Monday, April 30, 2012

What will the hype be like for Sano's debut?

One of the most hyped debuts in MLB history took place over the weekend with Bryce Harper being penciled in to the Washington Nationals line-up for the first time as a 19-year old phenom. His first game looked like it was going to play out perfectly but Matt Kemp's walk-off home run in extra innings spoiled the coming out party for Harper.

In the game, Harper got his first hit by smacking a solid double off the wall in deep center field. His most impressive play might have been his tremendous throw from left field to the plate that should have gotten the runner if Wilson Ramos would have held on to the ball. The top of the ninth inning saw Harper come up with the chance to be the hero and he was able to get a sacrifice fly to give his team the lead but the bullpen would eventually surrender the victory to the Dodgers.

In the middle of next month the Twins will have their own 19-year old top prospect when Miguel Sano celebrates his birthday on May 11. Unlike Harper who was getting experience at Triple-A for the Nationals, Sano is at Low-A trying to put together all of his potential. For the Twins and Sano, this will mean multiple seasons before he can be stepping on the grass at Target Field.

Sano has shot up the top prospect charts since he signed with the Twins as a 16-year old. Baseball America had him ranked as the 94th best prospect shortly after the Twins signed him and before he had come to play in the United States. After a tremendous 2011 season, he shot all the way up to the 18th best prospect in baseball and another strong season, combined with some players graduating to the big leagues, could see him closing in on the top of the list.

Watching a top prospect develop is great because it gives hope for the future of a franchise. The Twins and their fans have been struggling through the last two seasons and if these problems continue, fans of the Twins will start looking to the future. Sano is a big part of these plans and his development is something to watch for all of Twins Territory.

So far this year, Sano has hit .262 with six home runs, two triples, and five doubles. He has shown the ability to get more walks this season with 17 free passes so far in 2012. Even with the higher walk rate, his strikeout rate continues to be high with 31 strikeouts in 84 at-bats this year. Besides cutting down on the strikeouts, his defense at third base needs to continue to improve. He has five errors in his first 82 chances for the Snappers.

Harper was not only watched closely by fans of the Nationals but he was also on the radar of many baseball fans across the baseball world. Much like Harper, Sano could be on his way to being a top prospect in all of baseball. So what could the hype be like for Sano when he makes his debut in a couple of seasons?

If Sano continues to improve in some of the weaker areas mentioned above, there is nothing stopping him from developing into a force that will make the entire baseball world take notice in the coming years. His raw power ability could be something that makes him standout among his peers and this separation could make the hype around him even stronger. But the dreams of seeing Sano at Target Field are still multiple years away at this point with plenty of development needed from young Mr. Sano.

The last time the Twins had the top prospect in all of baseball was back before the 2004 and 2005 seasons when Joe Mauer topped the prospect charts for Baseball America in back-to-back seasons. His debut with the Twins was cut short when he was injured in the second game of the season. Surgery on the knee of Mauer would cause him to miss over a month but following his return, swelling in his knee would force an early end to the season for Mauer.

Mauer's unhealthy rookie season took away from some of the hype he had built-up in the minor leagues. Fans of the Twins can only hope that Sano is following the same track as Mauer. The hype doesn't need to follow him to the big leagues but fans of the Twins will be happy to get a top tier player for many years to come out of Sano. The hype is building but there is still plenty of work to be done. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Night Minor League Lights

"You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains."- Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, Bull Durham

The rain came a tumbling down at Target Field on Saturday afternoon and the contest between the Twins and Royals was postponed because of the weather. By mid-afternoon, the skies had cleared up but the game had already been rescheduled as part of a day-night doubleheader on June 30.


Even with the rainout at Target Field, there was still plenty of minor league action across the Twins system on Saturday. Here is a look at the Twins minor league scores and highlights from Saturday:

ROCHESTER 3, BUFFALO 4

By the bottom of the third inning, the Red Wings found themselves in a 3-0 hole to the Bisons. PJ Walters started the game for Rochester and last five innings while surrendering the first three runs to Buffalo. In the sixth inning, Deolis Guerra made his first appearance at the Triple-A level since 2010 and he was solid. Guerra pitched three innings, allowing two hits, and striking out two.

Esmerling Vasquez took the loss for Rochester in an interesting bottom of the ninth. He hit the lead off batter to start the frame and this was followed by a sacrifice bunt for the first out of the inning. The next batter was intentionally walked to set-up the double play but the problem was Vasquez walked the following batter to fill the bases. The fifth batter of the inning was struck out so the bases were loaded with two down before Vinny Rottino got a single to center field.

Joe Benson was a big part of the comeback effort for Rochester with a 2-run home run in the fifth inning to cut the lead to one run. For the day, Benson went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double to raise his batting average to .187. Brian Dozier went 2-for-4 on the day with his ninth RBI of the year but he also had a throwing error in the fourth inning. Darin Mastroianni continued his hot streak with a triple in the contest as he is hitting .395 in his last ten contests.

NEW BRITAIN 3, RICHMOND 5
No one in the Rock Cats batting order had more than one hit as the team lost for the third game in a row. Aaron Hicks followed up his big game at the plate on Friday night with a 1-for3 outing on Saturday.

The only extra-base hit for New Britain came from Evan Bigley as he slapped a double in the sixth inning to bring the Rock Cats within a run. But this late inning rally would prove to be ill fated when Richmond scored an insurance run in the bottom half of the sixth.

Steve Hirschfeld tossed six innings and gave up ten hits and five runs to the Flying Squirrels. It was Hirschfeld's second loss in his last two outings after winning his first two decisions of the year. Brett Jacobson looked good in relief by throwing the last two innings for the Rock Cats and not allowing a single hit.

FORT MYERS 0, ST. LUCIE 4
There were a lot of hits in this game for both teams but the Miracle and the Mets both struggled to push them across the plate. In the game, the Miracle put together seven hits but failed to score a run and got shutout for the second time this year.

The big boppers in for the Miracle were both able to put together a couple of hits. Angel Morales and Oswaldo Arcia each went 2-for-4 with a double. Both doubles went wasted as they were left stranded in scoring position.

Jhon Garcia started the year as a relief pitcher but he was shifted to the starting rotation at the beginning of the week. In both starts he has gone five innings and allowed only one earned run. The Miracle have been unable to pull out the win for him in either of these trips to the mound.

Matthew Hauser looked good in a little over two innings out of the bullpen. He only gave up one hit with one unearned run and three strikeouts. It was his third consecutive outing without giving up a run.

BELOIT 3, DAYTON 7
All of the runs in this game were scored in the second inning and unfortunately for the Snappers, they came up on the short of the scoring spree. Steven Gruver started for Beloit and he never made it out of the second inning. Only three of the seven runs scored off of Gruver were earned but he allowed six hits and two walks. A.J. Achter did a good job of cleaning up the mess and he posted 4.1 innings pitched with no runs allowed and only three hits.

Most of the offense came from the bottom portion of the line-up as the seven, eight, and nine batters each had an RBI. Matthew Koch was included in this group and he was the only Snappers batter to have more than one hit in the contest. Koch finished the day at 2-for-4 with a double. The other extra base hit for the Snappers came off of the bat of Eddie Rosario. It was Rosario's eighth double of the year and he leads the team in this category.

Miguel Sano had a rough day by going 0-for-3 at the plate with two strikeouts. He also had his fifth error of the season at third base. As a team, the Snappers were 1-13 with runners in scoring position so the opportunities were there but a comeback wasn't in the cards on this day.
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Players of the Day for Saturday

Hitter of the Day- Joe Benson
Pitcher of the Day- A.J. Achter
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A Look Ahead - Sunday, April 29, 2012 Schedule

Rochester @ Buffalo - RHP Daryl Thompson
New Britain @ Richmond - TBA
Ft. Myers vs St. Lucie - RHP BJ Hermsen
Beloit vs. Dayton - RHP Tim Shibuya
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If you have any questions or comments on the Twins minor league system, players, teams, etc., leave them in the Comments and Seth or I will try and answer them!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

Since the last time you joined me for an edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks," the Twins have only one one game and that was on last Friday. It has been a rough week for Twins fans as the team looked to get back on track against the struggling Red Sox. This didn't happen but the one consolation prize is the fact that the Royals come to town this weekend and they have their own share of problems to deal with this season. Hopefully this means the Twins can come out of the weekend with a series win before they head on the road again for a West Coast swing through Los Angeles and Seattle.

Last weekend a former Twins player, Phil Humber, threw the 21st perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball. Humber was part of the Johan Santana trade but struggled at the Triple-A level and never made it past Rochester with the Twins. Overall, he spent six seasons in the minor leagues before the White Sox gave him a chance to be a starter. In only his 30 career starts, he was perfect with 27 batters faced and 27 outs recorded on the mound. As much as I don't like the White Sox, the transformation that this top draft pick has made is great to see from any player.

Josh Willingham's wife having a baby, I "adopted" a prospect from the Twins farm system, and plenty more stories are all included in this weeks edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks." Have a great weekend and enjoy!
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: There have been some crazy batting stances in the history of baseball but this college player might have found one of the most unique positions in the box. His name is Alex Buccilli and he is the DH for Coastal Carolina. Even the Batting Stance Guy has gotten in on the action.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Attendance starting to dwindle at Target Field

The first two seasons at Target Field have been very fruitful from the Twins perspective when it comes to selling tickets in their beautiful new ballpark. In 2010 and 2011, the Twins capped their season ticket sales and it was tough to find an open seat in any section with your naked eye for most of the season. Before a new stadium was built, the organization said they needed the cash flow involved with a new venue in order to stay competitive and the team raised their payroll significantly in the first couple years at Target Field.

Target Field was built and the fans across Twins Territory responded by coming out in droves to see their new gem nestled into downtown Minneapolis. The 2010 season saw the Twins fighting for a division title and they finished the year with one of the best records in the American League. Nothing sells tickets like having a winner on the field so the first year at Target Field was very successful. Over 3 million fans attended games at Target Field in 2010 and this was only the second time the franchise had been able to reach this plateau.

With the Twins coming off a successful 2010 and most of their core players still intact, there was still a high demand for Twins tickets in 2011. Season ticket sales were renewed at a high level and for the second year in a row, the team had to cap their sales on season tickets. Unfortunately the performance on the field was far less than in 2010. So as the season went on, there were far less people occupying the seats at Target Field (even if the seats were technically sold). For the second year in a row, the Twins crossed threshold of 3 million fans. By the end of the year, there were plenty of open seats to be found across the ballpark.
During the offseason, the Twins made a variety of changes after Terry Ryan was reinstated as the general manager. One of the biggest changes was scaling back the payroll to get it closer to the $100 million mark. By the end of the 2011 season, the overall value of the team's payroll was around the $115 million mark. The front office knew that honeymoon period of fans coming out to Target Field to see the stadium was over. After a rough season, it was going to take a little bit of time to win the fans back over and bring them back to Target Field. The team planned accordingly and so far this season, their estimates seemed to be correct.

The Twins first three home series of the year should be games that are big draws for fans. The Angels, Rangers, and Red Sox are all top notch teams in the American League with star players at multiple positions. Games like this usually makes it easy to fill the seats but a person can clearly find large sections of tickets that remain unsold. Early season weather can always be sketchy so this might keep some fans away. But on a beautiful night like last night with a top opponent in town, the crowd should have been higher than it was by the time everyone filtered into the ballpark.

After nine games at home, the Twins have just crossed the 300,000 mark for attendance this season. The team has averaged 33,357 fans in their home contests but that mark is helped by the over 39,000 fans from the home opener. Besides the first home game of the year, the Twins highest attendance was the 35,854 fans at the first Saturday game of the year versus the Rangers. With a slow start by the team and some poor starting pitching performances, it is hard to imagine this number improving significantly in the coming months.

From my perspective as a season ticket holder for the Twins, it was very easy to sell tickets for the first two years at Target Field. I could have multiple seats for all 81 home games and still find a way to sell tickets to friend, family, and on StubHub. In 2010, I lived over five hours away from Target Field and I was still able to have the full sheets of tickets for all 81 home games. In the second season at Target Field, it was still very easy to sell tickets to acquaintances and on the internet. But by the last month of the season, it was hard to even give the tickets away. The demand to go and watch a team fighting to stay away from 100-losses was not out there in the Twin Cities.

Target Field is still one of the most beautiful venues at which to watch a baseball game. The food selection is amazing, the sightlines are excellent, and the ballpark experience is second to none. For the team to get back to selling out games, it is going to take having a winning team on the field. It seems like that might be a tough request in 2012 so it will be interesting to see how attendance fairs as the weather starts to warm up in the summer months.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Duensing ramping up his velocity in the 'pen

For the second season in a row, the Twins have taken a player who had previously served as a starter and given him a prominent role in the bullpen. Last year the Twins were very pleased with the performance of Glen Perkins as he developed into their most reliable arm in the bullpen. In a lot of tough situations, Ron Gardenhire turned to Perkins to get the team out of a jam. But in the middle of a miserable season, it was hard to see the true value of those performances.

Flash forward to 2012 and the Twins have shifted Brian Duensing into a role as one of their most important relief arms out of the bullpen. Through the first 18 games of the season for the Twins, Duensing has appeared in half of them. There has only been one game in which he gave up any earned runs and he has been primarily used in the eighth inning. Out of the team's five wins, Duensing has appeared in four of those games so the team is using him when they need him the most.

Last season, Twins fans were astonished with the ability of Perkins to ramp up his velocity with his new spot in the bullpen. During the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Perkins was primarily used as a starter for the Twins. His fastball velocity sat around 90.5 mph in 2008 and in the next year it dropped to 89.7 mph. These are not numbers that jump off of the page at you. But if a pitcher is able to control this pitch and have some movement on it, he can still be successful. Take a look at the change in his velocity as he started to find his spot in the bullpen.
Much like Perkins before him, Duensing has spent a little bit of time as an arm out of the bullpen before. This means he has experience with the current role he is filling. But in many of the previous seasons when Duensing has started the year in the bullpen, he has found his way into the starting rotation by the end of the year. The least amount of games that Duensing has started in a year was nine games in 2009. He hasn't stayed in the bullpen for an entire year to show what he can do as a full-time relief option.
Duensing hopes to find himself in the same territory as Perkins by the end of the year. The Twins were so impressed with the way Perkins looked in the bullpen that the club signed him to a contract extension during spring training. He will now be with the team through the end of the 2015 season and the organization has a option for the 2016 year. If Duensing is able to find similar success to Perkins in 2012, the team might consider giving Duensing a long-term deal. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2013 so there is still time for the Twins to figure out what they have in Duensing.

In an ideal world the Twins might have wanted Duensing to spend the entire year in the bullpen so he could be more accustom to this job. With all of the issues so far in the starting rotation, it makes it hard to imagine a situation where the Twins wouldn't have to turn to Duensing as a starter at some point in 2012. Scott Baker is out for the year, Francisco Liriano has been a disaster, and Nick Blackburn has been trying to come back from an injury. The Twins have already put Liam Hendriks into the rotation and Anthony Swarzak continues to be an option for making spot starts. In the minor leagues, Scott Diamond is off to a tremendous start but it is hard to imagine him being a long-term solution.

It is nice to see Duensing showing the ability to transition back to the bullpen after spending most of last year in the starting rotation. There might be a chance that he moves back to the starting rotation at some point in 2012. But at this point, it looks like the team will give Duensing every opportunity to be a dominant relief option. If Perkins is in line to be the closer in the near future for the Twins, Duensing could be a dominant set-up man leading to the ninth inning.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Adopt-A-Prospect Introduction: Adrian Salcedo

Seth Stohs and the other TwinsCentric guys have put together an interesting concept for inclusion on their website, TwinsDaily. Yesterday morning fans were asked to "adopt" a player from the Twins minor league system to follow as that player travels through the farm system. Each player was only allowed to be pick once and it was offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Once you selected a player the rules became pretty simple. You were required to write an introductory post that included their basic information like height, weight, and handedness. This first post could also include their previous stats from their time in the minor leagues. Then during the rest of the year you are required to post at least once a week about their progress in the system. Overall it is going to be a fun process to watch develop over at the TwinsDaily site.

I got to the selection forum about a half hour after the forum went live so some of the top prospects were already off of the board. I "adopted" Adrian Salcedo, the number seven ranked prospect in my top 20 Twins prospects for the start of the 2012 season. I wrote a short introductory post last night on TwinsDaily with the basic information about Salcedo and his statistics for the seasons he has completed through 2011.

So throughout the year, I will be periodically updating you on one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins minor league system. Below you will find a introductory post on Salcedo with some information about how he got to this point in his career.

Enjoy the first step in my "Adopt-A-Prospect" series with Adrian Salcedo.
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Salcedo joined the Twins as a young 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007 and in his time in the organization, he has done nothing but impress as he has moved consistently through the farm system. The lanky 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher is at the beginning of his fifth year as a pitcher in the organization and he has worked his way through the system to the starting rotation of the High-A Fort Myers Miracle. His journey from the Dominican Republic to this point in his career has been quite the story and he seems destined for Minnesota. 

In his first year with the Twins organization, Salcedo was asked to pitch in the Dominican Summer League. That first season allowed Salcedo to show his ability to be a control pitcher by only giving up eight walks and having a 0.842 WHIP. His 65.1 innings on the mound were solid as he posted a 1.65 ERA as a 17-year-old. It was a good start to his career and the Twins were happy with their new signee.

The following season Salcedo came stateside for his first short-season in the Gulf Coast League. It seemed that the transition did not even impact Salcedo as he was able to post very good numbers for the second year in a row. His outstanding ERA from the year before went even lower to 1.46 with the GCL Twins. The Twins like control pitchers and he continued to fit this mold by only allowing three walks and a 1.022 WHIP. He pitched 61.2 innings and his SO/BB rate was 19.33, an off the charts number.

Salcedo had caught the eyes of many in the Twins organization and he would be throw into the fire at the beginning of the 2010 season. The Fort Myers Miracle had some issues in their starting rotation and Salcedo was asked to make six starts with them to start the season. He had never pitched higher than the rookie leagues so this was a big jump to make for a 19-year-old. As could be predicted, there were some bumps along the way but the experience he gained with the Miracle could help him in the long run. Eventually, he would be sent back to the rookie leagues with the E-Twins and this level of competition seemed to help Salcedo get back on track. During his time in Elizabethton, he was twice named the pitcher of the week for the entire league. He ended the year with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.232 WHIP in 93.1 innings pitched between both levels.

The start of the 2011 season would be another transition year for Salcedo because this would be his first year in a full season league. He quickly showed he belonged in the Midwest League by striking out 10 batters in his first trip to the mound. From there Salcedo would put up impressive numbers by posting a 2.93 ERA and a 1.170 WHIP in 135.0 innings on the mound. At the mid-season point, he was named as a Midwest League All-Star for his stellar play on the field. The Twins are being careful with Salcedo and he was asked to be a relief pitcher at the end of the year so the organization could limit his innings.

Salcedo began this year in familiar territory with the Fort Myers Miracle but this time he would be playing at his own level. He has made three starts this year and in each of the outings, he has allowed two earned runs or less. The team is still working to stretch Salcedo out because he has not pitch more than five innings in any of his appearances. The one stat that sticks out so far in 2012 is the eight walks he has given up. For a control pitcher, the Twins will want him to be able to keep his amount of walks to a minimal amount. It is still early in the year so there is plenty of time for Salcedo to show that he is one of the best prospects in the Twins organization.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Where will Liriano fit into the bullpen?

At the end of spring training, it seemed that Francisco Liriano was posed to have a strong start to the year. After pitching in the Dominican Winter League, Liriano had seemed to have it all together in spring training and he was ready to help the Twins forget about the headaches involved with the 2011 season. But here is a prime example of why you shouldn't trust spring training numbers because the results on the field have been disastrous. 

The statistics from his time on the mound this year are tough to look at. His ERA is 11.02 with an awful 2.327 WHIP and he has given up the most earned runs (20) and walks (13) in the entire American League. He hasn't been able to make it deep into games either with an average of just over four innings per start. Four starts into the 2012 season and the Twins are planning to "take a step back" with their left-handed hurler.

This phrase can take on a whole bunch of meanings but the Twins can ill afford to leave him in the starting rotation. He has only made it through the fifth inning in two of his outings and he has hardly put the Twins in position to win by giving up an average of five runs per start. In the coming days, he could be asked to move to the bullpen and this would start a chain of events for the Twins.

There are a couple of options for the Twins to fill the rotation spot that would be vacated by Liriano. With a couple of starters missing at the beginning of the year, Anthony Swarzak was asked to start the year in the rotation. He had one bad start earlier this week in New York but his first two appearances of the year were solid. The team has also seen some marginal success from Swarzak as a starter in the past. For his career when he starts, Swarzak has posted a 5.50 ERA and a 1.471 WHIP in 26 starts. These are not eye popping numbers but anything looks better than what Liriano has produced so far this year.

If the Twins want to leave Swarzak in his role as a relief option, the Twins could look to the minor leagues to fill Liriano's rotation spot. Scott Diamond has been one of the best pitchers at the start of the season at the Triple-A level. He has some outstanding numbers in his four starts with an ERA of 1.07 and a 1.026 WHIP in 26.1 innings on the mound. In fact out of his four starts this year, he has only given up earned runs in one of is outings. His hot start to the season could be hard for the front office to ignore with a possible rotation spot to fill.

The Twins seem determined to try and help Liriano to regain some of his confidence. One of the only ways for this to happen could be for him to shift to a different role out of the bullpen. This begs the question, where does Liriano fit into the bullpen? Would he be used as a long relief man for starters who aren't able to get far into a game? This might end up being a mop-up role but the Twins need him to spend some time on the mound in non-pressure situations.

At the end of last season, the Twins gave Liriano a couple of relief appearances as the team was trying to limit the pain on a rough season. In one of these outings, the team was down by significant margin so there wasn't a lot of pressure on him and he managed to pitch two innings without any damage. The other contest was tied at two when he entered and the Indians ended up scoring five earned runs off of Liriano in a third of an inning. During his entire big league career, Liriano has an ERA of 4.46 with a 1.427 WHIP in 34.1 innings as a relief pitcher. Both of these numbers are higher than his career average as a starter.

Near the start of spring training, I wrote about the possibility of Liriano not being with the Twins beyond the coming season. In this piece, I wrote that if Liriano were pitching well, the team would probably try to trade him before the deadline. That scenario doesn't seem to be coming true so my other point was that a bad season from Liriano could spell the end of his Twins career. For Lirano to have any trade value for the Twins, he would need to have a miraculous turnaround in the next couple of months. Barring a miracle, it looks like the Twins will shift Liriano to the bullpen and then part ways with the struggling pitcher at the end of the season.

A once promising career with the Twins will always leave fans wondering what could have been for the player who was suppose to be an ace for years to come.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

Well the Twins made their series in the Bronx much more enjoyable than was originally anticipated by many fans in Twins Territory. The offense seems to be clicking on all cylinders and the bullpen has been surprisingly good in some tough situations against a very good line-up. Hopefully this positive momentum will carry over into their weekend series with the Rays and the Twins can start the climb back to the .500 mark.

The baseball world had plenty of stories from the entire week and the headlines will continue to roll in as the season progresses. Ozzie Guillen returned to the Marlins, Matt Cain and Cliff Lee got caught up in a pitcher's duel, Jamie Moyer seemed to defy Father Time, and Ivan Rodriguez is set to retire as a member of the Rangers. There were plenty of stories from the Twins organization as well. So let's jump in and see what's in store for this edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks."
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: Since the Twins were in NYC, they made time to visit the MLB Fan Cave. It also made sense because Lindsay Guentzel, a Minnesota native, is one of the nine fans hanging out in the MLB Fan Cave. Check out this video done with Joe Mauer during his visit and you can even make out Brian Duensing in the background. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mixed messages might have messed up Liriano

In the aftermath of a disastrous outing from Francisco Liriano on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, there has been plenty written about the lanky left-hander for the Twins. The Twins watched Liriano struggle out of the gate in 2011 and now the same story is playing out at the beginning of 2012. In his first three starts of the year, he has allowed the most earned runs and walks in the American League. His ERA has ballooned to 11.91 and he has yet to make it into the sixth inning during any of his appearances. It has been a terrible start to what will be a contract year for Mr. Liriano.

How far things have fallen with their once promising star and now the Twins find themselves in a precarious position with their pitcher that has never been able to regain his dominant form. The Twins are in the sixth year of the Liriano experiment and the results are turning out to be far worse than the hypothesis suggested back in 2006. One of the top prospects in all of baseball at 22-years old and now at 28, he seems to have reached his sticking point with the Twins.

It is looking more and more like Liriano's career will be over with the Twins by the time the start of next season rolls around. There will be plenty of people who ask the question, "What went wrong with this young man?" His Tommy John surgery obviously played a role in diminishing some of his ability but he has shown flashes of brilliance since returning to the mound. But there has to be more to the downfall of Liriano.

The Twins have tried a variety of approaches with Liriano during his tenure with the team. They have let him pitch in winter ball some seasons to see if that better prepared him for the start of the year. Some of the coaching staff has attempted to find different ways for Liriano to approach his pitching style to see if that would consummate better results on the field. All of these changes in approach might have come off as mixed messages to Liriano and this could have messed up some of his ability on the field.

2006 message to Liriano: "Go out and dominate by throwing your nasty stuff to every player in the line-up." 
This message sounded good at the time but everyone knew his violent delivery seemed posed for some kind of arm issue. The first half of the 2006 season was magical with Liriano and Johan Santana destroying the American League with their pitching efforts. It seemed like these two players might be enough to carry the Twins all the way to their first World Series in over 15 years. Liriano had dominant stuff so there was not much thought that he needed to put into his pitching. All he had to do was step on the mound and his electric stuff would take care of any batter who dug into the box.

2008-09 message to Liriano: "We really liked what you did before you got hurt so let's try and get you back to that point."
Learning how to pitch after Tommy John surgery can be a challenge for some players. Liriano had been so dominant before the procedure and that filled him with confidence. Since he lost a little off of his dominant stuff, he was going to need to learn how to be a pitcher. This process wouldn't be pretty but the Twins still had hope that Liriano would be able to reach his ace potential once again.

2010 message to Liriano: "You have the stuff to be an ace and your injury is behind you. Now it's time to show that you are an ace."
Liriano seemed to put it all together and the team looked like they had finally found their ace for the coming years. His confidence grew and the results were positive on the field. There were still some moments of weakness where nerves would get the best of Liriano but he seemed to have turned a corner. He was one of the top ten pitchers in the American League and on his way to being an ace.

2011 message to Liriano: "Maybe switching to being a pitch to contact starter will help be even better."
In the offseason, Liriano took the winter off because of the high number of innings he pitched in 2010. He came to spring training out of shape and he had not been performing some of the elbow exercises the team had given him as part of his offseason workout regime. To overcome some of these problems, the Twins gave Liriano a new message. He wasn't suppose to try and strike everyone out because then he didn't last very long into the game. He should still get a strikeout when he could but a quick ground out was just as good as a K. The coaching staff had used this concept with other pitchers in the organization and it had served them well in the past. That wasn't the case with Mr. Liriano.

2012 message to Liriano: "Relax. Don't let the bad outcomes on the mound impact your results to the following batters. Become a pitcher and not a thrower."
The biggest part of the message to Liriano might be the fact that he needs to relax on the mound. When Liriano seems to start to unravel, the catcher is suppose to be able to bring him back to reality and calm his nerves. Parker Hageman also notes that there seems to be something wrong with Liriano's mechanics. This will only add to the list of things the Twins need to change with Liriano for him to find success this year.

Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson are probably the two men that have given plenty of messages to Liriano over the years. At this point in his career, the multitude of messages given to him has yet to change the course of his career in a more positive direction. It's looking more and more like Liriano might be better off with another team and new voices trying to get the message through to him. Now it seems the only question remaining is if the Twins can get anything for Liriano or if he will walk for free in the offseason.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 MLB Draft starting to come into focus

There are less than two months left until the MLB Draft and this means clubs are starting to get a picture of who the top prospects are going to be when it comes to selection time. Many of the top baseball writing sites have started to put together their initial lists of who are the best players available in the June draft. Baseball America thinks there are five major players for the top pick. Keith Law of ESPN has a similar ranking with high school outfielder Byron Buxton named as the top player on his mid-season list.
The Twins will be selecting second in the draft and this puts a lot of pressure on the club to pick up a player that can be an impact arm or bat for years to come. This leaves the team in an interesting predicament when it comes to the second player to come off of the board. Should the team pick the best available player? Or since there are no clear-cut favorites for the top spots, should the team pick the best available player at a position of need for the organization?

As I documented during this offseason, the Twins have a variety of options at their disposal with the second pick. Currently in the Twins farm system, there is a surplus of high quality outfielders and this could allow the team to focus on some other needs in the draft. During last year's first round, the Twins selected middle infielder Levi Michael with the 30th pick of the draft. The team also moved one of their top prospects, Eddie Rosario, from the outfield to second base. Does this mean the team is set in the middle infield? Both of these players are multiple years away from appearing at Target Field so it is hard to say they will be the cornerstones of the infield for foreseeable future.

At the same time, pitching is a vital part of the game and finding top of the rotation starters can be hard to do. Free agent starting pitching is extremely costly so the best way to save money is to find arms in the draft. The Twins could be losing four out of the five members in their starting rotation at the end of the year. Former first round picks Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson might be ready to join the rotation at some point next year but both of those players are far from guaranteed to make it the big leagues in 2013. By adding a college arm like Kyle Zimmer or Mark Appel that could move through the system quickly, the organization might be benefited the most in the short term.

 With all of that being said, what happens if the Astros don't take Byron Buxton with the first pick in the draft? The young outfielder is being compared to players like the BJ Upton and Justin Upton who were top prospects coming out of high school. In the past the Twins have seemed to have a tendency to select highly athletic outfielders with some of their early round picks. Denard Span, Ben Revere, Joe Benson, and Aaron Hicks were all high school players with enough athletic ability that the club felt good about selecting them in the first or second round. Buxton would certainly fit into this athletic outfielder mold and the Twins could jump at the chance to pick him if he falls to their spot in the draft.

If the draft were to play out as shown in the graph above, the Twins would be selecting the top college position player in the draft, Mike Zunino. The stud catcher from the University of Flordia was recently named as Baseball America's Midseason Most Outstanding Player for the collegiate level. He is the best player on the best team in the country and he continues to get better as the season goes on. As a junior he has hit .346/.408/.684 with 10 home runs and 15 RBI. At the same time he is an outstanding catcher behind the plate who can control the base paths and be in command of the pitching staff. The Twins have already seen Mauer move away from some of his catching duties this season and it would make sense to pick the player to replace him in this year's draft.

There is still a little less than half of the season for players to separate themselves for the MLB Draft. The picture for the top players available has started to come into focus with Buxton and Zunino being near the top of the list. There will be plenty of options for the Twins when it comes to the selection in the second spot of the draft. But with no clear-cut favorites for the top spots in the draft, there are going to be some people who are unhappy with the team's selection. The Twins could take an athletic high school outfielder, the top college bat, or an experienced college pitcher. Now there are only a few weeks until June 4th for these players to stand out above the crowd.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Morneau's changing role leaving Parmelee behind

In the final weeks of spring training, the Twins made a few adjustments to their line-up to align themselves for the start of the 2012 regular season. As part of these moves, Josh Willingham moved from right field to left field, Justin Morneau was going to be the full-time designated hitter, and Chris Parmelee was slated to see time at first base and in the outfield. All of these moves had trickle down effects for the other players on the roster and the Twins have seen some of those impacts during their first portion of the season.

Morneau is trying to get back on the field after missing huge pieces of the last two seasons. He has also been trying to figure out what type of routine he should have when he is in the DH role. There can be a lot of down time between at-bats and some players who are new to the DH role have a tough time figuring out what to do with this extra time. Paul Molitor and David Ortiz have offered advice to Morneau about what to do between at-bats. For Morneau, his new routine has included riding an exercise bike and watching video of the opposing pitcher.

On Monday night, there were a few changes to the Twins line-up before their contest with the New York Yankees. Josh Willingham had been swinging a hot bat and the American League honored him with Player of the Week so the Twins moved to the fourth spot in their batting order. Morneau had been struggling so it made sense to split up the left-handed duo of Morneau and Joe Mauer. When Ron Gardenhire went to talk to Morneau about this move, Morneau said it was fine if he got to play at first base. This was the first time since the beginning of March that Morneau would be slotted in to play in his familiar role as the first baseman.

The results from Monday were very good for Morneau in his first game back on the defensive side of the ball. He finished the game by going 2-for-5 with a towering home run to one of the deepest parts of the outfield at Yankee Stadium. With the interleague portion of the Twins schedule approaching next month, the Twins needed to give Morneau a few opportunities to play first base. There is no DH when the Twins travel to NL ballparks and to get Morneau into the line-up the Twins need him to be able to play at first base. This first experiment for Morneau seemed to have been a success and the real test will be how he feels when he gets to the field today.

With Morneau's role changing on the team, the one player left behind seems to be Chris Parmelee. Coming out of spring training, Parmelee was a surprise addition to the Twins roster but his play in the spring had earned him a spot on the team. With Morneau scheduled to be a full-time DH, it looked like Parmelee would see significant playing time at first base. Out of the team's first ten games, Parmelee has started six of them at first base. He hasn't exactly hit the cover off of the ball in those six games but this could be expect from a player who hasn't spent any time at the Triple-A level.

If playing at first base is going to become more of a routine for Morneau, Parmelee's spot on the team might be in danger. The Twins have already used Mauer for multiple games at first base and by adding Morneau to the mix for time at first base, Parmelee could be relegated to more time on the bench. Do the Twins really need Parmelee sitting on the bench and not getting regular playing time? Ben Revere was in the same situation with the Twins and the team sent him to Rochester so he could get into the line-up everyday. There is no point in letting a young player like Parmelee sit around especially when he hasn't found success at the Triple-A level.

It is still early in the season and Morneau's role continues to be adjusted as the Twins search for a way for him to be successful after everything he has tried to overcome. For the Twins to be successful in 2012, they need Morneau to be a force in the middle of the line-up to go along with Willingham and Mauer. If Morneau is going to be as successful as the team wants him to be, he might need to spend more time playing first base. But Parmelee looks like he has a bright future with the Twins and this means the Twins need to find at-bats for him at the big league level or send him to Rochester to get him ready for a more regular role with the team.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Are we living in the "Golden Age" of catchers?

There has been an influx of contract extensions for catchers in recent weeks with Carlos Santana of the Indians being the latest to sign on the dotted line. Some think the Indians might have locked up baseball's top catcher but that title can be debated with players from both leagues coming out on top. The Twins already have Joe Mauer their MVP catcher and hometown hero locked up to a huge deal but there are plenty of other big name catchers across the baseball world. There are players behind the plate in the American League and the National League who have already become stars or who are well on their way to becoming big name players.

Here is a look at some of the top catchers in each league and even a few young players who could move from top prospect lists to being in the discussion for top catcher in their league.

American League (2011 Baseball Reference WAR)
Mike Napoli, Rangers (5.5)
Alex Avila, Tigers (5.4)
Matt Wieters, Orioles (4.0)
Carlos Santana, Indians (3.9)
Joe Mauer, Twins* (1.7)
Salvador Perez, Royals (1.1)
Jesus Montero, Mariners (Top 10 Prospect by Baseball America)
Travis d'Arnaud, Blue Jays (Top 20 Prospect by Baseball America)
*Injury shortened season

National League (2011 Baseball Reference WAR)
Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks (4.5)
Yadier Molina, Cardinals (3.9)
Wilson Ramos, Nationals (2.5)
Brian McCann, Braves (2.5)
Buster Posey, Giants* (1.5)
Devin Mesoraco, Reds (Top 20 Prospect by Baseball America)
*Injury shortened season 

The hardships of catching on a star player have been well documented in Minnesota with Joe Mauer and in San Fransisco with Buster Posey. Both of these star players missed large chunks of last season because of catching related injuries. Bob Harkins of NBC Sports wrote a couple of weeks ago that catching is the toughest job in all of sports. As he wrote in the article,
"The catcher is a different kind of animal altogether. He's a scout and a coach. He's a psychiatrist and a self-help therapist. He's the first one to sacrifice his body and the last line of defense. And if he wants to make big-time money, he's going to have to hit, too."
All of this pressure on catchers has forced some of the names listed above to find time playing other positions on the field. The Twins have used Mauer at first base on a more frequent basis to start the season and this has allowed his bat to be in the line-up for every game in 2012. Santana had a very good year with the Indians last year and he found himself on the field at first base for 66 games. Top prospect Montero is at the start of his first full season in the big leagues and the Mariners have only let him catch in one game so far. Many of these high level catchers are good enough from the offensive side of the game that their managers need to find ways for them to play almost everyday.

After considering all of this information, it is easy to wonder if we are living in one of the best era's in history for players at the catching position. There have been many very good catchers in the past but the plethora of quality catchers seems to be very high across the baseball world. Could we be in the middle of the "Golden Age" of catchers?

In an article written for ESPN's SweetSpot Blog, Dave Schoenfield examined every season since 1969 where there was a surplus of catchers with a WAR of 3.5 or higher. The two best seasons on this list were in 1977 and 1978 with nine and ten catchers that had a 3.5 WAR or higher. This was the era of Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Ted Simmons. Last season there were six catchers who reached this level in MLB but that didn't include some notable stars like Mauer, Posey, and McCann.

The closest recent season with six catchers with over a 3.5 WAR was in 2004. Javy Lopez, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Kendall, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, and Victor Martinez played well enough to easily make the 3.5 WAR mark. It is eight seasons later and many of these players will not be playing in baseball this year. Martinez is injured and some of the other prominent names have already hung up their catching gear and called it a career. It was time for a new era of catchers and they might have been the predecessors to one of the best crop of catchers in history.

When it comes to catchers, it is hard to predict how the season will stack up at the end of the year. There can be injuries that push players to the disabled list for large pieces of the schedule or there can be sub-par play from players that are expected to do more on the field. Perez of the Royals will already miss a big chunk of the 2012 season so there is not much of a chance that he will reach the 3.5 WAR mark. But even with Perez out of the equation, there are 12 other catchers that could have a WAR of higher than 3.5 at the end of the year. As mentioned above, the record for any season since 1969 is 10 players and this means we could be in the middle of a very special season for catchers in 2012.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

The first week of Twins baseball has not been perfect by any means but the team has shown signs of life in the last couple of days. Those games were against two very good pitchers from the Angels, Jared Weaver and Dan Haren, so the team might be moving in the right direction. In a rare occurrence on Thursday afternoon, Joe Mauer hit a home run at Target Field for only the second time since the stadium opened in 2010. Besides glimmers of hope, the Twins offense needs to continue on it's upward trejectory if the team wants to find success in 2012.

The two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers are coming to town this weekend with a couple of issues themselves. Former Twins closer Joe Nathan has struggled in two of his outings with his new club and both times his team would end up losing the contest. Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitching phenom, is scheduled to pitch on Saturday along with the unveiling of Kent Hrbek's statue outside of Gate 14. The first weekend action of the 2012 season at Target Field should be full of some great games and the Twins hope to get their team moving in the right direction.

Another work week has come to an end so I hope you enjoy the following stories that I found from throughout the last week. Baseball is back and it has been great to see my Twitter feed explode with excitement in the last seven days. The Twins aren't off to a perfect start but it is a long season with plenty of baseball left to play.
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau homered in the same game for the first time since July 2010. The event also took place at Target Field where Mauer came into the game with only one career home run. Morneau's shot was a towering blast deep into the seats. Here is the video evidence of both of those balls leaving the park.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Will April showers bring second half flowers?

Fans of the Twins are well aware of the slow start the club has gotten off to at the start the 2012 season. It seems that a segment of the fan base is worried that the Twins are falling back into the same patterns that lead to a 99-loss season in 2011. Scott Baker and Liam Hendriks have already been forced to the sidelines with injuries, there are still question marks in the bullpen, and the offense has struggled mightily at the plate. The hope was that the Twins would start the season by winning some games and putting last year behind them but this hasn't been the case so far this year.

Should this have been expected though? The Twins have a very tough schedule in the first month of the year that includes teams like the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, and Red Sox. It would have been nice to get out of the first month of the year with a .500 record but maybe that was a long shot. Are the Twins just not an early season team? Do they struggle to win games in the first portion of the year?

Since 2008, the Twins have only finished the month of April with an above .500 record one time. In 2010, the Twins got off to a hot start and the team would put together one of the best seasons in franchise history. The 2008 and 2009 seasons started slow but the team would end up in a one-game playoff for the Central Division at the end of each of those campaigns.
During this same time span, it has seemed that the first half of the year was a time to figure out how the team was going to develop over the course of the season. Around the All-Star break, the Twins would be near the .500 mark with the trade deadline fast approaching. Should the team add players for a second half run or should the team sit tight with the players they currently have on the roster? Even last year when the team would suffer in the second half of the year, the Twins were seven games under .500 in the first half of the year. Being near the .500 mark around the All-Star break has allowed the Twins and their fans to have a semblance of hope for the second half of the year.
The second half of the season seems to be where the Twins make a name for themselves by playing well in the AL Central. The unbalanced schedule and divisional play has helped the Twins to be in the playoffs or on the brink of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. During last year, the Twins thought they could still be in the pennant race at the trade deadline so they held on to a lot of their veteran players. The second half surge never happened for that club but strong baseball in the second half of the year helped to form the identity for the other three teams on this list.
There is a good chance that the Twins are not on their way to winning 100 games this season but slow starts have been commonplace for Twins Territory in recent years. The baseball season is extremely long and a lot can happen between now and the end of the year. So there is no reason to overreact to the first handful of games. Like most of the last few seasons, the Twins will probably be near the .500 mark at the end of the first half of the year. What they do in the second half could be the difference in a 99-loss season and pushing for a spot in the postseason.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lost generation of Twins fans brought back in 2002

One of highlights of Opening Day at Target Field was the 10-year reunion for the 2002 Minnesota Twins team, the last team from the franchise to play in the ALCS. There were 11 of the 25 members of the team in attendance at the game along with most of the coaching staff. There were plenty of cheers for fan favorites like Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Eddie Guardado. It is hard to imagine how far the team has come since the beginning of the 2002 season and if that team was unable to succeed, would the franchise even exists at this point?

After winning the team's first World Series in the late 80's and their second World Series in the early 1990's, the Twins would go through a stretch of eight years where the team would finish in fourth or fifth place in their division. The middle years of the 1990's became a tough time for the sport of baseball. There was the strike shortened year in 1995 without a World Series and from the next few years it would be hard to bring fans back to the sport. Rich owners and players had turned their backs on the fan base and it became a tough time for the baseball world.

Poor baseball in Minnesota would make it tough to draw fans but some fans would start to trickle back because of a few factors in the late 90's. In 1998, there was the chase for the home run record that had been held by Roger Maris. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. were hitting balls out of the park at lightning speed. Most of this chase for the home run didn't impact the Twins because a lot of that action was occurring in the National League. By seasons end, the team would finish 22 games under .500 and with the smallest attendance in the American League.

The next couple seasons would be more of the same for the Twins but something was slowly changing. After finishing the 2000 season with the worst record in baseball, the Twins put together a surprise run in 2001 to finish second in the division. For the first time in multiple seasons, the Twins didn't finish last in attendance in the AL. The fan base was slowly starting to grow because nothing draws in fans like winning on the field. The young and upcoming Twins had plenty of talent that was blossoming but the upcoming offseason would be full of turmoil.

Following this magical season, the Twins went through an offseason of unknowns. Tom Kelly, the winningest manager in club history, was stepping aside and an unproven manager by the name of Ron Gardenhire was taking the reigns. There were also rumblings across the baseball world of the possibility of contracting two teams from each of the leagues and the Twins were considered to be the front runner for deletion from the AL. After a bounce back year in 2001, the 2002 season looked like it could be the last hurrah for the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins would get off to a decent start in 2002 but their second half winning percentage of .611 would truly separate them from the pack. They stayed above .500 for the entire season and destroyed the bottom feeders in the AL Central. They spent 161 days in first place in the AL Central and the furthest the team ever got behind in the division was four games out of first and that was in the early weeks of the season. The franchise would qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1991 and they surprised the baseball world by beating the mighty Oakland A's in the first round of the playoffs. The Twins were back and they would stay atop the AL Central for a majority of the next decade.

One of the forgotten groups in all of this was the fans of the younger generation. They were too young to remember much of the success of World Series teams for the Twins. This meant they grew up watching painful baseball being played in an ugly white dome in downtown Minneapolis. The stands were mostly empty, the team failed to produce on the field, and the baseball world watched as the Twins were slowly dying. This lost generation of fans couldn't remember a time when the Twins had been successful but that would all change in the 2002 season.

These fans of the younger generation would be able to attend their first playoff series in over a decade at the Metrodome. They would get to wave their first Homer Hanky and watch their team celebrate on the field after winning their first playoff series since 1991. The Metrodome would be packed and the fans could feel what it was like when thousands of voices made the roof shake off of the dome that didn't seem as ugly anymore.

A new generation of Twins fan had been born and they would watch their team succeed at a high level over the course of the next decade. These fans that had been lost were now found and the course of the franchise's history would never be the same...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dozier's hot start is hard to ignore

At the end of spring training when Brian Doizer was sent down to the minor leagues, he seemed to leave the Twins facility with a chip on his shoulder. His time in the big league camp had been sufficient with him hitting .277/.333/.511 with three home runs and nine RBI in 47 at-bats. With him only having spent part of a season at the Double-A level, it seemed like a very long shot for him to make the club out of spring training. Dozier felt like he had played well enough to be on the team and now he has been determined to show the Twins they won't be able to hold him down for too long.

The 24-year old middle infielder for the Red Wings has gotten off to a hot start in the first five games of the season in Rochester. He has been a spark plug for the offense by batting .474/.545/.789 with three doubles, a home run, and three runs scored in five games. In all but one of those games, he has multiple hits with his best game coming yesterday when he was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run, and three RBI. He is hitting like a man on a mission and he mission is clearly to get to the big leagues as soon as possible.

Last year was a breakout season for Mr. Dozier in the minor leagues as he won the Twins Minor League Player of the Year. Since he left the rookie leagues, Dozier had tried to find his swing at the Low-A and High-A level but he never hit over .278 and his power numbers weren't outstanding. Something clicked for Dozier last year when he started the year back in the Florida State League. With the Miracle at the start of last season, he hit .322/.423/.472 and he had 18 extra-base hits. The Twins promoted him to New Britain and his hot hitting continued to the tune of .318/.384/.502 with seven home runs, seven triples, and 22 doubles. The Twins didn't have many positives in 2011 but the season of Dozier might have been near the top of their list.

During this past offseason, the Twins sent Dozier to the Arizona Fall League to better prepare him for the 2012 season. His time in this highly touted prospect league seems to have eased his transition to the Triple-A level after playing only 78 games for New Britain last year. The Twins organization has struggled in recent years to produce much in the middle infield so Dozier could be a beacon of hope for the future of the franchise. If he can lock down one of the middle infield positions for the foreseeable future, he can bridge the gap to some of the other talent in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

While Dozier has been hitting the cover off of the ball in Rochester, the offense of the Twins has struggled to do anything in their first four games of the year. The players who have started in the middle infield for the Twins are a combined 1-for-24 with three strikeouts at the plate. There are plenty of other question marks with the Twins offense at this early point in the year. But if Dozier continues his hot start and the middle infield continues to struggle, it will be hard for the team to hold him in the minor leagues.

It is good to see Dozier finding success at the Triple-A level during this very early junction in the season. The short amount of time he spent at the Double-A level could have meant he would go through some problems with the transition to Rochester. This has not been the case so far this year and that is a great sign for one of the top prospects in the Twins organization. If he continues to hit well and the Twins offense remains stagnant, it will only be a matter of time before Dozier is making his debut with the Twins.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rough Opening Weekend has silver lining

The Twins struggled mightily in their first series of the year against a team that is not projected to do very well this season, the Baltimore Orioles. The three starting pitchers for the Orioles looked like Cy Young winners even though each of them came into the contest with ERAs of well over 4.00 for last season. The offense struggled to push runs across the plate in all three contests and the pitching for the Twins looked very similar to last year with starters not lasting very long and relief pitchers coming in to allow more runs to score.

This sounds like a miserable first three games of the season for any team but for the Twins and their fans it was tough to watch their team flounder in Baltimore with the organization coming off of one of the worst year's in franchise history. Now the team hits a devastating part of their schedule that includes some of the best team's in the American League. The projected pitchers for the Angels and Rangers during the next couple of series will look even more daunting than the crew sent out by the Orioles. Overall, this doesn't seem like a good start but there has to be a silver lining from all of this mess.

1. Baseball's long regular season: One of the best things about the baseball season is the length of the schedule. Even though the Twins lost their first three games, there are still 159 more contests for the team to prove they are worth a darn in 2012. It's way too early to panic for many of the clubs in baseball. Projected playoff teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox are off to slow starts themselves and their expectations of making a long October run have not changed in the past couple of days. There isn't anything that says the Twins can't turn it around in the middle of this slow start and make something out of this year.

2. JJ Hardy curse: This might not be a real thing but the Orioles have owned the Twins during this year and last year. Since JJ Hardy was traded away, the Twins are now a combined 2-9 versus Baltimore. In those contests the Twins have been outscored 59 to 21 so most of the games have not been very close. This might not seem like a very positive thing but it is good to remember that the Twins have struggled with team's from the AL East in previous years. Fans of the Twins expected them to do well on Opening Weekend but maybe those expectations should have been tempered a little bit.

3. Morneau's swing looked good: There weren't many positives from the offensive side of the ball but in the middle of this mess there was one bright spot. Justin Morneau is off to a hot start with four hits in his first ten at-bats of the year. Half of his hits have been doubles and Josh Willingham is the only other player who has managed an extra base hit so far in 2012. Mornea's good start is wonderful news for a player who is coming off of missing huge chunks of the last two years. He is also adjusting to being a full-time designated hitter and there can be some struggles with this switch. With much of the season still to come, the Twins will have to continue to watch Morneau's health and hope that his offensive output stays at a high level.

4. Carroll's upgraded defense: The Twins had a few goals during the offseason after Terry Ryan took back the role of general manager of the club. One of the biggest goals was to solidify the defense up the middle for a team that has a lot of pitch to contact starters in their rotation. Even with Carroll's struggles at the plate, there have been plenty of defensive gems for him at this early point in the year. After each of the plays made by Carroll, there were many comments flying around on Twitter about that play being something that Tsuyoshi Nishioka would never have been able to do. In all seriousness, it was just nice to see someone make the plays he needed to make at the shortstop position.

5. Duensing and Perkins have strong appearances: One of the biggest bright spots for the Twins last year was Glen Perkins but the 2011 season was really his breakout year. The Twins were hoping he would be just as strong in 2012 and his first appearance of the year did little to disappoint. He face four batters, struck out two of them, and allowed one hit in an innings worth of work. The other arm to watch out of the bullpen for the Twins was Brian Deunsing and his transition back to the bullpen. After the Twins saw Duensing struggle as a starter for most of last year, his move back to the bullpen was expected for 2012. His first appearance out of the bullpen was very good as he faced three batters and struck out two of them.

The Twins will be happy to get back to Minnesota and play in front of their fans at Target Field. There are plenty of games left in the year for the Twins to show what they are made of in 2012.

They haven't pressed the panic button yet and neither should you.