Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hicks, Dozier among Twins named to AFL

Every season some of the best prospects in all of baseball meet in Arizona for what is appropriately named the Arizona Fall League. There are many purposes for a team to send players to the Arizona Fall League. It is used for pitchers that need to get more innings in, for hitters that need some more at-bats, and for various other reasons. 

The Twins named seven prospects to the Mesa Solar Sox for when play starts in the Arizona Fall League. The list of players includes Cole DeVries, Scott Diamond, Bruce Pugh, Brett Jacobson, Brian Dozier, Chris Hermann, and Aaron Hicks. Some of these names are familiar to fans and others could be unknown at this point but the Twins hope each will have an impact on the future of the franchise. 

Here is a quick profile of each of the players headed to Mesa to represent the Twins:

Pitchers
Cole DeVries, RHP 
3.50 ERA/ 87.1 IP/ 75 K 
2011 Teams: AAA Rochester, AA New Britain
DeVries is a native of Eden Prairie, MN and he signed with the Twins as a non-drafted free agent in August of 2006. He has shown the ability to be a reliable relief option for the Rochester Red Wings. His last ten games for Rochester have looked very good with a 2.25 ERA and only six runs allowed in those appearances. He has been forced to make a couple of spot starts for Rochester and he has a 7.71 ERA in those starts. The former Golden Gopher seems more comfortable in the bullpen and he could provide a lift to the 2012 Twins bullpen. 

Brett Jacobson, RHP
4.61 ERA/ 99.2 IP/ 79 K
2011 Team: AA New Britain
Jacobson was born in the Phoenix area so he will be heading back to his roots for the AFL. Out of his 36 appearances with the Rock Cats, he has made 13 starts for a team that is now fighting for a playoff spot. In his 23 games as a relief pitcher, he has posted an ERA of 4.74 while opponents hit .255 off of him. His numbers look similar in his 13 starts for the Twins AA farm team. As a starter, he has managed a 4.52 ERA with opponents managing a .234 average. It will be interesting to see if he is used as a relief pitcher, a starting pitcher, or a little bit of both in Arizona.

Bruce Pugh, RHP
5.69 ERA/ 61.2 IP/ 70 K
2011 Teams: AA New Britain, A Fort Myers
Pugh started the year in Fort Myers and was promoted to New Britain at the start of June. He seemed to be over-matched during his time this season at the AA level. In 12 games with New Britain, he slopped together an ERA of 9.00 and he was sent back to the Florida State League at the end of July. He has been given many opportunities to close this year for a total of 17 saves between the two levels. One of his biggest problems could be getting out of jams with runners on base. He ERA is a very high 8.85 when there are runners on so look for him to improve that number in the AFL.

Catcher
Chris Herrmann, C
.258 BA/.379 OBP/.382 SLG/ 13 DBL/ 8 HR 
2011 Teams: AA New Britain, A Fort Myers
Herrman did not play catcher until his second year in the Twins organization but now he has developed into a decent catching option for the future of the Twins. On occasion, he still plays outfield but most of his reps are taken from behind the plate. The 23-year old sixth round pick of the Twins has shown a little pop in his bat this year with 30 extra base hits. Last offseason, the Twins had to bring in some veteran catchers to fill the higher levels of the organization. Herrmann could prove himself to be a viable option at catcher for the Twins in the AFL.

Infielder
Brian Dozier, SS
.318 BA/ .400 OBP/ .489 SLG/ 30 DBL/ 9 HR
2011 Teams: A Fort Myers Miracle, AA New Britain Rock Cats
There has been some buzz surrounding Dozier in the last couple weeks with the numbers he is putting up for the Rock Cats as they fight for a playoff spot. Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire has even taken notice and he has expressed some praise for New Britain's SS. Dozier has a .380 BA against left handed pitching with the Rock Cats but most of his power has come off of right handed pitchers. Of his 19 doubles at the AA level, 16 of them have come against right handed pitching. There was a small possibility that Dozier would be one of the September call-ups to the Twins. It will be interesting to see if that has changed now that he is headed to Arizona.

Outfielder
Aaron Hicks, CF
.230 BA/ .345 OBP/ .345 SLG/ 28 DBL/ 5 HR
2011 Team: A Fort Myers Miracle
The biggest prospect on this list has to be the young outfielder Mr. Aaron Hicks. His season has been a roller coaster ride at the high A level in Fort Myers. The first three months of the season saw his batting average increase each step of the way. After hitting .211 in the month of April, he hit .286 in May and an outstanding .337 in the month of June. It has been a nightmare since then for Hicks with a .178 BA in July and a horrible .146 BA in August. Hopefully, the competition in Arizona will bring out the best in one of the top prospects in the Twins organization. 

Some of the names of players NOT on this list are surprising to those that follow the Twins minor league system. Alex Wimmers and David Bromberg each had reasons for missing some time this year and not hitting their innings limit in 2011. Wimmers was the Twins first round pick in 2010 and he struggled mightily with his command at the beginning of the year. Bromberg had his arm broke by a line drive earlier in the year and missed some time because of the injury. Each player has worked their way back to form and many thought the Twins would use this opportunity to let them increase their innings pitched in 2011.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Valencia has shown defensive flaws

In the Metrodome years under Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire, the Twins focused on having a good fielding team behind a pitcher that could pound the strike zone. The Twins had some great defenders in those years that prided themselves on making the routine plays and the extraordinary plays. Fielding the baseball has been a core value of the Twins for multiple generations.

In his rookie season with the Twins, Danny Valencia showed decent ability at third base to make the plays that were required of him on the field. His range and movement were satisfactory and his offensive skill set looked promising enough to let fans hope he would be the third baseman for the foreseeable future.

2010 Defensive Statistics
Defensive War: 0.5
Total Zone Fielding (Rtz): 6
Range Factor/Game: 2.68
Fielded ball resulting in out: 91%
% of bunts resulting in outs: 70%

Valenica has turned into the team's iron man this season by playing in a dozen more games than his closest teammate, Michael Cuddyer. Alexi Casilla is third on the list of games played and Valencia has appeared in 32 more games than Casilla. All of the extra time on the field for Valencia means that he has plenty of opportunities to make (or miss) plays when fielding the ball at third base.

The manager has been quick to jump on Valencia in games when the young player has struggled. There have been plenty of those opportunities this season and Monday night was another chance for Gardenhire to voice some constructive criticism of Mr. Valencia. There are many defensive plays that Valencia seems to have limited range in all directions. He does rate better on balls hit to his right than to his left but the stiffness in fielding is still there.

2011 Defensive Statistics
Defensive War: -1.8
Total Zone Fielding (Rtz): -18
Range Factor/Game: 2.22
Fielded ball resulting in out: 84%
% of bunts resulting in outs: 44%

One of the most important plays for a third baseman to make is charging in on a bunt to get an out. Former Twins players Corey Koskie and Nick Punto were very good at approaching the bunt down the line and making the appropriate play on the batter. The slow roller down the line has become a very difficult play for Valencia to make in the middle of a game.

In 2010, Valencia had ten bunts that he fielded while playing third base. Out of those ten different plays, he recorded an out 70% of the time. A very good percentage when you consider some of the situations that he would be placed in when a batter bunts the ball. For example, Evan Longoria won the Gold Glove in 2010 for his defensive prowess at third base. Last season, Longoria had 32 opportunities to field a bunt and he managed to get an out on 63% of those plays. 

When it comes to bunted balls in the 2011 season, Valencia has shown his fair share of struggles. There have been 16 balls that were bunted his way so far this season. In 2011, the percentage of those plays that have resulted in outs is only 44%. There have been numerous plays throughout the year where Valencia will charge the ball and try to make the bare handed play. Much like last night, those plays have resulted in Valencia missing the ball and the runners being safe. 

There are obviously plenty of things to work on for the entire team during this offseason. Last year, Valencia spent time working with Alex Rodriguez near their homes in Miami. Hopefully, A-Rod can pass on some of his defensive knowledge to the Twins third baseman in the coming offseason. The three extra days of drills at Spring Training might not be enough time to fix all of the team's defensive flaws. 

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On Sunday night, I was lucky enough to host the "SethSpeaks.net Sunday Night Minnesota Twins Podcast." I covered a wide variety of topics in the half hour show so make sure to check it out. 

On Monday night, I joined Seth to help him out with the "Twins Minor League Weekly Podcast." We talked in awe of the great players for the Elizabethton Twins as well as other minor league headlines.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Rockies want Cuddyer in offseason

The Denver Post is reporting that the Rockies will take a hard look at adding a veteran player at either third base or in the outfield. The top player on their list is current Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer. If Cuddyer is available after the season, the Rockies will push hard to make him a fixture in their line-up.

The Rockies were expected to make some noise in the National League West this season. But like the Twins, Colorado has struggled in multiple facets of the game. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are the two biggest offensive threats for the Rockies and they could use some help around them if the team is planning on returning to winning baseball.

The Twins are going to make a hard push to keep Cuddyer in the Twin Cities. Their first offer to Cuddyer seemed like a slap in the face to the veteran do-it-all player for the Twins. The team offered him a contract for two years with a salary of $16 million. Some have speculated that he could get a four year contract at $40 million on the open market. If that is offered to Cuddyer, the Twins might have to part ways with a player that has become a fan favorite.

Cuddyer has made it be known that he would like to end his career in a Twins uniform. At the end of his career, it might be tough to keep him around but at his current ability level he could still be a very valuable asset to the Twins.

My hope is the team can come to terms with Cuddyer for a three year contract for a total value of $27 million. Obviously, that could be considered a hometown discount but Cuddyer knows the Twins need to add other parts to be successful in the next couple seasons.

Mauer's offseason could be career defining

It is hard to know what side to be on when it comes to criticizing Joe Mauer in regards to his toughness. In a seasons that is lost for the Twins, the local media outlets need to find something to write stories about for the next month. The easiest thing to do is to point fingers and blame different people as the source of the team's woes in 2011. Mauer is only one piece of a crumbling puzzle that has dissolved into what is left of this season for the Twins.

The biggest star on the Twins roster has missed plenty of time this season because of a wide variety of injuries. At the beginning of the year, there were plenty of struggles on the field for Mr. Mauer. His swing did not look right on the field and it was almost embarrassing to watch him hit in the middle of the Twins batting order. When the team diagnosed him with bilateral leg weakness, there were questions that swirled about the nature of this ailment and the severity of the symptoms to a catcher.

Neck soreness has kept Mauer out of games at the end of this most recent homestand. The Twins were also forced to call up Rene Rivera to have a third catching option on Sunday. Fans have criticized Mauer in the past but for some this has been the final straw that has pushed them to question the toughness of their hometown star.

It also did not help that in the middle of the homestand Michael Cuddyer was drilled directly in the wrist by a fastball. He played the very next day before the results of his MRI had be revealed to himself and the team. This situation definitely did not portray Mauer in a good light. If Cuddyer can play a day after rolling on the ground from being hit by a pitch, why was it impossible for Mauer to be on the field with a sore neck? Even though many people pointing fingers at Mauer had forgotten that Cuddyer missed time in the last month with his own neck soreness problems.

Mauer got sick of the criticism on Sunday and made sure that his voice was heard about the plan he has in place for the coming offseason. He has committed to increasing his offseason regimen and he plans to get his program up and running with the right people pushing him to get better. This is something that should be a no-brainer for a player that is getting paid like one of the top five players in all of baseball. With that kind of pressure and expectations, Mauer should be working to improve his offseason condition every year.

At 28 years old, Mauer is locked into a contract with the Twins for the foreseeable future. The issues with his knees, neck, feet, and other parts of his body are hard to ignore at this point in his career. Mauer has voiced his frustration at missing chunks of time in, what feels like, every professional season with the Twins. Changes needed to be made for Mauer and the Twins need him producing at a high level on the field for the entirety of the 2012 season.

Good players should have the internal drive to push themselves to be great players. The greatest players in baseball history are able to put together consistency over a long-term career by producing at the the highest level. Joe Mauer has said in the past that he wants to be a member of the Hall-of-Fame and he needs to stay healthy for most of the remainder of his career to put up those kind of numbers. He wants to be able to catch but the Twins need his legs to be healthy enough to handle the riggers of catching and still be able to hit for power.

When baseball historians look back on the playing days of Mr. Mauer, this coming offseason could define the career of Joseph Patrick Mauer...

The future of his Hall-of-Fame career depends on it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fans accepted Thome as a Twin

For the first two seasons at Target Field, Twins fans were privileged to get to watch one of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game of baseball. Jim Thome brought an aura of greatness to a team that already had plenty of stars. Tales of his home runs have become the stuff legends are made of across Twins Territory.

Jim Thome agreed to be traded to the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night. The Twins will get a player to be named later in return for the aging slugger. Overall, this move was not about what the Twins got back in a trade. It was about getting Thome closer to the pennant race in what could be his final season. He will go back to the city that got him started on his path to greatness. The Indians are currently second in the American League Central but the team is 6.5 games back of the Tigers. That would be quite a comeback to chase down the Tigers but anything is possible with a little of Thome's magic.

When Thome came to the Twins at the beginning of the 2010 season, there was no reason for fans to connect with the slugger. He had tormented the Twins with multiple teams in the American League Central. Besides the Detroit Tigers, the Twins have been victim to more Thome home runs than any other team. He had played more of the role of villain than that of hero in Minnesota.

The first year at Target Field would get rid of any of those negative feelings for Thome. Fans could come to the ballpark and hope to see a ball blasted into the starry night. There were so many memories in the last two years that have connected Thome to the Twins franchise for years to come.

He passed Harmon Killebrew on the all-time home run list with the Twins and that was a special moment that seemed to connect the two greatest home run hitters to wear a Twins uniform. He would go on to have his walk-off home run against the White Sox and the shot off of the flag pole in right field.

There has been very little positivity surrounding the Twins this season. There have been brief moments that will be remembered by fans for their importance to the club. At the beginning of the year, the Twins lost one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise, Harmon Killebrew. The memorial service at Target Field offered fans a chance to relive many of the memories of their star slugger. Thome played a small part in the service by climbing to the highest seat in Target Field to show fans the distance of Killebrew's longest home run at Met Stadium. Later in the evening the gentle giant, Thome, would be brought to tears from the emotions of the night.

Thome's chase for his 600th home run seemed like the only thing that was left for him to accomplish during his short time with the Twins. That feat was accomplished on the last road trip and now it was time for Thome to move on from the Twins franchise.  

Fans did not have to accept Thome as one of their own during his time with the team. Thome made himself hard to resist with his play on the field and his magnificent attitude off of the field. He was raised in the Midwest and that attitude helped to endure him to the culture of Twins Territory. He was a hard worker and he came to the park everyday with a positive attitude that was infectious to the rest of the ball club. This type of future hall-of-fame player does not walk through the door everyday and the Twins were lucky that he picked Minnesota for the last two years.

When Thome gets the call to Cooperstown, he will be wearing the hat of a different club than the Twins on his plaque. That will not matter to fans of the organization because of the memories he etched during his time here. For the last two seasons, fans of the Twins were witness to one of the best players in this generation. It was an honor to get to see Mr. Thome wear a Twins uniform and some part of me will always remember him as a Twin. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waiver circus has arrived for Kubel, Thome

National and local media reports swirled yesterday with the news that Jim Thome and Jason Kubel had been claimed on waivers by an unknown organization. Word slowly trickled out during the evening that the claiming team in both instances could be the Chicago White Sox. With a little more than a month left in the season, the White Sox are in third place in the AL Central and 6.5 games out of first place.

There are few things left to accomplish in the career of Jim Thome. He recently passed the 600 HR threshold and the rest of his statistics look Hall-of-Fame worthy. The one glaring item missing from his resume is a championship. He reached the ultimate stage twice in the early part of his career but the Indians failed to win the World Series in both of those appearances. In his contract, there is a full no-trade clause so any deal that the Twins make with another team would have to get the OK from Mr. Thome.

Kubel provides an interesting case for the Twins since he is a free agent at the end of the season. It would be best for the team to get something for a good left-handed bat in their line-up. There is a chance that he would leave in the offseason so anything in return is better than nothing. The team would have the same opportunity to resign Kubel in the offseason if the team wants to add him back to the squad.

With all of this being said, this sets up a flurry of things that could happen in the next two days (or nothing at all could happen, depending on how you look at it). Here is a look at just a few of the things that could happen before the weekend.

1. Both players traded to team that put in the claim: A lot of this depends on how much the teams are willing to give up in return. Thome most likely will not be worth much to another team. Kubel offers some versatility that could be attractive to a contending team in the stretch run. There could be a chance that the claiming team did not actual want these players and they were trying to block another team from acquiring their services.

2. Thome could veto a deal: If Chicago is really the team that claimed Thome, there is no guarantee that the White Sox would qualify for the playoffs. The White Sox and Indians have been falling behind the streaking Tigers and Thome could want a guaranteed playoff birth. There might be some bad blood in the water between Thome and the White Sox from the first time that Thome left the organization. As a veteran and future Hall-of-Famer, he has the control in this situation.

3. Place Thome on release waivers: This could be the next step for Thome if he vetoes the first claiming team's location in the standings. By doing this, the Twins would be allowing Thome to reject a move to any team that tried to claim him in the coming days. He would essentially become a free agent and that free agency would likely bring him to Philadelphia to reunite with former mentor and coach Charlie Manuel. Reports out this morning claim that owner Jim Pohlad might be against this option for Thome.

4. Pull both players back off of waivers: The Twins could pull both players back off of waivers and let them finish the year with the Twins. With the way the team has been playing, this situation seems the most unlikely out of the options discussed above.

5. A combination of the above options: I expect the strange and unusual with the way this season has gone for the Twins.

Out of the Twins pending free agents, I hoped that Kubel would be the one the team would push to keep in the offseason. A trade with only a couple weeks to go in the season still leaves the option on the table for the two sides to agree to a deal before next spring. The weird thing would be seeing Kubel in another uniform for the first time in his career.

I am glad that Thome got to 600 home runs with the Twins but I think he deserves a shot at another World Series ring. I would like to see him on the bench for the Phillies by the end of the weekend so he can push for a title in the National League. He has been fun to watch the last two seasons but his time has come to an end in Minnesota.

UPDATE: Reports have now come out that Thome was claimed by the Cleveland Indians and Kubel was claimed by the Chicago White Sox. It would be fitting for Thome to end his career in the same place that he started it in Cleveland. The White Sox are going to offer a lot for Kubel since he has the potential to be a Type A free agent in the offseason. The Thome deal could happen but the Kubel deal is doubtful at this point.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's the Twins' biggest problem?

The folks over at the Star Tribune had an interesting poll that I passed over yesterday. The poll asks readers, "What's the Twins' biggest problem?"and then it gives fans seven choices. There are quite a wide variety of selections to choose from and each one of the choices has been given some votes by the readers. As of this morning, there had been well over 5,000 people that had taken the poll and two answers stood out above the rest.

Mistakes by the front office
With 31% of the vote, Twins fans have put a lot of blame on Twins GM Bill Smith and the other members of his staff. The toughest thing for fans could be the fact that JJ Hardy is in town and having a decent series against his former team. His replacement at SS, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, has been out of the line-up and underperforming all season. The Twins also let many of their best relief options leave the team as free agents. The club tried to fill those roles with players from within the organization (see "Lousy relief pitching" below).

Bad starting pitching
It has been tough to watch some of the recent outings by the starting staff of the Twins. Pitchers are struggling to go late into games. The team has relied on the bullpen more often than it should have to over the course of a season. Fans have taken notice of the above listed facts and this came in second in the poll with 24% of the vote. Scott Baker has been the best starter for the Twins and he has made multiple trips to the disabled list. Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, and Brian Duensing are all in the MLB top 12 for hits allowed and runs allowed this season.

Poor years for Mauer and Morneau
The M&M Boys have frustrated fans enough to finish third in this very unscientific poll. It is going to be hard for any team to succeed when the two best offense players on the squad miss a significant amount of playing time. Even since they have been back in the line-up, they have not been themselves from the offensive side of the ball. Fingers are crossed in the Twins organization that both of these players can show some life in the last few weeks of the year. Both players will be back in the line-up next year and the Twins need production from their former MVPs.

Weak offense
The fourth place finisher in the poll is tied to some of the other problems that have already been discussed. The poor years by Mauer and Morneau are going to be at the heart of the Twins offensive woes. Trips to the disabled list have caused almost every player on the Twins roster to miss some time. Delmon Young regressed enough from last season that the Twins got him out of town. The Twins also relied on an unproven middle infield prospect from Japan that has not worked out in favor of the team.

Lousy relief pitching
The Twins core of relief pitchers has cost the team multiple wins this season but fans seem to put more of the blame on the starters. The Twins have been forced to use three different closers for saves this year. There have been multiple players that have been back and forth between Rochester and Minnesota as the team tries to figure out who is the best options in the bullpen. The Twins knew at the onset of the season that there would be a lot of unproven help in the bullpen. That was a risk the team was willing to take and it backfired on the organization.

Terrible defense
The Twins have prided themselves on having solid defense behind their pitchers. This stems from the fact that the team's pitching philosophy has been to pitch to contact. If the defense can't make the plays, the pitcher doesn't want to pitch to contact. The younger players the Twins have relied on this season have provided some headaches with their mental slips on the field. The positive side of the coin is that each of these players is learning from their mistakes. That could be a great help to the 2012 version of the Twins.

Wrong decisions by Ron Gardenhire
Fans seem to be on the side of their manager in this poll. Gardenhire has been having a tough time doing any managing in a year when there have been few options on the bench. Following a season in which he won the Manager of the Year Award, Gardy has tried to bring some respectability to a team that is struggling to find wins. As a former coach, I can assume that Gardenhire has worked a lot harder with this younger group of unproven players than last year when everything seemed to click for the team. That is part of the ups-and-downs of coaching.

What do you think is the Twins' biggest problem?

Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.

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There are only a couple days left to try and win my new contest at NoDak Twins Fan. There are three easy ways to get yourself qualified to win a great DVD about Game 7 of the 1991 World Series

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sano, Rosario locked in home run battle

There have been two players that have started to come into their own for the Minnesota Twins this season. Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario are each fixtures in the middle of the line-up for the Elizabethton Twins, the high rookie level team for the Twins organization. These players took different paths when joining the Twins and now they are locked in a tight battle for the home run lead in the Appalachian League.

Eddie Rosario
The Twins used a fourth round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft to pick Rosario our of Rafael Lopez Landron High School in Guayama, Puerto Rico. At 18 years old, he was sent to join the GCL Twins for the 2010 season. In that year, he put up very good numbers with a .294 BA, 5 HR, and a .781 OPS. But looking at those numbers, it is easy to see that there was some room for improvement. 

Rosario has exploded this season to become one of the most feared hitters in the Appalachian League. His batting average has climbed to .310 with a .964 OPS for the year. He has also shown a tremendous ability to steal bases with 15 for the year. The biggest jump for Rosario has been in power production and that is shown in his nine doubles and six triples. He is also tied for the league lead (see below) with 16 home runs on the season including five in his last ten games. 

Miguel Sano
One of the biggest free agent signings that the Twins have accomplished in recent memory could turn out to be this young man. A 16-year old Sano was one of the most highly touted international players in 2009 and the Twins gave him over $3 million to join their organization. At the beginning of the 2010 season, he started with the Dominican Summer League Twins and played 20 games for that club. Sano destroyed hitting at that level and was then given the opportunity to join the GCL Twins for the last 41 games of the season. Between the two levels, he combined for a .307 BA with 7 HR and an .870 OPS.

Sano is one of the younger players in the Appalachian League this season but that still has not stopped him from becoming a power threat for the Twins. His batting average and strikeout rates show that he is still very young but his power potential is evident in the rest of his statistics. He has a .276 BA with 15 doubles, six triples and a .934 OPS. Like Rosario (mentioned above), Sano is tied for the league lead with 16 home runs on the season including six in the last ten games. 

The recent stretch of games seems to show that these two players can feed off of each other's performance at the plate. They seem to have the attitude that "anything you can do, I can do better" and that has come out in the last ten games. The battle for home run supremacy in the Appalachian League will be fun to watch as the season comes to a close. It will also be fun to see how high each of these players ranks on top prospect lists at the conclusion of the season. 

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I am having another contest at NoDak Twins Fan. There are three easy ways to get yourself qualified to win a great DVD about Game 7 of the 1991 World Series

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Is Swarzak this year's version of Duensing?

The last two seasons have seen the Twins insert a young pitcher into their rotation late in the season to give the team a spark for the home stretch. In both of those seasons, the team was fighting for a playoff spot and a division title. Now the Twins find themselves well out of the race but the situation could be presenting itself again. There have been struggles from multiple members of the starting rotation and the team could be forced to make a change with a little over a month remaining in the season.

For the second time in two days, Anthony Swarzak was called on out of the Twins bullpen to relieve the starter. On Sunday, Swarzak threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Nick Blackburn who left with one out in the second. Earlier in the weekend Swarzak had come after a rough outing from Kevin Slowey. Between these two relief appearances, Swarzak threw 86 pitches and allowed only four hits and two runs.

Could Swarzak be this year's version of the Duensing that the Twins relied on in '09 and '10?

Swarzak has made five starts for different reasons throughout the 2011 campaign but he has really latched on to the long-relief role for the Twins. When Scott Baker recently was sidelined with an injury, the team originally discussed using Swarzak in the rotation. His value as a reliable relief pitcher was too much to ignore and the team called-up Slowey to replace Baker.

Stats Summary: Starting Pitcher (Relief Pitcher)
IP: 31.1 (32.1)
ERA: 3.16 (3.34)
WHIP: 1.053 (1.392)
BA: .217 (.268)
BAbip: .225 (.288)

The Twins will be looking to make some changes when the team enters Spring Training next season. Blackburn's injury provides Swarzak with a try-out for a spot in the rotation for the 2012 campaign. There is even the possibility that the Twins will move Blackburn or Brian Duensing to the bullpen to help solidify a noticeable weakness for the team. That would leave the Twins looking at Slowey, Swarzak, or another minor league pitcher to fill spots in the rotation next season. The recent injury to top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson definitely puts a wrench in the long-term plans of the starting rotation.

In the final month of the season, it would be nice for the Twins to see if Swarzak can provide a spark to a starting rotation that has been flickering out in late weeks of summer. The lack of consistency from the starting staff has been frustrating to watch for fans across Twins Territory. The up-and-downs of a team that has underachieved are hard to fathom for an organization that has constantly produced winners in the last decade.

Swarzak might not be a long-term solution as a starting pitcher but the Twins will not know what they have in him unless he is given a shot to be a starter on a consistent basis. The team has already seen what they have in Duensing and Blackburn and now it is time to find out what Swarzak can offer a depleted starting rotation.

Is Swarzak this year's version of Duensing? Only time (and a spot in the starting rotation) will tell.

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I am having another contest at NoDak Twins Fan. There are three easy ways to get yourself qualified to win a great DVD about Game 7 of the 1991 World Series

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Off-season of changes awaits Twins


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I am having another contest at NoDak Twins Fan. There are three easy ways to get yourself qualified to win a great DVD about Game 7 of the 1991 World Series

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The quickly approaching off-season will be full of tough decisions for the Minnesota Twins. Following a season that fell short of expectations, the team will need to decide which players will be part of the organization’s long-term plans. Those decisions could play a huge impact on the 2012 version of the Twins.

Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, and Matt Capps are all pending free agents. With those players combined salaries of around $26 million, there is a lot of money coming off of the books for next year. The team will have to contemplate about what is the best way to spend the team’s newly available funds. They will also have to decide if they want any of the above listed players to be back in a Twins uniform.

There are also some other tough decisions to make with players that are arbitration eligible for the 2012 season. Should the Twins try and keep a player like Francisco Liriano around and hope for better production on the field? Will this talented player have more to offer the Twins? Or is finding a trade partner for him a better option? The Twins have already parted with Delmon Young in order to avoid an arbitration situation with him in the offseason. But there are plenty of other tough questions that the front office will have to answer in the coming months.

There is also the possibility that the Twins will try and trade other players during the off-season. Denard 
Span was rumored to be involved in multiple trades around the July 31st trade deadline. The organization could revisit some of those trade offers during the winter to find a suitable deal for the team’s starting centerfielder. The concussion issues that have followed Span in the second half of this season have most certainly brought down his trade value. 

Joe Nathan provides another tough decision for the Twins. The team has $12.5 million option on Nathan’s contract for next season or the team can buyout the last year of his deal for $2 million. There is a good chance the team will take the buyout but could the Twins offer Nathan a contract for less money so he can finish his career with the Twins? The team will need a closer next season and Nathan could provide a security blanket for the late-innings of games. 

The Twins could reevaluate Tsuyoshi Nishioka at the end of the season. He has looked very overmatched at the big league level in multiple facets of the game. There have been numerous defensive blunders and half-hearted swings from both sides of the plate. With the money the team gave Nishioka, there is a good chance he will be used in some capacity next season. Fans might want Nishioka's role to be a much smaller capacity unless there are significant changes to his game in the coming weeks. 

The Opening Day line-up for the 2012 Twins could feature changes at multiple positions on the field. Tough decisions are on the horizon for the front office but that is why they are paid the big bucks.

Now it is time for them to earn that money…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

CONTEST/GIVEAWAY: Baseball's Greatest Games DVD

It is time for another CONTEST/GIVEAWAY at NoDak Twins Fan. This time the item up for for grabs is a DVD called "Baseball's Greatest Games: 1991 World Series Game 7." You can see the title here:  http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=300740&v=aetv 

The folks at A&E Home Entertainment and MLB Productions are releasing a set of 11 DVDs that includes the best games in the history of the baseball. There are some great games that are part of the set and it will be released on September 6th. 

I have been graciously given three copies of the above DVD by A&E Home Entertainment and MLB Productions. This means there will be three different ways to win this DVD of one of the greatest moments in Twins history.  

Here are the three different ways you can qualify yourself to WIN!

COMMENT: To go along with the theme of baseball's greatest games, leave a comment on this post about the greatest game that you have ever attended. Maybe it was your first game? A World Series game? Game 163 at the Dome? Tell the tale of the greatest game you have ever witnessed. 

TWEET: Ask me a question about the Twins on Twitter (Send your tweet to @nodaktwinsfan). These questions can be about the current Twins, the Twins minor league system, or other general baseball topics. I will compile the best questions and put them in a post with my answers in the coming weeks. 

EMAIL: Send me an email at nodaktwinsfan@gmail.com with your top 5 prospects in the Twins organization. There has been some shake-up at the top of most people's lists with the recent elbow injury of Kyle Gibson. I have started to research my offseason list of top prospects in the Twins organization and I would love to hear how other's feel about the future of the franchise.   

Enjoy the contest! It will end next Friday, August 26th. 
And make sure to check out www.twinsbaseball.com for all of your Twins ticket and merchandise needs.

**Prizes courtesy of A&E Home Entertainment/MLB Productions. To claim prizes, the winner will need to provide his/her mailing address to representatives of AEHE/MLBP and prizes can only be shipped to addresses in the Continental US. NoDak Twins Fan is not responsible for delivery of prizes.

Perkins showing signs of overuse

There have been many struggles this year for the Twins out of the bullpen. The use of multiple closers and inconsistency from various pitchers have characterized the late-inning pitchers for the Twins. The organization also had to deal with the loss of many reliable relief options in the free agency process. The plan for the Twins heading into the season was to put together various unproven bullpen pieces and hope that it would work out.

That plan did not work out to perfection this season.

Even with all of the negativity surrounding the bullpen, there have been positives from some of the relief pitchers. Glen Perkins would have to be one of the most biggest positives for the Twins in a season that does not have many positive performances. He has shown the ability to get right-handed and left-handed batters out in some tough situations. Combine that with his increased velocity and Perkins has been one of the most reliable set-up men in the majors this year.

After being almost perfect for most of the season, Perkins seems to have hit a rough patch in the last  two weeks of the season. On August 5th, the lefty saw his ERA drop to a minuscule 1.45 after pitching 1.1 innings against the White Sox. In the very next game versus the same team, Perkins gave up two earned runs for the first time all season. A couple of days later, he found the dangerous Boston line-up tough to handle by giving up three hits in an outing for only the third time this season. Boston would again prove too much for Perkins on August 10th when he blew the lead in the eighth before the Twins scored two in the bottom half to win the game. In Cleveland over the weekend, Perkins coughed up the go-ahead run to give the Indians the victory.

Before this tough stretch of games for Perkins, he seemed to be almost untouchable when he was on the mound. He had not given up runs in three consecutive outings all season. Only one other time had he given up multiple hits in consecutive appearances. In his last 20 outings prior to these bad games, Perkins had allowed five hits and one earned run with an 0.51 ERA. This also included him striking out 21 batters in only 17.2 innings pitched.

Last night in Detroit seemed to be the topper on the Perkins is struggling argument. Perkins entered the game in the eighth inning after the Twins had just scored in the top half of the inning to take a one run lead. Victor Martinez greeted Perkins by doubling to center field. The next batter Alex Avila walked on six pitches to fill first base. After a mound visit, Perkins threw all fastballs to Jhonny Peralta but none of them found the strike zone. Peralta walked to first to load the bases with nobody out in the inning. Matt Capps would enter the game in a tough spot and Perkins' night was complete after failing to record an out.

With the possibility of the team losing both Joe Nathan and Matt Capps, Perkins is going to have a significant role in the Twins bullpen in 2012. He has shown that he can be a reliable option in the late innings of games to get some big outs in tough spots. This recent rough patch of games has been tough for Perkins and in the dugout last night it was clear to see the frustration on his face. In his first full season as a relief pitcher with the Twins, it seems as if he might be entering the territory of being overused by his manager. After last night's debacle, it will be interesting to see how the team will use Perkins in his next few outings.

The Twins may need to rely on Perkins even more next season but overusing him in 2011 is not going to help his chances in 2012.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Concussion issues lingering for Span

For the second year in a row, the Twins are dealing with one of their star players having concussion issues. Denard Span missed most of the month of June and July while he recovered from a concussion that he suffered on a collision at the plate. He returned to the Twins line-up at the beginning of August but in the last week Span has been forced to sit out of games while he struggles with some of the after effects of his concussion.

Since returning to the line-up, Span has been trying to find his rhythm at the plate. In 35 at-bats, he has only managed two hits which comes out to a .057 batting average. Span has also struck out nine times in the month of August. During the worst stretch of his return, he struggled through an 0 for 27 slump at the plate. These are not the type of numbers the Twins want from their young lead-off hitter and it shows how dangerous concussions can be to a player. 

The Twins organization is well aware of the scary side of concussions from the ordeal that Justin Morneau went through last season. The power-hitting Canadian slugger missed the entire second half of last season while recovering from a concussion he suffered trying to break up a double play. Morneau returned at the beginning of this season but the struggles were easy to witness in multiple aspects of his game. Recent wrist and neck surgery have the former MVP starting to look like himself again but it has taken a long time to reach this point. 

With a little over a month and a half left in the season, the Twins have played their way out of contention in the AL Central. This can allow the Twins to approach the end of this season differently than other seasons when the team was in contention. There is no reason to rush injured players back to help with the playoff push. Over the weekend in Cleveland, it was reported that Span had considered sitting out the rest of the season to completely recover from his concussion symptoms. Obviously, this is not a good sign for Twins fans.

Even with all of the factors discussed above, it seems as if the Twins are still determined to get Span back into the line-up in the next couple of days. He was penciled into the line-up on Monday night before becoming a late scratch shortly before game time. On Tuesday night, the Twins let Span rest again as he tries to help his body adjust to new medication. The team doctors and coaches are working with Span to make sure he is ready to be back in the line-up. 

In a season that is all but lost, I hope the Twins do not make a mistake by pushing Span back on the field. There is no reason to rush him back and if he were to get another concussion the affects could be devastating on Span's future career. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twins' top draft picks pushed to the deadline

Yesterday was a busy day for the Twins organization. The team started the afternoon by trading away one of their corner outfielders to a division rivial. The game that evening would feature an early home run from former Twin Delmon Young and two much more magical home runs later in the game by Jim Thome. The night would end with some important moves for the future of the Twins franchise.

Shortly before the deadline to sign draft picks, the Twins came to terms with their first round pick and both of their supplemental round picks. These must have been tough negotiations for the club and each player pushed the team's checkbook to the limit as the deadline approached on Monday. 

Levi Michael: First round, 30th pick
I reported almost a month ago that the Twins were very close to signing Levi Michael to a deal. Various media outlets had reported that Michael had already been to the Twin Cities to take a physical. It seemed like it would be only a matter of days before he would be signed and playing in the minor league system for the Twins. 

That did not happen as planned and it took the Twins until the final hour on Monday night to work a deal with their first round middle infielder from the University of North Carolina. The puzzling thing for Twins fans could be the bonus that Michael was given before the deadline. If a player is holding out, it is only natural to assume he wants to sign for over the slotted amount for his position in the draft. Michael's place as the 30th pick should garner a $1.089 million signing bonus. He ended up signing for an amount that was minimally higher than his place in the draft, $1.175 million. With a number that close to the slotted amount, it seems as if the Twins should have been able to strike this deal much earlier in negotiations.

Travis Harrison: Supplemental round, 50th pick
One of the most intriguing picks for the Twins in the June draft was that of Travis Harrison. A big high school player that can mash the ball all over the field. Out of the Twins first round picks, he has the most raw ability to develop into a player that could be a large part of the future of the franchise. His commitment to the University of Southern California was strong so the Twins were going to have to overwhelm him with an offer to join their organization. 

The league's recommended signing bonus for the position Harrison was taken in the draft is $705,600. The Twins did their best to overwhelm Harrison by offering him $1.05 million to become a member of their franchise. That offer was too much for Harrison to ignore and he passed on his collegiate career to become a professional baseball player. Most believe this would be the toughest player for the Twins to sign and it makes sense because of his raw talent at the plate. 

Hudson Boyd: Supplemental round, 55th pick
Boyd became the first player out of this trio to sign his name on the dotted line. Boyd is a strong right handed pitcher that is listed at 6'3" and 235 pounds. He also grew up close to the Twins Spring Training facilities in Fort Myers, Florida. Pitchers seem to have the upper-hand when it comes to negotiating deals in the draft. Combine this fact with his commitment to Florida, a college baseball powerhouse, he was going to be a challenge to sign. 

As with the other picks listed above, the Twins had to sign Boyd for more than his slotted value in the draft. According to the recommendations of MLB, the 55th pick in the draft should be signing for a bonus of around $653,000. The Twins made sure that Boyd would not attend the University of Florida by offering him a signing bonus of $1 million, a hard figure to ignore for a high school senior. 

Thome joins elite 600 club; connections to Killebrew?

There seems to be few words to describe the type of player and the type of man that James Howard Thome has become to the game of baseball. On Monday night, Thome entered the rarified air of the greatest power-hitters of all-time. He joins names like Aaron, Ruth, and Mays who have all paved the way for his historic game in Detroit.

In a season where the Twins lost the greatest power hitter in team history, it seems only fitting that there is a connection between Thome's game last night and Harmon Killebrew. On Thome's way to 600 home runs, he passed Killebrew's mark of 573 at Target Field in 2010. Killebrew had a wonderful message at the time for Thome and the powerful sluggers seemed more connected since that day.

Flashback to an August day at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. Harmon Killebrew had been pressing at the plate and was stuck on 499 home runs. The date was August 10th and Killer had not hit one out of the yard since July 25th. This day at the plate would be different for Mr. Killebrew. He would end the day with two home runs and his placed etched in history. The iconic photo from that day leads to the present day with Jim Thome...
Flash-forward to the present day and it once again is an August night. This time there is another slugger that has been struggling to reach a milestone. Jim Thome had not hit a long ball since August 8th and he sat two home runs shy of the 600 home run club. This night would be different at the plate for Mr. Thome. He would end the night with two home runs and his place etched in history.
However, the connections do not stop there...

The most moving night in the short history of Target Field took place earlier this year with the memorial service for Harmon Killebrew. Thome played a small part in the service by climbing to the highest seat in Target Field to show fans the distance of Killebrew's longest home run at Met Stadium. Later in the evening the gentle giant, Thome, would be brought to tears from the emotions of the night.
Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome never played on the same field during their careers but there continues to be connections between these two Paul Bunyanesque figures in the Twin Cities. Thome provides younger fans of this generation with a player that can provide some reference to how great Killebrew was for the Twins. In the year of Harmon's passing, it is even more important to be reminded of his greatness.

These men are not just two of the greatest baseball players of all-time; they are also two great men for all-time. Class acts on and off the field that provide role models that will stand the test of time.

Greatness like this does not come around too often and when it does it is important to savor every moment of it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Young trade conjures up memories of Mientkiewicz deal

I was at the Metrodome celebrating my birthday weekend in 2004 when the Twins made a deadline deal to trade fan favorite first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz to the Boston Red Sox as part of a four-team deal. One of the most intriguing parts of the deal was the fact that the Red Sox were in Minneapolis to play the Twins. This meant that the Mientkiewicz had a short walk to switch teams for the first time in his nine-year career.

On Monday afternoon, a similar plot played itself out for the Twins as they traded away the rights of Delmon Young. The Twins are in Detroit to play the Tigers and Young is now a member of the Twins division rivals in Detroit. Young found out that he was now a member of the Tigers as the Twins rode the bus to Comerica Park. Tonight he will suit up for the opposition and bat in the middle of the line-up for the first place Tigers (and he already has a home run in his first AB),

There are various reasons that the Twins have decided to part ways with the former number one pick in the draft. The Twins had a log-jam in the outfield and it seems that Young became the odd-man out for the Twins. There also seemed that improvements were hard to witness from the 25-year old during his time with the Twins. His defensive play was so horrendous that there are very few words to describe the paths he took to the ball and his overall lack of hustle.

It seems more apparent now that the Twins were not planning on offering Young arbitration in the offseason. This means that trading him now for something would be better than getting nothing for him in the offseason. The Twins are getting one minor league player now, LHP Cole Nelson, and a player to be named later. It seems that the player to be named has already been decided but he is currently not available to be traded; most likely because he is on the disabled list.

I will always remember the offensive campaign that Young put together in 2010. He was a big part of the Twins run to a division title in their first year at Target Field.

But I can't say that I am sad to see Young leave...


Plouffe provides a perplexing case for Twins

The Twins have gotten puzzling play from various players in the organization this season. Multiple teams throughout the Twins organization are floundering nowhere near the .500 mark. There are always going to be players that either perform or do not perform up to expectations at each level. The transition between different levels can be a tough move for players. Some players can not make the adjustments that are necessary and that can lead to the end of their careers in baseball.

One of the more perplexing figures for the Twins this season has been Trevor Plouffe. He has made repeated trips between the major leagues and the Rochester Red Wings. His big league campaign in 2011 has been a tough one to watch in many respects. There have been inconsistencies at the plate and blunders in the field. On the other hand, Plouffe has shown the ability to dominate minor league pitching with his bat. After parts of four seasons at AAA, there seems to be no reason for him to make a trip back to Rochester.

Stats Summary: MLB (AAA)
G: 38 (51)
BA: .202 (.313)
OPS: .664 (1.019)
BAbip: .220 (.319)
HR: 5 (15)
DBL: 5 (11)
K: 28 (39)

On Ron Gardenhire's weekly radio program, he discussed some of the options that are left for Plouffe in the rest of 2011. It seems as if the Twins are looking to give Plouffe more consistent playing time at the big league level. Plouffe has a hard time finding his swing with the Twins when he is only playing once or twice a week. When Plouffe had the opportunity earlier in the year, he did not take the everyday starting role and run with it. Now he has spent more time around the club and the consistent playing time could produce better results on the field.

The Twins could have a rough road ahead of them for the rest of the season. There are going to be some big decisions made in the coming months about numerous players in the organization. Plouffe's offensive ability in the minor leagues has been hard to ignore this year. The Twins can only hope that with more playing time Plouffe's swing will make the transition from the minors to the big league level.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Draft deadline now mere hours away

The deadline for signing draft picks is quickly approaching for teams that still have picks left unsigned from the June draft. This coming Monday, August 15th, at 11:59 p.m. marks the deadline for teams to come to agreements with their future prospects. The deadline does not apply to players drafted out of independent leagues. It also does not apply to college seniors that were taken in the draft.

The Twins still have to sign their first round pick and both of their supplemental round picks. Levi Michael, the Twins first round pick, just finished his junior year at the University of North Carolina. Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd were seniors in high school before they were selected in the supplemental round by the Twins. That is a lot of talent left on the table with the deadline now mere hours away.

Reports at the middle of July had the Twins close to signing Levi Michael. He has already been to the Twin Cities to take a physical and it seemed that the team was close to coming to an agreement. It has now been a month since those reports and Michael has yet to sign his name on a deal with the Twins.

As of last night, only nine of the first round picks have been signed so there is still hope a deal for Michael can be completed before Monday night's deadline. If Michael does not sign with the team, the Twins would get a compensatory pick in the 2012 draft to take the place of their lost pick in 2011.

A week and a half ago, it seemed that a deal with both of the Twins supplemental round picks was still a ways away from becoming a reality. Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd are both high level talents that are young and have college as an option to improve their baseball abilities. The Twins would not get compensation for Harrison or Boyd not signing with the team. This means there is a good chance that the Twins will have to pay bonuses that are over the slotted amount for their position in the draft.

The Twins talent level in the minor leagues could be greatly upgraded with the addition of these three players. Reports last night had the team confident that deals will get done in time but the clock is ticking for the Twins to get each of these players to sign on the dotted line.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nathan saves the best for last

The Twins had to make room to call-up Joe Mauer at the beginning of the 2004 season and that meant trading away AJ Pierzynski. The team was able to deal Pierzynski for a pool of players that included prospects Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and a relief pitcher named Joe Nathan. In scouting the Giants, the Twins had seen something in a lanky right handed relief pitcher and thought he had a chance to become the team's closer. Nathan more than fulfilled that scouting report and the rest is now history.

On Wednesday night, Joe Nathan broke the record for most saves in the history of the Twins organization. The Twins have a multitude of high level closers that have come through the organization over the years and Nathan had to pass them all on the way to his 255th save.

Twins All-Time Saves Leaders
Joe Nathan: 255
Rick Aguilera: 254
Eddie Guardado: 116
Ron Davis: 108
Jeff Reardon: 104

It was great to see the emotion out of Nathan last night when he completed the save. It has been a rocky road for Nathan and this record meant a lot to him. His long road had gone through may obstacles from starter/relief pitcher with the Giants to elite closer with the Twins to Tommy John surgery and now to this moment. It may seem like a simple record to break but Nathan has seen the type of respect that Aguilera still gets in the Twin Cities. That is the respect level that Nathan has now earned for himself. 

The Twins have been lucky enough to have reliable options at the back end of the bullpen for much of the last two decades. If the team had a lead going into the ninth inning, the coaches could count on the game being put in the win column. Nathan provided this same safety net for the Twins with his electric fastball that could be blown by opposing batters. 

Nathan may never reach his elite closer level status again but for one night in August the magic was still there on the mound. That same magic that Nathan brought over in a container full of Metrodome dirt. The magic that has followed this team to division championships and an unbelievable Game 163. 

The magic has always been there for Mr. Nathan and he has now etched his place in Twins lore, a well deserved place for a great man. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Morneau's return offers a glimmer of hope

The Twins are in the midst of a tough stretch of baseball to watch for fans and the organization. The team continues to find ways to lose games and the home-stand that ended last night was tough to stomach (even with a win against Boston). Not that long ago it looked as if the Twins might be able to fight their way back in a very weak division. Now many of those hopes have been dashed and most fans have started to look toward the future.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that first baseman Justin Morneau will return on Friday when the team heads to Cleveland for a three game series. This is earlier than was originally thought for Morneau after overcoming a wrist injury and surgery on his neck. He has been hitting the ball very well for AAA Rochester and this could be a good sign for Twins fans.

Morneau has not finished a season off of the disabled list since 2008. He is due to make $14 million in each of the next two seasons and that means the Twins want to get everything they can out of Morneau in those years. These next few weeks could be huge for lifting the confidence of Morneau as he enters an offseason with no lingering injuries.

During his time on rehab assignment, reports have said that Morneau has been chomping at the bit to get back with the club as soon as possible. Morneau has a chip on his shoulder and he is ready to show the team he can return to his MVP form of previous seasons. Facing off against the revamped Morneau could be a daunting task for any opponent.

The Twins still have the opportunity to play spoiler in the race for the AL Central crown. The Tigers, Indians, and White Sox will be battling for the title and the Twins can upset some of those dreams. Morneau has put up good numbers against all three of those squads in his career and he could help to lead the upset effort.

Morneau can offer a glimmer of hope for the rest of the 2011 and hopefully that glimmer will carry over into 2012.

Twins continue rehab philosophy for Tommy John candidates

Many fans of the Twins organization have been waiting to hear the news about two prospects that have been suffering from elbow issues. Kyle Gibson and Anthony Slama have been in the Twin Cities this week to meet with team doctors and to undergo a variety of tests on their injured throwing joints.

News came out yesterday that both of these players will not require surgery on their arms at this point. They are both headed to Florida to try rehabbing their injuries at the Twins Spring Training facility. Slama has a strained flexor pronator muscle and Gibson has the same strain as Slama along with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.

The ulnar collateral ligament is the ligament that must be replaced in the elbow during Tommy John surgery. Just having a tear in this ligament for Gibson means that things could have been worse for the young right handed pitcher.

Rehab could work for him but how have the Twins faired with this in the past?

With Gibson heading to rehab, the Twins are continuing a trend with their possible Tommy John candidates. The Twins seem to attempt to rehab an elbow injury before turning to surgery. Francisco Liriano and Pat Neshek each tried to rehab their elbow injuries but both of these situations ended with the player under the knife.

Major surgery on the elbow is never something to take lightly for a pitching prospect. To many fans, the thought of Tommy John surgery seems almost commonplace in this day and age of baseball. The Twins have many in their organization that have recovered from the injury and former number one pick of the Nationals Stephen Strasburg has drawn national attention on his road to recovery.

Whether surgery is now or in a couple months, all of next season will be lost for Mr. Gibson. Joe Nathan showed the Twins that with a lot of determination a player can recover fairly quickly from this major surgery. But even with the best estimates, it would still be close to a year before Gibson could be on the mound again.

The Twins first round picks in 2009, Gibson, and 2010, Alex Wimmers, are both pitchers that have run into some issues this season. Wimmers seems to be back on the right path in recent weeks. Each of these players projected to be part of the Twins rotation at some point in the next two or three seasons. Various set-backs could now keep that from happening.

For the near future, Twins fans are left to hope that rehab is the right solution for Gibson and Slama.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Slowey finds his way out of the doghouse

One of the more questionable things that happened around the July 31st trade deadline for the Twins was the fact that Kevin Slowey stayed with the organization. After the falling out that the Twins and Slowey had earlier in the year, it seemed logical to think that Slowey would be wearing another jersey to end the 2011 season.

The team was in a tough spot with a player that other teams knew the Twins were trying to dump. The organization did not receive an offer that was too good to refuse. The trade deadline came and went and Slowey was still a member of the Twins. 

It is amazing to see how much can change during the course of the season. At the beginning of July, it seemed there were very few people who thought that Slowey would have a future with the Twins. Now in the beginning of August, the Twins were forced to put Scott Baker on the DL with an elbow injury. This meant one of the few options for the Twins to take his place was Kevin Slowey. 

Slowey is scheduled to start on Sunday and this will mark his first appearance in a game for the Twins since the end of May. He has only pitched in six games for the Twins this year and he has yet to start a game in 2011 for the fourth place team in the AL Central. 

The entire situation with Slowey was something that seemed to be handled incorrectly by both the Twins and Mr. Slowey. The Twins had too many starters at the beginning of the season and Slowey became the odd man out. While relegated to the bullpen, Slowey found a variety of injuries that kept him from pitching. Eventually, the Twins wanted Slowey as a bullpen arm and Slowey was not able to adapt to this new role. 

There is a new door open for Slowey and he has an opportunity to show the club that he did not belong in the doghouse. He is still under team control for a couple seasons so the team could fit Slowey back into the long term plans of the organization. Injury concerns over top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson have made Slowey an asset that the team might be lucky to have for the rest of this season and next year.

Now it is time for Slowey to prove his value on a team that is struggling to find consistency from their starting pitchers.  

Looking at Twins batting practice from a new angle

One of the benefits of being a member of the Twins Season Ticket Holder's Club is the chance to take part in a variety of Sweet Spot Rewards Program Events during the course of the season. On Monday night, I was able to take part in one of those events by getting to enter Target Field an hour before gates opened to watch the Twins take batting practice.

Other season ticket holders and myself gathered outside Gate 29 to be let into the stadium before most other fans had even thought about getting in line for the game. When we entered Target Field, one of the Twins representatives escorted us to the overhang near the flag poles in right field (see picture above). This is where we were suppose to gather for the event and it seemed like a good spot to catch some home run balls.
Upon arriving in our designated area, most of the team was gathered along the right field foul line to play catch. Dustin Dimmler, a buddy that shares season tickets with me, got the first ball of the day that was tossed to him by Anthony Swarzak. A few minutes later I was tossed a ball by Matt Capps as he finished playing catch with Alex Burnett. The ball was in really good shape and looked like it was straight out of the package.

This view was not good enough for us so we quietly moved from the overhang in right field to the foul line down the first base side. We definitely were not suppose to do this but in the end this turned out to be a great decision. Our new location became a heaven for collecting foul balls because there was only one other family of four along that side of the ball park.
My buddy and I each had our ball gloves on and we were ready to use them for any flying white objects that made their way into the stands. A ball came flying at the family that was near us and the dad tried to catch it with his bare hand. The ball rolled to me and my buddy but we already had a couple balls so we handed it back to this group. They had two kids with them and we made sure that each of them left with a ball.
Later in the batting practice session a couple of balls came in succession to me. One was off of the bat of Jim Thome and the other was off of the bat of Jason Kubel. I threw the Kubel ball to some of the other season ticket holders and I kept the Thome ball for myself as a souvenir of the day.

OUR TOTALS FOR THE DAY:
Dustin, my buddy: 3 balls
Me, NoDak Twins Fan: 4 balls
TOTAL: 7 balls

There is a story that goes along with one of the balls that I had received on this day. I had two balls left in my bag as the gates opened for the evening game. I had given the rest to other people that were around for the STH event. We started to make our way around Target Field and I knew that I had an extra ball that seemed to be burning a hole in my pocket. There had to be someone out there that would enjoy this ball more than me.

I eventually saw a family that had a boy that was around two to three years old. They were standing looking at the field near Gate 34. The little man was situated behind his parents and I walked up and pulled the ball out of my bag. I asked him if he knew who Matt Capps was and of course he shook his head no. I told him that Capps had tossed me the ball and that I wanted him to have it. A huge smile went across his face and his mom asked if it was okay for me to take a picture with her son. I left by telling him to cheer loud for the Twins and he was still amazed by his new treasure.

A very fun experience for myself and I am glad that I got to brighten some people's day with the simple gift of a baseball.