griffith’s days of (mis)running the team. Yet Griffith, like Ryan, managed to assemble some of the most talented teams in the franchise’s history.

You may have noticed that I haven’t ranted much lately. Sure, I’d like to see Ryan throw a few bucks at Joe Saunders and add him to the rotation for the next couple of years and, like almost everyone else, I’m less than enthusiastic about Kevin Correia being the Twins’ “big free agent” signing for their rotation (at least measuring by contract size).

But, for all intents, I’ve turned the page. This time of year, I move in to, “I can’t wait for baseball season to start!” mode. I don’t care if it’s Little League or Major League, I want to see somebody playing some baseball and I want to see it NOW!

I’ve been writing about the coming season for a few weeks now. I contributed a piece about the addition of Cedar Rapids to the Twins family for Seth Stohs’ 2013 Twins Prospect Handbook and that certainly put me in the mood to look forward to this season. I researched and wrote a few posts about Twins prospects we could see playing in Cedar Rapids for the Kernels and that genuinely got me excited for baseball to start. I attended the Twins Caravan/Kernels Hot Stove Banquet event last week and seeing over 500 people celebrating the new relationship and hearing the Twins representatives on stage talk about how they looked forward to 2013 just added fuel to my baseball fire.

This weekend, it’s TwinsFest at the Metrodome. I’m only going to make it for a bit on Saturday (and hopefully across the street to Hubert’s to sit on the periphery of the gathering of Twins bloggers taking place there Saturday night), but I’m pretty sure that’s all I’ll need to bring my fandom to a boil. I don’t really get heavily in to autographs or pictures with players, but I enjoy watching the people who do. It’s a celebration of baseball… and of being a Twins fan.

So I hope everyone will understand if I don’t keep piling on Terry Ryan at this point. I think there’s been enough of that, at least for now.

There seems to be a prevailing opinion out there that the signing of Correia and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of signings of any of the more statistically successful free agent pitching options, indicates that Ryan and the front office are now in full-blown “rebuild” mode. This, despite early offseason assurances from Ryan and others that the Twins were intent on making significant improvements to the rotation and the general competitive level of the Twins in 2013. I have to admit that, for a while, I was bordering on being convinced that was the case.

But I really don’t think so.

From various recent media accounts and interviews with the Twins’ GM, I think it’s pretty clear that it has been, is, and continues to be his intent to put a far better product on the field in 2013 than we’ve seen the past two seasons. He believes Correia will be a significantly better pitcher than almost all of the guys the Twins trotted out to start games last year. He believes Vance Worley will be, as well. Likewise Mike Pelfrey.

It’s fair, of course, to question the basis on which Ryan and his organization came to some of those conclusions.  As 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey pointed out this week, Ryan is clearly sticking his neck out with Correia and saying he and his scouts believe the former Pirates pitcher will be better than his numbers indicate he has been in the past. In retrospect, while it’s reasonable to question how wise relying so entirely on “old school” scouting is in this case, I’m not sure why any of us should be surprised by that.

But right now, I just don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, Correia, Worley, Pelfrey and the other new arrivals are now Minnesota Twins and that makes them our guys. I say we welcome them aboard and wish them all the best.

I want to SEE whether the right decisions were made or not. I want to see the new pitchers pitch and I want to see if Trevor Plouffe can hold down third base and, hopefully, hit like he did for a couple of months in the middle of last year. I want to see if Chris Parmelee can establish himself as a legitimate Major League hitter and I want to see young outfielders, who probably thought their paths to the Big Leagues might be blocked by not one but two centerfielders in front of them, compete to break camp in the starting outfield of a Major League baseball team. And I want to see familiar faces like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit baseballs.

And I want to see a bunch of kids put on Cedar Rapids Kernels uniforms and show us whether they’re as good as we all seem to think they will be. Some day, some of those guys will wear Twins uniforms and someone will ask me whether I remember them when they played for the Kernels. And I will remember. I’m just so anxious to get started burning those memories in to my mind right now.

My opinions about what woulda-coulda-shoulda been done this offseason haven’t changed. But I’m ready to move on.

I spend nine or ten hours a day working so I can spend a few hours with family and friends at a ballpark or in a bar watching baseball or even just talking about it. I do that because I just wasn’t good enough at anything that would allow me to make my living at a ballpark, but there are still very few things I’d rather do than watch baseball.

In a few weeks, we’ll all get to start doing that again. As long as that’s the case, I’m going to try to remain calm… all is well.

– JC

Catching Up On All Things Twins

Sometimes you take a little business trip and pull back from the blogging thing for a few days and almost lose track of what’s going on with the Twins. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of great Twins blogs and podcasts to help bring you back up to speed. Of course, there also are some great Twins beat reporters that also keep us abreast of Twins news. So now that I’ve had a couple of days to get caught up, I’ve got some thoughts to share.

About those beat reporters

When one local newspaper announces a change in assignments for its Twins reporter, you don’t really give it much thought. When a second newspaper does the same, it may or may not raise an eyebrow.

But, while I don’t really keep close tabs on who is or isn’t covering the Twins for which traditional media outlet, I think a third Twins beat reporter took a different assignment last week… and I’m not sure he ever really started covering the Twins full time before he got his new gig.

Now Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN also is dropping the Twins beat, in favor of a switch to afternoon drive-time slot for his radio show. I understand that “drive-time” is a big deal to radio folks, since for many of us, the only time we even listen to the radio any more is during our commutes to/from work. And of course, the fact that 1500ESPN won’t be carrying Twins games going forward might have a little something to do with this change at Mackey’s station.

In fact, I’m sure there were plenty of good reasons for each of these moves… some apparently at the request of the respective reporters themselves, but FOUR beat reporters dropping the Twins beat? If it’s all a coincidence, it’s one heck of a coincidence, isn’t it?

By January, I’ll officially be following more FORMER Twins reporters on Twitter than current Twins reporters.

And some people say bloggers tend to come and go quickly.

Twins Moves… And Lack Thereof

When I boarded my flight for St. Petersburg FL about a week ago (which, as it turned out, did not actually land in St. Petersburg, but that’s not important here), Terry Ryan had recently traded away his second center fielder, Ben Revere, for another pitching prospect and for Vance Worley, who projects to slot in ahead of Scott Diamond in the Twins rotation. Not many were excited about losing Revere, but Ryan was generally praised for the bold move because, unlike his trade of Denard Span, this deal also helped address the 2013 pitching rotation.

We also tried to guess what Ryan’s next move would be. Certainly, he would need to wade in to the free agent pitching market if he intended to make good on his public promises to add enough starting pitching talent to assure the Twins can at least be competitive in 2013.

Worley was just the start. Of course Ryan would add more pitching, but we had to be patient. After all, Zack Greinke hadn’t signed anywhere yet, so the market for pitching hadn’t been set. Once that first domino fell, Ryan would know what the going rate for second tier pitching would be and he’d make his moves. Yes, more pitching help was coming. We just needed to be patient.

Since that time, Greinke has signed with the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez has agreed to terms with the Tigers (and, perhaps the Cubs, too?), Ryan Dempster has signed with the Red Sox, Brandon McCarthy has joined the D’Backs, Joe Blanton has become an Angel, and Dan Haren has been inked by the Nationals… just to name a few. All in all, you’d have to say the market has now been set.

Even the Royals pulled off a big trade this week, sending a boatload of prospects to Tampa Bay in return for TWO starting pitchers. Say what you wish about how wise or unwise the Royals were for giving up what they did, but they made one thing clear to their fans… they are planning on competing in 2013.

Kevin CVorreia

Kevin Correia

The Twins? Well they haven’t stood idly by either. They signed Kevin Correia to a two-year contract. He wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for and my initial reaction was pretty much as negative as most others, but I actually have little problem with the Twins signing Correia. I think they overpaid, but as we’ve mentioned before, they’re the worst team in the AL and that means they will have to overpay for pretty much any free agent.  Correia doesn’t have good “peripheral stats” so he’s certainly not a darling of the saber-metric community, but I do think he could well be better than most of the in-house options the team has.

My problem at this point isn’t with signing Correia, it’s with NOT signing other… better… pitchers.

Right now there’s no indication that the Twins are even thinking about Shawn Marcum, Edwin Jackson or anyone else of any quality. They are being linked to various has-beens, never-will-bes, and long-shot reclamation projects. The consensus seems to be that they’ve been scared off by the high prices being demanded by the remaining pitchers who could actually be… well… good at pitching.

In other words, they waited for the market to set the price of pitching and then decided that price was too high. What a surprise that is, right? How un-Twinslike! Now aren’t you glad we were patient?

Twins Hall of Fame

While the General Manager’s office has been busy dumpster diving this week, the PR folks have opened up public voting for this year’s Twins Hall of Fame inductions. I haven’t quite figured out how much say the fan voting has in determining who eventually garners enough support to be added to the club’s HoF, but if nothing else, the ballot certainly brings back a lot of memories. You should check it out.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already saw who I voted for, but here’s the list of my choices: Dave Boswell, Dave Goltz, Mudcat Grant, Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack, Cesar Tovar.

There were others I could certainly support. Dean Chance, Corey Koskie, Jeff Reardon, Roy Smalley and Al Worthington are quite possibly worthy… some perhaps even more worthy than a couple of guys I voted for.

Cesar Tovar tries to score

Cesar Tovar tries to score

I personally feel Tovar and Mack are among the most underrated players in Twins history and deserve to be in the Twins’ Hall, but I’m not sure voters will agree. The one player that is, as always, the most controversial is Knoblauch.

Knobby certainly didn’t endear himself to Twins fans during his messy exit from Minnesota and he has the PED thing tarnishing his image further. Maybe some people don’t like voting for “cheaters”, but I’ll bet all my money against all of yours that the Twins HoF has several players already in it that were aided by taking amphetamines and if you don’t think those are “performance enhancing” drugs, you’ve never taken them.

Knoblauch was the best second baseman in club history this side of Rod Carew and he was a critical member of the 1991 championship team. So, yeah, he wanted out of Minnesota in the end. But frankly, the Twins showed absolutely no interest in fielding a competitive team in the mid 1990s and if I had been a member of the Twins then, I almost certainly would have done anything I could do to get out of town, too.

It’s too bad Knoblauch wasn’t born a few years later. Think of how much more fun he would have been having with the Twins now, what with the organization’s new commitment to competitiveness.

– JC

Kevin Correia and the 2013 Minnesota Twins

According to Jerry Crasnick, the Twins have signed Kevin Correia to a two-year, $10 million dollar contract.  The savvy Twins fan might liken this deal to the Jason Marquis signing from a year ago, but with an extra year tacked on, just for fun!  Correia has been a below average starter in the National League over the past two years for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 2012 the Pirates (not known for the pitching depth) decided that they had better starting options and demoted Correia to the bullpen.  On a one-year deal, signing Correia would not seem half as bad, as the Twins are likely in the midst of a serious rebuilding effort after trading Denard Span and Ben Revere over the past couple of weeks.  The second year of the deal could be tricky as Correia is not likely to improve coming to the American League for the first time in his career where he’ll have to face the designated hitters instead of pitchers.

Twins #3 Starter, Kevin Corriea, Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America

 

Correia joins the Twins and is instantly their third best starting pitching option in 2013 behind Scott Diamond and Vance Worley.  That’s how bad the Twins pitching is right now, they are turning to the Pirates’ bullpen for starting pitching help.  While the Correia signing gives the Twins a much needed are in 2013, his role in 2014 is less clear.  With Kyle Gibson another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and Liam Hendriks with some additional Major League experience (and perhaps some confidence boosting time at Triple-A), Correia’s best option for 2013 is as the Twins fifth starter.  But five million dollars for a fifth starter, when guys like Cole De Vries, B.J. Hermsen, Sam Deduno and Esmerling Vasquez are all equally qualified to fill that spot, is harder to stomach.

If you’re a glass half-full type of person, it is possible that the Twins could flip Correia in 2014, maybe even eating some of his salary, in hopes of bringing back a low-level prospect.  But it seems more likely to me that he ends up in the bullpen filling the long relief role that Anthony Swarzak currently fills, or becomes the swing-man that Brian Duensing has occupied the past couple of years.  All in all, Correia is a Major League veteran that fills a roster spot for 2013, just keep your fingers crossed that he does not turn into another Nick Blackburn.

-ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 16

Episode 16 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Ben Revere rides to Philadelphia!

This week the Pleiss Twins discuss happenings from the winter meetings and are joined by Alex Kienholz of www.BeyondTheBoxscore.com to discuss the Twins/Phillies trade that sent Ben Revere to Philly in exchange for Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May, the Rule 5 draft and about his interested in sabermetrics. After Alex departs Eric and Paul get into the Jared Burton extension, Tom Kelly‘s Twins career, beer, prospects and a whole bunch of questions from the interwebs.

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Hey Twins Fans, Meet Vanimal!

(Image: timokreations)

Now that we’ve had a day to absorb the news of the Twins trading Ben Revere to Philadelphia, it’s time for us to get to know our newest member of the Twins MLB family, Vance Worley… aka “Vanimal.”

In an effort to do a little advance scouting on behalf of the Twins fanbase, I did a little Vanimal hunting on the internet. I have to say, so far I’ve liked what I’ve found.

All of the initial reports provided the basics. He had a great rookie year in 2011 as a 23-year-old, during which he finished 3rd in National League Rookie of the Year balloting, but his sophomore year in 2012 was a bit bumpy and ended with some “clean up” surgery on his pitching elbow in September. He’s back to throwing now and is expected to be ready to roll in time for Spring Training.

You can read all about Worley’s pitching record any number of places (though you might want to start with Parker Hageman’s excellent break down of Worley by clicking here). We’ll strive to bring you more here at Knuckleballs.

The Asian-American pitcher (his mother is Chinese) apparently had the “Vanimal” moniker bestowed upon him by a weightlifting coach in the weight room during his freshman year at Long Beach State University (or Cal State Long Beach, if you prefer). I guess Worley must have hit the weights pretty hard, because the nickname has stuck.

(Photo: Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

Here’s something else you should know… Vanimal has a reputation for having some swagger. We’ll definitely know when Worley is on the mound. The distinctive Oakley goggles are one clue and he’s got a bit of a strut coming off the mound after a strikeout. And then, of course, there’s the mohawk haircut (though word has it he may be tiring of that trademark hairstyle and might just let his hair grow long… so we have that to look forward to).

He also talks to himself on the mound… and parents of small children might want to be prepared to answer some awkward, “what did he say, daddy?” questions from the young fans in the family. It’s not personal, just all about self-motivation, but lipreading could be entertaining this season.

Vance Worely

Like most professional athletes, Worley values his privacy away from the workplace. Don’t hassle him if you see him at a movie theater and if you happen to discover where he gets his haircut, don’t Tweet it to everyone in cyberspace. That kinda thing ticks him off. But on the job, he has a reputation for being friendly and accessible to fans and media (and even to the occasional blogger). While he wasn’t a fan of any particular MLB team while growing up in Northern California, he has grown in to a hobby of sorts that he shares with many fans… he collects autographed baseballs from many of his peers in the game.

I’m looking forward to getting to know Worley better next season. He’s got personality and, frankly, that’s something I’ve thought the Twins clubhouse could use a bit more of lately. I’m not sure how the largely staid local fanbase will react to the Vanimal persona, but I suspect a lot of that will be determined by how well he gets… what do they call them?… oh yeah… outs.

If you’d like to read more about our newest Twins pitcher, I suggest clicking here. He granted weekly access to Ed Condran, a columnist/blogger for www.metro.us, an online news publication. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer also wrote a couple of interesting background pieces on Worley during his rookie campaign in 2011, which can be found here and here.

– JC

Revere Traded to Phillies!

Wow did I pick the wrong day to forget my cell phone at home this morning! It’s the only way I have of accessing social media sites like Twitter or any of my personal email accounts from my office. As a result of that (and actually doing some work today), I’ve been a bit slow to catch breaking news. Any other day, that wouldn’t have been a big deal, but today it’s a very big deal!

Many of us have talked in recent weeks about how the Twins need to trade from a position of strength, such as their outfield depth, to fill a position of need (that would be starting pitching, for those who haven’t been keeping up). Today, the Twins doubled down on the gamble they made a week ago in trading CF Denard Span by also trading CF Ben Revere to the Phillies.

Span brought “just” a minor league pitcher with top-of-the-rotation upside. Revere, however, not only brought a very highly rated minor league starting pitcher (Trevor May), but also a Major League starting pitcher (Vance Worley) who, if healthy, could arguably slot in above Scott Diamond in the 2013 rotation.

I’m going to miss this smile!

While I don’t think the Twins went to Nashville intending to trade Revere, the market for CFs seemed to almost explode once they got there and Terry Ryan took advantage of that.

My reaction to the Span trade last week was something along the lines of, “that’s too bad, I really like Span, but the Twins absolutely need pitching that has ‘ace’ potential, so this is a fair deal.”

My reaction to the Revere trade today was more like, “I’m really going to miss Revere’s smile and his overall approach to playing baseball, but HOLY CRAP the Twins got a great return for him!”

This deal didn’t come out of nowhere, but it certainly seemed to fall in place quickly.

Last night, there were rumors that Revere’s name was being mentioned and that the Twins were open to listening to proposals.

This morning, the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III posted in his blog that the Twins spent the night isolated in their suite working on a Revere trade and had recalled their PR guy from the airport where he was getting ready to fly back to Minnesota. Obviously, this was not just idle chat, but we all can point to multiple deals the Twins have “almost” pulled off over the years at the Winter Meetings.

By mid-morning, there was speculation that the Twins might be targeting high upside pitching prospects, but I personally wondered how that would sell with most Twins fans. I felt they would need to get some kind of immediate help in any further trades of current MLB starting position players, including Revere.

By noon, we had our answer. The Twins not only landed a young, talented Big League pitcher who’s under team control for several more years, but also another AA level starting pitching prospect who immediately would have to be considered one of the team’s top 10 prospects (MLB.com had him ranked as the #2 prospect in the Phillies organization).

I hope Ryan isn’t done getting pitching help for 2013 and beyond, but despite the fears of many people (myself included) he certainly is not returning from Nashville empty handed. Congratulations to the Twins front office certainly appears to be in order today.

– JC