Friday, January 31, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Phil Hughes

Minnesota spent a lot of money in a couple of days on two free agent pitchers. This was a change for an organization that had never spent more on the free agent market than the 3-year, $21 million contract for Josh Willingham. That being said, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes are expected to be strong members of the Twins starting rotation in 2014.

In my on going series "25-Man Roster Dissection," I have been trying to identify the Twins players likely to spend the most time on the team's 25-man roster next season. There have been obvious choices so far but there will be some tough decisions to make for the final couple of spots. Hughes shouldn't have to worry about his spot for 2014.

2013 Recap: 5.19 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 121 SO, 42 BB (145.2 IP)
Hughes probably couldn't wait for his time to be done under the bright lights of New York. There had been a lot of hype surrounding him as he moved through the Yankees farm system. Those dreams never came true at the big league level and there were some rough times in his last year in pinstripes. He didn't win a game in the second half of the year and his ERA ballooned to 6.65 during his last 12 appearances. Yankee Stadium destroyed Hughes as he posted a 1-10 record and a 6.32 ERA over 78.1 innings. Needless to say he will be happy to get out of "The House That Ruth Built."

Forecasting 2014: 4.28 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 117 SO, 40 BB (147.0 IP)
When Hughes entered free agency, he figured he would be sorting through a lot of one-year offers from various teams. The Twins saw something else in him and offered him a multiple year contract. Target Field should be a friendlier venue for him to make half of his starts. Outside of Yankee Stadium last year, Hughes posted a respectable 3.88 ERA over 67.1 innings. He may never live up to the hype surrounding him in his early years in the Yankee organization but that's not what the Twins need. They need Hughes to be a consistent middle of the rotation starter for a couple of seasons, as their prospects get closer to the big leagues.

25-Man Roster Safety: Locked-In

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 68

The Talk to Contact podcast returns, and STILL no Alex Rodriguez talk. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
After taking a week off to meet up in person at Twins Fest and the Winter Meltdown, the Talk to Contact boys are back at it again. After discussing some minor happenings in Twins Territory, including Chuck Knoblauch's eventual enshrinement in the Twins Hall of Fame, this episode is dominated by prospect talk, specifically a little game called the Franchise Futures Game. We cover most of the top prospects in the Twins system and debate how important each prospect is to the Twins organization as a whole. All that and more on this week's episode. 

Thanks for the download.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at Puckett's Pond,  Jay Corn is on Twitter ( @Jay__Corn), and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs!

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, that will help Kohl Stewart's elbow stay intact as he moves through the Twins minor league system.
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFan, on Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContact) or email the show:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Links for "25-Man Roster Dissection" Series

As the Twins get closer to heading to Fort Myers, there will be plenty of decisions to make in relation to the 25-man roster. Some positions are likely set in stone while others are still questionable. In this series called "25-Man Roster Dissection." I have selected the men I believe will spend the most time on the 25-man roster next season and I try to predict each player's 2014 performance.

Here are the links to the men I have covered so far in the series:
  1. Joe Mauer
  2. Glen Perkins
  3. Ricky Nolasco
  4. Josh Willingham
  5. Brian Dozier
  6. Phil Hughes
  7. Oswaldo Arcia
  8. Anthony Swarzak
  9. Kurt Suzuki
  10. Kevin Correia
  11. Brian Duensing
  12. Pedro Florimon
  13. Trevor Plouffe
  14. Jared Burton
  15. Eduardo Escobar
  16. Casey Fien
  17. Aaron Hicks
  18. Mike Pelfrey
  19. Jason Kubel
  20. Josmil Pinto
  21. Sam Deduno
  22. Kyle Gibson
  23. Caleb Thielbar
  24. Sam Fuld
  25. Alex Meyer
Make sure to check back in the coming weeks as the "25-Man Roster Dissection" series continues. 

Twins Franchise Future Rankings: Prospects 1-5

A lot of the buzz coming out of Target Field this weekend surrounded top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The lines for autographs from these two players was very extensive and neither of them has an at-bat at higher than the Double-A level. This is a lot of hype surrounding two men who are a few months removed from being teenagers.

If Minnesota is going to get out of the rut of the last three seasons, top prospects like Buxton and Sano will have to come up and perform at a high level. These men are supposed to provide the light at the end of the tunnel but how much is riding on these top prospects panning out?

I've given each of the top five prospects in the organization a "Franchise Future Ranking" between 1-10. A ranking of one would mean the franchise should be able to survive without this prospect making a huge impact at the big league level. A ranking of 10 would mean the franchise is going to continue to lose unless this player comes up and lives up to his potential.

Byron Buxton, OF
Considered by many to be the best prospect in baseball. He is closer to being ready than Mike Trout was at the same age but it's tough to compare anyone to what Trout has done at the big league level. Buxton should be a perennial All-Star with his name in the MVP discussion. In a couple years, the AL MVP race could be decided between Trout and Buxton instead of Cabrera versus Trout. The Twins need Buxton to turn into the face of the franchise as Joe Mauer's career starts to wind down. If the Twins had a weaker system, he would like get a 10 ranking but for now he gets a nine.
Franchise Future Ranking: 9

Miguel Sano, 3B
Before Buxton entered the Twins system, Sano had a lot of pressure on him to be the cornerstone of the Twins franchise. The emergence of Buxton has taken some pressure off of Sano but he is still arguably the best power-hitting prospect in the minor leagues. Some compare him to Miguel Cabrera but he probably won't develop the ability to hit for a higher of average. His power swing hasn't stopped at any level in the minors and his defense is passable enough at third to stay there. Minnesota's line-up could be one of the top offensive threats with Sano and Buxton batting in the middle of the order.
Franchise Future Ranking: 8

Alex Meyer, RHP
When Terry Ryan took back over as Minnesota's GM, there was clearly a lack of power arms in the system. Ryan did his best to help the future of the franchise by trading for Meyer. A few injuries marked his first year in the organization but he still managed to pitch a significant amount of innings between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League. The Twins need Meyer to be a top of the rotation pitcher so he can pave the way for younger arms like Kohl Stewart, JO Berrios, and Lewis Thorpe. He might not be a Cy Young candidate but his importance can't be understated.
Franchise Future Ranking: 8

Kohl Stewart, RHP
The list of homegrown pitching prospects that will compete for a starting rotation spot with the Twins next year is short. In fact, Kyle Gibson is the only man on that list. Stewart is one of a few younger pitchers in the lower levels of the Twins system trying to help change the future of the franchise. He is multiple years away from the big leagues but the three men above him on this list should already be at Target Field by the time he arrives. There are a lot of variables that could hold Stewart back from being a front of the rotation starter. He's got the potential but the Twins have insurance policies with some of the younger arms in the system.
Franchise Future Ranking: 7

Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF
Brian Dozier seemed to handle himself pretty well at second base last season so this could make it difficult for Rosario to break into the big leagues. Rosario is widely touted as one of the best hitting prospects in the organization. He probably doesn't project to have enough power to fit into a corner outfield spot so a switch back to the outfield doesn't seem likely. His suspension to start the year is going to hurt some of his development time but the franchise could likely survive without him being an All-Star level player. If Dozier continues to shine, it would be nice to see a Rosario trade for more pitching depth.
Franchise Future Ranking: 5

Obliviously, these are five of the best prospects for the organization. This means they are going to rank higher than some of the other players in the system.

Now it's your turn. How would you rank these players in relation to their importance for getting the team out of their recent losing ways? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Monday, January 27, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Brian Dozier

Creating a 25-man roster for a big league organization is no easy task. Some teams rely heavily on the minor league system while others spend lots of money on the free agent market. There needs to be the right combination of youth and veteran savvy.

In the "25-Man Roster Dissection" series, each player projected to make the Twins roster will be examined. There will be some tough choices at the end of spring training but these posts are an attempt to select the 25-men who will spend the most time playing in Minnesota next year.

Last week, I discussed some of the possible breakout candidates for the 2014 Minnesota Twins. One of the biggest breakout stars from 2013 was second baseman Brian Dozier. He proved himself to be a valuable asset for a team that has been craving some talent in the middle infield.

2013 Recap: .244/.312/.414, 18 HR, 33 2B, 66 RBI (147 Games)
Dozier smashed his way into the team's all-time record book with 18 home runs at second base. This was more home runs in a season than Rod Carew, Chuck Knoblach, or any other second baseman in the history of the club. According to FanGraphs version of WAR, Dozier was the fifth most valuable second baseman in the entire American League. His defense was also outstanding as he had the highest range factor per game for any AL second baseman and he led the league in assists. Plus, who didn't love seeing Dozier flip his curly locks before he chopped off his long flowing hair?

Forecasting 2014: .245/.307/.400, 15 HR, 26 2B, 62 RBI (138 games)
After up-and-coming second base prospect Eddie Rosario was suspended for 50-games, the push from behind Dozier got a little easier. Minnesota will take most of 2014 to decide if Dozier is the permanent solution at second base. Offensively, there were ups and downs during Dozier's 2013 campaign so the club will be looking for more consistency at the plate. If Dozier falters, there are other players in the organization more than willing to take over his role. This could leave Dozier on thin ice but his confidence from 2013 has to be riding high and the Twins hope this confidence carries him to even better numbers in 2014.

25-Man Roster Safety: Loosely Locked

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Twins Prospects Rank High On MLB's Positional Rankings

Minnesota is widely considered to have one of the game's best farm systems. It helps to have two of the best prospects in all of baseball, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The Twins have also done well to acquire some top notch pitching talent over the last couple of years in the form of Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart, and Lewis Thorpe. will be unveiling their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball on Thursday, which should include a number of players from the Twins organization. Buxton and Sano are likely to finish in the top five and both could be featured in the top three when the final rankings are released.

As part of MLB's lead-up to their top 100 prospects, they have spent parts of the last week reviewing each position and the top 10 prospects in relation to those spots on the field. Some of Minnesota's best prospects have been featured prominently on those top 10 lists.

Miguel Sano, 3B (#1 Ranking): For the second consecutive year, Sano ranks as the best prospective third baseman in the minor leagues. His power and young age separate him from the others on the list. Last year's number two overall pick, Kris Bryant of the Cubs, finished second on the list after his tremendous debut. There are holes in the swing of Sano but his power showed up at multiple levels last season. His arm is also one of his best strengths and that's why the Twins have committed to keeping him at third base... for now.

Byron Buxton, OF (#1 Ranking): Buxton's pro debut catapulted him to the top of the list of the best outfielders. There is also a good chance that he will be ranked the number one overall prospect in baseball when that list is released later this week. He is truly the definition of the five tool player by combining power, speed, and defense to show why he was considered the best talent in the 2012 MLB Draft. The only question remaining for 2014 is how fast can he get to Target Field?

Eddie Rosario, 2B (#8 Ranking): To start the 2014 season, Rosario will be forced to serve a 50-game suspension for his second violation of the minor league drug policy. This is a shame because he seemed to be on track to make his MLB debut at some point in the 2014 season. Even with the suspension, MLB ranked Rosario as the eighth best second base prospect in the game. He has only recently shifted to second base so his defense continues to develop at his new position.

If you'd like to learn more about these prospects and some of the other members of the Twins farm system, make sure to order a copy of the latest edition of the Twins Minor League Handbook. This 188-page book features profiles and scouting reports on some of the game's best up-and-coming players. Also, there are a ton of stories and special features throughout the book.

It's a great deal and it makes a great gift for the Twins fan in your life.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Rise (And Trade) of Andrew Albers

Ron Gardenhire slowly walked out to the mound at Kauffman Stadium for a move that he didn't really want to make. Andrew Albers pitched into the ninth inning without allowing a run and it was his big league debut. Unfortunately, his pitch count had run up to 109 and it was time to get the bullpen involved.

It was a tremendous debut and it was hard to imagine things getting better from there... but they would.

In his next outing, Albers was even more impressive. In front of the Target Field faithful, he pitched nine shutout innings by limiting Cleveland to two hits. His pitch count was barely over 100 and he didn't allow a walk. Friends and family were on hand to see what could have been the highlight of Albers big league career.

For the rest of the season, Albers struggled to recapture the magic of his first two starts. His ERA ballooned to 5.70 and he averaged a little over four innings per outing. There were few walks off of the hand of Albers but he allowed opponents to hit .324/.349/.497 including six home runs in eight games.

Albers had done some great things in the minor leagues in 2013 and the Twins awarded him with their minor league pitcher of the year. With Rochester, he went 11-5 over 22 starts with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. As a 27-year old getting his first taste of the Triple-A level, one would hope that he could find some success and that was exactly the case.

Albers will be in the Twin Cities this weekend to pick up his hardware for being the best pitcher in the Twins farm system. Many of the previous winners of this award have failed to live up to their hype. The four previous winners before Albers were Kevin Slowey, Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, and BJ Hermsen.

Word came out yesterday that the Twins could be close to trading Albers to a team in South Korea. The left-handed pitcher has already agreed to a deal with the Hanwha Eagles. The Twins and the Eagles have yet to come to terms on what the compensation should be for Albers. It sounds like he will be getting a one-year contract in the high six-figure range.

With the crop of free agent pitchers brought in and those already in house, there was probably little chance of Albers getting another taste of the big leagues this year. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey are likely locked into the rotation. This leaves one spot for the likes of Sam Deduno, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Kyle Gibson.

There is probably not a lot of room for Albers in that equation.

Monday, January 20, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Josh Willingham

Injuries can impact a team's 25-man roster in a multitude of ways. If one of a team's key offensive contributors finds their way to the disabled list, someone is going to have to replace that offensive production. When this doesn't happen, a team can struggle offensively like the Twins did one year ago.

Hopes were high for Willingham entering his second full season in Minnesota. He was coming of a year where he earned a Silver Slugger as one of the best offensive outfielders in the American League. The Twins signed Willingham to a relatively cheap free agent deal and he earned his keep in 2012.

2013 Recap: .208/.342/.368, 14 HR, 20 2B, 48 RBI (111 Games)
Injuries were the story behind Willingham's poor performance last year. His 34-year old body didn't hold up in his second year in Minnesota. He posted career low in batting average, home runs, and OPS. The offense struggled without Willingham in the line-up. The team scored the third fewest runs in the American League and they ranked second in strikeout percentage. There weren't a lot of highlights for Willingham in 2013 but there were two games were he hit two home runs. His defense continues to be rough and he was limited to 72 games in the outfield, a career low for Mr. Willingham. When he was on the field, he cost the Twins a total of four defensive runs (Rtot), which was a five run difference from 2012.

Forecasting 2014: .232/.336/.404, 23 HR, 26 2B, 76 RBI (146 games)
Willingham will be in the final year of his contract so he will be playing 2014 with something to prove. If the Twins can get some life out of him in the first half of the year, he would be a good trade target for contending teams at the deadline. That being said, Willingham is a good candidate to have a bounce back year. The Twins will do their best to keep Willingham on the field. This could include more time as a designated hitter especially with all of the other corner outfielders that are likely to be on the 25-man roster. It won't be the same magical Willingham from his first campaign with Minnesota but he should improve enough for the Twins to deal him for something as his contract expires.

25-Man Roster Safety: Locked-In

Friday, January 17, 2014

25- Man Roster Dissection: Ricky Nolasco

February 17, 2014 is the reporting day for pitchers and catchers in the Twins organization. Some players will head to Florida knowing their roster spot is locked-in while others will toil with wondering what the future might bring. Glen Perkins, the Twins All-Star closer, was the last man I profiled and he is basically guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster.

This reporting date will also mark a new era for the franchise as the team spent a significant amount of money on free agent pitching for the first time in their history. Minnesota made a large commitment to free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to help a starting staff that ranked last in ERA and last in strikeouts a year ago.

2013 Recap: 3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 165 SO, 46 BB (199.1 IP)
After spending his entire big league career with the Marlins, Nolasco was traded last July from Miami to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He started the second most games in the National League in 2013 and this helped him to pitch over 190 innings for the third consecutive year. After joining the Dodgers, Nolasco posted an 8-3 record with a 3.52 ERA over 87.0 innings pitched. This included him going 5-0 in the month of August with a 1.64 ERA over six starts. In his eight professional seasons, Nolasco has always played for National League teams and his career .138/.187/.179 batting line will be happy to get out of batting with the switch to the American League.

Forecasting 2014: 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 138 SO, 45 BB (195.0 IP)
When a pitcher switches leagues in the middle of his career, it is tough to predict how his performance will change. Will his numbers get worse because of the presence of the designated hitter? Will the pitcher have the upper hand because batters have never seen him before? The Twins are going to rely a lot on Nolasco to be a leader for this pitching staff. His goals should be to pitcher over 190 innings for the fourth consecutive year and to try and keep his ERA at 4.00 or lower. Without pitchers batting against him a couple times a game, some of his other numbers will probably change. It should still be a successful first year for Nolasco in Minnesota.

25-Man Roster Safety: Locked-In

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 67

This week on the Talk to Contact podcast I can promise you no Alex Rodriguez talk, honest. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
This week's episode is highlighted by a candid interview with Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Trevor May (@trevmay54, or on soundcloud: DJ MAZR). Aside from talking with Trevor, we have a lively discussion concerning who we think will be on the 25-man roster when the Twins break camp and leave Florida this spring (the first, of what will likely be many such discussions as the first game of the season approaches). Also discussed are the non-roster invites to big league camp, listeners from around the globe, and the usual banter and beer talk.

Come for the Trevor May interview, stay for the beer. Or vice versa.

Thanks for the download.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at Puckett's Pond,  Jay Corn is on Twitter ( @Jay__Corn), and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs!

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, that will help Liam Hendriks make the major league club in Baltimore and hopefully pitch against Danny Valencia and the Royals, beaning him in the middle of the back.
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFan, on Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContact) or email the show:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Possible 2014 Twins Breakout Candidates

Every offseason fans can sit back and reflect on the year that was for the Minnesota Twins. There are usually some high points and some low points for any team no matter what their place in the standings. Unfortunately for the Twins, there have been more low points than high points over the last three seasons.

Last year's roster featured a few players in the midst of a breakout season. Brian Dozier set the franchise record for home runs by a second baseman and he backed that up with terrific up the middle defense. It was a long time coming for Dozier who struggled during his first taste of the big leagues 2012. Anthony Swarzak took over the long relief role and compiled his best numbers as a professional. He also led all of baseball in innings pitched by a relief arm.

Looking forward to the 2014 season, there are a variety of players who could be poised to make a big impact this year.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF: There were some positive signs from Arcia in his rookie year but the Twins would like to see some more offensive consistency from their 22-year old outfielder. In the minor leagues, Arcia was a career .314 hitter and he had a slugging percentage over .530 for the last four seasons. A few rookie nerves meant a drop in his batting average to .251 and his slugging percentage topped out at .431. He should be a regular starter in 2014 and the Twins would like him to get back to the numbers he put up in the minor leagues.

Kyle Gibson, RHP: With the logjam of staring pitching on the 25-man roster, Gibson might be forced to start the year in Rochester. It still could be a make or break year for the 25-year old as he is in his second season back following Tommy John surgery. There were plenty of struggles from Gibson during his big league debut. His ERA was over 6.50 and his WHIP was closer to 2.00 than 1.00. Thankfully, there is still hope for the former first round pick since he put up some impressive numbers in the minors before his elbow surgery. Gibson may never be a number one or number two starter but he could fit into the rotation for the next five years.

Michael Tonkin, RHP: Like the other men on this list, Tonkin debuted in 2013 but he played a much more limit role. In 2012, Tonkin pitched at High-A and Low-A so this meant he flew through three different levels last season including his MLB debut. Over the last two seasons, he has average 10.0 SO/9 or more in the minors. Minnesota's bullpen was a strength last year and Tonkin could end up playing an important late inning role for the club. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton will still figure prominently in the eighth and ninth inning but Tonkin could be asked to collect some important outs in tights games.

Dark Horse Candidate (Well kind of...)
Aaron Hicks, OF: The Twins wanted Hicks to be a breakout candidate in 2013 but those plans didn't exactly work out. There's a chance that he will begin the year in Rochester and this could be good for his confidence. Last season's poor performance has to be weighing on him and he should play with a chip on his shoulder for most of 2014. With Byron Buxton shooting through the minor league system, Hicks needs to prove himself now or get out of the way.

Monday, January 13, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Glen Perkins

As the Twins get closer to heading to Fort Myers, there will be plenty of decisions to make in relation to the 25-man roster. Some positions are likely set in stone while others are still questionable. In this series called "25-Man Roster Dissection," I have selected the men I believe will spend the most time on the 25-man roster next season and I try to predict each player's 2014 performance.

Besides Joe Mauer, who was the first profile, Glen Perkins was the only other 2014 Twins All-Star. This year will mark his ninth year with time at the big league level and his second as the full-time closer. Minnesota's bullpen might be the strongest part of the roster and it starts and ends with their 9th inning man.

2013 Recap: 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 77 SO, 15 BB, 36 saves (62.2 IP)
Minnesota thrust Perkins into the full-time closer role for 2013 following a year where he split time with Matt Capps. Perkins' strong performance at the end of 2012 proved he was ready for a more important role. In 2013, Perkins would set many personal highs in his first All-Star season. His 2.30 ERA was a career low along with having a WHIP under 1.00 for the first time. He set a career high by striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings. In the first half of the season, batters hit .172/.221/.262 with 47 SO over 34.2 innings. His numbers could have looked even better if the Twins had been on the winning side of games on a more frequent basis.

Forecasting 2014: 2.70 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 75 SO, 20 BB, 31 saves (65.0 IP)
It would be tough for Perkins to match his numbers from 2013. His ERA was ridiculously low and batters averaged 6.2 hits per nine against him. In the second half of the season, batters seemed to catch up to Perkins a little as opponents batting average increased by 55 points and their OPS jumped over 175 points. All of those things could signal a couple steps back for Perkins in 2014. He will still be the anchor of the Twins bullpen, one of the team's biggest strengths. Perkins will still be one of the best relief arms in the American League and he could be one of the team's representatives when the All-Star Game is played at Target Field.

25-Man Roster Safety: Locked-In

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 66

Episode 66 is out for your listening enjoyment. Happy New Year from all of the gang at Talk to Contact.  You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
We snuck in some hall of fame talk towards the end of the podcast, but for the most part we stayed away from the hall (Just like Jack Morris - ZING!). This week we feature Stuart Taylor, the Twins 2013 3rd round draft pick, we talk about what Eddie Rosario's 50 game suspension and Miguel Sano's possible Tommy John surgery could mean for their development and Twins debuts and argue over whether the Twins should sign a couple of the free agents who are still out on the market, most notably Johan Santana and Stephen Drew.

We are also joined this week by special guest Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present (@grahamdude) to talk about the 50 best players not in the HOF.

Thanks for the download.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at Puckett's Pond, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs! 

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, that will help Liam Hendriks make the major league club in Baltimore and hopefully pitch against Danny Valencia and the Royals, beaning him in the middle of the back.
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFan, on Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContact) or email the show:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Joe Mauer

As the Twins get closer to heading to Fort Myers, there will be plenty of decisions to make in relation to the 25-man roster. Some positions are likely set in stone while others are still questionable. In this series called "25-Man Roster Dissection." I have selected the men I believe will spend the most time on the 25-man roster next season and I try to predict each player's 2014 performance.

There seems to be one logical place to start with the roster and that's with the club's 23-million dollar man.

Joe Mauer is the face of the Twins franchise and he will be for multiple years to come. After an injury plagued 2013 season, the Twins and Mauer decided to permanently move him to first base. This change has impacted multiple parts of the 25-man roster and there are multiple ripple effects for years down the road.

2013 Recap: .324/.404/.476, 11 HR, 35 2B, 47 RBI (113 Games)
Mauer played in under 115 games for the second time in three seasons. His time on the field was productive as he knocked more than 10 home runs for the first time in the Target Field era. He was selected to his sixth career All-Star Game and he was given his fifth silver slugger award as the top hitting catcher in the American League. For his career, Mauer caught 7883 innings behind the plate but August 19, 2013 will go down as his last time behind the plate and it was his last game in 2013.

Forecasting 2014: .315/.410/.470, 15 HR, 40 2B, 90 RBI (150 games)
With the shift to first base, Mauer should be able to avoid taking as many days off to rest his legs. This also means he will be able to set a new career high in games played. I believe Mauer will also try and push him self to hit for more power with his shift to a corner infield spot. He is one of the best hitters in the game and he could be a top tier first baseman if he pushes himself in the right direction. The cloud of concussions from last year will loom over him but Mauer is ready to get past the problems of 2013.

25-Man Roster Safety: Locked In

Monday, January 6, 2014

Non-Complacency Key for Byron Buxton's Offseason

It could be easy for Twins uber prospect Byron Buxton to approach this offseason with a big head. He is coming off of one of the best minor league seasons in Twins history. Baseball America recently honored him with their top award as the best minor league player for 2013. Buxton is being compared to super-star players like Mike Trout and that can make it tough to motivate yourself.

When a player is considered head and shoulders above his peers, an attitude of complacency can emerge. Buxton destroyed the competition in the Midwest League and the Florida State League to show why the Twins were right to draft him with the second overall pick in 2012. He could look at the rest of the competition and be fine with the level he played at. Why make any improvements if you are already the best?

In a recent video interview with the Star Tribune, Buxton discussed different parts of his offseason workout. He works on his hitting and route running on an almost daily basis. His father works with him for hours on some of the different parts of his game. Even though it's hard to believe, he could be getting faster as he recently set a new personal best by running a sub-4.40 40-yard dash.

Buxton also saw different parts of his game improve throughout the season last year. According to the interview, he improve his approach at the plate and this helped him to get more comfortable in at-bats. He also mentioned that he got better when it came to pitch recognition. In the last full month of the season, Buxton posted his best OBP of the year so the numbers would seem to back-up his feelings at the plate.

Another area he discussed as improving throughout the season was his ability to drive the ball to the gaps. While he might have believed that to be true, his numbers seemed to show that he was better at driving the ball in the first half of the year. He had a .559 slugging percentage with Cedar Rapids and that number dipped to .472 with Fort Myers. Although his BABIP was very similar between the two levels (.402 in Low-A vs .404 in High-A).

Situational hitting marked another area of Buxton's improvement. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Buxton hit .328/..430/.552 with eight extra-base hits and 24 RBI over 67 at-bats. Buxton also felt his teammates were able to drive him in on a consistent basis. His 109 runs scored with the second most in the entire minor leagues. In May alone, he scored 30 runs out of the 30 games he played in.

As one reporter asked Buxton, "What do you want to get better at?" His simple answer... "Everything."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 65

Episode 65 is out for your listening enjoyment. Happy New Year from all of the gang at Talk to Contact. We debated titling the podcast after Twins Coach Nelson Prada who wore #65 a few years ago, but anytime Tom Kelly's zubaz come up on conversation you are required to title said conversation after those wonderful pants.  You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

After a holiday hiatus the Talk to Contact podcast returns will all of the usual contributors. Up for discussion this week is Chris Colabello declining a trip to Korea, the make-up of the Twins opening day outfield, former Twins making comebacks and a rousing of debate of whether or not Kurt Suzuki will play a meaningful role for the Twins in 2014. We go down on the pond and take a look at the Twins 2013 4th round draft pick, Stephen Gonsalves (LHP), discuss whether a shandy should even be considered a beer and talk about moves from around the rest of the MLB, including possible landing spots for Masahiro Tanaka and the potential for the Houston Astros to contend in the AL West this coming season. All of that and more on this week's podcast.

Thanks for the download.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at Puckett's Pond, and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read his writing at Knuckleballs! 

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, that will help Liam Hendriks make the major league club in Baltimore and hopefully pitch against Danny Valencia and the Royals, beaning him in the middle of the back.
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFan, on Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContact) or email the show:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sorting Through the 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

On Monday, I released the results of the recent poll of Baseball Bloggers Alliance members in relation to this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Three men were selected out of the 91 ballots cast from BBA members. This year's ballot is packed full of worthy candidates and some official voters are having a hard time narrowing down their selections to meet the ballot maximum of 10 names.

When filling out my own ballot, it was a challenge to pick the men that should receive baseball's highest honor. There are plenty of story lines surrounding the players featured on this year's ballot.
  • Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are two of the best players in history but the cloud of steroids surrounds them. 
  • Jack Morris is in his final year on the ballot but will he gain enough support to get to the 75% needed to be elected.
  • Former Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine should be elected but could one of them be the first unanimous pick for the Hall.
  • Power hitters from the steroids era like Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Mike Piazza will have to fight the stereotypes but could they make their way to Cooperstown.
With each of the other announcements, the BBA asks each member to post their ballot to their affiliated blog. The Hall-of-Fame vote is the only one for which this is not a requirement. I still feel like the Hall-of-Fame balloting should be posted with my reasons for selecting each candidate. I usually break my ballot into a few different categories because I know that not all of the player listed below will be making a speech in Cooperstown this summer:
Class of 2014
Tom Glavine (1st Ballot)- Atlanta Braves, New York Mets
Accolades: 10-time All-Star, 4 Silver Sluggers, '91 NL Cy Young, '98 NL Cy Young, '95 World Series MVP
Wins: 305 (21st)
ERA: 3.54 
WHIP: 1.314 
K: 2,607 (24th)
IP: 4,413.1 (30th)
WAR for pitchers: 74.0 (28th)
Shutouts: 25 (173rd)

Greg Maddux (1st Ballot)- Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers
Accolades: 8-time All-Star, 18 Gold Gloves, '92 NL Cy Young, '93 NL Cy Young, '94 NL Cy Young, '95 NL Cy Young
Wins: 355 (8th)
ERA: 3.16 (231st)
WHIP: 1.143 (56th)
K: 3,371 (10th)
IP: 5,008.3 (13th)
WAR for pitchers: 104.6 (8th)
Shutouts: 35 (71st)

It would seem only fitting for Glavine and Maddux to enter the HOF together since each was such a key part of the Braves NL dominance in the 1990s. On last year's ballot, I had Biggio and Bagwell going in together but that didn't exactly work out. Biggio has the highest remaining vote percentage from last year's ballot and he could sneak in with the duo mentioned above. Maddux should be a lock and one would think he could be very close to being a unanimous pick.

Future Inductions
Jeff Bagwell (2013 HOF Vote: 59.6%)- Houston Astros
Accolades: 4-time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers, '94 NL MVP
BA: .297
H: 2314 (140th)
HR: 449 (36th)
R: 1517 (63rd)
RBI: 1529 (46th)
SB: 202
OPS: .948 (22nd)
WAR: 79.9 (59th)

Craig Biggio (2013 HOF Vote: 68.2%)- Houston Astros
Accolades: 7-time All-Star, 4 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Sluggers
BA: .281
H: 3,060 (21st)
HR: 219 (144th)
R: 1,844 (15th)
RBI: 1,175 (162nd)
SB: 414 (64th)
OPS: .796
WAR: 62.1 (129th)

Mike Piazza (2013 HOF Vote: 57.8%)- Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics
Accolades: 12-time All-Star, 10 Silver Sluggers,  '93 Rookie of the Year
BA: .308 (122nd)
H: 2,127 (210th)
HR: 427 (44th)
R: 1048
RBI: 1,335 (89th)
OPS: .922 (50th)
WAR: 56.1 (117th)

Frank Thomas (1st Ballot)- Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays
Accolades: 5-time All-Star, 4 Silver Sluggers, '93 AL MVP, '94 AL MVP
BA: .301 (195th)
H: 2,468 (101st)
HR: 521 (18th)
R: 1,494 (71st)
RBI: 1,704 (22nd)
OPS: .974 (14th)
WAR: 73.6 (81st)

All of these men deserve to be inducted into Cooperstown but this might not be their year. The ballot is stacked and they might have to wait for some of the men in front of them to be honored. Biggio is one of the best up the middle players in history. Bagwell and Thomas seem to be clean power hitters in an age marked by steroid use. Piazza is the best power hitting catcher of all-time. If I ranked the likelihood of these men being selected this year, it would go Biggio, Thomas, Bagwell, Piazza. 

May Never Get In (But Still On My Ballot)
Barry Bonds (2013 HOF Vote: 36.2%)- Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants
Accolades: 14-time All-Star, 8 Gold Gloves, 12 Silver Sluggers, 2-time Batting Champ, '90 NL MVP, '92 NL MVP, '93 NL MVP, '01 NL MVP, '02 NL MVP, '03 NL MVP, '04 NL MVP
BA: .298 (235th)
H: 2,935 (32nd)
HR: 762 (1st)
R: 2,227 (3rd)
RBI: 1,996 (4th)
OPS: 1.051 (4th)
SB: 514 (33rd)
BB: 2,558 (1st)
WAR: 158.1 (3rd)

Roger Clemens (2013 HOF Vote: 37.6%)- Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Houston Astros
Accolades: 11-time All-Star, '86 AL MVP, '86 AL Cy Young, '87 AL Cy Young, '91 AL Cy Young, '97 AL Cy Young, '98 AL Cy Young, '01 AL Cy Young, '04 NL Cy Young
Wins: 354 (9th)
ERA: 3.12 (212th)
WHIP: 1.173 (90th)
K: 4,672 (3rd)
IP: 4,916.6 (16th)
WAR for pitchers: 133.1 (3rd)
Shutouts: 46 (26th)

Edgar Martinez (2013 HOF Vote: 35.9%)- Seattle Mariners
Accolades: 7-time All-Star, 5 Silver Sluggers
BA: .312 (96th)
H: 2247 (161th)
HR: 309 (123th)
R: 1219 (161th)
RBI: 1261 (124st)
OPS: .933 (34th)
WAR: 67.2 (108th)

Tim Raines (2013 HOF Vote: 52.2%)- Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins
Accolades: 7-time All-Star, 1 Silver Slugger, 1 NL Batting Title
BA: .294
H: 2,605 (77th)
HR: 170
R: 1,571 (53rd)
RBI: 980
OPS: .810
SB: 808 (5th)
WAR: 66.2 (97th)

As I stated on my ballot from last year, Bonds and Clemens were both on their way to Hall of Fame careers before they started to use steroids. They are two of the best players in the history of the game and it is a shame that steroids had to get in the way of some of the special things they were doing on the diamond. I have championed for Martinez since his first year on the ballot. He spent some time playing third base before becoming the definition of the designated hitter. Raines is one of the most under-appreciated players in history and his skills place him as the second best lead-off hitter of all-time.

So who would make your ballot? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.