Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Friday, August 31, 2007

Miller's Off the Roster

The Twins have outrighted Jason Miller off of the 40-man roster, assigning him to AAA Rochester. That move is mostly significant because it opens up another spot on the roster -- the Twins now have 38 players on the 40-man roster -- and may indicate that a couple of guys are likely to be added in September. First, on Miller -- this move isn't terribly surprising or distressing. Miller is a likely minor league free agent, and is also Rule 5 eligible, but he also has never been considered a serious major league prospect, and the Twins seem to have decided that there is no reason to protect Miller with a roster spot anymore. Frankly, I like Miller -- I think that his minor league record (career 3.39 ERA and nearly twice as many K's as walks) indicates that he has something that helps him get guys out, even if it isn't pure stuff. Nevertheless, I can't get particularly worked up about this move.

Just as an aside before I speculate on who is likely to get added to the roster in Miller's place, I've noticed that the Twins website doesn't include Chris Basak on the 40-man roster, and neither does any other roster I've seen (on ESPN.com, for instance). However, I've looked at the transactions very closely and I believe he's still on the roster. Basak was claimed off waivers from the Yankees in mid August, and was promptly optioned to AAA. Since that time, there's been no more news regarding his status. That leads me to believe that he is, in fact, still on the roster. Leslie Parker's article on the Twins website (linked above) provides support for this proposition, since it mentions that after Miller's outrighting, the Twins have two open slots left. If Basak wasn't on the roster, then the Twins would have three open slots rather than two. I'll stick by my position, then, until and unless someone shows me a transaction that removed him from the roster.

As for the speculation on who gets added, I think the most obvious candidate is Nick Blackburn. Not only has Blackburn put together a very solid season, he's also eligible both for the Rule 5 draft and for minor league free agency. With the performance that he put up this year, the Twins will want to protect him, so he would have to be added shortly after the season ended anyway. Since spots are available, there's no reason not to add him now and maybe give him a chance to make his major league debut.

If the Twins elect to add another player to the roster before the season is over, the smart money is probably on Jose Morales, a catcher who has had a very solid year for the Red Wings. Like Blackburn, Morales is Rule 5 eligible, and is no longer in the shadows. If he is not added to the roster, someone will draft him, and the Twins almost certainly aren't going to let that happen.

Another possibility is middle infielder Matt Tolbert, who has also been much discussed as a potential callup throughout the year. Tolbert will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this winter, so as with Blackburn and Morales, adding him to the roster is very likely. I think his chances of being added before the end of the season are slimmer than Morales' chances, however -- but I would expect that before November, he'll be on the squad.

It's always possible that the Twins could throw a curveball in this area, but I somehow doubt it. Look for one, and possibly two, of the players named above to be added to the roster -- and watch for any players not mentioned next spring.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Five Things to Watch in September

The Twins playoff hopes are pretty much dead, but that doesn't mean fans should tune out -- a lot can happen in September that sets up the coming year, for instance. With that in mind, here are the five things I'm most looking forward to watching as the season winds down:

1.) The Starting Pitching Throwdown

Carlos Silva is a free agent at the end of the year and will probably be gone. Johan Santana may be on the trading block. The free agent starters available on the market this winter will be too similar to Ramon Ortiz for fans to have any hope of help coming from those quarters. All of this means that next year's starting rotation will almost certainly be even younger and less experienced than this year's crew, overall -- and this September should set up the fight.

Of course, we've already seen extended tryouts for Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Matt Garza -- to varying levels of success, I might add. But is there any doubt that Kevin Slowey will get a few starts in September to show of his talents? Or that Glen Perkins will pitch a bit assuming he's healthy? The Twins may even find a way to get someone like Nick Blackburn in a position to pitch in a game or two (Blackburn is eligible in the Rule 5 Draft and also by my count would be eligible to become a minor league free agent after this season, so at some point fairly soon he should be added to the 40-man roster).

While a player's performance in September is less meaningful than his performance in the spring, the coaching staff will nonetheless come to some conclusions about what they think these guys can do. My early guess? Santana sticks around for next year and the rotation looks like this: Santana, Garza, Liriano (in May), Slowey, Perkins. That, of course, would exclude Bonser and Baker -- but a couple of guys are going to be the odd men out no matter who makes the rotation.

2.) Can the Twins finish second?

A playoff berth is exceedingly unlikely at this point, but could the Twins move past the Tigers to finish second? The Tigers are 11-17 in August, while the Twins are 12-15. If the Tigers kept up their mediocre play and the Twins improved modestly, they could make up the 4.5 game difference to finish in second place. That wouldn't get them anything tangible, but it would at least be something to hang onto heading into what could be a tumultuous off-season. The Twins have nothing to worry about from the teams below them in the standings (and how unbelievable has the White Sox meltdown been? I mean, seriously, this team needs to be blown up, stat!), so concentrating on advancing a place in the standings should be the focus. After all, in order to win the division (which is still mathematically possible at least), they'll have to catch the Tigers first, so it isn't a distraction of any kind. I'd consider a second place finish at this point a victory.

3.) Saying Goodbye -- Conditionally

Who's to say what this off-season will bring? Torii Hunter is a free agent and may be on his way out of town. Johan Santana may be on the trading block. If this is to be the end of either or both of their Twin careers, I want to see them end with sensational finishes -- but no matter how they play I'll savor their performances and do my best to lock them into my memory, just in case. There's going to be a lot of time after the season ends to talk about the merits of bringing Hunter back or of trading Johan -- but no matter how come out on either of those issues, there's no question that they are two of the most significant members of the current roster. If they're going to be gone, I want to be prepared.

4.) Infield Battles

We won't see everyone who will be competing for an infield spot in 2008 during September -- there isn't room for all of them on the roster -- but you'll see plenty. For starters, Alexi Casilla will continue to get an extended look as the club's second baseman -- a position that he might be competing with Nick Punto for. Brian Buscher and Tommy Watkins may resume their battle at third (one I fully expect Buscher to win). And then there's the backup middle infielder competition, which will likely involve Punto, the exiled Luis Rodriguez, Watkins, Chris Basak, Alejandro Machado if he gets healthy (unlikely), and maybe one of Matt Macri or Matt Tolbert. Several of these players will make the roster in 2008 -- the question is which ones.

5.) Major League Debuts

It's been a banner year for Twins MLB debuts this year -- I'm probably missing someone, but by my count, the Twins have seen Julio DePaula, Jason Miller, Kevin Slowey, Brian Buscher, Garrett Jones, and Tommy Watkins make their debut in 2007. Could more names be added to that list in September? The Twins 40-man roster currently sits at 39, so any number of minor leaguers could be added and called up (Tolbert, Macri, Blackburn, Duensing, Morales) to make their debut. And then there are the guys already on the 40-man who could get the call -- especially the heir-apparent in center field if Torii Hunter leaves, one Denard Span. Players like Ricky Barrett, Jose Mijares, and Oswaldo Sosa are also on the roster, but are quite a bit less likely to be called up in September for a debut. No matter who it is, however, it's a good bet that one or two more players will get the chance to play in the bigs for the first time in September, and I love watching a big league debut.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Blog Update

My apologies for the lack of blogging over the last couple of days -- the new semester has begun, and that's always a bit of a crazy time. I intend to post a few thoughts tomorrow on the off day to catch up, and hopefully I'll be able to settle into a rhythm in September.

Unfortunately, even if I had been blogging over the last few days, there wouldn't have been a lot of good things to say. As I (and many others) said prior to the start of the Indians series, the Twins needed to at the very least win the series in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Instead, they've been swept -- and they are now 8.5 games out. Mathematically, there is still a chance, but the odds are rather long to say the least. That puts us back where we were a month ago, when it seemed quite clear that the Twins were going nowhere -- rather than where we were a few days ago when hope was springing forth again. Such is life -- we've been spoiled the last few years (although I would rather have been really spoiled with a World Series title), and now things are settling back in. At least, as they say, there's always next year.


Monday, August 27, 2007

AFL Rosters Announced

The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced today, and the Twins will have 7 players on the roster of the Phoenix Desert Dogs -- the affiliate that the Twins will share this year with the Athletics, Orioles, Pirates, and White Sox.

It's always exciting to see which players are assigned to the AFL, because it's usually a pretty good indication of who the team believes in for the future. Of course, there's always a curveball somewhere in the roster, and this year is no exception. Here's the list:

Nick Blackburn - RHP - AAA
Brian Duensing - LHP - AAA
Ryan Mullins - LHP - AA
Anthony Swarzak - RHP - AA
Drew Butera - C - AA
Trevor Plouffe - SS - AA
David Winfree - 1B/3B - AA

Here are some thoughts on each of them:

Nick Blackburn
When the year started, Blackburn was a middling pitching prospect at the AA prospect whose odds of making it to the big leagues some day were fairly slim. After all, Blackburn was drafted in the 29th round back in 2001 -- which isn't exactly a place where a lot of top prospects come from. His track record was also spotty -- he would occasionally put up a really nice year (2.77 ERA in 84.1 innings for Quad Cities in 2004; 1.84 ERA in 49 innings for New Britain in 2005), but never for a long enough period of time or at a high enough level to fully sell it. Last year, in his first full season in AA, Blackburn had a 4.42 ERA in 132.1 innings -- not that bad, really, but also not numbers that demonstrated that he was a top talent, either.

Then, this year rolled around and everything changed for Blackburn. He started the season by putting up a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings for New Britain before being promoted to Rochester, where he's been even better -- 2.12 ERA in 97.2 innings. It would appear that Blackburn has arrived. The AFL is a chance for Blackburn to keep up his solid performance and earn himself an invitation to Spring Training '08.

Brian Duensing
Unlike Blackburn, Duensing was supposed to succeed. The Twins drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, and he's mostly had success in his time since then. Duensing's only poor stretch since joining the Twins was a 7 game, 40.1 inning stint with the Miracle in 2006 where he put up a 4.46 ERA -- but other than that, he's been extremely solid at every level. This year has been no exception, as Duensing started off with a 2.66 ERA in 50.2 innings with New Britain before being moved up to Rochester. Since the promotion, Duensing has put up a 2.97 ERA in 103 innings of work. As with Blackburn, a solid performance in the AFL likely means an invite to Spring Training '08 and a chance to try to get himself inserted into the conversation with the likes of Perkins, Garza, Slowey, Baker, Bonser, and Blackburn.

Ryan Mullins
Mullins, like Duensing, was a Twins 3rd round pick -- in fact, he was the next year's 3rd round pick, in 2005. Also like Duensing, Mullins has moved quickly through the Twins organization, generally with a great deal of success at each level. He started off with a 2.18 ERA in 53.2 innings in Elizabethton after signing in 2005. Then, in 2006, Mullins spent the entire season in Beloit and put up a 3.86 ERA in 156.1 innings. This season has been a big one for Mullins, as he started off in Ft. Myers, where in 54.2 innings he had a 1.98 ERA before being promoted to New Britain. Success with the Rock Cats (3.67 ERA in 68.2 innings) earned him another promotion, to Rochester -- but a rather horrifying 10.57 ERA in 15.1 innings of work caused him to be busted back down to New Britain. Even with the poor performance in Rochester, Mullins success everywhere else has him poised to be next year's Duensing -- rising to the AAA level sometime in 2008 and possibly getting into the conversation for a starting spot in the 2009 rotation or thereabouts.

Anthony Swarzak
The 2007 season started off poorly for Swarzak after he was suspended for 50 games on April 20 after testing positive for a "drug of abuse." Swarzak said all of the right things about the situation, and returned to action with the Ft. Myers Miracle when his suspension was up. When he returned, the former 2nd round pick pitched as if he hadn't missed a beat, posting a 2.30 ERA in 3 starts with the Miracle before being promoted to New Britain. Since the promotion, Swarzak has put up a 3.23 ERA in 75.1 innings. Hopefully, the suspension will prove to be a minor blip on Swarzak's career history -- certainly, the way he's pitching, it looks like that may be the case. Incidentally, the suspension coupled with Swarzak's strong performance pretty much made him a shoe-in for the AFL -- he missed nearly two months of the season, so extended action seems a perfect fit.

Drew Butera
Surprise! I mentioned that there's always a curveball, and this year there's no question that it's Butera. The son of former Twin Sal Butera, Drew was acquired from the Mets in the deadline deal for Luis Castillo. Butera was a 5th round pick in the 2005 draft, but has always been known more for his defensive ability than for his offense. As a matter of fact, Butera has just a career .212 average in the minors so far in his career, and while he's hitting .250 since joining the Twins organization, that's in just 28 AB's. Honestly, I'm not sure why the Twins would choose to send someone like Butera to the AFL rather than, say, Jose Morales -- a much better offensive catcher who seems like a more promising prospect.

Trevor Plouffe
Plouffe's career with the Twins has been, shall we say, a bit up and down. Plouffe was a first round pick back in 2004, and he started off solid with Elizabethton by hitting .283 in 237 AB's. Unfortunately, his offense collapsed in 2005 and 2006, when he hit .223 with Beloit and .244 with Ft. Myers respectively. Nonetheless, the Twins have continued to promote Plouffe, and this season Plouffe's offense has recovered a bit with him hitting .277 in 469 AB's with New Britain to this point. While his defense has left something to be desired (reaching the 20 error threshold is . . . well . . . not so good), it's happened in large part because of the (supposedly) sub-par infield in New Britain. To become a legit prospect again, Plouffe needs to continue to improve offensively, and the AFL will hopefully be a significant part of that process.

David Winfree
Winfree is the sole Twins returnee to the AFL from last season, and he's in need of a solid performance this winter after putting up a disappointing year with New Britain. Winfree has hit .256 in 403 AB's for the Rock Cats this season, and while that's not terrible, it's also not particularly good. His power numbers have also declined significantly, from 13 homers in 261 AB's in 2006 with Ft. Myers (roughly 20 AB's per homer) to 9 homers in 403 AB's this season (about 45 AB's per homer). All of this means that the 13th round pick from 2003 needs a pick me up, and maybe the AFL can provide it.

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Some perspective is needed, methinks . . .

This is going to be a very short post in which I throw my hands up in the air and scream "whaaaaa?". The news world has had a busy day, with a couple of fairly major stories both breaking -- the story of Michael Vick pleading guilty to charges stemming from his rather foolish dogfighting operation, and the story of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez resigning.

Now, I have no doubt that I'm in a bit of a bubble on this, being a law student. I rather naturally tend to regard law related issues as noteworthy -- and also being a politics junky, I tend to view major political news as noteworthy. Despite these biases, I don't think I'm wrong in saying that the story of an embattled AG unexpectedly resigning trumps the story of an athlete, even a very, very good athlete, pleading guilty -- especially when everyone already knew on Friday that a plea deal had been reached. Nonetheless, CNN and MSNBC have both chosen to highlight the Vick story as "The Major Story" of the day.

To me, this is a senseless decision -- on par with the nonstop coverage of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Paris Hilton which shamefully muck up the prime spots on the major news outlets' websites. Am I wrong? Is Vick's plea really bigger news than the resignation of the AG? Or is this just another example of the MSM (mainstream media) getting something horribly wrong? I'll note for the record that The Drudge Report (which, love him or hate him, is an absolutely crucial stop for me about 10 times a day, without which I would not receive a lot of my news) has the AG story splashed in red type at the top of his page. At least some news sources have their priorities straight.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Random Stuff

I've been absent from the blog since the Orioles series started, which is really too bad since the Twins have been playing well, stoking the dying embers of the fans' hopes for a post-season run. Here are some notes on things from the last few days that I haven't yet been able to comment on:

1.) First things first -- I am not retracting my statement that I don't think the Twins have a legitimate chance at the playoffs. They have the offensive firepower of, say, the Swedish Army. They have a bunch of young guys in the rotation. Injuries have been piling up. But, even though I don't think a run for the playoffs will ultimately be successful doesn't mean that I'm not having fun with the thought. If it happened, it would require a great month-plus of play, and that would be fun to watch. I just caution those whose optimism has been rekindled from the Twins last 4 games to remember that three of the them have come against the Orioles, a team that just gave up 30 runs to the Rangers. In other words, it doesn't mean much. Let's see how they play against Cleveland before we get too excited.

2.) Dennys Reyes has been placed on the DL to make room for Chris Heintz, who gets called back up largely because Joe Mauer has a tweaked hamstring and will miss at least several games. That comment I made about injuries would be applicable here. As for why Heintz got the call over Jose Morales, who has had an excellent year -- the answer is pretty simple. Heintz is on the 40-man roster, and has a bit of Major League experience. Morales will get his shot soon enough -- if not this September, then certainly next spring.

3.) Torii Hunter seems to have rebuffed the Twins in a recent effort to sign him. Fair enough -- but this is interesting to me more of what it signifies about the Twins plans than it is for the rejection itself. After all, there's still time for the Twins and Hunter to come to a meeting of the minds, but the fact that they're pursuing him at all indicates that the team recognizes how much trouble they'll be in if Hunter leaves the team this off-season. More on this after the season, but for now, suffice it to say that I support this move. There's just no way to replace Hunter in the lineup with anything available through free agency, and a trade for an offensive player of his quality is highly unlikely. Even if his productivity falls off at the end of any deal, the Twins probably need to accept that if they're to have any chance of success in the next 2 or 3 years.

4.) Nice to see Jason Bartlett go 4-for-4 yesterday to get his average up to .275. Not so nice to see Nick Punto fall back to .200 after going 0-for-2.

5.) A Twins sweep today could help build some significant momentum going into the potentially huge 3 gamer against Cleveland that starts tomorrow. A bad series against the Indians would just about kill the Twins playoff hopes -- a sweep against the Indians, however, would make things very interesting.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Watkins to the DL

It looks as if Ron Gardenhire was right when he suggested that it didn't look good for Watkins following yesterday's game; the Twins have sent Watkins to the DL, replacing him on the roster by activating Brian Buscher from the DL.

While this move was not a surprise (there had been strong indications that Buscher would return as soon as he was eligible -- that didn't happen, since he could have come off yesterday, but a one day delay isn't shocking considering that, before Watkins injury, the Twins biggest concern was keeping arms in the bullpen who were ready to go), it is a frustrating setback for Watkins -- and his newfound fans.

Unfortunately, I can't help but thinking about another inspiring success story that was derailed by injury -- presumably for good. In 2005, the Twins called up Glenn Williams, a journeyman third baseman who, like Watkins, had spent forever and a day in the minors without a hint of a callup (he was in his 12th season in the minors, so he had Watkins beat out by a couple of years on that front). Also like Watkins, Williams had never shown much prowess with the bat prior to that season (he was hitting .303 in 175 AB's with Rochester when he was called up, but had never hit above .274 in any previous season, and was usually somewhere between .230 and .260). Then, amazingly, Williams got the call -- and he delivered. In 13 games (40 AB's) with the Twins, Williams picked up 17 hits, for a .425 average, hitting safely in every game in which he played. And then -- disaster struck in the form of a shoulder injury that kept him out for the rest of the year. Williams has been stuck in AAA since then, and is hitting just .230 this season after hitting .257 last year.

For Watkins' sake, and for the sake of his new fans, we should all hope that the parallels between these two players stop here. A quick recovery and a return to the big leagues in September would be a great start.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nightly Notes: Game #126

The Twins made their way back to .500 this afternoon with a win over the Mariners. Here are some thoughts on the game -- and from around the league:

1.) Michael Cuddyer hasn't had a particularly good August, hitting just .209 going into today's game. Recently, though, he's been the key to a few Twins victories, and seems to be starting to see the ball a bit better. Today's grand slam was the key to sparking the Twins win, and is hopefully an indication of how Cuddyer will hit the rest of the season.

2.) It sounds as if Tommy Watkins may be headed to the disabled list after he "pulled something" in his leg. I just mentioned the other day how good (if surprising) it was to see Watkins succeed at the big league level, and I agree with Pat Reusse (see the link above) that this is a major disappointment for fans who had been yearning for some good news in a season that hasn't exactly been filled with great stories. I hope that Watkins injuries aren't significant, but it doesn't sound good.

3.) Congratulations to Garrett Jones on picking up his first Major League RBI in today's ballgame.

4.) Jason Kubel went 3-for-4 today, and is hitting .375 in August. That has raised his batting average from .241 on July 30 to .255 now. I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe Kubel will be able to finally step up and take on a regular role for the team next year. I know that that was the hope this year as well, but he's starting to show that he can rake. Maybe he'll keep it up.

5.) Even I, a long defender of Nick Punto, cannot avoid noticing that his batting average is now sitting at a ghastly .199 for the season. Yikes.

6.) In case you somehow managed to miss it, the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles tonight by a score of 30-3. Yes, you read that correctly. Just check out the box score and see how utterly absurd it looks. You have to think that, for the Orioles, this went beyond embarrassing and just sort of became amusing at some point.


Bye Bye L-Rod

I'm almost speachless. In case you haven't heard the news, Luis Rodriguez has been optioned to AAA Rochester by the Twins, with RHP Julio DePaula taking his place on the roster. I've been a very vocal critic of L-Rod for pretty much the entire season, but had called a truce after looking at his numbers over the past 6 weeks or so (my conclusion: he's actually been playing reasonably well in very limited action). However, this move delights me -- Rodriguez was an unnecessary spare part for the Twins, and with Nick Punto now back in the uber-utility role, there was really no reason to keep Rodriguez on the roster.

The biggest beneficiary of this move is probably Tommy Watkins, who with his consistent play has likely earned a place on the team for the rest of the season, even after Brian Buscher returns. Had the Twins decided to keep Rodriguez up, I'm guessing Watkins would have been sent down for a week until rosters expanded in September. Rodriguez will probably return in September (there'd be no reason not to call him up again), but this way the option was used on Rodriguez -- a player who isn't that useful for the Twins long-term -- rather than on Watkins, who at least might be useful.

This move comes about four months too late, but I'll take it nonetheless.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The surprising success of Tommy Watkins

When the Twins called up Tommy Watkins on August 9, I suggested that I didn't think he would have much success at the Major League level. After all, not much in his history as a player suggested that Major League success was forthcoming: he was a 38th round draft pick in 1998, he was 27-years-old already, his highest average in any season was .276 -- there just wasn't a lot to indicate that Watkins would do much of anything at the Major League level.

It's not yet time to completely re-evaluate that position, because Watkins has just 20 at-bats in the bigs, and that's not enough time to really gauge much of anything about a player. However, it's been a very solid 20 AB's -- Watkins is hitting .350 (7-for-20) with 3 walks and 3 K's. Defensively, Watkins has yet to make an error -- although his range factor is very low, suggesting that he might not be making errors because he might not be getting to balls (although in just 6 games, statistical noise may account for Watkins not having had many chances for putouts or assists, which are the components of the Range Factor stat).

If nothing else, Watkins' solid performance so far for the Twins could make things interesting next spring when the Twins put together their infield; if he continues to perform, he's going to put himself into a competition with Luis Rodriguez, Alejandro Machado, Chris Basak, and Matt Tolbert as the teams utility infielder. The situation will be complicated by Nick Punto's role on the team -- if the Twins manage to find a third baseman somewhere, then Punto will likely return to utility duty.

No matter what Watkins' role will be in the future, one thing is certain -- his story has so far been a very good one, the story of a player who has persevered and kept up a good attitude, and finally made good. I wish Watkins well as he tries to prove that his early success with the stick is more than a fluke.


Monday, August 20, 2007

My evolving stance on Santana

On a night when the Twins seem headed to a near-certain defeat following a rather horrid performance from Matt Garza, it seems like a good time to focus on this weekends events rather than today's game -- and of course, the biggest news of the weekend was the stunningly amazing performance by Johan Santana yesterday. For a guy who was throwing essentially two pitches (he pretty much limited himself to his fastball and his changeup, in case you hadn't read that in any of the very good articles on yesterday's game that have been churned out in the last 30 hours or so), it was remarkable.

As I was watching Santana striking out Ranger after Ranger yesterday, I got to thinking yet again about Santana's future with the Twins. My position on this has been consistent and clear -- sign him for whatever he wants. Break the bank. He's the best pitcher in baseball, and that kind of talent cannot be allowed to leave. I've been saying this since the middle of the last off-season, and with my foolish optimism I believed that the Twins would try to come to terms with Santana this past spring.

Of course, that didn't happen -- and in the meantime, Santana decided to play "annoyed fan of the day" when he complained about Terry Ryan's decision to trade away Luis Castillo and not add anyone in his place. I've stated before that I think that view is wrong, but I can understand from the standpoint of a guy on the team who feels that management isn't doing enough to win. It may not demonstrate that Santana has the goods to be a GM, but it does show that he wants to win and I really don't mind that at all. Santana's comments in late July started up a feeding frenzy on the part of the national media over the question of when -- not if -- Santana would no longer be a Twin.

A funny thing happened as I read the articles and listened to the radio debate on ESPN radio during my commute -- to put it bluntly, I started to change my mind. I haven't fully signed on to the "trade Santana this winter" viewpoint, but I'm now much closer to neutral on this issue than I was before. Before I launch into the reasons why, I want to reiterate what I just said so as to make my current viewpoint abundantly clear: I want Johan Santana to remain a Twin for the rest of his career. I believe the Twins should do just about anything to sign him to a 5 or 6 year deal, and they should make the money enticing enough to make him forgo his impending free agency. The reason why is simple -- letting go a Hall of Fame pitcher (and while he'll never reach the 300 wins that for some reason marks a magic number, I have no doubt that when things are said and done Santana will make it to the Hall on the strength of a stretch of utter dominance that he's still in the middle of) is just not a very sound move.

So, you ask, why have I come closer to accepting the need for a trade? The answer should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Twins play this season -- the offense is horrible. There are glaring holes at 3B, LF, and DH -- and CF is about to be a major problem if Torii Hunter bolts town this winter. Now, teams can go about addressing holes in three basic ways: promotion of players from the minor leagues; free agency; and trades. Unfortunately for the Twins, the first two aren't really options.

Let's start by looking at minor league players. The Twins had hoped that Matt Moses would step it up this season for Rochester so that he could compete for the 3B job in Spring Training 2008. Instead, Moses has regressed -- he played so poorly, in fact, that he was demoted to New Britain midway through the season. His replacement at Rochester was, of course, Brian Buscher -- and while Buscher should get about 5-6 weeks to prove himself at the position, I have serious doubts about the ability of a player who was just claimed by the Twins in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft last winter to be able to step in and claim a starting spot with a Major League team. In the outfield, the Twins have Denard Span, who has had a mediocre season in Rochester (although there are those, such as a commenter in my AAA update post from last week, who feel that the Twins may be perfectly happy with the improvement that Span has shown from the beginning of the season to know -- put simply, I disagree, but here's some equal time for that view) doesn't seem near ready to step in for Torii in CF, and he isn't an option in left or at DH. Jason Kubel may still develop into an every day player, but at what point do we as fans have to stop relying on that? Beyond that, the options are slim -- Josh Rabe? Completely unproven. Trent Oeljten? Doug Deeds? Garrett Jones? None of these guys are viable options to step in and nail down a position next year, and probably not ever. Forget about securing help from the minors.

What about free agency? Beyond the initial problem that a player has to actually be interested in joining the Twins for this to be a legitimate option (so, yeah, even if the Twins could afford him you can forget about Alex Rodriguez ever joining the Twins, for instance), there's the further problem that the players who are going to be available are, simply, underwhelming. Look at the names of eligible third basemen, and you'll likely spot the problem pretty quickly: Russell Branyan, Corey Koskie, Mike Lamb, Mike Lowell, Greg Norton, Abraham Nunez, Alex Rodriguez (if he opts out). Yep, that's the list. Amazing, huh? On that list, there are only two players who would help the Twins -- and as I already mentioned, A-Rod isn't an option. Mike Lowell is the only other player there who's even halfway decent, and as the only legitimate third baseman on the market, he'll probably be able to cash in elsewhere. There are more -- and better-- options available in the outfield, but the Twins would likely be confined to the bargain bin of players such as Reggie Sanders, Mike Cameron, and maybe a guy like a Geoff Jenkins or Corey Patterson. Improvements? Yes, indeedy, in most cases -- at least in LF. But these aren't the kinds of exciting, long-term fixes that the team really needs -- and they aren't exactly young, either.

The Twins, then, seem to be confined to improving the team through trades if they expect to actually have an offense next year. I'm not going to belabor this point and speculate on who could match up well with the Twins in a deal. Instead, I'm just going to say that if the Twins chose to deal Santana this off-season, when his value would be through the roof, they would probably be able to get major league ready players who could fill the holes at 3B, LF, and DH along with an upcoming prospect or two. The teams offense could be dramatically improved with one fell swoop.

Obviously, the downside is the havoc that this would wreak on the pitching staff -- and it would be considerable. The Twins appear to have the kinds of young arms that allow something like this to possibly pay off. Imagine a rotation next year with any five of Liriano, Garza, Baker, Bonser, Slowey, and Perkins. It would be young and raw -- and there would be games like tonight -- but I think those guys would be able to keep things close enough to allow the newly rejuvenated offense to win quite a few ballgames and compete for a playoff spot.

Ultimately, it comes down to this -- if the Twins keep Santana, the offense will continue to languish, and probably for the foreseeable future, since so much money would be tied up in Johan -- but the pitching should be absolutely top notch, and the team will still have a chance to win. If they trade Johan, they can patch most, if not all, of the holes in the offense and still have a very good rotation -- albeit one with a giant, gaping hole where a future Hall of Famer once resided.

It will not be an easy decision for Terry Ryan when the off-season rolls around -- but for the first time, I think the Twins have a chance to win either way. His decision will shape the direction of the team heading into the next 5 or 6 year stretch. Hopefully, he makes the right one.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Blog Update

Hey all,

Still alive, just haven't had a chance to post this weekend. I will have a post up tomorrow talking about Santana's brilliant start, the 1987 World Series team, and the series against the Rangers. Until then, to steal a phrase, good night and good luck.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Catching up with the Minors -- Part III

This if the final post in a series in which I've looked at the good and the bad from this season's minor league teams. These are just highlights -- the players who have most caught my eye on the good side and the bad. I'll be doing a much more comprehensive analysis of the minor league teams once the post-season has begun. This final post will cover my thoughts on the AA New Britain Rock Cats and the AAA Rochester Red Wings.

New Britain Rock Cats

The Good

Garrett Guzman, OF, was drafted in 2001 and has slowly but surely risen through the ranks. For the most part, his seasons have been remarkably consistent -- and unremarkable. This season seems to be a bit different, as Guzman has put together a .304 batting average and 13 homers, which is easily his best season since his days in the GCL back in 2001. Those numbers virtually assure that he'll spend 2008 in Rochester. I'm also very pleased with the performance of Trevor Plouffe (SS) this year, even though it hasn't been perfect -- he's made 24 errors (albeit on what I've read is a terrible infield), and he's hitting just .279, which isn't all that remarkable. Nonetheless, this has to be considered a very positive season for Plouffe after he struggled mightily in 2005 with Beloit and 2006 with Ft. Myers. I don't expect him to be promoted at the start of next season (though it is a possibility) -- but he seems to be doing what he can to regain his status as a legitimate prospect.

On the pitching side, Oswaldo Sosa has started just 5 games in New Britain, but his season clearly has been excellent. Sosa started off in Ft. Myers, where he posted a 2.23 ERA in 105 innings before being sent up. In his 5 starts with the Rock Cats, Sosa has put up a 3.45 ERA in 28.2 innings, which is still pretty solid. Beyond that, the really impressive Rock Cats pitchers have all found their way up to Rochester.

The Bad

At the top of the list has to be Matt Moses, the once (and maybe future) top third base prospect in the future. Moses, who was the Twins first round selection in the 2003 draft, has so far been a bust. This year, he failed miserably in Rochester and was sent back to New Britain, being passed on the way by Brian Buscher, who proceeded to get an unexpected callup to the bigs. The Twins seem to have been hoping that Moses would take a step forward in 2007, positioning himself to take over in the Majors in 2008. Instead, Moses hit .224 in Rochester, and is hitting just .257 with New Britain. Things aren't looking good for Moses' future at this point, but of course he'll get another chance next year.

On the mound, there are a number of candidates for being on this list, but the top choice has to be Tristan Crawford. The right-handed swingman from Anchorage started his season in Rochester but lasted just 3 games, posting a 10.12 ERA in just 2.2 innings before being shipped back to New Britain. Since that time, he's put up a 5.56 ERA in 68 innings of work. That has to classify as a disappointment. The performance of righty reliever Danny Powers also has to be considered a disappointment (I'm breaking my rules here -- Powers has been demoted to Ft. Myers, but hasn't been there for long, so I'm including him on this list). After starting his season with 2 solid seasons of work, Powers put up a 5.28 ERA in 59.2 innings of work, which is a step backwards for him.

Rochester Red Wings

The Good

Jose Morales (C) was once something akin to a top-level prospect, back when he was drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2001 draft. His 2001 season in the GCL wasn't much, but in 2002 he hit .309 in 175 AB's to demonstrate that he had some ability with the stick. His 2003 and 2004 seasons were solid but unremarkable, and then things took a turn for the worst. Morales played in just 7 games in 2005 due to injury, and posted a .215 average in 251 AB's for New Britain in 2006. Imagine the surprise, then, when Morales returned to form this season by hitting .324 in 324 AB's. You have to love a guy making good, and hopefully Morales can back it up next season. I also have to mention Matt Tolbert (IF/LF), who has been constantly mentioned this season as being on the verge of a Major League callup thanks to his solid offensive season. Tolbert cooled off a bit in the summer, but is still hitting .305 on the year in 357 AB's.

On the mound, there are almost more deserving names than I can fit in a reasonably sized column. Forgetting about those players (Garza and Baker) who started the season in AAA and have since been promoted, there are still at least three guys who deserve a mention. First is phenom Kevin Slowey, who has a 9-3 record and a 1.77 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 89-14 K-BB ratio. He's also made his Major League debut, of course, and even though his stint in the bigs wasn't exactly what he was hoping for, this season still has to be considered a tremendous success for him -- he showed glimpses of what his future should hold. Also making the list are two pitchers who started off in New Britain but have risen to Rochester and, frankly, dominated. First off is Nick Blackburn, who is 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 48-19 K-BB ratio. At the beginning of the year, he was not really on anybodies radar -- how could he be, when players like Garza, Slowey, Baker, and Perkins were ahead of him on the depth chart? Now, he's positioned himself to get an invite to Spring Training and a long look from the developmental staff. A 2008 Major League debut wouldn't be at all surprising for Blackburn. Finally, former Nebraska lefty Brian Duensing had a similar trajectory to Blackburn this year, also starting in New Britain and earning a promotion. Since his callup, Duensing is 10-3 with a 2.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 60-26 K-BB ratio. Those numbers certainly aren't as amazing as Slowey's or Blackburn's, but there's no question that he's been very solid.

The Bad

How could anyone other than Matt LeCroy be at the top of this list? Honestly, I almost didn't include him, simply because he's not exactly a prospect. Nonetheless, LeCroy has managed to be so spectacularly bad that he deserves inclusion on this list even if his performance is, ultimately, of no consequence whatsoever. LeCroy is hitting a whopping .195 on the year, along with a .279 On-base percentage and a .543 OPS in 231 AB's. Also on the list, largely due to the lofty expectations that he started the year off with, is centerfielder Denard Span. Span has managed to hit just .252 in 432 AB's. That's not an inspiring number for a player who many in the organization (and outside the organization) believed would get a chance to replace Torii Hunter in center for the Twins in 2008. That now seems like a very dubious proposition, indeed.

On the mound, the most disappointing performance to me has been that of Dave Gassner, who at one point seemed to be a top prospect. After being injured for much of 2006, Gassner was removed from the 40-man roster and was placed in AAA to see if he could hang with the young guns listed above. Instead, he's posted a 5.21 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 126 innings of work. Gassner's time in the organization has, unfortunately, very likely passed.


Two Transactions and Some Speculation

Not necessarily in that order . . .

First, the Twins have called up Garrett Jones to replace Ramon Ortiz on the roster. My prediction earlier this year that Jones would be up and down like a yoyo this season has turned out to be true, but this is likely to be the end of that process. Jones is very likely to now be in the most important stretch of his Twins career, and possibly of his professional career; as I've mentioned before, this is Jones' last available option year, so the Twins will need to make a decision on what to do with him going into next year. If Jones performs well over the last 6 weeks of the season, he'll drastically increase his chances of making the team next season. If he doesn't, he'll have to prove himself in Spring Training next year (if he's still around), and that's usually not an easy thing to do (just ask Michael Restovich and J.D. Durbin).

Now, for the speculation -- I think that it's incredibly telling that Jones was called up rather than Lew Ford, and I strongly believe that this means its over for Ford as a Twin. Don't get me wrong -- he's bound to get a September callup, because it would make no sense not to have him available once rosters expand. But if Ford has fallen far enough down the depth chart to not even be the first outfielder called up, then there's really no reason to keep him. I wanted the Twins to nontender him last winter, but they chose to keep him around, and that decision didn't work out at all. This winter, the Twins are unlikely to make the same mistake this off-season. The Twins are undoubtedly asking around to see if anybody needs a spare part outfielder, but it's very, very unlikely that they'll find any takers. Instead, Ford will almost certainly hang on the roster until December, when he's finally non-tendered.

I could be wrong, of course. There are legitimate reasons to call up Jones even if the team intended to keep Lew Ford beyond this season. For starters, Jones is a left-handed hitter, and the Twins could have decided that they'd rather have a lefty off the bench rather than a righty. For another, as I mentioned earlier, the Twins are in full-on evaluation mode on Jones, while Ford is a known quantity. The Twins know that Ford will rejoin the team in 15 days, anyway, so they may have decided to bring Jones up early solely for evaluation purposes. I don't think that either of these explanations are the right one, though -- instead, as I mentioned, I think this spells the end of the Lew Ford era.

Finally, the Twins claimed infielder Chris Basak off of waivers from the Yankees. Basak is a 28 year old who was drafted in the 6th round back in the 2000 draft. His contract was purchased on June 5 of this year, but I've not yet had time to do any more in depth research to find out whether or not Basak was ever on a major league roster before. If not, then this season would be his first and only option year, so by claiming him the Twins will have bought themselves two more option years on a backup utility infielder, essentially. More info will be forthcoming if there's more info to give. For now, this claim makes perfect sense for the Twins -- although it means that the club has acquired two infielders in two days, which has to dishearten Matt Tolbert a little bit.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Nightly Notes: Game #120

It would have been very interesting to watch today's game, if for no other reason than to see the Twins finally win a series again. Instead, I'll settle for posting an old-fashioned nightly notes column -- the kind I haven't posted in 10 games. One more thing -- I'll post my last minor league update column tomorrow on the off day. Here are tonight's notes:

1.) First things first -- congratulations to Tommy Watkins for picking up his first major league hit (and adding another one for good measure), as well as his first big league run. I don't know how many more he'll get (I rather expect him to be sent down once Brian Buscher is activated, and even if he returns in September when rosters expand he'll be fighting a rough battle for playing time). Nevertheless, today is a good day for Watkins, and I'd like to see Gardy give him another start on Friday against the Rangers.

2.) Scott Baker seems to respond well to getting pounded -- on the 10th, he gave up 6 runs on 9 hits in 5.1 innings against the Angels, and he bounced back by going 6.1 innings and giving up just 1 run (although on 8 hits, which is rather high). Back on July 6, Baker gave up 7 runs on 9 hits in 5 innings, and then responded by going 6 innings and giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits his next time out. It's not an ideal way to muddle along, but so long as he has performances like the one against Cleveland on the 5th, or today against the Mariners, I'm willing to go along.

3.) After a relatively cool June (.275 BA) and a downright cold August (.239 BA), Torii Hunter has been heating up again in August, including a 5-for-9 stretch over the last two games of the Mariners series.

4.) Jason Bartlett appears to be headed to the DL. As many others have commented today, this is unfortunate because he's been playing fairly well of late. It will be interesting to see what the Twins do with this roster spot.

5.) I would be remiss to not mention the Ramon Ortiz trade, but let's be honest -- this is not deserving of a top billing. Ortiz has been a mere afterthought for months now, and that wasn't going to change. Making this trade made a great deal of sense for the team. In return, they picked up Matt Macri, an infielder who has had a solid season. Macri, who hit .298 this season in AA with some power, is rebounding from a poor 2006 campaign in which he hit .232 in 289 AB's. This seems like a pretty good trade to me -- a completely useless player gone from the roster in exchange for a 25-year-old former 5th round pick. Incidentally, the Twins have obviously liked Macri for awhile -- they drafted him in the 17th round of the 2001 draft, but he elected to go to Notre Dame instead of signing. He was then picked up in 2004 by the Rockies. Kudos to Terry Ryan for making the swap.

6.) Finally, congrats are due to Rondell White for going deep tonight. That .164 batting average is awful, but maybe things are improving. Either way, we fans only have 6 more weeks to worry about whether Rondell White will recover his swing. For now, I'll take the homer.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Catching up with the Minors -- Part II

This series of posts is designed to provide my thoughts on who has delivered -- and who hasn't -- in the minor leagues this season for the Twins. Today's trip through the system will be focused on low A Beloit and high A Ft. Myers. Tomorrow, I'll finish the series with my thoughts on the players in AA New Britain and AAA Rochester.

Beloit Snappers

The Good

The biggest surprise on the offensive side of the ball for the Snappers this season has been a player who didn't even start the season with the team. Wilson Ramos, a catcher, began the season in extended spring training but was added to the Snappers roster on June 2. Since that time, he's hit .295 with 7 homers and a .795 OPS in 251 AB's. Ramos skipped over Elizabethton entirely, having spent the 2006 season in the GCL -- and that's a big part of the reason why his development this season has been so surprising. His numbers aren't overwhelming, but they're very solid and bode well for Ramos' future. Unfortunately, that's about where the good news ends for the Snappers offensively -- at least, for the players still with the team. Several players earned promotions, and I'll discuss them as appropriate when I get to the Miracle.

The Snappers have also seen a number of pitchers promoted to Ft. Myers, but there are more success stories still in Beloit. Left-handed starter Tyler Robertson, for instance, has a 2.30 ERA and a 7-3 record in 13 starts and a relief appearance this season. Last season's third round pick was moderately successful in the GCL last season, but as with Ramos he's taken his game to another level since joining the Snappers. Alex Burnett (3.01 ERA in 134.1 innings) and Cole DeVries (3.04 ERA in 127.1 innings) have also had excellent seasons. Finally, Anthony Slama joined the team in July after becoming one of the last players to sign from the 2006 draft. The former 39th rounder has shown that he's a steal so far, with a 2.35 ERA in 15.1 innings of work. Small sample size, yes -- but still a nice way to start off his career.

The Bad

Man, are there candidates for this! The top answer has to be Chris Parmelee, last season's first round pick, however. Parmelee has clubbed 13 homeruns this season, but he's hitting just .233 with a .707 OPS. The Midwest League hasn't exactly been kind to the Snappers this season, but these numbers are pretty bad nonetheless. It seems very unlikely that Parmelee will advance to start the 2008 season, so he'll need to deliver in his second go-round in Beloit next year to get back on the development path. And, while I didn't expect him to be great, I have to include Danny Santiesteban on this list as well for his very poor offensive performance this season. Santiesteban is hitting just .208 with a .600 OPS in 283 AB's for the Snappers. Yet another outfielder, Joe Benson, deserves a mention on this list for hitting just .242.

On the mound, there haven't been any jaw-droppingly bad performances. Brian Kirwan has a 5.25 ERA as a starter, and Jose Lugo has a 1.67 WHIP, but while those aren't good numbers they aren't terrible either. I'll give the pitchers a pass on this one and say that I'm pretty pleased overall.

Ft. Myers Miracle

The Good

The two hitters that I'm listing in this section were both elsewhere when the season began. Second baseman Brian Dinkelman has been very solid this season, both with Beloit (where he started the season), and with Ft. Myers since his promotion. Dinkelman is hitting .291 with an .853 OPS and 6 homers in 172 AB's. The 8th round pick from 2006 is very quickly demonstrating that he's a very solid prospect -- and there's at least a possibility that a solid last three weeks could be enough to get him to New Britain when next season starts. Also deserving a mention is the newly acquired Dustin Martin, who the Twins picked up in the Luis Castillo trade. Martin was hitting .287 with the Mets low-A team before the trade, and has been even better in 51 AB's since coming over to the Miracle, hitting .333 with a .955 OPS. Obviously, he's not going to keep that kind of performance up, but it still looks pretty darned good for now.

On the pitching side of the ledger, there are a number of players who have to be mentioned. First, Jeff Manship started the season in Beloit and dominated, earning himself a promotion to Ft. Myers. He's continued to pitch well in the Florida State League, with a 2.63 ERA in 54.2 innings. Another Beloit to Ft. Myers promotion was handed to Robert Delaney after he blew away the competition as the Snappers closer earlier this year. He, too, has continued his success, posting a 1.65 ERA in 15.1 innings since he moved up. Finally, Jay Rainville has had a strong return from injury this season, with a 3.24 ERA in 125 innings of work. A number of other pitchers deserve mention, but they've since been promoted so I'll save them for later.

The Bad

Look at some of these numbers: Caleb Moore, Catcher, .196 batting average in 163 AB's; Toby Gardenhire, Infield, .197 batting average in 188 AB's; Whit Robbins, Corner Infield, .210 batting average in 205 AB's; Edward Ovalle, Outfield, .220 batting average in 372 AB's. That's not even mentioning a number of guys who were hitting well under .200 and have since been demoted. Yuck.

None of the pitchers deserve to be on this list except for one who is no longer with the team -- Alex Smit, who was on the Twins 40-man roster. Smit had a 5.86 ERA through 50.2 innings with the Miracle before the Twins removed him from their roster and saw him claimed by the Reds. He's actually been pretty good since moving to the Reds organization, but there's no question that he was downright bad while in the Twins organization this season.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Catching up with the Minors -- Part I

It's about time I catch up with the minor leagues, so this post will be dedicated to taking a look at the good and the bad from the Rookie League teams in the system. Tomorrow, I'll be looking at the two A-ball clubs, and Wednesday I'll look at AA and AAA. With about three weeks to go before the minor league seasons come to an end, this is the last chance for players to make an impression this season. Here are my thoughts:

Gulf Coast League Twins

The Good

For my money, the best news from the GCL offensively this season is the solid performance of Ben Revere, the Twins first round pick in this year's draft. Revere has a solid .318 batting average and .837 OPS. Perhaps most remarkable so far, however, has been his excellent speed -- he's stolen 19 bases in 39 games while being caught 6 times, and he's hit a remarkable 9 triples in 151 at-bats. So far, Revere has been solid.

Another solid find has been third baseman Juan Richardson, who appeared out of nowhere to put up a .321 batting average (albeit with a less impressive .781 OPS) in 162 AB's. Minnesotan Andrew Schmiesing (11th round pick in '07) has also been a pleasant surprise, hitting .321 (.779 OPS) in 109 AB's. Finally, a shout-out to Nick Papasan, a 24th round pick in 2006 who started off this season injured -- he makes this list because he was one of the people I was interested in seeing perform this year, and he's finally made his way into a couple of ballgames, going 2-for-5 in his first couple of games.

On the pitching side, there have been a lot of very solid performances. I was most interested in seeing some of the Twins international talent start their professional careers, and for the most part they haven't disappointed. Tom Stuifbergen of the Netherlands has yet to give up a run in 7 innings of work; Nick Lobanov of Russia started with 3 scoreless innings before being placed on an inactive list (for reasons I haven't found, yet); Liam Hendricks of Australia has been brilliant as a starter, with a 1.32 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 34 innings of work; and Rodney Gessmann, who I was perhaps most interested in seeing perform, has been reasonably good with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 17.1 innings of relief. Hopefully it's the start of a long professional career -- although the odds are admittedly against any of these guys making it to the Major League level. I'll be cheering for each of them.

The Bad

Not all international debuts have been as steller as those of the pitchers listed above; Taiwan's Wang-Wei Lin has put up a .194 batting average and .555 OPS. I would guess that some of that is due to the difficulty of transitioning to life in the United States, and at only 19 Lin still has plenty of time to make that adjustment. I'm also going to include Daniel Rams in this category, but only tentatively -- after signing with the club, Rams (second round pick in this year's draft) started off on fire, but has hit just .143 in his last 10 games and is now hitting just .246 on the season with a .654 OPS. As with Lin, Rams certainly has plenty of time to turn it around, and it's important to remember that he signed relatively late and is certainly still adjusting to life as a professional.

On the pitching side of the equation, no one has struggled that seemed poised to be a solid performer -- but in the spirit of talking about the Twins international signings, I'll throw Jakub Toufar on this list -- the Czech reliever has a 7.36 ERA in 11 innings of work, placing him substantially behind the curve of his fellow internationals. Also disappointing this season has been Thomas Wright, a 23rd round selection in the 2006 draft who has a 6.00 ERA in 30 innings of work (8 starts and 1 relief appearance).

Elizabethton Twins

The Good

There's a clear front-runner in this category for Elizabethton, and his name is Ozzie Lewis. The Twins 21st round selection in the 2007 draft has played out of his mind so far for the E-Twins, with a .341 batting average and .990 OPS (including 9 dingers) in 173 AB's. When you get that kind of performance immediately out of a draft pick in the 20's, you have to be pleased. Lewis hasn't exactly been alone amongst good performers in E-town this year, however -- four other players with over 100 AB's each have a batting average over .300 so far this year, and Deibinson Romero is close with a .295 average and 8 homers. Perhaps the most applause deserve to go to Gregory Yersich, who was absolutely horrible offensively to start the season in Beloit (.168 BA in 119 AB's). Since his demotion to Elizabethton, Yersich has hit .329 with an .831 OPS. Hopefully he can carry at least some of that with him when he goes back to Beloit.

On the pitching side, Michael Allen's 2.29 ERA in 55 innings (along with a 1.13 WHIP and 58-10 K-BB) have been outstanding, which hopefully demonstrates that the 13th round pick from the 2005 draft is ready to bust into a full season league -- certainly, there's every reason to believe that he'll be starting next season with the Snappers. On the relief side, Aussie Bradley Tippett is posting his second consecutive solid rookie league season, with a 1.19 ERA in 30.1 innings over 16 relief appearances. Last year, Tippett had a 2.53 ERA in 21.1 innings for the GCL Twins, so he's continuing to improve. As with Allen, Tippett has likely already secured himself a place in Beloit next year.

The Bad

It may have been do-or-die time for former first round pick Henry Sanchez, who has disappointed ever since joining the Twins in 2005. Once again, Sanchez has been hampered by an injury, and hasn't played since early July. I can't imagine that the Twins will continue to hang onto a player who appears to simply not have the makeup to perform in professional baseball -- but since he's a former first round pick, I suppose the odds of the team just dumping him (especially after an injury-riddled season) are probably slim. Still, this was a hugely important year for Sanchez, and it just didn't happen for him.

On the pitching side, Omar Alcala has the gaudiest ERA at 7.63 in 15.1 innings -- but I'm more disappointed with the performance of Daniel Latham, the Twins 15th round selection in this year's draft. Latham was a very good closer for Tulane University, but his success in the NCAA has not translated to success in the minor leagues to this point, as he's posted a 5.56 ERA in 22.2 innings of work. His 26-2 K-BB ratio and solid 1.15 WHIP suggest that he's been a bit unlucky, but it sure would be nice if he could get that ERA below 4.50 by the time the season was done. If he does, he should still be able to earn a promotion to Beloit for next season.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Site Update

Just a quick notice -- I have family in town and will not be posting anything substantive until Monday. Looks like the Twins are about to win 2-0 against the Angels, so if that holds up they'll be going for a much needed series victory tomorrow afternoon. Go Twins!

UPDATE: I see I spoke too soon. I guess we'll be looking to avoid a sweep rather than pick up a win -- and now it sounds like Jason Kubel may be out for awhile. Things aren't looking too hot right now for the Twins fading playoff hopes . . .


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nightly Notes

No comment tonight on the Twins woefully anemic offense. Instead, I want to make sure that everyone who wanders across this site tonight or tomorrow sees this article about the return of Rick Ankiel. I think his is a great story of determination and perseverance, and I'm in favor of any article that mentions Tony LaRussa getting misty eyed. In case you didn't hear or aren't aware, Ankiel was once a pitching phenom in the Cardinals system who completely fell apart by throwing 4 wild pitches in the 2000 playoffs. Since then, he's tried (and failed) to get it together on the mound. Rather than calling it quits, however, Ankiel decided to try out as an outfielder, and finally was called up to the bigs. In his return, he hit a three-run homer. It's a great story, and I encourage you to read the article. Congratulations to Ankiel for a successful return, and I hope his story continues to be so positive.

Tomorrow, the Twins play the Angels in a pretty important series -- time is running out for the Twins to gain ground. Maybe we'll see Tommy Watkins make his big league debut while we're at it. Scott Baker's on the mound tomorrow, so the big question will be whether he can continue his recent string of success -- if he can, the Twins should have a chance to take the game (at least, if they put a run on the board -- you can't win with 0, after all). Go Twins!


Just One Quick Question

I checked out ESPN this morning, and after heading to the MLB page saw that the top story (the one that gets featured billing on the left-center of the page and a pretty picture) is Barry Bonds 757th homerun. So my question is two-fold: (1) are we going to see this every time Barry Bonds hits another homerun, and (2) should we?

My very quick answers -- while I think each Bonds homerun from this point forward is newsworthy (and really, every homerun since he was about 10 away from Aaron has been), I don't think each one from here on out deserves to be the top story of the day in baseball. Give it a mention in the links on the right side of the page, sure, but I'd much rather see stories featured that deal with things like the playoff race. To answer the first part of the question I've asked, I suspect we'll see top billing given to the next 4 or 5 dingers before ESPN gets bored with it and goes back to regular coverage. I sure hope that's the case anyway. Thoughts?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Buscher to the DL; Watkins Up

No notes on the game tonight, other than to say this -- yay for a victory, and for losses by the Tigers and (hopefully) the Indians. Good pickup on each. Now, onto the reason for this post:

After fighting a losing battle with an infection in his leg, Brian Buscher has landed on the DL. The Twins bypassed the obvious callup in Matt Tolbert, who is hitting .303 for the Red Wings and who has seemed destined for a promotion all year. Red Wings coaches apparently feel that Tolbert isn't quite mentally tough enough for the big leagues right now, and I guess we have to trust them -- after all, these guys are with the players all the time, and get to take good, long looks at them. They know what it takes to perform in the big leagues, and if they say Tolbert isn't ready for prime time, then he probably isn't ready for prime time. That said, part of me insists that this reason seems somewhat bogus. I can't really think of another explanation, though, so I guess we have to go with what's been given.

The beneficiary of all this is Tommy Watkins, a 27-year-old minor league veteran who was probably starting to doubt whether he'd ever get the call. Watkins isn't playing badly with Rochester -- .272/.753/8 HR/49 RBI in 349 AB's -- but he also hasn't exactly been spectacular. His callup therefore comes as a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless, he deserves a shot if for no reason other than his perseverance. A 38th round selection in the 1998 draft, Watkins has slowly and methodically made his way through the organization, never hitting above .272 (yes, so far this has been a career year for him), and compiling a .249 lifetime minor league average. His versatility in the field has kept him in the organization, and he's just kept chugging along. Now, he gets his shot at the bigtime.

I don't know how Watkins will perform or how much playing time he gets -- I'm guessing not well and not much. I will still be rooting hard for him, however. I would love to see a guy like him make good in the Majors, and he could potentially supplant a guy like Luis Rodriguez on the roster next year. It's much more likely, though, that he'll get a few at-bats and be shipped back to Rochester as soon as Buscher is ready to return. We may start to find out as soon as tomorrow afternoon, when there's a good chance that Watkins will make his Major League debut in the heat of a Kansas City day game. And heck -- if the Royals pitch like they did today, he might even knock the ball around a little bit.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Nightly Notes from All Over

Not a lot to say tonight specifically about the Twins -- but I wanted to post a few things anyway (not necessarily baseball related), so here's a bit of a jumble:

1.) First, I will discuss the Twins for a bit. As good as the starting pitching has been (and tonight it was just ok, not great), it's very clear that the Twins offense is -- well -- bad. I don't think this point needs a lot of elaboration. As fun as it was to get excited about making a playoff run after the Twins gained 5 games in about 10 days in the standings, the last couple of games have demonstrated why a miraculous comeback remains exceedingly unlikely. And I have to give credit where credit is due -- Luis Rodriguez went 2-for-3 today to raise his batting average above .200 (all the way to .204!), so props to him. Incidentally, he went 5-for-17 in July and now is 2-for-3 in August -- that's a 7-for-20 stretch dating back to June 28, which is a .350 batting average. It's an obscenely small sample size, but maybe I should stop complaining so much about L-Rod. Tell ya what -- I'll shut up so long as he keeps the ole' BA above .200 from here on out, eh?

2.) Boof -- it was alright. Seven innings and 93 pitches was encouraging, 4 runs was not great but not terrible -- all in all, a nice "average" night. And Juan Rincon . . . just not good. 6.23 ERA!?! Yeeesh. Carmen Cali, by the way, was horribly wild, walking three in just 0.2 innings of work. That deserves another yeesh.

3.) I'm not going to hit anybody over the head with a ton of statistics or a detailed analysis here, but I wanted to mention the Eric Byrnes contract. Seems homeboy just signed a three-year, $30 million deal to stay with the D-Backs. This is a man with a .268 career batting average, and a career high of 26 HR's and 79 RBI's in a season. Forget about the ramifications for other players, and just sit back and ponder the fact that Eric freakin' Byrnes just got a contract that will pay him $10 million per year. Un-bleepin-believable.

4.) I can't find the link right now, but a couple of days ago I read a story that mentioned Barry Zito making a relief appearance. Yeah, yeah, big deal, right? But it got me thinking (and I might consider this in more detail in a full article later on) -- is this the wave of the future? After all, every starter in baseball throws bullpen sessions between starts -- why couldn't they just be used in a game instead? The conditions would have to be very closely monitored -- a max of 15 pitches at full power, say, or even better just one particularly tough batter -- but I think it could be done. The downside is that you lose the advantage of the bullpen session where you work on mechanics or one particular issue, and you introduce the complexity of a game situation into the mix -- but can you imagine having Johan Santana available to come in and face, say, David Ortiz three days after his last start and two days before his next? I doubt that this is going to catch on, but it seems worth at least considering.

5.) I hate the Yankees. I thought this was going to be the year that the legions of Yankee haters could rejoice at a playoffs completely outside of the Bronx. I'm starting to get this horrible, horrible feeling that I was wrong (yes, my delusional thinking has held out until the recent run of shellackings).

6.) Two confessions: I really like watching racing (stock car or open wheel -- NASCAR, IRL, Champ Car, F1 -- none of that drag racing junk), and I enjoy falling soccer (not the MLS). That makes this an interesting time of year, as the English Premiere League gets ready to kick off (on Saturday already!), the Champions League is about to finish up its second round of qualifying, and as the Nextel Cup grinds towards the Chase for the Cup. Relevance? None -- just wanted to give all of you more of a reason to mock me, should you so desire.

7.) Can Pre-season football already have begun? Looking at the Vikings schedule, I think they have a good chance to start out 3-1 (wins over Atlanta, at Detroit, and home against Green Bay, with a loss in week three at KC), but then things get rough. They play at Chicago and at Dallas, then home against Philadelphia and San Diego. I say they go 1-3 in that stretch (no guesses as to which game they steal), to put them at 4-4 halfway through. Winnable games at Green Bay, vs. Oakland, at NYG, and home against Detroit follow up, followed by a rough stretch at San Fran, home against Chicago and Washington, and then at Denver. I'm going to guess that they end up finishing 8-8 on the year. Anyone want to go over/under on that guess?


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Nightly Notes: Game #110

Things are starting to get awfully interesting . . . nice win for the Twins today. Here are a few notes:

1.) Scott Baker -- unbelievable. It's just about time for me to throw in the towel and admit I was wrong on Baker; I thought that he was never going to establish himself as a Major League pitcher. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying he's arrived, necessarily. This start could be followed by a meatball like he threw out against the White Sox a few starts ago. Honestly, though, he's really making a case for a spot in the rotation next year, and the Twins seem pretty interested in keeping him around. Again, I didn't expect this to happen, but I'm certainly happy that it is happening.

2.) Speaking of things I didn't expect to happen, how about those Tigers and Indians? Just when it seemed that the Twins were going to wash out of the race for the AL Central, Detroit and Cleveland decided to turn around and make things interesting. The Twins couldn't possibly come back again, could they? I'm starting to think the answer might be yes, because the starting pitching has, for the most part, been so very good. Once again, the Twins will rely on young players if they're going to make a run -- Baker, Garza, and Bonser, yes -- but Alexi Casilla and Brian Buscher will need to pull their weight as well if things are going to come up aces for the Twins.

3.) Mike Piazza has supposedly cleared waivers, and the Twins have been mentioned as a possible destination for him. Piazza may not be that interested in playing in Minnesota, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't welcome trade that would send him to the Twins for just a couple of months. I would welcome his addition to the club, because I think he could help. He's hitting .290 with a .738 OPS on the season -- not great numbers, but I believe that he's a better hitter at this stage than Jeff Cirillo is, for instance, and that he would be a useful piece. I won't be crushed if we don't pick him (or anyone else) up, but I can certainly see the upside of doing so, and I'll be hoping a bit that a deal is done.

4.) Nice day for Jason Kubel, who went 2-for-2 with 2 walks. It would be great if he could get his batting average up to, let's say, .260 by the time the season ends.

5.) Sorry to hear about Chris Heintz's broken wrist, which will keep him out at least a month and may end his season. If the Twins do need to call up a catcher, every source says it will be Jose Morales, which makes sense -- the guy has been hitting like crazy for Rochester this year. The Twins 40-man roster currently stands at just 38 players, so the Twins could add him to the roster relatively easily if they needed to. Incidentally, this may also be a good chance to add Matt Tolbert to the roster. I fully expect him to be up in September, anyway -- but the sooner the better. I know that a number of people, including Seth, believe that Tolbert doesn't belong up right now because he wouldn't get enough playing time, but I think that he could get semi-regular at-bats at 2B and 3B -- certainly enough to warrant a call-up. And anything that would get Luis Rodriguez off the roster would make me happy.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

It's About Time!

After picking up a nice 3-2 win today over the Indians (in a start where Garza was, shall we say, a bit less than good), the Twins finally took action on Lew Ford, sending him to the minor leagues and calling Carmen Cali back up. Last winter, I argued that Ford should be non-tendered rather than being offered arbitration, and it didn't happen. After he got injured, I hoped the Twins would cut him -- didn't happen. Now, Ford is off of the team, and while he might come back up in September when the rosters expand, I daresay that we are witnessing the end of the Lew Ford era.

While I applaud this decision (the Twins didn't need to carry all of the outfielders that they had on the roster), this move does make me a little annoyed because of the timing. I mentioned in my earlier post on Jeff Cirillo that I thought the Twins could have moved Ford or Luis Rodriguez off of the roster to make room for Michael Cuddyer rather than letting Cirillo go on the waiver claim to the D-Backs, and then worked out a deal with Arizona for Cirillo. Now, just one day later, the team actually did send Ford down. I am usually the last one to criticize Terry Ryan, who I think is a brilliant GM who has one of the most difficult jobs in baseball. Nevertheless, I am going to criticize the timing here six ways to Sunday. Everything here was done backwards. Ford should have been sent down yesterday to make room for Cuddyer, and today should have been dedicated to resolving the situation with Arizona. This was an oversight on the part of TR and the front office staff, and the only reason I'm not that all that angry about is that I don't think Cirillo would have brought much back in return.


More on Cirillo

Marty has been a bit critical of my response to the Jeff Cirillo situation, and in the process of responding to some of his comments I discovered a few things and thought of a few more, so I've decided to put another post up on the subject. This is not meant as a hit piece on Marty -- but since he's the only one that posted on the subject, my thoughts are largely directed towards him. Here are a few assorted thoughts on Jeff Cirillo and his unceremonious departure:

1.) First, let me clarify -- I sort of understand why the Twins just let Cirillo go when he was claimed by the D-backs (essentially, they needed the roster space), but I don't really agree with it. Luis Rodriguez or Lew Ford could have been sent packing if the Twins really needed to make room for Cuddyer (because, let's face it, neither of those guys was going to bring back anything from anybody) while the Twins negotiated with Arizona on a price for Cirillo. I don't think they would have received much, but something would have been better than nothing. So, ultimately, I don't really approve of the way this was handled because there were better options available to the team.

2.) Marty's big point in the comments to the previous post is that Cirillo was the 5th best Twins hitter at the time of his departure. That's largely based on the fact that he had the 5th best OPS (.713) when he left, so it's not a completely absurd point. However, if you look at other factors (batting average, OBP, and raw stat categories like runs and RBI's), he didn't fare as well. This really is beside the point, however -- because the biggest problem with Cirillo is that he was often injured and never seemed to get a big hit. He simply was not an integral part of the team, whether as a part-time player or something else.

3.) Cirillo's numbers were inflated by one good week. Now, this happens to every player over the course of a season -- you can isolate stretches where a guy was on fire or where a guy was horrible, and usually it's fairly meaningless. In Cirillo's case, however, there weren't really "stretches" as you see with a lot of players -- there was one stretch. Cirillo had a week (June 17 - June 23) in which he went 12-for-20. That week alone accounts for 30% of his season total in hits. If you remove it from his season, he's hitting .210 on the year. With just 153 AB's on the year, that one hot stretch makes his offensive stats look better than they otherwise would have. The question, of course, is whether this is meaningful. One could argue that it isn't -- that this is statistical noise, and that since things even out his .261 batting average and .713 OPS are "accurate" reflections of his hitting ability. I make a counter-argument, however -- for the most part, I don't think Cirillo has seen the ball well or swung well. I think he had one week where everything clicked, and he got hot. I don't think it would have happened again this year (to me, he's looked terrible at the plate for most of the season). In other words, I think his offensive numbers are inflated, and if he played a full season (500+ AB's), I think his batting average would be much closer to .210 than it would be to .261. There's no way to prove this, but I think there's a much better case for my interpretation (Cirillo is washed up) than for Marty's (Cirillo was the 5th best hitter on the Twins).

4.) Finally, Marty also says that "everyone is throwing up white flags on this team, but come'on. Let's not shoot for 'embarrassingly bad' again." This has to be hyperbole, right Marty? I mean, seriously -- dumping a player who was hitting .261 (and, as I've mentioned, I don't think that was an accurate reflection of his hitting ability) and who had a grand total of 153 AB's this season with 2 months to go sets this team on the path to "embarrassingly bad?" If you really believe that, it astounds me! The Twins so far this season have traded Luis Castillo (a very bad 2B, based on the numbers) and Cirillo (a washed up backup) whose contracts were both expiring at the end of the year. That certainly doesn't put them on the path to embarrassingly bad. If anything, by freeing up money that can be used in the future towards a Torii Hunter or a Johan Santana (if he cools down from his previous angry comments), it could help prevent the team from becoming embarrassingly bad.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Cirillo Heads West

The Twins had a decision to make today on who they were going to send down to make room for Michael Cuddyer, who was activated from the disabled list. As they were no doubt pondering the relative merits of keepin Brian Buscher around, the Diamondbacks issued a claim on Jeff Cirillo, who the Twins were routinely putting through waivers (as most players have been) for the purpose of making him available in a potential trade. All of a sudden, the roster conflict disappeared. Cirillo is now with the D-Backs, and the Twins get to activate Cuddyer.

The one unusual thing about this move is that this wasn't a trade -- merely a waiver claim. The Twins felt that they didn't have time to work out a deal with the D-Backs in exchange for Cirillo, so they just let him go. This is fairly unusual, as even veteran players who are underperforming (such as Cirillo) typically bring something back in return. In this case, however, you have to ask how much a guy who's been pretty bad all year would have been worth to the D-Backs. We certainly would have received a prospect -- but I'm guessing it would have been a pretty bad prospect.

This will undoubtedly cause even more rumblings in the clubhouse, but they're misplaced. Cirillo was not an integral part of this team, and he wasn't going to be. I'm not sad to see him go (although I'm not happy either -- color me all sorts of gray on this one). The only downside to this move that I see is that it means more playing time for Nick Punto and Luis Rodriguez, simply by default.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No Post Tonight

It doesn't seem appropriate to discuss the game in light of what happened tonight in Minneapolis. I will take tomorrow's newly scheduled off day to discuss a few things, including the eruption of Mt. Johan this morning. Until then, my thoughts are with the families of those who were affected by the bridge collapse. I hope that the the news tonight doesn't get too grim, but that seems unlikely. Baseball definitely takes a back seat tonight.