Friday, January 29, 2010

The Baseball Bucket List

Like many passionate baseball fans, a goal of mine is to visit all 30 MLB stadiums. This is one of the many facets of baseball which makes the game special. As nice as it would be to be able to say one has visited all 30 NHL arenas, the bottom line is that they are not all that dissimilar these days. The dimensions are all the same, the interiors and exteriors of the buildings are similar, and the days of the unique old barns like the Boston Garden, Buffalo Auditorium, Maple Leaf Gardens, Montreal Forum, and Chicago Stadium are long gone. Can anyone name one unique quality which distinguishes the Sommet Center, Bank Atlantic Center, or the HSBC Arena?

Baseball's ballparks, however, remain unique in American folklore. Yes, the wave of new stadiums which began with new Comiskey Park in Chicago, was perfected by Camden Yards in Baltimore, and continues with Target Field this season, is helping to level out the landscape somewhat. However, the parks are all unique, with different dimensions, quirks, and character.

Target Field's opening this spring will mark the Twins' third ballpark in 30 seasons, and the Twins will become the only non-re-located club to lay claim to three parks in 30 seasons. I was fortunate enough to catch a few games at Met Stadium in my youth and caught hundreds at the Dome along the way. So, in a shameless shout out to my good fortune, plus the benefit of having grown up with a baseball-crazy father and a very understanding mother, I decided to track my progress of visiting all 30 MLB teams' stadiums. We'll start with the American League today and finish with the NL at a later date, and will update this as more are visited. I realize this will be a self-centered post and that I will use the noun "I" a lot, but please indulge me.
  • Baltimore - Although Camden Yards opened in 1992 and I actually lived in Washington, DC (40 miles away) for awhile, my first visit to Baltimore came in the summer of 2007. We caught an Orioles/Angels game on a glorious Sunday afternoon in Baltimore and found seats down the third base line in the shade. After a while, I took a stroll around the park and found a standing area overlooking the visitors' bullpen in left-center field which offered a perfect view of the field while being in the sun. Needless to say, I called by buddies and we stood for the remainder of the game. The food is tremendous. The sightlines are perfect. The people are friendly. The atmosphere is spectacular. I came to Camden Yards with sky-high expectations and the park exceeded them. It is as great as advertised. I paid a return visit in 2009 just to test my initial experience and it passed with flying colors again. Do yourself a favor and go!
  • Boston - My only visit to Fenway was in 1990. The Sox were in a pennant race and played the Baltimore Orioles in a late-summer matchup. We sat down the third base line right behind an obstruction, yet I remember sitting next to a guy with a thick New England accent who really knew the game of baseball. The Fenway Franks which I had heard so much about were simply awful and the place was generally crowded, inefficient, and rather rotten. New ownership has dumped millions into improving the old place, which is starting its 98th season hosting Red Sox games in 2010, but in 1990 it was run-down. Those who have visited recently also say that the younger generation of Red Sox fans have pushed out guys like the gentleman I sat next to and the place is a place to be seen rather than to watch a ball game. That's a shame. Of course, my absolute hatred of the Red Sox probably diminished my rating of Fenway as well.
  • Chicago White Sox - My folks and I visited old Comiskey Park in the late summer of 1989. The place was unkempt and in its penultimate season of hosting White Sox baseball, as the Sox prepared to move across the street for the 1991 season. We settled into great box seats right above the first base dugout, sampled the outstanding food, and watched an awful White Sox team get beat by the eventual World Series champion Oakland Athletics. Old Comiskey Park was and is my favorite ballpark. It oozed baseball tradition and was just a trap of history. The place was run-down to say the least, but it was just so cozy inside and a fabulous place. I caught my first game in the new park in 1991 and returned in 1992, 1994, and 2002. The new park gets a bad rap because it was the last of the dinosaur age of cookie-cutter parks built in the 70s and 80s. However, it was a baseball park first and foremost, and the South Side of Chicago has always been a place where baseball is serious business, unlike their neighbors to the north. The food at New Comiskey rivals the old place, and any place which features Nancy Faust on the organ gets positive points. I have yet to visit US Cellular Field and witness the renovations, but I can only imagine how much better and more intimate the place looks than when it opened.
  • Cleveland - I first visited Jacobs Field in 2005, and suffered through a two-hour rain delay. That was fine, as I was able to sample the ballpark fare, and test how many foods could be improved by adding Cleveland Stadium mustard. The answer was 201. The Jake is a nice, intimate place whose opening coincided with the Indians' renaissance. The Tribe struggled last season and the attendance has dwindled in Cleveland's struggling economy, but the Jake is a wonderful place to watch a ball game.
  • Detroit - I went to Detroit on the same trip in which I checked out Cleveland in 2005 and managed to see the Twins in a day-night doubleheader at Comerica Park. The experience was ok. The park is nice; the neighborhood sucks. The people were wonderful; the food sucked. It was kind of a contradictory place for me, and I really wished I had been able to see a game at old Tiger Stadium.  
  • Kansas City - Our family first visited Royals Stadium on a stifling hot July afternoon in 1985. I distinctly remember the crown scoreboard, the piping hot Astroturf, and the Royals sandals I received as a giveaway. Since it was my first non-Minnesota MLB experience, I remember the visit very well. I managed to catch another game in 1997 after the place had been renamed Kauffman Stadium and had the turf replaced by natural grass. The grass made the place look glorious, and I've been able to go back at least a dozen times since - never to see the Twins, I might add. I am hoping to get down there again this spring to see the newly-renovated Kauffman Stadium, but all my experiences have been wonderful to date.
  • Los Angeles Angels - I drove by the place back in the fall of 2006 on my family's way to see an Anaheim Ducks game. Angel Stadium is definitely on my short list.
  • Minnesota - Duh
  • New York Yankees - My first visit to Yankee Stadium came in 2002 and it was an almost cult-like experience for me. As someone who grew up a Yankee (and Twins) fan, visiting the place I saw so many times on TV as a kid left an incredible impression on me. Although the park was rebuilt and lacked the character of the version which hosted Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle, the field was still the one in which those greats graced once upon a time. In return visits over the years, the place got better and better. At one point in a 2007 game, my friends and I were sitting a few rows off the field down the right field line when one of my friends - making his first visit to the Stadium - pointed to the field and said, "Babe Ruth stood right there!" I went to two games during the final year of the Stadium with my dad, brother, and my oldest son in May of 2008, each of whom was making his first visit. What an incredible experience for three generations of Pietrzaks - passionate baseball fans all. I was fortunate enough to catch the final game in the old yard in September of that season and one cannot put into words the emotions of that night. For someone with absolutely no ties to New York other than Yankee fandom, it was an incredible night. I stood silently for over an hour after the game ended and just soaked it in. My dad, brother, and I trekked to New Yankee Stadium this past season and the park is a showplace and will serve the Yanks well for many years to come. However, it just wasn't the same.
  • Oakland - Haven't seen a game there but I snuck in to catch a glimpse in March of 2000. I don't think I'm missing too much. It would have been a nice place to watch a game before Mount Davis obstructed the view of the Oakland Hills.
  • Seattle - Safeco Field is one place in which I would really love to get to soon. I was in Seattle in the fall of 2006 and never saw the sun for three days. Every review I have read about Safeco is glowing and I cannot wait to get out there.
  • Tampa Bay - Never been, but my brother has and said it really sucks.
  • Texas - My first visit to the Metroplex was in 1992 and I caught a game in the giant kiln known as Arlington Stadium. The place sure held the heat well, and it was mostly forgettable - except for the excellent nachos. My first visit to the Ballpark in Arlington in 1997 was much better, and my three subsequent visits (most recently in 2005) have been wonderful. The Ballpark is a giant place, but feels cozy inside. The food is great too, as one would expect in a great food town. D/FW gets a bad reputation of a place to be avoided in the summer heat, but do make a point of visiting this fine baseball park.
  • Toronto - I have never been to Toronto, but I would love to go - to a hockey game. For some reason, my oldest son thinks we're going to go to a game in Toronto this summer, mostly because he wants to get a passport.
So, in the American League, I have visited nine teams' parks out of 14 clubs; not a bad start! If I had to rank the top three places I have been able to visit, I'd go this way:
  1. Old Comiskey Park
  2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  3. Old Yankee Stadium
Curious as to your thoughts..... 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Twins Sign Thome, But Why?

The StarTribune's Joe Christensen reported last Friday that the Twins were interested in signing free agent Jim Thome. Although Joe C. was able to dispel rumors circulating via a Chicago radio station that the signing was to be concluded last Friday, the deal did not go down. However, the Twins' interest appears real, so real that they signed him Tuesday to a one-year, $1.5M deal. The question I have is "why?"

The left-handed hitting DH will turn 40 during the season and is a veteran of 19 MLB seasons. Thome is a career .277/.404/.557 hitter with 564 HR and 1,565 RBI in 9,463 plate appearances. He hit .249/.372/.493 with 23 HR and 74 RBI for the White Sox last season before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the stretch drive. Used as a pinch hitter 17 times with the Dodgers, Thome went 4-17 with 3 RBI and 7 strikeouts.

Thome's days in the field are over, as the big slugger's last appearance in a position other than DH came in 2007 when he played but one game at first base for the White Sox. The Twins are set at first base with Justin Morneau and have Jason Kubel established as the team's everyday DH. With an already crowded outfield with Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer manning the starting spots, Kubel would be able to fill in for either of the corner spots, and someone like Thome would then serve as the DH. However, Thome's primary role would be as a potent option off the bench. The Twins don't have much in the form of options off the bench (Brendan Harris is the most serviceable option which comes to mind) and Thome would definitely bolster that situation. However, if he takes any at bats away from Kubel, the signing would be misguided. Kubel is a superior hitter at this stage of his career and is 12 years younger. The team's third-best hitter behind Joe Mauer and Morneau, Kubel came into his own in 2009, batting .300/.369/.539 with 35 doubles, 28 HR, and 103 RBI in 578 plate appearances.

Thome made $13M last season in Chicago, serving out the option year of a six-year deal he signed with Philadelphia in the winter of 2002.

The Twins have already been willing to spend $5M on Jarrod Washburn this winter, only to be rebuffed. However, it would be far better to have seen them use that money toward a deal for either Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez which would fill a gap in the lineup with a far younger player. Realizing I am continuing to beat a dead horse on the Hudson/Lopez situation, signing either of those is a far better option for this team right now. Of course, giving Thome $1.5M doesn't preclude signing the aforementioned players and it certainly makes more sense to toss a one-year reasonable deal toward Thome than it does to give $5M to Washburn. 

Thome is clearly one of the game's all-time great guys and has been a productive player for a long time. His career will likely lead to induction in Cooperstown one day. However, he is clearly on the downward slope of his career and would be a misguided use of money which could be better utilized on a player of more pressing need. If he is truly a bench player and does not grab plate appearances which would otherwise be given to Kubel, then this is fine. As Aaron Gleeman points out, however, if Thome gets DH PAs, and Kubel gets LF appearances otherwise given to Young, then I'm really on board. However, that seems unlikely at this point.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All Quiet in Twins Territory

It's a bit quiet out there right now, but Twins' baseball is on the horizon as January closes. TwinsFest is this weekend and that is always a good sign that winter's end is near and that baseball cannot be far behind.

Seth Stohs is hosting a pre-TwinsFest podcast Tuesday night featuring a bunch of Twins' organizational players. Tune into Seth's cast beginning at 8pm CST and hear from some of the team's future stars and prepare for TwinsFest this upcoming weekend.

Otherwise, it's pretty quiet out there. I'll have my thought on the Jim Thome situation in tomorrow's post and will have a post about the MLB's ballparks later in the week, so stay tuned.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is Ron Gardenhire Underrated?

The 2010 season will mark Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire's ninth season at the helm. The tenure has been very successful to date:
  • Five AL Central Division titles
  • One division tie
  • 709-588 record (.547 winning percentage)
The detractors will point out that Gardy has managed to win just one playoff series, and that came back in 2002. Still, winning five titles in eight seasons is quite an accomplishment.

The Twins have been remarkably stable over the past 20+ seasons, and only two men have called the shots from the dugout. The team has employed only three general managers in that timeframe. Compare that to other teams like the Houston Astros who are working on their fifth permanent manager since 2000.

Gardenhire's replacement, Tom Kelly, was the Twins' most successful manager of all time. He leads the team in wins (1,140), losses (1,244), and World Series championships (two). The last category is the only one which is significant. TK was the Twins' skipper for 15 full seasons and posted winning records in just five of those. Of course, he did win the whole thing both times he qualified for the post-season. His tenure was marked by eight consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2000, with the string broken during his final season in the dugout - 2001. Gardenhire was hired after Kelly's retirement and took the group developed under Kelly's final years to three consecutive division titles.

Gardy's run began in 2002 and he captained the ship to back-to-back-to-back titles with essentially the same core of players. The core (Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, Brad Radke, Doug Mientkiewicz, etc.) was joined by such luminaries as Johan Santana (midway through 2002; in the rotation full-time in mid-2003), Justin Morneau (2003), and Joe Mauer (2004). The 2006 team came out of nowhere and won the division on the season's final day in a magical scene at the Metrodome. Perhaps Gardy's best bit of managing was in 2008 when he guided an inconsistent team to a great stretch run, only to lose the divisional tiebreaker game to the Chicago White Sox 1-0.

The 2009 campaign was similar to 2008, but was accentuated by injuries (Justin Morneau missed the season's final weeks), guys playing over their heads (Delmon Young, Matt Tolbert, and Nick Punto were money in the final two weeks), and guys playing out of position (Michael Cuddyer moved to first base and looked Gehrig-esque at times). The Twins won a classic tiebreaker game against the Detroit Tigers at the Metrodome before bowing out against the eventual World Champion New York Yankees.

Still, despite all the division titles and the national accolades, one gets the feeling Gardy is somewhat under-appreciated here in Minnesota. Twins' fans take note of TK's two world titles, and rightly so, in evaluating his managerial career. It is also true that he was dealt bad hands for many of the losing seasons in the 1990s, yet seemed impatient in working with young players. He retired at age 50, looked like he was 75 when he did so, and has resisted all other managerial inquiries to date. Still, there is little doubt that Tom Kelly is the best baseball man and top manager in Minnesota Twins' history.

Ron Gardenhire should not be over-looked, however. True, he infuriates many Twins' fans with his seat-of-his-pants approach. He is as likely to play percentages as he is to have Mike Redmond hitting third on Sundays when Joe Mauer gets a day off. However, one cannot argue with the results. The division title teams were all quite unique in a sense - Cuddyer is the only common denominator to all five titles - and Gardenhire's steady hand had much to do with the wins. Yeah, we'd like to see him win a few Division Series along the way (2006 was wide-open, and it's still monumentally disappointing that they were not able to get past Oakland in the ALDS), but the Twins are contenders year after year.

Due to the almost slobbering national praise Gardenhire gets from the likes of Jon Miller, Joe Morgan, Ken Rosenthal, etc., it's hard to argue that Gardy is underrated. In town, however, he will continue to be less-appreciated than other Twins' managers until he wins that elusive World Series title.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Twins Avoid Arbitration in 2010

The Minnesota Twins signed eight players earlier in the week, meaning they will not have any arbitration cases to try in the winter of 2010.

Infielder Brendan Harris got a two-year deal for $3.2M, while seven others inked one-year deals, namely:
  • Pitcher Carl Pavano ($7M)
  • Infielder J.J. Hardy ($5.1M)
  • Pitcher Matt Guerrier ($3.15M)
  • Outfielder Delmon Young ($2.6M)
  • Pitcher Jesse Crain ($2M)
  • Pitcher Francisco Liriano ($1.6M)
  • Pitcher Pat Neshek ($625k)
In the Joe Christensen piece, he reports that the Twins sent arbitration figures to each of the players listed above early Tuesday and each signed that day, avoiding arbitration altogether. Joe C. also correctly notes that no MLB team had as many potential arbitration cases than the Twins.

Each of these eight deals seems reasonable on the surface. Pavano's a bit of a question mark, given his injury-riddled past, but he did throw nearly 200 innings last season and appears to be in good health. He signed a one-year deal worth $1.5M (plus incentives) with Cleveland last winter, so this year's deal represents quite a raise. Harris also received a significant raise from $466k to $1.45M in the first year of his two-year deal. Hardy's deal is a modest raise from the $4.65M he made last season. Guerrier doubled his salary over the $1.475M he pulled in during 2009, as did Young ($1.152M to $2.6M). Crain received a slight raise from the $1.7M he made last season on the final year of a three-year deal signed in 2007, and even seemed a potential non-tender candidate before the Twins offered him arbitration earlier this off-season. Liriano and Neshek are coming off injuries so their raises are muted. (HT to Cot's Baseball Contracts)

Of the arbitration eight listed above, five will remain under Twins' control after this season, with Pavano, Guerrier, and Crain facing free agency. The only other pending free agent after the 2010 season is some catcher named Joe Mauer, who is reported to be pretty good.

So, with the eight arbitration-eligible players inked to deals, the Twins now have $86.7M committed to salary for the 2010 season. This does not include three players assured of being on the roster next season who are under "indentured servitude" and are yet to be signed, namely Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Denard Span. Each made approximately $440k last season, and one would expect a similar offering to be made - adjusted for inflation - for 2010. Others in that group who figure to be in the mix include Glen Perkins, Alexi Casilla, and Matt Tolbert. Factor in guys like Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, Jose Morales, and Drew Butera who may be in the mix to go north with the Twins this spring, and the payroll figures to go up a few million.

Considering the gaggle of players mentioned above, the Twins will look to have an opening day payroll around $90M. The highest the team has ever ventured before was the $71M collection it fielded in the 2007 season. Being up around the $90M mark puts the Twins in new territory and makes it seem less likely they will be a player in the free agent game the rest of the way.

That's not to say they don't still have holes in their lineup. Second and/or third base must (repeat, must) be addressed, unless they are comfortable with Valencia or Hughes at third. If they pursue Felipe Lopez or Orlando Hudson, that figure will up even further into uncharted territory. Hudson signed late last winter and made $3M on a one-year deal. Lopez is a Scott Boras client and made $3.5M last season. Each is seeking a multiple-year deal and is still sitting out there in a market which appears to be a late one again this season, but to expect either to sign for less than $5M annually is unlikely.

Personally, I believe the Twins should consider signing either player. Each represent significant upgrades over the status quo and each has significant drawbacks. Lopez is a Boras client (although the Twins did sign another Boras client, Joe Crede, last winter), while Hudson has Type A free agent status, meaning the Twins put their first round draft pick at risk when signing him. Still, signing either Hudson or Lopez to a two or three-year deal for around $5-6M annually seems definitely reasonable.

Keep in mind that the Twins' payroll approaching $90M has significant implications on the impending Mauer free agent situation. The Twins are undoubtedly working on an extension with Mauer as we write, and must be willing to pay him at least $20M annually. Keep that in mind when looking at the payroll and looking to address lineup holes via established free agents. Yes, they are moving into a new ballpark in 2010 which will open up new revenue streams, but the Twins aren't exactly going to be printing money immediately.

Stay tuned for what promises to be an interesting final few weeks of winter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Podcast Update

I was lucky enough to appear on Jack Steal's Twins podcast Wednesday night. I came on after Andrew Kneeland and had a lot of fun bantering about with Topper Anton and Jack. For those of you who haven't checked out Jack's regular podcasts, please do so. Many prominent Twins bloggers appear regularly on these fun discussion forums.

Thanks to Jack and Topper for the opportunity to express my opinions.

Regular postings return Friday - absent breaking news, of course, like if the Twins sign Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez, or something........

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Multi-Media Update

After three appearances on terrestrial radio (one with the "RAT Pack" in Sarasota, FL and two on the "Papa Joe Chevalier Show," syndicated out of Las Vegas), I will be making my podcast debut Wednesday evening on Jack Steal's Twins Podcast. Jack hosts these quite often - even during the off-season, and they are excellent. Jack, of course, is the proprietor of the fine Fanatic Jack Talks Twins site.

I'm scheduled to be on from 9:30-9:50, talking about my site, the Twins' roster, and other hot stove talk. Tune in to make fun of me.

Other than that, there's not much going on in Twins Territory. If anything breaks, we'll keep you posted. Otherwise, it looks like (another) relatively light week is in the works.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Padres Don't Want Perkins, Either; Trade Kouzmanoff to Oakland

The San Diego Padres agreed to a four-player trade Friday which would send third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and a minor leaguer to the Oakland Athletics for outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.

It had been rumored earlier that the Twins and Padres had discussed a swap for Kouzmanoff and that the Twins offered beleaguered left-handed pitcher Glen Perkins in return. The Padres (rightly) asked for more, and the discussions apparently went nowhere. The Twins still have third base unaddressed and still have Perkins on their roster.

Perkins' troubles in 2009 were many, including:
  • AFTER completing a 0.2-inning, 7-hit, 6-earned run start against the Yankees on May 18, Perkins informed manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson that his arm hurt. He later went on the DL.
  • Perkins got smoked in the Twins' July 22 game at Oakland. Perkins pitched 1.0+ innings, allowing 6 hits and 8 earned runs in the game.
  • Another fine performance (4.0 IP, 12 hits, 8 ER) on August 2 against the Angels landed Perkins in the bullpen.
  • He made just one bullpen appearance (August 8 at Detroit) before landing on the DL for the second time.
  • After his DL stint was completed, the Twins wanted Perkins to rehab in the minor leagues. Concerned about his service time and to keep his free agency clock ticking, Perkins filed a grievance against the Twins, which was later dropped.
The Twins rightly coveted Kouzmanoff, who has some pop in his bat and plays a fine third base. He doesn't walk much and strikes out a fair amount of the time. Kouzmanoff batted .255/.302/.420 for San Diego last season with 31 doubles, 18 homers, and 88 RBI last season.  He also managed to record a UZR/150 mark of +10.7 at third base for the Pads. For his career, he is a .261/.308/.435 hitter and has an UZR/150 mark of 2.8. He'll be 29 mid-season but is under team control for three more seasons and would have been an inexpensive (made $432k last season; arbitration-eligible in 2010) MLB-ready option for the Twins in 2010. FanGraphs' R.J. Anderson has a fine analysis of the trade here.

However, the Padres didn't want Perkins alone and the Twins didn't want to part with anything other than a straight-up Perkins deal. One cannot fault either side much for this deal. Perkins is still young and talented, but is clearly a head case whom the Twins would love to see play elsewhere. Kouzmanoff is also young, talented, and inexpensive, and San Diego felt it needed more than simply acquiring one enigma for a solid player. They accepted a deal to re-acquire Hairston to add to an already-crowded San Diego outfield, but liked a package headlined by someone they already knew, and it left the Twins in a situation where they walked away empty-handed from a situation in which they could have addressed two problems in one swing.

There is still plenty of off-season left for the Twins to address their holes at second and third base, but not having Kouzmanoff in the mix for 2010 is disappointing.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Morales Hurt; Backup Situation Fluid

The Star Tribune reported over the weekend that Twins' backup catcher Jose Morales has an aggravated right wrist which requires surgery. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks, a timeframe which puts the likelihood that he'll be ready for April 5th opening day festivities very tenuous.

In 54 games for the Twins last season, Morales hit .311/.381/.361 with seven RBI in 119 plate appearances. These numbers are not going to have Twins' fans forgetting that they have Joe Mauer on the roster, but Morales' presence led the Twins to cut ties with longtime backup catcher Mike Redmond, who signed with the Cleveland Indians on Friday. The Red Dog spent five seasons with the Twins as a perfect backup to Mauer and hit .297/.339/.359 in 931 plate appearances in Minnesota.

With Redmond gone and Morales seemingly out of the mix, La Velle E. Neal III reports that the Twins have several internal options to win the backup catcher spot, including:
  • Drew Butera - Viewed as a great defensive catcher, Butera narrowly was edged by Morales for the backup spot out of spring training last year. Although he apparently is a joy to pitch to, Butera simply cannot hit, as his career batting line of .214/.296/.317 in 1,630 plate appearances over five minor league seasons suggests.
  • Wilson Ramos - The 22-year-old has progressed very quickly through the Twins' minor league system, spending 2009 with New Britain, but missed a significant chunk of time due to injury. In four minor league seasons, Ramos is a career .294/.343/.447 hitter with 69 doubles, 31 homers, and 181 RBI in just over 1,200 at bats.
  • Jair Fernandez - The Twins invited Fernandez to big league camp in 2010 and the Twins received his as compensation for Seattle plucking R.A. Dickey back from the Twins before the 2008 season. Like Butera, Fernandez is not much of a hitter (.239/.321/.329 in 927 minor league at-bats), but is four years younger than Butera (Fernandez is 23). Fernandez played all of 2009 in Ft. Myers, so don't look for him to get much of a look.
  • Danny Lehmann - The 24-year-old Lehmann spent 2009 backing up in New Britain, and hit .190/.247/.238 with 10 RBI in 189 plate appearances. He is a career 230/.313/.299 hitter. Enough said.
  • Danny Rams - Rams was the Twins' second round pick in the 2007 draft and played for three teams last season. After hitting .355/.444/.790 with 6 HR and 23 RBI in 72 plate appearances for Elizabethton, Rams was promoted to Beloit. With the Snappers, Rams's power numbers kept up (7 HR and 23 RBI in 195 plate appearances), and he was then promoted to Ft. Myers for a few games. Overall, he hit .264/.345/.520 last season with 13 HR and 49 RBI in 281 plate appearances.
Only Ramos and Butera are currently on the 40-man roster and have a realistic shot of making the team from this group.

The Twins could also reach out into the backup catcher pool of free agent, where the likes of Paul Bako, Rod Barajas, and Bengie Molina are still available. It's unlikely the Twins will go the free agent route, preferring to give at-bats to Morales once he comes back from wrist surgery. However, if they could get someone like Bako at a cheap price, it may be worth considering.

Friday, January 15, 2010

McGwire Cheated. Let The Self-Righteousness Begin

The "revelation" that Mark McGwire used steroids throughout his career led Monday's national news. He came clean and even appeared on an hour-long interview program with the wonderful Bob Costas Monday night on the MLB Network. This is a big step for a guy who has been somewhat of a recluse since retiring from baseball after the 2001 season, but absolutely necessary for a guy who was named hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals for the upcoming season.

Now that McGwire has come clean, the sporting public will be treated to countless articles from the learned media types - you know, the same ones who are so smart that they can determine who makes the Hall of Fame. We'll hear about how McGwire cheated, how he disgraced the game, how his achievements on the field are clouded by the specter of steroids, and so on. The BS level among the writers is likely to be steep, so don't say you weren't warned.

Baseball was hanging from a thread in 1998. The game was just over three years removed from a disastrous strike which inconceivably cost fans the 1994 World Series. The strike cost the Montreal Expos a shot at a World Series, Tony Gwynn a shot at .400, and, for many fans, a shot of them ever attending another game. McGwire's chase of baseball's hallowed home run record seemed to resuscitate the game from the near-death experience it had a few years prior.  

Roger Maris held the mark for most homers in a season with 61. The record had stood since the 1961 season. Few had realistically had a shot at the record since, with pitchers holding the upper hand for several seasons after Maris's record-setting season. By the 1998 season, baseball was in the midst of an offensive explosion, and Mark McGwire was right in the middle of it.

Since bursting on the baseball scene as a rookie with the Oakland Athletics in 1987 with 49 home runs (the most since George Foster hit 52 in 1977), McGwire was among baseball's preeminent power hitters. He hit 52 homers for Oakland in 1996 and then 58 between Oakland and St. Louis in 1997. By 1998, he was hitting homers at a remarkable clip, and was joined by the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa in his pursuit of Maris. The summer of '98 featured a home run race between two men in pursuit of a magical record, and interest in baseball was sky-high. In September 1998, McGwire passed Maris with a line drive homer to left off the Cubs' Steve Trachsel. What followed was baseball at its greatest. McGwire picked up his young son in a bear hug, shared an embrace with Sosa, and climbed the railing to share a moment with the late Roger Maris's family. McGwire went on to his 70 homers in that season and interest in baseball was on the rise once again.

In the late summer months, questions about McGwire and human growth hormone (HGH) swirled, but the controversy was lost as the record fell. McGwire hit 65 homers in 1999, 32 in an injury-filled 2000, and 29 in just 97 games in 2001. His career ended with him pinch-hit for by the immortal Kerry Robinson in the 2001 NLDS, and he never took another MLB at-bat.

Called to testify before Congress in 2005 about steroid use in baseball, McGwire uttered his infamous phrase, "I'm not here to talk about the past." From that point on, he was guilty; charged, tried, and convicted in the court of public opinion.

Keep in mind, baseball had no steroid policy during McGwire's career. Put another way, steroids were NOT specifically illegal (i.e., no testing) during McGwire's career. The roof got blown off the whole issue when Jose Canseco threatened to "name names" after he left the game. His 2005 book "Juiced" did just that, and McGwire was mentioned in the book - among others. In typical Congressional fashion, hearings were commissioned, and some of baseball's stars were paraded before a House committee to be interrogated about steroid use in baseball. The hearings made good TV, ruined some players' reputations, but did nothing to address steroids in baseball.

MLB and the Players Association worked together to address steroids. The Mitchell Report, released in December 2007, was the end result of a 21-month investigation into the presence of steroids in baseball. Names were named. MLB also set up testing in all levels of baseball, with severe suspensions put into place for multiple offenders. These steps were all put into place after McGwire's career ended in 2001.

The owners should not escape any blame for this situation. The owners simply turned a blind eye to the steriod situation because they knew that home runs were good for business. Only after the Canseco book came out and public outcry was rampant, the owners decided to make it appear they were doing something about the situation and believed they were traveling the high road. They are just as dirty in this scourge as the players themselves.

McGwire was a career .263/.394/.588 hitter with 583 homers and 1,414 RBI in 1,874 games. He is one of baseball's all-time great sluggers. Still, he managed to get only 23.7% of votes for the Hall of Fame on this year's ballot, despite being 8th all-time in home runs. He'll likely struggle for several more years on the ballot while writers will pontificate that he disgraced the game and that what he did was no better than Pete Rose's gambling.

The BBWAA is a collection of fossils which lack any statistical analytical ability whatsoever and rely on personal observations of players in making judgments as to Hall of Fame worthiness. They also tend to vote for guys who were nice to them in the past or who gave them good copy. The Hall of Fame voters inexplicably kept the best second baseman of the past 30 years - Roberto Alomar - out of the HoF this season for no good reason other than he was abrasive and spit at an umpire almost 20 years ago (the umpire himself, John Hirschbeck, said Alomar should get in).

The BBWAA will not take an even more hard view of McGwire and likely keep him out longer, using his admission as reasons to keep him out. Never mind they voted in a guy, Gaylord Perry, who was one of baseball's all-time great cheaters. His doctoring of baseballs was legendary and he doctored his way to over 300 victories and HoF status in the process. He was also a nice guy, so that's why the writer's took the "Ah, that's just Gaylord" approach and let him in despite his cheating.

Look, McGwire cheated to gain an edge, but he was far from the only one doing so at the time. Hitters and pitchers alike were turning to steroids and HGH to gain an edge, creating a twisted balance. Yes, the guys who didn't take steroids and HGH got screwed in the process, and it's wrong. But, what McGwire did at the time was NOT ILLEGAL, at least as far as testing is concerned,. and he cannot be punished because he was playing with the "rules" (or lack thereof) for his time.

Stop the self-righteousness and just move on. Baseball doesn't need two more months of PED discussions, Congressional hearings, and musing from writers who are the epitome of double-standards themselves. Let's just move on.

On a Much More Positive Note:  Weeks ago, I mentioned Chris Jaffe of the excellent Hardball Times site has a new book "Evaluating Baseball's Managers" out which is a comprehensive historical analysis of baseball managers. Aaron Gleeman linked to Chris's view of Tom Kelly's tenure with the Twins, and the section is excellent. Check out the exceprt here. Better yet, buy the whole book here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Twins' Off-Season Dominated by Patience

The Twins have not been overly-active in the 2010 off-season thus far. The team made a big splash early on when it traded Carlos Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers for J.J. Hardy, addressing a hole in the middle infield. At the winter meetings, the Twins offered arbitration to starting pitcher Carl Pavano and designated Boof Bonser for assignment before trading him to Boston for a minor leaguer. They signed relief pitcher Clay Condrey, who spent the past few seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and released fellow reliever Bobby Keppel, who decided to sign in Japan.

None of those deals qualifies as a show-stopper, although the Gomez-Hardy swap should be considered a mid-major deal. However, General Manager Billy Smith has decided to take a cautious approach to this off-season, angering some observers. However, given the presence of a trade and free agent market in flux, the Twins' approach is not necessarily a bad one.

The Twins definitely have some holes to be addressed, including:
  • Extension for Joe Mauer
  • Second Base
  • Third Base
  • Starting Rotation
Shortstop would have been included on that list, but the situation was addressed with the acquisition of Hardy. The Twins have four starters set for their rotation (Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Pavano) with the fifth coming either from an acquisition or likely Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing. Nick Punto seemingly fits into the mix to start at whatever position the Twins do not fill between second and third.

There are plenty of options available out there. Felipe Lopez, (.310/.383/.427; 38 doubles, 9 HR, 57 RBI; career UZR/150 of 2.6 at second base) late of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Orlando Hudson, (.283/.357/.414; 35 doubles, 9 HR, 62 RBI in 2009; four Gold Gloves; career UZR/150 of 2.6 at second base) formerly of the LA Dodgers, would each give the Twins far more production at second base than they've had since Chuck Knoblauch was traded to the Yankees before the 1998 season. Lopez also has some experience at third base, and has managed a UZR/150 of 6.0. However, the Twins have apparently had no interaction with representatives for either Lopez or Hudson, leaving the holes un-addressed. With potential free agent options like Adrian Beltre (to Boston for one-year, $10M), Chone Figgins (to Seattle for 4 years, $36M), and Placido Polanco (to Philadelphia for 3 years, $18M, plus option) off the market, the Twins' options are more limited. Perhaps they'll go the Joe Crede route again in 2010? That's a possibility, and not a horrible one (assuming Lopez and Hudson rebuff the Twins' advances) if he's healthy, but it likely won't be until spring training begins.

The same goes for the fifth starter. The team has apparently expressed more interest in Jarrod Washburn, and offered the lefty a one-year, $5M deal that was rejected by Washburn. Bringing Washburn in would come at a considerable risk to the Twins. First, he's 36 and had knee troubles at the end of last season. Secondly, and most importantly, he was awful down the stretch after being acquired by Detroit at the trade deadline. Although he posted a sub-3.00 ERA with the Mariners, Washburn was 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA for the Tigers. Signing him to a one-year deal, for any amount of money, would be a waste, given that the Twins have in-house candidates to fill the fifth starter role, including Duensing, Liriano, and Jeff Manship). Besides, any money allocated to Washburn would be far better spent toward Lopez or Hudson.

The big issue is the Mauer extension. The Cardinals' signing of Matt Holliday last week (7 years; $120M) and the Mets with Jason Bay (4 years, $66) further proves how much Mauer could fetch on the open market. The Holliday signing, which is completely misguided due to the length of the deal, ups the market for players of far better ability like Mauer and Albert Pujols. It's quite clear that Mauer (and Pujols) could definitely fetch $30M annually in the free agent market. 

The Twins need to extend Mauer before the season starts or they will become more likely to lose him on the open market. Some Twins' fans and bloggers (as Twins' blogger Jack Steal effectively analyzes here) lament that no progress has been made on the extension front. However, keep in mind that the Twins announced the extensions for Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau just before TwinsFest in 2008 (actually, on 1-25-08). The Christmas deadline expressed by local scribes like the often-misguided Charley Walters was a myth, and Twins' followers should put little stock into the fact that the calendar has turned to 2010 and Mauer has not yet been extended. National writers like ESPN's Buster Olney continue to insist that Mauer will re-sign in Minnesota, even if it means less money, and I believe that to be true. 

The 2010 market began with allegations of collusion by luminaries like Scott Boras and has been quieted somewhat by the signings of Bay and Holliday. However, the balance of the market continues to be slow and less money is exchanging hands. Many predicted this to be a late market and that continues to be the case. Remember, Hudson did not sign his one-year deal with the Dodgers until February 21, 2009 in another late market.

I would expect a Mauer extension to be announced just before spring training starts in mid-February, upon which time the Twins will likely announce that they've signed either Hudson or Lopez.

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Twins Add Pitchers; Drop Another

In a move which sent the Twins blogosphere abuzz last week, the Twins released reliever Bobby Keppel, who had decided to sign with a Japanese League team, and signed relief pitcher Clay Condrey, late of the Philadelphia Phillies. They also signed left-hander Mike Maroth to a minor league deal.

Keppel joined the Twins as a minor league free agent prior to the 2009 season and pitched extremely well in Rochester. In 23 games with the Red Wings, spanning 55.2 innings, Keppel compiled a 3-3 mark with a 2.43 ERA, allowing 51 hits, 13 walks, and striking out 28. Recalled because of the Twins' mid-season bullpen woes, Keppel started out with 11.1 scoreless innings over his first four appearances, but fell back to earth shortly thereafter. While with the Twins, Keppel pitched 54 innings out of the bullpen over 37 appearances, allowed 63 hits, 21 walks, and struck out 32 batters. He was 1-1 with a 4.83 ERA. His lone victory (and the only one of his career, thus far) came in the Twins' tie-breaker game against the Detroit Tigers, when he wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the 12th inning.

Maroth is a depth move. He missed all of 2009 with a knee injury and most of 2008 after shoulder surgery. Unfortunately, he is best remembered for recording the first 20-loss season in 25 years when he went 9-21 for the awful 2003 Tigers. By signing Condrey, the Twins added another right-handed arm to its middle relief corps. He is a six-year MLB veteran who has spent time with the San Diego Padres and the Phillies. Condrey made 45 appearances for the Phils last season and pitched 42 innings, allowing 37 hits, 14 walks, and struck out 25 batters. He was 6-2 with a 3.00 ERA and recorded a save. Over his career, Condrey has made 179 appearances (and nine starts, but none since 2003), threw 250.1 innings, allowed 281 hits, 114 earned runs, walked 87 and struck out 143. He seems to fit the Twins' mold of not walking too many men but also not missing many bats. At age 34, he will provide some depth for 2010 but not much beyond that.

The signing of Condrey seems to suggest that the Twins want some more flexibility should Pat Neshek not be ready to go on opening day. Neshek is rehabbing from arm surgery and has not thrown a Major League pitch since May 8, 2008. The Twins already have Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares, and Joe Nathan in the bullpen mix, with one of either Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing likely to start the year in the pen (the other in the rotation, unless the Twins acquire another starting pitcher), so putting someone else out there like Condrey gives the organization flexibility. The Twins also like to have somewhat experienced options for Rochester as well. Prior to last season, the Twins signed Keppel and Sean Henn to do just that, and both saw time in Minnesota. Heck, the Twins were "forced" to give Keppel 54 innings last season, so one never knows. Of course, if GM Bill Smith had addressed the bullpen hole far earlier than he did, Keppel would not thrown nearly as many innings, and the Twins would have been far better off.

Signing Condrey won't make any headlines, but it gives the Twins flexibility should Neshek not be ready and provides some organizational depth. Hopefully, he won't have to go 54 innings in three months like Keppel, but Condrey is serviceable and reliable when used properly, and has been solid his last two seasons.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Top Twins' Prospects: #1

#1: Aaron Hicks, OF - Considered the best player to come out of metro Los Angeles since Darryl Strawberry, Hicks was selected with the 14th pick of the first round in the 2008 MLB Draft. Although the outfielder has shown glimpses of his star potential in two professional seasons, the Twins will be patient to allow him to develop slowly. With the GCL Twins in 2008, Hicks batted .318/.409/.491 in 204 plate appearances. He managed 10 doubles, 4 triples, 4 HR, and 27 RBI, and also stole 12 bases. He started the 2009 campaign in extended spring training but ended up playing 67 games with the Beloit Snappers. He batted .251/.353/.382 in Beloit and showed the growing pains one would expect from a 19 year-old. Still, Hicks has only had 501 plate appearances since turning professional and has managed a 278/.376/.427 line with 25 doubles, 7 triples, 8 HR, and 56 RBI. He has five-tool talent, but it is very raw at this point. Thankfully, the Twins historically have taken patient approaches with their high school draftees. Torii Hunter was drafted in 1993 and did not make his first MLB plate appearance until 1998 and wasn't a regular until late 2000. That is likely the timeline the Twins would like to follow with Hicks, but his development will dictate where he plays and how fast he is promoted.

So, there you have it, my top 20 prospects heading into 2010. Feel free to debate my sanity and comment where you believe I got it right or got it wrong. As always, check the other Twins' blogs for their prospect lists which will be coming fast and furious as we settle into the winter months up here in Minneapolis.

Diamond Awards: The annual Diamond Awards are coming up on January 28 to benefit University of Minnesota research of debilitating neurological diseases (ataxia, Parkinsons, MD, MS, etc.). The Twins' 2009 season will be honored in the program and the proceeds to go a great cause.

For more information about the awards and tickets, check out

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top Twins' Prospects: #2-5

#5: Wilson Ramos, C - Signed by the Twins out of Venezuela, Ramos debuted in 2006 and proved right away that he was a hitter. With the GCL Twins, Ramos hit .286/.339/.435 in 172 plate appearances, and followed that up with a solid .291/.345/.438 performance the next season in Beloit. As a 20 year-old in the Florida State League, Ramos batted .288/.346/.434 in 2008, with 23 doubles, 13 HR, and 78 RBI. Promoted to AA in 2009, Ramos battled injuries but still hit .317/.341/.454 in 214 plate appearances. The Twins have a solid catching prospect in Ramos, but they have a pretty good player there right now who is just four years older than Mauer. Still, having a young player with a .294/.343/.447 batting line in four minor league seasons is a pretty nice problem for the Twins to have. Ramos may develop more power as he develops, but he's a pretty good doubles hitter as it stands now. He'll likely repeat AA in 2010 and could use a healthy season to continue his development.

#4: Danny Valencia, 3B - The Twins took Valencia in the 19th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of the University of Miami. Starting out in the Appy League right away, Valencia dazzled at the plate, hitting .311/.365/.505 with 8 HR and 29 RBI in just 211 plate appearances. Between Beloit and Ft. Myers in 2007, Valencia continued his solid hitting, notching a line of .297/.354/.462 in 521 plate appearances. He added 23 doubles, 17 HR and 66 RBI. The Twins chose to start him again in Ft. Myers in 2008 before promoting his mid-season to New Britain. However, Valencia continued to hit: .311/.366/.500 with 37 doubles, 15 HR, and 76 RBI between the two stops. 2009 began in New Britain and ended in Rochester for Valencia, and he managed a .285/.337/.466 batting line in 534 plate appearances, adding 38 doubles, 14 HR, and 70 RBI in the process. Overall, Valencia has hit .299/.354/.480 in 1,804 plate appearances, adding 111 doubles, 54 HR, and 241 RBI. He is the favorite to win the third base job should the Twins not sign a third baseman or middle infielder this off-season, and will compete with fellow prospect Luke Hughes (and Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert) for playing time in Minnesota. Valencia is a solid hitter who is clearly ready for MLB action. At age 25, he deserves at least a look.

#3: Angel Morales, OF - The Twins have three very solid prospects roaming the outfields of their low minor league affiliates, and Morales is the first one to appear in this countdown. Drafted by the Twins in the third round of the 2007 Draft, Morales made a good impression with the GCL Twins that summer, hitting .256/.357/.405 and playing a solid right field. His 2008 season in Elizabethton, however, was spectacular. In 218 plate appearances, Morales hit .301/.413/.623 with 12 doubles, 15 HR, and 28 RBI. The slugging percentage was just tremendous and had scouts thinking the Twins had found a power-hitting corner outfielder. He spent the 2009 Beloit, and Morales hit .266/.329/.455 with 13 HR and 69 RBI in 418 plate appearances. Morales has only one full season under his belt and has shown five-tool potential. He turned 20 in November and the Twins are in no hurry to rush him along. Still, the raw talent alone is enough to get Twins' fans excited for 2014. 

#2: Ben Revere, OF - The Twins were savaged when they selected Kentucky high schooler Revere with the 28th pick of the first round of the 2007 draft, and many believed signability was the main contributing factor. However, he has proven he can hit a bit in his three professional seasons. In 216 plate appearances with the GCL Twins in 2007, Revere hit .325/.388/.461 with six doubles and ten triples while leading off for the Twins. He skipped a rung and was sent to Beloit in 2008 (after spending time in extended spring training) and Revere hit .379/.433/.497 in 374 plate appearances, leading the Midwest League in hitting, and notching 17 doubles, 10 triples, and 43 RBI in a breakout year. He culminated his outstanding season by winning the Twins Minor League Player of the Year honors. In 2009, Revere spent the entire season in Ft. Myers and hit .311/.372/.369 in 517 plate appearances, adding 13 doubles and 48 RBI to the mix. In three seasons and 1,107 plate appearances, Revere has managed a .337/.396/.430 batting line and has managed to steal 110 bases in the process. He is probably the organization's most exciting player and is the leadoff hitter of the future. Along with Morales and Aaron Hicks, Revere has Twins' fans excited about a potential outfield featuring all three in a few years.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Top Twins' Prospects: #6-10

#10: Miguel Angel Sano, IF - The Twins have aggressively scouted Latin America since they moved to the Twin Cities in 1961. However, never has the team given $3.15M to a 16 year-old prospect. However, the Twins gave Miguel Angel Sano a $3.15M signing bonus in 2009, and all accounts suggest the Twins made a shrewd move. Sano (or "Jean," depending upon who you believe) is a 6-3 shortstop with raw skills who has dazzled scouts. Several teams were in the bidding for Sano after he became eligible to sign last July, but some teams were apparently scared off by rumors that some of his personal documents pertaining to his visa application were falsified. Still, the Twins ended up with a player who was widely believed to be the best talent coming out of Latin America this year. Perhaps his future lies at third base, but who knows with a 16 year-old? It will be interesting to see how Sano, and fellow 16 year-old Max Kepler, believed to be the best prospect to come out of Europe ever, fare in their first seasons of pro ball, likely with the GCL Twins.

#9: Anthony Slama, RHP - The Twins selected Slama in the 39th round of the 2006 MLB Draft and the right-hander started his pro career with the Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian League in 2007. Splitting the year between E-Town and Beloit, Slama appeared in 27 games - all in relief - spanning 31.2 innings, allowed a fine 17 hits, walked 10, and struck out 49 hitters. He compiled a 1-1 mark with a 1.71 ERA and 14 saves. The Twins had Slama spend the entire 2008 season with Ft. Myers, and Slama formed a tremendous 1-2 punch with fellow prospect Rob Delaney at the back end of games for the Miracle that season. Slama was 4-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 25 saves in 71 innings that season. He allowed only 43 hits and struck out 110 hitters. Preferring the patient approach, Slama began 2009 in New Britain at age 25, and the results were great: 65.1 innings, 46 hits, 93 strikeouts, 4-2 record with 25 saves and a 2.48 ERA. Finally promoted to Rochester, Slama continued to pitch well, giving up 11 hits and struck out out 19 men in 15.2 innings. In three seasons, Slama has posted a 9-6 mark with 68 saves, a 1.86 ERA in 183.2 innings, and has struck out 271 men against only 117 hits allowed. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster for the first time this off-season, and it's because he was not on the 40-man that he was not given a look last season while the bullpen was imploding in August. Slama will get a chance to win a spot this spring, but I would be shocked if he didn't make some appearances in Minnesota during the 2010 season.

#8: Deolis Guerra, RHP - Potential is the name of the game with Guerra. Only 20 years-old, Guerra was acquired by the Twins in the Johan Santana trade before the 2008 season began, and was already a two-season veteran of the Florida State League. Rushed through the minors in typical Mets' fashion (see Gomez, Carlos), Guerra has been a work-in-progress in his two seasons in the Twins' organization. With the Miracle in 2008, Guerra won 11 ball games, but posted a 5.47 ERA in 130 innings. He allowed 138 hits and walked 71 hitters in that span, but also struck out 71. Asked to repeat high-A ball in 2009, Guerra pitched ok for Ft. Myers. He was 6-8 with a 4.69 ERA in 86.1 innings, but still allowed 95 hits. Most encouraging to Twins' management, Guerra managed to cut his walks down to 25, while striking out 57. Not exactly deserving one, Guerra gained a promotion to New Britain mid-season, and pitched ok with the Rock Cats. In 62.2 innings, he surrendered 62 hits, 17 walks, and struck out 49, while posting a 6-3 record with a 5.17 ERA. Overall in 2009, Guerra was 12-11 with a 4.89 ERA in 149 innings, allowing 157 hits, 42 walks, and striking out 106 men. The Twins will likely have Guerra with New Britain again this season as a 21 year-old righty. As encouraging as the strikeout to walk improvement was from 2008 to 2009, the Twins know they have a work in progress with Guerra, but will definitely be more patient than the Mets were when Guerra was their property.  

#7: Kyle Gibson, RHP - The Twins stuck their collective neck out on Gibson in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft and scouts believe they hit a home run. Widely believed to be a top-10 talent, Gibson suffered a stress fracture in his right arm late in the 2009 collegiate season and dropped into the Twins' lap at #22. The University of Missouri right-hander held out until the last possible moment in order to get a signing bonus commensurate with a top pick. The Twins signed him before the deadline for a bonus of $1.8M and Gibson will begin his pro career next spring. A top-of-the-rotation guy at Mizzou, the 6-6 Gibson possesses a low-90s fastball, and mixes in a change and hard slider. He has solid command of all three pitches, and has ace makeup. The Twins may have found a steal at #22, but pitchers are a unique bunch, and one needs to see how he adjusts to the pro game. What is certain, however, is that he has all the tools to be a solid top-of-the-rotation starter and just needs experience in order to develop.

#6: Luke Hughes, 3B - Signed by the Twins out of Australia, Hughes will be entering his eighth season in the Twins' organization in 2010. He has played all over the diamond in his career (all four infield positions), but the Twins see him as a third baseman at this point in his career. What has never been questioned has been his bat. In seven pro seasons, Hughes has managed a .270/.333/.421 line in 2,355 plate appearances, with 112 doubles, 19 triples, 55 HR, and 298 RBI. He is only 25 and has two seasons of AAA under his belt (.270/.336/.469 in 274 plate appearances), but has started each of the past two seasons in AA (.288/.357/.480 in 910 plate appearances). Hughes will get every opportunity to start 2010 in AAA, assuming he doesn't make the Twins out of spring training. The Twins have two solid prospects at third with Hughes and Danny Valencia, and one of them is blocking the other. Unless the team signs a MLB-ready third baseman, there is a strong possibility that either Hughes or Valencia will be opening up Target Field at third base. Hughes is a solid hitter who deserves a look, and will likely see some time with the Twins in 2010 at some point.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Top Twins' Prospects: #11-15

#15: Carlos Gutierrez, RHP - The Twins took Gutierrez as one of their three first round picks in the 2008 draft. Gutierrez had closed at the University of Miami but was coming off Tommy John surgery before he was drafted. Despite some criticism, the 6-3 righty signed and started his career working out of the Ft. Myers bullpen. He acquitted himself quite well, allowing 23 hits and six earned runs in 25.2 innings, while striking out 19 hitters. The Twins surprisingly moved him into the starting rotation for Ft. Myers in 2009 and Gutierrez responded again. In 11 games (10 of them starts), Gutierrez pitched 54.2 innings, allowed 37 hits, walked 22 men, and struck out 33. He compiled a 2-3 mark with a 1.32 ERA before earning a promotion to New Britain. He started six times for the Rock Cats, but also made 16 relief appearances. The results were not pretty - 52.1 innings, 62 hits, 36 earned runs (6.19 ERA), 24 walks, 32 Ks. However, Gutierrez was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League and made 10 appearances out of the bullpen, pitching 10.2 innings, walking a high 10 batters while striking out 11. Gutierrez will likely get another crack at AA ball in 2010 to improve upon his numbers. For a guy two years removed from ligament-replacement surgery, a pitching line of 6-7, 3.39 ERA in 132.2 innings, 122 hits, 53 walks, and 84 Ks isn't too shabby. Gutierrez has a big fastball and the Twins are trying to harness it into a mid-rotation prospect. He just turned 23, so Gutierrez, and the Twins, has plenty of time. 

#14: Mike McCardell, RHP - The Twins selected the 6-5 right-hander in the 6th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of Kutztown University. McCardell signed and began his pro career with the GCL Twins that summer. After posting a 2-0 mark in four games with a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings and striking out 25 hitters, the Twins moved McCardell up to E-Town, where he continued to pitch well. In 45 innings with the E-Twins, he struck out 70 batters and finished 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA. Overall in his first professional season, McCardell was 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 63 innings, allowed 40 hits, eight walks, and struck out a staggering 95 men. McCardell spent the entire 2008 season in Beloit and worked 135.1 innings, allowing 110 hits, 25 walks, and 139 strikeouts. He began 2009 with Ft. Myers, where he pitched well in 94 innings (9-6 with a 3.93 ERA). However, the hits were up (98) and the strikeouts were down (a still-impressive 78). McCardell earned a promotion to New Britain where he made nine starts, worked 48.1 innings, allowed 45 hits, and struck out 40 men. He also played in the Arizona Fall League this year, and made three starts, lasting just 8.2 innings, allowing nine hits, seven earned runs (7.27 ERA) and striking out 11 batters. In his three-season pro career, McCardell has struck out 352 batters in 340.2 innings, while allowing 293 hits and just 65 walks. He has also posted a 30-13 record with a career ERA of 3.20. Not bad numbers and the Twins have decided to take the patient approach with him thus far. He's a bit older (he'll be 25 on opening day 2010) and the Twins could definitely move him to AAA to give him a look this year. However, look for McCardell to start the season in New Britain and work toward a shot in Minnesota in 2011. 

#13: Rob Delaney, RHP - The Twins have had Delaney in their system since 2006 and he has steadily climbed the minor league ladder, posting solid, if not spectacular, numbers all along the way. His 2007 season was nothing short of spectacular: 70 innings between Beloit and Ft. Myers, 44 hits, 83 strikeouts, 35 saves, and a 1.03 ERA. Despite those numbers, the Twins elected to start him in Ft. Myers in 2008 and he pitched spectacularly there again before earning a promotion to New Britain mid-season. Overall in 2008, Delaney worked 66 innings, posted a 3-3 mark with a 1.23 ERA, recorded 18 saves, allowed just 44 hits, and struck out 72 hitters.  Continuing the patient approach, the Twins started Delaney with New Britain in 2009 and he struck out 40 batters in 36 innings for the Rock Cats before being promoted to Rochester. He struggled somewhat in Rochester, but still allowed less than a hit an inning for the Red Wings. Overall in 2009, Delaney was 8-4 with a 3.44 ERA in 83.2 innings, allowed 75 hits, and struck out 78 hitters. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster after the season and he'll be in the mix for a bullpen spot this spring. Delaney is 25 and deserves a shot at the big leagues. The Twins have been overly-patient with this relief star, but look for him in a Twins' uniform sometime in 2010.

#12: Trevor Plouffe, SS - The Twins' first round draft pick out of a California high school in 2004, Plouffe seemingly has been around forever but is only 23 years-old. Coming out of high school, the Twins viewed him as a good hitter with some pop, but there were some concerns about his defense. After six seasons in the minors, the Twins are still somewhat concerned about the defense (they tried moving him from SS to 3B in 2008, but Plouffe played SS exclusively in 2009), but the pop in the bat is very present. Plouffe started in E-Town in 2004 and made steady climbs for the next three seasons, managing 13 HR and 60 RBI as a 19 year-old in Beloit in 2005. He was a doubles machine in New Britain in 2007 (37) to go along with 9 HR and 50 RBI, and made his debut in AAA as a 21 year-old in 2008. In a half-season with the Red Wings, Plouffe hit .256/.292/.420 with 17 doubles, 6 HR, and 39 RBI. Overall in 2008 with New Britain and Rochester, the batting line was impressive for someone his age: .262/.308/.415, 34 doubles, 6 triples, 9 HR, and 60 RBI. Starting in Rochester in 2009, Plouffe was again solid at the plate: .260/.313/.407, 23 doubles, 10 HR, 60 RBI, and won't be 24 until mid-June. His career minor league batting line of .256/.318/.385 is weighted-down by his early-career struggles, but he has posted solid numbers at the higher levels. Plouffe is a solid hitter who could get a look in Minnesota in 2010 if there are injuries in the middle of the infield.

#11: David Bromberg, RHP - The Twins selected Bromberg in the 32nd round of the 2005 draft out of high school in Santa Monica, CA. Bromberg made his pro debut with the GCLTwins in 2006 and pitched well there in 10 starts spanning 50.2 innings, allowing 42 hits, 18 walks, and striking out 31. Promoted to Elizabethton in 2007, Bromberg was 9-0 in 58.1 innings with E-Town, allowing 45 hits and striking out 81 hitters. Facing a full season for the first time, Bromberg was good in Beloit in 2008, working 150 innings in 27 starts, winning 9 ball games again, and striking out 177 men. His 2009 season with Ft. Myers was spectacular. In 153.1 innings over 27 games (26 starts), Bromberg finished with a 13-4 record, 2.70 ERA, allowed 125 hits, walked 63, and struck out 148. His efforts earned him Twins 2009 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. With a career mark of 34-17 in 412.1 innings, Bromberg has struck out 437 hitters and has given up 361 hits. The walk totals are higher than the Twins would like (167), but Bromberg is a solid winner who is only 22 and fits the mid-rotation mold the Twins prefer in their high school pitcher draftees. He should start 2010 in New Britain, and look for him to be in the mix for a promotion tot he big club in 2011 or 2012.