Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blog Update

I'm tired and I'm cranky (moving heavy things all day long will do that to you), so I'm in no mood to put together a real blog post tonight. A few things I'm thinking about while lying on my couch:

1.) I'm disappointed (and surprised) that the Twins didn't even make a minor move today. This morning, I placed the odds at just 10% that the Twins would do absolutely nothing. I guess the great thing about expressing predictions in terms of percentages is that, really, you can't prove I was wrong!

2.) I'm thrilled that the Twins seem to be leaning towards parting ways with Livan Hernandez. About bloody time. Hopefully, this is more than just a mere rumbling.

3.) Looks like the Twins are going to win again tonight. Taking 3-of-4 from the White Sox is a huge deal for the team. They're serious contenders, and with Francisco Liriano in the rotation (hopefully by next week) -- along with Manny Ramirez NOT being on the Red Sox -- I suddenly feel as if the Twins can compete with any team in the AL not based in Anaheim. Well, except for the Yankees in New York, which is Twins kryptonite.

4.) Far be it from me to make fun of people with eclectic interests, but I'm unbelievably sick of the X-Games. ESPN has been promoting them for seemingly months. The ads are just plain stupid -- not witty, or edgy, or thoughtful, but really, really stupid. They're treated like a big deal, but I don't know anyone who enjoys them (which maybe says more about who I hang out with than anything else). Obviously, people watch -- otherwise this stuff would disappear, or be shown about as often as the Lumberjack Games. Still, I really don't understand the appeal. I can't wait for this junk to be done so the parade of inane ads disappears.

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What I Expect to See Today

Well -- what I expect to read about, anyway. Today is the final day of my crazy week-long moving extravaganza, so I'll probably be in Denver helping my two soon-to-be-Ex roommates unload their possessions into a new place. Nonetheless, I'll be trying to catch updates on ESPN radio as often as possible because, honestly, today is my third favorite day of the baseball season behind Opening Day and the First Day of the Playoffs (every one of those capital letters has been earned).

The morning has opened, interestingly enough, with news that Ken Griffey, Jr. may soon be a member of the Chicago White Sox. There was a time when this news might have freaked me out a little bit, but if the ChiSox want to add a guy who's hitting .245 on the year and isn't exactly a young man anymore, more power to 'em. The one worry I would have is that moving a player with the talent of Griffey into a playoff chase might motivate him -- but while Griffey still has the name, let's be honest and acknowledge that he's not exactly a "major" addition at this point in his career.

Will the Twins counterpunch? Many fans are annoyed with Bill Smith for essentially standing pat so far. Then again, many fans are easily frustrated when a GM does nothing, thinking that it's automatically a sign of failure. For these folks, a trade -- any trade -- is an indication of a hard-working, aggressive GM who is doing his best to help his team win. I am decidedly NOT in that camp, and I feel pretty strongly that there are times when no trade is better than a poorly conceived or badly executed trade. This is especially true if a team picks up a rent-a-player for an excessively high price in prospects.

But I digress. The question for the day is what will the Twins do -- and I actually think there's a better than even chance that at least one, and possibly several, deals are consummated. Here are a few things that could go down:

1.) Boof Bonser is a goner. I give this a 70% chance of happening. La Velle Neal reported a bit on it last night, and a deal makes too much sense not to get done. The Twins don't need Bonser right now, and could benefit from opening up a place in the bullpen to shove somebody into once Francisco Liriano is called up. It's also pretty clear that Bonser is not going to get back into the starting rotation mix with the Twins. Bonser could be included as one part of a bigger deal, but I actually think it's more likely that he's traded in a small side deal, straight up for a low-level prospect. Moving Bonser is the best thing for all sides, so I hope it happens.

2.) Acquiring a second baseman. Call it about 35%. I'm sure the Twins have been calling a lot of GM's in the last 24 hours, seeing if anyone is available. What I'm not so sure of is whether anyone suitable fits the bill. The Twins should not overspend to cover second base, because Alexi Casilla will be back next year and hopefully will be able to pick up where he left off. If he can, he's going to be the full time starter for at least several more years, which means the Twins are firmly in rent-a-player territory. The acquisition of any veteran infielder that would allow the Twins to part with Adam Everett would be fine by me -- but not if the price is too high. I've seen Mark Grudzielanek's name mentioned a few times, and frankly that would be perfect. How much will the Royals demand for him, though?

3.) Acquiring a right-handed hitting third baseman. I'll put this at no more than 15%. Supposedly the Adrian Beltre talks have been re-opened, but unless the Mariners are willing to eat most of his 2008 and 2009 salaries (he's set to make $12 million next year), or are willing to take back peanuts in exchange for him so that they can just get rid of his contract, I don't see a deal getting done. Frankly, I hope no deal is made -- at least for Beltre. He's hitting .257 this year, and while he would add a bit of power (he has 18 dingers this year), I'm not all that excited about adding a guy with his recent track record not just for this year but for all of next.

4.) Absolutely nothing. No more than 10%. I feel pretty confident that the Twins will make a move of some kind, even if it is a tiny, virtually meaningless deal. Maybe this is just me wanting something to write about when I eventually make it home tonight. Of course, this is just the non-waiver deadline, so even if nothing is done today there's still a chance for a trade throughout August. My guess, though, is that fans will have at least one new face to cheer for tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guess That "Maybe" Was Apt . . .

So when I wrote about Adam Everett being cut earlier today, I used the title "Bye Bye Adam Everett . . . Maybe". I did it solely because Everett was given the option by the Twins of accepting a minor league assignment -- so there was a limited chance that he would still be in the organization. Tonight, Joe Christensen is reporting that Everett isn't just sticking around -- he's rejoining the Twins.

The reason is incredibly unfortunate -- Alexi Casilla, one of the Twins spark plugs this season, has a torn thumb ligament and may be out for the rest of the year. With Matt Tolbert not yet ready to return, that left the Twins with a legitimate need for Everett's services. We'll see how he performs now that he's back, but it's fairly clear that the Twins would be much better off with Casilla on the roster.

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Blog Update

Just a reminder that I'm in the middle of moving, which has been taking up a lot of the time that I would normally spend blogging (or putting together some ideas for the blog). By Friday, I should be settled in, and by Sunday I should have resumed a normal blogging schedule. Until then, don't expect much more than the occasional note such as I dropped earlier tonight discussing Adam Everett being cut. If the Twins make a deal tomorrow or Thursday, I'll find time to post my thoughts.

Incidentally, congrats to the Twins for winning tonight's game. Going into the White Sox series, I felt that the Twins had to split the series at a bare minimum -- losing it 3-1 or being swept would have been unbelievably deflating, especially since the series is being played in the Dome. The Twins have now successfully done what they had to do, and anything else is a bonus. You have to think there's a good chance they can win at least one of the next two games to finish the series just 1/2 game back -- and dare we dream about a sweep? We'll see!


Bye Bye Adam Everett . . . Maybe

As most of you have probably seen by now, the Twins have cut Adam Everett. They had to make some sort of decision on what to do with him, as his 20-day rehab stint was up. I don't think there's a big need to go into much analysis on this issue -- Everett was dead weight ever since being signed, and I doubt there are many fans out there who are upset with this decision.

The Twins supposedly would like Everett to accept a demotion to AAA, but I doubt that he'll do so. He has 72 hours, and I personally hope he decides to search for greener pastures. There had been some discussion that the Dodgers might be interested (Buster Olney suggested just this morning that a trade was possible), but at this point the market for him is likely to be so small that anyone seriously interested will probably just wait to see if he ends up on the open market. Any returns in a trade would probably not be worth much, in any case.

Of significantly more concern is the fact that Alexi Casilla is off to get an MRI on his thumb. As much as I've been touting the recent solid performance of Nick Punto, I certainly don't want to see him getting playing time because Casilla is hurt. Hopefully this will turn into a "couple of days" thing instead of a nagging injury that necessitates a trip to the DL.

Now, let's hope the Twins can follow up last night's excellent game with another win to guarantee at worst a series split. Go Twins!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Trade or Not to Trade

After today's win over the Indians and Chicago's loss to the Tigers, the Twins sit 2.5 games back in both the Central division and the Wild Card race (although a Yankees win tonight would get them a half game closer). Twins fans have been clambering for a trade throughout most of the month of July, with lots of talk about Adrian Beltre, Xavier Nady, Brian Fuentes, and Garrett Atkins being bandied about in various places. I've stayed relatively quiet, but with the non-waiver trade deadline just a few days away I figured it was time to break my silence.

Up front, I want to say that I'm not really going to identify potential targets or discuss specific names. I just don't think it makes any sense to go into a lot of detail on a specific deal when there's been very little actual discussion about specific names. Instead, I'll talk generally about whether it even makes sense for the Twins to pursue upgrades right now.

The first point that I think everyone needs to keep in mind is that the Twins aren't supposed to be where they are. The Indians and Tigers both suffered extreme collapses from what they were expected to do (although the Tigers seem to be improving). On top of that, the Twins rotation was filled with young starters and the lineup experienced drastic turnover from the year before. At best, the Twins were supposed to finish third -- and there were some pundits predicting that a last place finish wasn't out of the question. Expectations, in other words, were low.

Actual results early on didn't do a lot to change expectations. The Twins got virtually nothing out of most of their off-season acquisitions, with Craig Monroe, Mike Lamb, and Adam Everett all being clear busts. Livan Hernandez had a very solid start to the season, but he has been only marginal since then. Centerfielder Carlos Gomez has gone from goat to hero to goat and back several times. Michael Cuddyer has either been injured or bad all year. Pat Neshek was ineffective before suffering a season-ending injury. Juan Rincon finally self-destructed. Delmon Young became the butt of derision for many fans when he showed a complete lack of power for most of the first half. Francisco Liriano was so bad he got busted back to AAA, and still hasn't re-emerged. Many of the results on the field, then, fit perfectly within the low expectations for this team.

Despite all of this, the Twins are now in position to make a run. Upgrades to the bullpen and third base would clearly be welcome. A legitimate bat off the bench would be a nice find, as well. I fully agree with the legion of fans who have identified these areas of concern and who think improvements can be made. By no means do I think the Twins are perfect.

The question, however, is whether it makes any sense to swing a deal right now. I personally think the answer is no -- this team is not good enough, in my opinion, to do anything even if they make it into the playoffs. The rotation is too young and unproven, and the offense is just not good enough to compete regularly with teams like the Angels and Red Sox. I know that for some people, making it to the playoffs is an end in itself. After all, if you make it to the playoffs, then luck can go your way and bounce you right into the World Series. I don't disagree with that -- obviously, if you don't make it to the playoffs you have no chance, while getting in at least gives you some chance. To what extent do you really want to mortgage the future for what is likely to be an extremely short-lived playoff run, however?

Look at the Pirates/Yankees deal involving Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, for example. They don't perfectly fit the Twins needs, but they provide a good example of what you have to get up to get good players right now. The Yankees gave up three solid AAA pitchers and promising AA outfielder Jose Tabata to get Nady and Marte. The Twins probably would have had to give up something similar -- so we're looking at something like trading Brian Duensing, Kevin Mulvey, Nick Blackburn and Ben Revere to get a comparable deal in place. That's probably on the high side, because Revere has upped his stock significantly this year and because Blackburn has more big league experience than anyone the Yankees gave up. Still, seeing those four names together should give you pause.

It sounds like the Twins discussed some deals, especially the Adrian Beltre swap. In the end, Bill Smith seems to have determined that the price was too high, and I don't doubt it. Teams recognize how value prospects are, and squeeze every bit that they can out of seemingly desperate teams. Every time I see fans commenting that Bill Smith is an idiot for sitting pat and not making a deal to shore up the team, I wonder whether the realization has set in that many of the prospects he'd be asked to give up are probably more valuable down the road than the acquisitions would be now.

The way I see it, the Twins have already over-performed. They're just 2.5 games behind the White Sox, a team that I think is just as flawed for the Twins. If I were Bill Smith, I'd sit pat unless an offer blew me away, and I'd see if this young team could find a way to get it done. That's not to say I wouldn't make internal improvements -- Francisco Liriano should be on the team in some capacity (my preference, as always, would be for him to replace Livan Hernandez). Denard Span should be in the lineup every day even when Michael Cuddyer returns, even if it means being creative with you use Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Michael Cuddyer. Adam Everett should never, ever be brought back to the Twins. Mike Lamb should be released when Matt Tolbert is ready to come back. I see no reason, however, to give up major prospects to go get somebody's castoff third baseman or a reliever.

I suspect I'm in the minority. Most of you can taste the post-season, and you'll be convinced that if Bill Smith does nothing by the deadline that he made the wrong decision. For me, this just isn't the year to go all in.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Yankees Deal

Just a quick note on the Pirates/Yankees trade that brought the Bronx Bombers Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. While I think it's an excellent trade for the Yankees in the short term, and makes them a more legitimate contender than they were before the deal, I'm amongst those who think they gave up an awful lot.

While Ross Ohlendorf is getting the bulk of the attention in the media because he has the most big league experience, the fact is he's probably the least exciting player of the bunch. Dan McCutchen and Jeff Karstens are both AAA level pitchers in their mid-20's who have excellent track records in the minors and seem about ready to contribute at the big league level. Jose Tabata has been considered to be a top outfield prospect since joining the organization, although he's not having a great 2008 and is the least developed of the bunch (although he's playing in AA at 19, so that ain't bad).

Since Nady isn't a free agent at the end of the year, the Yankees got some multi-year value. They filled two big needs in a right-handed outfield bat and a lefty for the bullpen. I just think the price was awfully steep. My question is whether this signals that the Yankees are about ready to start trading away prospects in exchange for veterans again. I don't necessarily think that's a sign of panic -- the recent winning streak suggests that panic isn't necessary. It might, however, be a sign of impatience. Since the impatient version of the Yankees hasn't won anything at all since 2000, I'd be just fine if they went that route again. We'll see what they give up for Jarrod Washburn if that deal gets done, as sounds likely.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Blog Update

I was off watching the new X-Files movie tonight (mini-review: definitely not good, but maybe not quite as terrible as many reviewers are suggesting), so I didn't get the chance to see the Twins almost come back against the Indians, or the White Sox once again demonstrate that they're the team of destiny this year. Nor did I get the chance to see Joba Chamberlain dominate the Red Sox. Put it this way -- I'm glad I was out. These three results are pretty much the exact opposite of what I would have preferred to see (I really don't like Joba -- guess he reminds me a little too much of Clemens). Anyway, I intend to be back tomorrow with at least one and maybe two posts. It all depends on how my early morning moving goes -- I'm in the homestretch, and have to be out of my current place on Thursday. Going to be a rough week!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Minor League First Half Grades -- Part 4

I'm back today with the fourth in a series of post giving out "first-half" grades to the Twins minor leaguers. I was going to go with corner outfielders today, but decided to take the easy route and go with catchers instead. If you're allergic to bad numbers, don't look much further.

Rochester Red Wings

Jose Morales
Morales is currently on the disabled list, and has been limited to 197 at bats this year because of his injury. Nonetheless, he's easily had the best season amongst any of the other minor league catchers in the system, with a .315 average and 774 OPS. What's fairly remarkable is that Morales started off in a horrible slump this season, but has still put up really good numbers to cement his status as the organization's third catcher.
GRADE: A- (Would have been an A without the injury)

Ryan Jorgensen
The primary beneficiary of the injury to Morales has been Jorgensen, who was brought in to the organization as a minor league free agent in the off-season. A career .240 minor league hitter, Jorgensen has actually thrived with the Red Wings this year, hitting .277/821 with 7 homers. Much as it surprises me, I have to admit that he's been a steady replacement for Morales.

Jeff Christy
Christy has split his season between Rochester and New Britain, and hasn't been particularly effective with either. In New Britain, Christy had a .216 average and 592 OPS in 74 AB's. His numbers have actually been a bit better in Rochester, where he's hit .241/644 in 29 AB's. Christy has done virtually nothing offensively since being drafted in 2006, but since he continues to be moved quickly through the system I assume that he's a reasonably good defensive catcher.

New Britain Rock Cats

Drew Butera
Speaking of defensive catchers, the Twins knew that was exactly what they were getting when they picked up Butera from the Mets last year. So far in 2008, Butera has a .221 average and 672 OPS in 235 AB's. That's pretty much in line with his .214 career average. Hey, nobody said catchers were all that exciting! Butera gets a slightly better grade than Christy because I expect less of him and because he's shown more power, which is at least a somewhat useful offensive skill that Christy doesn't seem to have.

Rodolfo Palacios
Palacios flitted around the short season leagues from 2005-2007, although the only year he got any significant playing time was in 2006. This year, Palacios started off in Ft. Myers, where he hit .231/537 in 65 AB's, before being promoted to New Britain. He has a .200 average and 463 OPS in 40 AB's in AA. I imagine Palacios was promoted more out of necessity than for any other reason.

Ft. Myers Miracle

Wilson Ramos

After two seasons in which he hit .286 and .291, Ramos found himself a highly touted prospect coming into this season with Ft. Myers. He hasn't exactly disappointed -- he's hitting .261/722 with 10 homers and 53 RBI's in 333 AB's, in a league that often chews up offensive prospects -- but I suspect a lot of people (myself included) were hoping for a little bit more. Nonetheless, the fact that his power is continuing to develop nicely, and that he hasn't bottomed out offensively like many have done before when going from Beloit to Ft. Myers, is cause for being pleased overall.

Danny Lehmann
Lehmann is the only catcher drafted in 2007 by the Twins to make it to a full season team so far, and in 12 months he's gone from Elizabethton to Beloit to Ft. Myers. As with Palacios' promotion, this one seems to have been more out of necessity than anything else, although the Twins could have promoted Jair Fernandez (see below) instead of Lehmann. Either way, his season has been less than stellar offensively. In 104 AB's with Beloit, Lehmann hit .240/650. In 61 AB's with Ft. Myers, he's hitting a more paltry .213/524.

Beloit Snappers

Jair Fernandez
Fernandez was acquired by the Twins in exchange for allowing the Mariners to send Rule 5 pick R.A. Dickey to the minors at the beginning of the year. He's hitting better this season than he has previously in professional baseball, with a .283 average and 703 OPS in 127 AB's. If he turns into anything at all, the Twins will have done well in picking him up -- Dickey was a minor league free agent, so the Twins essentially turned a journeyman pitcher who they wouldn't have relied on in the least into a young catcher who will presumably in the organization for a few years.

Allan de San Miguel
De San Miguel has played with both the Miracle and the Snappers this season, and hasn't been that good with either. In 65 AB's with the Miracle, he hit an absolutely horrific .123 with a 439 OPS. He's been better with the Snappers, with a .226 average and 725 OPS in 62 AB's -- but you know there's a problem when a .226 average is actually a marked improvement.

Gregory Yersich
Yersich got off to a terrible start last year, hitting just .180 before being sent down to Elizabethton when the short season started. His strong performance with the E-Twins (.312 average in 186 AB's) had me hopeful that a return to Beloit this year would produce a different result. In a way it has -- his .210 average in 224 AB's for the Snappers this season isn't great, by any means, but at least it's 30 points higher than what he was hitting last year. Yersich also has 6 homers this year, which is more than he's hit before in a full season. That means there's been a little bit of improvement, but not enough to make me happen.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blog Update

I've decided to take the night off after the brutal day suffered by the Twins today -- being swept by the Yankees and seeing the White Sox stage yet another ridiculous comeback. I anticipate being back tomorrow with a Minor League Grades post. Until then, try to forget that the Twins just got stuffed three days in a row by the evil empire.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #100

FYI -- Part 3 of the Minor League First Half Grades is up in the post just below this one. I mention it only because I didn't post it that long ago, and I didn't want anyone who was interested to miss it.

Well, this certainly hasn't been a fun last-ever trip to New York, has it? What's disappointing to me is that I really felt coming into this series that the Twins had a chance to prove themselves against a weakened but still dangerous Yankees club -- and instead, they're looking like a team that's not capable of standing up with the big boys. I am in no way giving up on the Twins -- but they need to get right quickly. It's pretty close to crunch time. Here are a few notes:

1.) Live by the young starter, die by the young starter. I don't know if it was the Yankee Stadium mystique, or just run-of-the-mill poor starts, but Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey didn't help the club much over the last two days. More often than not, I think these guys are going to be fine. It's not time to panic, and it's not time to argue that one of them should be sent down to make room for Francisco Liriano (although if you want to keep arguing in favor of getting rid of Livan to make room for the Franchise, I'm game!).

2.) The Denard Span leadoff experiment looks like a success after the first game, with Span going 2-for-3 to raise his batting average to .341 on the year. I said before the break that I have no problem with this move, and today just confirmed that it's probably the right way to go. What will be interesting, though, is what happens if Michael Cuddyer comes back. If Span settles in as the leadoff hitter, it'll be a lot harder to keep him out of the lineup. That could mean that Span would get playing time at the expense of Gomez -- and it's hard to argue with putting the better player in the lineup on a given night. While I like Gomez over Span in the long term, in the short term it would be hard to argue that Gomez should start over Span if there was a numbers crunch. Assuming that Cuddyer heals at some point, this could be fascinating to watch.

3.) The Twins had 6 players in the starting lineup tonight with a season average over .300 (Span, Casilla, Mauer, Morneau, Buscher, Punto) and Delmon Young is hitting .297. That's a pretty remarkable figure, I think -- the Yankees lineup, in comparison, had just two guys hitting over .300 coming in. There's one reason the Twins are winning a lot of games despite not hitting a lot of homers!

4.) I'm a bit sad that the Twins will play their final game in Yankee Stadium tomorrow afternoon. I guess tonight's drubbing was my last chance to see my favorite team play in the most storied ballpark in baseball.

5.) Christian Guzman got an extension from the Nationals today that will pay him $16 million over two years. Good for him -- based on his play this year, he deserves it. My only question is whether this year's performance is the real, healthy Guzman -- or just an illusion. Guess the Nationals will find out.

6.) Kyle Lohse had another great performance tonight for the Cardinals, although he won't get the win. I heard someone suggest today that Lohse's turnaround is due to the Cardinals pitching coach -- I don't know enough about him to know whether that's true or not. Maybe Lohse just finally got his head screwed on straight and matured to the point where he could be successful. As with Guzman, though, I wonder whether this season is an aberration or the new norm.

7.) I intend to post Part 4 of the Minor League First Half Grades tomorrow, covering corner infielders. More than likely, I will not put up a Nightly Notes post since the game will be over long before I get home from work.


Minor League First Half Grades -- Part 3

Tonight, I'm continuing my run through the minor leagues by looking at most of the relievers pitching for the Ft. Myers Miracle and Beloit Snappers. I've left off a few guys who have pitched just a handful of innings because I don't think an adequate grade can be given in those situations. Consider anyone not mentioned to have an incomplete.

Ft. Myers Miracle

Matthew Fox
Fox was drafted by the Twins back in the first round of the 2004 draft. He started off his professional career with a rough 8 games in Elizabethton, and then missed all of the 2005 season. Since coming back, he's pitched well at every level -- moving up from Elizabethton to Beloit to Ft. Myers. This season, he's put up a 3.94 ERA and 1.33 WHIP and a 67-23 K-BB ratio in 77.2 innings. While he's a bit behind because of the lost year, he's been consistently good since coming back from the injury, and should legitimately be considered a solid prospect. There's every reason to think that he'll be in New Britain next season, continuing his move up the organizational ladder.

Anthony Slama
Seasons don't get much better than Slama has done this year. In 53.0 innings, Slama has a 0.68 ERA and 0.85 WHIP to go with a stunning 87-16 K-BB ratio. That follows a 2007 season in which Slama pitched well in Elizabethton and Beloit after being drafted in the 39th round. The Twins seem to find diamonds in the rough once in awhile with relievers drafted late (or not at all -- see Robert Delaney), and it's pretty clear that Slama fits that description to a T. I can't wait to see whether Slama can keep up his strong work in New Britain next year.

Jose Lugo
Former minor league rule 5 pick Lugo has been consistently average throughout his career in the Twins organization, and this year is no exception. So far, he's put together a 4.25 ERA and 1.34 WHIP along with a 58-17 K-BB ratio in 48.2 innings. That's neither bad enough to complain about or good enough to laud, so I'll give it a solid shrug of my shoulders.

Blair Erickson
It's always nice to see draft picks succeed early in their careers, and Erickson has done that by dominating Elizabethton in 2007, pitching well enough with Beloit in early 2008 to earn a promotion, and pitching even better since joining the Miracle in Ft. Myers. So far with the Miracle, Erickson has a 1.80 ERA and 0.84 WHIP to go with a 29-10 K-BB ratio in 25.0 innings. Things will undoubtedly get higher when Erickson moves up to New Britain, but he's definitely made himself noticed.

Oswaldo Sosa
Sosa is on the Twins 40-man roster, but might not be for long. Sosa has just one more option year remaining after this year, and unfortunately took a step backwards this year. After starting in New Britain (as a starter), Sosa was demoted after posting a 5.81 ERA in 13 starts. Since joining the Miracle, he's pitched mostly out of relief. He's been reasonably solid in that role, posting a 3.57 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 22.2 innings. The WHIP is high, and he has a weak 14-13 K-BB ratio. To keep his place on the roster, and regain his status as a top prospect, Sosa will probably need to be really good over the last 40 days of the season.
GRADE: C- (mostly dragged down by the bad start to the season)

Beloit Snappers

Steven Hirschfeld
Hirschfeld was drafted by the Twins in the 9th round of the 2007 season, and was just OK with Elizabethton. So far in 2008, however, Hirschfeld has been very good for Beloit, posting a 2.64 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with a 46-23 K-BB ratio in 58.0 innings. The WHIP is a tad high, and his K-BB ratio is good but nothing too special. That's going to push me from giving Hirschfeld an A to an A- instead.

Charles Nolte
Nolte is yet another 2007 draft pick who has established himself as a solid prospect this season. He has a 2.37 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 54-28 K-BB ratio so far for Beloit in 2008. Like Hirschfeld, the WHIP is higher than I'd like to see, but that's not going to overshadow the fact that at least he hasn't been letting those base runners to score, although the line between Hirschfeld's A- and Nolte's A is admittedly exceedingly thin. Nolte will easily be headed Ft. Myers by 2009.

Loek Van Mil
I always wondered whether Van Mil would put things together and become a legitimate pitching prospect. His short-season years in the GCL and Elizabethton in 2006 and 2007 showed promise, but he didn't really pitch all that much. He also didn't strike out as many people as I would have liked to see. This season, Van Mil is striking out more guys (not a ton more, but more nonetheless) and is on pace to get more work than he ever has before (which makes sense, since he's with a full season team for the first time). With a 3.22 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, I think it's fair to say that Van Mil hasn't disappointed, and it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop.

Henry Reyes
Reyes was excellent in Elizabethton last year, and has also pitched pretty well in both Ft. Myers and Beloit this season. A 0 IP, 2 ER performance caused his ERA to balloon by nearly a full earned run to 3.66, but his WHIP remains at 1.37. Reyes has been injured for part of the season, but overall his performance has been fine, and hopefully he can put together a healthy season next year, likely in Ft. Myers.
GRADE: B+ (factoring in his Ft. Myers numbers)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Minor League First Half Grades -- Part 2

I realized after I posted the first one of these that "First Half" is pretty inaccurate, since the minor league season ends at the end of August. Then I decided that I don't really care, and I'm sticking with the title. Today's post covers the relievers currently on the Rochester and New Britain rosters, and tomorrow I'll be posting on the Ft. Myers and Beloit relievers. The only reason I'm breaking things up this way is that there are a lot of relievers, and I don't want to overwhelm myself (or all of you) with a monster post that can easily be broken into two. Without further ado:

Rochester Red Wings

Casey Daigle
I wasn't particularly thrilled with the Casey Daigle signing over the off-season -- "indifferent" would probably be the best word -- but I have to admit that he's held his own this season. Daigle has the most innings in the Red Wings bullpen at 56.1, and has a 3.04 ERA and 1.30 WHIP along with a very respectable 53-25 K-BB ratio. I don't see Daigle getting a shot with the Twins barring a whole lot of injury problems, but I have to give credit where it's due and give him credit for putting together a solid season.

Julio DePaula
After stringing together a series of excellent years rising through the organization, DePaula made his big league debut last year. While he struggled, there was every reason to think that he'd be fine back in AAA. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened this season, as DePaula has utterly collapsed. It seems like every other time out, he gives up multiple runs -- and this is reflected by his 5.80 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 54.1 innings of work. This is not necessarily a make-or-break season for DePaula, since he'll have an option year left next year. However, will the Twins really want to keep him on the 40-man roster if he doesn't improve by the end of the year?

Ricky Barrett
Barrett has been in Rochester since 2005, which is fairly remarkable really. You would figure that after that amount of time he would have been given a cup of coffee, or something. Barrett has been pretty good since 2006 when healthy, but he hasn't really pitched all that much. This season, Barrett has been healthy and successful, posting a 3.06 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 53 innings while striking out 63 and walking 28. I would not be all that surprised to see him added to the 40-man roster either in September or during the off-season, since he's a lefty who has had some success and is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

Bobby Korecky
Twins fans finally got a chance to see the 28-year-old Korecky when he pitched in 9 games for the Twins earlier this season. Korecky was actually pretty successful in the big leagues, with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings. Unfortunately, he got shipped out in a numbers crunch and ended up back in Rochester. Korecky just keeps churning out solid seasons, with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and a 45-17 K-BB ratio in 51 innings. Based on his ERA, I'd be inclined to give him a B+; his solid stint with the Twins and nice K-BB ratio, however, have convinced me to bump him up to an A-.

Tim Lahey
Lahey was selected in December's Rule 5 Draft, but was returned to the Twins. After 2 scoreless outings with the Ft. Myers Miracle, he was assigned to the Red Wings. The results haven't been all that pretty, as Lahey has a 5.62 ERA and 1.41 WHIP along with a 45-16 K-BB ratio in 49.2 innings. The WHIP and K-BB numbers aren't really bad (especially the K-BB), so I'm inclined to discount the ERA to some degree.

Mariano Gomez
Gomez has put together some good seasons in the past while coming up through the Indians organization, but had never pitched above AA. That makes it a bit of a surprise (to me at least!) that he's been the best reliever in Rochester this season. So far this year, Gomez has a 2.03 ERA and 1.34 WHIP along with a 32-15 K-BB ratio in 40.6 innings. While his WHIP isn't bad, it isn't quite as good as you would expect with an ERA around 2.00 -- so that might indicate that Gomez has been a bit lucky. Still, there's no arguing with the numbers -- and I have to wonder whether the left-handed Gomez would get the call if Dennys Reyes or Craig Breslow were hurt.

Carmen Cali
Cali has been another solid lefty performer out of the Red Wings bullpen, but with Gomez and Barrett having even better years, the veteran is probably not in line to get to the big leagues anytime soon. Cali has a 3.51 ERA and 1.38 WHIP to go along with his 43-17 K-BB ratio in 48.2 innings this season.

New Britain Rock Cats

Kyle Aselton
Aselton's first season at the AA level has been a mixed bag. His 4.31 ERA is reasonable, and he's pitched 71 innings -- so he's getting his work in, at least. Unfortunately, his 1.65 WHIP and 49-43 K-BB ratio are both pretty subpar. Aselton will be Rule 5 eligible this December, and at one point I would have felt it likely that he would be added to the roster to protect him from the draft. Now, however, I'm somewhat doubtful that he'd be taken (although he is a lefty, so who knows). Hopefully he can drop that WHIP over the rest of the year and force the Twins to really think hard about whether he needs a roster spot.

Zach Ward
This year has seen Ward make a successful transition from a starter to a reliever, as he's posted a 3.60 ERA and 1.50 WHIP along with a 60-34 K-BB ratio in 70 innings. The WHIP is high, but the other indicators are solid. I'd guess that as long as Ward continues to pitch well, he'll end up in Rochester next year -- especially if he manages to drop down his WHIP.

Jason Miller
Miller was supposed to get a chance to start for the Rock Cats this year, although that never made a lot of sense to me. Turns out, Miller has started only 2 ballgames, and has struggled all year while pitching out of the 'pen. Miller has a 5.10 ERA and 1.52 WHIP along with a really solid 65-25 K-BB ratio. A nice K-BB doesn't really mean anything when the other indicators are bad, though, and that's where Miller finds himself. Last year's callup to the bigs seems a loooong way away right about now.

Armando Gabino
Gabino has a 3.09 ERA and 1.25 WHIP to go along with a 42-16 K-BB ratio this season, and that would seem to put the 24-year-old on pace for a promotion to Rochester next year. Gabino is still largely an unknown quantity, because he really doesn't have all that much experience -- but he's pitched well pretty much everywhere he's been assigned, and it's starting to look an awful lot like it's not a fluke.

Ben Julianel
Julianel struggled in AAA last season in the Marlins system, but as he always has throughout his career he was fine in limited action in AA. The Twins picked him up in the 0ff-season and assigned him to AA, where he's always been solid. He hasn't disappointed, putting up a 2.47 ERA and 1.37 WHIP along with a 56-21 K-BB ratio in 51 innings of work. I'd like to think that someday, Julianel will get a shot again in AAA -- but whether that will be in the Twins organization, it's hard to say.

Jay Sawatski
It's been a tough year for Sawatski, as he's put up a 7.75 ERA and 1.90 WHIP in 38.1 innings. His 39-22 K-BB ratio isn't terrible, but it also doesn't overcome his terrible performance elsewhere. The 26-year-old lefty hasn't had a really good season since 2006, but last year wasn't nearly this bad. The Twins have to hope that he's not finished. Sawatski is currently on the DL, and hasn't pitched since June 21. How much, if any, of his poor performance can be attributed to the current injury, I have no idea.

Robert Delaney
The numbers put up by Delaney are remarkable, considering he was acquired by the Twins as a non-drafted free agent in mid 2006. Delaney's short 2006 season showed no indications that he was going to be anything special, but in 2007 he bolted through Beloit and Ft. Myers with excellent numbers. He started off 2008 back in Ft. Myers, and after 31.2 innings of great work, he was moved up to New Britain. In 15.1 innings with the Rock Cats, he has a 1.76 ERA and 0.78 WHIP along with an 18-3 K-BB ratio. How a non-drafted free agent puts up numbers like this, I don't know -- but I'm not complaining!

Frank Mata
Mata has had a pretty mixed season, starting off by pitching well in Ft. Myers (1.93 ERA/1.00 WHIP/15-4 K-BB ratio). Unfortunately, since being promoted to New Britain, Mata has a 6.75 ERA and an 8-8 K-BB ratio. Pretty mixed results, but I'm going to give him a solid C since he at least advanced through Ft. Myers successfully.


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Friday, July 18, 2008

Blog Update

I have family in town over the weekend, and will be out and about enjoying beautiful (but hot!) Colorado with them. As a result, I don't expect that I'll have a chance to blog at all over the weekend. My plan is to be back on Monday night after I'm done with work, and I'd like to get the next Minor League Grades post up then, with a Nightly Notes post coming up later that night after the game with the Yankees.

Go Twins, and go Greg Norman (that would be a gratuitous British Open reference, for those of you not paying attention to the non-baseball portion of the sports world)!


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Minor League First Half Grades -- Part 1

Over the next week or so, I'm going to be grading some of the first half performances of players in the Twins minor league system. Today, I'm focusing on starting pitchers, with a few short comments on the performance of the regular starters at each level.

Rochester Red Wings

Brian Duensing
I've been a pretty big Duensing fan since he was drafted by the Twins in 2005, and his quick and orderly rise through the system has been fun to watch. This season has been solid for Duensing -- his 120 innings pitched leads the Red Wings, and he has a solid 4.28 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with 71 K's and 31 walks. Those numbers aren't going to blow anyone away, but I'm not complaining.

Francisco Liriano
Liriano deserves credit for putting together an excellent season in Rochester after his disastrous start with the Twins. He currently has a 3.53 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 97.0 innings of work, with 86 K's and 28 BB's. Fans are starting to clamor for his return to the Twins, and it's hard to disagree. He gets an A from me because it was fully expected that he would struggle early on, and he appears to have bounced back fully.

Kevin Mulvey
Mulvey was in many ways the forgotten player in the Johan Santana trade, but he's put together an excellent first half. His 3-8 record belies the fact that he has a very solid ERA (3.84) and WHIP (1.39) to go along with a nice K-BB ratio (80-33) and the second most innings pitched on the staff (93.2). It's hard to argue with those numbers.

Philip Humber
Speaking of players acquired in the Santana trade, Humber was possibly the best known of the bunch. Notice I said "best known" and not "top rated" -- I don't think anyone thought that Humber would end up as a better player than Carlos Gomez or Deolis Guerra in the long run, but a lot of people had at least heard his name. Unfortunately, he's having a pretty miserable year -- 5.92 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in 79 innings of work, along with a somewhat lackluster 54-37 K-BB ratio. At 25, Humber is still young enough to turn things around, but this has been a discouraging year, without question.

Danny Graves
I don't have much to say on Graves. He's a veteran journeyman who I expected virtually nothing from. For awhile, he seemed to be pitching reasonably well, but those days seem to be over. His 5.18 ERA and 1.59 WHIP, along with his really low 22-16 K-BB ratio, have completely shut off some of the idle speculation from earlier this year that he might get called up to the bigs. At this point, he's just filling innings for the Red Wings. His grade is more a reflection of the fact that I expected nothing whatsoever out of him than it is a reflection of his performance.

New Britain Rock Cats

Ryan Mullins
Mullins has put together a respectable season for the Rock Cats, going 7-6 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.45 WHIP (a tad on the high side, that) in 100.2 innings. Of most concern to me, though, is Mullins relatively low K-BB number -- 58-43. To this point in his career, Mullins has put up a stronger ratio than that, and the fact that he doesn't appear to be missing as many bats could potentially be problematic. He's still doing very well, and so far there's no reason to think that this isn't a short-term anomaly, but it's something to be watched at least.

Anthony Swarzak
Swarzak has been pretty brutal this year, posting a 3-7 record, a 5.99 ERA, and a 1.67 WHIP. His 71-33 K-BB ratio is just fine, but that almost makes things worse because it means that when he isn't striking people out, he's giving up hits. I'd be a little less concerned if the WHIP was up because he had just lost his control. This is the first time in his Twins career that he's really struggled, and he's just 22, so I'm not yet going to give up on him. He's just going to have to rebound, and unless he's dominant in the second half he'll probably get a return trip to New Britain next year.

Jay Rainville
It hasn't been a good season for Rainville. After starting off in Ft. Myers and pitching quite well, he's since fallen apart in New Britain, going 6-7 with a 6.45 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 74 innings, along with a 41-25 K-BB ratio. Considering the ERA, I'd expect the WHIP to be worse, but there's not a lot encouraging in those numbers. Maybe a trip back to Ft. Myers would be due -- especially with a couple of hot pitchers in Ft. Myers deserving of promotions.
GRADE: D+ (bonus for solid work in High A)

Yohan Pino
Pino has only started a handful of games, but he still has 63 innings under his belt and has started more games than he's entered in relief. His numbers are solid -- 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 46-15 K-BB ratio. Eventually, it would be nice for the Twins to decide whether he's really a starter or reliever, but there's no arguing right now with his effectiveness as a swing man.

Jeff Manship
He's only made a few starts in New Britain, but I'm putting him here because it's where he is now. Unfortunately, excellent work in Ft. Myers has largely been offset by pretty bad numbers in New Britain -- 1-4, 5.06 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, and 27-11 K-BB ratio in 32 innings of work. I have no doubt that he will be able to adjust to AA, but so far the results haven't been what we all had hoped.

Ft. Myers Miracle

Alex Burnett
Burnett has a 3.78 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 104.2 innings, and has a competent K-BB ratio of 46-29. Other than the K-BB number, which is a bit low in comparison to his usual performance, he's right in line with what he's done in each of his three previous years as he's moved through the organization. There's very little to complain about here.

Cole DeVries
Speaking of nothing to complain about, DeVries has been lights out this year, posting a 7-7 record with a 2.79 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 76-27 K-BB ratio in 103.1 innings of work. Who would have figured that an undrafted free agent signing would be so impressive in his second season?

Deolis Guerra
I've been assured by many that Guerra is a potential blockbuster talent, but so far he hasn't quite put it all together. His numbers aren't really bad -- he's 9-4 with a 4.28 ERA and 1.43 WHIP -- but his 50-46 K-BB ratio is discouraging (and out of character). At just 19, it's way too early to judge where Guerra will eventually end up, but I remain somewhat skeptical, as I was when he was acquired. I sincerely hope that Guerra lovers are right on how he'll end up performing once he gets some experience.

Tyler Robertson
His numbers are extremely similar to Cole DeVries' numbers, although he has about 20 fewer innings pitched. So far, Robertson has a 2.72 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 73-31 K-BB ratio, and as with DeVries those numbers are good to see. So far, the 2006 3rd round pick is absolutely heading in the right direction -- but it will be interesting to see whether he suffers through the same adjustment period that so many good pitchers need when reaching AA.

Beloit Snappers

Michael Tarsi
After an extremely promising debut season in 2007 with Elizabethton, Tarsi has struggled in 2008 with Beloit, posting a 5.50 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 106.1 innings. On the extremely positive side, Tarsi has a 92-27 K-BB ratio. Those are mixed numbers if ever I saw them, and it makes Tarsi's season somewhat tough to grade. The bottom line, though, is that Tarsi is getting innings in and is throwing the ball past a lot of batters. I suspect that will hold true, so now he just has to make sure he doesn't let guys on when he's not striking them out.

David Bromberg
After two solid seasons with the Twins short-season clubs in the GCL and Elizabethton, Bromberg got a shot in Beloit this year. While his 6-6 record and 5.03 ERA suggests that he's struggled in his 96.2 innings, he also has a really solid WHIP (1.38) and K-BB ratio (107-35). That suggests that there's been a bit of an element of bad luck surrounding his high ERA, and that it should correct itself over time.

Santos Arias
Arias is having a very nice season for the Snappers, going 5-3 with a 3.08 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 70-17 K-BB ratio in 84.2 innings. I'd say the 21-year-old has firmly announced his presence in the organization.

Mike McCardell
McCardell posted great numbers split between the GCL and Elizabethton last year, and is continuing his solid early season run with a 6-2 record, 2.72 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 81-17 K-BB ratio. Because of the very low WHIP and excellent K-BB ratio, he gets an A+ -- a grade I don't give out very freely.

Brian Kirwan
Kirwan's numbers have been mediocre -- 4-4/5.06 ERA/1.58 WHIP/30-24 K-BB in 64 innings -- but I don't know what else would have been expected. So far in two seasons in the organization, Kirwan has struggled all the way. This year actually represents the best ERA he's ever posted, although his WHIP is worse than it ever has been. What grade do you give a guy who isn't supposed to pitch very well, and doesn't? How about a "C" for performing at his average?

Honorable Short Season Mentions

It's only a month into the GCL and Appalachian League seasons, so there's not been a lot to go on. So far, though, Shooter Hunt (0.64 ERA/0.29 WHIP/28-2 K-BB ratio in 14 innings) and Alex Curry (1.25 ERA/0.60 WHIP/20-2 K-BB ratio in 21.2 innings) have been the best of the bunch. On the downside, Daniel Berlind has an 11.03 ERA and 2.32 WHIP in 23.2 innings -- ouch!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blog Update

I'll be back tomorrow with a post covering what I believe to be the top 5 and bottom 5 minor league performances of the year, along with possibly some odds and ends. I was too tired to post on the All-Star Game last night when it finally finished, and by the time I got home from work today it felt a bit like old news. For the record, I have no problem with J.D. Drew winning the MVP award, even with Justin Morneau putting together a pretty solid game.

Totally off topic, I just watched boxing make a joke of itself again with tonight's James Toney/Hasim Rahman fight (on free TV, nonetheless -- although I guess that should tell you something about the quality of the match). In the third round, Toney accidentally headbutted Rahman, opening up a heavily bleeding cut. After the round, the ring physician asked Rahman about the cut, and Rahman answered that he couldn't see right. That caused the doc to stop the fight, and everyone pretty much thought that meant it would be a no decision (draw). Somehow, someway, though, the fight was ruled a TKO in favor of Toney -- meaning he essentially won by headbutt. Now, no one involved in the administration of the fight (i.e. the referee, the doctor, and the boxing commission) wants to admit that they ruled it a TKO -- so who did? An appeal is forthcoming. Really, there's no wonder that boxing has lost its luster.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Thoughts on the Derby

I used to love the home run derby. In fact, when I was in my early teens I think I enjoyed the derby more than the All-Star Game itself. Over the years, my attitude has changed -- and more and more often as the years have gone by I've found myself watching the first batter or two, getting bored, and finding something else to watch. Part of it is just the interminable length of the thing, which seems to drag out longer and longer every year. Part of it is that there usually isn't much of a story to the event -- it's just a bunch of guys trying to smash balls out of the yard.

This year was different, for two reasons. First, Josh Hamilton's story is unbelievably compelling. As much as it has been covered, it could have become stale and annoying -- but it hasn't. There always seems to be a new wrinkle or another angle to cover, and ESPN has done a pretty good job of giving us good information. At times during the derby, it felt like things might be a bit overplayed, but that was largely just because of the Herculean feat Hamilton performed in the First Round. "The Story" combined with "The Feat" (28 homers in round 1) made for great entertainment.

Second, Justin Morneau's presence in the event, culminating in what I consider a somewhat shocking win, also gave me a reason to keep watching. For fans outside of Minnesota, I imagine that this was pretty meaningless. For a Twins fan, however, it was surprisingly gratifying. I say "surprisingly" because I really don't care about the derby -- but I sure did enjoy seeing Morneau get the win.

After the event, most of the coverage went to Josh Hamilton's first round, and I'm fine with that. After all, nothing Morneau did tonight was amazing, while Hamilton's first round most definitely was. In the end, though, Morneau gets the trophy and goes down in the history books as the champ. I'm sure he'll take it.

If tomorrow's All-Star Game is on par with what we saw tonight, it'll be quite the game. I hope each of the Twins gets some work, and I'll be rooting for a Morneau homer to put him in the running for the MVP award. Finally, while I almost never root for a Yankee, I'm actually hoping for an AL lead going into the top of the 9th so that we can see Mariano Rivera get in the game. Tomorrow should be a blast!


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blog Update

I had intended to watch the game today and post a Nightly Notes column on it, but I actually ended up spending a very enjoyable day cut off nearly entirely from TV and the internet (this is a very, very rare thing for me -- I'm usually on line at least). I'm just now sitting down to check my e-mail and see what the day's story lines were (although I heard on ESPN Radio that the Twins lost earlier). My apologies to anyone stopping by expecting a game story.

The Twins now have four days off, but I don't intend to mimic that on the blog. I can't say yet exactly what I'll be posting, but there's a good bet that I'll have at least a short post up each day during the break. I hope you all enjoyed your weekend, and let's hope that the All-Star festivities over the next few days are fun to watch and injury free.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Quick Note

Thanks to the folks at Fox, I was unable to watch today's game on MLB.tv (even though the regional game being shown here was the Rockies game -- does it make any sense to black out the Twins on mlb.tv when you're showing the Rockies on TV?), so I don't have a lot to say about it. I just wanted to note that I'll be back with a regular post tomorrow.

It's amazing to me that the Twins may end up playing tomorrow's game with a chance to be in first place at the All-Star Break. Of course, this means the Rangers will have to keep their 2-1 lead over the White Sox intact today, along with the Twins winning tomorrow and the White Sox losing again. It seems too good to be true, but as strange as this season has been I'm not going to bet against it.

Last thing -- the three wins against the Tigers have done a lot to convince me that the Red Sox series really was deceptive (something I've felt was the case since the series ended). The Twins were competitive (pitching-wise, at least) in the first game, should have won the second game (and would have, but for the poor performance of one pitcher), and of course got wiped out in the third game. Losing three games is never good, but things weren't as bad as they may have seen. Back tomorrow with (hopefully) more stuff.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #92

Back to back day games in the middle of the week is a bit brutal (thanks, Detroit, for that nice little kick in the pants), but at least I was able to come home today to a Twins win. Here are some notes on the game:

1.) Kevin Slowey has been bit by a nasty inning in each of his last two starts. The difference between his start on the 5th against Cleveland and today's start against the Tigers, however, was that this time he was unable to get out of his bad inning. Two bad starts in a row is OK so long as he comes back strong after the break. Hopefully, he's just losing a little focus -- that can be fixed, I would think. Either way, it didn't hurt the Twins today as they picked up the win anyway (which also happened against Cleveland, of course). They won't get that lucky if he continues to struggle a bit.

2.) It sure looked like Joe Nathan was going to blow the game in the bottom of the 9th (corrected -- I said 10th originally), as he walked three battles but wriggled out of the inning with a couple of strikeouts. It would have been ironic if, following yesterday's discussion about using Joe Nathan, he would have come out and lost the game tonight. For the record, I supported the decision to bring him in for the 10th inning, and would continue to support such use even if he had failed today. I just think it would have been ironic . . .

3.) Nice bounce back from Matt Guerrier, delivering two solid innings to pick up the win. I'm eager to see him get another shot in a setup role, so he gets a chance to prove that two days ago was not the norm.

4.) With Denard Span and Carlos Gomez heading in opposite directions, there will undoubtedly be a lot of talk about whether Span should be leading off right now. For the record, Gomez has gone 0-for-12 in his last three games, and is hitting just .212 for the month of July. His average is lower (at .260) than it has been at any point since April 29. Span, on the other hand, is hitting .361 after his 4-for-4 performance today. I'm not opposed to moving Span into the leadoff slot for awhile -- he's playing awfully well, for sure. If Gomez is moved to the 9th spot, for instance, it doesn't really make a big difference except for at the start of the game. After all, we'll still get a 9-1-2 speedy threesome (8-9-1-2 when Punto is playing) hitting one after another, which I think is a strength for the Twins. Aside from just being the hot hand, Span also is much, much more patient at the plate -- and that's an advantage in a leadoff man. I really like Gomez, but I don't see any reason not to make this switch.

5.) Justin Morneau is on a similar pace to his MVP season, although if he just duplicated his first half efforts in the second half, he'd come up a bit short in the HR and RBI categories. If I remember right, though, Morneau's second half in 2006 was significantly better than his first half -- and if he can turn that trick this year, another MVP nod might not be out of the question. I'll be honest -- I was never quite sure what the Twins were going to get out of Morneau long term. I always thought he'd be a really solid player, but I thought 2006 might be a bit of a fluke, and that his numbers would more often be like 2007 (still a very, very nice season -- but not MVP worthy). Now, I'm more convinced that he has several MVP runs in him (not MVP wins, necessarily, but seasons that give him a shot).

6.) Nick Punto is now hitting .320. I'm just sayin'.

7.) KC, we need ya to come through tonight. Stomp those Sox!

8.) Congrats to Evan Longoria and Corey Hart on getting voted into the All-Star game by the fans. While I don't like the fan vote for starters, I think this vote is fantastic. I'm a little stunned that players from Tampa Bay and Milwaukee got the support of so many fans, but I'm also delighted by it, and I have no qualms with either pick. Let's hope that both guys get a chance to do something in the game.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Quick Note

I have no desire to break down today's game -- it wasn't just an 18-5 loss, it was an 18-5 loss that I saw none of. That adds up to keeping quiet. Instead, I'm just going to comment on one thing, and will hopefully be back tomorrow with a more expansive post.

Andrew Kneeland at Twins Fix suggested after yesterday's game that the Twins should have gone to Joe Nathan before Manny came up with the lead on the line. It's a good post, and worth your effort to read if you haven't yet done so -- although I'm going to disagree with his conclusion. Andrew takes the "new school" line that a closer should come into a game during any tight situation, rather than only in the ninth inning.

A few things on this -- first, while it sounds great in theory, I don't know how well it would work. When should Nathan start warming up? Should he have been ready in the 8th in case Guerrier didn't get the job done? Should he have started after the first hit allowed by Guerrier? I guess as a practical matter, I just am not convinced that it would have been wise to have him getting ready in the 8th inning, and since things degenerated so quickly, I'm also not convinced that he would have had any chance of getting ready in time to come in unless he had started warming up at the start of the eighth. If you go that route, though, there's a good chance that he's going to be sitting around for a long time after warming up and before he comes in. I'm not a pitching coach, so I don't know if that's a real problem -- but I'm guessing it's not the best plan, especially if you do it regularly.

Second, I also don't want the Twins to feel the need to go to Nathan repeatedly in the eighth inning. That could significantly increase his innings pitched, and that could lead to arm fatigue problems or worse. I guess I feel that with a three run lead in the 8th, the team should have a setup man who can keep them in the game. Guerrier failed last night, but most of the time he'll be fine in that role. Now, with a one run lead heading into the eighth, I'd probably be more inclined to bring in Guerrier while getting Nathan prepared to enter early.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Nightly Notes: Game #90

Talk about deflating! I was all excited to write my return "Nightly Notes" post in the warm friendly glow of a post-victory celebration when things fell apart. Sadly, the Red Sox seem to have tried the Twins magic on for size and decided that it feels pretty darned comfortable. Here are some notes:

1.) I'm not disappointed with the loss so much as with the way it happened. Yesterday's 1-0 loss, for instance, actually made me giddy -- the Twins hung with the Red Sox, and even though they did virtually nothing offensively, it could be chalked up to a solid performance from Daisuke. The bottom line was that they were right there for the entire game. Tonight, however, the Twins took a 3 run lead into the bottom of the eighth, only to cough up four runs and lose the game. Losing 6-5 to the Red Sox isn't so bad -- but losing 6-5 to a team that you were solidly beating (3 runs is a solid lead in my book) with just two innings to go is bitterly disappointing.

2.) Incidentally, while Matt Guerrier is clearly the player most "at fault" for this loss, and even though the loss is disappointing, I'm not going to call for his head -- or for a re-evaluation of his role as the team's setup man. Look, pitchers will screw up once in awhile, and that's what happened tonight. His previous three appearances in July had all been 0 hit, 0 run affairs, and in 13 appearances in June he allowed runs in only 2 games. When he's bad, he's eminently hittable and the runs pile up. Most of the time, though, he's a very serviceable setup man. Unless he struggles like this consistently, there should be no talk of taking him out of the role.

3.) Incidentally, it's not the end of the world to lose 2-of-3 from the Red Sox in Boston. If the Twins can salvage a game tomorrow, I'll be perfectly happy. After all, good teams should be able to defend their home field, and Boston (as we all know only too well) is a good team. Winning 1 of 3 on the road is "par" in my book.

4.) Not much to say about Nick Blackburn's start other than to mention that, like all of you I'm sure, I continue to be impressed by the poise and skill shown by the club's young starters. Can you imagine what this crew will be like in 2 years or so?

5.) Nick Punto haters seem to have largely gone on hiatus, and for good reason. His at-bat tonight against Papelbon in the 9th was a classic, with Punto taking close pitches for balls and fouling off nasty stuff that was in the zone or too close to take before hitting what should have been a single (and ended up as a double, thanks to some over-exuberant play from Coco Crisp). Punto is now hitting .297, and remains the best defensive player on the team. Do I want him starting at 3B again anytime soon? No -- that experiment failed. Playing regularly up the middle, though? Yes, please. The Twins could have an interesting decision to make on him when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year. I'll have more to say on that as the year progresses.

6.) Making contact on a Jonathan Papelbon pitch is assuredly a difficult task. I certainly couldn't do it, and would never claim to be able to do so. Yet a professional baseball player like one Jason Kubel has to do better than he did tonight with the game tying run on third and just one out. My kingdom for a sac fly!

7.) Joe Christensen suggests that there are people within the organization, especially the field staff, who are pushing for Denard Span to stay in the big leagues when Michael Cuddyer is ready to come back. I have to agree -- Span provides another spark in the lineup, and his .315 average (albeit in limited at-bats) suggests that he's capable of holding his own at the big league level. While it would seem to make sense for Craig Monroe to be released in order to make room for Span when Cuddyer returns, it seems like serious consideration should also be given to Mike Lamb. Monroe makes more sense because of the position he plays, but he has more power than Lamb has shown and hits from the right side. On the flip side, the Twins may be hesitant to part ways with a player who is under contract for another year and a half. If it were me, I think I'd release Lamb if another injury or poor play doesn't moot this point -- I think he's redundant right now with the way the roster is built, and I don't see him suddenly turning his performance around and becoming a brilliant player. We'll see how things develop.


Blog Update

I'll be back with a regular Nightly Notes post tonight, and depending on how my day goes I may get another post up before then. Until then, if you want to see some eye-popping numbers, I recommend checking out the stats being put up by the players on the Elizabethton roster. A previous commenter pointed out that numbers in Elizabethton can be a bit inflated -- but even if that's true, the E-Twins are putting up some unbelievable team stats. A few examples:

Elizabethton has a team average of .304 and a team OPS of 890 (you read that right). The next closest team batting average is .278, and the league average (including Elizabethton) is .261. The next highest OPS is 779, and the league average (including Elizabethton) is 728. The E-Twins have 30 homers and 133 RBI's, which again are way over the league averages. My point is that the great offense is not just a product of an offensive paradise. It's also no guarantee that these players will have future success, but why worry about that now? Enjoy the numbers that are being put up, and dream about the possibility that some of these guys might actually be for real!

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Mini Nightly Notes (Again)

I'm still on pace to return full time on Tuesday. I just wanted to get up a congratulatory post for the Twins All-Stars (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan if you somehow hadn't yet heard). Mauer and Morneau were, I thought, shoe-ins for spots on the roster. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Joe Nathan had made the team, though. I thought he deserved it, but with a lot of closers having pretty good years it seemed to me like he could end up in a numbers crunch. I'm looking forward to seeing the game when it happens, and I'm sure the Twins reps will represent the team well.

I'm amazed by this Twins team, incidentally. I've run out of superlatives, and can only say that this team really does fit the "never gives up" description to a T. I'm a little concerned about the team potentially messing with the roster's chemistry when Adam Everett and Matt Tolbert are ready to be activated in August, but I'll write more about that as the time gets closer.

Oh yes -- congrats to Rafael Nadal for finally getting his Wimbledon win. I didn't get a chance to watch the match, and I'm bitterly disappointed by that because it sounds as if it were absolutely amazing. I can only hope that the US Open will be as compelling.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Mini Nightly Notes

Hope you enjoyed your 4th of July Holiday! I had a very enjoyable day, capped off by seeing the last three innings of the Twins game as they took out the Indians and gained a game on the White Sox. You know the Twins are going pretty good when they take out a guy like Paul Byrd, who normally chips away at us while we flail away ineffectively. Nice to see that particular habit broken. Anyway, let's hope the Twins can keep it up over the weekend -- and get some more help from the A's. Sole ownership of first place would be awfully nice to see after Sunday's games, wouldn't it?


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Blog Update

Just a reminder that I'm essentially going to be out of commission for another few days. I had hoped to be able to get a nightly notes post up yesterday, but obviously that didn't happen. This weekend, time is likely to be even more crunched (I'm not even sure I'll get to watch any of the games, let alone write about them). Anyway, I'll post if I get a chance but don't expect anything until Tuesday.

Speaking of Tuesday, I'll probably post a long-ish All-Star post then. I'd like to do it Sunday (I believe that's when the rosters are announced -- forgive me if I'm wrong), but again won't be around to write anything then. It seems a lock that Joe Mauer is going to the game (honestly, even if he somehow loses the fan vote, he's a no-brainer for a roster spot). It'll be interesting to see what happens with guys like Morneau and Nathan, though.

It was nice to see the Twins pick up the series win over the Tigers yesterday, and considering that they should have swept that series it's just another reminder that this team seems to have settled firmly into the competitive camp. Should be a fun final three months of the season. I'll be back on Tuesday (and maybe occasionally before then) to provide more commentary.