May 30, 2008

Young Pitchers Stepping Up

Kevin Slowey was the second Twins starter in the series to go for the complete game shutout bid. Only this one did not end up nearly as bad as Nick Blackburn's ended on Tuesday. Slowey did not finish with a shutout, like Blackburn, but Slowey did finish to get the complete game. Alex Gordon's double with two-outs in the bottom of the ninth put the Royals on the board and the game finished with a 5-1 score.

Slowey, Blackburn and Glen Perkins are all in their mid-20's, and all are the anchors of the Minnesota Twins rotation. The three have a combined 8-8 record and a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts this season. The rest of the starters are a combined 10-11 with a 5.41 ERA in 32 starts this season. That list includes Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Livan Hernandez and Francisco Liriano.

In their last 9 combined starts (since May 15th), the three young starters are 5-2 with a 2.03 ERA. They have all stepped it up and at the perfect time. With the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians still struggling, the Minnesota Twins now sit just 2 games behind the division leading Chicgao White Sox and 4 games ahead of the 3rd place Indians. The offense hasn't been horrible this season, averaging just over 4.6 runs per game, but the Twins rotation has been absolutely stellar thus far and thanks to these young three Twins fans have a lot to look forward to the rest of the season. And in reference, the Twins averaged 4.3 runs per game last season.

(From left to right: Perkins, Blackburn, Slowey)

The reason for their success has been simple, they've all showcased superb control. The three have a 3.71 K/BB ratio and all have been throwing a very high percantage of their pitches for strikes. They all are having great success of getting in front of the hitters early with an 0-1 or 0-2 count and because of that they've been able to keep their pitch counts fairly low. The Twins biggest problem coming into the season was to find a replacement for Johan Santana, but the Twins so far have found 3 pitchers that look like they could take the mound under any circumstance and pitch a good game.

It's very early in the season, and I'm not saying that they are All-Stars, but they definitely have all succeeded and they have not given us any suggestions that this is just a fluke. Perkins has had limited success in the majors as a reliever, Slowey was the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007, and Nick Blackburn was named the Twins #1 prospect heading into the season by Obviously it is not a surprise that these guys are having success, but I don't think anyone thought they'd contribute this much this early. If these three can keep this up for a while, the Twins have a good shot of contending this season.

Game Ball
Kevin Slowey - Starting Pitcher

Line: CG, 6 hits, 1 run, 6 K's, win

Carlos Gomez went 3-4 last night and raised his season average up to .293. Ron Gardenhire feels the Twins are a better team when he is in the lineup with him on that. He's not a prototypical lead-off hitter as he does not have great on-base skills, but his bat is better suited in the top of the order right now than at the bottom. When Torii Hunter stepped into the majors as an everyday player at 23-year-old, he hit .255/.309/.380 with 9 home runs and 35 RBI's while hitting at the bottom of the order. Through 198 at bats, Gomez is hitting .293/.327/.429 and has 4 home runs with 22 RBI's. He's on pace to hit 29 doubles, 10 triple,s 13 home runs, drive in 72 runs and steal 56 bases. At just 22-years-old, anything near that would be excellent and he's definitely showing that he may have been a great return for Johan Santana alone.

I'm not going to compare a 22-year-old center fielder with 318 career at bats to a 2-time A.L. Cy Young winner, but if his skills continue to develop into the player he could potentially be, and if any of the pitchers we received turn out, the Twins may walk away as winners in this trade after all. It would be great to still see Santana in a Twins uniform, but at just under $23 Million annually it would have cost the Twins to retain Santana, I don't think anyone can argue that this trade is - for the time being - in favor of the Twins. Of course, nobody will know how this trade ultimately pans out for a good 5 years or so as the players received are still so young.

Delmon Young sat the game, which ended his "iron man" streak of consecutive games played. Now, Ryan Howard takes over the lead. Young sitting came as no surprise, he definitely has not been great at the plate and has made multiple costly mistakes in the outfield. However Jim Maddon, Young's former manager with the Rays who he clashed with on multiple occasion, gave him the bode of confidence:

"Stay with him," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He started out slowly last year; then he catches fire. He'll catch his stride, and he'll be fine by the end of the season."

"A lot of times, Delmon is willing to take an RBI by hitting a single the other way," Maddon said of the 22-year-old. "If you watch Delmon in batting practice, he's got incredible power. Incredible. As a young hitter like him gets more acclimated to the big leagues, as he learns to work counts better, I think he's going to drive his pitch more often. I think it's as simple as that.

"He's a guy you just have to be patient with. All the bells and whistles are there, and it's going to show up."

It's great to hear this from a guy who Young played under and who he clashed heads with on multiple occasions. Young does need to start turning it on, but I don't think anyone in the organization is worried about him at all. He is such a great player that I don't see him hitting like this all year long. I don't see him as the power hitter Twins fans were hoping he'd be, but then again he's just 22-years-old and still has loads of potential.

The MLB Amateur Baseball Draft is set for next Thursday, and so I've been catching up on a few projected picks that may be there when the Twins choose at #14 and later as well. Some are just guys that I know the Twins won't end up with but intrigue me. In no particular order:
Harold Martinez, 3B: He has quite possibly the most potential in this draft, but he has not been living up to expectations his senior year in High School. He also projects as a tough player to sign as he's set to go to the University of Miami, and is from Miami himself. He has a great athletic body, and certainly looks as if he has major league baseball all over him, but he does have some risk as he is raw and needs to work on every aspect of his game.

Justin Smoak, 1B: Smoak is a college player, who projects to make it to the majors quickly as he plays first base and has one of the best bats in the draft. Smoak reminds me of Chipper Jones at the plate as he has a big, smooth swing from both sides of the plate and can spray the ball to all areas of the field. He would probably be a top 5 pick in the draft if it weren't for him being constrained to playing first base. He is not a very athletic player, despite having a great baseball body, but without injuries his bat will definitely carry him to the majors. Smoak is projected to go anywhere from 5-15, but I'd be surprised if he were there for the Twins to choose. But if he's there, and unless a different player drops, I hope the Twins choose him.

Gordon Beckham, SS: Beckham also won't likely be there, but he's another player the Twins probably have high on their board. Beckham has great instincts on both offense and defense and plays the game the 'right way' by playing aggressive and giving it his all on every play. He's another college hitter, and although the Twins have a history of going after high school hitters, he'd be a great choice for the Twins. But again, he likely won't be there, but there is a chance he drops.

Aaron Hicks, OF: Hicks' name has been linked to the Twins the most recently, but I'm not sure he's the best pick. I like getting a 5-tool hitter as much as the next guy, but the Twins have been drafting outfielders high in the draft on multiple occasions over the past three years. In fact, the Twins selected an outfielder with their first two choices in the '06 draft, and 2 of their first 3 choices in the '07 draft. That, with the fact that the Twins already have a young set of outfielders at the major league level makes Hicks not an attractive pick to me. However, he does have a lot of potential and may end up being the most talented of the outfielders selected in recent years. He has great speed which would give the team the option of playing him in center field as well as at the corner. He has the potential to hit for both a good average while having good power and also has one of the strongest outfield arms in the draft. He's a high schooler, which means that he will likely take a good 5+ years to reach the majors, but his upside could be worth it. But still, I hope the Twins go after an infielder instead of another outfielder. But outfield depth is a big thing in the majors and there's a reasonable chance that one of the high selected draftees doesn't even make an impact in the majors, which would probably be the Twins reason for drafting him (besides him being the best available player in their minds).

Destin Hood, SS/OF: Hood is not a guy that has been projected to go high in the draft, but that's mainly because of his signability. He's currently committed to going to Alabama to play wide receiver, which may bring the Twins deja vu all over again, which is something that was the same with a former draftee Jared Mitchel who now is a wide receiver for the LSU Tigers.

Hood has fantastic power potential and is a very "toolsy" player, but the team that drafts him will need to make sure they can sign him if they want to take him high. With the amount of money the Twins recently freed up with shedding Torii Hunter, Carlos Silva and Johan Santana's salaries, Hood is the kind of player the team should not be afraid to draft. I think picking him in the 2nd round would be perfect.

Zach Collier, OF: Collier is another high school outfielder who's name has been linked to the Twins recently. He attended the same high school as 2006 first-round pick Chris Parmelee, but may turn out to be the better all-around player. Collier has a very athletic body and won't turn 18 until September. He has 5-tool potential and will likely be available at pick #14.

Brandon Crawford, SS: Crawford was one of this season's draft top prospects after last season, but he's struggled at UCLA and his stock has been falling. But still, he has great potential both offensively and defensively and really just needs to gain confidence to get back to where he was. Crawford may be a "reach" at #14, but if the Twins picked him with their compensatory pick from the Angels (which the Twins received after the Angels signed Torii Hunter), he would be a solid pick.

Aaron Crow, P: The Twins don't necessarily need a pitcher, but a team can never have too much pitching... right? Crow is the drafts top college arm, but with any college pitcher, the fear of wear and tear on their young shoulder is the cause of concern. He has great velocity on his fastball which has been clocked in the upper 90's and has drawn comparison to former Mizzou star and current Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Max Scherzer. In mock drafts, I've seen him go anywhere in the top 15.

Justin Hand, P: Hand is a Minnesota native from Chaska, throws in the mid-90's and is a left-handed pitcher. There's plenty of reasons why the Twins would be interested in Hand. Not only does he have a mid 90's fastball, he also possesses one of the best curve balls in the high school ranks and could be a very good pitcher with some work on his mechanics. I think he's worthy of being chosen in the first 5 rounds of the draft, but if the Twins want him, I think they'll take him early.
Now, the Twins don't necessarily need to draft for need in the draft, which makes pitching a possibility. However, with the teams ability to produce strong starting pitchers even after they have been drafted after the first few rounds, the Twins most likely will continue to draft offensive talent to help bolster their fairly weak system.

To make room on the roster for newly acquired southpaw Craig Breslow, the Twins have optioned Bobby Korecky back to Rochester where he will resume the closer role. Korecky had several strong performances including the unforgettable game against the Texas Rangers when he went 1 2/3 innings to pick up the win, and even contributed by going 1-1 at the plate when he was forced to hit. Korecky will likely be back in Minnesota at some point in the near future.

Michael Cuddyer and Joe Mauer are not going to shave their faces until they hit a home run. Cuddyer has been stuck at one while Mauer has not hit one yet. The Twins are counting on both to hit for more power, although fans know that Mauer likely will never be the power threat his body suggests he should be and Cuddyer is probably only good for 15-20. But with the way both have swung the bat this season, they may look like Gandolf from Lord of the Rings before they hit home runs.

This is Mauer in 2007 sporting a beard.

Congrats to Danny Valencia, Brian Dinkelman, Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney and Jeff Manship for all being named to the Florida State League All-Star Game. All five are likely to be in New Britain by season's end. Rene Tosoni was elected, but due to a broken foot he won't be able to play. The game will be played on June 14th.