Saturday, March 30, 2013

Talk to Contact: Episode 31

Episode 31 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

In Episode 31, PaulEric, and Cody get together to discuss Twins news leading up to Opening Day, the Twins 25-man roster, and they make their MLB predictions for each division, for the World Series, and for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year.  Cody does a great job in his first full show on Talk to Contact, and while his segways are initially weak, he gets stronger as the episode goes along.  Along the way we're joined by Bryan Craves, the Displaced Tigers Fan, to talk about Opening Day, Justin Verlander, and what might happen in the Twins' first series of the year.  Brace yourself for more than 130 minutes of awesome. 
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help Wilkin Ramirez get playing time).
You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.
You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 Minnesota Twins Awards Preview

The Twins might be destined to finish at the bottom of the AL Central but there can still be some standout stars on a mediocre club. Every year it is fun to put on a prediction hat to try and figure out who will have the best season. This can be tough to do with injuries and other uncertainties.

It has been prediction week here at NoDak Twins Fan. This means a look at the National League, the American League, and a close up view of the AL Central. Most of these predictions are likely to go wrong but that's what makes this whole exercise a whole lot of fun.

Check out the schedule of post for the week and make sure to stop back every day so you are prepared for the upcoming season.

2013 Preview Week
Thursday: Minnesota Twins Awards Preview
Friday: Friday Links-N-Thinks

Each of the awards below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are some legends from the past and even one current MLB player but all have had a significant place in Twins lore.

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Joe Mauer, C
Previous Winners: Josh Willingham (2012), Michael Cuddyer (2011), Joe Mauer (2010)
Justin Morneau might not be with the team for the entire season and it's hard to know if Josh Willingham will be able to duplicate his numbers from 2012. This leaves one man at the top of the preseason pile for Twins MVP. Before the last three seasons, Mauer has been my pick for the MVP of the team. There might be injuries and there probably won't be a ton of home runs. Fans can count on him having a high batting average and to get on base at one of the best rates in the American League. Trevor Plouffe might surprise or Willingham might continue to rake but my money is on Mauer.

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Vance Worley, RHP
Previous Winners: Scott Diamond (2012), Carl Pavano (2011), Carl Pavano (2010)
This has consistently been one of the hardest awards to pick for the Twins. It says a lot about the men that have composed the pitching staff in the Target Field era. Scott Diamond ran into a rough patch at the end of last year and he will be trying to get back from surgery at the beginning of this year. That crossed his name off of my list. Kyle Gibson is starting the year in the minor leagues but he could end up having a strong second half with the club. My heart wanted to pick Liam Hendriks because I want him to find success at the big league level. My head made me pick Worley but I'm not too excited about the selection.

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: Brian Duensing, LHP
Previous Winners: Jared Burton (2012), Glen Perkins (2011), Jesse Crain (2010)
There have been surprise winners in this category over the last two seasons. Glen Perkins exploded onto the scene in 2011 and he is fully entrenched into the closers role for the coming year. Last season, Jared Burton was a tremendous find and the Twins will rely on him again in 2013. Brian Duensing has moved back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. If the Twins are smart, they will leave him in the bullpen where he can find more success. Perkins and Burton might live up to last year's standards but Duensing will be the surprise.

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, CF
Previous Winners: Scott Diamond (2012), Ben Revere (2011), Danny Valencia (2010)
Two of the last three winners of this award are with different organizations so this might not be good news for Scott Diamond. The Twins handed Hicks the reigns for center field after never getting a plate appearance at the Triple-A level. So far this spring, he has looked very good and this could mean he has a chance to win the overall rookie of the year award for the American League. In previous years, Hicks has struggled with the transition to a new level. This will be the biggest transition of his career and he will need to be able to make the appropriate adjustments.

Now it's your turn. What would your ballot look like for the top awards in the Twins organization for 2013? Leave a COMMENT and start the debate.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Training Days: Episode 4

The lockers are starting to empty in the latest edition of "Training Days." There are some tough decisions to make as rosters get cut down to 25-men for Opening Day.

In the first episode, there was a look behind the scenes as players started to arrive at camp for the first workouts of the spring. The second episode jumped into the drills that help to prepare the players for game action. Episode three had a look into games on the road as the team traveled across the state to play ball.

The series has been very entertaining and if you need to get caught up on previous episodes in this series, you will find the links below:

2013 AL Central Preview

The Tigers were supposed to run away with the division last season but their team showed some holes. This allowed a club like the White Sox to surprise the baseball world and finish in second place by only three games. The Indians and the Royals have made some offseason moves to try and push themselves closer to the top.

The AL Central is considered one of the weaker divisions in baseball but the reigning American League Champions reside in the division. Detroit wants to get back to the World Series and win another title for Mo Town. Anything can happen over the course of the regular season and this could leave Detroit on the outside of the playoffs.

It's preview week here at NoDak Twins Fan. Check out the schedule of post for the week and make sure to stop back every day so you are prepared for the upcoming season.

2013 Preview Week
Wednesday: American League Central Preview
Thursday: Minnesota Twins Awards Preview
Friday: Friday Links-N-Thinks

1. Detroit Tigers (Record Prediction: 92-70)
The Tigers have almost all of the pieces to make them an easy pick for the top of the division. Justin Verlander will lead the pitching staff that has other solid starters like Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, and Doug Fister. The line-up will be bolstered by the addition of Torii Hunter and the return of a healthy Victor Martinez. Austin Jackson has turned himself into possibly the best leadoff hitter in the AL Central and who can forget the MVP season of Miguel Cabrera. The one question mark with the Tigers is the back end of the bullpen. At the beginning of the offseason, rookie Bruce Rondon was expected to earn the closer job but he has put together a rough spring. He still might get the job to start the year or the Tigers could use a closer by committee approach.

2. Kansas City Royals (Record Prediction: 84-78)
The Royals bet the farm by trading away Wil Myers and other prospects to the Rays for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Kansas City has struggled to produce pitching prospects and the front office wants to make a run toward the postseason. Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie will try to improve their numbers against AL Central opponents. Eric Hosmer was supposed to be an MVP candidate last year but he struggled to find a consistent swing. If he can make some adjustments and reach his potential, he could be a force in the middle of the line-up. Billy Butler is a veteran leader and he should help to keep some consistency. The front office really wants to make a run this year and they might be in position to make a move at the deadline if they need an extra piece.

3. Cleveland Indians (Record Prediction: 81-81)
Over the last couple of seasons, Cleveland has been a team that seems to be getting close to breaking through. Core players like Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner had struggled with injuries but both of these men are not in Indians uniforms to start the year. New manager Terry Francona is trying to turn around a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since their team lost the 2007 ALCS. Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn were surprise offseason signings and young pitcher Trevor Bauer will look to make a mark on the rotation. There are enough question marks with the pitching staff to wonder if the Tribe will be able to push past the .500 mark. This team could finish ahead of the Royals so it will be a close battle for second place.

4. Chicago White Sox (Record Prediction: 77-85)
Chicago surprised a lot of the baseball world last year when they came within a handful of games from winning the division over the eventual AL Champions. Last year's postseason could have had quite a different feel if the White Sox had ended up as the winner of the Central Division. Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn will provide some powerful swings in the middle of the line-up. Tyler Flowers will try and take over the big offensive hole left behind the plate by the departure of AJ Pierzynski. Chris Sale might be the second best starting pitcher in the division and he will continue to prove himself this year. For Chicago, it's going to be a little tougher to score runs and their rotation is lacking some depth. They will fall back to the pack this year and finish near the bottom of the division.

5. Minnesota Twins (Record Prediction: 69-93)
Twins fans might not like seeing the team at the bottom of the division for the third year in a row but there is nothing that is pointing the team from finishing anywhere else. The lackluster rotation thrown together for 2013 is underwhelming at best. Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, and Justin Morneau will provide offense but it still won't be enough to overcome some of the team's deficiencies. The good news is that the future looks bright and fans will get to watch Aaron Hicks in center field at the beginning of the year. Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe will look to translate minor league numbers into sustained success at the big league level. There are plenty of question marks but the team should be slightly better than the last two years.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 American League Preview

Trying to predict baseball is becoming harder and harder. With the addition of the second wild card spot, it seems like almost every team has a shot at earning a trip to the postseason. No one saw the Orioles and the Athletics making it into the postseason last year. It is also hard to believe the playoffs occurred without the Angels participating.

That is what makes this game so much fun. Fans from every team have hope at the beginning of the year and there are 162 games to separate the men from the boys.

It's preview week here at NoDak Twins Fan. Check out the schedule of post for the week and make sure to stop back every day so you are prepared for the upcoming season.

2013 Preview Week
Tuesday: American League Preview
Wednesday: American League Central Preview
Thursday: Minnesota Twins Awards Preview
Friday: Friday Links-N-Thinks
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays spent the offseason acquiring talent to get them back to somewhere they haven't been since the early 1990's. Toronto spent multiple seasons as the top dog in the AL but that was many years ago in a galaxy far, far away. Last year's NL Cy Young winner RA Dickey will look to calm some of the bats in the AL East. Jose Reyes will use his speed to wreak havoc on the bases and Jose Bautista will get back to his healthy home run hitting form. Their rotation is solid and they have a very strong line-up that will guide them through the gauntlet of the AL East.

AL Central: Detroit Tigers
After being embarrassed by the Giants in last year's World Series, the Tigers have a chip on their shoulder. They have arguably the best pitcher and the best hitter in the game in Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Veteran Torii Hunter was brought in to help an offense that struggled at times and a defense that ranked near the bottom of the AL. The AL Central shouldn't be too much of a challenge for the Tigers even with some revamped rosters in Cleveland and Kansas City. Detroit is built to get back to the Fall Classic.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels
On paper, the Angels had one of the best team's in 2012 but that still didn't translate to a playoff spot. This year will be a different story. Mike Trout will get a full season to show off his talent. This will be dangerous especially with the other offensive players around him. Albert Pujols took a lot of the blame for LA's poor start last year but there was plenty of blame to go around. For the second year in a row, the Angels brought in a big name free agent to bolster their line-up. Josh Hamilton will help to make Los Angeles the best team in the American League.

Wild Cards: Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers
Oakland surprised the baseball world last year by using a rotation mostly comprised of rookie pitchers to win the AL West. They won't be as much of a surprise this season but it helps to have the Astros at the back-end of their division. The A's will benefit from playing Houston 18 times this year and this should help them move to the top. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes will pace the offense and Oakland will have back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the Moneyball Era.

There is a little turmoil in Texas but the Rangers roster still should be strong enough to make an October run. Team leaders Josh Hamilton and Michael Young are in different uniforms so other players will have to step up to the plate. Ian Kinsler is one of the best infielders in the game and Jurickson Profar will look to make his mark in his rookie campaign. AJ Pierzynski and Lance Berkman will try to replace some of the offense lost by Hamilton leaving town.

Wild Card Game: Oakland over Texas
ALDS: Los Angeles over Oakland, Detroit over Toronto
ALCS: Los Angeles over Detroit
World Series: Washington over Los Angeles

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
Trout lost out on last year's MVP award because of the Triple Crown season put together by Miguel Cabrera. This year there won't be another Triple Crown winner and this leaves the door open for Mr. Trout. A full season at the big league level could allow Trout to put together some numbers that have never been seen before. He has a chance to be the first 50/50 player in history. He is also one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. The offense around him will be even better this year and this could put him on pace to break the single season record for runs scored.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Verlander is simply one of the best pitchers in the game. In each of the last two years, he has lead the American League in strikeouts and innings pitched. The Tigers should steam roll the AL Central and this could put Verlander on a pace to set a new career high in wins. Over the last four seasons, he has averaged 238 innings on the mound and it is hard not to think that those innings might start to add up. He hasn't showed any signs of slowing down so a Detroit playoff birth and some gaudy pitching totals should earn him his second Cy Young in the last three years.

AL Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, Twins
There might be better prospects on other teams but not many of the top prospects in the American League will get the chance to start from Opening Day. The Twins are giving Hicks this chance and he could be the team's first Rookie of the Year winner since Marty Cordova in 1995. Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar will have a chance to impact their clubs later in the year. Hicks put together a tremendous spring and he has all of the tools to be a solid player. It will be up to Hicks to make the correct adjustments and show that he belongs at the MLB level.

AL Manager of the Year: John Gibbons, Blue Jays
If things go according to plan in the AL, Gibbons will have the best shot to walk away with the manager of the year award. The front office has done a good job to compile a talented roster. He is still going to have to control a lot of different personalities if the Jays are going to make it through the AL East. If Ned Yost can help to turn the Royals around, he might have a claim to this crown. For now, Gibbons looks like the front runner and it will be up to the rest of the league to stop him.

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 National League Preview

It's preview week here at NoDak Twins Fan so everyone should get excited!! This means it is the last full week before the regular season begins. The start of real baseball can't get here soon enough.

Throughout the week, I will be making my picks for the National League, the American League, the AL Central, and awards for the Twins. Here is a look at the schedule so make sure to stop in all week to get yourself primed for the season to come.

2013 Preview Week
Monday: National League Preview
Tuesday: American League Preview
Wednesday: American League Central Preview
Thursday: Minnesota Twins Awards Preview
Friday: Friday Links-N-Thinks
NL East: Washington Nationals
With a young core of players and a strong pitching staff, the Nationals look to be the creme of the crop in the National League. Bryce Harper will get a full season to show his potential. There also won't be an innings limit on Stephen Strasburg. Both of these players are driven to show they can be the best in the game. Washington will get plenty of push from the Atlanta Braves but the Nats should have enough talent to walk away with their second consecutive NL East crown.

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis has won two of the last six World Series championships and they still made it to the NLCS last year after losing Albert Pujols. They have arguably the best minor league system in the game and some of those young players will be ready to make an impact in 2013. Shelby Miller and Oscar Taveras  will be knocking on the door to the big leagues. The Cards also have solid arsenal of talent at the major league level that will look to win the division for the first time since 2009.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers ownership group has stepped up to the plate and made sure they have a contender on the field. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke might be one of the best top of the rotation duos in all of baseball. Matt Kemp needs to put his injury-plagued year behind him and show that he is an MVP candidate again. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford will look to add some pop to the line-up as the team looks to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Wild Cards: Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants
The Braves have a chance to battle the Nationals for the top spot in the NL East. The pitching depth of the Nationals will separate the two clubs so Atlanta will have to settle for a Wild Card spot for the second year in a row. Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and BJ Upton might form the best outfield in the game. Craig Kimbrel is a force at the back end of the bullpen and Heyward will put himself in the MVP discussion.

The Giants have won two of the last three World Series and they will be looking to go back-to-back in 2013. It is going to be a struggle for them to even reach the playoffs and they will fight with the Reds through the last week of the season. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are two of the best hurlers in the game. Buster Posey will look to earn his second straight MVP but Tim Lincecum continues to be a giant question mark.

Wild Card Game: Braves over Giants
NLDS: Nationals over Braves, Cardinals over Dodgers
NLCS: Nationals over Cardinals

NL MVP: Jason Heyward, Braves
Heyward is only 23-years old and he is all around game makes him one of baseball's most exciting players. He won a Gold Glove last year so his defense might not be the thing holding him back from taking home the hardware. His batting average was only .269 so he would definitely need a spike in this department. If he gets close to a 30-30 season and sees an improvement in average, the award will be his.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Over the last two seasons, Kershaw has lead the NL in ERA, WHIP, and Hits/9. He won the Cy Young in 2011 and he finished second last year to RA Dickey. His win total was a little low last year and the improvement in the Dodgers offense should lead to more run support in 2013. He will only be 25-years old this season and he has been a workhorse over the last few seasons. The Dodgers are looking to make a statement in the NL and Kershaw is their ace.

NL Rookie of the Year: Oscar Taveras, Cardinals
Bryce Harper is a tough act to follow but Oscar Taveras might have just the perfect situation to find success. He is considered one of the best prospects in the game and the Cardinals will look to be a solid team in the National League. Taveras won't start the year in the big leagues but he will make enough of an impact in the stretch run to separate himself from some of the rookie pitchers like Zach Wheeler and Tyler Skaggs.

NL Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny, Cardinals
There are plenty of coaches that will be vying to take home this award but the Cardinals haven't won their division multiple seasons. Matheny did a good job guiding the club to a Wild Card birth in his first year at the helm. It is tough to step into the spot of a future Hall-of-Fame manager but Matheny has a solid organization around him. This will help him to standout above the crowd.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Talk to Contact Episode 30

Starting with this week's episode, I am going to be a regular contributor to the "Talk to Contact" Podcast. 

Episode 30 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

This week on Talk to Contact, Paul and Eric talk about the future of Joe Mauer, and the 25-man roster on Opening Day. They then bring in me to talk about prospect Rory Rhodes, Eddie Guardado, and the rest of the stories around Major League Baseball. Join us for two hours of fun!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help Samuel Deduno limit his walks).

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Links-N-Thinks

It is hard to imagine that this time last year there were temperatures in the 70s or higher for parts of Twins Territory. There are only a handful of days left until Opening Day and there seems be plenty of snow left on the ground. Fans in North Dakota and northern Minnesota are still digging out of the most recent blizzard and it's hard to believe baseball is only a few days away.

The World Baseball Classic wrapped up in the middle of the week so most players are back in camp for their respective clubs. Sam Deduno helped the Dominican Republic take home the title by pitching five scoreless innings in the championship game. There are still enough questions about him that the Twins might not even start the year with him in the rotation.

For now, it is almost the weekend and there were plenty of great stories from throughout the week. Below you will find a handful of the best stories from around the web with a few bonuses thrown in to spice things up. Enjoy this week's edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks."
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: I could have easily gone with the minor league players singing Journey. But since I already put that video up on Sunday, I went with something else. Twins players Justin Morneau and Drew Butera discuss breaking in their new gloves for the year. That was one of the best things to do as a kid. The smell of a new glove and working with the leather to get it to just the right spot. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sam Deduno: New and Improved?

Earlier this week, the Dominican Republic took home their first championship in the World Baseball Classic. Japan won the title in the first two years of the tournament but this year it was all about the Dominicans. They went undefeated through all of the rounds and ended up celebrating on the field in San Francisco.

One of the breakout stars for the Dominican was a current member of the Twins organization. Sam Deduno made three starts for his country and his numbers look great. He had a 2-0 record with a 0.69 ERA and 17 strikeouts over 13 innings. He pitched five shutout innings in the championship game to help lead his team to the top.

Deduno started 15 games for the Twins at the end of last year and there were some ups and downs along the way. Does his breakout performance in the WBC give him a better chance to make the team's starting rotation? Is this a new and improved Deduno?

His overall numbers from the WBC look great on paper but there were plenty of rough points for the Dominican right-hander. He had five walks in the tournament and a 1.23 WHIP. There were plenty of times where he would fall behind batters 3-0 before finding some way to wriggle out of the jam.

The first inning of his match-up with the United States was a perfect example. With one out in the inning, Brandon Phillips would single to start the action. Ryan Braun would strikeout to be the second out of the frame. Joe Mauer singled to add to the threat. Now there were runners at first and second with two outs.

After Deduno fell behind 2-0, Giancarlo Stanton would single to load the bases. Five pitches later, Eric Hosmer had drawn a walk and the first run of the game was scored by the US. The bases were still loaded. The next batter was Adam Jones and he quickly found himself ahead in the count 3-0. Deduno found a way out of the sticky situation as he struck out Jones on the next three pitches.

This is the Deduno that Twins fans saw a lot of in 2012. There were flashes of brilliance but there were also plenty of head shaking. Deduno pitched six innings or more in half of his starts. His ERA got as low as 2.48 and it stayed under 4.00 until his last two starts. When he kept the ball in the park, he had found success even while averaging over 3.5 walks per outing.

Unfortunately, there were multiple bad performances mixed in with the good. In nine of his 15 starts, he gave up a home run. He also had two multi-home run games and two games where he gave up seven earned runs. With how many hits and walks he gave up, it didn't make sense for him to find as much success as he did in his early appearances.

Minnesota is going to have a couple of spots at the back end of their rotation to start the season. Scott Diamond will begin the year on the disabled list and that frees up a spot for someone like Deduno. One of the biggest obstacles for him might be the fact that he isn't on the team's 40-man roster. Pitchers like Liam Hendriks and Cole DeVries might have the upper hand to win a rotation spot.

There are plenty of injury concerns with the core of pitchers the Twins have compiled for the coming year. This means that Deduno will most likely get another shot at the big leagues with the Twins. This could be a good thing or a bad thing so only time will tell if he can build off of his WBC performance.

The Deduno that showed up in the WBC might have seemed like he was new and improved but it was more of the same player if a person looks beyond the numbers. In small doses, he can look dominant. There is also the Deduno that gets into trouble with walks and shaky control.

The Twins would love a new and improved Deduno but don't count on him being the savior of the starting rotation. No matter what he looked like in the World Baseball Classic...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Early 2013 MLB Draft Preview

One of the biggest bonuses of having back-to-back horrible seasons is the fact the Twins will get some high draft picks to restock their farm system. With the second pick in last year's draft, the organization selected Byron Buxton, a toolsy high school outfielder from Georgia. He was widely considered the best player available and the Twins were happy to get him.

It is less than three months away from the 2013 MLB Draft and there are plenty of players for the Twins to discuss. The team has the fourth pick in the first round and there could be a variety of players to choose from at that point. It is considered a weak draft so the Twins will have to be careful with their picks.

Here is a look at some of the top names that could be available when the Twins are on the clock with the fourth pick.

The Early Draft Board Leader: Mark Appel, Stanford
Pos: RHP, HT: 6-5, WT: 215
For the second year in a row, Appel will be talked about as the top available player in the draft. The Pirates selected him with the eighth pick last year but he didn't sign. He is back at Stanford for his senior year and he has done nothing to decrease his draft stock. His slider has improved and he should be one of the first few names called on draft day. His agent is Scott Boras and that could scare away teams for the second year in a row.

The College Lefty: Sean Manaea, Indiana State
Pos: LHP, HT: 6-5, WT: 235
His time in the Cape Cod League last summer helped his draft stock. He can showcase a nasty slider and his speed can reach into the upper 90s. He tossed a jewel of a game on Friday night at the Metrodome against the Gophers. Over nine innings, he allowed one unearned run on six hits and nine strikeouts.

The College Righty: Ryne Stanek, Arkansas
Pos: RHP, HT: 6-4, WT: 190
His fastball sits in the high 90's and this helps him to rack up some strike out numbers. He uses his slider a lot and that could be a concern for teams looking to draft him. His 6-foot-4 frame could still add some weight and that might make him more intriguing. If his change up improves, he could become more dominant.

The High School Outfielder: Austin Meadows, High School
Pos: OF, B/T: L/L, HT: 6-3, WT: 200
The Twins love toolsy high school outfielders. Last year they took, Buxton from Georgia and the team might look to Georgia again. Meadows could be the best available high school player and he has the potential to be a five-tool player. There are questions about his ability to hit on a consistent basis but that is the case with younger players that have multiple.

The College Position Player: Kris Bryant, San Diego
Pos: 3B/OF, B/T: R/R, HT: 6-5, WT: 215
His powerful swing has drawn some attention so far this spring. He has 12 home runs in his team's first 20 games and he has another six doubles. His slugging percentage of .986 is off the charts and he will need to continue to hit for the Twins to take him fourth. There are questions about his defense at third and that could make teams shy away from him.

High School Local Connection: Ryan Boldt, Red Wing (Minn.) HS
Pos: OF, B/T: L/R, HT: 6-1, WT: 190
The frigid Minnesota winter means that his spring season won't start until the beginning of next month. His tools are very solid but he doesn't have anything that would make the Twins reach for him at this point. He will likely be taken in the first round but a lot will depend on how he looks in his senior year.

College Local Connection: Tom Windle, Minnesota
Pos: LHP, HT: 6-4, WT: 215
The star pitcher for the Gophers already has a no-hitter under his belt this spring. He went pitch for pitch with Manaea on Friday at the Metrodome but he came out on the losing end. His stuff is mostly average but he knows how to be effective on the mound. He would need to fall to the Twins second round pick for the club to have a chance to snag him.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Drew Butera and the cost of a third catcher

The addition of free agent Ryan Doumit during last offseason raised an interesting question for the Twins. Should the club carry a third catcher? Joe Mauer was coming off an injury-plagued year and it seemed like the club might need a little insurance with the big league squad.

If Mauer and Doumit were in the line-up on the same day, the team could run into some problems without an extra catcher. There is a chance the team could lose the designated hitter spot or the club could be in a bind with an inexperienced player behind the dish.

This brings the story back to Drew Butera. In the last three seasons, Twins fans have watched Butera put together one of the worst statistical lines for any player getting regular playing time at the big league level. He has hit .183/.232/.265 over 487 at-bats and 184 games.

Last year, the Twins tried to start the year without a third catcher on the bench. Sean Burroughs impressed the front office during spring training and he earned a roster spot for the beginning of the year. Joe Mauer took a foul ball of his knee three weeks into the season and that meant the return of Butera and the end of Burroughs.

Butera was arbitration eligible for the first time this year and the Twins had to fork over a new deal worth $700,000. There was a chance for him to be non-tendered but the club is in love with his defense. This means that he will be making more money this year than last year's runner-up for the MVP Mike Trout.

Mauer has made it clear that he wants to spend more time behind the plate in 2013. The Twins will also use Doumit behind the plate even if his ability to frame pitches isn't the greatest. That leaves Butera to absorb any other playing time that is left over.

There is always a chance that Butera won't make the roster for the start of the year. The club did this last year before they got a scare from Mauer getting banged up. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has said that he wants more pop on his bench and Butera certainly doesn't fit this offensive mold.

Eduardo Escobar has said that he would serve as the emergency catcher for the club. The White Sox trusted him with this role in 2012 even though he never made it into a game behind the plate. He doesn't add a whole lot of offensive value but his ability to play multiple infield positions could help. Even Jeff Clement has offered to catch if the Twins find themselves in a pinch.

During the coming year, Butera will turn 30-years old so it's not like he is a prospect in waiting. He might be forced to spend at least part of the season at the Triple-A level. That can't be too exciting for a player with over 500 plate appearances at the big league level.

When it comes to the future, it's hard to know what it will hold for Butera. He will be arbitration eligible again at the end of this season but he might be getting to the point where he will be getting paid more than he is actually worth. Some might argue that he has already past that point but he will get one more run through the Twins system.

Chris Herrmann will start the year in Rochester and there is a good chance he will play a more important role on next year's club. The 25-year old catcher/outfielder has slowly worked his way through the system since being drafted in 2009. His emergence could mean the end of Butera with the Twins.

The Twins aren't yet sure if they will carry a third catcher for 2013 so it's hard to know what Butera's place will be with the club. Gardenhire and the front office used a roster spot on a third catcher for most of last year but it might be time for a change.

The cost of carrying a third catcher might be too much...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Have the Twins been lucky in the Gardenhire Era?

"Luck is the great stabilizer in baseball"--- Tris Speaker, Hall of Fame Centerfielder

Baseball is a game of numbers. The statistical side of the game continues to grow as the Sabermetric world adds new information. There are stats for what seems like everything that a person can think of in relation to baseball.

One area of baseball is hard to quantify and it can be the area that makes the game so exciting to follow. There is an element of luck involved and it can be the stabilizing effect on the game. Luck can be involved in everything from the location of a pitch, the way a ball squeaks through the infield, or even how a team aligns their defense. 

All of these small elements of luck can add up to wins and losses at the end of the year. Every run scored and every run allowed has an impact on the outcome of games. The luck factor adds something to baseball that allows fans for every team to have something to cheer about. 

In the book Baseball Between the Numbers, the Baseball Prospectus Team has an entire chapter devoted to managers and the moves they make during the course of a game and a season. Luck can play a factor in some of those moves. The manager has some control over the outcome of the game but how much luck is involved?

One of the ways to look at how lucky a team was during a season is to compare their actual record to their Pythagorean record. For those not familiar with Pythagorean winning percentage, here is the definition from Baseball Reference
"Pythagorean winning percentage is an estimate of a team's winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky. It is calculated by: 

(Runs Scored)^1.83
 (Runs Scored)^1.83 +  (Runs Allowed)^1.83
The traditional formula uses an exponent of two, but this has proven to be a little more accurate."

To give an extreme example, look at last year's Baltimore Orioles. They used an excellent bullpen and a little luck in one run games to win 93 games and take home a wild card spot. Since the team only scored seven more runs than it allowed, their Pythagorean winning percentage had them winning 82 games.

Ron Gardenhire has been at the helm for the Twins since the 2002 season. There have been some high and low points during his 11 years as manager. But the questions remains, how lucky have the Twins been during his tenure?

Below is a comparison between the Twins actual win-loss record and their estimated Pythagorean win-loss record since Gardenhire took over as manager.
As you can see, in recent years, the Twins haven't strayed very far from their expected total. During the last eight seasons, the team has been within a couple games of their estimated mark. This shows that the formula is usually close to predicting the actual record of a club.

The most recent outlier came in 2006. In that season, the Twins had to hunt down the Tigers in the last weekend of the season to win the Central. Minnesota needed those extra three wins or the team would have finished out of the playoffs. It would seem that luck favored the Twins in 2006.

In the early years of Gardenhire's managerial career, there seemed to be even more luck on the side of his teams. The 2004 squad won 92 games and finished five games higher than their expected mark. Minnesota won the division by nine games so those five extra wins made little difference in their title.

The 2003 squad has a little bit different story on their side. Much like the 2004 team, they finished five games higher than their Pythagorean W-L mark. The AL Central was much closer and the Twins only won the division by four contests. Chicago finished second and they were two wins under their estimated mark. A couple of bounces the other way and the White Sox might have been in the playoffs.

Gardenhire's first year as manager saw the team exceed it's Pythagorean winning percentage mark by the most amount of games. Those eight extra wins were great and it helped the team to 94 wins, the most the team had won since the 1991 season. The team won the division by 13.5 games so all of those extra wins might not have been the difference in the race.

It would seem that luck has been on the side of the Twins in more than one season of the course of the last decade. The 2003, 2006, and 2009 teams all needed their extra wins to raise another division championship banner. Take those titles away and Gardenhire's resume doesn't look nearly as good. 

Luck has been on the side of the Twins in more than one season and fans can only hope that the team's luck will return in the coming years. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Twins minor leaguers sing Journey

This video was too great not to share.

Mike Berardino has an article up on the Pioneer Press website that talks about some of the challenges foreign born players have when they join an organization. The Twins have English classes for some of their minor leaguers and they have an interesting way for the group to learn a new language.

Check out the video below.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Links-N-Thinks

The grounds crew is getting the snow off of Target Field and the beginning of the regular season continues to inch closer. Twins players continue to represent the organization in the World Baseball Classic while others are training in Florida for the start of the year.

It seems like Opening Day can't get here soon enough and it helps that Team USA keeps winning in the World Baseball Classic. Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins could help the Stars and Stripes upend the two-time defending champion Team Japan. There are other games before that but it would still be a cool story.

For now, here are some of the best baseball stories from the last week. Enjoy the latest edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks" and have a great weekend!
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: Team Italy made a surprise run to the second round of the WBC. Twins players Drew Butera and Chris Colabello were on the roster and played a part in the team's success. Here is Colabello with one of his two home runs in the classic.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chris Colabello continues his fairy tale

One of the best stories in the Twins organization in 2013 was the tale of a 28-year old man that got his first taste of baseball with an affiliated club. Chris Colabello had molded himself into one of the best hitters in the Canadian-American Association before the Twins signed him to deal. He spent all of last season being the elder statesman of the Eastern League while showing off his skills at the plate.

The story of Colabello could get even better this year if he was able to make his MLB debut. He would be a 29-year old rookie and the thought of him being in the Twins line-up isn't too hard to imagine. Let's look back at what got him to this point and look ahead to what could bring him to the Twin Cities.

After growing up and attending college in Massachusetts, Colabello wanted to continue his professional baseball career. No major league organization drafted him out of college so he found a team in the independent leagues. For six seasons, he played in the Canadian-American Association and he developed himself into one of the best hitters in this league.

From 2005-2011, Colabello hit over .300 in every season. Those seven seasons saw him hit .317/.390/.514 with an average of 14 home runs a year. He showed the ability to play both corner infield positions and even a little outfield. The skills were there but no MLB teams came calling.

Before the 2006 season, Colabello got to try out for the Italian World Baseball Classic team. He didn't make the squad but the Tigers took notice and invited him to spring training. His spring was good but he didn't make the club and he went back to the CAA. His persistence would finally pay off but not for another half of a decade.

The 2011 season would be an eye-opening year for Colabello because he would put together the best season of his career. He hit .348/.410/.600 with 20 home runs and 32 doubles. He finished second in the league in home runs, batting average, RBI, and hits. He led the league in doubles and slugging percentage. At the end of the season, he would be named the Independent Leagues Player of the Year by Baseball America.

Minnesota would offer him a chance for the start of the 2012 season. There weren't any promises made by the Twins and he didn't get a signing bonus but he was getting an opportunity. If he made a minor league team, he would be making less money then he had in the CAA but sometimes it's not about the money.

Colabello would be sent to New Britain for the entirety of the 2012 season. He would hit .284/.358/.478 over 134 games. His numbers would be good enough to lead the Eastern League in doubles and he finished second in RBI, fourth in runs, and fourth in home runs. Darin Ruf would walk-away with the Eastern League MVP but Colabello would have strong runner up finish.

He was finally living his dream and that dream has only gotten better so far this spring.

The Twins wanted Colabello back in the organization and his performance last year was good enough for Team Italy to add him to their roster for the 2013 WBC. Italy would make a surprise trip to the second round of the WBC and Colabello was a key figure for their team. He hit .333/.368/.667 and he lead the team in home runs (2) and RBI (7).

His strong showing this spring combined with his performance in the WBC could leave him knocking on the door to the big leagues. Ron Gardenhire has said he wants more pop on his bench this season. Colabello could have an opportunity to provide that pop while he lives out his dream of being a MLB player.

The fairy tale ending for Colabello will be when he steps onto the field for his first big league game. It has been quite the journey but he has earned this opportunity. He might not be a prospect to build around but his story is one of the best.

Spring training is full of hope and Colabello embodies the true definition of hope.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Training Days: Episode 3

Over the course of the first few weeks of spring training, the Twins have been putting together a video series about the club's preparation for the coming year. It's a behind-the-scenes look into what all of the players are feeling about 2013's campaign.

This well put together series has given access to fans that most will never get to see. There are interviews with star players and even some of the guys that might not get a chance at the big leagues. It shows all the hard work that goes into getting ready for a major league season.

The first episode showed the players arriving at camp and some of their prep work for the year. In the second episode, the focus was the practice sessions that lead up to the first games of the year.

Below you will see the video for the latest episode from the Twins. This episode is called "The Road" and it looks at the team going across the state to play games. Some players have to sit on the bus a lot during the spring. There are some cool shots of pitching prospect Kyle Gibson.

What's the Alex Meyer timeline?

In his first spring training with the Minnesota Twins, Alex Meyer did his best to impress those that were paying attention. The 23-year old right-hander was brought to the organization through the Denard Span trade with the Washington Nationals. Many consider him the top-pitching prospect in the organization and he did nothing to sway those opinions since joining the club.

When the Twins made their first round of cuts on Sunday, he was one of the names heading to minor league camp. This was expected since he hasn't pitched above the Single-A level. He should start the year at the Double-A level with New Britain.

Last season, he went 10-6 across both A levels in the Nationals farm system. He had a very good 2.86 ERA across 25 starts. He threw 129 innings with 139 strikeouts and 45 walks. Only 39 of his innings came at the High-A level but his number improved at the higher level. His ERA was 2.31 and his WHIP dropped from 1.13 to 1.02.

The well publicized trade to bring him to the organization and his performance so far leaves speculation about when he could be making his Target Field debut.

If Meyer looked dominant in the first months of the season, the young pitcher could move quickly through the system. The Double-A level might prove to too easy and he could find himself moving into the Rochester rotation. If his domination continued at Triple-A, the Twins might have no choice but to call him up at mid-season. This would be the earliest that Meyer would make his debut.

There is always the chance that the Twins will want to take it easy with Meyer. A couple of bad starts in the early part of the season and the team might want to leave him at Double-A until the middle part of the year. This might mean a trip to Rochester won't come until later in the year. This would mean a September call-up might be the best that Meyer could hope for.

Things don't always go as planned in the minor leagues. Twins fans are familiar with this trend when it comes to the top pitching prospects in their farm system. Meyer might have a rough year at Double-A and this could mean that he won't advance beyond that level. There are things that the Twins want him to work on and it might take some time and experience to reach that level.

Next spring training, the Twins could be in a similar position with Meyer. He will be in big league camp but there will probably still be questions about where he should start the year. Will the Twins want him in the rotation at the big league level? Should he be sent to Rochester for more experience?

There are going to be plenty of eyes on Meyer this season and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure. In the Nationals organization, there were other pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the big league level to take the focus off of him. In the Twins system, he is the top of the list and there will be plenty of hype surrounding his call-up.

The fastest that Meyer would make his debut is the middle of 2013. If he doesn't get off to a fast start, he might have to wait for a September call-up. The Twins might bide their time with Meyer. This would mean that he might not make an appearance until the beginning of 2014 when the club has a better shot at getting back to the top.

Meyer might be the Twins future ace but fans are going to have to be patient. No matter what his timeline is...

When do you think Meyer will make his debut? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Evolution of Aaron Hicks

With the spring being put together by Aaron Hicks, it is looking more and more like he will be playing a part with the big league version of the 2013 Twins. It has been a long road for Hicks since he was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft. There have been ups and downs but the future continues to look bright for this young man.

Hicks put together his best professional season last year at the Double-A level. It took quite the evolution to get him to the brink of making his big league debut. Last week, I wrote that it might be better for Hicks to start the year in Rochester but he is making that a tough decision for the front office.

Let's look back at how Hicks got to this point in his career.

A Start in the Rookie League: After signing with the club, he was sent to the GCL for his first taste of professional baseball. He hit .318/.409/.491 over 45 games and he showed some pop in his bat. His athleticism and power swing generated four home runs, four triples, and 10 doubles in 173 at-bats.

Hicks showed the ability to get on base at a tremendous rate. He showed flashes of speed by stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. His defense has always been strong and he was given the opportunity to showcase this in center field for the GCL Twins.

A Double Dose of Low-A: Hicks never made a stop with the E-Twins but he did spend two consecutive years with the Beloit Snappers. The first trip through the Midwest League wasn't the greatest so a second dose seemed to make sense.

In his first year with the Snappers, 19-year old Hicks hit .251/.353/.382 with 22 extra base hits in 297 plate appearances. He continued to show the ability to get on base but his batting average was a little lower than desired. His power numbers were almost identical to the previous year but he had 100 more plate appearances to accumulate those numbers.

The Twins sent him back to Beloit in 2010. This was a good decision as his numbers increased across the board. He batted .279/.401/.428 with 41 extra base hits. His 88 walks were tremendous and he had 21 steals in 32 attempts. Things seemed to be going in the right direction.

A Funk in Fort Myers: After a good year in Beloit, things were starting to look up for Hicks. He headed into the season at the High-A level with expectations rising higher. Things wouldn't go perfectly for him in the Florida State League.

Over 122 games, Hicks hit .242/.354/.368. His batting average was down and his power numbers weren't getting any better. He had 41 extra-base hits and 31 of those were doubles. The switch-hitting center fielder wasn't able to find a consistent swing from both sides of the plate and this hurt him.

A Chance to Shine in the Desert: A disappointing year can be tough to recover from but the Twins decided it was best for Hicks to continue his 2011 season in the Arizona Fall League. This is typically a league for some of the best prospects in the game so it had to be an honor to be selected to go.

He would hit .294 over 30 games and he got on base 40% of the time. He showcased a variety of his power hitting skills by knocking three home runs, eight doubles, and five triples. Hicks was tied for his team lead in triples and doubles. It was a sign of some big things to come in 2012.

A Breakout Year in Double-A: The Twins had been patient with Hicks and all of that patience seemed to pay off in 2012. Hicks would have a breakout season at the Double-A level. He seemed to be able to combine the skill set that Twins fans and the front office had been waiting for since he was drafted.

Hicks set the Rock Cats record for triples in a season with 11. He clubbed double digits in home runs for the first time in his professional career. He even stole a career high 32 bases while only getting thrown out on 11 attempts. These numbers along with his stellar defense have left him knocking on the door to the big leagues.

On the Brink... With the performance that Hicks is putting up in spring training, it is going to be hard to keep him in the minor leagues for any portion of this season. So far this spring, he leads the team in hits, home runs, RBI, and he is tied for the lead in doubles.

It seems like the evolution of Hicks might have him on the brink of the big leagues and that is a good sign for the future of the club.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Morneau, Plouffe set up to surprise

The corner infield positions for any club can be an important part of a team's offensive picture. Power hitters usually occupy these two positions and it helps to be competent on the defensive side of the ball. First basemen and third basemen can former the cornerstone of a franchise and they are important positions for the future of the club.

Minnesota has basically had one first baseman for the great part of the last decade. On the other hand, third base seems to be a revolving door that the team hopes they have finally stopped. Justin Morneau could be in the last year of his deal with the Twins and Trevor Plouffe is trying to prove that he belongs as a fixture on the club.

Each of these men has something to prove in 2013 and both players could be set up to surprise.

Over the last few days, fans have gotten an up-close view of just how ready Justin Morneau is for the coming season. In Canada's three games in the World Baseball Classic, Morneau went 7-for-11 with three doubles, four runs scored, and three RBI. It was a great sight for Twins fans to finally see a healthy Morneau producing on the field.

While this three game performance was great, it is tough to draw a lot of conclusions from such a small sample size. There are still other things that point to Morneau getting back to his old ways in the coming year.

He was able to go through his normal offseason workout routine for the first time in a couple years. This should only help to prepare him for playing a full season. Morneau also knows that he could be reaching free agency for the first time next offseason. He could be playing for his last big contract and that should help to energize him for the coming year.

Trevor Plouffe is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Morneau. He has a little over one year of big league experience and he is trying to prove that he belongs with the Twins. There was talk for most of the offseason about bring in competition for Plouffe at third. That competition never showed up and it's up to him to prove the Twins were right to trust him.

Last season, Plouffe proved that he could smash the ball over the right field seats on a regular basis. This was great to see but his overall numbers weren't that great. He hit .235/.301/.455 so there is still some room for improvement. The club wants him to show that he can take the ball the other way on occasion. He has been doing that so far this spring and it could be a sign of things to come.

While the Twins might not be gearing up for a run to the top of the Central Division, there can still be some positive signs to come out of this year. Morneau wants to prove that he is still one of the best hitters in the game. Plouffe wants to work his name into the long-term plans for the Twins.

The corner infielders on Opening Day might be at different points in the careers but they are both set-up to surprise in 2013.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Links-N-Thinks

After taking a break for the offseason, "Friday Links-N-Thinks" are back here at NoDak Twins Fan.

For those that aren't familiar with this type of post, I will provide a bunch of different links to stories that have interested me from the last week. Some of the stories will be Twins related and others will just be interesting baseball stories. All together, it is a great way to catch-up on the baseball related news from the last week.

The Twins are in the midst of spring training and some players have headed out to represent their respective countries in the World Baseball Classic. The start of the baseball season is getting closer so let's dive in to the first edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks" for the new season.
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: Aaron Hicks had quite the game on Thursday. He would finish the day with three home runs and six RBI. Here is a look at his first home run of the day and it came off of Cliff Lee.