Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

The first two games of the season have been complete and I can honestly say I have yet to watch a single pitch. One of the problems was that both of the contests were not on any major channel and the other issues was the games were being played very early in the morning. I still don't know how I feel about the first two games of the season being played in Japan. It is great to spread the game to international markets but I love when all of the games are being played in the first couple days and there is one game after another on ever ESPN station. With the way it is set up now, the A's and the Mariners have already played two of their games and it seems to take a little something away from the Opening Day that will take place in the US next week.

The great thing is this is the last edition of Friday Links-N-Thinks before the Twins have their own Opening Day contest in Baltimore. In Fort Myers, the roster is starting to come together and the team looks close to being ready to make a push in the AL Central. Justin Morneau started to swing a good bat this week with multiple home runs. Joe Mauer has been hitting well for most of the spring and he seems ready to get back to his injury-free self. Francisco Liriano has put together some impressive outings and he could be poised to make a splash in the rotation for the Twins.

Overall, it is the most wonderful time of the year as the wait for the beginning of the 2012 season is almost over. Here are a variety of stories from the last week that I enjoyed with a little humor splashed in for some fun. Enjoy the links and have a fantastic last weekend without Twins baseball.
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: In the time Jim Thome spent in Minnesota, he was never asked to step on the field as a fielder and there was no reason for him to do this with the AL having the DH. Time have changed for Mr. Thome as he signed a free agent contract with the Phillies in the offseason. Now he is going to be forced to play at first base from time to time in order to get himself into the line-up. Here is the video proof that he can still make a tough play at first base. It wasn't the most graceful thing in the world but he got the job done.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Replacements could fill back end of the rotation

The Twins went into the start of this spring with a little different feel in regards to their starting rotation. Last season there was a battle between six or seven players to fill the five roles needed to complete the starting rotation at the beginning of the year. This year the Twins seemed set with five players penciled in to occupy the rotation when the team would break camp for the start of the regular season. Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, and Jason Marquis were all set to be the five men to lead the pitching staff but some issues have arisen in the last week and it looks like the plan will have to change for the Twins.

Baker has been dealing with some elbow tendinitis that has limited his ability to get on the field for some of his recent scheduled outings. In his last start on Monday, he suffered through a disaster as he got lit up for seven runs in 2 2/3 innings pitched. If Baker can't get stretched out before the start of the year, the Twins will have to look for some different options to fill his spot in the rotation. He was in line to get the home opener start for the Twins at Target Field on April 9 but it is looking more and more like someone else will be taking the mound that day.

The other pitcher dealing with some off field family issues is Jason Marquis. His 7-year-old daughter was hospitalized after a serious bicycle accident and he has been away from the team for over a week. According to the team, he has been completing some throwing session while he is away but they still don't know when to anticipate him returning to the squad. Family matters are always going to take precedent over your job in the big leagues especially when it comes to a serious injury to a person's child. Fans of the Twins have been sending their thoughts and prayers to the Marquis family. But on the baseball side of things, his absence from the team leaves another spot open in the starting rotation.

There are three pitchers who could be asked to fill the void left by Baker and Marquis. Liam Hendriks, Anthony Swarzak, and Matt Maloney are all being stretched out so they can be ready to step into the starting rotation if they are called upon. Hendriks and Swarzak were both part of the starting rotation at the end of the miserable 2011 season and Maloney is a new member of the Twins organization. Here is a brief look at each of these players and what each of their chances are to be in the rotation by Opening Day.

Liam Hendriks
2011 Season: 6.17 ERA, 23.1 IP, 16 K, 6 BB, 1.500 WHIP, 4 games
2012 Spring: 2.40 ERA, 15.0 IP,  12 K, 5 BB, 1.200 WHIP, 6 games
As the reigning Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year, the team was going to take a long look at Hendriks before deciding where he should start the year in 2012. He started last year in Double-A and he put up some impressive numbers on his way to making his debut for the Twins. During the 2011 season, he made only nine starts at Rochester for a total of 49.1 innings. This means there was a good chance the team wanted him to get in some more time at Triple-A before he was needed with the big league squad. He might be the most likely player to step into the starting rotation because he was the only one out of the three that was in line to begin the season as a starter. He is already able to throw 75 or 80 pitches in a game and that number could be higher by the time the Twins break camp. 

Anthony Swarzak
2011 Season: 4.32 ERA, 102.0 IP, 55 K, 26 BB, 1.343 WHIP, 27 games
2012 Spring: 3.86 ERA, 9.1 IP, 6 K, 4 BB, 1.393 WHIP, 5 games
The Twins asked Swarzak to fill quite a variety of roles last season from late inning relief pitcher to long man out of the bullpen and even a starter here or there along the way. He seemed to adjust well to his varying role on the team and he pitched a near-no hitter on May 28 versus the Angels by allowing one hit over the course of eight innings. Swarzak was in position to make the 25-man roster as a relief option but that role might have to be adjusted in the next week and a half. Until the Twins get some of their other starters back on the field, Swarzak could be asked to go back to his role as fill-in starter. On Tuesday afternoon, Swarzak pitched 3 2/3 innings without allowing a hit against the Orioles. In the game he was able to throw 59 pitches so it is most likely that he would need a little more time to be fully stretched out.

Matt Maloney
2011 Season: 9.16 ERA, 18.2 IP, 13 K, 4 BB, 2.143 WHIP, 8 games
2012 Spring: 0.00 ERA, 11.1 IP, 14 K, 3 BB, 0.705 WHIP, 7 games
Maloney has put on one of the top performances so far in the spring for the Twins. His spring stat line looks unbelievable but it is hard to judge a player off of such a small sample size. Maloney's time in the majors last year with the Reds was not very productive so the Twins hoped a change of scenery would bring out the best in him. He spent most of the last four seasons stuck at the Triple-A level with a total of 80 innings pitched in the big leagues. For most of his career, he has been used as a starter and the Twins were trying to get him to be more comfortable as a relief pitcher. He may need to revert back to his old role of starter before the season begins so the Twins can have a full starting rotation. Maloney will take his perfect ERA to the mound on Thursday as he is scheduled to start the Twins contest against the Pirates.

The lucky thing for the Twins is they have an off day worked into the early portion of their schedule so the team won't necessarily need a fifth starter for the first time through the rotation. In the grand scheme of things, the team will be able to survive with the likes of Hendriks, Swarzak, and Maloney as replacement players. The concern could be if these players are forced to take on a more permanent role in the rotation for a big chunk of the 2012 campaign.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gibson could be the 2013 Opening Day starter

The injury to Kyle Gibson's arm last year put a damper on what was suppose to be a big season in his life. At this point last year, there were many who thought Gibson only missed out on a spot in the rotation because the Twins had too many other arms who were already on the big league roster. The overall consensus was that Gibson would be making his debut in 2011 and he would go on to be a member of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future.

This plan didn't go exactly as the Twins had hoped and in September Gibson was forced to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. The team's number one pitching prospect would be pushed to the sidelines for most of the next season and the organization had to start taking a hard look at some of their other pitching options. Liam Hendriks showed a few positive signs in the last month of the season but there are few other top prospects in the high levels of the minor leagues.

When a player is coming off of a major arm injury like Gibson, it is hard to imagine him coming back and being ready to go at full force after taking 12 months to rehabilitate his arm. That being said, there is the possibility that Gibson could be in line to be the Opening Day starter for the Twins at the beginning of the 2013 season. A lot of things would have to go right before the first pitch of next year but there is enough evidence to make this look like it could be a possibility.

The members of the starting rotation that are under contract for next year are few and far between. Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, and Carl Pavano can all become free agents at the end of the 2012 season. This leaves Nick Blackburn as the lone member of this year's projected starting rotation that is under contract for the start of the 2013 campaign. It is scary to think of Blackburn as the Twins number one starter for next year but it also means an injury to his arm and the Twins could be looking in a new direction.

The Washington Nationals have put together a blueprint for the Twins to follow when it comes to a top pitching prospect who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Stephen Strasburg, the number one pick in the same draft as Gibson, has been working his way back from the same type of injury. Gibson's surgery was in September of 2011 and Strasburg went under the knife in September of 2010. Since the timeline for recovery is around 12-months, the Strasburg plan is a realistic one for the Twins to mimic. This would mean that Gibson could complete a variety of minor league starts to work his way back to the Triple-A level. If the team thought he was ready, he could make his debut at the end of the 2012 season. 

Last week the Nationals announced that Strasburg would be the team's Opening Day starter in his first full season back from surgery. Even with the honor of starting the first game of the season, Strasburg will be on an innings limit as the team has stated that he will only pitch 160 innings before being shut down for the year. It will be interesting to see if the Twins use a similar scenario with Gibson to try and reduce some of the strain on his arm in his first full season since the surgery. A lot will depend on how his body reacts to being back on the mound in the later portion of the upcoming season.

Gibson is hardly the favorite to be on the mound for Opening Day next year but it isn't out of the realm of possibility to imagine a situation where he could be given the starting nod. He would most certainly have to debut at some point in the 2012 season because the team wouldn't allow a starter to be making his debut on Opening Day. The team would also have to be confident that Gibson was completely healthy and ready to handle the rigors of a full season at the MLB level. It might be in Gibson's best interests to get a handful of starts under his belt with Rochester before getting called up to take his spot in the starting rotation.

It is also hard to know what the team will do on the free agent market. Will the Twins go after a big name pitcher to fill a role in the rotation? Could Liriano, Baker or Pavano be back with the club?

These are questions to be pondered over by Terry Ryan and some of the other front office brass for the Twins. A situation where Gibson would be the number one starter on Opening Day could be a tough sell to fans of the Twins. Recovering from a major injury can be a tough road for a lot of players and the main hope for fans of the organization is to have a healthy and productive Gibson in the starting rotation for 2013.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Could Capps perform better than Nathan in '12?

The Twins saw their long-time closer Joe Nathan leave the team in free agency this offseason. With his departure to the Texas Rangers, the organization turned to a familiar face to fill the closer role by signing Matt Capps. Before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Nathan had been one of the best closers in the game and he got a lot of guaranteed money to be the closer for the two-time defending American League champions. The Twins weren't ready to make this kind of offer to Nathan and the team seemed happy to settle for the cheaper option in Capps.

Nathan's first spring with the Rangers has been a nightmare so far as he has struggled in his trips to the mound. In his very small sample size of five innings pitched, he has allowed eight earned runs on eight hits with three of those hits being home runs. His ERA of 14.21 looks more like a football score than a stat line of an elite closer. The 37-year old pitcher's statistics don't worry his pitching coach Mike Maddux as he focuses on Nathan trying to hone all of his pitches before the end of the spring. A lot of veteran pitchers can spend their outings during the spring working on specific pitches and location of those pitches so spring numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Even with that said, there can't be too many fans of the Rangers who feel a lot of confidence in their newly signed closer.

Capps hasn't had a perfect spring but he hasn't done anything to make the team think he can't handle the closing duties. In seven innings pitched, he has given up three earned runs on seven hits with two of those hits being home runs. Capps has also been getting some work in during B games because he was determined to pitch multiple innings at least once this spring. At the beginning of last season, Capps was called on to get outs in more than one inning and his arm didn't like the transition to this role. He had done this extra work in B games before every other season with the exception of last year.

By considering all of this information, is there any way that Capps could end up performing better than Nathan during the 2012 season?

One of the first things to consider when it comes to projecting the performance of these players is the difference in their ages. Nathan will be 37 for the entirety of the upcoming season and he has dealt with multiple seasons in his career with major injuries. Capps is nine years younger and he has a lot less wear and tear on his arm over the course of his career. Nathan is on the decline of his career and Capps should still be near the prime of his playing days.

Another aspect to factor into performance is to reexamine the recent performance of these two players in the regular season. Both Nathan and Capps had some rough patches in the 2010 season and there were a few injuries the duo had to fight through to make it to the mound. Capps was very good in June with an ERA of under one but that was sandwiched between two terrible months in May and July with an ERA of over six. Nathan's second half of the year was much better than the first half and this is what gave Texas the confidence to sign him to a multi-year contract.

The Rangers and the Twins play in two vastly different ballparks that play to different strengths of specific players. The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has been known to carry the ball out of the park with it's combination of hot summer weather and hitter friendly dimensions. In the first two years at Target Field, batters have found some difficulty hitting the ball out of the park and there has been discussions about the dimensions be tough for batters. In 13 games and 60 plate appearances, Nathan has given up only one home run and four doubles in Arlington. Capps has a much bigger sample size at Target Field and he has allowed six home runs over 213 plate appearances. With that being said if I were a pitcher, I would much rather be pitching in the friendly confines of Target Field.

Besides the Twins and Rangers having very different environments for their home ballparks, these teams are projected to have very different results in the 2012 season. The Rangers should be near the top of the AL West and they will be fighting to represent the AL in the World Series for the third consecutive year. The Twins are trying to rebound from one of the worst seasons in franchise history and many experts aren't picking Minnesota to finish anywhere near the top of the division. This should mean that Nathan will have plenty of more opportunities to rack up saves during the season. Capps might not be in line to have as many saves as Nathan but his other numbers could stack up very close or even better.

Overall, the thought of Capps having a bounce back season would be a welcome sign to Twins fans looking for something to peak their interest in 2012. Nathan will still probably have a decent season on a team that should be very good. It would just be fun to see Capps end up with the better numbers at the conclusion of the season.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Revere becomes outfield's odd man out

A year removed from what could be called an exciting rookie season, Ben Revere looks as if he could be the odd man out in the battle for a starting outfield spot with the 2012 Minnesota Twins. On Sunday Twins manager Ron Gardenhire announced that Josh Willingham would start the year as the team's left fielder, the position he has played for most of his career. This was a switch from what the plan had been at the beginning of spring training. At that time, it seemed that the outfield would be composed of Willingham in right field, Revere in left field, and Denard Span as the center fielder. With only a few weeks until Opening Day, there has been a shift to the line-up.

The organization hasn't specifically ruled Revere out for the final outfield spot as Gardenhire left the door open for Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, and Revere to win the starting right field job. But it was widely thought that with his lack of arm strength, Revere would not be a good fit for the right field job. In an interview over the weekend, Gardenhire doesn't seem as swayed by this anymore and Revere has started to see a little more time in right field.

One of the most damaging quotes for Revere came from his manager over the weekend and this is what gave fans the first idea that he might have become the outfield's odd man out. "If he's going to be a part-time starter and a part-time extra guy, you've got to be able to play them all." This is a far cry from the Gardenhire who was disappointed to have to send Revere down to Triple-A after his first call-up in 2011. The rest of the roster might be coming together in a different way than was originally planned by the manager and it looks like Revere will be one of the players forced to shift his role.

A lot of the Opening Day line-up will hinge on where Justin Morneau is slated to play for the Twins. If the team is forced to move Morneau from first base to designated hitter, this will cause the manager to do some more shifting to his line-up. In the original plan laid out by Gardenhire, Morneau would have played at first base with Ryan Doumit serving as the designated hitter. If Morneau is taking up most of the at-bats in the DH role, the team is going to have to find other spots for Doumit to play and one of those roles could be in the outfield.

Another player is not making it easy for the Twins to send him to Triple-A for the start of the 2012 season. Chris Parmelee's hot play has stood out to the Twins and he has caught the eye of the manager and the front office. In 15 games, he has batted .286/.362/.571 with three home runs, a triple, and a double. He has also shown a much more disciplined approach at the plate as he leads the team with eight walks. In his minor league career, he has played 282 games in right field and this isn't much less than the 323 he has played at first base. Parmelee's ability to play both positions and his hot bat could sneak him onto the roster for Opening Day.

With Parmelee's emergence and other roster question marks, Revere could be asked to fill a few different roles to start the year. If he were to fill a back-up outfielder role, he could be used as a late inning defensive replacement for some of the slower corner outfielders. As recently as 2009, the Twins did this with Carlos Gomez and Span filling two of the outfield positions late in games. The Twins used an outfield combination of Revere, Span, and Joe Benson over the weekend to see how these three gifted defensive outfielders could work together.

Revere might not have put together a perfect rookie campaign but at the onset of spring training it looked like he was set to be a starting outfield for the Twins. He ended last season with a good last month of the season as he had his best month at the plate by hitting .311/.342/.368 in 24 games. It looks as if he will now be a roaming outfielder who fills in for players on their off days. He can also be a threat off of the bench in late inning pinch running situations and he can be used as a defensive upgrade for Willingham or whoever wins the right field job.

There is a good chance Revere will still be on the 25-man roster but his role is in flux as the team tries to sort out the best roster to help the Twins rebound from a horrendous 2011 season. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

It felt good to get back to a full week of Twins coverage here at NoDak Twins Fan and after my vacation in Arizona it was great to get caught up on all of the happenings across Twins Territory. We are only a few short weeks away from baseball being played under the sun at Target Field. It will be a welcome sight to see the hometown nine take the field for the first time and for the memories of an awful 2011 to go away.

The NFL continues to get all of the major headlines in the sports world but for fans of baseball there continues to be a ton of content to peruse through on a weekly basis. Here are a handful of the stories that I enjoyed from the last week with some fun stuff sprinkled in for a little spice.
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: The Twins have another Mauer who plays a prominent role in the organization as the manager of the Fort Myers Miracle. Jake Mauer joined Brice Zimmerman to talk about the spring training experience for fans and the players with a focus on the minor leagues. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rosario's infield transformation continues

In recent years the Twins have struggled to produce quality middle infielders who could succeed at the big league level. There has been a steady stream of infielders to man second base and shortstop for the Twins during the last two seasons but no one has stood out above the crowd. During this offseason, the organization decided to try to create their own middle infielder by moving Eddie Rosario, one of the team's top hitting prospects, from the outfield to the middle infield.

Last season with Elizabethton was outstanding for Rosario as he showed some great promise with a breakout campaign. He would be named the player of the year in the Appalachian League by hitting .337/.397/.670 in 67 games for the E-Twins. This offensive explosion was unexpected from the 19-year old after he only hit five home runs and batted .294/.343/.438 in 2010 with the GCL Twins. The Twins saw an asset that was still relatively young and thought they still had time to transform him into a middle infielder before he moved through the rest of the minor leagues.

During his couple of seasons in the minor leagues, Rosario showed that he was an athletic player who was able to do a lot in the outfield. The Twins have an extra supply of athletic outfielders that are working their way through the Twins system. Ben Revere broke out for the Twins last season but waiting in the wings are Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, and Oswaldo Arcia.

As Twins Fan From Afar wrote about in a post earlier this week, this surplus of outfielders could mean the Twins would be willing to deal an outfield prospect. It also means that the decision to give Rosario a chance to use his athletic ability at another position was something the Twins needed to explore.

The word out of the Twins complex in Fort Myers is that Rosario is working with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and former Twins manager Tom Kelly on his infield footwork. Since he had a good arm in the outfield, it shouldn't be hard for him to make the throws at second base. As the Twins witnessed with Tsuyoshi Nishioka last year, the footwork while turning a double play can be a challenge. Rosario will has yet to play in a full season league for the Twins so this will give him four levels of the minor leagues to try and master his new position. 

With Rosario transitioning to second base, the Twins are in position to develop quite the infield over the next couple of seasons. Miguel Sano, the team's number one prospect, plays third base at the same level as Rosario. The Twins number one draft pick from last June, Levi Michael, could be the shortstop between these two players in Beliot at the start of this season. Fans who follow the farm system of the Twins are salivating at the thought of these players all reaching their full potential at the same time. This could be the core of a devastating Twins line-up of the future.

There are so many more levels of the minor leagues for these prospects to get through in the coming years so it is a little early to be planning on a trip to the 2016 World Series. The Twins allow their players to spend time developing in the minor leagues and these players won't be rushed to Target Field. Rosario was facing a logjam in the outfield so a shift to second base could make his path to the Twins a little easier. He will need to continue to hit like he did last year but the quick hands of Mr. Rosario should fit nicely into the Twins middle infield of the future.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Should Butera follow Nishioka to Rochester?

The biggest story of the week so far in regards to the Twins was the club abandoning their Japanese experiment by demoting Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Rochester for the start of the 2012 season. Going into last season the Twins thought Nishioka could be their starting shortstop for the foreseeable future and the team invested $14 million to bring him to the United States. This experiment turned out to be a disaster and the Twins had to make a decision as to what they should do with him as the beginning of the season was moving closer. Nishioka will undoubtedly be the highest paid player in the International League but he still might have to fight for playing time on his own team.

Another player that could follow in the footsteps of Nishioka before the end of the spring is Drew Butera. During the past two seasons, Butera has served as the back-up catcher on the Twins squad but his role increased last year with all of the injuries to Joe Mauer. Butera has proven to be one of the worst hitters in the big leagues with his career batting line of .178/.220/.261 in 142 games. The Twins were not satisfied with this output and brought in Ryan Doumit to take over some of the catching duties if Mauer is forced off of the field again in 2012. 

Only a couple of seasons ago, Butera was a rookie and the Twins were in the midst of a tremendous first season at Target Field. The team only needed Butera to play in 43 games during the 2010 season and he seemed to work well with Carl Pavano during that campaign. His defense ability seemed to make up for his offensive troubles over the course of the year. There were only small doses of Butera and when the club is in the midst of a 94-win season, the fans and the front office will be more willing to accept a little ineptitude at the plate.

The Twins did not find similar success as a team in 2011 and this made it much easier to pick out the weaknesses in a line-up full of reserve players. Butera continued to struggle at the plate as he hit .167/.210/.239 with 12 extra-base hits in 254 plate appearances. He was proving to be one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball and it didn't help that his defense also seemed to take a step back. It was a rough year for many players on the Twins roster and Butera's weaknesses stood out because of his increased playing time with Mauer on the sidelines.

The front office of the Twins realized they needed to find some other possibilities, as the team got ready for the start of the 2012 campaign. One of the most intriguing names that a lot of fans have been following this spring is J.R. Towles. The 28-year old catcher came over to the Twins from the Astros organization after he failed to make a significant impact on their big league roster in the last five years. For his career in at the major league level, he batted .187/.267/.315 in 155 games. While those numbers might not look the greatest, it seems that anything would be better than what Butera put together. Towles also showed some decent hitting ability during his early years in the minors and he has been successful at the Triple-A level in the past.

This would seem to set up a battle royale between these two catchers for the third catching spot on the Twins roster. It seems to have been a close race so far and that might not bode well for Mr. Towles. In 10 at-bats so far this spring, Butera has three hits with one double and two RBI. Towles has the same number of at-bats but he has managed one less hit. On the bright side, he does have a game-winning home run and a couple of RBI to his credit. These are both small sample sizes and the similar numbers most likely mean the Twins will be looking hard at each player's defense in the coming days.

If I were a betting man, I would still put the odds more in favor of Butera being the player who comes north with the Twins at the beginning of next month. The Twins tend to show a small amount of loyalty to their players but this might be hard to do with the way Butera has performed on the field in the last two seasons. A hot start for Towles with Rochester could put the pressure on the Twins to call him up and he is just one mysterious Mauer injury from making it back to the big leagues.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Seeing Lincecum made me miss having an ace

As I touched on with my post from yesterday, I spent part of the last week in Arizona taking in some Cactus League action. One of the highlights for me during this trip was being able to watch Tim Lincecum take the mound for the Giants. It is rare to get to see a true ace especially one from the National League since the Twins don't face the NL on a consistent basis.

The Star Tribune did a good write-up over the weekend on the Twins' search for an ace since the exit of Johan Santana. As part of the piece they looked at seven current aces who are playing in Major League Baseball. According to the Tribune the National League has four of the aces with Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, and Clayton Kershaw making the list. The American League contains Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, and Felix Hernandez, the other three big time pitchers.

This list of true aces in baseball is small and finding them is even harder to do. Sabathia and Lee were big name free agents who got to their current clubs with big contracts on the open market. Halladay was traded away from the team that drafted him a couple of seasons ago for a handful of prospects. The Mariners were lucky enough to sign Hernandez as a 16-year old amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2002. Lincecum, Verlander, and Kershaw were all top ten picks in the MLB Draft.

Lucky enough for the Twins, the organization has a top ten pick in the draft this coming June. So this means there are good odds the organization will be searching for an ace with the number two pick. Unfortunately Lucas Giolito, the top high school pitching prospect, was recently diagnosed with an elbow injury and this will drop his stock in the draft. The Twins will turn their attention to other arms in the draft but having the number two pick should allow the team to select a potential star.

In recent years, the Twins have focused on pitching in the first round of the MLB Draft. From 2008 to 2010, the Twins took a pitcher with one of their first round picks. During some of those drafts, the Twins even went on to select pitchers with their supplemental round picks. Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers have encountered a few speed bumps on their way to the big leagues. Gibson was close to making it during last season but with his injury the team continues to search for a front-line starter.

The team has been looking for this front-line starter since they traded away their two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana. It has been four full seasons since Santana last stood on the mound for the Twins and the team has struggled to find his replacement. His place in the starting rotation brought crowds to the Metrodome to see true greatness every time he was scheduled to pitch. The team had a better chance to win the game when the ball was in his hand and he helped the team to avoid long losing streaks.
When Santana departed for the Mets, there was still hope in the Twins organization that Francisco Liriano could develop into an ace. He was in the process of coming back from Tommy John surgery but his rookie year in 2006 was enough to get buzz swirling across the baseball universe. Now the Twins and Liriano are one year away from him reaching the free agent market and he has still not reached the potential he had in that rookie campaign. The Twins have seen flashes of brilliance from Liriano since he returned from Tommy John surgery but inconsistency has been his overall theme.

Almost every team in baseball is looking for an ace to have at the front of their rotation. If a person looks at the list the Star Tribune put together, there are only six team who can claim to have an ace on their staff. The Phillies are lucky enough to have two aces on their staff but they still failed to get the results they were looking for in the playoffs. It is important to have an ace to get a team through the gauntlet of the regular season and to help a franchise qualify for a playoff birth. But even as the Twins saw with Santana, an ace can't guarantee playoff success.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Grapefruit League could learn from Cactus League

My trip last week to Arizona allowed me to get a first hand view of the Cactus League for the first time. I have made a couple of trips to Florida to watch the Twins play in the Grapefruit League so it was nice to see how some of the other teams spend their time during spring training.

I went into my trip to the Valley of the Sun with the mindset that the Cactus League and Grapefruit League would be very similar but that opinion would change during my week in the Phoenix area. I thought it would just be nice to see some baseball in great weather before the season begins in a couple of week but I was very impressed by the Cactus League. There are plenty of difference between the Grapefruit League in Florida and the action of the Cactus League in Arizona and I think the Grapefruit League could improve their product by following the model of the Cactus League.

Here is a rundown of some of the areas that I feel the Grapefruit League could improve on that the Cactus League already does well. 

1. Most complexes have two teams training in them: If you are only a fan of one specific team, this might not be that big of deal to you. But for fans who are there because they love baseball, there is a great opportunity to see multiple team's practice in one day. You can start your day watching the young prospects of the Royals on a back field in Surprise and later in the morning you can watch the powerhouse Rangers without having to get into your car.

The Rangers and Royals share a facility and the other facilities with teamed up franchises are the Mariners and Padres, the Indians and the Reds, and the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. On my trips to Florida, I loved going to watch the Twins and their minor league affiliates at their practice facility. But if there had been another team training at the Lee County Sports Complex, I probably would have ventured over to get a glimpse of another big league squad.

2. Close proximity between every team: This was fantastic for being able to check out multiple teams in one trip to Arizona. All of the team's are only a short car ride away and most on located very close to major highways in the Phoenix metro area. This means there are shorter rides for fans that want to go to different stadiums to see their team play. During the Royals versus Giants game that I attended, there was a sea of orange that took over Surprise Stadium to see the Giants play. While the Giants play on the complete opposite side of Phoenix, it was still not enough to keep their fans locked down to one location.

The close proximity between the complexes also means the players can avoid long bus rides that plague the Grapefruit League. The teams are too far apart in Florida and for some fans it is too long of a trip to travel across the state to see their favorite team play. It ties the fans down to one area and it keeps them from seeing other facilities in Florida.

3. Improving the stadium experience for fans: This continues to improve in the Grapefruit League with teams adding to their stadiums or even moving to new facilities like the Red Sox. In Arizona it was great to be able to walk around the stadiums and still have a sight line to the field. This made it easy to run and get something to eat or drink and you could keep an eye on the game. The layout of the stadium also made it easier to explore the facility before the game began.

Out of the stadiums I saw in Arizona many followed the same format for their outfield seating area. There was a grass hill that covered most of the outfield and this was a general admission area for fans attending the contest. People coming in to watch the game could throw down a blanket, play catch, or just enjoy the sun in the grass. So far this spring, I have heard multiple interviews with Dave St. Peter where he has mentioned the Twins adding on to their facility to include some outfield seating. This could be a step in the right direction for the Twins.

The overall experience of going to watch spring training in Florida or Arizona is something a baseball fan will never forget. There is an excitement that fills the air at the beginning of a new year. There is also the ability to get up close and personal with many players for every team. Spring training is great in the Grapefruit League but a few tweaks here and there could make it even better.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

I made it home after some rest and relaxation in the Arizona sun. It was a great time in the Valley of the Sun but it does feel nice to get back into a normal routine. Plus the weather here in the Upper Midwest is about as hot as it was down there. It has been a strange winter for weather and it makes me want the start of the baseball season to come that much faster.

Since I was gone for most of the week, it was fun to put together this week's version of Friday Links-N-Thinks. It allowed me to get caught up on all of the news I might have missed this week and prepare for a little weekend of watching March Madness. Enjoy!!!
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: Trevor Bauer was the third pick in the 2011 MLB Draft and he could be ready to make some noise for the Arizona Diamondbacks this year. This video of him throwing long toss before a game is amazing to see. He could be close to setting a world record if his throws were official measured. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Playing Pepper: 2012 Minnesota Twins

Just a reminder that I am spending most of this week in Arizona by enjoying some time in the sun. Yesterday I saw my first Cactus League action with the Royals facing off against the Giants. Tim Lincecum was on the mound for San Francisco so that was exciting. I will have a full report when I get back but in the meantime you can check out my updates on Twitter: @nodaktwinsfan.
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Daniel Shoptaw is a St. Louis Cardinals blogger and the founder of an organization this blog is a part of called the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Every year he sends out a list of questions to bloggers from all of the team's in MLB for a series he calls "Playing Pepper." As a blogger, it is fun to answer these questions and give other fans a perspective of the Twins for the 2012 season.

Below you will find my responses to the questions he asked and make sure to visit his blog to see some of the other editions in the "Playing Pepper" series.

1) What was your opinion of the team’s offseason?

It was tough to see long time players like Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan, and Jason Kubel leave the team in the free agency process. The editions of Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit should help an offense that finished near the bottom of the American League in 2011. Jamey Carroll was brought in to sure up the middle infield after the Twins saw plenty of fumbling and bumbling from the likes of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe. Out of all of the team’s moves, bringing back Terry Ryan as the team’s general manager might rank as the best move for the future of this organization. The loss of clubhouse leaders like Cuddyer and Nathan will be tough to compensate for but the Twins offseason moves seem to have filled some of the holes the organization had from a disastrous 2011.

2) Francisco Liriano seemed to be wildly inconsistent last season. Is there any reason to hope he’ll be more dominant this season?

Before the 2010 season, Liriano spent time pitching in the Dominican Winter League and he went on to have one of his most successful seasons on the field that year. The team had him rest in the next offseason so he didn’t have the opportunity to pitch in the winter months. He ended up showing up to camp out of shape and this seemed to set him back from very start of the 2011 campaign. For this offseason, the Twins allowed Liriano to pitch in the Dominican once again and so far this spring he has looked like he might be able to gain back some of his consistency. One of the most intriguing aspects could be that he is in a contract year and at the end of the season he can become a free agent. If this doesn’t light a fire inside of him, then there is a good chance he will be pitching for another team in 2013.

3) Justin Morneau hasn’t played 100 games in the past two seasons. What are the expectations for him in 2012?

This is truly the million-dollar question in regards to the team’s success in 2012. It has been tough to watch the struggles of Morneau over the past two seasons because of the unknown element involved with head injuries. When he walks into the locker-room he doesn’t have a cast on or scars from a surgery and there doesn’t look like there is anything wrong with him. This makes it tough for other players and the fans to understand because of the mysteries with brain trauma. The team is hoping he will be able to get back to himself in 2012 so the expectation would be for him to play over a 100 games for the first time since 2009. If he is able to play in this amount of games, his production should improve so look for Morneau to accumulate around 20 home runs and hopefully drive in 90+ runs for the year.

4) Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

The Twins farm system had two prospects breakout in 2011 and both of those prospects could make an impact on the team in 2012. Liam Hendriks got a taste of the big leagues at the end of last season and hopes are high for the young Australian to continue to be an impact arm. Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Francisco Liriano can all be free agents at the end of the year so the minor league system of the Twins is going to have to produce some talent for future roles in the starting rotation. By mid-season, Hendriks could be back at Target Field and taking his permanent spot in the rotation. The other area of need for the Twins in recent years has been the middle infield. Terry Ryan tried to address this need by bringing in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll but he looks to be a stopgap for top middle infield prospect Brian Dozier. The hope for the Twins is that Dozier won’t be needed in 2012 because the young man has only played part of a season at the Double-A level. An injury or poor start from one of the starting infielders could be Dozier’s ticket to the big leagues.

5) Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

On paper in the American League Central, it seems to be the Detroit Tigers and then everyone else. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals could be poised to make the next step in 2012 but a healthy version of the Twins should be able to stay close to these other squads. It would seem that the Indians, Royals, and Twins could all be fighting for the runner-up spot in the AL Central but in this division it only takes a .500 mark to stay in contention. A couple of injuries on the Tigers could bring them back to the rest of the pack and then things could get very interesting in the Central. For me the most exciting thing about the 2012 season will be putting the nightmare of 2011 out of my mind. Seeing a healthy Joe Mauer on the field will be great and if Justin Morneau can join him there should be a Twins team fighting for another title in the AL Central.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Arizona bound

Just a quick note for frequent visitors to this site to let you know that I am off to Arizona for part of the next week. Because of this trip, I might be less frequent with my posts on this blog until I return home.

I will be attending some Cactus League action on Monday as the San Fransisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals will square off at Surprise Stadium. The hope is that I will be able to squeeze in some time watching practices of other team's in the Phoenix area. Maybe I will be able to hunt down former Twins Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan with their new clubs.

For more frequent updates of my happenings in the Arizona, make sure to follow me on Twitter: @NoDakTwinsFan

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

It was a fun week for Twins fans as the first spring training games of the season were broadcast on television. This gave people their first view of the players who will comprise the roster of the 2012 version of the Twins. One of the fun things about spring training games is that a variety of fringe members for the 25-man roster are fighting for their chance to make it to the big leagues. Some players will succeed and others will fail but that is part of life as a professional baseball player.

Below you will find this week's collection of links. The great thing about being in the middle of spring training is there is plenty of coverage from the various media outlets that send staff down to the warmer climate areas. Enjoy the links and have a fantastic weekend.
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: The fine people over at 1500 ESPN went through the trouble to put microphones on Denard Span and Drew Butera in a recent Twins workout. The results were quite entertaining and I think you will enjoy the clip.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Contending or not, Liriano could be gone

When every team reports to spring training in Florida or Arizona, there is hope surrounding the beginning of a new season. Each team has a clean slate and only one team can call themselves champions from the previous year. Besides the St. Louis Cardinals, every other team left the field last year with an unfulfilled feeling inside and a bad taste in their mouth. Some of that taste has washed away in the offseason but all of the teams will head on the field for Opening Day with no losses to their record.

The harsh reality is that under the new playoff system only ten teams will make it to postseason play and out of those ten teams only two will get to fight for the World Series crown. This leaves plenty of other teams who will not be in contention for the 2012 season. This is just a part of the game and the Twins became well aware of this aspect during the 2011 campaign. With the organization coming off of a 94-win season, there was plenty to be hopeful for at the beginning of 2011 but the Twins would not be in contention for any part of the season.

As the 2012 season begins for the Twins and their fans, it is hard to know what to expect from a team who floundered on the field in 2011. There is hope that a healthy Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span can improve one of the worst offenses in the American League. But the starting rotation and bullpen are still full of plenty of question marks to get sorted out in the coming weeks.

One of the questions marks that has been talked a lot about in the Twins blogosphere is Francisco Liriano. He is in the last year of being under team control and this means he can test the free agent waters at the end of the 2012 season. The Twins have waited patiently for Liriano to bloom into the pitcher they feel he can be but that player has only shown up sporadically during his career. Now his days could be numbered with the Twins.

There are a few different situations that could take place for the 2012 season and Liriano might be right in the middle of them. As the trading deadline approaches at the end of July, the team might have to make a tough decision in relation to their left-handed starting pitcher. Here is a look at the way the Twins could approach the Liriano conundrum.

Twins in contention >>> Keep Liriano
If the Twins are in contention, there is a good chance that Liriano will stay with the club until the end of the season. When the Twins made the playoffs in 2010, Liriano looked like he was close to becoming the ace of the staff. The team will need Liriano to get close to that level if they are going to find success on the field in 2012. A successful season from Liriano should mean the team is having a better year. In recent years the AL Central has allowed some teams to stay in the race if they are near the .500 mark around the trade deadline. That situation could play out again in '12 and the Twins should be able to be close to that mark.

Twins out of contention >>> Trade Liriano
At the trade deadline last year, the Twins didn't get anything for future free agents like Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Joe Nathan. The team did end up getting draft pick compensation for some of these players but the collective bargaining agreement rules have changed for next offseason. In order for the Twins to get compensation for Liriano, they would have to offer him arbitration and a one-year contract of over $12 million. At this point, the Twins would be silly to offer this much money to Liriano so a trade could be a possibility. In this situation, the best-case scenario might be for Liriano to be pitching well and for the Twins to have fallen out of contention. Other contending clubs might be willing to overpay for a left-handed pitcher who could help them to succeed in the playoffs.
"Wild Card Situation" 
Twins in contention >>> Trade Liriano
This is deemed a wild card situation because it is hard to imagine a contending team trading one of their top pitchers in the middle of a pennant race. But as was stated earlier, the Twins would have to offer Liriano a contract of over $12 million as part of the new arbitration process. That amount wouldn't correspond with the 2011 version of Liriano so the team might be ready to part ways with their starting pitcher by the time July roles around. In order for this to happen, the Twins would need to have a replacement ready to step into the rotation. A younger player like Liam Hendriks could be ready by mid-July to take a permenant spot in the rotation. The Twins would also need to get some more consistency out of Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker for the team to be able to trade another arm.

There are so many variables that could impact a trade for Liriano. His performance on the field, the team's performance on the field, and an injury to Liriano could all play a role in the team deciding whether or not to trade him. It will be an interesting plotline to watch in the summer months of the season especially on a team that doesn't have a lot of starting pitchers under contract for 2013.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Giolito suffers elbow injury, ends high school career

Maybe one of the only good things about suffering through a 99-loss season with the Twins in 2011 was the fact that the organization would have a very good pick in the 2012 amateur draft. The Twins "earned" the number two selection for the draft this June and this means there should be some very good talent to select from with only the Astros picking before them.

Fans looking forward to the June draft were dealt a blow on Wednesday as it was announced that one of the projected top five picks would miss the rest of his high school career with an elbow injury. Lucas Giolito is a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher who some scouts projected to be the number one pick. This injury obviously changes many of those projections and his stock in the draft will most likely fall.

Nathan Rode of Baseball America was the first to break the news. His sources told him that it was a sprained UCL in his right elbow. This injury won't require surgery but there is 6-10 weeks of rehab involved. If a player tears his UCL, Tommy John surgery is usually required and there is a chance that his sprain could turn into a tear. 

The first start of the year was very exciting for Giolito as he came out of the gate smoking. Some radar guns had him hitting 100 mph and he only gave up one hit during the contest. His start on Tuesday was not as good as he made it through 6.1 innings allowing two runs on five hits, three walks and three hit batters. Something was clearly wrong with the young man and the bad news came out on Wednesday. 

With 6-10 weeks of rest and rehabilitation up next for Giolito and the draft being around 12 weeks away, there is little chance he will be able to prove he is completely healthy before teams have to make their picks. For fans of the UCLA Bruins, this could be good news. If Giolito were to go to college, he had committed to the Bruins. He might be forced to go to UCLA for a couple of seasons to prove his health is back in order. This will also help him to rebuild his draft status for the future.

A tough injury for the young man as it could cost him millions of dollars. It is lucky for him that it happened at a young enough age that he can recover and make it back to still have a successful career.

Who gets the 40-man spot left by Zumaya?

The Twins took a chance when they signed Joel Zumaya to an incentive-laden contract. That high-risk deal could have come with some great rewards but Zumaya's time with the Twins was over before it even started. Only 13 pitches into his first workout with the Twins, he walked off the mound with soreness in his right elbow. Now the often-injured flamethrower will go under the knife again but this time it will be for Tommy John surgery.

Zumaya's recent injury means the Twins will now have spot open on their 40-man roster for the beginning of the 2012 season. The team will release Zumaya or put him on 60-day DL, which will open up a spot for an outlying player to make the jump to the 40-man roster. There are a variety of candidates in camp for the Twins who would be more than willing to get one step closer to being on the 25-man roster for the organization.

Here are some brief profiles on a few of the candidates but there is always a chance of another player proving his worth in the rest of spring training.

Sean Burroughs, 3B: The former first-round pick has been on quite the roller coaster ride during the last few seasons. After getting mixed up with drugs and alcohol in the mid-2000s, he found himself completely out of baseball and struggling with life. He has overcome those problems and he made his way back to the big leagues with the Diamondbacks in 2011. Burroughs has a chance to challenge Danny Valencia for playing time at third but at this point that could be a long shot. In 2011 Gardenhire seemed to put Valencia in the doghouse on multiple occasions and Burroughs could be waiting in the wings if that happens again this season. He could also provide a veteran bat off of the bench and this could be his last chance to succeed on baseball's biggest stage.

Brian Dozier, SS-2B: After a break-out minor league season in 2011, the Twins and their fans have been keeping a close eye on Dozier so far this spring. With a pitching staff composed of "pitch-to-contact" pitchers, the Twins saw in 2011 how important defense up the middle can be for the success of the team. There have been some questions about whether Dozier will be able to stick at shortstop for the long-term but it looks like the Twins will give him every opportunity to succeed at that position this spring. Jamey Carroll was brought in on a two-year contract to fill the gap at shortstop but a hot start from Dozier could leave the Twins with little choice but to bring him to Minnesota. Dozier isn't required to go on the 40-man roster until the end of the 2012 season but there are good odds he will be making his debut in the coming year.

Jared Burton, RHP: If the Twins want to fill Zumaya's roster spot with a right-handed pitcher, there are plenty of options in camp for the Twins. One of those options comes in the form of Jared Burton who joins the Twins out of the Reds organization. He has seen some success in the past by posting a 2.92 ERA with a 1.289 WHIP and 94 strikeouts from 2007-2008. The last couple of seasons have been spent trying to recover from injuries such as a thyroid dysfunction, a strained oblique, and a shoulder problem. Now he has a clean bill of health and the Twins will be looking for plenty of arms to step-up and earn a spot in the 2012 bullpen. Even if Burton doesn't make the squad when the team leaves Fort Myers, he could be one of the first options to join the team when there is an injury. 

The Twins won't be forced to make this decision on this 40-man roster spot for at least a couple more weeks. This will give each of the above listed players plenty of time to prove they belong one step closer to the big leagues for 2012. With everything he has gone through, the sentimental pick might be the Burroughs comeback story. But the team did struggle to find bullpen options last year, so Burton or another pitcher could be given a chance to start the year. Dozier would be the long-shot at this point; but if the team thinks they will add him later this year, the odds could swing more in his favor.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will a skinnier Morneau mean more production?

When I opened to the front page of the Sunday sports section in the Star Tribune, there was one photo that stood out to me. Justin Morneau was shown taking a swing on a pitch (see photo above) and his size is noticeably different from previous years. This was only one photo from a spring training game but there have been other photos that have trickled out of Fort Myers that show more of the same; Morneau has lost some weight off of his frame.

In one of his initial conversations with reporters he told the assembled media that he changed some of his diet to lose weight and reduce stress on his body. By taking some weight off of his frame, there should be less pressure on his joints and other parts of the frame of his body. For example studies have shown that for each pound of body weight lost, there is a four-pound reduction in knee joint stress.

Besides the concussion issues that plagued Morneau for the last two seasons, there have also been plenty of other medical issues for the Canadian power hitter. His list of injuries from last year saw him suffer through a pinch never in his neck, numbness in his left hand, and left wrist soreness. When the Twins shut down Morneau in September of last year, he was forced to undergo surgery for his left wrist, bone spurs in his right foot, and a cyst in his left knee. One of the hopes for Morneau is that he will be able to avoid some of outlying injuries.

In the middle of May, Morneau will turn 31-years old and the future can be scary for a player who has missed big chunks of the last three seasons due to injury. At Morneau's age, a change of diet can be a good thing for his future health and longevity in the sport of baseball. But one of the downsides to a slugger losing weight is the fact that power hitters use their body to generate a lot of their power. The loss of some of his weight could make it harder for Morneau to smack the ball around the park.

Will there be an impact on his production? Or are the Twins just hoping he will stay healthy and on the playing field?

The Twins have Morneau under contract for the next two years so it would be good to see him get back to his former self. After not having Morneau in the line-up for giant chunks of the last three seasons, the hope could be to just get Morneau on the field for a greater portion of the 2012 campaign. Having a slightly less productive version of Morneau on the field could be better than having no Morneau at all.

Fans of another Minnesota team are familiar with one of their star players losing a little weight and finding success on the field. Kevin Love changed some of his diet and took off a few pounds for the lockout shortened NBA season. This change in his body type has lead to some outstanding production on the court as Love is coming off of his recent All-Star appearance. He is averaging a career high in points per game with over 25 per game and he continues to be a rebounding machine with close to 14 rebounds per game.
It could be a career year for the skinny version of Love and Twins fans would be thrilled with a career year from the new skinny version of Morneau. A career year might be too much to expect from the Twins former MVP for the 2012 season but fans can still hope to see more of a healthier Morneau. The Twins need to be able to score more runs then they did in 2011 and they need Morneau in the middle of the line-up in order to get those runners across the plate. Fat or skinny, it doesn't matter; the Twins just want a healthy Morneau for all of the coming season.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Span continues to be tested this spring

The Twins are only three games into their Grapefruit League schedule but Denard Span is making sure to put all of his concussion worries behind him. Over the course of the last handful of days, Span has been forced to make numerous plays on the ball that could be troublesome for a player who suffered a concussion last year. Even with all of these rough plays, Span has not suffered any major setbacks and he has started this spring off on the right foot.

The first incident took place during a simulated game on Thursday, which was played on a side field next to Hammond Stadium. Trevor Plouffe was at the plate and he hit a ball that looked to be heading over the fence in center field. Span went back on the ball looking to make a play and he crashed into the fence at almost full-speed. Other than a busted lip from hitting the chain-linked fence, he seemed to be fine following the incident. He would continue to workout with the team for the rest of practice with no lingering effects.

More tests came for Span in the Twins' first action of the spring against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. In the third inning Span went back on a ball and made a falling catch on the warning track. This caused him to get up a little slow but he was able to shake it off and stay in the game. The very next inning he was forced to battle the sun and the wind to make a falling catch. He was very successful from the offensive side of the plate in the game as he went 2-3 with two singles. The more promising sign might have been that both of his hits came after he made the falling catch on the warning track.

The Twins had a split-squad schedule on Sunday with games against Boston and Tampa Bay but four plays from the team were staying back to work on some hitting at Hammond Stadium. Span was one of those players along with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Josh Willingham. The team has another game on Monday at home so all of these players should be back in the line-up in front of the home fans.

Span tried to make multiple comebacks after he suffered a concussion in the middle of last season. He missed most of the month of June and all of the month of July before making his first comeback at the beginning of August. During that month, he would play nine games before before some other complications forced him to sit out until the last week of the season. In September, he played three complete games and he also played in two partial games. He played a vital role in the Twins 1-0 win in the last game of the season by smacking a double to start the ninth inning and he would eventually score the winning run.

At the time of Span returning to the field with only a handful of games left, it seemed like a questionable move for the Twins because there was a chance he could get hurt again. But by returning to action, he was able to prove to himself that he could get on the field. In those five appearances, he batted .278/.278/.611 with two doubles, two triples, and four runs scored. He seemed to fit back into the top of the Twins line-up as he helped the team to finish out a miserable season. It would have been easy to skip out on those games but Span wanted to prove to the team and to himself that he was able to stay on the field.

The Twins will keep an eye on Span as the spring training schedule continues to play out in the coming weeks. Span has passed quite a few tests in the first handful of opportunities and the hope is that the team won't have to worry about him once the season begins. For the Twins to be successful in 2012, Span is one of the key pieces that needs to be in the line-up on a more regular basis. He is the table setter ahead of the bigger bats in the middle of the batting order and his success can go a long way to determining how the Twins will perform this year.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

It's hard to believe that another week has gone by and the Twins are one step closer to beginning their 2012 season. The first Grapefruit League action for the Twins will take place on Saturday and it sounds like Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Justin Morneau could all be available to play. Span ran into the center field wall during a simulated game on Thursday and as of right now he only had a cut lip to deal with. Fingers are crossed that he will show up to the facility on Friday without any lingering effects from the collision.

All of the minor league players for the Twins are due to report to Ft. Myers on Tuesday of next week. This means the complex in southwest Florida will be overrun by Twins players and coaches from all levels of the farm system. With the severe winter weather that hit a good portion of Twins Territory this week, the Florida sun is sounding pretty good right about now.
My Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: A tip of the cap to the blog Classic Minnesota Twins! for their post with this video earlier this week. It is Kent Hrbek as a guest on the David Letterman Show all the way back in 1987. The Twins were coming off their first World Series Championship and Hrbek had some fun stories to tell.