Friday, February 27, 2015

Episode 120: Better Call Paul

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Paul is cranky pants this week. I think he hates Spring Training. We dive into that assumption and figure out what the heck the Twins are doing for the next couple weeks. We're joined this week by Jeremy Nygaard from TwinsDaily.com to talk more about prospects, pitching, and even a little fantasy baseball. Then, as always, beer, baseball, and the news.

Thanks for listening.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Who is the Twins Most Marketable Player?

As the beginning of the 2015 season quickly approaches, the Twins marketing team has been hard at work. How do you try and sell a team that has lost 90 games for four consecutive seasons?

Twins single game tickets went on sale last weekend and one thing that seems to get fans in the door is offering some unique giveaways. This year the club will offer such items as a Vintage Twins Bobblehead, a Brian Dozier Bobblehead, a Torii Hunter Adult Jersey, and a Fur Bomber cap.

One noticeable name not featured in a promotion so far is the team's highest paid player, Joe Mauer. This got me wondering... Who is currently the Twins most marketable player?
Joe Mauer
With multiple batting titles and an MVP under his belt, the Twins $23 million man gets most of the attention from the national level. Topps Trading Cards has a very Mauer feel when it came to their 2015 Series 1 product inserts. When MLB Network does their annual "Face of MLB" contest, Mauer is always penciled in as the nominee for the Twins. Even when the All-Star Game was in Minneapolis last year, Mauer served as the local ambassador for the game even though he wasn't elected to play in the contest.

However, Mauer can be a very polarizing figure among Twins fans. He's failed to live up to some fans high expectations of him and his huge contract makes it even harder for fans to accept him. There have been injuries and poor play for a few seasons so it seems like his local marketing has declined even if he's the most nationally known member of the Twins.

Brian Dozier
Dozier's emergence over the last couple of seasons has quickly made him a fan favorite. When the club sent out their season ticket renewals last fall, a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Dozier accompanied each information packet. He took some of the national spotlight during last year's Home Run Derby at Target Field. Now the club is ready to immortalize him with his first bobblehead doll. Everything seems to be working in Dozier's favor.

Even with the HR Derby experience last year, the name Brian Dozier isn't a national name. Dozier is getting a lot of love from the Twins marketing team and it's easy to see why with his infectious smile and outgoing personality. With a Dozier long-term contract extension expected to be in place before Opening Day, it seems likely for him to become a central figure in the local marketing campaigns.

Torii Hunter
It was hard to ignore the cheers and the lines for Mr. Torii Hunter at TwinsFest. He's signed for a one-year deal but he sounds like a man that would like to finish out his career in a Twins uniform. There has to be a desire by both parties for Hunter to continue playing but that's a full season away at this point. Fans are excited to welcome back the player that was the most marketable during this generation's best winnings years.

Many younger Twins fans might not remember the last time Hunter played in Minnesota. The names of Mauer and Dozier are out there and a little more familiar. It's also hard to know how long Hunter will be around in Minnesota. The front office will try and ride him out through the waning years of his career and hope his smile brings enough fans through the gates to pay his $10.5 million contract.

Glen Perkins
Besides being a local kid and a two-time All-Star, Perkins can be electric on the mound. Last year the team featured Perkins in his first bobblehead and they gave away kids jerseys with his number on them. In Target Field's biggest moment of the year, Perkins was on the mound closing out the game for the American League. He's been a vocal leader in the clubhouse and he and his wife do plenty of good things in and around the community.

Relief pitchers don't tend to get a lot of hype but it helps that Perkins is in a closing role. His under contract through 2017 and he's spent his entire career in the organization. There will be younger relief pitchers making their way to Target Field over the next couple seasons so it will be interesting to see how long he serves in the closer's role.

Byron Buxton
Buxton hasn't even played a game at the big league level but he might be the second best known name on this list. For most of the last two seasons, he's been considered the best prospect in all of baseball or at least close to the top of the list. Casual fans know his name because it has been out there for multiple years and it's easy to get excited when he get compared to some of the best players in the game.

Last year was disastrous for Buxton as he suffered through multiple injures and couldn't stay on the field. He is still young and hopes are still high that he'll be able to overcome the nightmare he endured throughout 2014. He's been on the cover of magazines, books, trading card packages, and his face might become even more recognizable if he could put together all of the talent scouts have seen in him.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 Twins Spring Training Headlines

Spring is in the air and with it comes the hope of a new baseball season. Pitchers and catchers have already reported to spring training and this gets fans excited for the beginning of a new year. For Twins fans, there are a multitude of story-lines to watch as spring begins to unfold. Here are five headlines I will be watching as the team prepares for Opening Day. 

Fifth Starter Battle
One of the biggest battles in camp will be for the final rotation spot. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, and Kyle Gibson should have the first four spots locked up barring any injuries. This leads a large cropping of players fighting to make the 25-man roster.

Last season Kyle Gibson separated himself from the pack and won the final rotation spot. This year a group of players including Trevor May, Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey, Alex Meyer, and Tim Stauffer will all have a chance to follow in Gibson's footsteps. At this point, it seems like Milone will have the edge heading into spring but anything can happen before the year starts.

Center Field Up for Grabs
The Twins used Danny Santana in center field for a large chunk of last season and the team seems set on moving him back to shortstop, his natural position. This leaves Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer fighting for playing time in center field. Hicks has won the job the last two years with impressive springs but he's failed to consistently produce at the MLB level. Schafer will have an opportunity but he seems more likely to fill a fourth outfielder role.

Byron Buxton is lurking in the wings but an injury plagued 2014 season means he's probably a full season away from making his debut. That's good news for Hicks and Schafer but it might be bad news for the rest of Twins Territory. With Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia manning the corner outfield spots, the Twins need a strong defensive center fielder to take the job and run with it.

Danny Santana Shortstop?
Santana was a breath of fresh air in 2014 but many expect him to come back down to earth during his sophomore season. In his first taste of the big leagues, he hit well above his minor league track record and he accomplished this while playing a new defensive position. This year he will be penciled in as the everyday shortstop and fans are going to expect big things from Mr. Santana.

The biggest question will be if he is able to stick defensively at shortstop. Ron Gardenhire and his departed coaching staff didn't seem too worried about getting Santana a ton of reps at shortstop last season. Paul Molitor and the new regime are going to give him ample opportunities to succeed at a position that has annual been a weak spot in the Twins line-up.

Top Prospects Health
Going into last season few could have foreseen how terrible the year would turn out for many of the Twins best prospects. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the team's top two prospects, combined to play in 31 games (all by Buxton). Pitching prospects Kohl Stewart, Alex Meyer, and Lewis Thorpe missed playing time with various ailments. Eddie Rosario also missed the beginning of the season because of a 50 game drug suspension.

The beginning of a new year means that many of the top prospects have had the off-season to relax and recover. Buxton, Sano, and Rosario should be primed to be back on the field for an entire season. Meyer and Stewart should be ready to take the next step. Thorpe is the lone questions mark as the organization contemplates whether or not he will need to have Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2015.

Mauer's Return to Glory
Call it a hunch but Mauer is due to get back to his former playing greatness. It is going to change some continued growth on the part of Mauer but he's concerned about his historical place in the game. He's already started to develop a relationship with new manager Paul Molitor, a player that had to change his style throughout his Hall of Fame career. If Mauer can rely on his new manager and his baseball acumen, he should get back to being a top tier player.

 He's only two seasons removed from posting a .300 batting average and he lead the American League in OBP during the 2012 season. He's no longer playing behind the plate so fans are going to expect him to produce on the offensive side of the ball. With 1540 career hits, he's half way to the 3,000 hit mark for his career. If he wants in the Hall of Fame, he's going to need to make some strides towards that total.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Episode 119: To Do-Over Episode

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Jay and Eric take a long over due road trip around the last three weeks of Twins news, which includes a bunch of baseball folks thinking the Twins will lose 90 games again, a pretty miserable collection of teams in the American League Central, and what Spring Training is all about.

In "Reviewing the Roster," this week, we dive deeper on Glen Perkins, Eddie Rosario, and Phil Hughes. Then it's time for the usual beer, baseball and the news.

Enjoy the show.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TD Top Prospects: #3 Jose Berrios

Twins fans made an immediate connection with Berrios after his emotional video response to being drafted by the club in the 2012 MLB Supplemental First Round. As a teenager, Berrios made fans take notice of him by dominating the rookie leagues while striking out nearly 14.5 batters per nine.

There were some questions about Berrios after an up and down season with Cedar Rapids in 2013. He put many of those questions to rest in 2014 with a dominating performance across three levels of the Twins system on his way to winning the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year award. His stock rose more than any other prospect in the system last year and he now sits on the cusp of the major leagues.
Age: 20 (DOB: 5/27/94)
2014 Stats (A+, AA, AAA): 12-8, 2.77 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 139.2 IP, 118 H, 38 BB, 140 K
ETA: 2015
2014 Ranking: 6

What’s To Like

Berrios is only 20-years old and he’s already pitched at Triple-A (even if it was only one start). His work ethic might be one of the best in the Twins organization as he has let fans glimpse into his off-season routine through his social media accounts. His personality is infectious and he should be able to make the big leagues based solely on his work ethic and talent.

His fastball explodes out of his small frame and he can hit as high as 97 mph on the radar gun but usually settles in at 93-96 mph. To counter his fastball, he has a very good change-up that follows the same motion as his fastball. Last season he was able to make improvements with all of his pitches including increasing the movement. He’s also had plenty of exposure on the national stage by pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and starting last year’s Futures Game at Target Field.

What’s Let To Work On

One of the biggest knocks against Berrios has been his lack of height. At this point in his life, that’s something Twins fans are just going to have to deal with. Because of his lack of height, his fastball can stay on the same plane and he could run into some issues with this in the higher levels of the system. Out of things Berrios can control, his secondary pitches could continue to be refined.

He needs more consistency with his curveball and that should come with more use as he moves up the ladder. With his change-up, he needs to continue to keep it down in the zone so better hitters aren’t able to make solid contact. If he can make improvements to his secondary pitches, he should be able to continue to miss bats. In the past, he’s used his fastball up in the zone to strikeout batters. Over the next couple years he might have to start using it down in the zone to avoid giving up fly balls that can turn into home runs.

What’s Next

In 2014, it seemed likely for Berrios to pitch the entire season at Fort Myers but he dominated the Florida State League. He pitched only 40.2 innings at Double-A so that seems like the most likely starting spot for him in 2015. If he continues to pitch as well as last year, he’ll be on his way to Rochester with the expectation of him making his big league debut in the second half of 2015.

Some experts question whether Berrios will end up in the bullpen or continue to be a starter. After last year’s performance and this off-season’s workout regimen, the Twins are going to give him every opportunity to stay in a starting role. Minnesota had plenty of success with another 6’0” starting pitcher named Johan Santana and fans can only hope Berrios will be close to that good going forward.