April 28, 2010

Is Francisco Liriano the Boogy Man?

If there is one thing that the Twins organization lacks, it's a front-of-the-rotation starter. Even in the minor leagues, very few pitchers project to be number two starters, let alone having the potential to be an ace. But one thing that has remained is that Francisco Liriano has the most potential out of of any pitcher in the system.

As a naturally optimistic person, I've dreamed of Liriano regaining his dominance. That's the reason I've gotten uncontrollably giddy whenever I've heard a report of him "turning a corner." And time, after time again, I've been disappointed by the reports not matching what Liriano does on the mound. I'm sure he's had positive bullpen sessions or positive Spring Training outings, but I couldn't help but wonder what was real and what wasn't.

And now, it looks like it's finally becoming true.

Last night, Liriano faced off against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. Verlander, if you don't recall, won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006; the same year Liriano broke onto the scene as a 22-year-old phenom. Had Liriano not missed the last two months with a torn ulnar collator ligament in his elbow, he not only would have ran-away with the award, but he also would have had a great shot at becoming just the second player in baseball history to win the Cy Young Award as a rookie. That's how good he was. And since that year, Verlander has gone on to have great success while Liriano has struggled to regain any sort of his 2006-self. But last night was a serious case of deja vu.

(Duane Burleson/AP Photo)

No Verlander didn't dominate, but that's not what I'm referring to. It was Liriano, who looked more like his 2006-self since, well, 2006. He didn't have a 98 mph fastball, but he threw 96 mph for the first time (at least, that I've seen) since undergoing Tommy John Surgery. He also struck out 10 batters, which was the first time that he's recorded double-digit strikeouts since July 28, 2006 against (ironically) the Detroit Tigers.

As Aaron Gleeman wrote, what can't be overlooked in Liriano's success is his regained ability to induce a high percentage of ground-ball outs. Through four starts (note: very small sample size), Liriano has a ground-ball out to fly-ball out ratio of 1.35; which is .02 points higher than it was in 2006.

In fact, many of his numbers are much better this season.

                              Year    BAA   OBPA   OPSA   P/PA
                              2006   .205   .260   .564   3.80
2010 .180 .255 .485 3.65

To be clear, in no way, by cherry-picking stats am I trying to imply that he's a better pitcher in 2010. Despite his success this season, he was still a more dominating presence in '06. But what I am hoping to show you is that despite striking out an average of 2.5 batters/per nine innings and having a decrease in velocity, he has learned the art of pitching, which (as Seth Stohs mentions) is a scary thought.

Liriano's slider has been arguably the best in baseball this season, thanks (as Parker Hagemen wrote,) to great control of his fastball. In 2009, Liriano's fastball was one of the worst in baseball. In 2010, FanGraphs shows that he's throwing an above-average fastball, despite a BAA of .310 against it. His slider has been outstanding and he proved last night that he's able to throw it for strikes, which absolutely baffled the Tigers.

Maybe he's not as electrifying as he was in 2006, but he still is dominant. Is he as dominant as he was in 2006? Maybe not. But dominance is dominance and I'll take it in any form. Liriano's success is just what the Twins needed and if he can continue to pitch like a number one starter, this team may be better than we all originally thought. And that thought is very scary.

April 26, 2010

This and that

Francisco Liriano faces off against Justin Verlander tonight in what should be a very interesting battle. This is the first meeting between the Twins and Tigers since game 163 last October. Liriano is off to a great start while Verlander continues his April woes for the third consecutive year. Being as both players are playing out of their "norm," there's really no use in posting their career numbers against the opposition. But I'm excited to see how Liriano fairs against the hot-hitting Tigers. Detroit (as a team) has a .796 OPS over the past seven games, which is fourth highest in the Majors. Minneseota's OPS is 73 points lower over the same span, but they've scored four more runs in one less game.

(Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Heading into Monday, the Twins were the league leader in walks drawn (96) and were tied with the Houston Astros for the fewest walks allowed (47). In 23 1/3 innings, Carl Pavano has only allowed one walk, which is the league leader amongst those who have made at least four starts. Justin Morneau, who is not only possesses a .368 batting average also leads the league in walks with 20. Denard Span is hitting a disappointing .230 from the lead-off spot (which ranks seventh out of the nine qualified lead-off hitters), but he leads all lead-off men with 14 walks drawn.

After hitting doubles in back-to-back games this weekend, Delmon Young already has six extra-base hits on the year. In 2009, Young didn't record his sixth extra-base hit until June 20th. That's a difference of 106 at-bats (159-53). He's hit the ball well this season, driving it several times in Target Field alone that may have been home runs at the Metrodome. The cold air certainly has played a role thus far, but when the air warms up, Young may hit 13 home runs (his 2009 total) by August. He also has only struck out seven times in 53 at-bats. In 2009, Young struck out seven times in his first 19 at-bats. It's obviously too soon to tell, but 2010 is already shaping up to be a big year for Young; despite his .245/.276/.434 tri-slash line.

Nick Nelson wrote a synopsis of the Twins Train. He and a group of other fans made the trek down 35W to Kansas City over the weekend. After hearing several reviews, it sounds like a great time and I hope to make it aboard the Twins Train at some point this season.

I love Ryan Howard as much as the next guy, but the five year, $125 million extension that he signed with the Phillies yesterday is absurd. As usual, Rob Neyer of ESPN.com's opinion is very comparable to mine. I only note this because Joe Mauer's contract extension looks like highway robbery compared to this.

On the farm...

Since starting out 1-31, Aaron Hicks has an eight game hitting streak, hitting .552 (16/29) with two doubles and two home runs. He has also been a better base stealer, swiping four bases in his last five attempts. Obviously it was a horrible start, but Hicks is showing why there's no use in freaking out about stats after just two weeks. For more on Hicks, click here.

On April 7th, I wrote an article titled, "Needing A Miracle." In the article, I wrote about Shooter Hunt making the Ft. Myers Miracle roster (hence the pun). Hunt appeared as a reliever for the Miracle on Opening Day and self-destructed on the mound. The 23-year-old right-hander hit the first batter he faced, walked the next three batters and gave up a grand slam without recording an out. It was hard listening to Alex Margulies announce the game. Hunt literally couldn't find the strike zone and it was hard to not feel sorry for the guy.

But since that appearance, Hunt has been very impressive for the Miracle. In six appearances since then, Hunt has given up five runs (four last night) but what's important is that he has walked only four batters while striking out 17. He hasn't walked a batter in his last three appearances and continues to give signs of optimism. Hopefully he keeps it up.

April 21, 2010

Book Review: We're Gonna Win, Twins!

Since starting this blog, a door has been opened for several great opportunities. One such opportunity has been to review several books. As a college student, I can't tell you how much I hate reading boring material. We've all been there. But thankfully, the books I've had the honor of thumbing through have all been very thought-provoking. Obviously that's coming from a biased opinion as anything baseball-related is thought-provoking in my opinion, but I also think that some of these books would be interesting to you, which is why I'm going to share my thoughts on a few them. I will try to refrain from using cliché phrases like as "must buy" or "readable," but I wanted to apologize in advance because I'm sure they'll find there way into a review at some point.

We're Gonna Win, Twins! is a chronicle of the Minnesota Twins over the first half-century that the club has been in existence. Author Doug Grow provides a fantastic walk through time by discussing events which have unfolded during every season since the inaugural season in 1961.

As each chapter begins, there are several sections leading up to "The Season." These sections labeled "The World," "The Nation," The State," and "Pop Culture" gives the reader a snapshot of the important events outside of baseball, which helps puts things into context while reading. After "The Season," which sums up the year in Twins baseball into a short paragraph, there are pages of great stories, recaps and details of events which unfolded throughout the year in Twins baseball. And what's perhaps the greatest thing about this book is that every season of Twins baseball (from 1961-present) is accounted for in one way or another.

One chapter that I took particular interest to was "Press Box under Siege." Grow gives the reader insight into the Twins blogosphere and puts specific spotlight on John Bonnes (Twins Geek), Aaron Gleeman (AaronGleeman.com) and Anne Ursu (Batgirl). Obviously, as a Twins blogger, I take great pride in the Twins blogosphere and it's great to see other writers get the attention that they're so much deserving of. All three of the bloggers Grow mentions have been instrumental in forming one of the best blogging communities on the web and I'm elated that Grow included them.

What I find very important to note is that I truly believe it suits both younger and older generations of Twins fans perfectly. As a so-called "young fan," there area lot of events in Twins history that I had no knowledge of before reading the book. For the older fan, the events that are written could be a very pleasant to reminisce again and perhaps you'll learn something new as well.

There are some great player profiles that are quite inclusive. Players like Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Zoilo Versalles and Harmon Killebrew (as well as many others) are given particular attention. Grow also profiles the great World Series matchup between Sandy Koufax and Jim Kaat in 1965 and the chapters which cover the World Series victories in 1987 and 1991 are filled with quotes from players and great stories.

Pictures flood the book with great effect. Seeing pictures of the Met or of the parade that polluted the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul are ineffable. Especially for a fan that wasn't alive (or wasn't old enough to remember) either.

At $25.95, the price of the book may seem steep, but 328+ pages of Grow's writing will not disappoint you and the endless amount of information that you engulf will make the book seem priceless. The nostalgia runs thick and there are plenty of humorous stories to make this truly a fun book to read. We're Gonna Win, Twins! is a book that I truly and sincerely believe every Twins fan should read.

To purchase or to find out more information on the book, check out the We're Gonna Win, Twins! webpage from the University of Minnesota Press. To purchase the book, click here. It can also be purchased through Amazon.com.

Here is more information, including an event this weekend.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
2:00-4:00 pm

Town Ball Tavern
Target Field, 5th Street Gate Entrance
1 Twins Way
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Talk and signing with Doug Grow, featuring Twins memorabilia from Clyde Doepner, curator for the Minnesota Twins.

Open to the Public -- Limited Seating Available

In 1961, the Twins brought major league baseball to the upper Midwest. In We're Gonna Win, Twins! longtime sports reporter and columnist Doug Grow chronicles a half century of Twins baseball, season by season, from the scrappy stars of the Metropolitan Stadium through two World Series in the Metrodome to the opening of a new era at Target Field.

For more information, including the table of contents, visit the book's webpage:

Doug Grow covered the Minnesota Twins as a sports columnist from 1979 to 1987, and as a metro columnist he wrote about the 1987 and 1991 World Series as well as the long debates over stadium funding. He is currently a journalist working for the online publication MinnPost.

"Throughout his career, Doug Grow has always found the true meaning in stories large and small. This account of the history of Minnesota Twins baseball is filled with that kind of personal understanding. There will always be people who say that baseball is just a game-until they read this book." - Don Shelby, WCCO-TV

"Doug Grow's writing has always been about the people and lives, not numbers, and that's why We're Gonna Win, Twins! is a winner." - Charley Walters, Former Twins pitcher and St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist.

"We're Gonna Win, Twins! is a winner for Twins fans! Great behind-the-scenes tales from every era of Twins baseball. IT invoked great memories for me and a lot of laughs as well. Stories about the tightfisted ways of Calvin to the 'championship era' started by Tom Kelly in '87. It's a fun read! - Jim Kaat

April 19, 2010

Top 50 Twins Prospects 2010: #1 Aaron Hicks

2010 Top 50 Twins Prospects | #1 | Aaron Hicks

Position | Outfielder

Bats/Throws | Switch/Right

Born | October 2, 1989 (Long Beach, California)

School | Wilson High School

| 6'2''

| 170 lbs.

2009 Ranking | 1

Aaron Hicks was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He was widely considered one of the best all-around athletes in the draft. He reportedly hit 95 mph on the mound, which made several teams consider him as a pitcher, but Hicks is happy that he is playing outfield, "I liked pitching because I had to do what was best for my team at that point, but I'm truly a position player; that's my passion." He signed a week after the draft to a $1.78 million signing bonus.

After signing, Hicks was designated to the Gulf Coast League where He showed that he could do a little bit of everything. Through 45 games, Hicks hit .318/.409/.491 with 10 doubles, four triples, four home runs and stole 12 bases despite playing in a pitcher-friendly league. He also displayed a great amount of discipline at the plate, drawing 28 walks. In 2009, most believed Hicks should follow Ben Revere's footsteps by taking over center field for the Beloit Snappers. Hicks' "advanced" hitting approach and overall demeanor suggested that he probably would have handled the promotion just fine, but the Twins decided to hold Hicks back in Extended Spring Training to begin the season. The team had every intention of sending him to the Appalachian League when short-season Rookie Ball began in June, but a horrid Snappers team needed a boost, so the Twins decided to call up Hicks. He didn't have the same type of success that he had in the Gulf Coast League a year earlier, but he still managed to separate himself as the best prospect in the Twins system. Through 67 games with the Snappers, Hicks hit .251/.353/.382. Probably the biggest cause of optimism came from the fact that he got better as the year went on and he maintained great discipline at the plate.

Hicks is immensely talented, but he's also still very raw. He plays all three outfield positions very well, but his speed is best suited for center field. His history as a pitcher has helped him develop one of the best outfield arms in the minor leagues, but his bat is nowhere near as developed. He has a great awareness of the strike zone and he's shown the ability to drive the ball well, but it's still to be determined what kind of hitter he'll be. He has also had problems on the base paths. He runs the bases well, but he is not an effective base stealer as of yet. There are high expectations surrounding Hicks, especially since he has been named a top 30 prospect from major outlets such as Baseball America (19), ESPN (19) and MLB.com (29), but Twins fans shouldn't want to see him rushed through the system. Many have said he's easily comparable to Torii Hunter or Adam Jones, but it's important to remember that Hicks has a long way to go and there's little chance that he reaches the Major Leagues when he is either 20 or 21 (like Jones and Hunter).

2009 Statistics
          Level      G     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     XBH     HR   wRC+
          A-        67    297    .251    .353    .382      22      4    106

2010 Outlook
Many believed that Hicks could begin the season in Advanced-A Ft. Myers, but Hicks has been sent back to the Midwest League where he'll begin the season. If everything pans out, he'll finish the season in the Florida State League.


Estimated Time of Arrival

April 16, 2010

Top 50 Twins Prospects 2010: #2 Wilson Ramos

2010 Top 50 Twins Prospects | #2 | Wilson Ramos

Position | Catcher

Bats/Throws | Right/Right

Born | August 10, 1987 (Valencia, Venezuela)

School | U.E. Santa Ines

| 6'0''

| 220 lbs.

2009 Ranking | 4

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Pataky of MiLB.com)

Wilson Ramos was signed as a non-drafted free agent on July 7, 2004. He didn't make it to the states until 2006, but he certainly has made his presence felt since. Admittedly, I flirted with ranking Ramos as the top overall prospect.

In 2006, Ramos began the season in Extended Spring Training before joining the Gulf Coast League. With the Twins, Ramos hit .286/.339/.435 with 16 extra-base hits in 154 at-bats. In 2007, Ramos again found himself in Extended Spring Training but he eventually joined the Beloit Snappers in June with the struggles of Greg Yersich. He went on to hit .291/.345/.438 with 26 extra-base hits in 292 at-bats. After the season, Ramos ranked in as my 13th best prospect in the Twins system. In 2008, Ramos moved up to the Florida State League where he hit .288/.346/.434 with 38 extra-base hits with the Ft. Myers Miracle. In 2009, Ramos continued to move through the system, this time playing for the New Britain Rock Cats in the Eastern League. He broke his finger in May and after returning in June, he missed two months with a pulled hamstring. All together, Ramos hit .317/.339/.496 with 25 extra-base hits including seven home runs in 224 at-bats. After finding himself healthy, Ramos hit .332/.397/.582 and drove in 49 runs in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Ramos' offensive prowess is mostly what he is known for, but Ramos is also a stout defender behind the plate. Pitchers like the way he calls the game and his strong arm makes it hard for base runners to steal on him. But two things stand in the way for Ramos are his history of injuries and a guy by the name of Joe Mauer. Ramos has the potential to be one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, but THE best is already on the roster, so it doesn't seem likely that he'll play an extensive role with the Twins (at least not as a catcher). The Twins could consider using using him at DH, but that seems like it'd really be diminishing his value. Ramos needs to prove in 2010 that he can stay on the field, which may be all that is separating him from being the top prospect.

2009 Statistics
          Level      G     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     XBH     HR   wRC+
          R (GCL)    5    500    .316    .316    .947       5      3    263
AA 54 500 .317 .341 .454 20 4 120

2010 Outlook
Ramos missed a lot of time in 2009 due to injury, but he showed enough during Winter Ball and in Spring Training to make the Twins feel comfortable enough with starting him in Triple-A.


Estimated Time of Arrival

April 12, 2010

Target Field's impact on the Minnesota Twins

First of all, if you didn't see, I posted my #3 Twins prospect for the 2010 season. Now, onto the post...

The Twins (officially) open Target Field at 3:05 pm today against the Boston Red Sox. Carl Pavano will take the mound against southpaw Jon Lester. Both pitchers have struggled against the opposition in the past, but it will be interesting to see what kind of momentum Pavano has in his first (real) start at Target Field. Many people have discussed the ambiance of Target Field after the Twins hosted the St. Louis Cardinals in two exhibition games earlier this month, but it's safe to say that whatever the atmosphere was then will be multiplied by a considerable amount today. This is one of the most exciting days in the history of the organization, so take it all in Twins fans. With that said, I thought that now would be the best time to post this:

Ryan Maus, who has blogged at Twins Chatter since 2004 and is now a PR rep at the University of Minnesota, wanted me to pass this along. It's a very interesting video about the effects that Target Field will have on the Minnesota Twins (obviously, this was made before the Twins signed Joe Mauer, but it's still completely relevant). Hopefully you enjoy it.

If you're on Twitter, you can find Ryan at @RPMaus.

Top 50 Twins Prospects 2010: #3 Miguel Sano

2010 Top 50 Twins Prospects | #3 | Miguel Sano

Position | Shortstop

Bats/Throws | Right/Right

Born | May 11, 1993 (San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic)

School | Not Available

| 6'3''

| 190 lbs.

2009 Ranking | Not Ranked

(Photo courtesy of Jenni Pinkley of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

It's pretty easy to say that no Dominican prospect (or any international prospect for that matter) has ever been under more scrutiny than Miguel Sano was last summer. At just 16-years-old, Sano's enormous talent caught the eye of nearly every Major League baseball team, as did his physical stature. Standing 6-foot-3 and 190 lbs., Major League Baseball decided to investigate Sano's age to make sure he wasn't trying to appear younger than he truly was. Sano's mother, Melania Jean Sano, lost a son at birth several years after Miguel was born, which made the investigation even more extensive.

After months of trial and tribulation, the Twins signed Sano to a $3.15 million signing bonus on September 29. But the strangest part of all of this? The Twins played a leading role in Sano potentially losing out on millions of dollars. The organization is lucky that Sano didn't have a sour taste in his mouth about the investigation because that could have completely taken the Twins out of the running (even though it's likely that another team would have made the request for the investigation if the Twins hadn't).

Despite his age, Sano has drawn comparisons to players such as Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez and Albert Pujols. I understand all of these comparisons, and I'd be lying if I don't get excited when I hear that his bat compares to that of Pujols', but it's not fair to put those kind of expectations on a player his age (or any player for that matter). Sano is currently listed as a shortstop but scouts believe he'll eventually "grow out" of t he position and be forced to move to either third base or corner outfield. Regardless, his bat is what will get him to the Major Leagues and so far, all reports have been very positive.

Sano has gone on record of saying that he wants to make it to the Major Leagues sometime in the next two years, but I find that pretty unlikely. The Twins will not rush Sano and that's something I'm sure they've expressed to him since signing. Having a player like Sano in the organization is a real treat and watching him (and how the organization handles him) throughout the next few seasons will be very interesting.

2009 Statistics
Not Available

2010 Outlook

Sano will begin the season in Extended Spring Training before he joins the Gulf Coast League Twins in June. The Twins "tentative plan" is to have Sano play in the Dominican Summer League at some point in the summer.


Estimated Time of Arrival

April 10, 2010

Top 50 Twins Prospects 2010: #4 Ben Revere

2010 Top 50 Twins Prospects | #4 | Ben Revere

Position | Outfield

Bats/Throws | Left/Right

Born | May 3, 1988 (Lexington, KY)

School | Lexington Catholic High School

| 5'9''

| 175 lbs.

2009 Ranking | 2

....(Photo courtesy of Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

When the Twins decided to draft Ben Revere, they were the talk of the draft, but not in a good way. Most "experts" expected Revere to be chosen somewhere between the 3rd-5th rounds, which is why it was so shocking when the Twins took Revere with the 28th overall pick. One aspect of Revere that the Twins were so attracted to was his signability. The Twins signed Revere five days after the draft (June 12) to a signing bonus of $750,000.

Revere was assigned to the Gulf Coast League where he appeared in 50 games and hit .325/.388/.461 with 10 triples in 216 plate appearances. In 2008, the Twins had Revere begin the season in Extended Spring Training where they planned to send him to the Appalachian League in June. In late April, Revere was called up to the Midwest League after the club found out that third baseman Deibinson Romero would miss a month after undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Revere went on to flirt with hitting .400 for the majority of the summer before settling (if you could call it that) with a .379/.433/.497 tri-slash line with 28 extra-base hits and 44 steals in 83 games with the Beloit Snappers. In 2009, Revere continued to move through the system with the Ft. Myers Miracle being his next destination. Revere's OPS took a major blow, but he still hit .311/.372/.369 and stole 45 bases through 121 games in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League.

At 5'9'' and 175 lbs., it's hard to imagine Revere hitting more than just a handful of home runs in a year, but many believe that he could reach double digits someday. Revere has ++ speed and has both outstanding bat control and discipline at the plate as well. He's extremely athletic, which can be seen in the first 13 seconds of this video. He is best suited to hit at the top of the order, but he might be forced to hit near the bottom with the Twins due to a heavy left-handed lineup already intact. The biggest concern for Revere has been his defense. In the past, scouts haven't been in love with the routes he takes. His arm strength has also been a cause for concern, which has driven several people to suggest that he be moved to second base, a position he played on occasion in high school. But Revere improved leaps and bounds in both areas in 2009 and is looking to put them completely behind him in 2010.

2009 Statistics
          Level       G    PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     XBH     HR   wRC+
          A+        121   517    .311    .372    .369      19      2    123

2010 Outlook

Revere is starting the season off in Double-A New Britain. Should there be an injury to Denard Span, Revere is probably the best option to play center field for the Twins.


Estimated Time of Arrival

April 9, 2010

Twins Blogosphere Link-A-Palooza

On Saturday, the Twins Centric crew will be hosting their second Viewing Party of the year. The party will be tomorrow at the Majors in Blaine. The Twins Centric crew will be there to watch the Twins take on the Chicago White Sox at noon. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to attend, but hopefully you get the chance to.

At the last Viewing Party, I got the pleasure of meeting Phil Miller. Miller used to cover the Twins for the Pioneer Press but has now covering the Twins for FSN.com.

Topper from Curve For A Strike posted a new "Twins Bloggers: Get to Know 'Em" with Dan from Twins Jabber taking his time to answer a few questions.

Ben from That's Twins Baseball tells us the 'real' story of why Ron Gardenhire left the bench late in the game.

Twinkie Talk would like to see Alexi Casilla be replaced on the roster by... And speaking of Twinkie Talk, did you know that Erin from Picked Off At First is now co-authoring the blog?

Sean from Hitting The Foul Pole has proposed a nickname for Pat Neshek.

Adam from Just a Bit Outside... and Eric from Undomed give some of their thoughts on Opening Day.

Alex from A Voice From Twins Territory posted two pictures of Target Field, the before (construction) and after (now). It's pretty awesome.

Michael and Sam from Two Men On provide details from a private tour of Target Field.

Hassertime from Alright Hamilton! summed up perfectly how I feel about those who wanted a retractable roof on Target Field.

Seth from TwinsCentric gives us his thoughts from the Opening Day for Minor League Baseball. He also co-hosted the first episode of the Twins Minor League Weekly podcast with Travis of Travis Twins Talks.

Seth also posted "Get to know: Alex Burnett" on Monday. Burnett made the roster as a result of reliever Clay Condrey landing on the Disabled List. Burnett made his Major League debut last night in front of friends and family in his hometown of Anaheim and was very impressive. He threw one perfect inning of relief and struck out Minnesota native Rob Quinlan for the final out. What was most impressive? The final three pitches he threw to Quinlan:

Change-up: 85 mph
Fastball: 92 mph
Curveball: 76 mph

The way he mixed up pitches made you forget that he has no experience over Double-A. It was a great debut for Alex and hopefully he'll continue to make a positive impression.

Jon from JonColosimo.com broke down Scott Baker's first start and also took a look at the first four home runs hit by the Twins.

Suzanne from SOOZE! posted a link about Target Field being the most environmentally friendly ballpark in America.

Parker from Over The Baggy took a look at J.J. Hardy's new mechanics. And as always, he provides excellent analysis.

Phil from PhilMacky.com discussed Delmon Young's habit of swinging at the first pitch. Last night, Young swung at the only pitch he saw and put it in the seats (okay, Angels bullpen).

Have a great weekend!

Note: Expect the rest of the Top 50 Twins Prospect list to be posted over the weekend.

April 7, 2010

Needing a Miracle

Jake Mauer has been around baseball for his entire life. Of course he's known as "Joe's Brother" but it wasn't long ago that Jake was also trying to make a name for himself as a player. The Twins drafted Jake in the 23rd round of the 2001 draft, the same year they took Joe in the first round. But an ongoing elbow injury forced Jake from playing, so instead of riding off into the sunset, he remained involved with the game he loved, as a coach. He got his first managerial job in 2008 when he was given the reigns to the Gulf Coast League Twins. He finished second in the Southern division with a 35-21 record. In 2009, Jake lead the GCL Twins to a first place in the Southern division with a nearly identical record of 34-21.

During his time with the GCL Twins, Jake was applauded for the way he worked with such a diverse group of players. After the promotion of Jeff Smith to New Britain following the 2009 season, the Twins promoted Jake to Ft. Myers where he'll manage the reigning Florida State League South champions.

When taking a first glance at the roster, it looks like Jake will have his work cut out for him in 2010. The Miracle don't have nearly as threatening of a team as they had a year ago with top prospects Ben Revere, David Bromberg, Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee having all been promoted to Double-A New Britain. Other top prospects Aaron Hicks and Angel Morales will both start the year back in Beloit.

The Twins drafted Shooter Hunt in the supplemental first round of the 2008 draft after a successful collegiate career at the University of Virginia and (most notably) Tulane University. He was one of the best pitchers in the draft, but concern over his control made him available when the Twins took him with the 31st overall pick. He was handed a $1.08 million signing bonus and assigned to the Appalachian League where he struck out 34 batters and walked only six while giving up one earned run in four starts. He finished the year by making seven starts for the Beloit Snappers. He posted a 5.46 ERA and had a 34/27 K/BB ratio.

His struggles continued when he returned to Beloit in 2009. Hunt appeared in seven games - five of them starts - between April and May for the Snappers. In just 17 2/3 innings, he had an 18/33 K/BB ratio (no, those numbers aren't switched) with a 10.70 ERA.

He was placed on the disabled list with a strained groin muscle, which many hoped was the cause for his poor control. He was sent to Extended Spring Training and eventually joined the Gulf Coast League Twins in June, but Hunt's struggles persisted. He appeared in another seven games - five of them starts - and had an 8/25 K/BB ratio in 15 innings.

Hunt's season came to an end in July when the Twins sent Hunt home to "clear his head." Despite some believing he was struggling with poor mechanics, the Twins believed his problems stemmed from problems "upstairs." He hasn't pitched in a meaningful game since, so it remains to be seen whether or not the Twins prognosis was correct. Hunt has worked primarily as a starter throughout his career, but my guess is that he'll work out of the bullpen (at least at first) in Ft. Myers.

Hunt has perhaps the most electrifying 'stuff' in the organization, but he can't hit the strike zone to save his life. The Twins (and Jake) hope that they cured his yips on the mound, but at this point, they may need a miracle.

April 5, 2010

Opening Day

The Twins begin the 2010 season against the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim). I'm generally annoyed by not having a game on at seven, but being that I have night class on Monday's (that gets done at 8:45) I'm thrilled that the game doesn't start until nine.

Since the end of last season, a lot has change has happened. The team bid farewell to Carlos Gomez in November by shipping him to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchanged for shortstop J.J. Hardy. The Twins are looking to Hardy to add certainty to a position that has been muddled for the past few years. Along with Hardy, the Twins signed free agent Orlando Hudson to a one-year $5 million contract in February to start at second base. Hudson and Hardy are two well-respected defenders with histories of good productivity at the plate. Hudson will hit in the two-hole while Hardy will likely hit eighth. In 2009, the Twins two-hitter was one of the most unproductive in all of baseball. So having a player with a career .282/.348/.431 tri-slash line hitting ahead of the American League MVP, it's pretty exciting.

The signing of Hudson was preceded by the signings of Clay Condrey and Jim Thome. Condrey, a right-handed reliever, was signed to a one-year, $900,000 contract after being non-tendered by the Philadelphia Phillies. He is experiencing stiffness in his right arm, so he'll begin the season on the Disabled List. Thome was signed to be a left-handed bench bat, which was music to the ears of Twins fans who experienced many of his 57 career home runs hit against Minnesota. Thome will probably appear as a late-inning pinch hitter, but he'll also get starts against right-handed pitchers on occasion.

The Twins also retained Carl Pavano, who they acquired in August, by accepting the Twins offer of arbitration. Pavano will join forces with Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano in the rotation. Combined, these five had a were 55-48 with a 4.81 ERA in 2009. But despite those numbers, this group has the potential to be very strong from the top to the bottom and each has motivation heading into the season.

Denard Span (CF) will lead-off what should be one of the best lineups in all of baseball. The Twins finally have a productive two-hole hitter in Hudson hitting ahead of Joe Mauer (C), who's hitting third. Following Mauer is Justin Morneau (1B). Morneau missed the end of last season with a stress fracture in his lower back. Michael Cuddyer (RF), who caught flame after Morneau went down will hit fifth ahead of Jason Kubel (DH), who lead the Twins with 103 RBI last season. Next will come the 30 lbs. lighter Delmon Young (LF). Young lost weight in the off-season, but there's been nothing to suggest that he'll finally start reaching his potential at the plate as a result. Hardy (SS) will try to find his pre-2009 stroke in the eighth spot ahead of Nick Punto (3B). Punto is a sore spot in what is expected to be a lethal lineup, but the Twins are hoping his production won't be needed and instead will play him because of his strong defense.

Joe Crede is no longer with the team, but the Twins have Danny Valencia in the wings, which is another reason Twins fans should be able to fathom Punto starting at third base for the time being. Valencia is one of several top prospects who could make their Major League debuts in 2010. Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Wilson Ramos, Carlos Gutierrez, Ben Revere and Kyle Gibson are all players to keep an eye on. Other players, such as Drew Butera, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes may see time in a much more reserved role. Butera and Burnett are just about guaranteed to see action at some point as both are with the club as replacements for the injured Condrey and Jose Morales.

Heading into the season, the bullpen is the biggest cause for concern regarding the Twins. All-Star closer Joe Nathan will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery on his right elbow. To replace him, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire originally thought of going with a closer-by-committee, but that looks to have just been posturing during much of Spring Training as he named Jon Rauch his closer at the end of last week. Along with Rauch, the Twins should have a quality bullpen with the return of Pat Neshek from Tommy John Surgery. Neshek will likely be given 7th inning duties until he gets used to facing Major League hitting on a daily basis, but don't be surprised if he supplants Rauch from the closer's position of Rauch is struggling around mid-season. The eighth inning duties will belong to Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares, with Jesse Crain filling in whenever he's needed. Brian Duensing will be used as the long reliever and Condrey will more than likely be used in mop-up duties when he returns. Slama and Burnett have late-inning potential and should be ready if called-upon.

On top of all of this potential, promise and optimism, the Twins will break-in a new ballpark that will keep fans in the seats to help them feel right at home. There are so many positives about the 2010 Twins that it's tough to be pessimistic in any facet. Homerism may be clouding my views of the team, but one thing that I do know for sure is that the Twins have a legitimate shot at not only winning the division but some playoff games as well.

Here are some predictions for the 2010 Season (if I've missed any, let me know!):

Aaron from Aaron Gleeman
Mike from Alright Hamilton!
Brian from BP's Baseball Blog
Eric from Call to the 'Pen
Emily from Chatter From The Cheap Seats
Topper from Curve For A Strike
Steve from Gear Up For Twins Baseball
TT from Granny Baseball
Louie from Hitting The Eephus
Adam from Just a Bit Outside...
j-bro from k-bro's baseball blog
Jim Crikket from Knuckleballs Blog
Joe from Little Big League
Matt from matt weighs in
Nick and Nick from Nick's Twins Blog
Andrew from Off the Mark
Sarah from Oh, It's THOSE Girls
Erin from Picked off At First
Seth from Seth Speaks
Ben from That's Twins Baseball
PanthersFTW from Twinkie Town
John from Twins MVB
Andrew from Twins Target
Eric from Undomed

Hopefully everyone is geared up for another great year of baseball and hopefully you'll continue to support the Twins blogging community. Classes will be over with (for me) in about a month, so between now and then, I'm sure there will be sporadic lapses in posts, but rest assure, I will finish my Top 50 Twins Prospect list and also post some variation of my Top 50 MiLB Propsect list as well. Whether or not it will just be a list or in another format is yet to be determined.

Go Twins!

April 2, 2010

2010 Twins and MLB Predictions

I recently asked for other bloggers and readers to post their predictions for the 2010 season. Several bloggers have already posted their predictions, so I definitely suggest that you cruise around the Twins blogosphere to see them (I am hoping to make a list of links to the sites at some point today). On Twitter, several bloggers have started a hashtag of #2010TwinsPicks. If you're not following me already, you can find me @JoshsThoughts.

But without further adieu, here are my predictions for the 2010 season.

Twins-Specific Predictions

Twins MVP: Joe Mauer - No surprise here. Considered Denard Span, but how could I not choose the reigning American League MVP?

Twins Top Pitcher: Kevin Slowey - This pick has become a pretty popular choice among Twins fans, and for right reasons. Slowey had ten wins before being shut down last year due to a wrist injury. Through Spring Training, Slowey was absolutely dominant and showed no signs of his wrist holding him back. If he can stay healthy, I think Slowey will have a great season for the Twins.

Twins Best Rookie: Danny Valencia - If everything goes according to plan, Valencia will force a promotion sometime around June and from that point forward, he should receive most of the playing time at third base.

Twins Most Improved Player: J.J. Hardy - Hardy was awful for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and all signs are pointing to him turning over a new leaf. I'm not sure that I see him returning to his pre-2009 form just yet, but I do think he'll significantly improve his numbers.

Bold Predictions:
The Twins will have four All-Stars. Mauer, Justin Morneau, Span and Jason Kubel.
Jesse Crain will lead the Twins in saves. Yeah, I went there.
Delmon Young will hit 18 home runs.

A.L. Central Prediction (Standings):
1) Twins
2) White Sox
3) Detroit
4) Cleveland
5) Kansas City

Three Keys to Success for the Twins:
1) Health - We've already been hit with a huge injury and if we receive any others, it'll significantly lower our chances of winning the division. This is really something that is key to all teams, not just the Twins.

2) Strong Pitching - In both the bullpen and the rotation, the team needs to be solid through and through. Lest we forget how poor both performed at times last year?

3) Someone needs to step up - Young, Crain and Francisco Liriano are guys that I'm putting a lot of pressure on this year. All three have shown that they're talented, but the hype is over and now it's time to put up or shut up. No more babying.

Rest of the League Predictions

Joe Mauer - Don't accuse me of being a homer. Mauer's shown that he's arguably (with respect to Albert Pujols) the best player in baseball, and with both Span and Orlando Hudson hitting ahead of him, I can see Mauer driving in 120+ this season. I don't see him hitting as many home runs, but I don't think that it will be a significant drop-off.

N.L. MVP: Justin Upton - This pick is a little biased as Upton is my favorite non-Twins player, but I truly believe he'll become one of the elite players in baseball in 2010. He is only 22-years-old, but he is already one of the best hitters in baseball. He had a breakout year in 2009, but I think he'll open a lot of eyes in 2010.

A.L. Cy Young: Felix Hernandez - He plays in a pitcher's paradise and has stellar defense behind him. On top of that, he has some of the best 'stuff' and has quickly become one of the best pitchers in baseball at the age of 23.

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay - One of the American League's best pitchers moving over to the National League. He has one of the best lineups giving him run support and there's no doubt in my mind that he'll be a runaway winner for the award. As good as he is, I don't see Tim Lincecum winning for a third straight season.

A.L. Rookie of the Year: Scott Sizemore. He's an offensively-gifted second baseman who will be taking over full time second base duties from Placido Polanco on the Detroit Tigers. As a Twins fan, I hope this isn't true, but I'm a sucker for good second basemen.

N.L. Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward. It's an obvious choice, but he looks to be the real deal. While both Aroldis Chapman and Stephen Strasburg are both attractive picks for this selection, I have to go with Heyward. He's widely considered the best prospect in baseball and the Atlanta Braves are forgetting about service time and are set to begin the season with Heyward as their starting right fielder. Both Chapman and Strasburg will start the year off in the minor leagues.

A.L. Breakout Player of the Year: Travis Snider - He's so young, but after cruising through the minor leagues, a lot of hype surrounded him in 2009. He struggled at the Major League level, but still held his own as a 21-year-old. He has a great power swing and has shown the ability to hit for average. If the Blue Jays are patient, which they should be, I think that this could be a big year for Snider.

N.L. Breakout Player of the Year: Carlos Gonzalez - Gonzalez turned it on down the stretch in '09 and he's primed for a breakout year in 2010. He has a sweet left-handed swing with good power. I think he'll emerge as one of the best center fielder's in baseball come this season.

A.L. Comeback Player of the Year: Brett Anderson - He was 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA last year but improved a lot after the All-Star Break. I think he'll become yet another good young pitcher for the Oakland Athletics in 2010 and I think 15 wins and 175 strikeouts with a 3.75 ERA is definitely in the realm of possibility.

N.L. Comeback Player of the Year: My initial reaction is to choose Jose Reyes, but being that he's already dealing with problems, I'm going to go with my other choice. Tim Hudson most of the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. I think that he'll help the Braves be a contender for the National League East.

A.L. Playoff Predictions:
East - New York Yankees
Central - Minnesota Twins
West - Seattle Mariners
Wildcard - Boston Red Sox

N.L. Playoff Predictions:
East - Philadelphia Phillies
Central - St. Louis Cardinals
West - Colorado Rockies
Wildcard - San Francisco Giants

World Series
Minnesota Twins over Philadelphia Phillies. Call me a homer, but with one of the best lineups in baseball and the potential for the pitching staff to step it up, I think that the Twins could be the team to beat in the American League. The New York Yankees will be very tough, as will the Boston Red Sox, but I think that the Twins will finally get out of the first round and keep the momentum through the World Series. The Phillies are an easier selection. They were already the best team in the National League and with Halladay, they got even better.