Thursday, January 31, 2013

Worst Twins of All-Time Series: Dave McCarty

There are plenty of things that can go into making a player fit the mold of playing bad at the major league level. Being a high draft pick, signing a big free agent contract, or being part of a big trade can get hopes higher for a player than they ever should be.

So far in the Worst Twins of All-Time Series, there have been a variety of ways that the players featured have joined the organization. Butch Huskey was a free agent signing by the club to try and fill a hole at DH. Terry Felton was a second-round pick out of high school so there are expectations with that high of a pick. Scott Klingenbeck was traded to the Twins as part of the Scott Erickson deal. Matt Walbeck was given the starting catcher's job after being traded to the Twins.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways for a player to find futility as a member of the Twins.

One of the easiest ways to not reach high expectations is to be a highly drafted player. There are a lot of bumps along the way to the big leagues and not every high draft pick is going to make it big. The Twins teams of the 1990s had plenty of high draft picks that went bust on the road to "The Show."

This is only part of the story for the latest installment of the "Worst Twins of All-Time".... Dave McCarty
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Things were flying high in the Twin Cities in 1991, as the team would be heading for their second championship in less than five years. It was a worst-to-first turnaround for the Twins. This meant that the 1990 club had done poor enough to give the Twins a high draft pick the following summer. The organization would look to the college ranks with the third pick in the draft and find a first baseman named Dave McCarty.

McCarty's college experience would help him to move quickly through the Twins minor league system. He would skip a couple of levels to start his minor league career and he made it all the way to Double-A. Over 43 games, he hit .304/.422/.486 with 13 extra-base hits. The team would start him back at Double-A in 1992 and he would make his Triple-A debut that year.

The 1993 season was one the best for McCarty in the minor leagues. His second stint in the Pacific Coast League was some of his best baseball. He batted .385/.477/.629 with eight home runs and 11 doubles in 40 games. The power wasn't exactly where the Twins would have liked it to be but it didn't seem to make much sense to keep him in the minor leagues.

Minnesota would call-up McCarty in the middle of May and he would stick with the club for the rest of the season. His hot hitting streak from the minor leagues followed him to the big league level. During his first 18 games, he hit .365/.390/.514 and that included a 13-game hitting streak. He also had eight multi-hit games so things were off to a fast start.

Things went in the tubes from there for McCarty. In his last 75 games of the season, McCarty would hit .178/.229/.233 with 61 SO and only 11 extra-base hits. It also didn't help that he was pretty awful on the defensive side of the ball. He had six errors in the corner outfield positions and three errors at first base. This all added up to a -2.9 WAR for the 1993 season.

Over the next couple of seasons, McCarty would spend more time at the Triple-A level than at the big leagues. The Twins were disappointed with his performance and he didn't really redeem himself during the 1994 and 1995 season. It was time for a change of scenery and McCarty was sent to the Giants for
left-handed pitcher John Courtright, an eighth round pick from the same draft as McCarty. He would never play higher than Double-A with the Twins.

For his career with the Twins, McCarty hit .226/.275/.310 with 34 extra-base hits over 575 plate appearances. His poor first season was tough to overcome and he finished with a -3.4 WAR during his Twins tenure. He was bad on the offensive side of ball and the defensive side of the ball wasn't much better.

McCarty would actually put together a professional career that stretched all the way to 2005. He would make stops in San Francisco, Seattle, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Boston. The Royals had him play over 200 games with their club in 2000-01 and these were his most productive years. He would be a World Series Champion in 2004 with the Red Sox and he even got to pitch in three games during that title run. As part of those appearances, he struck out Jayson Werth and Rafael Palmeiro.

The Red Sox wanted to send him to the minor leagues at the beginning of the 2005 season but he refused so the club was forced to release him. He would be hired as a Red Sox analyst for the NESN later that season. McCarty would stay in that position until the end of the 2008 season.

Minnesota had high hopes for McCarty when they drafted him with one of the highest picks in franchise history. He didn't live up to those expectations but he did put together a serviceable MLB career. He made close to $4 million and he got to play parts of 11 seasons at the big league level.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chris Parmelee is primed for breakout season

As the beginning of the season approaches, there can be a lot of focus thrown on different players for each team. Some fans will focus on starting pitching and other fans will look at the top players in the line-up. There are usually some players that sneak under the radar before putting together a very good season for the club.

Last year, the Twins signed Josh Willingham and there wasn't a whole lot of buzz around him at the beginning of the year. Most fans were worried about the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Willingham would put together the best offensive season of his career and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger. If someone would have told Twins fans that at the beginning of the year, there would probably be plenty of people that would be surprised.

Surprises have always been part of baseball and this year Twins fans might be surprised by the performance of one player in particular..... Mr. Chris Parmelee.
There are plenty of signs that are pointing to Parmelee finally putting it all together in 2013. His round body was looking a little less round at TwinsFest, he finally has an everyday position at the MLB level, and he has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.

Over the TwinsFest weekend, Terry Ryan spoke candidly about Parmelee and his weight. The Twins GM has talked to the new right fielder about where the team thinks he should weigh in at for the coming year. Last season, he came in at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds. It looks and sounds like he will be a slightly slimmer version of himself for the start of the year.

With the Twins trading away two of their outfield starters from last season, Parmelee finally has a position to play with the Twins. Last season, Parmelee broke camp with the club and he played in the team's first handful of games. It became frustrating to watch the way he was used from that point on because he would spend weeks at a time on the big league roster without getting to play every day.

Parmelee figures that most of his playing time will come in the outfield this season. That's why he has been working on his first step quickness to help him get good jumps in the outfield. The loss of weight should also help him to get to balls. Out of his 673 minor league games, 282 of them have come as a right fielder. Most of those games came in the lower levels of the minors but the position isn't foreign to him so that should help.

While the Twins were jerking Parmelee between the minors and the big leagues, he had plenty of time to show that he can destroy pitching at the Triple-A level. He hit .338/.457/.645 with 17 home runs and 17 doubles over 64 games in Rochester. If he got a few more at-bats in the minor leagues, there is a very good chance that the Twins would have named him minor league player of the year.

When Parmelee was first called up at the end of 2011, he surprised a lot of people with his ability to hit consistently. He also added some power on top of that, which was nice to see. Parmelee's MLB numbers from last season don't look that great as he batted .229/.290/.380 over 64 games. Part of the problem was only getting sporadic playing time for the first portion of the year.

In the last month of the season when Parmelee started to play on a more regular basis, he hit .262/.300/.452 with nine extra-base hits in 24 games. This included an eight-game hitting streak where he had five multi-hit games. His batting average for the season was sitting around .200 before this run so it made his numbers a little more respectable.

Is Parmelee going to be the team MVP next season?

No, probably not.

But he could be a vital part of the rebuild that is taking place in Minnesota. He is ready to show that he belongs as an every day player for the Twins and there should be plenty of eyes watching his progress.

All of the signs point to a breakout season from Mr. Parmelee.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Mauer Formula: Finding Time to Catch

The biggest topic of conversation (or at least one of the biggest) to come out of TwinsFest weekend surrounded Joe Mauer and how much he should be catching in the coming season. Mauer came out in multiple interviews and said that he wants to catch more next year. There are always positives and negatives when it comes to getting his 6-foot-5 frame crouched down behind the plate and it is up to the Twins to find the balanced formula for their All-Star player.

One year ago, there were plenty of questions surrounding Mauer's health. The 2011 season had been a nightmare for the catcher and the team was looking for ways to keep him productive and on the field. With all of the guaranteed money the club had invested in Mauer, the team had to head back to the drawing board to find a solution to their problem.

Mauer would finish back near the top of the AL in batting average (4th) and on-base percentage (1st). It took some creativity to get him to those numbers. He would play in 147 contests, the most games of his career, but he caught less than 100 games for only the second time. He played in 74 games at catcher, 42 as DH, and 30 at first base. This formula seemed to be one that worked to keep Mauer on the field.

Last year in the American League, the leader board for games played at catcher looked like this:

Defensive Games as C (AL)
1. Wieters (BAL): 134
2. Martin (NYY): 128
3. Pierzynski (CHW): 126
4. Avila (DET): 113
5. Saltalamacchia (BOS): 104

Mauer's game totals at catcher from 2005-2010 would have put him on this list. In fact, he finished second in the AL in games played in 2008 and he finished fifth back in 2010. Only 12 active players have caught more games than Mauer. Of those 12 other players, Brian McCann and Russell Martin are the only players with less years of experience and more time at catcher.

The earliest Mauer can reach free agency is 2019 so this means he will most likely be in a Twins uniform for most of (if not all of) his career. It would seems that the most important thing is to find a way to get the most value out of him over the next six seasons. During that time, the debate will continue to rage over how much to use the hometown hero behind the plate.

For the Twins to get the most value out of Mauer, he needs to play catcher as much as possible. His top four seasons for WAR have all been when he has been behind the plate for over 105 games. Terry Ryan said he would like to get Mauer back where he is close to the top of the leader board listed above and that will mean seeing Mauer behind the plate for close to 120 games.

One idea brought up over the weekend was the thought of having Mauer catch as much as possible over the beginning portion of his current contract. His ticket to the Hall of Fame centers on his ability to continue to perform at a high level while still playing catcher. The problem with this method could be his knees holding up for the long haul. Twins fans will remember that Tony Oliva looked like he was bound for Cooperstown before injuries slowed down his career.

The real value for Mauer comes from his ability to stay behind the plate especially with the type of player he has become. There were always hopes of Mauer developing more power as he was starting his professional career but that's not the Mauer fans are accustom to seeing. He is going to hit for a high average and get on base with a sprinkle of power mixed in.

At his other major positions (first base and DH), his skills that are listed above are great but a little more power in those spots would be nice. He is also such a good athlete that it seems his skills get wasted when he is forced to DH for a game. He started more games at DH last season than in any other year. Look for that number to come down a little in 2013 and for his catching totals to increase.

Finding the perfect formula for Mauer isn't any easy task but the Twins need to find someway to balance his health with getting him behind the plate for more games. To put it simply, Minnesota is a better team when Mauer is the catcher. His value is highest when he can control the pitching staff and put up consistent numbers at the plate.

No matter what the Twins do to get to that point..... That is the solution to the Mauer Formula.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ryan thinks Dozier was rushed in '12

TwinsFest is one of the most fun weekends for fans of the Minnesota Twins and this past weekend was no different. There is excitement building for the new season, fans can gather to talk about their passion, and the players are happy to interact with fans of all ages.

During the last couple of years, one of my favorite parts of the weekend has been the fan question and answer session with Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad, and Dave St. Peter. It offers fans the opportunity to ask any of these men a question about the changes of the offseason and the new direction of the team. With a big group of fans asking the questions, there are going to be some good questions and some bad questions. It is still a very unique opportunity to interact with the men at the top of the Twins organization. 

One of the more interesting quotes to come out of this session surrounded the middle infield for next year. Ryan was asked a general question about the four men that will be fighting to play shortstop and second base. He would talk about Pedro Florimon, Eduardo Escobar, and Jamey Carroll but he made one statement about Brian Dozier that stood out above the crowd.

Ryan said that it was his fault for Dozier's poor performance in his rookie year. He thought that Dozier was rushed to the big leagues and the team pushed him too hard to find success at that level. He would add that the Dozier that fans saw in 2012 was not the player that the organization knows he can be. 

Let's turn the clock back a year to last year's TwinsFest. At that point, Dozier had to be sitting pretty. He was coming off of his best season in professional baseball and he was named the Twins minor league player of the year. Ron Gardenhire had been speaking well of Dozier to the press and it seemed that his stock would continue to rise. 

Fans of the team wanted to forget about the disaster that was Tsuyoshi Nishioka. This might have gotten hopes higher for Dozier than they should have been but he was coming off of a very good season. A lot of faith was put into him before he could ever find success at a level higher than Double-A.

He would start the 2012 season in the middle infield for the Rochester Red Wings and things didn't exactly get off to a roaring start. He hit .232/.286/.337 with 14 extra-base hits over 48 games. There were also a few issues in the field as he had six errors in 159 chances at shortstop. As a 25-year old player, he hadn't found success at the Triple-A level but that didn't stop the Twins from calling him up at the beginning of May.

As I wrote in an article featured in the Twins Prospect Handbook, his first year in the big leagues didn’t go exactly as planned. There were plenty of struggles as he tried to adjust to the pace of MLB action. When Dozier did find his swing, there was some pop in his bat but his inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball was tough to take for the club. By the end of the year, he would be demoted to Triple-A and it seems like a little luster had rubbed off of his once promising stock.

2013 is a new season and the Twins have another opportunity to help Dozier find success at the big league level. It now seems much more likely for him to settle into second base. This might help him to become more successful on the defensive side of the ball and hopefully that good vibe would transfer to his time in the batter's box.

He turn 26-years old near the beginning of next season and there might not be a whole lot of time left for him find success in the minor leagues. The Twins need him to put it all together with the big league club and for him to take hold of a middle infield position.

If Ryan was right and the Dozier on the field last year wasn't the true version of that player, it could be a bounce-back season for the player whose stock was so high one year ago. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Do the Twins need to add more pitching?

Pitching, pitching, pitching is the name of the game.

The San Francisco Giants have won two World Series in the last three years on the strength of their young starting pitching. Last season, they didn't even need an effective Tim Lincecum for their stretch run. There was enough firepower in their starting staff and bullpen to lead them to the top.

Minnesota would love to be in the position of the Giants and that seems to be the goal for the future. Terry Ryan has worked this offseason to bring in some solid young pitchers. Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Vance Worley could all be part of the rotation of the future. Unfortunately the future doesn't look like it will be arriving in 2013.

For next season, the Twins are going to be relying on a lot of question marks in their rotation. Scott Diamond and Vance Worley will most likely take up two of the starters spots. For the rest of the rotation, the team has brought in some other lack-luster arms to try and make ends meet.

Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and even Rich Harden might be relied on for multiple innings next year and that could be a scary proposition for Twins fans. Pelfrey is coming off of Tommy John surgery and he likely won't be ready for the beginning of the year. Harden has dealt with injuries for a large chunk of his career. Correia will likely get a rotation spot because the other two men mentioned here might not be ready for Opening Day.

There is some hope that a couple of young arms will be able to find some success at the big league level. Liam Hendriks has pitched over 100 inningsin the majors over the last two seasons. There is little left for him to prove at Triple-A so it is sink or swim time. Kyle Gibson is fully healthy after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He will likely be on an innings limit but he still could be a vital part of the plan in 2013.

As the reporting date for pitchers and catchers inches closer, some of the players left on the free agent market might have to settle for lesser deals to get into camp on time. This could mean that the Twins might not be done adding arms for the start of the season. There are concerns over health and ineffective play by multiple players listed above. Another arm or two might be a necessity.

There have been reports that the Twins are interested in striking a deal with Joe Saunders. Last season, Saunders pitched in the rotation of the Baltimore Orioles. He wasn't effective for the entire year but he did pitch well in September. It seems that he initially wanted a three-year contract but there doesn't seem to be any takers on that front. He also wants to stay with the Orioles but a multi-year contract could pull him away from Baltimore.

Another intriguing free agent name is Brandon Webb. He hasn't thrown a pitch at the major league level since Opening Day in 2009. Before his recent onslaught of injuries, he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. The Twins already have one rebuilding project in the form of Harden so another pitcher of this ilk might be out of the question. Plus, there seems to be plenty of team's interested in adding him.

It feels like the Twins are going to need plenty of bodies to fill out their starting rotation this season. Adding one more arm could help as long as the contract was the right fit. A long-term deal with a pitcher doesn't make sense with the direction the club is heading.

Pitching is the name of the game and the Twins might need to add one more arm to make it through next season.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Worst Twins of All-Time Series: Matt Walbeck

As the weather continues to stay cold across most of Twins Territory, the baseball season continues to seem like it is light years away. This week's Twins Caravan and this weekend's TwinsFest will help to get fans back in the baseball spirit. It also means that it is creeping closer to the start of spring training. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This part of the deep offseason can be full of a lot of downtime for baseball fans. Lucky enough for readers of this site, I have been offering up profiles of some of the worst players in the history of the Twins franchise.

So far, the series has covered Butch Huskey, Terry Felton, and Scott Klingenbeck. Huskey offered some entertaining moments in his brief Twins tenure. Felton had plenty of ups-and-downs as he tried to find a spot in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Klingenbeck showed some positive signs in the minor leagues before bottoming out at the big league level.

In all three of the previous posts in this series, I have asked for readers to chime in with their picks for the worst Twins of all-time. This week's featured player got plenty of votes over the last couple week and it made it tough to ignore his terrible time with the Twins.

Introducing, the latest installment in the "Worst Twins of All-Time Series"... Matt Walbeck
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Walbeck was drafted into the Chicago Cubs organization in 1987 as an eighth round pick. The California native joined the professional baseball ranks straight out of high school. For his first season in the minor leagues, he was only 17-years old and he did well in the rookie leagues.

Over the next three seasons, he would try and find his swing at the Low-A level. After playing over 90 games in 1988 and 1989, he would miss a chunk of time in 1990. An injury-plagued season meant he only made it into 25 contests but he was now 20-years old and it was time to move up.

The Cubs consistently moved him for the next three seasons and he would make his MLB debut in 1993. In 11 games with the Cubs, he hit .200/.226/.367 with one home run and two doubles. He had put together decent numbers in back-to-back years in the minors so there was a little hope for the future. The Twins liked what they saw in his minor league numbers and they traded for Walbeck and Dave Stevens in exchange for Willie Banks.

Walbeck would become the team's primary catcher over the next two seasons by playing in 97 and 115 games. There were some struggles at the plate as he tried to adjust to being a full time player at the big league level. In 1994, Walbeck hit .204/.246/.284 with 17 extra-base hits over 359 plate appearances. Not exactly the best start for the Twins' new backstop.

He would make some adjustments for the next season and he compiled some of his best numbers as a professional. His 115 games played were the most of his career and he batted .257/.302/.316 in 115 games. It would be the only season of his career where he compiled over 100 hits.

The 1996 season would be the last for Walbeck in a Twins uniform. He would lose the designation as the primary catcher to Greg Myers and he still struggled to make consistent contact. At the end of that season, he was hitting .223/.252/.298 and it was time for the Twins to part ways with Walbeck. During the offseason, the Twins would send Walbeck to the Tigers for Brent Stentz.

It was an interesting journey for Walbeck in the rest of his career. The Tigers would use him sparingly during the '97 season before being sent to the Angels in a deal that would include future Twins player Phil Nevin. He would make it into over 100 games in the next two seasons and put up numbers that were higher than his career average.

His career would end in 2003 after spending his last two professional seasons back with the Detroit Tigers. There would be plenty of problems in those last couple years for a catcher with a lot of miles on his knees. His last season he batted .174/.197/.239 with six extra-base hits in 144 at-bats.

Walbeck makes this list of all-time worst Twins because of his ineptitude in the batter's box. He had a negative WAR in all three seasons with Minnesota and this added up to a -2.0 WAR for his Twins tenure. In all three seasons, he hit .230/.271/.300 but there were some positives on the defensive side of the ball. He had a positive defensive WAR in each of his three years and he led the AL in base runners caught in 1994.

Since his retirement, Walbeck has turned his attention to being a manager. He got his first job with the Low-A Tigers affiliate and he guided them to the 2004 Midwest League title. His team would again win the Midwest League in 2006 and it was time for a promotion. He would go to the Tigers Double-A affiliate, the Erie SeaWolves in 2007 and things really took off from there.

The Eastern League would name him Manager of the Year for 2007, a great honor for the former catcher. He would also be named 2007 Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America. Following that season, the Texas Rangers hired him as third base coach. This job would be short lived, as the club would fire him after one season in the position.

He would land back on his feet with the Pirates organization 2009. He was sent back to a familiar league, the Eastern League, to resume his managerial career. He would led the Altoona Curve to the 2010 championship and he was named EL Manager of the Year for the second time. In a surprise move, the club would fire him after the season. It seemed there were some disagreements about his managerial style.

His most recent coaching job was with the Rome Braves, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves organization. He would lead them to a terrible first half record and he would be fired in midseason. This was the first time the Rome Braves had made a midseason change at manager. Walbeck now runs the Walbeck Baseball Academy in California.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Twins Caravan makes Fargo stop

On Tuesday night, one of the legs of the Minnesota Twins caravan made a stop in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The location for this event was "The Venue" at "The Hub." Doors opened at 5:00 pm but the event didn't start until 6:30 pm. The hour and a half "pre-game" was for fans to enjoy a ballpark meal of hot dogs, chips, and soda.

Current Twins players Scott Diamond and Glen Perkins along with Twins great Tony Oliva were there to take part in the festivities. Cory Provus was there to give his voice to the evenings events. Also on hand was Dave St. Peter, the North Dakota native, on one of his few stops on this year's caravan.

Many fans braved the below zero wind chill to get a small taste of baseball on the prairie.

When the event started, they showed a promotional video to drum up support for the coming season. It started by explaining the team's need for pitching this offseason. Then it introduced fans to the players acquired in the Denard Span and Ben Revere trades. Alex Meyer and Trevor May probably won't be in the big leagues this year but it tried to paint a bright picture for the future.

It went through the positional battles in center field and in the middle infield positions. It showed Darin Mastroianni, Aaron Hicks, and Joe Benson as the likely center field options. For the middle infield, it talked about Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, and Jamey Carroll. All of these players should have a chance to start on Opening Day.

The video also introduced fans to the plethora of new starting pitchers for the team. It also talked about Rich Harden more than I thought it should since he is a giant question mark. For other fans, I guess he would be one of the few names that people have heard of so it makes sense.

There were interviews with Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire to explain some of the positional battles. They gave the positives for each player and the reasons for trading away some of the team's proven talent. One of the most important messages of the video was the fact that the team is not punting 2013. They feel the right moves are being made to be competitive next year and into the future.

Following the video, the fans were able to ask a variety of questions to the panel on the stage. Dave St. Peter thanked the players for being willing to go on these caravan trips over the years because it wouldn't happen without them. This brought out some good stories from Oliva. He spoke about the first time he came to North Dakota back in the early 1960's. The weather was cold and he only spoke a couple words of English.

Tony-O took over the microphone for awhile. He said that it was great for the players to interact with the fans because it showed the fans that they were real people and not just figures on TV. He also told the story of how he lost a tooth earlier that day while eating chicken wings. Oliva said the wings were really good and he jokingly blamed Glen Perkins for the incident.

One of the more surprising quotes of the evening came from Dave St. Peter. When asked about the center field opening, he said that the hope of the organization is for Aaron Hicks to win the job. The team needs a lead-off hitter and Hicks should have the skills for that spot. He did say they were worried about his ability to hit consistently at the big league level but he knows how to draw a walk.

There were a variety of other questions. Perkins hates to face Miguel Cabrera and Diamond said Jose Bautista is scary. Some of their favorite parks to visit are Safeco Field and Fenway Park. Diamond also explained the story of him having to throw near Josh Hamilton's head last year. He said that he was being a "rascal" and that the pitch got away from him a little.

It was a fun night to get fans ready for the up-coming baseball season. There were door prizes and autographs at the end but it was more about getting geared up for the coming season.
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On a side note, something interesting occurred during the promotional video. The video talked about the up-coming All-Star Game at Target Field. The team hasn't designed the official logo for the event but they happened to have one available for the video.

The one they used in the video was a "fake" design I had posted to this blog over a year ago. Here is a link back to the post from last January and below you will see a copy of the logo. I guess I better get on the phone and ask for my fee for designing the logo. Granted I did take their Inaugural Target Field logo and make some slight changes but still...


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What '13 Twins rookie will have the biggest impact?

In the 2013 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook (which is now available in paperback and e-version copies), I wrote an article looking back at all of the players that were considered rookies in 2012. From Brian Dozier and Chris Herrmann to Scott Diamond and Tyler Robertson, there were 15 rookies to make appearances with the club. On a team fighting for every win, there were plenty of opportunities for some young blood to sink or swim.

Now that the Prospect Handbook has been out and fans have been able to look through it, the future can turn to those prospects that have the chance to make an impact on next year's squad. It can be tough to guess which players will be given the opportunity but the Twins have made hints at a few different names.

Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks will both have the opportunity to earn the starting center field job out of spring training. If one of these two young men sticks with the club for the entire year, there is a good chance they will have the big impact on next year's club. Hicks seems to have the best chance of making the club. There is also a chance that neither of them earn the job and that could make their opportunity to shine a little harder.

When looking to the pitching core, there are a few names that could make a splash in 2013. Kyle Gibson, the former first round pick, should be making his big league debut this year. He missed most of last season following Tommy John surgery. At the end of last season, he came back healthy and he looked good for portions of the Arizona Fall League. His innings limit this year could hinder him but he could still make a big impact.

BJ Hermsen was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year and he was strong at two different levels this past season. He accumulated most of his innings at the Double-A level so this could put him at the cusp of making his debut next year. If the Twins start him in Rochester, he is only an injury or two away from getting the call.

Out in the bullpen, Caleb Thielbar or Ryan Pressly could factor into the team's plans for this year. Theilbar, a Minnesota native, has been slowly working his way towards the big leagues. He pitched out of Rochester's bullpen for all of last season so he only has one more level to conquer. Pressly was the Twins Rule 5 pick this year from Boston. This means that he will have to stay on the big league roster for the entire year or be offered back to the Red Sox.

The one player that could be considered a dark horse for next year's squad is Oswaldo Arcia. His performance in 2012 earned him Twins Minor League Player of the Year honors so it would exactly be a breakout year. The surprise would come from the fact that he doesn't seem to have an open position on the roster. He fits into a corner outfield spot and the Twins are looking to use Josh Willingham and Chris Parmelee in left field and right field. This could leave Arcia at Triple-A hoping for someone on the big league roster to get injured.

In the end, there are a few different ways to look at who will be making the biggest impact. Some of the names on this list are almost guaranteed to make their big league debuts and some of the others have less of a chance. Kyle Gibson is most likely going to pitch more big league innings than Caleb Thielbar. Aaron Hicks will probably get more at-bats than Joe Benson or Oswaldo Arcia.

Here is a ranking of the top five players from the list above based on the kind of impact they will have on next year's team. This list isn't completely based on talent. It is based on what type of playing time each player is expected to get next year and what kind of impact he will have at the big league level.

1. Kyle Gibson RHP- He looked healthy at the end of last season and in the Arizona Fall League. Gibson is ready to prove that he is completely recovered from Tommy John surgery.

2. Aaron Hicks OF- He might have to start the year in the minor leagues and this could hinder his ability to make an impact. A hot start at Triple-A could have him in the big leagues sooner than expected.

3. Caleb Thielbar LHP- There is always a need for left-handed pitchers in the bullpen. Thielbar could make the team out of spring training and stick with the club for most of the year.

4. BJ Hermsen RHP- The Twins have been stocking up on questionable starting pitching this offseason. This could leave a hole in the rotation for Hermsen.

5. Ryan Pressly RHP- If the Twins want to keep him, he has to stick on the big league roster. They could make him a long relief man or use him as a spot starter since he has experience as a starting pitcher.

Which rookie do you think will have the biggest impact on next year's squad? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Killebrew, Musial were alike on and off the field

Twins fans know the kind of mourning that Cardinals are going through. Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinals player to ever live, passed away this weekend at the age of 92. Less than two years ago the Twins were mourning the loss of their own great player, Harmon Killebrew. These two players are two of the best players in the history of the game and their character off the field shown just as bright as these stars did on it.

Killebrew and Musial had their career path's cross for a few seasons near the end of Musial's career and the beginning of Killebrew's playing days. They would be on opposite sides of the field in three different All-Star Games but they never met in any other contests since there was no interleague play. Musial's NL squads would come out on top in all of those games but there were no hard feelings as a friendship was starting to form.

Both men loved to be involved in the community and this was evident in their off the field activities. One of their most publicized events together was a trip to Vietnam in 1966 to help boost the morale of the troops. Musial and Killebrew would join other stars like Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, and Brooks Robinson on a trip overseas. The faced some dangers on the trip with their choppers being shot at and their barracks being bombed but they warmed the spirits of America's men in uniform.

"I got to know Stan very, very well (on that tour)," Killebrew said. "I got to know the kind of person he was, and it really magnified my feels about Stan Musial."

Killebrew had grown up in a baseball culture where Musial was one of the best players in the world. In an interview with a St. Louis radio station on the day Musial was receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Killebrew offered a variety of thoughts on Stan "The Man."

"I always admired Stan from afar as a youngster," noted Killebrew. "I've known him now for over 40-some years and we've been good friends. I've always marveled at the records Stan Musial put up. I always felt he did not get the credit he deserved... He has to rank, in my book, as one of the greatest players who every lived."

Besides their trip overseas, there seemed to be a Midwest connection between these two players. The greatness of their careers is overlooked outside of their baseball market because of where they spent all of their playing days (Killebrew mentions a bit of this in the interview linked above). New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago would never be their homes and this might have been better for these gentle giants. Their quiet personalities might have never held up in a bigger market.

To generations of Twins fans, Killebrew was the first star of a franchise when it moved to the frozen tundra of Minnesota. His statue greats fans as they arrive at games and the stories of his life will never die. There would be other greats to bring championships to his town like Kirby and Hrbek but he was still the living legend. His name will always be remembered and his gentle nature was one of his most enduring legacies.

To generations of Cardinals fans, Musial will serve much of the same role. Fans are greeted by his statue when they arrive at the gate and his stories will continue to be told. Albert and Ozzie would bring titles to St. Louis but he was still "The Man" to that city. He will never be forgotten for what he meant to the game of baseball.

Rest in Peace, Stan "The Man."

I hope Killer was there to greet you at that big baseball field in the sky.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Should Twins players compete in WBC?

At different points yesterday, Major League Baseball and the other countries that will be represented in the tournament announced the rosters for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. This will be the third time for the tournament being held and the United States has finished in fourth place in both other tournaments. The Japanese team has taken home the championship twice and some of the other rosters will look to dethrone the two-time defending champs in 2013.

There are Twins and former Twins scattered throughout the line-ups of many of the teams in the tournament. This includes some high profile minor league prospects and some of the best players on the major league roster. When teams allow their players to participate in the tournament, it can be a little bit of a tough decision. There are plenty of top-notch pitchers like Justin Verlander, David Price, and Clayton Kershaw that are staying with their team for spring training instead of representing their country. 

So this raises the question, should Twins players compete in the WBC?

Both of the team's former MVPs will be representing their respective countries in the WBC. Joe Mauer will be a catcher on Team USA and Justin Morneau will man first base for Team Canada. Last offseason, there would have been plenty of questions around them competing in this kind of event. But Mauer looked back to his old self last year and reports say that Morneau is having his first healthy offseason in multiple years. 

With the WBC coming during spring training, these players will have to get up to game speed more quickly than in a normal year. Mauer could be asked to catch nine innings faster than he would in the spring. Morneau will be taking hacks for the fences earlier with his surgically repaired wrist. This could compile into some bumps and bruises along the way.  

Lucky (or not lucky depending on how you look at it) for the Twins a couple of their starting pitchers are coming off of clean-up surgery so they won't be able to participate. Scott Diamond most certainly would have been on the Team Canada roster if not for his minor clean up. Liam Hendriks would likely have been asked to be on Team Australia but he also had an elbow surgery last fall. They will be able to participate in spring training workouts and get ready for what could be the first full season at the big league level for both of them. 

Twins closer Glen Perkins will be on the roster for Team USA. But since he will likely only be used in a relief role, there shouldn't be too much to worry about with him. He would be pitching in spring training games on a regular basis so this gives him a chance to compete against some tougher competition. Some pitchers will have to get a little more hyped up for the tournament so hopefully Perkins can handle this kind of stress earlier in the year.

Two of the Twins top ten prospects, Eddie Rosario and JO Berrios will be on the roster of the Puerto Rican Team. Rosario could have a tough time getting into games with a deep outfield that includes Carlos Beltran, Jesus Feliciano, Angel Pagan, and Alex Rios. Berrios is the youngest member of the team by three years and he might be asked to pitch in some tight situations. The international experience should be good for both players. 

It can be scary to think about what could happen if Mauer or Morneau were to get injured in the WBC. The team has a lot of money invested in Mauer over most of the next decade. Morneau could be the team's best trade chip at the deadline but that is only if he can stay healthy for the rest of the year. Even a small injury in the WBC could have a big impact on the 2013 season and the future of the club.

An injury to Perkins could make it tough for the Twins in the late innings of games. Jared Burton would most likely be asked to take over the closer's role and that could leave a hole in the late innings of games. Team USA and Team Canada will probably be relying more on Morneau and Mauer than Perkins will be relied on by his manager since the US has a deep bullpen. He still should have a smaller workload so he most likely has a better chance of staying healthy. 

For younger players like Rosario and Berrios, it is going to be a couple of seasons before they step on the field at the big league level. The experience could help them for the future and an injury won't debilitate the 2013 Twins. This is also their first chance to show off their talents to a large audience. 

Mauer, Morneau, and Perkins are expected to play a large role in trying to turn around the Twins next season and it's not exactly ideal for them to compete in this exhibition. Some of the younger prospects will get to rub elbows with very good players for a couple of weeks. Hopefully they can be a sponge and take in a lot of knowledge over the course of the tournament and bring that back to the Twins organization.

What do you think? Should the Twins let some of their star players compete in the WBC? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Worst Twins of All-Time Series: Scott Klingenbeck

There have been plenty of great players in the history of the Twins franchise and there have also been plenty of duds. In my on-going offseason series, I have been taking a look at some of the worst players to ever wear a Twins uniform. There have been some bad players in recent memory but it can be fun to dig into the poor players of yesterday.

So far the series has covered, Butch Huskey and Terry Felton. Huskey struggled as a designated hitter for the Twins and he provided an interesting career to follow. One of his most famous moments happened in the Metrodome but not in a Twins uniform. Terry Felton had a rough time pitching in Minnesota and he would finish his career without a big league win to his name. These are just two names in a long list of Twins futility.

In the winter cold of the deep offseason, it can be entertaining to look back at the club's history. In the next few weeks, I will discuss some of the worst players to ever wear a Twins uniform. I won't try to rank these players because that could be quite the daunting task and it is wide open to interpretation. These will be simple profiles on some of the worst players in team history.

Next on the list of all-time worst, Mr. Scott Klingenbeck...
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The Baltimore Orioles drafted Scott Klingenbeck in the fifth round of the 1992 amateur draft. His college experience helped him to travel quickly through their farm system. He pitched well in the low minor leagues and he would make his debut during the 1994 season. In that game, he threw seven innings and allowed three earned runs to earn the victory.

Klingenbeck would have a strong start to the 1995 season at the Triple-A level for the Orioles. He posted a 2.72 ERA and a 3-1 record. This left the club little choice but to call him up during the middle months of the season. There were a few bumps in the road on his return to the big leagues. His ERA would jump to 4.88 and he posted a 1.596 WHIP over five starts. This would only be the beginning of the bad.

The Twins traded for Klingenbeck at the beginning of July in the deal that sent Scott Erickson to the Orioles. Erickson hadn't been able to regain his form from the first couple of years in the big leagues. He was only 27-years old but the Twins wanted to get some younger prospects for him. Klingenbeck had looked good during his minor league career but things would quickly go south in Minnesota.

He would make 18 appearances with the Twins in 1995 including four starts for the club. His ERA was a hefty 8.57 with an ugly 1.924 WHIP. He didn't exactly have control of his pitches as he walked 24 batters, hit four batters, and had five wild pitches over 48.1 innings. It was beginning to look like the Twins had given up a king's ransom to acquire a not so great pitcher.

For the start of the 1996 season, the Twins sent Klingenbeck back to the minor leagues to try and find himself. He improved by posting a 3.11 ERA and a 9-3 record over 22 starts. By the middle of the season, the Twins needed some help at the big league level and Klingenbeck was the guy. He struggled again with the transition and posted a 7.85 ERA and a 1.814 WHIP. This would be his last trip to the big leagues with the Twins.

At the start of the next season, Klingenbeck would be sent back to the Triple-A level. The Twins would dump him on Cincinatti, his hometown team, as part of a conditional deal. He would get one more brief taste of the majors in 1998 and he looked a little better with an ERA close to 6.00 and a 1.456 WHIP. The next year would be his last in professional baseball before retiring in 1999.

Klingenbeck's numbers in the minor leagues made it seem that he would be able to transition into at least a back of the rotation starter. That was one of the reasons the Twins traded for him but this would never happen. His time in the Twins organization translated to a 1-3 record, an 8.30 ERA, and a 1.883 WHIP. He also put together a -1.7 WAR in his Twins tenure.

Following his professional baseball career, Klingenbeck would open a sports bar and grill in Cincinnati. That venue is no longer open but it sounds like it was a decent place to eat.

In the end, Klingenbeck will be more remembered as the man the Twins got back for Scott Erickson because his time in a Twins uniform was very unmemorable...

What other players should be featured in this series? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

CAMPAIGN: Elect Mauer for number two hitter


Earlier last week, I looked into some of the Twins possible candidates for the leadoff hitter role in 2013. With Denard Span and Ben Revere traded to the National League, there is some question about who will step up and earn the leadoff spot out of spring training. Aaron Hicks looks like the leadoff hitter of the future but that doesn't mean that he will star the year in Minnesota. This could leave a big hole in the first spot in the batting order. 

One of the names that I discussed as a possibility for the leadoff spot was catcher Joe Mauer. He consistently gets on base and this is a huge part of being the first batter in the order. In the end, I knew that the Twins most likely won't move their $23 million man to the leadoff role but he could still find success in that position.

With Ron Gardenhire as manager, it seems most likely that Mauer will be penciled into the number three spot in the order for most of next season. That is where Mauer got the majority of his at-bats in 2012 and there is no reason to think that would be different in the coming year. For the Twins to find more success in 2013, I am offering up another option.

Mauer should be moved to the number two spot in the order.

This seems like a plan that plenty of fans could get behind and support. For too long, fans have become accustom to seeing the number two spot in the order being filled by a light hitting middle infielder or an outfielder that slaps the ball. It is time to take back the number two spot in the order!

It could be tough enough to find a body for the first spot in the order on Opening Day. This could make it twice as hard to find someone for the number two spot. If Hicks is sent to Rochester for a little more experience, that would leave Darin Mastroianni or Jamey Carroll for the first couple spots in the order. These player might be able to find success there but having Mauer at number two would be much more beneficial.

The Twins tried Carroll near the top of the order at the beginning of last season and it didn't work out so great. Over the course of the season, those numbers would even out a little but they still weren't the best. As a number two hitter, he batted .260/.330/.296 over 42 games. He was much more effective as bottom of the order hitter.

Other options for the Twins for the number two spot are even scarier. Depending on who wins the starting middle infield jobs out of spring training, there could be a host of very light hitting players fighting for the number two spot. Besides Carroll, the other candidates are Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar. None of these three men have a career OBP of over .300 and it is hard to imagine them getting the opportunity to hit that early in the line-up.

That leaves Mauer as the obvious choice to move up one spot in the batting order. As Twins fans know, Mauer isn't going to hit for a ton of power so it isn’t essential to have him in the middle of the order. He gets on base at an incredible rate and that skill should be utilized higher as the number two hitter.

The number two hitter role isn't completely foreign to Mauer as he has started 73 games in this position during the course of his career. Besides the number three spot in the order, he has accumulated more at-bats in the number two spot than all of the other spots combined. It's a small sample size when compared to the rest of his career but he has a higher slugging percentage when he bats in this spot.

As far as the rest of the batting order, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau would be able to slide up one spot to keep the middle of the line-up as a threat. Willingham is coming off the best season of his career and he could thrive as the number three hitter. Morneau will be entering next season after his first fully healthy offseason in multiple years.

Overall, the Twins are going to need a lot of things to break right for them to find success next season. The rotation could be a mess and it doesn't look like there will be much help coming in 2013. Mauer moving to the number two spot in the line-up could be a small step to making the turn for the future. He seems to fit the mold of a number two hitter and this spot looks to be open on the current roster.

It only seems natural to "Elect Mauer for the number two hitter!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Handbook Preview: Tom Brunansky Rises!


As followers of this site on Twitter or Facebook have noticed in the last couple of days, it is one of the most exciting times of the year. During the last two years, I have helped to write one of the best Twins publications on the market, "The Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook." My role has increased in each of the last two years to the point where I was asked by Seth Stohs to be a co-author on this year's edition.

This book includes 191 pages of content on the Twins minor league system. There are profiles on 153 minor league players from those that made their debuts in 2012 all the way down to those that were just traded to the club during the offseason. It includes some great articles from many of the best Twins writers on the web. The Handbook is a must own for any Twins fan and it would make a great gift as well. 

It has been a bleak couple of seasons in Minnesota and the team will be relying heavily on farm system that should rank as one of the top 10 in baseball. We kept the price as low as we could to allow the content to get into the hands of as many people as possible

As a bonus to fans of this site, I have included a portion of an article that I wrote for the book. The articles are only a small portion of the content in the Handbook as the profiles take up most of the pages. 
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Tom Brunansky Rises!

The work of a team’s farm system is centered on the ability to prepare younger players for big league careers. Much of the current book you are reading is focused on this very topic. These aren’t the only people to move through the system for an organization. The rise of coaches from the lower levels to the brink of the big leagues can also be an important part of the future for the franchise. 

The winds of change hit the Twin Cities at the end of the Twins’ regular season. On the heels of the team’s second disastrous season in a row, the front office cleaned out some of the coaching staff by parting ways with Jerry White, Rick Stelmaszek, and Steve Liddle. This left openings at the major league level and the Twins turned to multiple coaches in the minor leagues. Tom Brunansky, Bobby Cuellar, and Terry Steinbach were added to the coaching staff. Brunansky and Cuellar had served in similar roles at Rochester and Steinbach has been a Twins’ spring training instructor.

One of these coaches has been on quite the wild ride over the course of the last couple of seasons. Brunansky has risen quickly through the system for the Twins since he joined the club as an instructor in July of 2010. This came after he was pressured by a California high school coach to come out of retirement. From there, his passion and skills have translated to a big league job after 15 years away from the game of baseball.

The journey for Brunansky to get from retirement back to the big leagues as a coach was full of some bumps along the way. When he retired from the games of baseball, he was ready to be home and spend time raising his children. As a professional baseball player, you can miss out on a lot of time with your kids and his retirement gave him the opportunity to spend time with them before they left for college. When the nest was starting to empty, Brunansky went searching for something more and that search brought him back to the one career he had always known…baseball.

Brunansky started coaching at a high school in Poway, California and this time helped him to rediscover his love of the game. He decided that he wanted to work with some older hitters so he put in a call to the team’s former minor league director, Jim Rantz, to enquire about any open positions in the Twins organization. There just happened to be an opening and they offered him a position as hitting coach in the Gulf Coast League. Brunansky set the goal of making it back to the big leagues as a coach. But just like the players he was coaching, Brunansky had to work his way from the lower levels of the minor leagues to show the organization that he deserved a promotion.

His first year as a coach in the system for the Twins would come with some big responsibilities. Some of the most important prospects for the Twins would be under his tutelage during their first seasons in professional baseball. Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, and Kennys Vargas were just a few of the names from the 2010 GCL Twins roster. Sano and Kepler were only 17-years old at the time and Rosario was only a little older. These players would get their careers off to a glowing start and Brunansky had impressed the Twins enough to earn his promotion.
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There is much more in the article including Brunansky's time in the minor league system, some quotes from players and Terry Ryan, and the rest of his journey back to the big leagues. At the end of the article, I include a ranking of some of the top coaching "prospects" in the minor league system for the Twins. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

How should Glen Perkins be used?

During the last couple of offseasons, there have been some question marks about the role of Glen Perkins. In 2008 and 2009, Perkins had struggled as a starter so the Twins needed to find some kind of role for him. The 2010 team didn't really have a role for Perkins and he spent most of the year as a starter in Rochester. He finally found his spot in the bullpen in 2011 and things have been on the upswing ever since that point.

This offseason there is little doubt about his role for 2013; Perkins will be the closer for the Twins at the start of the year. It will be the first year that Perkins has started the season as the closer. Last year he served as set-up man before Matt Capps started dealing with injuries and poor play. One of the biggest strengths of last year's squad was the bullpen and Perkins hopes that continues in 2013.

Over the last two seasons, Perkins has been one of the best relief pitchers in the American League. He has a low 2.52 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and 143 SO over 132 innings pitched. As a relief pitcher, Perkins has been able to add a little velocity to his pitches and this has helped to make him more dominant. Last season was a career year as he saw his WHIP drop to 1.038 and he was able to increase his SO/9 rate to 10.0 for the first time in his career.

Twins fans have become accustom to having shutdown closers for much of the last two decades. The lineage of closers goes back to Rick Aguilera and stretches down through Eddie Guardado, Joe Nathan, and now Mr. Perkins. With a dominant closer, there can be some question surrounding the use of this type of player. How should a manager use a dominant bullpen arm?

With Ron Gardenhire as the manager, the Twins have followed the standard of limiting the closer to getting the last three outs of the game. There have been some exceptions to this rule but for the most part it has been true. Using a closer exclusively in the ninth inning is not necessarily a bad thing but there can be some advantages to thinking outside the box when it comes to the late innings of games.

Last season when Matt Capps was dealing with some injury issues at the end of June, it looked like the Twins might be going with a two-pronged approach to finish off games. Minnesota seemed to be looking at the match-ups and trying to decided if the left-handed throwing Perkins would be the better option or if right-handed hurler Jared Burton would be the way to go. This didn't last long as Burton would pick up a handful of saves during the rest of the season but Perkins became the standard as the ninth inning man.

The idea of using two different pitchers as closers seems like it could be intriguing to attempt especially on a team trying to rebuild after back-to-back 90 loss seasons. There could be situations where a left-handed pitcher would be better and other times where a right-handed man is needed. With how well Perkins and Burton were throwing last season, it seemed like a win-win situation.

There are also going to be situations where the closer might be needed for more than one out. What if there is a tough string of batters due up in the eighth inning? Should a manager throw a lesser pitcher out there to face the heart of the order or put his best bet in the bullpen? It seems much more logical to have a team's best pitcher out there in a tougher situation.

It might also be in the best interest of the team to let a closer get more than three outs to record a save. If trouble arises in the eighth inning, the closer should be able to come in and attempt to finish that inning and get the last three outs of the ninth. Out of Perkins 16 saves in 2012, only one of them was over one inning of work. In fact, he only recorded more than three outs in a game on four occasions last season. It doesn't seem like Gardenhire is going to allow his closer into the game early and maybe it doesn't matter with a last place team.

Even if the Twins are building toward 2014, it would be nice to see a few more victories in 2013. The Twins had a great bullpen in 2012 and it could help to be a little more creative when it comes to finishing games. Perkins could turn out to be the best closer in franchise history but the team should still be smart about the way they use him. Getting more than three outs, using him earlier in the game, and having Burton pick up a save or two could help the team to find more success next year.

What are your thoughts on using a closer earlier than the ninth inning? What about the two closer approach? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Target Field Photos: 2012

Starting at last year's TwinsFest, the organization asked fans to submit photos that they had taken at Target Field. This allowed the club to post shots of some of the best moments at their beautiful new stadium and it gave fans a chance to show off their work. To submit a photo for the contest, all a person had to do was send an email to photos@twinsbaseball.com and then hope to see their work on display.

There were a ton of great photos at last year's exhibit and I am not just saying that because they picked out one of my shots. This year I had to dig deep to find some of my favorite pictures to submit for the contest. Most likely there will be plenty of good submissions this year and it will be tough to make the final cut.

Here are some of my favorite shots that I took at Target Field this year and a look at those that I sent in for the contest. Enjoy!

One of my submissions for this year is a shot I took during the Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw concert.
Another one of my submissions for this year was a shot I took on a tour of Target Field.
Kent Hrbek looking humble during the unveiling of his statue
The view from the press box as seen during my tour
Here is my photo from last year when it was displayed during TwinsFest (they asked for hometown, not current town):

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Morris' candidacy seems all but dead

For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers' Association of America did not select anyone to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This was the eighth time that no one was selected by the writers but most onlookers could see this coming. The influx of suspected steroid users on the ballot makes it tough to judge players and there has been plenty of debate surrounding who should be elected in the coming years.

Craig Biggio was the closest person to getting 75% of the vote needed to be enshrined but he only mustered 68.2% in his first year on the ballot. Twins World Series hero Jack Morris came in second with 67.7% of the vote in his 14th year on the ballot. Rounding out the rest of the top five were Jeff Bagwell (59.6%), Mike Piazza (57.8%), and Tim Raines (52.2%).

In my ballot that I released last week, I hoped that Biggio and Bagwell would comprise the Class of 2013. I knew this was a long shot but it seemed fitting for two of the former "Killer B's" from the Astros. With so many other worthy candidates, I had a full ballot of 10 players but I divided them into different categories. Those categories included: "Future Inductions," "May Never Get In (But Still On My Ballot)," and the "Under-Appreciated Duo." Check out the entire piece to see the reasons I gave for each selection.

For Morris, it was discouraging to see that he only made a small jump in the voting. In the 2012 voting, he finished in second place with 66.7% of the vote and it was looking like he could make the jump needed to get to 75%. His 1% increase this year doesn't bode well for the 57-year old former pitcher that will be on the ballot for one last time in 2013. As more players from the steroids era enter the ballot, the numbers for Morris look more likely that they won't stack up to the competition.

The clock is ticking for Jack Morris since there will be some very strong first time candidates on next year's ballot. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas will all have strong cases to be elected in their first time on the ballot. There will also be some strong returning candidates like Biggio, Bagwell, and Piazza. Morris will get one more chance but the odds are not exactly looking like they will be in his favor when it comes to election time next January.

When compared to Glavine and Maddux, Morris doesn't seem to stand a chance on the 2014 ballot. Maddux has a career WAR of 101.6 and this should make him almost a lock to be a first ballot selection. Glavine has a very good 76.8 WAR which isn't as high as Maddux but it is still very good. Morris is much further down the list with a 39.3 WAR and that would rank sixth among pitchers on next year's ballot.

There are plenty of people on both sides of the debate surrounding Morris. Some writers have spoke out loudly to try and push for Morris to get in as he runs out of years on the ballot. Other's have compared Morris to other top pitchers and his numbers don't exactly stand out above the crowd. With one year left, the voices against Morris seem to be bringing down any momentum that he had building in the last couple of years.

Twins fans saw Bert Blyleven get elected in his 14th year of eligibility so there were some that thought this might be the year for Morris. Blyleven had much better numbers for his career and his induction should have come much sooner than it did. The extra years on the ballot helped to build the narrative in favor of Blyleven. The problem for Morris has been the fact that the narrative has been building as much against him as it has been for him.

Morris pitched one of the biggest games in World Series history and he happened to be wearing a Twins uniform when he did it. On my ballot, I voted for Morris because of the nostalgia involved with Game 7 from 1991. He was the last addition to my ballot so if I had to remove one player it would have probably been him.

Does this mean that he probably doesn't deserve to be in the Hall? Most likely...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Worst Twins of All-Time Series: Terry Felton

Last week, I kicked off an entertaining series to look at some of the players that performed at their worst while wearing a Twins uniform. In recent memory, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Jason Marquis come to mind as the poster boys for futility in Minnesota but there have been plenty of other names throughout the history of the franchise.

My first player profile in the series was Butch Huskey. I didn't really have a reason for starting with Huskey but his story provided a good narrative for the post and he didn't really perform up to par after the Twins signed him. There are plenty of players that are worse than him but it was a good starting point.

In the winter cold of the deep offseason, it can be entertaining to look back at the club's history. In the next few weeks, I will discuss some of the worst players to ever wear a Twins uniform. I won't try to rank these players because that could be quite the daunting task and it is wide open to interpretation. These will be simple profiles on some of the worst players in team history.

In my post abour Mr. Huskey, I asked for some suggestions about who should be next in the series. I got plenty of good responses but decided to look into the career of Terry Felton.
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Felton joined the Twins organization as a second round pick out of high school in the 1976 amateur draft. He would be sent to the rookie leagues for rest of that summer. On his way to the big leagues, he would post ERA marks in the mid-threes to the low-fours. As a 21-year old, he would make his debut in September with the big league club.

His first taste of the big leagues would be brief as he was only asked to pitch in one game for a couple innings. The next year (1980) he made the team's rotation out of spring training but things went south from there. He had a quality start in his first outing by allowing three runs over seven innings. In his next start, he threw over five innings and still gave up three runs. The next three starts would be terrible as he allowed eight earned runs and never pitched more than 3.2 innings. In two of those last three starts, he pitched an inning or less. The Twins would keep him in Triple-A for the rest of the year.

The starting pitcher role wasn't exactly working out for Felton and the club decided to go in a different direction with him. He would spilt time during the 1981 season as a relief pitcher and as starter in the minor leagues. Things didn't exactly transition smoothly as he posted a ERA over 4.00 in 131 innings pitched at Triple-A. The organization still gave him a taste of the big leagues in September and he proceeded to give up six runs in 1.1 inning on the mound.

In 1982, Felton would be given plenty of opportunities to succeed at the big league level. He spent the entire year with the Twins and he ended up pitching 117.1 innings for the club. Most of this time was out of the bullpen but he was given the chance to start six games. He ended the year with a 4.99 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP, and a horrendous 0-13 record. Opponents only hit .230 against him but they managed to get on base 35% of the time.

During one stretch from the end of June to the end of July, he threw 13.2 innings and had a 7.90 ERA. This included a 0-4 record, two blown saves, and another save that he happened to get because he pitched over three innings in a blowout. He gave up five home runs in this stretch but never more than one in an outing. It was tough for Mr. Felton to find success and the team had seen enough of him at the big league level.

Felton would never make it back to the big leagues. He spent the entire 1983 campaign in the minor league system for the Twins by posting a 5.24 ERA and a 3-10 record over 115.0 innings. The Twins would part ways with him after that season and he latched on with the Dodgers system. They let him play in a handful of games at the Double-A level but it was rough going and the team decided to go in a different direction.

Looking back on his career, it's tough not to look at the way the Twins switched him back and forth from being a starter to shoving him in the bullpen. Some players don't adjust well switching between these two roles. Felton ended his professional career without a major league win and a 5.53 ERA with a 1.518 WHIP. He combined for a career WAR of -2.1 across his four seasons of big league experience.

Since the Twins took Felton in a high round of the draft, the team wanted to try and get the most they could out of him. Unfortunately, Felton's best just wasn't very good...

What other players should be featured in this series? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ranking the Twins leadoff hitter candidates

Over the last two seasons, the two men that accounted for most of the at-bats in the leadoff spot for the Twins were Denard Span and Ben Revere. These two men have been traded away this offseason and this leaves a gaping hole at the top of the order (and in center field but that's a post for a different day). There will be a few different candidates to be the leadoff hitter and a lot of the decision will come down to who wins the vacancies in center field and in the middle infield positions.

From reports out of the Twins Cities, it sounds like the Twins will turn over the starting to duties in center field to one of three men. Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, and Darin Mastroianni will all get the chance to earn the starting role in spring training. The middle infield situation will also need to be sorted out in the spring and there are a few different candidates fighting for those spots.

Out of the center field candidates, Mastroainni has the most big league experience and he offers some skills that would be helpful in a leadoff role. In only 77 games last season, he managed 21 steals, which ranked third on the team behind Revere and Alexi Casilla. He hit .252/.328/.345 last season with a limited amount of power. The Twins even penciled him into the first spot of the line-up for three different games last season but he only hit .133/.188/.333 in a small sample size of 16 plate appearances.

Hicks has been used as a leadoff hitter for most of his career in the minor leagues and he also has the skill set to be a very good top of the order hitter. He is one of the most patient hitters in the minor leagues by drawing over 75 walks in each of his three full seasons at multiple levels. His on-base percentage is .379 for his professional career and that even came with some lower batting averages in his first few seasons. His speed is also very good as he stole 32 bases last year and he combined for 32 doubles and triples.

The Twins are going to need to see quite the performance from Benson to give him a starting job out of spring training. He was injured for most of last season and this caused his on-field performance to take a dive. Benson is still very athletic and he has shown a good ability to get on base when he is healthy. If Benson wins the starting job in center field, it might mean the Twins look to one of the other candidates to be the leadoff hitter.

When looking at the infield candidates, Jamey Carroll played the most for the club in 2011. The 38-year old infielder had a rough start to last year but he found his swing through the course of the year. The Twins only used him as a leadoff hitter in one game last year so he might not be the likeliest candidate. He does know how to draw a walk and the Twins could use him at the top of the order until Hicks is ready to debut.

The other candidates for the starting jobs in the middle infield are Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and Eduardo Escobar. These men aren't really leadoff hitter material since well... they don't really hit the ball. All three of these players struggled to hit for a high average last season and they would most likely be suited for spots lower in the batting order. Dozier showed some ability to steal bases with nine steals in 11 attempts but his other numbers were too low to consider him a threat as a leadoff man.

If some of these other candidates don't look appealing, the dark horse for the leadoff spot could be the Twins highest paid player. Joe Mauer is the best hitter for average on the Twins and he has led the AL in on-base percentage in multiple seasons. He doesn't have a ton of speed but he is athletic enough that can steal a base on occasion. There really seems like no way Ron Gardenhire would put him in the lead-off spot but maybe there is a chance that he moves up to the number two spot.

Clearly, Hicks is the Twins lead-off hitter of the future but the future might not be able to start the year in Minnesota. At this point, it seems most likely for Hicks to start at Triple-A with Mastroianni getting the job on Opening Day. Here is where I would rank the lead-off hitters at this point and the only reason Mauer is at the bottom is because there seems to be a very little chance that he will be moved from the middle of the order.

Lead-Off Hitter Rankings:
1. Aaron Hicks
2. Darin Mastroianni
3. Jamey Carroll
4. Joe Mauer

If you were putting together the roster for 2013, who would be your leadoff man for Opening Day? How about at the halfway point of the season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Scott Diamond looks to avoid sophomore slump

The Twins have been busy adding mediocre arms to their starting rotation this offseason but off in the wings Scott Diamond is preparing for his second full seasons as a big league starter. Diamond burst onto the scene last season with a very impressive first half of the season. He would come back down to earth a little bit in the second half but he was still the best starter out of a very mediocre starting core. In his second full season as a starter, Diamond will have to find a way to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

There were a few different things that made Diamond successful in his first trip through the American League. Before the end of July, Diamond made 15 starts and posted a very good 2.88 ERA over 100 innings. Opponents hit .266/.299/.388 against him and he posted a very good 9-4 record. Most of his wins during that stretch, six of them, would come in the friendly confines of Target Field. In fact, over the course of the season Diamond would strike out batters at a higher rate at home and his WHIP was much better when pitching in Minnesota.

From the beginning of August to the end of the season, Diamond ran into some struggles. He would lose two more games than he won during that stretch and his other numbers ballooned up a little. His ERA rose to 4.44 and opponents were able to hit .285/.320/.472 against him. Things would get worse after he was tossed out of a game in Texas for throwing at a batter. From that point on, his ERA jumped to 5.06 as his innings continued to mount.

Entering last season, the most Diamond had pitched in the minor leagues was 162 innings back in 2011. Before being called-up to Minnesota in 2012, Diamond threw 34.2 innings in the minor leagues and he added that to 173 innings at the big league level. It was the first time he had thrown over 200 innings and there might have been a learning curve with his new workload. This could be the reason for some of his struggles down the stretch.

Twins fans know that Diamond doesn't strikeout a ton of batters. He stays around the strike zone and this can cause some problems. Home runs became an Achilles heel for Diamond. Out of his 26 starts, he gave up a home run in 13 games and he gave up more than one home run in four games. In the games where Diamond gave up a home run, the Twins were one game under .500 and the team was 0-2 when he gave up more than one home run.

One of the biggest areas of strength for Diamond is his ability to limit walks. He led the AL in BB/9 by averaging less than two walks per game. The most walks that he gave up in a game were three and both of those contests were in the last month of the year when Diamond might have been tiring. There were seven games when he didn't walk a single batter and he pitched over six innings in all of those starts. When giving up zero walks, Diamond had a 4-1 record and 1.07 ERA.

Since Diamond is going to pound the strike zone, it is important to have a good defense behind him. The Twins will enter this spring with question marks at almost every up the middle position on the club. Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, and Darin Mastroianni will be fighting for the starting job in center field. The middle infield is a complete question mark as the Twins are expected to have an open competition for shortstop and second base. It can tough for a pitcher to have consistency if there are different players behind him every time he takes the mound.

Looking at all of these things, it is clear that there are a few areas for Diamond to concentrate on to find success in his second year. He needs to limit the amount of long balls that he gives up. It is also key for him to continue to manage the amount of walks that he allows. The defense behind Diamond will also be critical for the Twins and their starting staff. If the Twins and Diamond can find a way for all of these to come true, he might be set up to have an even better year in 2013.