Monday, February 28, 2011

Top 10 Baseball Movies

On Friday I turned Twins story lines into Oscar plots. It was a fun post and readers seemed to enjoy it. So if you haven't seen it yet, go check it out.

In honor of last night's Oscar ceremony I decided to post a list of my favorite baseball movies of all-time. There is a wide selection of movies on my list and there are going to be some movies that aren't on everyone's list. I have a combination of movies from my youth and a collection of classics.

Let the countdown begin...

10.  The Babe- A great historical look at the most famous baseball player and the larger than life that he lived. There are great acting performance found throughout this film. John Goodman is outstanding as the iconic player at the center of this film.

9.  Fever Pitch- One of the reasons I enjoy this movie so much is because of the connections I have to the main character. We both work in the educational field so we have summers off to enjoy the baseball season. We both have made crazy trips to Spring Training to see the team in action. We both have many similarities.

8.  Angels in the Outfield- A boy prays for the Angels to win the pennant so his family can be back together. God steps in and sends some help from up above. From diving catches to wild pitches, this movie has them all. One of my favorite scenes is when the entire crowd stands and "flaps" their wings. It still gives me goose-bumps.

7.  61*- The record is still 61. This in-depth look at struggles that faced both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle during the 1961 season was brilliantly crafted by Billy Crystal. The struggles that Maris faced as he got closer to the record are hard to believe. One of my favorite baseball pictures is the moment he hits number 61. You can see the wait lifted off his shoulders.

6.  Little Big League- How great would it be to own the Minnesota Twins? The story follows a young boy who's grandfather passes on ownership of the team to his grandson. The grandson loves baseball and even names himself manager. The team bonds together but will it be enough to win the pennant?

5.  Field of Dreams- I have been to this small baseball field on the edge of a cornfield in Iowa. Running the bases and playing catch in the outfield were like something right out of a movie. The rural farmer who built a baseball field because of a voice he heard. The journey continues from there as he searches for the answers to the voice in his head.

4.  Rookie of the Year- Every kid dreams of making it to the big leagues, but no one ever thinks it will happen to them at such a young age. A freak accident turns a young boy from a misfit to an ace pitcher in the blink of an eye. There are many things that a rookie needs to learn and winning is at the top of the list.

3.  Major League- The misfit baseball team that wasn't suppose to be able to find a way to win. The evil owner that wants the team to lose so she can move them to a warmer climate. This sets up a hilarious romp through the American League as the Indians push for the pennant.

2.  The Sandlot- The impeccable look into youth baseball at it's finest. Every baseball fan can remember a time in their youth that was spent playing stick ball in the backyard. This film showed us how baseball is connected to ourselves as we grow from children to adults.

1.  Bull Durham- I never full appreciated how great this movie is until my college years. The acting performances, the dialogue, and the plot paint a perfect picture of the life as a minor league baseball team. My friends and I find ourselves quoting many of the lines from this film. Much of the appreciation I have for the little intricacies of baseball can be tied back to this movie.

What movies would be on your list? Leave a comment below.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Twins Stories Turned Into Oscar Movie Plots

I love the Oscars!

I have always been a huge movie fan and I have a wide taste when it comes to the art of cinema. I try to see as many of the Oscar nominated films as I can before the show so I can make an informed decision about each of the movies. I would say that the Oscar season is something that I am almost as passionate about as the Twins. To help celebrate this weekends Oscars, I challenged myself to combine these two loves.

Below you will find all of the films nominated for Best Picture in this weekends ceremony and a Twins plotline that connects to that film. It was a fun exercise and I hope you enjoy the following.

Lights, camera, action...

Black Swan
Plot summary: A star dancer gets the role of a lifetime in her companies performance of "Swan Lake." Her director knows she can play the innocent part of the white swan, but the girl struggles with finding her dark side as the black swan. This struggle between the two alter-egos is something that plagues the star through the entire movie. Her sanity is stretched to the limit as she becomes fully engulfed in her part.

Twins Plot: A star player joins the Twins from a foreign country and is given the role of a lifetime in the major leagues. The player has to overcome many barriers and struggles along the way to transition to life in a new country. His team also struggles with which part he should play, the shortstop or the second baseman. These roles could dictate how sane Twins fans are at the end of the season.

The Fighter
Plot summary:  Two brothers push a family to the brink as they try to make it in the world of boxing. The older brother has become a mentor to the younger fighter and this is a struggle that is hard for the older brother to accept. The older brother had his moment in the sun fighting a star boxer but drug addiction brought his career crashing to the ground. Internal family struggles between the brothers, their mom, and the younger brother's girlfriend follow the fighter all the way to his championship bout.

Twins Plot: A younger brother is following in the baseball footsteps of his older brother. The only problem is the younger brother has the chance to be a much bigger star than his older brother. The younger brother has been a highly touted prospect and is making his mark on the major league level. The season that he put together the previous year reflects some of the mistakes he saw his brother make during his career. The older brother never reached championship glory but the younger brother has many more seasons to see that dream come true.

Inception
Plot summary: A team of thieves breaks into the recesses of people's minds to extract secrets while their victim is asleep. The leader of the group will stop at nothing to get back the life he has lost. This means breaking some of his own rules and putting the entire team in danger for the sake the greater cause. Dreams are a powerful thing and controlling those dreams is even more powerful.

Twins Plot: An organization dreams up the perfect team and tries to mold that team to fit the dream that they have. The coach and general manager try to manipulate the system to fit the needs of the organization. A hometown star, some veteran players, and a young pitching staff all form the cornerstones of this dream state. The ultimate goal for the team is a championship, but is this only a dream or can it become reality?

The Kids Are All Right
Plot Summary: Two women are at the core of this modern family with two children. Both the son and daughter are from the same sperm donor and the children are interested in meeting their biological father. Meeting their father brings an entirely new element to this family as they deal with the daughter leaving for college, a boy struggling with his identity, and a growing relationship between the adults figures in the quirky family environment.

Twins Plot: A power-hitting veteran is torn between the chance to play closer to home or to move to another market that is further away. Traveling further away would mean a higher salary. But his family is an important part of his life and they will play a large role in deciding the path he will take. In the end the kids are the right choice for this player as he decides to stay closer to home and chase the 600 HR mark.

The King's Speech
Plot Summary: The leader of a country tries to overcome a speech impediment. His stammer has an impact on many parts of his life and it could effect people's view of the king. The king is paired with a speech pathologist to try and find a solution to his ailment. The king's nation finds itself in a turbulent time and they turn to the king for words of wisdom. Without the coaching of his speech pathologist, the course of history could have taken a different path.

Twins Plot: The hometown star has become a king to the fans of the local baseball market. He is a superstar player on a worldwide stage that is seeing himself become a leader. His new leadership role brings a much larger contract along with many endorsements. This soft spoken man must find his voice and lead his team to the promise land.

127 Hours
Plot Summary: A hiker finds himself in a terrible situation as he is trapped in a small crevice while he is mountain climbing. One arm is stuck under a boulder and he struggles to find someway to survive. There are flashbacks to the important moments in his life as he teeters on the brink of life and death. There are many challenges along the way as he tries to find a way to survive this horrible ordeal.

Twins Plot: The playoff dreams of a franchise seemed to be dashed in the same fashion every season. The hated rivals from the east trap the hometown team between a rock and a hard place. The hometown team seems to have the life sucked out of them in less than 127 hours. Finding a way to survive in this harsh environment is the task that faces a new generation of players.

The Social Network
Plot Summary: A multi-billion dollar social revolution was started in a college dorm room and along with it came a load of problems. There are many that claim to have a part in the creation of Facebook and this is where the problems arise. There are lawsuits filed and arguments between former best friends, but with a company that is worth this much money there will always be some issues. Facebook is a part of our everyday lives and it all had to start somewhere.

Twins Plot: Two outfielders use social networking tools to increase their already wide fan bases. Through Tweets and Facebook, these two players keep their fans up-to-date with all of the happenings of a major league player. This instant interaction with fans increases to grow along with the social network of the world.

Toy Story 3
Plot Summary: A coming of age story as the young toy owner finds himself preparing to move to college. The toys of his youth have been stored away for years and there is a good chance that they won't be coming to college. The adventure takes the toys to the local daycare center that seems like the perfect retirement home. The toys soon find out that their dream is actually a nightmare and they must escape. This leads them on a crazy ride to make it home before their owner leaves for college.

Twins Plot: A coming of age story as a young prospect finds himself thrust into the middle of a pennant race. His overwhelming success is something that fans hope reemerges in his second trip through the major leagues. But a sophomore slump is something that can haunt even the best of players. By avoiding this slump, the young player can bring a child-like happiness to fans everywhere.

True Grit
Plot Summary: A grizzled old gunslinger is asked to help a young girl hunt down the man that murdered her father. The girl asserts that she must come along on the trek through the wild west. The gunslinger and the girl are joined by a ranger on their hunt for the ruthless killer. Their journey is full of many perils as they try to put an end to this vicious crime.

Twins Plot: A grizzled old gunslinger is asked to help a developing pitching staff to hunt down a title. He is teamed with a star catcher and other talent as they journey through their league in search of victories that bring them closer to their goal. There are many perils along the way as the old veteran shows his true grit.

Winter's Bone
Plot Summary: A young girl is left in charge of a family as her father has left and her mother is severely depressed. The father didn't show up for his latest court date and he had put up the family home as the collateral to get out of jail. Now the teenage girl must hunt down her father to save her family. With the Ozark Mountains as the backdrop, there are many obstacles that are in the way of keeping this family alive.

Twins Plot: The cold of winter provided a variety of discomfort in the bone region of this left-handed tosser. The team is left wondering if this player can be a true ace for the staff. With the injury filled past of the pitcher, the organization isn't interested in betting the house on this player at this time. With Target Field as the backdrop, the player needs to find a way to show the organization that he has the mental make-up to be a cornerstone of the franchise.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Miguel Sano: Sooner or Later

Yesterday the folks at Baseball America released their Top 100 Prospects list for all of Major League Baseball. One of the things that I like about their list of prospects is the listing of an ETA or Estimated Time of Arrival. For some prospects the ETA will be as soon as this coming season and for others the wait could be a few more seasons.

The number one prospect on my own top Twins prospect list, Miguel Sano, offers an interesting problem for the Twins. He will only be 17 years old at the beginning of this season so there are many baseball playing years in front of him. The predicament that the Twins find themselves in is how fast they should bring along their future star.

The Baseball America rankings have Sano as the #60 prospect in the minors. They gave him a BA ranking of 70 and state that his best tool is his power. Their prediction for his time of arrival at the major league level is 2014. At the beginning of the 2014 season, Sano would only be 20 years old. That seems very young for the Twins to be making him a central figure in their line-up.

The Twins don't tend to rush talent through their minor league system. They allow players to mature and develop as baseball players. With the arbitration system that is used in MLB, this also allows the organization to hang on to their own home-grown talent for as long as possible.

So the question is raised, is it better to bring up Sano sooner or later?

Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez are two current players that Sano has been compared to at his current age. Both of these players were 21 when they made their Major League debuts. Pujols played the entire 2001 season for the Cardinals at age 21 and was named Rookie of the Year. Ramirez only played two games in the season that he was age 21. The Red Sox proceeded to trade him to the Marlins and he played the entire next season at age 22 when he was named Rookie of the Year.

As far as Twins players are concerned, Joe Mauer made his debut at the age of 21. He only played part of that 2004 season because of a knee injury. That means his first full season wasn't until the age of 22. Justin Morneau made brief appearances in the majors at age 22 and 23 but wouldn't play an entire season until the age of 24. Michael Cuddyer's debut came at age 22 but his first full season wouldn't come until age 25.

The magic age for the debut of players with a skill set like Sano seems to be 21. That seems to line-up with the prediction made by Baseball America. It will be interesting to watch the development of Sano during the next couple years. Like many young foreign-born players, Sano wants to make it to the big leagues as soon as possible.

Will the Twins try to hold back his rise through the organization? Or will Twins fans get a taste of Sano sooner rather than later?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spotting Tsuyoshi Nishioka

It has been pretty easy to "spot" the new man on campus for the Twins this Spring Training. He is followed by a mob of media, he has a bright red glove, and Adidas pays him a lot to wear their clothes. There are a few different "spots" that the Twins are trying to figure out when it comes to their new middle infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Which "spot" will he play in the middle infield? Which "spot" will he be placed in the batting order? These are both integral parts of the make-up of the roster for the Twins this season. Nishioka is going to fit into the line-up in some form but where and how remains to be seen.

"Spotting" Nishioka's Infield Position
2nd Base: Many experts have slotted Nishioka as the Twins 2B for the coming season because of the apparent "weakness" in his arm strength. This could also be seen as the easier of the two options for Nishioka and this placement could help to ease his transition to the US. Having to focus less on his defence may also allow him to focus more on his hitting and other attributes to add to the team.

Shortstop: There are others that think the Twins need to keep Nishioka at SS, the position that he won multiple gold glove awards. Patrick Reusse thinks the Twins best option would be to keep Nishioka at SS for a variety of reasons. Let Nishioka show the team what he has at SS and if it doesn't work out then some shifting can occur. This also allows for players like Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert to compete with Alexi Casilla for a starting spot in the middle infield.

My "spot": Shortstop
Former MLB Manager Bobby Valentine, who coached in Japan at the beginning of Nishioka's career, said, "He doesn't look like a classic major league shortstop. But I think he can be an outstanding shortstop." He also wants to be recognized as the best shortstop in the world (Adidas Ad featuring Nishioka). Why should the Twins hamper that dream?

"Spotting" Nishioka's Batting Slot
Number 2: Batting in the number two spot with the Twins will allow Nishioka to be a pace-setter ahead of Mauer and Morneau. The Twins can utilize his speed and athletic ability to run circles around the competition. His switch hitting ability also allows for some flexibility at the front end of a line-up that is heavily left-handed. The Twins want to see what he can do and throwing him in the fire right off the bat could be the best way to see how he is composed.

Lower in the line-up: The benefit of placing Nishioka in a lower position in the line-up is the fact that there will be less pressure on him as he tries to familiarize himself to the American League. All of the pitchers are new to him, the ballparks are unique, and the major league atmosphere takes some adjustments. The best way to do this will be to start off lower in the line-up and move up in the order if his performance dictates this shift.

My "spot": Lower in the line-up
By the end of the season I feel that Nishioka will show the Twins that he is a true number two hitter. I think that their will be a learning curve for the first few months of the season. It will be more favorable to the team and to Nishioka if he is lower in the line-up during that learning curve. Also taking into account the higher-caliber defensive position that I placed him in above, it seems natural to relieve some of the pressure with this placement.

No matter the position or the batting order, Twins fans are just hoping that Nishioka will be "spot" on.

What "spot" do you think Nishioka will fit in for the Twins? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Video: Mauer joins forces with Head and Shoulders

There had been rumors of this coming for a few weeks, especially with the longer hair style that Mauer had been sporting at TwinsFest. You can find the official press release on the Head and Shoulder's website but here is the first look at Mauer as a spokesman for Head and Shoulders:

Denard Span: Gone mad

There were a variety of headlines coming out of Ft. Myers on President's Day.

~Justin Morneau arrived and talked to the media for over 30 minutes

~Liriano might have missed some of his shoulder exercises this offseason

There was one quote from the entire day that stuck out to me and it came from Denard Span. La Velle E. Neal quoted Span in his Twins Insider Blog as saying, "I'm mad. I'm just not going to tell you what I'm mad about."

The Twins gave Span a lot of reasons not to be mad at the beginning of last season by signing him to a 5-year $16.5 million contract. In his first two seasons Span had showed the Twins that he could be the defensive CF that the club needed at the top of their line-up. His combined WAR for 2008 and 2009 was a respectable 7.2 and the Twins rewarded Span accordingly.

There could be a lot of things that Span is mad about after the season that he put together last year. His batting average dropped 47 points from the previous season. On a team that was third in the American League in batting he had the second lowest BA out of everyday players, only ahead of Kubel. The only everyday players that had a lower OBP than him were JJ Hardy and Jason Kubel. His slugging percentage dropped under .400 for the first time in his career. He also saw his OPS drop from .807 in 2009 to .679 in 2010. These aren't the numbers that the Twins needed from their leadoff hitter.

His defensive statistics also saw some decline in his first full season at Target Field. He started a career high 151 games in CF in 2010. In that time in CF he had a .990 fielding percentage that was on par with the league average. One negative is he is surrounded by sub-par defensive outfielders and that means that there is more pressure on Span to cover more ground. This lead to his Rtot, the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made, was -17. His defensive WAR also went south ending up at -1.7 for all of 2010.

There were some positives for Span in 2010. He had a career high in steals with 26 and he was only caught stealing four times, a career low. He also hit double digits in triples for the second consecutive season. He was 3rd in the AL in putouts for a CF and 2nd in games played in CF. Some there is some positive light at the end of the negative tunnel.

One other factor that might be leading to some of the anger from Span is the surplus of other young outfielders in the Twins system. Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, and Ben Revere are all working their way through the minor leagues. That is a lot of young players to mentor for Span and he is still very young himself. All of these players could be one of the young guns to take over CF from Span in the coming years.

The Twins need Span to be a force at the front of the line-up especially with the question marks that surround the number two spot in the batting order. Whether it is Casilla, Nishioka, or some other player, the Twins won't have a veteran presence ahead of the middle of the order. This means Span needs to be mad enough to get on base and be the table-setter for a team looking for a three-peat in the AL Central. There could be many fans that are mad at Span if he looks like the Span that roamed the outfield last season. If Span can rekindle some of the spark that he had in his first two seasons, there will be very little to be mad about.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Alexi Casilla: Not a Guarantee

Twins players will be continuing to show up to camp this week as the first workouts for position players will happen in the coming days. Many players have already arrived and are getting acclimated to their surroundings in the wonderful Florida sun. Among these players there are numerous story lines for fans to continue to follow.

I will discuss a variety of these story lines during the coming week, so keep checking in all week for the latest stories from the beaches of Fort Myers.
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The Twins enter Spring Training knowing that their middle infield will have a much different look to start the 2011 campaign. The Twins have committed to adding more speed and have parted ways with JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson. One of the players that is guaranteed a spot in the middle infield is the Twins new Japanese import, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. 

For most of the offseason the assumption has been that Alexi Casilla would be the natural choice to fill the position opposite Nishikoka. In an interview last week Ron Gardenhire said that it is not a guarantee for Casilla to be an Opening Day starter. Gardy went on to say that there are other players that the Twins want to examine for a middle infield role. Players like Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe will get their shot to vie for a starting spot in the Bigs.

Casilla has been an interesting case for the Twins in past seasons. He has shown glimpses of great assets but he has never been able to compile an entire season of consistent play at the major league level. His best season by far was in 2008 where he batted .281, 7 HR, and 50 RBI. The next season he saw his batting average plummet to barley .200 with many of his other numbers taking sharp drops as well. 

Spring Training is going to offer Casilla the chance to show the Twins that he is mature enough to be an everyday major league player. Otherwise the club may have other options in some of their younger, less known players. You can be guaranteed that Hughes and Plouffe will be challenging Casilla every step of the way to prove that they belong. 

Whatever player wins the starting job as the team comes north will definitely have to be watching over their shoulder. A few bad at-bats combined with some defensive lapses on the field and that player could end up watching someone else take over his starting spot. The Twins are ready for someone to show the maturity and consistency that it takes to be an everyday player at the highest level. 

The Twins sent Casilla to the Dominican Winter League this offseason. In his 40 games there, he hit .303 with seven extra-base hits and seven steals. He even showed the ability to drive in runs by amassing 18 RBI. This output over the winter showed glimpses of the Casilla that the Twins want to see in 2011.

Gardenhire thinks that Casilla is taking the right steps to be the player that the Twins need him to be. He hasn't been putting as much pressure on himself and that can lead to better results on the field. The most important thing for Casilla to do is not to try and do "too much." Twins fans are hoping that Casilla has found this magical point in his career where his maturity and natural baseball ability can metamorphosize him into a middle infielder the club can rely on. The next few weeks will tell the club if his metamorphosis is complete.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Top Headlines: Twins Pitchers and Catchers

A list I created of Twins pitchers and catchers headlines for Spring Training was in the sports section of Thursday's edition of the Star Tribune. It was small list in the paper so below you will see a better explanation of each of those headlines.

1. Joe Nathan's recovery
Reports from this week have Nathan close to being back at 100%. He is already throwing in the low 90's and he is able to throw a variety of his pitches. To some fans this is a scary proposition because the Twins need Nathan ready for the beginning of the season and not for Spring Training games. In some interviews this week Mauer has even said that he is trying to hold Nathan back a little bit. Earlier this week I looked at whether the Twins should baby Nathan this year or if he should be let loose. Nathan's recovery could go a long way to solving some of the issues in the bullpen.

2. 6 starters for 5 spots
The Twins have an influx of starting pitching and sorting out the end of the rotation is going to be a something to follow throughout Spring Training. Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano are entrenched as the one, two punch at the top of the Twins rotation. The other three spots are being fought over by Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Brian Duensing. Scott Baker recently had an elbow flare up so it will be interesting to see if this impacts the race for the rotation. Blackburn and Slowey are looking to improve on sub-par seasons in 2010. Duensing has shown the Twins what he can do the last two seasons. Who is going to be the odd man out to start the season?

3. Pat Neshek's rebound
Besides Nathan, Pat Neshek could be the key to having a successful bullpen in the 2011 season. Neshek is on the same road to recovery that Nathan is on but he ran into a few road blocks last year. His velocity and movement was down on his pitches. For the style of pitcher that Neshek is, a side-arm pitcher that doesn't throw extremely hard, this can cause many issues. The Twins are going to need a player to step into the late inning roles that were filled by Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain. Neshek can be that player.

4. Sorting out the bullpen
The Twins saw a mass exodus from their bullpen at the end of last season. Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch all left the team for bigger contracts with other organizations. This means the Twins are going to need to find some sorting out to fill-in the bullpen. There are familiar names like Nathan, Capps, Neshek, Mijares, Perkins, and Burnett. But there are also some lesser known players that are going to have to find their niche with the team (Diamond, Slama, Gutierrez, Hughes, Hoey). This is one race that will be fun for fans to follow as the season approaches.

5. Kyle Gibson's emergence
Die hard Twins fans will be clamoring for Gibson to make his major league debut this season. With the excess of starting pitching that the Twins have, it will be interesting to see how long they can hold Gibson back. Fans are going to be checking the box scores of every start at Rochester that Gibson makes to see how he is progressing. He is the number one pitching prospect in the organization and this is only his first big league camp. Gibson Mania has already hit parts of the Twin Cities and here's hoping the pressure doesn't get to him.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nishioka takes infield at Spring Training

Here is a video from 1500 ESPN of Tsuyoshi Nishioka taking infield at the Twins Spring Training Complex in Fort Myers, Florida.

Joe Mauer: The catching debate

We are on the brink of having Twins baseball return for the 2011 season. Twins pitchers and catchers have their first full workout tomorrow and that means that Spring Training is finally here. This whole week I have looked at a variety of players from these two positions, but a pitching and catching week couldn't be complete without talking about Joe Mauer. Before I get into that, here is a recap of the other posts I wrote this week:

Monday- Joe Nathan: To baby or not to baby
Tuesday- Pat Neshek: The key to the 'pen
Wednesday- Drew Butera: A growing cult following
Thursday- Joe Mauer: The catching debate
Friday- Top Headlines: Twins Pitchers and Catchers
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Joseph P. Mauer has been popping up all over the news lately as he makes the rounds to promote the new video game "MLB: The Show 2011." A couple of nights ago he competed in a homerun derby contest with late night host Jimmy Fallon (see the video here). He also was making the rounds at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT, where he made an appearance on the Mike and Mike: In the Morning radio program (listen to the interview here).

Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press also wrote about Mauer this week. His story delved into the possibility of moving Mauer to another position other than catcher. He compared Mauer's situation with the Twins to that of Yogi Berra and the Yankees. Berra was forced to play other positions in his career because of the wear and tear that comes with being a catcher.

There are many people that can be on both sides of the Mauer position debate. He even admitted on Mike and Mike that when he was a younger player in the minor leagues the team discussed him switching positions. So here is a look at both sides of the argument, which side are you on?

Mauer staying a catcher
Mauer is entering the first year of the mega-deal that he signed around this time last Spring Training. The Twins are paying Mauer a lot of money to be the face of the franchise and to be their cornerstone player at a tough position. He is arguably one of the best players in the game and he needs to be at a demanding position for the Twins to be getting their value out of him. In an interview this week Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire said about Mauer, "His biggest job is calling the game and controlling the pitching staff. The hitting part is a bonus." Mauer is getting paid, as much as he is, because of the value he provides at the catching position. His offensive accolades are things that have never been accomplished by a catcher at the major league level. The coaching staff has shown confidence is his ability to play DH when he needs a day off from his catching duties. In interviews this week Mauer has stressed that he wants to be a catcher for as long as he can be. He enjoys the position and all of the responsibility that goes along with it. I feel Mauer wants to be known as the best catcher that has played the game of baseball and he is well on his way...

Mauer switching positions
"Are you sure you want to be a catcher because you hit to well to be behind the plate everyday?" Mauer has had this conversation brought up to him throughout his entire career. Throughout his major league career, he has accumulated quite the resume of injuries to his knees, shoulder, and other various body parts. If Mauer moved to another position, he wouldn't need a day off to rest. That way he could be a force in the line-up for 162 game instead of the 130-140 games that he has averaged in his career. According to the Pioneer Press Gardenhire has said that if he was forced to he would play Mauer at any position on the field because of his athletic ability. All of these ticky-tack injuries that have followed Mauer in his career could be avoided or at minimum lessened. Having a Joe Mauer that is completely healthy when it comes to playoff time sounds like an excellent proposition to me. Gardenhire also said that they are going to have Mauer do less catching in Spring Training. This offers the Twins the perfect opportunity to start working with Mauer on drills at other positions. The move of Mauer to another position is going to happen at some point in his career, so this Spring Training is as good of time as any to have Mauer grab a glove and start the transition...

There you have two perspectives of the Mauer catching debate. I can't see Mauer switching positions this early into his career but the game of baseball can sometimes be an interesting adventure.

Which side of the fence are you on? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Drew Butera: A growing cult following

We are half-way through "Pitchers and Catchers Week" here at NoDak Twins Fan. The first workout for these positions happens on Friday morning and there are a lot of topics to cover. So far this week, my posts have looked like this:

Monday- Joe Nathan: To baby or not to baby
Tuesday- Pat Neshek: The key to the 'pen
Wednesday- Drew Butera: A growing cult following
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A couple of weeks ago I looked at all of the catchers that the Twins have invited to Spring Training this year in a post I called, "What's the Catch for the Twins?" The Twins have made a lot of moves in the past year that have had catchers as the focal point. Catching prospect Wilson Ramos exited to the Nationals in favor of Matt Capps and Jose Morales was dealt to the Rockies.

At the beginning of last season the Twins entered camp with four catchers that would see time at the big league level (Butera, Mauer, Morales, Ramos) and now they are down to two of those players (Mauer, Butera) This shift from excess depth to lack of depth  means there is a lot riding on Drew Butera as the Twins prepare to enter the 2011 season.

Drew Butera entered last season as an unknown to most Twins fans. His name sounded familiar to fans since his dad, Sal Butera, was part of the organization in the early 1980's and returned to the 1987 World Series team. Morales had been hampered by some injuries and the Twins didn't want to waste Ramos sitting on the bench behind Mauer. Because of these reasons, Butera was given his chance and 2010 and he made the most of it.

In his first season with the Twins, Butera's offensive numbers are gross to look at (.197 BA, .533 OPS, 0.3 WAR), but Butera wasn't in the game to knock the cover off the ball. Butera found a role with the Twins by providing a reliable game-caller behind the plate, a personal catcher for Pavano, and a solid defensive position player. Shortly after the All-Star Break, the Twins won 8 straight games that had an appearance from Mr. Butera. This streak included him catching three complete game shutouts. Butera found his role and fans were drawn to his performance on the field.

The Twins seem to always have a quirky, popular player that doesn't always put up the best numbers but seems to have a cult following of fans. In recent memory players like Lew Ford and Nick Punto have filled this role on the Twins. Punto jerseys and Ford t-shirts will continued to be seen at Target Field in the years to come. These players seem to have a personality that makes it easy to relate to for fans.

Much like players of the past, Butera has slowly started to gain his own cult following. Butera t-shirts and jersey's were already visible at TwinsFest. Seeing someone with his jersey on was something that Butera was even surprised about at the Twins 1st Annual Tweet and Greet. He recently started his own Twitter account and as of last night he was up to 1,459 followers (@drewbutera on Twitter). As the season progresses I expect to see more Butera fans continuing to come out of the woodwork at Target Field. His "following" will continue to grow and it is going to be fun to watch it expand.

Mauer on Jimmy Fallon

Here is the video of Joe Mauer from Jimmy Fallon last night. Pretty good... Check it out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pat Neshek: The key to the 'pen

It's a week of celebration here at NoDak Twins Fan. Pitchers and catchers report on Friday and it is also the one year anniversary of this site.

All week I will be taking a look at various story lines that will impact the Twins during this year's Spring Training. Here is how those stories have broke down so far...
Monday- Joe Nathan: To baby or not to baby
Tuesday- Pat Neshek: The key to the 'pen
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This entire offseason there has been one thing that I have repeatedly felt needed to be added to the Twins to increase their chances to contend in the Central Division in '11. Morneau's health, Nathan's arm, and Pavano's return were all important parts of the plan, but question marks in the bullpen were something that I felt needed to be addressed. I wanted the Twins to be able to add one veteran arm to the mix that had a proven track record. In the world of major league relief pitching, finding a "proven" veteran can be a tiring task.

The Twins have added players like Dusty Hughes, Scott Diamond, and Jim Hoey. This list of players isn't going to jump out at any Twins fans but they have the potential to fit different needs with the team. Overall there is one player that can hold the key to the Twins bullpen success in 2011. In the past he has shown that he can be an excellent relief pitcher, but Tommy John surgery in 2008 has led him down an alternate path. The player is Pat Neshek and his role on the 2011 Twins is one of crucial importance.

Coming out of Spring Training last season the Twins picked Pat Neshek to be part of the major league roster. He pitched in six games in the first month of the season and didn't give up a run until a late April game in Detroit. Most of the rest of Neshek's season would be spent at the minor league level. His strikeout to walk ratio dropped significantly and he lost speed on his pitches. One of the keys to Neshek's side winding delivery is deception and movement. With the loss of speed on his pitches, the movement on the ball also dwindled.

Neshek spent the offseason working on a variety of things to improve the areas that were his weaknesses in the 2010. For the first time since the surgery he was able to have a "normal" offseason of rest and recovery. After allowing his body to fully recover from the grind of the season he started a strength and condition program to build up muscle. This added muscle is an attempt to get back some of the velocity and deception that were missing last year.

This offseason workout model seems to compare similar to the plan that was followed by Francisco Liriano as he made his comeback from the same surgery as Neshek. Twins fans saw the success that Liriano was able to produce in his first full season following a "normal" offseason. This return to normalcy is one of the steps that can lead to a prosperous season for the Minnesota native.

I wanted the Twins to be able to add a proven veteran arm to the mix in the bullpen and that wish was not granted. There is still hope in many Twins fans that the bullpen situation will work itself out. Neshek having a successful season will not only iron-out some of those wrinkles but it could be one key to the team continuing their reign in the Central Division.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Joe Nathan: To baby or not to baby

It's an exciting week here at NoDak Twins Fan. Not only do pitchers and catchers have their first full work-out at the end of the week, it's also the one year anniversary of this blog's conception.

Throughout the week I will focus on a variety of pitching and catching topics to honor these positions making their return trip to Fort Myers. So make sure to check back all week for updates and new stories
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The Sunday issue of the Star Tribune featured a long look at Joe Nathan written by La Velle E. Neal III. The focus of the article was Nathan's come-back trail for Tommy John surgery and one part of the article stuck out to me. Twins Pitching Coach Rick Anderson was quoted as saying he is going to be very cautious with Nathan this spring. First Nathan responded to this quote with gratitude to his coach but he added that he doesn't "want to be babied if I don't need to."

This raises an interesting question, should the Twins "baby" Nathan this season or should the Twins let him off his leash? There are positives and negatives to both sides of this question. Here is a look at both of the perspectives the Twins will have to take into account with Nathan when they enter Spring Training and the 2011 season.

Baby Nathan
1. The Insurance Policy- Matt Capps is getting paid a lot of money by the Twins to be an insurance policy for Joe Nathan. The organization might as well make use of both these arms. Making sure both of these players are rested and healthy will only benefit the team. Nathan doesn't need to pitch in back to back games because Capps is there to take on some of the load.

2. The Experience of Liriano/Neshek- In recent years the Twins have seen that it takes time to get back to full strength when recovering from this surgery. Pat Neshek and Francisco Liriano took their time to recovery from this same procedure. Liriano took more than one season to get back to form. Neshek is still trying to prove that he can be effective again at the major league level.

3. A Nervous Wreck- Twins fans got accustomed to Nathan and his nervous mannerisms on the mound. The problem may be that Nathan has been bottling many of these emotions inside for the last year. That first trip back to the mound will definitely be an adventure. The journey from the bullpen to the mound at Target Field will be much like that of a rookie making his major league debut. A brand new stadium to Nathan and 40,000 excited fans to see the return of the former All-Star; it sounds like a chance for Nathan to be a nervous wreck.

Don't Baby Nathan
1. Last Season with the Twins-  If the Twins fail to pick-up Nathan's option for 2012, this could be his last season with the team. They need to push him to see if he is worth the $12.5 million the team would owe him in 2012. The Twins can buyout Nathan's final year for $2 million. The Twins will have a decision to make and holding Nathan back won't make that decision any easier.

2. A Clean Break-  The ligament that tore in Nathan's throwing elbow broke cleanly. This means the doctors were able to reconnect the original ligament and strengthen it with another tendon from his left wrist. It is rare to be able to do this and Nathan said, "They think it will make it even stronger." That sounds like the exact news that Twins fans want to hear. A stronger Nathan will make the question marks in the bullpen that much easier to handle.

3. His Job to Lose- The Twins and their fans want Nathan to be back to the form he was before the surgery. He will be given plenty of opportunities to show the club that he is the man for the job. Nathan as an $11 million set-up man isn't something that fans will look forward to this year. He is eager to get back on the field and to reach the athletic level that he was at in the past. That being said, the closer's job is his to lose.

What should the Twins do with Nathan? Baby him? Don't baby him?
Leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Possible Trade Candidates on the Twins

The big news across the Twins universe in the last 24 hours has been the news that the organization is open to trading Francisco Liriano. Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune was the first person to leak the story and there have been many other reactions across the blogosphere. The Twins have many question marks as the season is about to begin. The talk of trading Liriano only adds to the speculation and anticipation of a new season.

The truth of the matter is the Twins have an excess of starting pitching at the moment. Out of all the pitchers that are in the mix, I would have guessed that Liriano would have been the most untouchable. He would be able to get the most in return from another club but the Twins are going to have to look at the value that they would be losing.   

Yesterday, I looked at the positive side of the next season and gave my top 5 reasons the Twins can contend in 2011. If some of those things don't break in the Twins favor, it could be a long summer across Twins Territory. What would happen if the Twins amassed a Cleveland Cavaliers type losing streak (fingers crossed that this would never happen)? Who are some of the candidates to trade away if the season starts to go south?

Francisco Liriano ~ Trade Value: High
The biggest piece that the Twins have to offer any other team. He is a left-handed pitcher that has shown he can be dominant at times. He is only 27 years old but the injuries have followed him throughout his career. The Twins have control of him through the next couple of seasons so there would be extra value for the team that acquired him. He showed last year that he has bounced back from his elbow surgery and the Twins might want to pounce on this opportunity to dish the "Franchise."

Delmon Young ~ Trade Value: High
He is the right handed power bat that can break-up some of the lefties in the Twins line-up. He is also one of the youngest players on the team at 25 years old. His offensive output last season showed some of the promise that the Tampa Bay saw in him when they selected him with the first pick in the 2003 Draft. His defense is the one negative that has been hounded on by many experts and fans. After the season that he put together last year his value might be the highest it has been since the Twins acquired him from the Rays.

Jason Kubel ~ Trade Value: Moderate
As a young prospect in the Twins organization, Kubel flew through the minor leagues by showing that he could hit at every level. A knee injury might have prevented him from becoming all that he could have been. The Twins have a lot of outfielders in their farm system that are getting close to being major league ready. Kubel is also a a left handed bat that the Twins could spare. It is interesting to note that Kubel's best season and and Young's best season are very similar. Kubel in 2009: .300 BA, 28 HR, 103 RBI, and .907 OPS. Young in 2010: .298 BA, 21 HR, 112 RBI, and .826 OPS.

Kevin Slowey ~ Trade Value: Moderate
Mr. Slowey has been able to rack up double digit wins in each of the last three seasons. He would be under team control for many seasons as he isn't eligible for free agency until 2014. The Twins have multiple starting pitchers and trading one of them is something that the club is considering. Slowey was off to a great start first half in the 2009 season but an injury ended that season. In that first half he had 10 wins so it would have been great to see what he could have done with a full season.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top 5 Reasons the Twins Can Contend in 2011

Yesterday I wrote about the Twins and their recent role of being underdogs. There are many "experts" that are predicting the Twins to have a lackluster year following their successful first season at Target Field. While at the same time the White Sox and Tigers have rebuilt their rosters in attempt to knock the Twins from their perch on top of the Central Division.

The moves or lack of moves that the Twins have made this offseason has lead many to question what to expect from the coming season. There are question marks in the infield, the bullpen, and the starting rotation. With Spring Training right around the corner it will be fun to see how these story lines play out in the coming season.

Here my top 5 reasons why the Twins can contend in 2011:

Liriano's emergence as an ace
In the second half of the 2010 season, Francisco Liriano reemerged as the ace of the Twins pitching staff. From shortly after the All-Star break until the middle of September there was a stretch where Liriano went (8-0) and the Twins were (10-1) in the games that he started. An amazing stretch of baseball from the left-handed flame-thrower and the sign of his emergence as an ace. The Twins need Liriano to put together an entire season of the numbers that he amassed during his second half surge. With a Liriano led pitching staff the Twins would be pushed from a team from the edge of contention to the cusp of another division crown.


A healthy Morneau and Nathan 
Two of the biggest stories for the Twins last season were the injuries of closer Joe Nathan and 1B Justin Morneau. Assuming, and this is a big assumption at this point, both of these players are back at 90-100% then the Twins Opening Day roster takes a big jump in a positive direction. In each of the last two years the Twins haven't had Morneau to complete their end of the season run. A healthy and effective Nathan will take some of the question marks away from the bullpen situation. By having both of these players healthy there will be less concern that the team will have to deal with and it will make contention in the Central much easier.

Gibson as an ace in the hole
Seth Stohs wrote yesterday about when Twins fans can expect to see pitching prospect Kyle Gibson in the major leagues. The Twins already have a surplus of starting pitching at the major league level but Gibson can offer the team some protection as their "ace in the hole." The Twins have some question marks in their starting rotation and it will be interesting to see what the team decides to do with it as the team breaks camp. In recent years the Twins have been involved in talks around the trade deadline for a starting pitcher. Those talks never amounted to anything and so the Twins had to turn to internal option like Brian Duensing. Gibson can be the "shot in the arm" that the club needs in the second half to become contenders.

Mauer's (k)need for MVP #2
Joe Mauer enters the first year of the monster contract that he signed last spring and Twins fans are going to continue to expect a lot from their hometown superstar. In 2010 Mauer saw a decline in the statistical output that he had in his MVP season of 2009. There were nagging knee and shoulder injuries that kept Mauer from competing at 100%. Mauer is arguably the best catcher in baseball and he is one of the elite players in the game. If the Twins can rely on Mauer to carry more of the offensive load in 2011, the road to a third straight division title will be much smoother sailing.

Home Field Advantage
The Twins were only one game over .500 on the road last season. For a team that won 94 games that means that there was a whole lot of home cooking that was happening at Target Field. The Twins assembled a 53-28 record at their first season in their new home. During that time the Twins outscored their opponents by 86 runs. The Twins teach their pitchers to pitch to contact and Target Field played to the Twins advantage by being a "pitcher's park." The Twins sold out nearly every game last season as fans flocked to the wonderful atmosphere that the new facility provided. If the magic of Target Field carries over to season number two, the Twins will be pushing for the three-peat.

What are your reasons for thinking the Twins can contend? Leave a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Twins as Underdogs

This time of the year I love to be able to go to the local newsstand to pick up different news outlets MLB preview magazines. My favorite one that I usually purchase is the one that is put together by the Sporting News, but there are many other good editions out there that provide a wealth of knowledge on the coming MLB season.

In recent memory the Twins, for the most part, have been underdogs in the AL Central. This year is more of the same with the Twins being picked in most magazines as the #3 team in the Central behind the Tigers and the White Sox. The Tigers and White Sox have made some key additions this offseason and it makes sense to place them ahead of the Twins to start the season. If I was forced to make an unbiased choice right now, I would say that one, if not both, of these teams will finish ahead of the Twins.

These fictional rankings seem to always place the Twins in the role of underdog to start the season. This role has been common place for the Twins in multiple settings over the course of the last decade. The Twins have come back from the edge of contraction, they have fought back to win multiple division titles, and they have seen many players overcome adversity to succeed in dark horse roles.

There are many teams and players that have been accepting of their underdog status as a member of the Twins organization. Below you will find my votes in a few prestigious underdog categories from the last decade.

Most Underdog Pitcher: Johan Santana
At the beginning of his career it seemed like no one wanted to hang on to Johan Santana. He signed with the Houston Astros as an amateur free agent in 1995 at the age of 16. Four years later the Astros failed to protect him on their roster and he was selected by the Florida Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft. The Marlins didn't hang on to him for very long because later that day they traded Santana and cash to the Twins for Jared Camp.  The Twins were forced to keep Santana on their 25-man roster for the next season and he had his share of bumps and bruises along the way. Eventually he would develop the dominating change-up that Twins fans fell in love with during the mid-2000's and the rest is history. He would go on to win two Cy Young Awards and for his last few seasons with the Twins he was arguably the most dominating pitcher in the game. Mr. Santana had quite the turn-around from his early role as an underdog.

Most Underdog Position Player: Lew Ford vs. Nick Punto
This was a tough category for me to pick one player out of the bunch. Some of the candidates that I examined were Lew Ford, Nick Punto, and Jason Tyner. The first person off the list was Jason Tyner because he was the 21st pick in the draft in 1998. It is hard to be an underdog when expectations are that high at the beginning of your career. Punto (21st round) and Ford (12th round) were both very late round picks by their respective teams. Each of these players started their careers on the East Coast but only a small market club like the Twins could appreciate the talents they brought to the field. Both players had one outstanding season (Punto in '06 and Ford in '04) in the midst of their mediocrity. At the height of their popularity both of these players had a cult following amongst Twins fans. You can still spot Lew Ford jersey's at Target Field and Nick Punto's career will continue to be followed by many Twins faithful. If there were an underdog team, both of these players could be star players for that ball club.
Punto is upset at Ford. He wanted to be the only underdog.
Most Underdog Team: 2002 Twins
Has there ever been a more underdog team than the 2002 Minnesota Twins? The league had set them up to fail and had pushed the franchise to the brink of contraction. The young group of Twins players played with a swagger that allowed them to overcome every obstacle that was put in their path. Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, AJ Pierzynski, and Doug Mientkiewicz all came up together as part of the Twins farm system and that bond allowed them to beat many obstacles in that magical summer. In the first round of the playoffs the Twins were also huge underdogs against the Oakland Athletics that had steamrolled their way through the AL in the second half of the season. The A's won 103 games and were led by a pitching staff of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. The Twins were able to snatch the series away from Oakland in a decisive fifth game. ESPN the Magazine even proclaimed them "The Team that Saved Baseball." That sounds like the perfect title for a movie about an underdog team of misfits.
ESPN.com

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Adding one player from another team

Listening to Paul Allen on KFAN at the end of last week there was an interesting topic was brought up. The Super Bowl was fast approaching and PA obviously didn't want the Packers to succeed. The question was asked, "What single player on the Vikings roster when added to the Steelers roster would most benefit their chances?"

This topic made me ask myself the question, "What single player could the Twins add to their roster that would most benefit their chances in 2011?"

The obvious list could include a multitude of starting pitchers (Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, etc.). Since that list is rather excessive, I changed the focus of the question to be more specific to position players. Obviously money wouldn't be considered as part of the equation in this fictitious fantasy draft. What player would it be?

Projected 2011 Opening Day Line-Up
C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3B: Danny Valencia
SS: Alexi Casilla
LF: Delmon Young
CF: Denard Span
RF: Michael Cuddyer

The health of Mauer and Morneau is a factor for the Twins franchise as they look to the future but for this exercise I will assume that both of these former MVP's will be healthy in the future. For the Twins, the C and 1B positions are what they are building their franchise around.

The Twins are unsure of the production value that they will get from both of their middle infield positions. So adding a strong player that is a middle infielder would be a logical starting point on our search for a player to add to the Twins.

2B- Robinson Cano- New York Yankees
For a second baseman he combines power and average that are hard to come by at 2B. ESPN projects him to bat .317 with 28 HR and 112 RBI in 2011. It would be interesting to see how those power numbers would translate if he had to play his home games at Target Field. The one negative might be the fact that he would be another left-handed bat in the Twins line-up.

SS- Hanley Ramirez- Florida Marlins
One of the best young players in the game that could compliment many of the pieces that are already in the Twins line-up. He would be a right-handed power threat and he has a tremendous ability to steal bases. His attitude has caused some issues in the past and that could be a drawback. But an infield of Morneau, Nishioka, Ramirez, and Valencia sounds very good to me.

2B- Chase Utley- Philadelphia Phillies
At 32 years old, Utley is the elder statesman of these great middle infielders. His age might have caught-up to him last season as injuries took him out of a third of the season last year. A bounce-back year is expected from this All-Star 2B but like Cano he would be another lefty in left handed slanted line-up. He is also close to half a decade older than both of these other middle infielders.

If the Twins were going to make a mythical addition to their outfield, some of the players that would benefit the team are listed below.

OF- Ryan Braun- Milwaukee Brewers
An elite outfielder that is a rare commodity in the fact that he combines average and power. He can steal a few bases here and there but his real value is his offensive skills. For his career he has averaged 36 HR and 118 RBI. His right handed bat could be a force break up the lefties of the Twins. He is relatively young at only 26 years old so there are many years left in Braun's career.

OF- Carl Crawford- Boston Red Sox
One of the biggest free agent signings this offseason, Crawford is a five-tool player that has recreated the outfield position. He is a tremendous athlete and that athletic ability translates to fantastic defense and speed. Crawford is 29 and will no doubt see a decline in his athletic ability over the course of his contract with the Red Sox. He could fit nicely as a top of the order hitter for the Twins as they try to add more speed.

OF- Carlos Gonzalez- Colorado Rockies
Gonzalez burst onto the scene last season and contended for the Triple Crown in the NL. He wound up winning the batting title with a .336 average and showed that he is an everyday player. The Rockies gave him a contract extension to reward his outstanding season. It will be interesting to see if is able to continue to compile the numbers that he did in 2010. He will be 25 years old next season so he is in the prime of his career.

My pick to add to the Twins would be: Hanley Ramirez
The middle infield is the giant question mark for the Twins next season. If Ramirez were inserted as the SS, the Twins could have a dominate line-up. He would bring his offensive and defensive skills to the Twins. He would be a young addition to the team while locking down a major position on the field.

What single position player would you add to the Twins team? Leave a comment below.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top 3 Over and Underrated Twins

I stumbled upon an article on Bleacher Report this weekend that looked at the Twins through the lens of the top 5 over and underrated players on the team. When I posted this on Twitter I got some interesting responses to the players on the list. I decided that I should delve into the Twins roster and create my own list of over and underrated players for the Twins.

Here is the way that Bleacher Report ranked the Twins.
Overrated
Honorable Mention: Nick Punto (one last shot at Punto as he exits)
5. Denard Span (one good season + one OK season)
4. Carl Pavano (innings eater for the Twins, horse of the rotation)
3. Jim Thome (See below)
2. Joe Mauer (What???)
1. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Hasn't played a game yet, so there is no way to judge him at the major league level)

Underrated
5. Drew Butera (No offense or no offence, but he is the back-up catcher)
4. Brian Duensing (See below)
3. Matt Tolbert (a bench player who only had 100 plate appearances last year)
2. Joe Mauer (He's on both lists, now that's just confusing)
1. Michael Cuddyer (See below)

There are a variety of challenges in creating a list of over and underrated players because there is so much subjectivity that can go into picking one player over another. There are going to be many that view a player differently than the next person. In order to pick someone that is overrated, you must assume that other's value that player more highly than he should be valued.  In order to pick someone that is underrated, you must find players that provided value to the Twins while not being thought of in the highest regard.

Top 3 Overrated Twins (in alphabetical order)
Matt Capps- The Twins acquired Capps at the trade deadline last season in exchange for catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Capps took over the closer role for the Twins down the stretch and provided his share of ups and downs. He makes this list because the Twins overvalued Capps when they traded for him. This coming season he will be an insurance policy for Joe Nathan but there are others that could have filled this role. One of the key characteristics that makes him overrated are the amount of saves that he has accumulated over the course of the last four seasons (108 saves with 42 of them coming last year). He also was an All-Star last season because he was on a bad team and every organization gets to be recognized. In arbitration the Twins were forced to pay Capps $6 million for his overrated role on the team.

Jim Thome- The offensive value that Thome provided the Twins in 2010 might have been the saving grace of a team that lost an MVP candidate at mid-season. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was the third highest on the Twins last season behind Mauer and Morneau. He will be 40 years old next season and this could add to a lot of other problems that have shown in Thome in recent years. His back issues have prevented him from being an everyday DH. His presence on the basepath is an extreme hindrance and he often has to be replaced on the bases in close situations late in the game. Defensively he offers nothing to the Twins as Gardenhire won't even let Thome touch a glove in Spring Training. His offense and veteran leadership are why the Twins have him on their roster. He is a future Hall-of-Famer that is in the twilight of his career.

Delmon Young- There was plenty of upside when the Twins traded for Delmon Young before the start of the 2008 season. He had just won the AL Rookie of the Year Award and had a promising future ahead of him. The problem was in his first two seasons with the Twins he regressed from the outstanding numbers that he compiled in his rookie campaign. In 2010, he finally regained his offensive prowess but his defensive skills are still lacking. In his three seasons with the Twins his defensive WAR has been -4.7 while during the same time he has a 5.0 offensive WAR. Young's high RBI count last season pushed him to 10th in the AL MVP voting but watching him field a fly ball continues to be an adventure. For him to be considered a great player his defense is going to need a variety of improvements. He could be one of the cornerstone pieces of this franchise but he will need to gain more consistency from year to year on offense and defense.

Top 3 Underrated Twins (in alphabetical order)
Scott Baker- Baker has been searching for his inner Brad Radke since Radke retired at the end of the 2006 season. When Baker was younger it seemed that he would be a very similar player to Radke. His career path hasn't mirrored Radke's but Baker has been a vital part of the starting rotation on three division winning teams. Two out of the last three years he has led Twins starters in WAR. He has pitched 170+ innings in the last three seasons. By looking at all of those stats one could argue that he has been the Twins top starter since 2008. Baker isn't a perfect star but he has fit the mold that the Twins have created for him. 2011 could be the season that he shows the organization what they hoped they could get out of Baker since Radke's retirement.

Michael Cuddyer- The one veteran player that has been part of all of six of the the Twins division championships since 2002. His versatility has allowed him to play every position on the field except shortstop, pitcher, and catcher. This offseason ESPN's Jason Stark named Cuddyer to his All-Underrated Team. At the beginning of the 2010 season a Sporting News survey of General Managers named Cuddyer as the most underrated player in all of baseball. So the question remains, how long can you be considered underrated? The name Michael Cuddyer is not a household name to many major league baseball fans across the United States. Since 2002 there have only been two teams that have won their division six times, the Twins and the Yankees. Jeter, Rivera, and Posada are the well-known players that have been part of the Yankees recent run. Cuddyer is the lesser known, small-market veteran player that still clings to his underrated status.

Brian Duensing- The Twins could have tried to trade for some of the big name pitchers that were available at the last two trade deadlines but they had an ace up their sleeve. Duensing has a second half savior for the Twins in their last two division titles. He has been able to fill the role of relief pitcher, spot starter, and playoff starting rotation member. There were only two pitchers, Liriano and Pavano, on the Twins staff that had a higher WAR than Duensing in 2010. The Twins still don't know what Duensing's role will be in 2011 but Duensing has shown that he can succeed in a multitude of settings and roles. If the Twins allow Duensing to be part of the starting rotation for an entire season it could be a short amount of time before he becomes well known in the American League.

There can be many opinions on this topic. Leave me a comment and tell me who would be on your overrated or underrated list for the Twins.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Twins Links on a Friday

-Dave Brown at Yahoo's Big League Stew took a look at a new line of mustache silhouette T-shirts. He thinks the Twins version is Kirby Puckett but his first guess of Johan Santana might have been more correct.
Kirby or Johan?
-The Twins finally released the transcript of the Season Ticket Holder Fan Forum with Danny Valencia and Ben Revere. Check out their answers here.

-Seth Stohs has been recapping his weekend at TwinsFest over the last couple days. He had some "inside information" from a conversation with Bill Smith.

-KARE 11 and anchor Mike Pomeranz started a series of specials on new Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The first part in the series is below.


-Jim Crikket over at Knuckleballs blog took a look at another hot topic: The Great Tree Debate

-Twinkie Town is in the middle of their Best Baseball Movie Bracket Challenge. Who's left and who got eliminated so far?

-Twins President and University of North Dakota Alumnus, Dave St. Peter is now on Twitter. You can follow him @TwinsPrez.

-FOX Sports North has posted some Japanese phrases to help Twins fans make Nishioka feel more at home.
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I have posted this numerous times on Twitter, but if you haven't ordered a copy of The Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook by Seth Stohs, you should do it now. It's 170 pages and I even helped to put some of it together. I saw a preview copy last weekend and the book looks like it's worth every penny. Here is a preview for you to look over before you buy a copy for yourself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What's the Catch for the Twins?

The Twins have committed to having Joe Mauer and Drew Butera as their catchers on the major league roster to start the 2011 season. The organization felt comfortable enough in these two players to trade away Jose Morales this offseason to the Rockies in exchange for Paul Bargas. Before the trading deadline this past July the Twins also traded away their top catching prospect, Wilson Ramos, to the Washington Nationals for closer Matt Capps.

The organization is now left with a scary situation; What happens if Mauer or Butera is seriously hurt? Who would have to step-in and contribute to the Twins run at a third consecutive Central Division Championship? The Twins are searching for this answer and have invited six catchers to be part of the big league camp at Spring Training. 

Let's take a look at each of these players because they are one injury away from being a significant part of the 2011 Twins.

Jair Fernandez
Fernandez was able to make the same jump through the Twins organization last season as Kyle Gibson, High A ball to Triple A. His career started in the Seattle Mariners organization and he joined the Twins organization for the 2008 season. In 12 games at the AAA level, Fernandez struggled to make consistent contact and finished with a .176 BA. Across every level last season he had a .241 BA, 4 HR, .679 OPS. Defensively he had a fielding percentage of .987 last season and threw out 39% of would-be base stealers. At the AAA level that number was only 22%.

Chris Hermann
Hermann was the Twins 6th Round pick in the 2009 Amateur Draft and he played all of last season at High A ball in Fort Myers. In 107 games for the Miracle he batted .219, 2 HR, and a .611 OPS. He split time between catcher and outfield last season and actually spent more time in the outfield (63 games in OF vs. 42 games at C). In his games behind the plate Hermann had a .988 fielding percentage and threw out 36% of base runners. It will be interesting to see if the Twins continue to use him in the OF and at C or if he is going to shift more permanently to one of those positions.

Steve Holm
Holm is one of the two catchers listed here that does have major league experience. He combined for 53 games with the San Francisco Giants in 2008 and 2009. In that brief amount of games, he racked up a .264 BA and .760 OPS. Besides his major league experience, he spent parts of the last three seasons at the Giants AAA affiliate in Fresno. His 2010 statistics broke down like this: .246 BA, .725 OPS, 4 HR, 37 RBI. His numbers don't jump out at you but the amount of big league service time could shine in his favor.

Danny Lehman
Lehman has been part of the Twins organization since he was drafted in the 8th round in 2007. Last season saw him finally crack into the AAA level but he only managed 59 games between AA and AAA in 2010. His batting average continues to improve as he moves through the minor league system. With the Red Wings, he had a .263 BA in 88 plate appearances. In all of 2010, he had a .986 fielding percentage and was able to throw out 35% of runners.

Danny Rams
The Twins thought highly of Rams in the 2007 draft and used their second round pick to select him out of high school. At 21 he is still very young and he will continue to have time to develop in the Twins farm system. For his entire minor league career with the Twins, he has spent time between 1st base and catcher. Last season he played 50 games at catcher and 45 games at first base. He has slowly been making his way through the minors and ended last season at AA New Britain. In 2010, he batted .238 and he showed some signs of power by hitting 16 HR and 29 doubles.

Rene Rivera
Besides Holm, Rivera is the only other catcher to have spent time in the major leagues. For Rivera, his time in the majors came between 2004-2006 with the Seattle Mariners. In his 53 game big league career, he batted .227 and had a .585 OPS. Since his departure from the Mariners organization, Rivera has jumped to the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, and now the Twins. As part of the Yankees organization last season, he worked between AA and AAA with a .290 BA and .824 OPS. It was a break out season for Rivera after struggling through parts of the last three seasons.

There is quite the mix of young prospects and veteran players that compose the new catching crew for the Twins. The Twins will get to poke and prod each of these players in Spring Training to try and find their emergency catcher. Fingers will still be crossed that Butera and Mauer don't catch the injury bug this season.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gibson MANIA has begun

Lines stretched in both directions and seemed to be moving at a snails pace. Fans lined up hours early for the chance to get his signature on a baseball card, ball, or hat. This could sound like a TwinsFest situation that would apply to Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, or Danny Valencia. But in this case it refers to a player that is the Twins number one pitching prospect and on many lists he is the Twins overall number one prospect. The player I am referring to is Kyle Gibson. This is most likely the last TwinsFest that Gibson will be at the minor league table signing autographs for free and many fans jumped at the chance to get a signature from the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2010.

I talked to Gibson briefly in his photo session when he was taking pictures with the fans at TwinsFest. He was a very personable guy and seemed genuinely interested in meeting me and talking for a short period of time. His down to earth nature was even present in the autographs he was signing. Every autograph was accompanied by a Bible verse, Ephesians 2: 8-10.

For Gibson to succeed next season there are going to be a series of things that fans will look for out of their young star. The future hopes and dreams of a successful 2011 season can be linked to Gibson and his golden right arm.

How good can Kyle Gibson be?
Fans of the Twins are looking for some of the starters in the organization to step-up big this Spring Training. Gibson has a lot of other starters in front of him and it is likely, that following his first appearance in the big league camp, he will start the year at AAA Rochester. How long Gibson stays at that level will have a lot to do with how he is performing and how the pitchers are performing at the major league level.  

At this point Gibson has all of the potential to be a front of the rotation starter. He has shown this ability in college and in his first full season in the minor leagues in 2010. For the 2011 season the Twins have two other starters that are guaranteed to be ahead of Gibson, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. After that the Twins starting rotation picture gets a little cloudy. For Gibson to succeed he may need to play his cards right and take advantage of any opportunity that he is given at the major league level. That opportunity starts in a little over two weeks at the Twins Spring Training Complex in Florida.

What can Gibson bring to the Twins?
The Twins haven't been able to deal for a front of the rotation starter when it comes to the trading deadline. Making that late season run against the revamped Tigers and White Sox could be a challenge again in 2011. Gibson can be a mid-season move that brings energy and excitement to a team. The Twins wouldn't have to give anything up to get him and he could turn out to be as good as any other pitchers that are available on the market.

Besides the immediate influx of energy that Gibson can bring he can also offer the Twins stability in the starting rotation. The Twins have been grooming a variety of pitchers for the major league level and have yet to find the pitcher that could fit into the front end of their rotation. If Gibson can lock down one of the rotation spots in 2011 some of the pitching turmoil can be eased.

Is Gibson a Yankee killer?
The more important thing to ask might be can Gibson handle the pressure of pitching on the biggest of stage in the biggest of games. No one knows if the Twins are going to face the Yankees again in the playoffs. The Twins do know that Gibson has been able to perform at high level from college to his current minor league career. In their recent run of division titles the Twins have had a lot of big games down the stretch. Gibson will have to earn his stripes with the veterans of the Twins. If he proves himself worthy the Twins could have their rotation in order for a deep postseason run.

The future of the Twins organization has a lot riding on the right-arm of Kyle Gibson. Let's hope that signing autographs this weekend didn't wear that arm out...