March 2008


Game starts at 6:05, watch it!

So that title might not make sense, but give me a chance to explain it. Since my last post, a few players have been told they will start Opening Day. Actually, we already knew Livan Hernandez was our pitcher for the first game (it makes me sick to type that), but beyond that, Ron Gardenhire has confirmed who pitchers #2 and #3 are: Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey, respectively. We all know how much Gardy loves veterans, and with Scott Baker currently sidelined with the flu and a sore back, it shouldn’t be surprising to see Livan get the OD nod. But in my eyes he is Sir Sidney Ponson‘s twin brother, with a lesser fastball. And probably heavier. I could look it up to see for sure who weighs more, but frankly I would be upset with myself for checking. I would rather not care about which washed-up veteran starting pitcher for the Twins throws the needle farther on a scale.

 

Beyond pitching woes, Brendan Harris will start at second base, instead of Nick Punto. In Harris’ first full year last year (137 games, 521 at bats) he hit .286 with a .343 OBP and an OPS of .777. He played 86 games at SS versus his 45 at 2B, making his statistics comparable to other shortstops. His OPS was 10th-best in the Majors, but would’ve tied for 16th-best had he played more at second. On the bright side, in 404 innings at second last year he made just 1 error. A lot of people criticize his defense, but if he can replicate his 2007 performance at the plate he can make up for any lack of defense. His range seems to be his biggest problem. However, if he’s used to playing SS he should have a good amount of range. I stay away from defensive statistics that add multitudes of factors other than “did the player get to the ball?” so I can’t tell you how good his range really is (according to those stats, anyway). I don’t think there’s any chance Adam Everett will get the boot with Harris starting at short and Punto taking over at second.

 

Finally, Joe Nathan got a contract extension with the team. It’s a 4-year extension, worth $47 million, but some things were changed around. Nathan was originally to be paid $6 million this year from his previous option that the team picked up. With the new contract, it wipes out the $6 mil. and starts fresh with Joe making $11.25 million this season, along with 2009-2011 and an option for $12.5 million in 2012. I still don’t really like the team committing roughly 15% of their entire payroll to a guy who’ll pitch, if he’s lucky, 75 innings a year. Closers are incredibly in demand, almost 24/7, but especially around the trading deadline. Teams who thought they were set are suddenly scrambling to find a shutdown 9th inning guy because their original closer got hurt and is out for the season. I still believe that if Nathan were traded to the right team, at the right time, he could net us players with more of an impact than the guys we got for Johan Santana. And I’m also of the belief that there’s still a chance he will get traded. Really, if the team is flat-out horrible come July, it would be fairly easy to trade Nathan for one of these: a legitimate 3B for the future, a legitimate SS for the future, plus minor league pitchers that have good numbers throughout their career so far. If we’re out of contention, what does it matter if Juan Rincon blows 20 saves in the second half of the season? Granted, Rincon would probably not be the one who stepped into that role (I’m thinking Pat Neshek), but what would it matter?

 

And don’t think I’m all negative about this upcoming season because of that. If the whole offense doesn’t slump all at the same time, I think we can surprise a lot of people. With rookie pitchers everywhere, the team will need all the runs they can get.

The team made more cuts today, this group containing the biggest names. Phil Humber, Denard Span, Brian Buscher, and Jason Pridie will all go to AAA. That’s right, two of the three guys competing for the CF job are leaving. Using the process of elimination, something that Bert Blyleven‘s “California Math” doesn’t cover, that means Carlos Gomez is your starting CF for the 2008 Minnesota Twins. He was electric when he got on base during Spring Training, stealing 10 bases (in 10 tries), he scored from second base on a single once, and from what Ron Gardenhire has been saying, it seemed almost from the start that Gomez had won it. Whether it’s here, here, or here, you can see how in love Gardy was with Gomez’s raw talent (re: speed). Here’s a comparison between Gomez, Span, and Pridie for Spring Training ’08:

Name AB Runs RBI SB AVG OBP SLG OPS
Gomez 49 12 6 10 .286 .302 .510 .812
Span 39 6 2 3
(1CS)
.282 .404 .385 .789
Pridie 44 10 4 5
(2 CS)
.295 .304 .318 .622

 

All have good batting averages, but Span’s 7 walks (compared to Gomez’s 2 and Pridie’s 1) help him with that .404 OBP, hinting that he might be better to lead off the team than Gomez. I hate judging things from Spring Training because starters are generally on the bench more than bench players and starting pitchers usually don’t go beyond 3 or 4 innings. But it’s all we can base things off of right now. Span and Pridie have never played in the Majors, Gomez played in 58 games for the Mets last year. I expected one of Span/Pridie to stay up so the team could cut Craig Monroe and his $3.82 million salary, but his 2 homers this spring probably solidified him as the 5th OF/2nd DH/bench power threat.

 

So that is the CF position, and because of the onslaught of information regarding that battle, you may have forgotten two infielders competing for the last roster spot. Brian Buscher was sent down, meaning Matt Tolbert will probably be our 6th infielder. Tolbert’s never been above AAA. In fact, he’s only spent one season there (last year) and had a .293 batting average, .353 OBP, and .427 slugging. He isn’t a powerful guy (6 HR in 417 AB in AAA) but should steal 8-12 bases a year. He also walks a good amount with little strikeouts (81/116 ratio the past 2 years), helping his OBP hover between .340-.350. Buscher is 26 but has only played 40 games in AAA (and did well there) so it shouldn’t hurt him to go back there for a season. By signing Mike Lamb for 2 years, the team showed that Buscher probably won’t start much, and Tolbert can back up Lamb if necessary. Not to mention Tolbert can also play second and a little bit of short.

 

The rotation has a lot of question marks. Livan Hernandez starting our first game? Scott Baker has the flu? With Glen Perkins being sent to AAA, it left Livan, Kevin Slowey, Boof Bonser, Phil Humber, Nick Blackburn, and Francisco Liriano. Livan and Boof are in the rotation for sure. Humber gave up just 2 runs in 14 innings but got cut this morning, so he’s out. Slowey struck out 18 batters in 15 2/3 innings while posting a 4.02 ERA this spring. Add that onto last year and he will be in the rotation as well. Indications are that Liriano will start in AAA or even Ft. Myers, so he won’t pitch in the cold. Blackburn impressed a lot of coaches this spring, allowing 3 runs in 11 innings for a 2.45 ERA. A lot of people think he will be in the rotation, leaving us with one spot left. If Baker goes on the DL, expect Brian Bass, minor league extraordinaire, to make a start. He had a 3.48 ERA in Rochester last season and has given up just 2 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings this spring. He is out of options, meaning he would need to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the team. If Baker will be ready to go, Bass has definitely earned a spot in the bullpen.

 

Other encouraging signs: Pat Neshek allowed 2 hits and 0 runs in 10 innings this spring. Joe Nathan has an ERA of 1.00 with 12 strikeouts in 9 innings. Dennys Reyes has struck out 7 and walked 1 in 8 innings, with an ERA of 1.13. In Liriano’s key start yesterday, he threw 4 innings and gave up 0 runs. He struck out 5 and walked 2.

 

With 29 players left in Spring Training, we can eliminate catchers Drew Butera and Eli Whiteside from making the team, along with 1B Jon Knott. 13 pitchers and 13 position players, then. Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond will catch with Justin Morneau, Brendan Harris, Adam Everett, Lamb, Tolbert, and Nick Punto in the infield. Gomez, Monroe, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer roaming on the turf in the outfield. Leaving room for 12 pitchers, I already said indications are that Liriano will start in the minors with Bass staying here.

 

 

So there you have it. Say hello to your 2008 Minnesota Twins.

I think I found out why Livan Hernandez is being told he will probably start Opening Day for the team. Scott Baker has a sore back, and didn’t make his scheduled start today. It’s a precaution for sure, but he should be good to go at the start of the year. Expect him to start the second game of the season, if Livan does indeed start Opening Day.

 

Kyle Lohse, one of the most sought-after free agent pitchers this offseason, signed with the Cardinals yesterday for $4.25 million. Already missing a couple weeks of Spring Training, he’s behind in game situations but chances are he’s been working out like normal. It’s an unlikely scenario when teams actually want to sign Lohse, and Carlos Silva for nearly $50 million.

 

Famed Twins blogger Aaron Gleeman wrote an article over at RotoWorld that discusses who he thinks are AL hitting sleepers for the upcoming fantasy season. He thinks Jason Kubel will keep his knees healthy by DHing almost full time this year, and says it isn’t out of the question for Mike Lamb to hit 15-18 homers with a solid batting average. If you’ve read my blog before you have probably seen me praise Kubel. He had the worst knee injury anybody can suffer, and it took him nearly 3 years to fully recover. If his numbers in the second half of last year don’t impress you (.303 batting average, .379 OBP and .511 slugging) then those numbers projected out to a full season surely should. It isn’t out of the question for him to have a batting average higher than .300, along with 20+ homers and 80+ RBI. Gleeman also mentions Carlos Gomez, as our potential CF, and as a deep sleeper, he thinks Alexi Casilla is worth picking up in later rounds.

 

Speaking of Gomez, recently coach G thinks that Jason Pridie is basically out of contention for the CF spot. All 3 are doing fairly poorly in Spring Training, but Pridie seems to be the most ML-ready, going off of AAA stats. It kind of shocks me that Gardy would rule out Pridie so early, but coaches must have seen something they liked in Gomez and/or Denard Span.

There’s a story about Livan Hernandez, and coach Gardenhire thinks he could start opening day. That would be the worst move possible, for numerous reasons. The fact that he can’t throw over 90 MPH would be one, the second most important is that he isn’t the best option (at starting pitcher) for us to win.

 

Pat Neshek changed his work regimen this offseason. Now a vegan, he claims he will stick to his workouts; the reason he faltered at the end of last season. It seems like he really wants to work hard during the season so his weight won’t fluctuate, among other things.

 

Randy Ruiz, DH. Ever heard of him? I have, but only because of Spring Training. He’s the team’s best hitter so far, with 7 RBI and a .450 batting average. But I’m not one to put a lot of stock into ST stats. It’s highly unlikely he will make the club.

12 players were told to pack it in yesterday morning, ending their stay with the Big League team in Spring Training. In all, 12 players were cut: Jose Morales, Jose Mijares, Oswaldo Sosa, Armando Gambino, Zach Day, Deolis Guerra, Brian Duensing, Jeff Christy, Allan de San Miguel, Alejandro Machado, Felix Molina, and Darnell McDonald. Wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an extensive list of Twins that I’ve never heard of before. Morales spent a game with the club last season but got hurt running the bases and is seen as a 3rd-string catcher.

Mijares has great potential but got in a serious car accident in the off season and is still recovering from his injuries, so he hasn’t even been at camp.

 

Sosa is also a reliever on the 40-man roster, so it’s a surprise that he wasn’t given a chance to stick around and hopefully learn some more from the vets.

 

I’ve never heard of Gambino, Christy, or Molina. Christy and de San Miguel are catchers, so it’s likely that they were just there so Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond didn’t have to do all the work.

 

Machado had a legitimate chance to make the team last year as a utility infielder/second baseman but suffered a season-ending injury and hasn’t played a game with the team yet. With the additions of 2B Brendan Harris, SS Adam Everett, and the strong Spring being put together by infielder Alexi Casilla, the team figures it will be stacked with up-the-middle players.

 

Guerra, a piece in the Johan Santana trade with the most upside, turns 19 on April 17th so it is definitely not a shock to see him get sent to the minors. The Twins are notorious for giving their prospects time to develop properly, so Guerra will probably see most of his season at High A Fort Myers.

 

Duensing had a lingering hope to be the team’s 5th starter this season, but adding Livan Hernandez and unfaltering players like Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Kevin Mulvey, and Phil Humber pretty much ruined his chances. He should still have a solid season in AAA and could be a candidate for injury replacement, albeit in the most extreme of situations.

 

Day was signed earlier in the offseason, before the Santana trade and Hernandez signing, so the team brought him in just to see if he could impress the coaches in Florida. Apparently he didn’t do much impressing and will likely spend his time at AAA Rochester.

 

McDonald got 10 at-bats for the team last year as an outfielder, but only got 1 hit. Of course, that’s when Rondell White was still on the team. McDonald is 29 and has played in just 21 Major League games, so what little future he may still have became a lot smaller.

A reporter asked our potential Opening Day center fielder how he thought he could handle playing in the Dome. His response?

“If Torii Hunter can catch the ball there, why can’t I catch it there?”

But wait, it gets better.

“They don’t have no speed like me. I know I can help this team. Especially when I hit ahead of [Justin] Morneau and the catcher and the other guy.”

He actually referred to Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer as “the catcher and the other guy”. I crack a smile every time I read this.

“They will all have more RBIs,”

His speed is hereditary:

“My dad was fast,” Gomez said. “When I was a kid and I worked out with my older friends, they all worked out so hard for their running. I do nothing. They say, ‘Why are you so fast when you don’t do nothing?’ I tell them that my dad was fast.”

 

He just may have the attitude this team needs. The Twins have been infatuated with players who are nice, respectable, and play the game the “right way”. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but what do people want most from their hometown team? Making sure the clubhouse has a friendly atmosphere or huge home runs and lots of wins? Is it wrong for me to think of Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez as our own Minnesota Bash Brothers? Between throwing a bat at an umpire and, well, see above for what Gomez thinks, they may have the fire and drive to lift the team. I’m not saying that just these two can bring us a World Series Championship but they are definitely the cornerstones. Well, along with Morneau, the catcher, and the other guy.

 

Random: I had a dream last night that saw Pat Neshek get traded. In the dream, I even went to his website and he wrote up a long entry on how he was sad to leave the Twins. The dream didn’t include the player(s) we got in return, but it could probably be classified as a nightmare instead of a dream; losing Pat would hurt the team’s bullpen immensely.

 

 

All quotes taken from http://www.twincities.com/twins/ci_8469179

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