February 25, 2009

Humber's Golden Opportunity Is Much Like Span's

La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported yesterday morning that Twins reliever Boof Bonser will undergo exploratory surgery on his right shoulder which has been a cause of concern for the 27-year-old hurler.

It's too early to predict when Bonser will be able to return to action as this surgery is purely to see what exactly is wrong with his shoulder. Everyone is hoping that the results are encouraging, especially after he showed no structural damage in an MRI following last season. The problem is that he did have shoulder problems late last season and even a few months of rest couldn't fix the problem. That makes me fear the worst, which is that this 'minor procedure' could lead to significant and devastating news for both Bonser and the Twins.

Despite posting his worst numbers as a Twin last season, the season was actually somewhat encouraging for Bonser. After being ousted from the rotation, Bonser spent most of the season in the Twins bullpen, where he showed flashes of a potentially dominant reliever. Bonser has a mid-90's heater and a hammer curve ball. But despite having some of the physical requirements to potentially be a good pitcher, Bonser has spent nearly all of his career as a starter and doesn't have the mind set that many look for in relievers. The general consensus is that should Bonser develop the mentality of being a reliever, he should give the Twins a great set-up man to All-Star Closer Joe Nathan.

Leading up to Spring Training, Philip Humber's status within the organization looked fairly bleek. The 26-year-old right-hander was acquired last season in the Johan Santana, Mets trade and is currently out of options and must make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training in order to stay within the organization. Should the Twins try to send Humber to Triple-A Rochester, he'd have to be placed through waivers and it's almost a certainty that he'd be claimed by another team, thus ending his short-lived tenor with the Twins.

Humber has shown a lot of improvement this Spring as opposed to last year and it looks as if the last spot in the bullpen could be his job to lose at this point. Despite having a phenomenal 2008 season, it looks as if there's a pretty reasonable chance that Jose Mijares could start the season in Rochester instead of losing Humber as Mijares still has one more option year. I have no problem with this, as long as Humber pitches well enough to warrant such a move.

Humber's improvements on the mound are nothing new, in fact his first-half/second-half splits last season were drastic enough for some Twins fans to feel 'giddy' over the thought of Humber finally breaking out of his shell.
          AS Break   W     L     ERA     IP     K     BB     WHIP
          Pre        4     7    5.92   79.0    54     37     1.67
Post 6 1 2.67 57.1 52 12 1.08
As you can see, Humber had a really tough time getting acclimated into the Twins system and really struggled throughout the entire first-half of the season. And I don't know what it was, but something just clicked and Humber started looking like the pitcher that was drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft by the Mets.

Humber's story reminds me somewhat of another Twins player, who also was just looking for a chance to prove himself. That player is Denard Span. If we take a trip down 'Memory Lane', Span had a fairly similar first go-around in Rochester which reminds me of Humber's. Span hit sub .220 the first two months of the 2007 season, but from June on, he hit .301 with 11 doubles, 5 triples, 3 home runs and 39 RBI.

But despite the huge improvement, Span didn't gain much respect from the organization and in fact their #1 priority in any trade of Santana was to bring back a center fielder in return. Unfortunately, the Twins acquired another outfielder Jason Pridie who was also thought to challenge for the starting center field roster spot.

Span put-together an impressive Spring, but still fell short in the Twins' eyes as a starting-caliber player. All that changed though. After originally being sent to Triple-A Rochester, Span was quickly promoted after the injury of Michael Cuddyer. Span quickly became a significant piece to last seasons puzzle, and all he need was a chance to prove himself.

Humber is in the same spot, only unlike Span, Humber doesn't have any insurance with the team if he fails. Span had options remaining, Humber unfortunately doesn't, which makes this Spring even more important for Humber. Could Humber be the Twins' 2009 version of Span? Who knows? With the loss of Bonser though, he now has the perfect time to show us what he's got.


On a quick programming note, I briefly appeared on Seth Stohs' 'Seth Speaks Podcast' last night. Unfortunately my phone battery lasts for half the time it should, and I didn't realize I was running on one bar until it finally died. Regardless Seth did a great job covering the remainder of the time and his next guest Zach Spear also did a great job.