Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #83

No full-fledged notes column tonight. All I'm going to say is that the Twins really wasted a chance here (obviously). I can't complain too much, simply because the bullpen has really been doing its job of late and once in awhile things like this are going to happen. Nonetheless, as I mentioned yesterday, this is a tremendously important series for the Twins, with both the Tigers and White Sox suddenly playing well. The Twins cannot afford to lay down like this, so hopefully they're able to pull off victories in the final two games of the series.

Congrats to Denard Span for a very nice return to the big leagues, and congrats to Glen Perkins on putting together a very solid start. Hopefully tomorrow will bring better things. Blogging might be a bit spotty from now until next Tuesday, as I have a lot going on (I'm moving, for one thing, which is always just joyful). I'll get notes columns up when (and if) I can, and should be able to find time to comment on any transactions that pop up.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #82

One sign of a good team is its ability to bounce back from a defeat quickly with strong performances. After yesterday's disappointing end to the 10 game winning streak (disappointing not so much because it was a loss, but because the offense that had been so potent over the previous fortnight suddenly disappeared), the Twins began that bounce back with a solid 5-0 win over the Brewers today to win the series. Now, attention shifts to tonight's Cubs/White Sox fracas, as Minnesota looks to move back to just 1/2 game down. Here are some notes:

1.) Sorry to hear about the Michael Cuddyer injury, but on the plus side this will be yet another opportunity for Denard Span to demonstrate that he can provide some value to the Twins. Span really has been having a very solid season for the Red Wings, and I'm pleased for him that he's going to get another two weeks to show off his skills. I would think that Span has a great shot to fill the roster spot currently filled by Craig Monroe when the 2009 season rolls around. I don't know if he's ideally suited for that role because he doesn't provide the power that Monroe provides, but certainly this year has seemed to demonstrate that Span is only in AAA because there's no where else to stash him at the moment. Be interesting to see what happens during this callup.

2.) I don't really have anything to say about Kevin Slowey's start other than "yippee!". The Twins needed a pick me up after yesterday's typically mediocre Livan Hernandez start, and Slowey's performance today demonstrates why I'm so excited about this team -- I really think that the young Twins starters are up to the task of keeping this team competitive. They're going to have bad days here and there, but overall they're going to be better than veterans like Livan. If I had my way, Livan would be gone and the Twins would either give Francisco Liriano a big league spot again (although he's not been great in AAA recently), or give a shot to guys like Brian Duensing, Kevin Mulvey, Phil Humber or even Boof Bonser. I'd rather fail with a young guy than with a (relatively) expensive veteran.

3.) Incidentally, my above point goes somewhat against a position that I've often advocated, wherein I've viewed it as beneficial to keep players in the minor leagues to save service time rather than have them mature in the big leagues. I guess my aversion to signing a guy like Hernandez is high enough to overcome my desire to save service time. This does have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, though. Last year, for instance, I was strongly in favor of starting Matt Garza in the minor leagues because I thought he could still get some value out of an initial trip to Rochester. With what the Twins have right now, I'd rather take a shot on a youngster. I really don't have an easy to articulate, paint-by-the-numbers formula to apply in these circumstances -- I just know that I sort of wish the Twins hadn't felt the need to sign Livan.

4.) Mike Lamb is a stunningly bad 2-for-32 in June, including his hit today.

5.) Delmon Young has quietly raised his batting average to .281 on the season, and pulled a ball with power today. I'm going to make a prediction now that the second half of his season will be markedly better than the first half, especially in terms of power production. I'll say he ends up with 12-15 homers when all is said and done -- not great, certainly, but far better than what he's given us so far. Since you'll all forget I made this prediction, I can brag about it if I'm right and quietly bury it if I'm wrong . . .

6.) About that "Non-No Hitter No Hitter" between the Dodgers and Angels last night -- I'm inclined to agree with those who think the rule applied by Major League Baseball to declare that this wasn't an "official" no hitter is pretty darned stupid. First off, why do we have a rulebook definition of a no hitter? Do we really need one? Wouldn't it just be simpler to look at the scoreboard and glance over to the "hits" column and, if the game is over and counts as official, declare that a no hitter occurred? I realize that I'm going to be a lawyer, so I should absolutely love this lawyerly, absurdly irrational definition. However, while there's a time and a place to get into technical rules-based arguments over "what is" and "what is not," the determination of a no hitter is not one of those times.

7.) This is only marginally related, but I think represents a similar level of absurdity. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but there is a United States law dealing with the disposal of hazardous waste that defines "solid waste" to include solids, liquids, and contained gases. The definition of no hitter employed by MLB strikes me as equally absurd.

8.) The upcoming series with the Tigers is extremely important for the Twins -- if they were to get swept, they'd be just 1/2 game ahead of Detroit in the standings. There's no reason to tempt fate like that, so let's hope instead that the Twins can win the series and put at least an additional game between them and the Tigers.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blog Update

No notes column again tonight -- but I will say that while it's too bad the Twins lost tonight, we fans can't complain after a 10 game winning streak. Hopefully, the Twins can win the series tomorrow and get a little help from the Cubs. Anyway, I'll be back tomorrow afternoon/early evening with my thoughts on tomorrow's game. Enjoy your Saturday night and Sunday!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Just Can't Resist . . .

UPDATE: Amazing how quickly the little elves at the Strib work. Before I even finished writing my criticism of Hartman, his column had been drastically altered. Hartman blames the gaffe on Fred Hoiberg, who to be fair was quoted in the original column. The link below will now take you to the heavily edited version of Hartman's column, so don't expect to find the incriminating evidence there. Before I send you on to my original column, let me just say that I stand by the criticism of Hartman that is found below, even if he was misled by Hoiberg. Pretty much everyone in basketball knew that Kevin McHale was infatuated with Kevin Love. I know very little about the NBA, but when the Wolves drafted Mayo and the Grizzlies drafted Love, I groaned and said to my roommate "guess the Wolves are going to end up with Kevin Love." (I also suggested this possibility in my Nightly Notes column, written before the second round of the draft started and long before the Mayo/Love swap). I said this not because I'm a genius, but because I had read numerous articles over the past 48 hours about the Wolves interest in Love and the fact that a bunch of teams, including the Grizzlies, wanted Mayo. Hartman bought Hoiberg's statement hook, line, and sinker, and checked his critical thinking skills at the door. If someone like me knew that the Wolves didn't "want Mayo all along," then Hartman certainly should have, too. Now, on to the original post.

I've never been a fan of Sid Hartman's. I stopped reading his column several years ago because it either made me laugh out loud or gave me a headache. Tonight, though, after seeing on ESPN.com that the Wolves had done what just about everyone thought they would do and traded O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love, I stopped by the Wolves section on the Strib website just to see what was kickin' around. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Hartman column with the glorious title of "Wolves wanted Mayo all along." The article is almost painful to read, considering that it was horribly outdated mere moments after being posted. I don't know that I've ever seen a columnist write something that is so obviously rubbish -- I mean, I've read columns that I strongly, strongly disagreed with, but never something that so blatantly made the writer look like a fool. It'd be sad if it weren't so darned funny.

As for the trade itself, I can't say a lot. I know a lot less about the NBA than I do about professional baseball. I know that I don't particularly care for Kevin Love, and have never thought he would make a solid professional baller. I sincerely hope he proves me wrong, but with Kevin McHale's track record I doubt it. Thing is, I also wasn't all that high on O.J. Mayo, either. I don't know what it was -- I just never really was into him. When it was clear that the Wolves weren't going to have any shot at Michael Beasley, I pretty much figured that they weren't going to end up with a player I wanted no matter what happened.

For me, then, I'm actually inclined not to completely hate this trade. Mayo is almost certainly a better player than Love, but as I said I wasn't all that high on Mayo so I don't think the difference is going to be astronomical. The key to this trade, then, might be the addition of Mike Miller to the Wolves. I'm inclined to think that, in the end, this deal might turn out just fine.

This post isn't really about whether the deal was good or bad, though. Instead, it's about a sportswriter who made one of the worst gaffes I've seen, and made himself more irrelevant than ever. Normally, I don't feel it's necessary to point out errors like this. Everyone is human, and I certainly make more than my fair share of mistakes. But Hartman too often comes across as smugly superior, as if he's seen it all and knows everyone worth knowing and therefore is far better than all the rest of us mere mortals. When he makes a mistake as colossal and embarrassing as this one, he deserves to be taken to task -- even if my writing a disparaging column about his work is the equivalent of shooting a giant with a spit ball. On behalf of readers everywhere, all I have to say is do better, Sid, or hang 'em up.


Nightly Notes: Game #79

So the streak continues, with the Twins having won nine games in a row and 11 of 12 overall. Heading into the final weekend of interleague play this season, the Twins find themselves just 1/2 game behind the White Sox and seven games over .500. Here are some notes:

1.) Don't expect the Brewers to simply lay down and die this weekend. With the Twins and Royals (both 9-1 in the last ten games), the Brewers (8-2) are one of the hottest teams in the game right now. Just looking straight up at the numbers, the pitching matchups favor the Brewers -- but that hasn't stopped the Twins during their run through Cy Young award winners. Tomorrow will see Nick Blackburn face off against Seth McClung in a battle of pitchers who have nearly identical performances this year. After that, it'll be Livan Hernandez facing Manny Parra, followed by Kevin Slowey against Ben Sheets. Both of those matchups statistically favor the Brewers -- but it doesn't seem like a great idea to bet against the Twins right now.

2.) I sometimes wonder whether it's a good idea to bat Mike Redmond third when he's in the lineup for Joe Mauer, but he always seems to perform well. Tonight, he went 2-for-5 and showed why my fears are unjustified. I don't think Redmond is a starting caliber catcher, but I love having him as the team's backup. He's a tremendously valuable asset to the organization. Is there any question that the Twins will pick up his 2009 option at the end of the year? I don't think so. At less than $1 million a year, he's a relative steal.

3.) Scott Baker picked up the win and a quality start after a shaky early performance that saw him give up 3 runs in the first 3 innings. As I've said often recently, I think the Twins starters need to figure out how to be more efficient generally, as Baker through 101 pitches through 6 innings. That's not terrible, but it would also be nice to see these guys be able to stretch a little bit more. This is a minor complaint, though, since the bullpen has been doing perfectly well since the starters stopped getting run off the mound in the third or fourth inning.

4.) The bullpen, by the way, was a bit of a Frankenstein monster today -- Gardy used five pitchers to get through three innings, and really it worked very well. Jesse Crain gave up the only hit allowed by the 'pen tonight, but outside of that hit he was lights out with a 2 K's for his 2 outs. Craig Breslow looked like he might struggle a bit, throwing some big sweeping breaking pitches that weren't even close to the zone but ultimately getting the one out he was asked to get. No harm, no foul. Matt Guerrier continued his solid run as the Twins primary set-up man. Joe Nathan was Joe Nathan. Hard to believe that we were all so frustrated with this 'pen a few weeks ago -- it once again is looking like a strength, as it should be.

5.) What else is there to say about Brian Buscher? He kept it up today, going 2-for-4 to bring his average to .386 on the year. He just seems so relaxed right now, which a young guy in his position probably shouldn't be! Really, this has been a note every day -- there's just not a lot left to say.

6.) O.J. Mayo to the Timberwolves -- I can't be disappointed by the pick, because I think he was the best player available. Still, I have this horrible feeling that the Wolves are going to do something silly like trade Mayo to Memphis for Kevin Love and who knows what. For all of you who want to rag on Bill Smith or Terry Ryan, I just ask you to cast your eye to the T-Wolves. In my mind, the Twins GM's have done a significantly better job in a much, much tougher position than Kevin McHale has done with the Wolves. Hopefully the Wolves will do something interesting with their two second round selections.

7.) Nice to see Matt Garza get a one-hitter today against the Marlins. Despite the fact that Garza (with a 3.76 ERA and a 6-4 record) has succeeded while Delmon Young has struggled, I still think the swap was a good one for both teams. The Twins dealt from a position of strength to (attempt to) fill a need, and in the long-term I think Delmon will fill that role admirably. I don't want the Twins to "win" this trade by seeing Garza flame out -- I want to see both team win by getting what they thought they were getting. Considering the age of the principles in the deal, I'm still confident that will ultimately happen.

8.) The Twins signed supplemental 1st round pick Shooter Hunt yesterday, putting them in an excellent position with their draft picks just a couple of weeks after the draft, and with 7-8 weeks left before the August 15 deadline to keep going after the players who have yet to sign. The Twins have now signed 10 of the 12 players they took in the first 10 rounds of the draft, with only Miami closer Carlos Gutierrez (who is likely to sign soon) and Iowa righty B.J. Hermsen (likely to go to college after being taken later than he had hoped) not under contract. Overall, the Twins have now signed 17 picks. That's pretty close to what they probably wanted to do -- but with a lot of time left, I could easily see them getting up to 20 players signed. I'm pleased with the team's haul this year, and anything added from here on out is icing on the cake. I'd love to see them find a way to sign Hermsen and another high schooler or two, but it's a long shot and ultimately the Twins didn't need to sign these guys to have a successful draft. We'll see how this plays out in the next few weeks. UPDATE: Reader Kris noted in the comments section that Hermsen's high school season could run all the way until July 25, and that the Twins have essentially told him that they'll get serious about negotiations when it's over. They probably have to wait anyway under MLB rules, but the upside to this is that, as Kris says, there is hope that the Twins will get him signed.

9.) Germany v. Spain in the Euro 2008 final. Guess I've committed myself to supporting the Germans, but having seen highlights of the Germany/Turkey match and watching the Spain/Russia match, I'm pretty confident the Spaniards will come out on top. Check out the final on Sunday (although it'll be up against the Twins and the Sprint Cup race, so I'm guessing it's going to go largely unnoticed in Minnesota . . .).


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #78

Alright, I lied. I actually don't really have anything for you tonight. I will be back with a real notes post tomorrow afternoon when I get home from work, after the Twins (hopefully) have won their ninth straight game. Tonight, it looks like the Twins are going to get within a half game of the White Sox. I still find that sort of unbelievable.

Incidentally, good ole' Germany somehow managed to advance to the Euro 2008 Finals despite not playing very well (or so I hear -- I was at work during the game), and Fresno State pulled off an unbelievable win in the College World Series. Neither Euro soccer (ok, fine -- ANY soccer) or college baseball is on the average American sports fans radar, but this has been a pretty solid year for both. If you're a fan of the stories that come from sports, there's a lot of great stuff coming from outside the Big Three.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #77

We're getting awfully close to the half-way point, and the Twins are surprisingly right in the middle of the AL Central. Unfortunately, the White Sox beat the Dodgers tonight to snap their losing streak, but the Twins are still within striking distance and have been playing some pretty good ball. Here are tonight's notes:

1.) Six scoreless inning, four hits, and seven K's with no walks? I'll take that any day of the week. Today's solid performance means that Slowey has nearly erased the effects on his ERA of that disastrous 3 inning, 8 run performance against the White Sox on June 8 -- prior to that start, Slowey had a 3.76 ERA, but it ballooned to 5.15 after that start. After tonight and his third straight solid start in a row, his ERA has fallen back down to 3.96. It's kind of remarkable how long a horrid start can continue influencing a guy's stats.

2.) It looked like the bullpen wanted to cough up the game tonight, but in the end the performance wasn't that bad. Jesse Crain blew the lead by giving up a run on a couple of hits in the seventh, but he wasn't terrible. Matt Guerrier tried to give the Padres the edge by letting the first couple of runners in the eighth, but a lack of fundamentals (in the form of being unable to bunt) helped him out, and Dennyes Reyes finished the bail-out job. Of course, Joe Nathan was solid (as he nearly always is) in the ninth. It's too bad the 'pen couldn't nail down the win for Kevin Slowey, but I'll take one run allowed in 3 innings of work pretty much any night.

3.) Back-to-back homers from Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher? A bit unconventional, but I'll take it. Buscher continues to be something of a revelation for the Twins at third -- can you believe this guy was a minor league Rule 5 draft pick? At this rate, Buscher seems to have firmly entrenched himself as the Twins starting third baseman -- but that could change if he goes through a prolonged slump. Hopefully, that doesn't happen. More on Lamb below.

4.) Michael Cuddyer seems to be righting the ship. He's 7 for his last 13, and has his batting average up to .261. That's not great, but it's his best average since early May and suggests that he's digging out of the slump that marked most of the second month of the season for him. The Twins need him to reclaim his power swing, but for now I'll settle for him continuing to get timely hits and driving in some runs.

5.) So Juan Rincon is an Indian -- all I can say is that I hope he doesn't "Ponson" us when we inevitably face him.

6.) If you haven't been following the Elizabethton Twins so far this year, you should be. The offense on that team has been incredible a week into the season, and I'm particularly excited about the power being flashed by the squad. Recent draft picks Michael Harrington and Evan Bigley each have two homers already this season (and are also both hitting over .300), while Alex Soto (who I dissed a bit in my E-Twins roster review) hit two tonight and has three on the year. By my count, the team has 16 homers in 8 games, and has a 7-1 record. The pitching has been just OK for the most part, but who needs pitching when you're destroying the ball at the plate? Anyway, this could be a very interesting team to follow this year.

7.) I feel bad for Mike Lamb, but he has done nothing to justify the two year, $6.6 million contract the Twins gave him in the off-season. I was a little perplexed by the signing at the time (particularly the two year side of it), but generally defended it since the Twins didn't have an obvious player ready to take over the position. I don't think the Twins could have guessed that Brian Buscher would step it up and play so well during his major league stints this year. Unfortunately, with Lamb being terrible and with Buscher emerging, the Twins are stuck with a player they don't really need. Ultimately, this is why I would avoid signing a marginal free agent to a multi-year deal -- it severely reduces your flexibility. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. Incidentally, I do not support simply cutting Lamb -- there's no immediate need for his roster spot, and I still think he could help the club down the road. This is not, to me, a Juan Rincon situation; Rincon was flat out done with the Twins, and the Twins needed to recover the roster spot he was filling. I'd continue to give Lamb some limited opportunities to play. Hopefully, he'll recover a bit.

8.) Should the Twins make some moves to try to make a run at the White Sox? I say no. The team is winning with what they have right now, and there are no obvious "easy" moves to make -- certainly, the team could upgrade a few positions (notably shortstop, despite Harris' game winning homer tonight). What would they have to give up, though? Sure, if the right deal came along I would encourage the team to pull the trigger on the deal -- but the odds are slim that the Twins could bolster the lineup without giving up a piece that's integral for the future. I say let the guys on the roster now play, and maybe pursue a DH type bat if one is available and doesn't cost a fortune (in terms of prospects). Other than that, for now I think the team should stand pat. I'll be talking a lot more about this as we enter July and head toward the deadline.

9.) It looks like the formatting issue I mentioned yesterday is, in fact, an Internet Explorer problem. I don't think I'll be able to find an easy fix for it, so I'm just going to apologize to those of you who use IE (although no one that e-mailed me or commented in the post seemed to care). Then, I would say that you should go get Firefox, because IE sucks. But hey, that's juts my opinion.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Quick Question

I just accessed this blog from a computer I don't usually access it from, and noticed that there are some weird format issues that don't show up on my machines. For instance, the archives and Org Rankings in the right sidebar are obviously misaligned (justified more and more to the right the further down they go). This has never showed up (on Firefox OR Internet Explorer) on any of the three or four computers I occasionally use to access the blog.

My question for you dear readers is whether you've noticed any such problems. If so, I need to look into it -- my gray color-scheme and red and blue links may not be the prettiest thing around (I really didn't care about that when I picked the colors), but at least things have always seemed to be reasonably organized. I'm not a fan of pages that are just plain sloppy. So -- if you've noticed issues like this, please let me know in the comments and I'll see if there's any way for me to fix them.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blog Update

Baseball's a funny game, isn't it? Ten days ago, we were all ready to write the season off, and now all of a sudden the Twins have won 8 of 9 and the White Sox just finished being swept by the Cubs -- and the Twins are just 1.5 games back. Anyway, it seems like for now at least, the Twins have just as good a shot as the equally flawed White Sox and hugely underachieving Tigers to win the division. I'll be back to posting regularly when the Twins play in San Diego on Tuesday night -- and there's a good chance that I'll come up with something to talk about tomorrow as well.

Incidentally, I'm just fine with the Twins sending Matt Macri down to make room for Nick Punto. Macri has played reasonably well when he's been in the lineup, but he hasn't been indispensable, by any means (Brian Buscher, on the other hand . . .).


Friday, June 20, 2008

GCL Roster Review

The GCL Twins started off the season with a 3-2 win yesterday. Here's a look at the guys who will be playing in the always multi-cultural GCL this season.

There are four catchers on the GCL roster, including two 2007 draft picks and two international signings. Daniel Rohlfing, selected in the 14th round a year ago, got just 56 AB's and put together just a .232 batting average, earning him a return trip to the GCL this season. Meanwhile, 43rd round selection Andres Diaz joins him. (UPDATE: According to Dianna, Diaz is going to be converted to 1st base). I'm frankly more interested in South Korean Jae-Hyung Jang, who at 21 is a couple years older than his fellow catchers on the roster. Somewhat mysteriously, the Twins also have former Dominican Summer Leaguer Josmil Pinto on the roster. I say mysteriously because he hit just .193 in the DSL in 171 AB's last year -- so clearly, he wasn't brought to Florida for his offense.

Prominent 2008 draft picks Tyler Ladendorf (SS - 2nd round) and Michael Gonzales (1B - 9th round) were both assigned to the GCL, which is a little surprising since both have Junior College experience. Nonetheless, its obviously a bigger jump from a JC to the GCL than it would be for a guy from a major college to make the transition, so I understand the move. Both will be compelling figures for the GCL this year.

Also of interest are international signings Jakub Hajtmar (Czech Republic) and Hyeong-rok Choi (South Korea). Has a Czech player ever played in the GCL? It doesn't seem like a real promising market for prospects. As for Choi, he was billed as a middle infielder coming into the organization (at least in the stuff I saw), but is listed on the GCL roster as a first baseman. At 5'11", 189 lbs I could definitely see him playing first, but he's also probably not so big as to make the middle infield impossible for him. It'll be interesting to see where he ends up.

The 2008 GCL season will also see the debut of third baseman Reggie Williams, drafted in the 4th round of the 2007 season out of Bellflower High School in California. Williams signed right at the deadline in mid-August of last year, so it was really too late to get him any useful time in a regular league. Instead, the plans at the time were to send him to the Instructional League and go from there. I'm curious to see how he starts to develop this year, and whether he ends up playing at 3B (where he was drafted), or at SS (where he's listed on the roster).

The infield is rounded out by a trio of middle infielders who played in either the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues last year -- Anderson Hidalgo, Herbert Lara, and Juan Sanchez. Hidalgo and Lara both hit over .300, while Sanchez hit .263. I know very little about any of them, although Lara weighs just 154 pounds and seems to have some speed.

Twins first round pick Aaron Hicks will start off his Twins career in the GCL, and will hope to follow the same path that 2007 first rounder Ben Revere followed by starting off strong. Hicks is considered a much better prospect than Revere was, but it will be tough to duplicate Revere's start -- he hit .325 in 191 AB's for the GCL Twins last year, and is hitting .409 in 171 AB's for Beloit this year. The Twins will be extremely lucky if Hicks has anything remotely approaching that success. Fourth round pick Daniel Ortiz joins Hicks, and gives the club a couple of strong prospects.

The outfield is rounded out by Australian Tim Atherton (formerly considered a first baseman), South Korean Hyun-wook Choi, and Taiwan's Wang-Wei Lin. Lin is the only one of the three with any GCL experience, with 62 AB's last season. Unfortunately, he hit just .194. I have no doubt that the transition for many international players is a huge one, but let's hope that Lin, at least, can put together a stronger year in 2008 when he comes back from a season-opening stint on the DL.

As I said with the Elizabethton Twins, I'm not going to try to identify starters and relievers at this level because things can be a bit fluid. I'm also not going to mention everyone, because there are a lot of players I know nothing about. Here are some players that I find a notable, for one reason or another.

First, two picks from the 2008 draft are starting off on the GCL pitching staff. Twenty-first rounder Steven Blevins comes to the Twins out of Marshall University, and 25th rounder Alex Curry joins the club from Cypress College in California. Neither of them had great numbers (which explains why they were drafted in outside of the 20th round), but the Twins obviously thought they could be molded into something.

Meanwhile, if you're a fan of Russians, the GCL Twins have two on the roster this year. Nick Lobanov is the older of the two, and pitched three scoreless innings for the GCL Twins a year ago. Meanwhile, Andrei Lobanov will be making his GCL debut at some point this summer. They are not related, but they are supposedly similar pitchers, both throwing from the left side. If you're interested, there's an article from the Austrian Baseball Blog available that discusses the pair (yes -- I said "Austrian Baseball Blog").

There are also a bunch of VSL and DSL guys on the roster, and of the bunch I'm most interested in Martire Garcia, who just turned 18 in March. Last summer, the slight (5'11", 150 lbs) lefty put up a 7-2 record and 2.32 ERA with 81 K's and 25 BB's in 77.2 innings in the DSL. Those are great numbers, and I'm excited to see how he performs for the GCL club. He started the opening game, going 4.0 innings and allowing an earned run on 6 hits. I'd love to see the Twins consistently develop guys from the VSL and DSL, and hopefully Garcia can turn into one. I'm a little concerned by his small stature, but it is what it is, and we'll see if he can perform.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Blog Update

I intended to discuss the GCL roster tonight (which is now available on the team website, and which Dianna kindly posted even earlier in the comments to the previous post -- thanks Dianna!), but I'm not going to get around to it. I have updated the org rankings to indicate which players have been assigned to the GCL -- with the exception of relief pitchers, since the main reliever post isn't anywhere close to being done yet. I have every intention of doing a write up on the roster, which has an interesting mix of players, tomorrow.

I will say that there seem to be a very large number of players who were in the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues last year, and who flew under the radar a bit. There are also some names that I expected to see that didn't show up on either the Elizabethton or GCL rosters -- which begs of the question of where exactly they are (there are a number of possibilities). It's always interesting this time of year, and I'll do my best to keep up with any transactions as they take place.

Finally, congrats to the Twins on a solid series sweep of the Nationals. I know I'm very much looking forward to the D'Backs series over the weekend.

Oh yes -- great match today in the UEFA European Championship, as Germany took out Portugal 3-2. If you haven't been watching this event, I suggest you at least give it a try this weekend. There have been some clunkers in the tournament so far, but games like today's are ample evidence that soccer can be a great game to watch when executed well.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #72

Seems like forever since I last wrote a Nightly Notes post, but it seems like a good time to jump back into the fray, with the Twins getting back to .500 and in the midst of a 4-of-5 winning streak. Here are some notes:

1.) I'm starting with an observation from yesterday, but I don't want anyone to think that I'm ducking the topic of Livan Hernandez so I'll address it here. I've been saying since he was signed that the Hernandez signing was a mistake, and I started beating that drum harder after his recent horrid stretch. Yesterday's start was nice, but it doesn't change my opinion of Hernandez. Look, most big league pitchers will occasionally pitch well, or even go through a strong stretch of games. The important question, though, is how a guy will usually pitch. I'm not convinced that yesterday's 7 inning, 5 hit performance is going to be the norm the rest of the way. Frankly, I'd be thrilled to be wrong -- but I expect him to revert to form soon. That probably (and hopefully) doesn't mean that he'll be as bad as he was for the last month -- it would be hard to sustain that level of badness -- but I do expect him to give up about 5 runs per start and somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.7 hitters per inning.

2.) Speaking of nice starts, Kevin Slowey recovered from his awful performance against the White Sox last week by delivering a quality start tonight. Since he was at the 90 pitch mark when he left the game, he probably could have been left out for the 7th if Gardy had wanted to push it a bit. Frankly, though, I'm glad he turned it over to the bullpen -- the results have frequently been bad when Gardy has left a pitcher out for an "extra" inning of work. UPDATE: I must not have been paying attention to this very well (I was multitasking during the game), because, as Jeremy pointed out in the comments, Slowey did indeed have a chance to get the 7th inning. I think the main point I was trying to make is still valid -- I just muffed a little bit.

3.) Incidentally, it's been nice to see the more traditional Twins bullpen emerge of late. You know . . . the bullpen that was supposed to be a team strength. I suspect that when the 'pen isn't overworked, as it was in the middle of the 40-games in 40-days stretch, it will be fine. Jesse Crain, after all, suddenly has an ERA of 2.93 on the season. Matt Guerrier has a slightly higher ERA but has still been reasonably solid. Joe Nathan is Joe Nathan. The two-lefty combo of Dennys Reyes and Craig Breslow seems reasonably solid. Boof Bonser and Brian Bass have niches to fill (although using Bass in the 8th inning -- even when the team has a 4 run lead -- might not be the best plan). Overall, I'm confident that even without Pat Neshek, this bullpen will be just fine.

4.) Not adding anything new here if you watched the game, but it would have been pretty cool to see the Twins turn a triple play in the 8th. I didn't see a really great replay, but the one they showed before going to commercial in the 8th seemed to show that the ump made the right call, as Casilla's foot seemed to come off the bag. Ah well -- no harm, no foul.

5.) I like the Brian Buscher/Matt Macri combo at third base quite a bit. Mike Lamb, who has pretty much been dreadful, just isn't going to get a lot of playing time so long as these guys keep playing reasonably well. This is just further evidence that the Twins did dreadfully on the free agent market this year -- no surprise, really, if you've been paying any attention at all. I'm going to probably write a stand alone post on this issue sometime in the next week or so, but suffice it to say that while I generally think Bill Smith has performed well since taking over for Terry Ryan, I was (and remain) somewhat baffled by the decision-making process that went into the free agent signings. That said, the Lamb signing wasn't as bad as it looks right now. For one thing, Lamb seemed to be a relatively safe signing -- someone who would hit with a bit of power and for a reasonable, if not great, average. The Twins also couldn't know that Brian Buscher and Matt Macri would be able to hold down third. Frankly, the sample size is so small that we don't really know if we can. Ultimately, then, while the Lamb signing has been a dud, it was actually the best of the bunch from a decision-making standpoint.

6.) The Elizabethton Twins won again tonight to start out 2-0, and just to prove that I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, they started Alex Soto behind the plate tonight instead of Jeff Lanning. I suggested yesterday that Lanning would get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate for the E-Twins, based on the idea that he was an experienced college catcher who the Twins would probably want to see perform. Instead, the E-Twins started 2007 draft pick Danny Rams on opening night, and went with Soto tonight. Guess you can just count me completely wrong on this point! Incidentally, Soto hit a two run homer in the game, so I can't complain about his performance.

7.) The GCL Twins open the season tomorrow, and as happened with Elizabethton there still isn't a roster posted on the team website. I expect that it will be posted tomorrow, and I'll post a roster breakdown sometime after I get home from work covering the names I'm interested in following this year.

8.) Congrats to KG and the Celtics for getting the job done (and how!) last night. I realize that the Celtics are the Basketball equivalent of the Yankees, what with their now 17 championships and all. Nonetheless, the Celtics haven't really been good since I started paying attention to basketball -- I was 4 the last time they won a championship -- so my natural tendency to root against the "dominant" teams kicked in against the Lakers rather than the Celtics. Just so long as they don't start winning every year again . . .

9.) The Yankees have signed Sidney Ponson. Frankly, I can't wait to see this thing play out.

10.) Tomorrow, Portugal faces Germany in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals. I'd say that this is an epic throwdown for bragging rights between my ancestors' homeland and Marty's ancestors' homeland, but since Portugal is almost certainly the better team, I'll stick with just saying it should be an entertaining match. Go Germany!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Brief Look at the Elizabethton Roster

The Elizabethton Twins roster was finally posted today, and I just finished going through the organizational rankings making note of players now listed as playing there. Now, I'm going to briefly go through the names on the roster to let you know who I'm particularly interested in seeing play.

The Elizabethton roster revealed some new information for me, as 2008 eighth round draft pick
Jeff Lanning was listed. I hadn't seen his signing reported anywhere, so that was an interesting development. Lanning, who had a very good 2008 season with the University of New Orleans, should get the bulk of the playing time in Elizabethton (although maybe not -- he didn't play on opening night). He'll be joined by 2007 pick Daniel Rams, who was taken in the 2nd round a year ago. Rams hit just .258 in 97 AB's with the GCL Twins a year ago, but remember that he was adjusting from the high school game. This year should put him in a better light. Third stringer Alexander Soto hit .273 in 66 AB's for the GCL Twins a year ago, but I don't expect him to get a lot of playing time with Lanning and Rams in front of him.

There are a number of very exciting players in the Elizabethton infield. I'm particularly intrigued by first baseman Rene Leveret, who hit .307 with an 862 OPS and 8 homers in 244 AB's for Elizabethton last year. The Twins must not have been convinced that he was for real, since those excellent numbers didn't earn him a promotion. I'm curious to see if he can put together another solid season in 2008 to prove he's for real. He's joined at 1st base by Jonathan Waltenbury, a 7th round pick from 2006 who was unexceptional last year in the GCL (.244/713/123 AB's), and, if he recovers from yet another injury, by Henry Sanchez. Sanchez was a first round selection back in 2005, but he's been a complete bust -- he's largely been unable to stay healthy, and even when he is on the field he's been unable to perform. I'd be willing to bet that we're in the end stage of his professional baseball career.

Up the middle, the most interesting name is Nick Papasan, who played well in limited action for the GCL Twins a year ago after he returned from injury. The Texan has been talked up incessantly by many of his fans from his high school days, so this will be his chance to live up to that hype. He's joined by Aussie James Beresford, Venezuelan Jeanfred Brito, and Puerto Rican Eric Santiago. Beresford and Brito both played well in the GCL a year ago, while Santiago struggled in Elizabethton and earned a return engagement.

At third base, the Twins will see what Juan Richardson can do after a solid 2007 season in the GCL, where he hit .317 with a 765 OPS. He'll be joined by former Golden Gopher Nathan Hanson, who was taken by the Twins in the 28th round of this years draft. As with Lanning, Hanson was a surprise to me because I didn't know he had signed.

There's a short crew in the outfield, with only four currently assigned to the team. Recent draft picks Evan Bigley (10th round out of Dallas Baptist University) and
Michael Harrington (13th round out of the College of Charleston) appear to be similar players -- both are 6' tall and around 200 pounds, although Bigley hits from the right side and Harrington comes from the left. Both also have a bit of pop, so we'll how that translates with the wood bats. They are joined by 2007 draft picks Angel Morales (3rd Round) and Andrew Schmiesing (11th Round) who both played in the GCL a year ago. Morales, making the adjustment from high school, hit just .256 a year ago. Schmiesing, meanwhile, was coming out of St. Olaf college and had no trouble at the lowest professional level, hitting .321 in 109 AB's.

Starting rotations are usually a bit fluid in the short season teams, so I'm not going to split the guys up here. I'm also not going to comment on all of them. Two 2008 draft picks, Daniel Osterbrock (7th round - University of Cincinnati) and David Coulon (15th round - University of Arizona) have been assigned to Elizabethton, although Coulon appears to be on some sort of "reassignment" right now, so I'm not sure when, or if, he'll actually pitch for the team this year.

Other interesting names include recent Beloit pitchers Daniel Berlind and Bradley Tippett, who were sent down after struggling a bit so far this year (although neither of them was terrible). I'm also very excited to see Venezuelan Danny Rondon (1.14 ERA in 23.2 innings for the GCL a year ago), lefty Australian Jarrad Eacott (2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings for the GCL Twins in 2007), and Arkansan Lee Martin (18th round pick in 2007 who put up a 3.21 ERA in 14.0 innings in the GCL in 2007). Finally, because he's a Minnesotan who did well in 2007 (and because he's got a fun name), I'm curious to see how Mark Hamburger (1.20 ERA in 15.0 innings with the GCL in 2007) performs as well. No disrespect intended for any of the guys not mentioned, but these are the names I'm going to follow most closely in 2008 (unless someone gives me a reason to do otherwise!).

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Blog Update

I still intend on putting up some comments about the E-Twins roster sometime tonight, in time for the season opener tomorrow. Unfortunately, so far there is not a complete roster available on the E-Twins website, and talking about an incomplete roster is rather frustrating. I'll keep watching the website tonight to see if the full roster comes up -- if not, I'll post it tomorrow when I get home from work (you would think they'd get it up by the time the season starts!). You can check out the currently posted roster here -- I have no reason to think the players who are listed won't be there, but as you'll see if you click the link, there are nowhere near enough players listed yet to field a team. Since the players are already presumably in Elizabethton (cutting it awfully close if they aren't!), the roster should be finished. It's just a matter of getting it up.

Also, in case you haven't been paying attention a bit, there was a flurry of roster moves throughout the organization over the last few days. UPDATE: La Velle Neal has some more names on his blog -- I've made the changes on this post. Here's a summary:

New to Rochester (AAA):
Trevor Plouffe - SS (from AA)
Jeff Christy - C (from AA)

New to New Britain (AA):

Jeff Manship - RHP (from High A)
Robert Delaney - RHP (from High A)
Danny Valencia - 3B (from High A)
Brian Dinkelman - 2B (from High A)
Rodolfo Palacios - C (from High A)
Frank Mata - RHP (from High A)

New to Ft. Myers (High A):
Jay Rainville - RHP (from AA)
Oswaldo Sosa - RHP (from AA)
Garrett Olson - 3B (from Low A)
Steve Singleton - 2B (from Low A)
Danny Lehmann - C (from Low A)
Matt Williams - RHP (from Low A)

New to Beloit (Low A):
Allan de San Miguel - C (from High A)
Henry Reyes - LHP (from High A)
Paul Kelly - SS (activated from DL)
Deibinson Romero - 3B (activated from DL)


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blog Update

I'll be back with regular posts tomorrow -- for all intents and purposes, I took the weekend off from blogging. I did, however, get the 11 draft signings that the Twins have made thus far up in the organizational rankings. With the Twins having an off day tomorrow, I won't be talking about a game -- but the Elizabethton Twins season starts on Tuesday, so tomorrow would be a good time for me to do a short roster analysis. Look for a GCL Twins roster analysis on Wednesday. I also intend to have Nightly Notes posts up for each of the weekday games this week.

Congrats to Dale Jr., good luck KG, and so long as the end of the US Open is close I'm fine with any winner. Heck of a weekend for sports!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #67

And here I thought the Twins were over playing like a AA team . . . guess not. I'm writing this post before the game is even over -- something I almost never do -- because it doesn't seem to be all that important to wait for a final in such a lopsided affair. Here are a few notes:

1.) I have been saying for the past couple of days that I thought the Twins were back in line to see good, solid starts. In fact, that was a significant part of my argument for why the Twins were foolish to keep 13 pitchers -- I figured that needing a bullpen that large was an anomaly. I also mentioned, however, that I was a bit uncomfortable with Livan Hernandez, who has simply been horrid in each of his last five starts. He seems to be the weak link in the chain right now -- which is ironic, since he was supposedly brought in to eat through scads of innings. I will continue to argue, as I did with Rincon, that even if he was eating through a ton of innings, it doesn't much matter because they aren't good innings. Having Livan pitch terribly every five days isn't, incidentally, a reason to keep an extra pitcher in the bullpen; instead, it's a reason to get rid of Livan. Would the Twins be bold enough to part ways with a guy who costs as much as Livan? If they're smart, and if they have a replacement ready to go (say, a certain Francisco Liriano, who appears to be improving), then the answer should be yes.

2.) Nice to see Matt Macri hit his first big league homer tonight. It was pretty much the only real highlight of the evening, from my standpoint.

3.) Didn't see if there was a particular reason that Jason Kubel was in left field tonight instead of Delmon Young. If it was a strategy decision, it clearly didn't work. Doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad decision, just one that didn't work out -- although unless Delmon was unavailable, I'd be inclined to say it was the wrong move.

4.) Glad to hear that #1 pick Aaron Hicks is close to signing, and should be in the fold tomorrow. No reason to delay the development of a promising young high school player. I hope that in a week or so, the Twins will have signed about 12 of their picks -- they're well on their way to that goal, with the 6 announced yesterday and the impending Hicks signing.

5.) Not much else to say tonight. I'm being dragged against my will to the opening of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" tomorrow, which means I probably won't post anything tomorrow night. I'm serious when I say I'm going to this movie against my will -- it looks ridiculous, Shyamalan ran out of steam long ago, and the movie has a 14% score on rottentomatoes.com, which usually (although not always) is pretty reliable. Nonetheless, I made a promise, so I'll take my punishment and go watch this monstrosity. I'd say that hopefully it won't be as bad as I fear, but I'm realistic -- it's going to suck. Enjoy tomorrow's game, and I should be back on Saturday.

UPDATE: Check out the comments for some good info from Jeremy (mostly regarding the Rochester roster) that I didn't know when I wrote this post originally. I'll be updating Org Rankings posts to reflect all of this stuff over the weekend.


Juan's Gone

No real surprise here, but Joe Christensen is reporting that the Twins have "cut ties" with Juan Rincon. The Twins are expected to make an official announcement later today -- probably after the game -- but there's really no room for doubt since Rincon's locker has been cleared out. Brian Buscher is reportedly being promoted to replace Rincon, which is what I had been hoping for.

Rincon was a very valuable reliever for the Twins from 2003 to 2006, but he simply hasn't been the same pitcher since. In 2007, he had a 5.13 ERA, and this season his ERA is sitting at 6.11. You can excuse a few months of a bad performance, but nearly a year and a half is a trend that's unlikely to be reversed. For whatever reason (blame performance enhancers if you want, although I don't necessarily think that that's the only reason), Rincon has flamed out.

Ultimately, the Twins needed to make a decision based not on what Rincon used to be, but on what he is now. They made the right decision. For his sake, I hope he can regain his form and catch on with another team. He should have a shot -- as the Strib has reported, the Twins are on the hook for the remainder of Rincon's season salary, while any team that signs him will just have to pay a pro-rated portion of the big league minimum. That makes it very likely that someone will take a chance on him, because there wouldn't be a lot to lose.

For the Twins (and fans like me, who were apoplectic about having a 13 man pitching staff), it's time to move on. All I can say is, I think this came about 2 weeks too late. Credit goes to Howard Sinker, by the way, for calling for this long before anyone else was. He was on the money.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #66

How nice to write about a win for a change! After a 1-0 loss to start the series, the Twins put a W up on the board. Here are some notes:

1.) For the second night in a row, the Twins got a quality start. Including Glen Perkins 5.1 inning performance against the White Sox on Monday afternoon, that makes three solid starts in a row. Again, I expect that this is more the norm than the short-start fever we had been seeing. Blackburn did need 94 pitches to get through 6 innings, and I would have liked him to go a bit further, but I'm not going to nitpick right now; I'll take the 6 innings.

2.) I had a horrible feeling when Boof came in with the lead. After his 0.2 innings and Dennys Reyes' 6 pitches, the feeling proved to be justified. Thankfully Jesse Crain came in and held the Indians off in the 7th (and followed it up with a solid 8th), bridging the gap to Joe Nathan. When's the last time Nathan got a save, by the way? Feels like forever. Anyway, the disappointing thing is that Bonser couldn't be counted on even to hold a big lead. I think it's unlikely that he's in danger of being cut after tomorrow's game, but you never know.

3.) For once, the Twins had a number of potential offensive heroes tonight. Jason Kubel went 3-for-4 with a homer, driving in 2 runs. Justin Morneau doubled twice in five at-bats while driving in 3 runs. Carlos Gomez, meanwhile, went 2-for-5, scoring a couple of runs and stealing a base. It feels good to mention that more than one batter contributed to a win! The Twins have enough talent in the lineup that this shouldn't be a rare thing.

4.) Brendan Harris is hitting just .240 for the year, but that doesn't really tell the whole story. Harris is hitting just .200 in June, and he hit just .217 in May. The only reason his average isn't completely in the tank is because he had a .277 average in April. It would be great if Harris had been able to come in and give the Twins some offensive firepower at 2B, as was intended -- but it's starting to look more and more like that's just a pipe dream. I will be really curious to see how Harris is used once everyone (i.e. Nick Punto and Adam Everett, mostly) get healthy.

5.) The Twins are still expecting to make a roster move after tomorrow's game, but they are still keeping mum on what that move is likely to be. Either they still really don't know (possible, but unlikely) or they just don't want to announce it too early. I'm still on the "waive Rincon, call up Buscher" bandwagon, which the Twins website and the Strib have been saying is the most likely move. We'll find out tomorrow, and then I can stop talking about it!

6.) Interesting article on the Minor League Baseball website discussing Francisco Liriano. After yesterday's solid start for the Red Wings, the article suggests that Liriano could be back with the Twins sooner rather than later. The article also mentions that Liriano will be in the rotation if he returns, not in the bullpen. Who leaves the rotation if that happens? Livan Hernandez has been the least effective, I think, but it would probably be a bit surprising if the Twins ditched their sole veteran starter at this point. It will be an interesting story to follow over the next few weeks, as Liriano tries to prove that solid starts aren't a fluke.

7.) According to Jeremy, who posted in the comments to my previous post, the Twins have signed 6 picks from last weeks draft already: Tyler Ladendorf - IF (2nd round); Bobby Lanigan - RHP (3rd Round); Evan Bigley - OF (10th Round); Michael Harrington - OF (13th Round); Steve Blevins - RHP (21st Round); Alex Curry - RHP (25th Round). I haven't seen this confirmed anywhere else yet (it will probably be in the Strib tonight), but I have no reason to doubt Jeremy. More on this when I get confirmation, although I will say that all of these guys are college players, so it makes sense that they'd be amongst the first to sign.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #64

A loss is a loss, but 1-0 at least feels a bit better than, say, 11-2. Here are a few notes on tonight's game:

1.) The Twins finally got a quality start, with Scott Baker going 7.0 innings and giving up 8 hits and a walk while allowing just 1 run. Frankly, the Twins desperately needed this kind of start. Glen Perkins wasn't bad yesterday, but he only went 5.1 innings. The Twins needed somebody to go at least 6+, and preferably at least 7, and thankfully that's what the Twins got tonight.

Now, I for one am of the opinion that this is more the norm for the Twins starters. I think each of them is likely to have individual down periods (something all big league pitchers are subject to), but the problem of late is that all of the Twins starters have been going through it at once. If I'm right, and if most of the starters will return to form relatively soon, then it's an argument in favor of not needing 13 pitchers. If I'm wrong, and the starters continue to struggle, it's an argument in favor of keeping 13 pitchers. Take your pick.

2.) The Twins got 5 hits today, scattered amongst 5 different players. Three of those players were Matt Macri, Carlos Gomez, and Alexi Casilla. Nice to see the young guys getting their hacks in. No surprise that Joe Mauer picked up one of the other hits. Incidentally, the fifth hit came from Mike Redmond, who was in the game because he has a great history against C.C. Sabathia. Not really a point here -- I just thought that this was an interesting breakdown of the hits.

3.) With the pressure off a bit, Francisco Liriano seems to be improving. Tonight, he went 6.0 innings, allowing just 1 run on 6 hits and a walk while striking out 7. I'm not suggesting that he should be called up tomorrow or anything (although frankly I wouldn't mind seeing him in place of Livan Hernandez!), but it's a good sign that he hopefully is heading in the right direction.

4.) Brian Buscher was back at 3B tonight for Rochester, which suggests that he's over whatever his injury was. If you've read recently, you know my opinion on what the Twins need to do with the roster. I won't go through it all again, but if Buscher is healthy, in my opinion he should replace Juan Rincon on the roster by the time the team swings into Milwaukee. UPDATE: Looks like the Strib agrees with me about Buscher being the likely callup if Rincon is cut by Friday, which they are saying is likely.

5.) Let's go through a brief thought experiment for a moment. Let's say the Twins keep 13 pitchers for two weeks. Let's also say that Matt Macri keeps playing relatively well (he went 1-for-3 against C.C. tonight), while Mike Lamb and Brendan Harris continue to underwhelm. At the end of that two week stretch, Nick Punto is supposed to be ready to return. The Twins certainly could option Macri back to AAA -- which, of course, they tried to do last Friday before realizing that Punto had to be put back on the DL -- but that's why the thought experiment has Macri playing well over the next two weeks. In those circumstances, does anyone think the Twins would stick with 13 pitchers? I personally don't. Of course, if Macri doesn't perform, especially if the pitchers revert to the form they've been in for the past 10 days or so, all bets are off.

6.) Go Celts! No one's commented on my repeated rooting for the Celtics -- but I'd be curious to know whether you're rooting for L.A., Boston, or none of the above in the NBA Finals. If you get a chance, let me know in the comments.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Updating a Few Things

I'm going to take one more night off from posting a true "Nightly Notes" column, for a couple of reasons -- I was at work during the game today, and don't have a lot to say about it; and also, I'm still frustrated (like most of you are!) with the results of the Chicago series. Consider this an abbreviated version of a normal NN post.

1.) In case you haven't checked out the rather lively comments section of my previous post, I suggest you do. Reader TT and I went back and forth numerous times on my suggestion that Juan Rincon was, essentially, worthless to the team, and that the team was making a mistake carrying 13 pitchers. I, at least, think it makes for an interesting read that provides two vastly different views of the situation.

2.) My prediction that Rincon would be off the team by tomorrow appears to be dead wrong. The Twins seem to want to make a move with Rincon, but don't feel justified pulling the trigger with the options available in Rochester. Brian Buscher, who I had predicted would be getting a callup, is apparently suffering through a minor injury and is rather limited in what he can do right now, making it extremely unlikely that he'll be called up. It looks the team will continue to move forward with the roster constituted as it has been for the last few days.

3.) Still no word on any draft signings, but we can't be more than a few days away from a wave of announcements. Top pick Aaron Hicks needs to finish high school before he can be signed, but I expect some of the college guys who aren't participating in the college world series to be signed fairly quickly.

4.) Congrats to Ken Griffey, Jr. on hitting #600 tonight. For some reason, he was never a player that I liked all that much. Nonetheless, he's clearly a first ballot Hall of Famer, and I respect him more now than I did when I (and he) was younger. I hope he can stay in the game for a few more years and shoot for 700, but we'll see what happens.

5.) One last thought -- four games ago, I thought the Twins were over-achieving. Today, after a series in which they fell back to Earth rather quickly, I'm disappointed. This is a somewhat illogical position to take, isn't it? If they were over-achieving before, these losses should have put them about where they "belong," or where I thought they belonged at the beginning of the year. Shouldn't I sort of be neutral, then? Anyway, it's interesting how the way you view a season can change in a span of four short days. Funny game, baseball.

6.) Oh yeah -- in case I haven't said it enough, go KG! Get that elusive championship!


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rincon's Final Game?

I'm not going to post a nightly notes column today -- I'm too frustrated. All of the Twins problems came to a head this weekend against the White Sox, at the worst possible time. What exactly would I say today about this game, or about the games on Friday and Saturday? The Twins will have one more shot against the Sox in this series, tomorrow afternoon. I hesitate to characterize it so definitively, but it sure seems to be a must win.

I will say that it seems likely that Juan Rincon pitched in his last game as a Twin today. The pressure has been building for some time to dump Rincon, and the anger of the fans has been building outing by outing. Rather than rising to the pressure, Rincon has completely folded. Whatever the Twins motivation in sticking with 13 pitchers (one of the worst roster management decisions that I can recall, and the first time that a move made by Bill Smith has caused me to shake my head), it has been proven to be a mistake. The Twins could put Bert Blyleven back on the roster and have him be more effective than Rincon.

On the positive side, the Twins seem ready to make a move. Ron Gardenhire, noting that his team has to play National League ball next weekend, has been strongly advocating for the addition of another position player. Bill Smith has played his cards closer to his vest, but it seems like reality is starting to set in on that front as well. I would guess that, possibly as early as tomorrow, the Twins could make a move.

The big question here is who will be called up to replace him. It seems clear that it will be an infielder, since right now the Twins only have 5 infielders on the roster, giving them a chance to make just one move per game involving an infielder. Sadly, there aren't a lot of options in Rochester. Howie Clark, just recently removed from the roster, would possibly have been a leading candidate, but he appears to have been injured and likely is unavailable. That would seem to make Brian Buscher the most likely to be called up, but of course he's mostly a third baseman and doesn't give the team as much flexibility as they might like. Chris Basak and Sergio Santos can both play at short, but neither are particularly dynamic players and likely would be on the roster to provide defensive replacements late in a game if a move had been made.

The Twins could always reach down to AA New Britain to call up a player, but Luke Hughes is once again hurting and Trevor Plouffe has cooled down significantly of late, and is also not really considered to be anywhere near ready for the big leagues. That makes the addition of either of them to the roster quite unlikely.

All of this at least makes it understandable (albeit still wrong) that the Twins would go with 13 pitchers rather than calling up another infielder up to this point. With all the injuries, there wasn't an obvious helpful callup to make. Recapping previous arguments, they also didn't want to lose any of the pitchers on the team, and with all of the struggling pitchers out of options there was no guarantee that anybody could be sent down. Also, with 40 games in 41 days and with the starting rotation struggling (which obviously is still true), carrying extra pitchers has certain advantages.

Nonetheless, reality can no longer be ignored. Juan Rincon is not benefiting the team in any way, and the team needs to cut him loose. I expect to see Brian Buscher in a Twins uniform in time for Tuesday's game in Cleveland.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

2008 Draft Recap

Once again, the Twins went the distance in the First Year Player Draft (also known as the Rule IV Draft, although no one calls it that -- except for nerds like me). I'm not going to bother even attempting to lay out the information available on the 52 players taken by the Twins this year, because (1) I don't know much, and (2) most of them won't sign anyway. If you want to take a look at the list and wonder what might be, you can find it here. Instead, I'm just going to make some observations that you might find somewhat interesting.

This year, the Twins drafted 52 players, 32 from the college and junior college ranks, and 20 out of high school. That's in line with what they did a year ago, when they took 28 college players and 22 high schoolers. Back in 2006, the Twins employed a very different strategy, drafting 30 high schoolers and 21 college players.

Despite these differences in the composition of the players drafted, the Twins signed 22 players from each of the 2006 and 2007 drafts, so it's a good bet that they'll be somewhere just over 20 when the signing period ends on August 15. The background of those players was also remarkably similar -- in '06, 7 of the signees were high schoolers and 15 were college players, while in '07 it was 6 and 16. That's somewhat remarkable considering the dramatic difference in the number of each type of player drafted up front.

As would be expected, the Twins have also been much more successful signing players from the top half of the draft. In 2006, the Twins signed 19 of the 26 players drafted in the first 25 rounds. Meanwhile, in 2007, the Twins signed 19 of the 25 players drafted in the first 25 rounds. Notice a pattern? It's certainly possible that the Twins will have less success at signing the players they drafted at the top of the draft this time around, but I doubt it. Expect another 17-20 signings from the top half of the draft, and another 2-4 signed from the back half.

The breakdown of positions drafted wasn't too surprising -- RHP (20), OF (12), LHP (11), 3B (5), 2B (3), SS (2), C (2), 1B (1). Righties are always taken in abundance, and lefties are always a bit scarcer (although the Twins took a bounty this year -- in 2006 they took just 6, and in 2007 they managed to draft only 4, so 11 looks downright bountiful). It's also not surprising that the Twins took a lot of third basemen, since that's a position of particular need. Otherwise, nothing really stands out about this breakdown.

Now, I think it's difficult to predict who will and who won't sign (general predictions on overall numbers are one thing, but what specific players will do is much more difficult). Nonetheless, I think the Twins are likely to have a tough time signing Daniel Ortiz (4th round - CF) or Brett Hermsen (6th round - RHP), especially Hermsen. From what a commenter said in my first round post, Hermsen expected to go higher in the draft, and has signed a letter of intent to play for Oregon State University. Usually, a high schooler who falls a bit further than expected decides to go to college in the hopes that his draft status will rise when he becomes eligible again. The Twins are unlikely to pony up extra money to entice Hermsen to stick around (we are talking about the Twins, after all), so I don't expect him to sign.

Overall, I'm satisfied with this draft. As I've said many times before, I don't think you can adequately grade a draft for a few years, since there are just so many unknowns. The Twins seemed to go after solid players, and with the exception of the Carlos Gutierrez pick at the end of the 1st round (which was widely panned, since the Twins probably could have taken Gutierrez later), I don't think the Twins made any crazy leaps. They also drafted a ton of college arms, and I really like taking college pitchers since they're generally much closer to contributing.

Finally, a note on signings. Under the new-ish collective bargaining agreement, teams have only until August 15 to sign players from this draft. Most of the players signed by the team will be signed in the next two weeks or so. A couple of years ago, the Twins had some signings to announce on the Saturday after the draft -- if that happens again, we could know some names as early as today. More likely, however, it will take 5-7 days for the first set of names to come out. I will post names as soon as I know them, and once a player signs I'll add them to the bottom of the appropriate Organizational Ranking page.


Friday, June 06, 2008

MLB Draft, Day 2

Sadly, I actually have to work today so I won't be able to do much analysis of picks as they happen for the 44 rounds left to go in the draft. Of course, as we get further down the draft, the odds of a player actually being signed and contributing to the team drops significantly, so it wouldn't be quite as exciting to live blog towards the end of this thing. If I get a chance to (and all it is at this point is an "if"), I'll post some thought during my lunch break on what happens this morning. Otherwise, I'll post a recap later tonight.

UPDATE: Actually, I'm taking the night off. I'll post my thoughts on Day 2 of the draft tomorrow morning. It sure was an interesting draft -- we'll see in a few years how it turns out!


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Punto Back to the DL

Joe Christensen is reporting that Nick Punto is heading back to the DL, and Matt Macri is back with the team after having spent all of a few hours on optional assignment. Since Macri hadn't yet flown out of the Twin Cities, he'll be able to rejoin the team immediately. I see this as bad news for the Twins -- with only three bench players, Punto could have been an integral player because of his flexibility. Macri doesn't have the flexibility or big league experience to fill that kind of role for the team. I'll be curious to see if this changes the team's mind about sticking with 13 pitchers.

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MLB Draft

I have the opportunity to spend the day at home today, so I'm going to doing something of a very slooooooowly paced live blog on the Twins draft. I'll definitely be commenting on each selection as its made, and I may also make some comments on picks taken by other teams if the player selected had been rumored to be heading to the Twins at some point. Since the Twins play starting in a few minutes, it makes sense for me to also post comments on anything particularly interesting that happens during the game. New posts will be added at the end of the post -- I always hate having to scroll up when I read a live blog after the fact, and I highly doubt that there will be many of you out there breathlessly waiting for my updates. Instead, most of you are likely to run across this after the fact.

10:56 MDT -- The game's going to start in a few minutes, and I just have to say going in that I share the general frustration expressed all over the Strib and the blogosphere over the Twins decision to carry 13 pitchers. I understand the reasoning, but I strongly disagree with it because I think it makes the Twins worse off. Here's hoping Scott Baker and Co. make it a non-issue today.

11:11 MDT -- Very nice play by Justin Morneau at first to help Baker get the out against the first batter he faced. Good way to start the game!

11:22 MDT -- Baker again gets help from the defense, as Nick Punto makes a nice diving play to end the inning on a looping ball that looked to be headed up the middle. Baker threw far too many pitches in the first inning (22), but otherwise it was a very successful return to action.

11:28 MDT -- Once again Alexi Casilla plays a role in getting the Twins on the board early. First, he picked up a single by knocking a ball past the third baseman into left field, and then he used his speed to score on a Mike Redmond double. He ended up scoring easily because the ball got away from the relay man, but I couldn't tell whether Scott Ullger was being aggressive in sending him or whether Casilla ran through a stop sign from the angles they showed me on the Orioles feed. Either way, this was yet another example of how speed at the top of the order can change the game.

11:40 MDT -- Baker survives the second after giving up a ground-rule double down the right field line to Kevin Millar (wondering how you get a ground rule double in right field in the Metrodome? The ball goes out to the right of the bag, in foul territory, after landing just inside the line). The next batter also drilled the ball hard, but Delmon was in position to make the catch. Two groundouts later and Baker was through two innings. Even better -- he only needed 14 pitches to get through the inning, which is a reasonable number. If he's going to go 6+ tonight, though, he's going to need at least one quick inning where he needs fewer than 10 pitches.

11:46 MDT -- It wasn't a homerun, but Delmon Young just showed that he's willing to turn on a pitch and pull it for a hit. It's not like he's never done it before, but it sure seems like he usually looks for pitches away to push to right field. It's a good sign that he's not trying to do that with every pitch; he clearly intended to turn on this one and pull it to left.

12:02 MDT -- Baker is laboring. He doesn't seem to have the control or stuff right now to put batters away, and the deep counts came back to bite him as he gave up a two run shot to Nick Markakis. Baker is now up to 57 pitches with just 1 out in the 3rd, and I would say he'll be lucky to get through 5 innings. Hopefully he can turn it around, but it's not looking particularly promising.

12:10 MDT -- The commissioner is at the podium saying the kinds of things that commissioners say in these situations. And oh, by the way, the Tampa Bay Rays are now "officially" on the clock. How funny is it that one of the best teams in the big leagues this year has the first pick in the draft?

12:13 MDT -- Casilla does it again, doubling down the third base line. I really do love the Gomez-Casilla duo at the top of the lineup; it just opens up so many exciting possibilities!

12:17 MDT -- As expected, the Rays go with SS Tim Beckham to kick off the draft. Unless one of the Twins target players goes, I probably won't say much about the draft again until the Twins are up (at pick #14).

12:25 MDT -- Baker gets through the 4th inning without allowing another run, but he's now up to 80 pitches. Barring a 3-pitch miracle inning or something similar, the 5th would seem to be the end of the line for him.

12:32 MDT -- I got excited for a second -- Delmon turned on another one and put a swing on it that, at first, I thought was going to be enough to end this ridiculous homerless streak. Unfortunately, it ended up being nothing more than a routine fly to the left fielder. Still, he's 2-for-2 on pulling inside pitches to left, which would seem to be progress of some sort.

12:39 MDT -- Keith Law 1, Baseball America 0 -- both mock drafts had the first four picks right, but Law kept the streak alive by correctly predicting that the Giants would go with catcher Buster Posey instead of 1B Justin Smoak.

12:41 MDT -- Baker gets through the 5th, but with his pitch count sitting at 99 and Brian Bass warming up in the 'pen, his night would appear to be over. This start was a bit too "Bonser-esque" in terms of (in)efficiency, but at least he only allowed 2 runs and generally got back in the groove. I'm pleased, and hopefully the Twins offense can get going to prevent Baker from taking a loss.

12:44 MDT -- Law keeps his streak alive, correctly projecting that the Marlins would go with catcher Kyle Skipworth with the 6th spot. Baseball America had Skipworth falling to Houston in 10th. Since both Law and BA had the Marlins taking a catcher, it seems that it was pretty clear that they wanted to address that need coming in. Law correctly read the Giants interest in Posey and the fact that the Marlins would go with the second best catcher in the draft rather than go with a different position.

12:49 MDT -- Law is no longer perfect, as both he and BA predicted that the Reds would go with SS Gordon Beckham. Instead, they selected 1B Yonder Alonso out of the University of Miami, which seems to be a bit of a surprise.

12:51 MDT -- Alexi Casilla comes through for a third time tonight, driving in the game-tying run with yet another single to right field. I'm running out of superlatives for Casilla real quick. Baker, incidentally, is now off the hook. Thanks Alexi!

1:01 MDT -- Bass has a solid 6th inning (despite allowing a deep drive to center by the first batter that thankfully stayed in the park), while Baseball America evens the score against Keith Law by correctly suggesting that the Nationals would pick RHP Aaron Crow in the 9th spot.

1:06 MDT -- Delmon's pulled-ball streak ends as he goes the other way, driving the ball to the warning track where it's caught to end the bottom of the 6th. It looked to me like he made the right decision in going the other way with the pitch he faced, and since he almost took it off the baggy I can't complain too much.

1:09 MDT -- Adam Jones just destroyed a hanging curve from Brian Bass, giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Helps my fantasy team, but I can't say I'm pleased by this development.

1:11 MDT -- With two more picks before the Twins draft, they're guaranteed to get one of the players who has been regularly mentioned. The first choice seems to be outfielder Aaron Hicks out of Long Beach, California. Hicks is considered by Law to be an "athletic, high-upside high school bat." Baseball America calls him a "toolsy athlete." Seems like an exciting possibility. Also mentioned a lot has been lefty Christian Friedrich out of Eastern Kentucky University (although he's projected to possibly go to the Cardinals). One of those two should be the pick, but if both are gone the Twins could go with infielders Brett Lawrie or Jemile Weeks.

1:16 MDT -- Weeks goes to the Athletics at #12, which means the Twins will get either Hicks or Friedrich (barring a surprise move, which is certainly always possible).

1:22 MDT -- Alexi Casilla actually fails to come through, grounding into a double play to end the 7th. Meanwhile, the Cardinals go with 3B Brett Wallace, and the Twins have their choice of the players they were looking at. If the folks who know what they're looking for are right, the Twins will go with Hicks. We'll know inside of three minutes.

1:27 MDT -- So the Twins indeed go with Hicks, and the ESPN guys seem to like him. Of course, they're going to like all of these guys generally, since they're all great talents. Hicks is listed as an OF/RHP, but as has been discussed elsewhere, he's interested in playing in the field rather than pitching, and the Twins drafted him as an outfielder. I like this pick -- he's 6'2", and currently only weighs 175 pounds, but as Steve Phillips just said (just as I was writing this), he's got a frame that should be able to fill out really well. I really like this pick from the Twins -- they did exactly what the professional prognosticators thought they'd do, and didn't seem to reach. This gives them some flexibility to be a little more creative with the 27th or 31st pick if they so desire. Nice start to things!

1:38 MDT -- Ron Gardenhire gives us a hint of interesting things to come -- with a paucity of bench players around, Gardy puts Kevin Slowey in to pinch run for Mike Redmond after Red Dog gets a hit leading off the bottom of the 8th. We could be seeing a lot of this sort of thing . . .

1:44 MDT -- Gardy continues to get creative, pinch hitting Jason Kubel for Craig Monroe (resulting in a base hit) and then pinch hitting Joe Mauer (who was going to have to come in to replace Slowey anyway) for Delmon Young. With runners on 1st and 2nd and 2 out, Mauer had a chance to tie the game with a hit, but he rolled his hands over and grounded out to the right side. It was a good effort, but sadly came up short. The Twins will now have to try to beat George Sherrill in the 9th.

2:05 MDT -- Nick Punto gave the Twins a chance to win (yes, you read that right) by doubling with one out in the 9th. Carlos Gomez then popped out to left and Alexi Casilla, after a lengthy at-bat, succumbed to a strikeout. Twins lose, dropping the series to the Orioles. I'm now fully into draft-tracker mode.

2:22 MDT -- Two more picks before the Twins make their second selection of the first round. Interestingly, LHP Christian Friedrich is still available. Since the Twins were rumored to be interested in Friedrich with their first pick at #14, one would think they'd be thrilled if Friedrich falls to them at #27. Of course, there's always the possibility that the team isn't all that interested in Friedrich, and could go instead for outfielder Zach Collier or LHP Brett DeVall instead. The Twins are supposedly quite high on Collier, but I suspect that's because Friedrich was expected to be gone by the time their second pick rolled around. I think I'm rooting for Friedrich -- the Twins have had a lot of success drafting college pitchers, so they might as well keep going for it!

2:27 MDT -- Friedrich goes to the Rockies, which means the Twins will probably refocus on Collier if he gets past the D'Backs. If not, DeVall seems the likely pick, but again surprises are always possible.

2:38 MDT -- The Twins went with surprise at this spot, going with RHP Carlos Gutierrez out of the University of Miami instead of OF Zach Collier. Again, I like the Twins taking college pitchers, but I'm not as high on Gutierrez. For one thing, he's already had Tommy John surgery. Second, he's the lowest projected pick taken so far (82nd by Baseball America). Third, I keep hearing the word "surprise" coming from the desk, and that worries me a bit. However, Steve Phillips says he's a fast-track guy, and Peter Gammons says "Never bet against the Twins." For my part, I'm hoping Collier falls to the Twins at #31 -- or that they find a reasonable 3B prospect with that pick.

3:13 MDT -- The Twins have gone with another college pitcher, drafting RHP Shooter Hunt out of Tulane University with the 31st pick in the draft. Hunt is getting plenty of praise from the desk, although it sounds like he might be a little raw. The Twins now have to wait for 29 picks until they get to their second round pick. Picks are going to fly by from here on out, and I haven't a clue who the Twins will end up getting from here on out. I'll make my comments as the picks come up.

4:24 MDT -- After a seemingly interminable wait, the second round of the draft has begun. The Twins have taken two college right-handers and a high school outfielder so far. While I don't have any names to throw at you, my guess is that the Twins will now aim the top available infielder, hopefully a 3B type. I suspect that the Twins will pick infielders of some variety with several of their next few picks as they try to restock the system. There are 11 picks left before the Twins draft again, but those picks should go by pretty quickly.

4:29 MDT -- Now this is interesting -- Chaska lefty Brad Hand, who had been rumored as a possible reach for the Twins at #60 (he was seemingly projected in the 90's somewhere) has been selected by the Florida Marlins at #52. The Marlins may have thought that the Twins would reach for Hand at #60, and so decided to reach themselves to get him in the fold. I don't think that the Twins would have gone for Hand here based on what they've done so far today, but the temptation certainly would have been there. If that was the Twins plan, however, they now have to go in a different direction.

4:38 MDT -- As expected, the Twins have gone with an infielder for their second round pick, taking Howard College shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. According to MLB.com, Ladendorf has power, speed, and the ability to field. He's also not necessarily projected as a shortstop long term, so we'll see what he grows into moving forward. I like this pick -- the Twins needed to go after an infielder, and they seemed to have picked up a pretty good one here.

5:10 MDT -- With the 92nd pick in the draft (the Twins 5th, already!), they nabbed RHP Robert Lanigan out of Adelphi University. Again, we get a college pitcher. Again, it's a righty. Personally, by this point I would have liked to see a lefty drafted, but it is what it is. Lanigan had a 1.94 ERA in 79.0 innings this season in 13 games (11 starts). He also had an outstanding 87-16 K-BB ratio. I'm hoping for either an infielder or a lefty starter in round 3.

5:45 MDT -- Rather than going with an infielder or lefty starter, the Twins have drafted center fielder Daniel Ortiz, a high schooler who hits from the left side. At least based on his vitals, Ortiz is probably the type of speedy center fielder that the Twins seem to love drafting -- he's 5'11", 166 pounds. I have no other information on him, but looking at this numbers it seems rather unlikely that he's going to be anything like David Ortiz at the plate. Considering how many players the Twins have in the organization that fit this role, this seems like a bit of an odd pick. Until I see more on him, though, I'll give the Twins the benefit of the doubt.

6:14 MDT -- There's the third baseman I was looking for! The Twins have drafted switch-hitting Nicholas Romero out of San Diego State University. For some reason, I can't find SDSU stats for this season, but last year Romero hit 6 homers in 226 AB's while putting together a .319 average. At 6'01" and 200 pounds, Romero would seem to have a good frame. I'm guessing he projects as a power-hitting third baseman. Thank Goodness!

6:42 MDT -- In what could turn out to be the last pick of the day for the Twins, they have selected right hander Brett Hermsen out of West Delaware High School with their sixth round pick. Hermsen is 6'6" tall, which is intriguing. I don't know enough about him to say whether or not Hermsen is likely to sign or go to college. While I like drafting college pitchers early, I don't think there's anything wrong with drafting high school arms at this point in the draft (and of course, if there's a dynamic high school arm at the top of the draft, you'd be silly not to make the selection). If the Twins get another pick in tonight, I'll cover it. Otherwise, this will end the "live" blog. Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

First Two Months

No notes tonight (although congrats to the Twins on a nice win) -- I wanted to finally get my thoughts on award winners and All-Stars out tonight. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking here in the way of analysis, but if you haven't been following things closely you might be surprised at just who has good numbers so far this season. Without further ado (and a few days late), here are my thoughts on the first two months of the season:

Award Winners

It's obviously extremely early, and when the end of the season rolls around the names that I've listed below almost certainly won't be at the top of the respective awards voting. Nonetheless, it's kind of fun to just take a look at where we'd be if the season ended today.

AL CY Young

The best numbers in the AL so far this year have mostly been put up by some unexpected names. For me, I can't get past the guy who leads the league in ERA -- Cliff Lee of the Indians. The ERA title and Cy Young don't necessarily need to go to the same guy, but when you see that a guy has a 1.88 ERA (entering today's games), a 0.96 WHIP, an 8-1 record, and a 57-10 K-BB ratio, it's pretty impressive. The next best ERA belongs Daisuke Matsuzaka at 2.53, which is a pretty significant difference. If Matsuzaka was significantly better somewhere, I could justify favoring him over Lee for this -- but he doesn't. Matsuzaka doesn't have a loss, so I guess he's better there -- but he has a higher WHIP to go with that higher ERA, more walks, fewer strikeouts, and thanks to his injury, fewer innings pitched. There's simply no justification for putting him ahead of Lee.

NL Cy Young

Like the AL, the NL is filled with some unexpected names at the top of the Cy Young charts. Somewhat surprisingly, Johan Santana isn't yet quite on that list -- his 3.20 ERA is 10th in the league, and he's not at the top of any of the other major categories. He's been very good (and very important to the Mets), but he isn't in the running for the Cy Young (once again, I say "yet!").

So who is on the list? It's hard to ignore the Reds' Edinson Volquez, who has a stunning 1.46 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 68.0 innings, a 7-2 record, and an 83-36 K-BB ratio. Fellow youngster Tim Lincecum of the Giants is the next closest in ERA at 2.23, with a 1.27 WHIP, 78-32 K-BB ratio, and 76.2 innings under his belt. Usual suspects Carlos Zambrano (Cubs) and Brandon Webb (D-Backs) are right behind Lincecum, and Webb's 10 wins are impressive. Still, how do you get past Volquez's raw stats? At this point, he has to get the nod.


I'm not even going to bother mentioning more than one name here -- this award belongs to Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, who has a .329 batting average, 1.005 OPS, 17 homers, 67 RBI's, and just 37 K's in 243 AB's. I don't have a clue what to say to those numbers -- they're just stunning. If he keeps this up for long, he'll have such a lead by the end of June that no one will even have a chance to catch him.


Talk about a fun race! The winner right now would have to be the Astros' Lance Berkman, who has a .382 average, 1.213 OPS (ridiculous!), 17 homers, 48 RBI's, 33 K's in 212 AB's, and 10 steals for good measure. His closest competition is Atlanta's Chipper Jones, who is hitting a remarkable .409 with a 1.141 OPS, 13 HR's, and 38 RBI's. Perennial contender Albert Pujols of the Cardinals is also in the mix with a .362 average, 1.122 OPS, 14 homers and 39 RBI's. Finally, how could I not mention the Phillie's Chase Utley, with his .325 average, 1.092 OPS, 21 homers, and 53 RBI's. Really, this should be great to watch -- these are four great players who actually have a chance to keep their numbers high (although I have to imagine they're going to fall off a bit before the end of the season . . . don't they?).

AL Rookie of the Year

Based on qualified rookies, at this point there are a couple of pitchers and a couple of position players with a shot. Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn is at least in the running, with a 3.32 ERA and 1.38 WHIP to go along with a 41-14 K-BB ratio and a 4-3 record in 76.0 innings. Oakland's Greg Smith has a 3.56 ERA and 1.20 WHIP to go with a 53-24 K-BB ratio and a 3-4 record. I actually like Smith's numbers a bit more than Blackburn's for this slot.

However, both pitchers probably fall behind outfielders David Murphy (Texas) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston) in the pecking order. Murphy has a .292 average and .807 OPS to go with 7 homers and 39 RBI's, while Ellsbury has a .284 average and .792 OPS with 28 steals in 31 attempts. Ellsbury's steals numbers are impressive, and since his average and OPS are close to Murphy's, I actually am inclined to give the nod to Ellsbury for now. Of course, there's a significant expectation that Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria will take it from them both by the end of the year -- for now, however, I find it hard to believe that a guy who is hitting .237 belongs at the top of the list.

NL Rookie of the Year

I like the Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens, who has a 3.45 ERA and 1.38 WHIP with a 5-3 record and 51-30 K-BB ratio, but those numbers probably aren't good enough to get him above two Chicago Cubs position players. Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome has a .305 average and .843 OPS, proving clearly that he has had no trouble transitioning to the big leagues. Meanwhile, catcher Geovany Sato has a .293 average and .944 OPS with 10 homers and 39 RBI's. I also can't leave this category without mentioning Blake DeWitt of the Dodgers, who has a .293 average and .815 OPS with 5 homers and 29 RBI's. Give me Sato for now -- but watch out for Jay Bruce of the Reds, whose early numbers are just silly. He has plenty of time to get into this conversation.

AL Manager of the Year

This has to be Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon, doesn't it? The Rays no longer have the best record in the league, but you have to think that Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Angels manager Mike Scioscia have easier jobs than Maddon does, trying to keep all that young talent on the right track. I'd like to give an honorable mention to Ron Gardenhire for keeping the Twins in contention despite a number of issues we are all familiar with. The same could be said for Ozzie Guillen, but considering the things that come out of his mouth I'm inclined to think the White Sox are winning in spite of, not because of, him. I just don't think you can give this to anyone other than Maddon.

NL Manager of the Year

I like Chicago's Lou Piniella here, but until a couple of days ago I would probably have gone with Florida's Fredi Gonzalez. I don't have as good a grasp of this race as the AL race, but if I had a vote I'd be comfortable going with Sweet Lou.

Gold Gloves

Yeah, right . . . it's hard enough to project these at the end of the year, what with the relatively meaningless defensive statistics we have. I'm not going to make the effort here.

All-Star Selections

When it gets closer to All-Star break, I'll actually give my picks for the whole team, along with detailed explanations. For now, I'm just going to give you the players I'd pick to be starters. Sadly, these picks have very little to do with who the fans will be voting in, more than likely!

American League
Starter - Cliff Lee (CLE)
Closer - Mariano Rivera (NYY)
C - Joe Mauer (MIN)
1B - Justin Morneau (MIN)
2B - Ian Kinsler (TEX)
3B - Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
SS - Michael Young (TEX)
OF - Josh Hamilton (TEX)
OF - Carlos Quentin (CHW)
OF - Manny Ramirez (BOS)

National League
Starter - Edinson Volquez (CIN)
Closer - Billy Wagner (NYM)
C - Bengie Molina (SFG)
1B - Lance Berkman (HOU)
2B - Chase Utley (PHI)
3B - Chipper Jones (ATL)
SS - Miguel Tejada (HOU)
OF - Ryan Ludwick (STL)
OF - Nate McLouth (PIT)
OF - Aaron Rowand (SFG)

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