Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 American League Central Preview

Another regular season is upon us and that means that it is prediction time for a lot of writers across the inter-web. There will be surprise teams, surprise players, and even some other surprises along the way. The unknown and unpredictability of baseball is one of the most enduring qualities of "America's Past-time."

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

2014 Preview Series
1. Detroit Tigers (Projected Record: 90-72)

The Positive: Detroit has one of the strongest rotations in baseball even with the departure of Doug Fister. Justing Verlander and Max Scherzer are a tough one-two punch. Prince Fielder and his underwhelming play were shipped off to Texas. This leaves Ian Kinsler and two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera manning one side of the infield. Joe Nathan will be a welcomed presence at the back end of the bullpen. The Tigers should clearly win the AL Central and it might come down to how long the other teams in the division can stay close.

The Negative: There are some question marks about some of the players at the back of their line-up. Will someone like Nick Castellanos be able to have a successful year? The ageless Torii Hunter is a year older and maybe this is the year his production starts to drop off. One of the team's biggest weaknesses will be the bullpen and questions will continue to swirl about how the team will get the game from their starters to Nathan in the ninth. 

2. Kansas City Royals (Projected Record: 82-80)

The Positive: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez are barely to the prime of their careers. If all of these players can start to play near the top of their potential, things could start to go right in KC. The Royals bullpen might be the strongest in the entire division. It helps to have James Shields at the top of the rotation and he might perform at the top of his game since he will be a free agent at season's end. Yordano Ventura will be a rookie to watch and he could find his name in the rookie of the year discussion.

The Negative: While the bullpen projects to be very good again, the starting rotation is dealing with the loss of Ervin Santana. Beyond Shields and maybe a surprise year from Ventura, there are lots of question marks and that doesn't exactly sound intriguing. Five players hit over 13 home runs last season but none of them hit over 19 homers and the team wasn't exactly an offensive powerhouse. A lot of national writers are picking the Royals as a team to watch this season. If everything breaks right, they could be in the wild card discussion but I don't see it.  

3. Cleveland Indians (Projected Record: 80-82)

The Positive: Cleveland is coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007 so things were riding high under new manager Terry Francona. Jason Kipnis made his first All-Star Game appearance and finished in the top 12 in the MVP voting. Carlos Santana is switching from behind the plate to the hot corner and this could help to keep his bat in the line-up on a more regular basis. Justin Masterson is one of the best pitchers in the division and the bullpen could be better with the addition of John Axford. 

The Negative: Nyjer Morgan will be the team's lead-off hitter at the beginning of the year after playing a year overseas. Michael Bourn signed a big free agent deal last offseason and he hasn't produced since he got to Cleveland. The Indians are waiting for top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to show up but expectations for him have gone down since he was the number three pick of the 2011 draft. Everything seemed to go right for Cleveland a year ago but things won't break their way in 2014. 

4. White Sox (Projected Record: 72-90)

The Positive: Things couldn't get much worse on the south side of Chicago so there's a good chance the club takes a step forward this year. Adam Eaton was brought in from the Diamondbacks to help the top of the order. Cuban slugger Jose Abreu was brought in to help supplement the offense and there have been some good players to come off that island in the last handful of years. Chris Sale could fight his way into the Cy Young discussion and he might end up being the best pitcher in the division.

The Negative: There are plenty of holes with the offense and the team has three first basemen and DH type players. It will be tough to get Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and Jose Abreu in the line-up together. Beyond Sale there aren't really any other pitchers to be excited about and there isn't a ton of players coming through their farm system. Overall, it seems like the White Sox will be slightly improved but the club will still lose around 90 games. 

5. Minnesota Twins (Projected Record: 69-93)

The Positive: Joe Mauer should be in the line-up on a more regular basis with his switch to first base. Minnesota also went out and spent a significant amount of money on free agent pitching for the first time in the history of the franchise. The bullpen continues to be one of the team's strengths and the starting rotation has to improve with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes at the top. The Twins farm system is loaded and fans are waiting for the likes of Byron Buxton and Alex Meyer to make their big league debuts.

The Negative: Minnesota doesn't know what it will get this season out of young players like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia. Josh Willingham is another year older and the club seems like they want to continue to use him on the defensive side of the ball even though he is poor in the field. Miguel Sano was on pace to debut this year but Tommy John surgery will hold him out of games until the end of the summer. It's tough to know where the Twins offense is going to come from and that's not a question you want on Opening Day. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

One "Last Forever"

If you come to this blog for baseball content, the following post might not be for you.

I rarely ever stray away from the overall theme of this blog but I wanted an avenue for writing and this is a place where I could draw an audience. My apologies if you wanted a post about baseball to get you through your day but you will have to come back tomorrow for more Twins content.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
For the last nine years, I have followed the turbulent love quest of Ted Mosby, architect. If you aren't familiar with the name, Mr. Mosby is a fictional character in the CBS comedy "How I Met Your Mother." Season 1 of this series was released in 2005 when I was in the midst of my last couple years of college. The story starts as a father is explaining to his children in the year 2030 about all of the adventures leading to him meeting the love of his life.

The overall theme of this series focuses on a group of five friends who are living out their late 20's and early 30's in New York City. Ted is forced to go through a lot of bad apples on the way to meeting the title character. He gets left at the alter, he steals a bride away from someone else, and he finds plenty of women who are closer to crazy than to hot on the "Hot-Crazy Scale." It is all part of him becoming the man he needs to be in order be the best father and future husband to the mother.

For my final years of college and my early adult life, there were aspects of my life that greatly connected to the plot line of this comedy series. Much like the show protagonists I spent my college years and shortly after looking for the right person with whom to spend the rest of my life. I remember being in the same spot as Ted in the pilot episode when he gives the following speech:

Ted: You know what? I'm done being single, I'm not good at it. Look, obviously you can't tell a woman you just met that you love her, but it sucks that you can't. I'll tell you something though, if a woman, not you, just some hypothetical woman, were to bear with me through all this, I think I'd make a damn good husband, because that's the stuff I'd be good at. Stuff like making her laugh and being a good father and walking her five hypothetical dogs. Being a good kisser. 
Robin: Everyone thinks they're a good kisser. 
Ted: Oh, I've got references.

I even had this monologue listed on my Facebook page under my favorite quotes.

There were wild adventures with friends, other couples getting married, and heart breaking relationships along the way. It is all part of my own journey that I felt ran parallel to this long running show. If I was going to tell my future children the story of "How I Met Your Mother," I was lucky enough to meet their mother at a much earlier age than Ted. However, I will have memories of my college years that will always be "Legend...



Wait for it.....



Dary."

While I was able to complete my own love story in less time than Ted, this series will always be part of my life. Like the generation who grew up with "Friends" or "Seinfeld," the phrases and plot lines will be interwoven into the fabric of my life. From high fives to slap bets and everything in between, "How I Met Your Mother" and its characters will continue to be part of my world.

On Monday evening, the final episode, "Last Forever," will air on CBS and we will finally see the moment where Ted meets the mother. We have seen a lot of other moments between Ted and the mother this season including their engagement, their first date and first kiss, and a future scene that might foretell of the final twist.

I can see multiple meanings in the title of the final episode. Will Ted and the mother last forever? Will the other couples on the show last forever? Or will this simply be the last time we see the whole gang together forever? The possibilities seem to be endless and hardcore fans of the show have been debating the shows ending for years.

There have been frustrations along the way with this show as it has seemingly taken a very long time for Ted to meet the mother. Disappointment will likely follow me through Monday night's episode. I will be disappointed if we find out some shocking secret about Ted or the mother. I will also be disappointed if Ted's love story brings him back together with Robin, his love interest through most of the series.

Overall, I will be most disappointed that the series is over and the characters will have completed their journey.

Monday will be a moment I have patiently waited for since the first episode on September 19, 2005. There have been ups-and-downs on the show and in my own life's adventure. I look forward to the conclusion but the only problem is I am going to want it to "last forever."

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 American League Preview

Another regular season is upon us and that means that it is prediction time for a lot of writers across the inter-web. There will be surprise teams, surprise players, and even some other surprises along the way. The unknown and unpredictability of baseball is one of the most enduring qualities of "America's Past-time."

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

2014 Preview Series
AL East Champions: Tampa Bay Rays
The Red Sox are the defending champions and the Yankees are going to want to send Derek Jeter out with a bang but this division will belong to the Rays. Their core of pitchers including David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb will help supplement a strong line-up with Evan Longoria and budding superstar Wil Myers. The AL East is always a tough division so it will take a lot for the Rays to end up on top. Baltimore has been strong the past two seasons and Toronto is always looking to get back into contention. Joe Maddon might be the best manager in the game and he has all the right pieces for the Rays to make a deep run into October.

AL Central Champions: Detroit Tigers
Things aren't as clear cut in Detroit as they were at this time last year. The Tigers will undoubtedly end up near the top of the division even after dealing away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister. It always helps to have a strong pitching staff with multiple Cy Young winners at the top and having two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the line-up doesn't hurt the situation. Joe Nathan was brought in to help clean up the back end of the bullpen but there are still questions about how the club will get from their starters to Nathan. Kansas City and Cleveland will be on the heels of Detroit but the Tigers should pull away and win the division for the fourth straight season.

AL West Champions: Oakland Athletics
This might be the hardest division to pick in baseball. Texas, Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles might all have a shot at coming out of the West. Oakland won the division in each of the last two seasons. Texas has some strong pieces to keep them in contention. Seattle spent money on the free agent market but there are still questions of whether it will be enough. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball but he hasn't got much help from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton this season. For the purposes of this post, I'll go with Oakland but I don't feel good about their starting staff. There are just too many holes on the other teams for me to feel confident in them being able to win a division title.

Wild Cards: Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers
Boston will be strong again this year but just not strong enough to catch the Rays. It will still be enough to get them into the Wild Card game against the Rangers. Boston had a little bit of turnover in their line-up with AJ Pierzynski and Grady Sizemore added to their roster. Xander Bogaerts will be fun to watch and he could be an exciting player for years to come. Texas continues to be strong and having one of the best pitchers in the AL, Yu Darvish, always helps. The team will be hurt by Jurickson Profar missing the first 10-12 weeks but they will have enough to overcome his absence and make the postseason.

American League Award Picks (Sleeper Pick)
MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angles (Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays)
Cy Young: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angles)
Rookie of the Year: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox (George Springer, Houston Astros)
Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays (Lloyd McClendon, Seattle Mariners)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 76

On this week's show there is a lot of discussion about recent subtractions (and an addition) to the Twins roster as they continue to trim down to their 25-man roster. Jason Kubel will make the team and both Scott Diamond and Vance Worley will be pitching elsewhere in 2014. We discuss who is the last man in/out as the Twins trim the roster to 25 and then we take a look ahead at who will be the division winners and playoff contenders for 2014. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.


We take a closer look at Twins pitching prospect and Eden Prairie native, Madison Boer before wondering aloud how Max Scherzer could possibly turn down $144 million. This week's show is brought to you by Hangout and Talk Twins with Seth Stohs and Jeremy Nygaard. Make sure to check out their show!
Thanks for the download. You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirateor read his writing at Puckett's Pond,  Jay Corn is on Twitter ( @Jay__Corn), and you can find Eric on Twitter (@ERolfPleissand read his writing at Knuckleballs!
If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunesRatings and reviews have magical iTunes powers that will help Jason Kubel remember how to hit a baseball.
__________________
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFanon Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContactor email the show: talktocontact@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 National League Preview

Another regular season is upon us and that means that it is prediction time for a lot of writers across the inter-web. There will be surprise teams, surprise players, and even some other surprises along the way. The unknown and unpredictability of baseball is one of the most enduring qualities of "America's Past-time."

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

2014 Preview Series
  • National League Preview
  • American League Preview
  • American League Central Preview
  • Talk to Contact Preview Episode
  • Minnesota Twins Awards Preview
NL East Champions: Washington Nationals
The Nationals were a run away favorite for the NL East last season but things didn't really follow that plan. This year will be different, as the Nationals will fend off the Braves and other competitors for the top spot in the NL. Doug Fister will join a rotation which already includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman (a sleeper pick for the Cy Young Award). Bryce Harper looks to stay healthy this season and live up to the major hype that has surrounded the former number one pick. Atlanta's pitching injuries will allow the Nats to coast down the stretch and this will be a team to watch out for in September.

NL Central Champions: St. Louis Cardinals
It's hard to imagine a time when the Cardinals weren't in the fight for the top spot in the NL Central. This organization seems to know how to scout, develop talent, and create a roster at the big league level. The Pirates and the Reds will field good teams this year but this is still the Cardinals division to lose. Top pitching prospect Michael Wacha proved his worth in last year's postseason and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras will look to make his big league debut. Catching stud Yadier Molina will be in the MVP discussion again as he tries to lead the Cards to their second World Series in the last four years.

NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
Things didn't go the Dodgers way last year as injuries and poor play put the team in a hole that was tough to get out of. Yasiel Puig's rookie campaign was hard to ignore but his behavior might push manager Don Mattingly to the brink. Clayton Kershaw has established himself as the best pitcher in the game. He will lead a strong staff that also includes the likes of Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. If Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramires, and Adrian Gonzalez can avoid the injured list, this team could score a lot of runs and see themselves pushing Washington for the best record in baseball. The Giants and Diamondbacks might be pesky but this division belongs to Los Angeles.

Wild Cards: Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants
Last season was tough for the Giants but this year will be a bounce back year for one of the strongest franchises in the game. If Buster Posey can be behind the plate for over 140 games, he will be back in the MVP discussion. The addition of Tim Hudson to a stacked starting rotation of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum will help. Atlanta has been dealt a ton of injuries this spring but their line-up is still enough to overcome any pitching woes. Justin Upton and Jason Heyward will be back in form to push Atlanta back into the postseason but it will be a close race with the Reds and the Pirates not far behind.

National League Award Picks (Sleeper Pick)
MVP: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves)
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Jordan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals)
Rookie of the Year: Oscar Tavares, St. Louis Cardinals (Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds)
Manager of the Year: Matt Williams, Washington Nationals (Walt Weiss, Colorado Rockies)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Twins pull March Madness prank on Mike Pelfrey

This video was too good not to post here at my blog. If you haven't seen it yet, it's a must watch for any Twins fan.

To give you a little background information, Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey went to Wichita State. Ron Gardenhire and some of the other members of the pitching staff thought it would be funny to play a little prank on him as his college team was preparing to continue their undefeated season in the NCAA Tournament.

It's great stuff.

25-Man Roster Dissection: Jason Kubel

The front office for the Twins has been employing an interesting tactic this offseason. Let's try and get as many former Twins player back on the roster as possible. The club missed out on free agents Matt Garza and AJ Pierzynski but they signed a trio of former players to minor league contracts for 2014. Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, and Matt Guerrier (released yesterday) were brought in at the beginning of spring as they look to get back to their former glory in Minnesota pinstripes.

Out of these three men, Kubel has the best chance of making the Opening Day roster. Bartlett didn't play baseball all of last year as he recovered from knee surgery. Guerrier is battling a lot of solid bullpen options to try and earn a spot in Minnesota's relief core. This leaves Kubel fighting for a designated hitter and outfield spot on the 25-man roster. As the season gets closer to approaching, it's seeming more likely that he will return to Target Field this year.

2013 Recap: .216/.293/.317, 5 HR, 9 2B, 32 RBI (97 Games)
2013 was a season to forget for Jason Kubel. In 2012, he went to Arizona in free agency and smacked a career high 30 home runs. By the end of last season, the Diamondbacks had seen enough and let him walk away before he was picked up by Cleveland for their stretch run. A strained left-quad can be to blame for a lot of his poor performance on the field because the injury never went away and he attempted to play through some of the pain. For the most part, his numbers were all career lows and that gives him plenty of opportunities to make changes moving forward. He's struck out over 85 times in each of the last six seasons so this trend will likely continue during his Minnesota homecoming.

Forecasting 2014: .230/.307/.393, 15 HR, 21 2B, 60 RBI (126 games)
There are plenty of other corner outfield/DH type players already on the Twins 25-man roster but none of them have Kubel's track record. The nine-year veteran has 162-game average of over 20 home runs and 30 doubles. Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee have struggled to produce at the big league level and they could see themselves losing at-bats to Kubel during the coming season. At Target Field, Kubel is a career .254/.321/.403 hitter with 12 home runs and 20 doubles over 111 games. These numbers are close to his career marks but he is a year older this season. At 31-years old, Kubel will fight for every at-bat he can get and try to hang on to what is left of his big league career. The Twins need his left-handed power to produce and that's why he will make the roster.

25-Man Roster Safety: On the Fringe

Monday, March 24, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Mike Pelfrey

Minnesota's front office knew it needed to address some of their pitching woes during the off-season. Enter in three free agent pitchers and suddenly the Twins had some semblance of a major league pitching staff. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Kevin Correia will be asked to man the front of the rotation while players like Mike Pelfrey, Kyle Gibson, and Scott Diamond will fight over the back-end.

The new faces in the rotation are a welcome sign for Twins Territory. During the last couple seasons, the rotation has been a mess and the bullpen has been overused. Minnesota should be getting closer back to respectability this season but a lot will depend on the starter's performance. If the rotation fails to live up to expectations, the Twins could be looking at another 90-loss season.

2013 Recap: 5.19 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 101 SO, 53 BB (152.1 IP)
In his first season back following Tommy John surgery, things weren't all flowers and roses for Mr. Pelfrey. He shifted to the American League for the first time in his career and there were some struggles along the way. His ERA was over half a run higher than his career average and his WHIP was higher than 1.50 for only the second time in a full season. According to FanGraphs version of WAR, Pelfrey was the most valuable pitcher for the Twins last season. He tied Kevin Correia for the team lead with 101 strikeouts but he did it in 30 fewer innings. There can be some issues with control for pitchers coming back from Tommy John but he didn't seem to be a ton of control problems for Pelfrey. His BB/9 rate was close to his career mark and his SO/9 was the highest of his career.

Forecasting 2014: 4.58 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 90 SO, 46 BB (144.0 IP)
With some of the other men out of options, Pelfrey might have been the Twins most surprising free agent signing this off-season. However, it is always good to have pitching depth and pitchers tend to improve in their second full season back from Tommy John surgery. Out of the top four starters currently slated to be in the rotation, Pelfrey would be the most likely to be removed for poor performances or because of the emergence of a younger pitcher. If Alex Meyer or Trevor May are in the midst of a hot stretch, either one of them could get the call from Triple-A. By the end of the season, Pelfrey's starts might be getting skipped over for some of the younger men in the rotation. Injuries can always impact a starting rotation. Look for Pelfrey to play more of a role if one of the other starters gets hurt.

25-Man Roster Safety: Loosely Locked-In

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 75

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

On Episode 75 the gang talks about Cody's basketball coaching prowess, the recent rounds of Twins Spring Training cuts that have more solidified the roster, and try and break down any remaining position battles. Eddie Rosario is still absent from Minor League Spring Training, and Eric is a little worried about what this means about Rosario as a person. Cody tried to find a downside to Glen Perkins' contract extension, and then we bring back the long defunct Hitter/Pitcher of the Week segment. Down on the Pond we take a look at Dan Rohlfing (TEAM ROLF!) and then we talk beer and general baseball news

Almost 100 minutes of fun.

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 iTunesRatings and reviews have magical iTunes powers that will help Jason Kubel remember how to hit a baseball.
__________________
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFanon Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContact) or email the show: talktocontact@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Aaron Hicks

For Minnesota to climb out of their recent losing ways, young players are going to need to come up and become regular players at the major league level. Last season the Twins saw two of their top prospects, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia, make their debuts and there were defiantly some variable results. Arcia showed power but little consistency and the start of the season was a train wreck for Hicks.

Many fans are excited about some of the prospects that could debut in 2014. Miguel Sano is out for the year but Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and top prospect Byron Buxton all have a chance to get to Target Field. These players might turn out to be great but the Twins also need players like Hicks and Arcia to make meaningful contributions.

For the purposes of this series, I am picking out the 25 players most likely to spend the most time on the 25-man roster. This doesn't mean I necessarily think Hicks will start the year in Minnesota. If you look at my projections for him, I still believe he will play over 75% of the season at the big league level.

2013 Recap: .192/.259/.338, 8 HR, 11 2B, 27 RBI (81 Games)
Entering last spring things had to be riding high for Aaron Hicks. He was coming off of his best season as a professional at the Double-A level and he had a chance to make his big league debut. After a tremendous spring, Hicks would start the year as the team's everyday center fielder. Things went awful in those early weeks of the season. He struck out in all 10 of his first big league games and he had multiple strikeouts in seven of those 10 contests. Hicks collected one extra-base hit in the first month of the season and his batting average floated around the .100 mark for far too long. In the minor leagues, Hicks had been praised for his ability to get on base in multiple ways. This didn't show up at the big league level and he would spend the last couple months of the season trying to figure things out at the Triple-A level. Overall, it was a rough rookie campaign and Hicks will look to improve for 2014.

Forecasting 2014: .230/.308/.355, 12 HR, 21 2B, 49 RBI (123 games)
It seems possible for the Twins to start Hicks in Rochester this season so he can prove he belongs at the big league level. Some fans might think Hicks is expendable since Buxton should be on his way to the majors in the next couple of seasons. Even with Buxton in center field, Hicks could be a valuable corner outfielder and lead-off man. A defensive outfield with Buxton and Hicks could be very fun to watch. Hicks will improve on his numbers for a year ago but there will still be some struggles as he adjusts to baseball's highest level. His power will be more evident this season and he will get on base closer to his levels in the minors. By the end of the season, there will still be some kinks to work out and Buxton could be in line for a September call-up. Either way it will be a critical season for Hicks as he tries to live up to his first round pedigree.

25-Man Roster Safety: On the Bubble

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Glen Perkins and The Value of a Reasonably Priced Closer

This off-season has been a lucrative one for back end of the bullpen pitchers. Former Twins closer Joe Nathan signed with the Detroit Tigers for 2-years and around $20 million. That's good money for a man closing in on age 40 that had Tommy John surgery not that long ago. The Braves also locked up their ninth inning man, Craig Kimbrel, to a 4-year, $42 million contact that will see him be one of the highest paid closers by the end of the deal. It's safe to say it's a decent time to be a closer.

Things took a different path in Twins Territory this off-season. The Twins weren't looking to strike a new deal with their closer Glen Perkins because hesigned a deal a couple of seasons ago that would have under team control through 2015. Perkins approached the team about signing a long-term deal so he could be a Twin even longer. The Minnesota native wanted to make sure the majority of his career was played in his home state.

It wasn't that long ago that Perkins and the Twins looked like they were heading for an ugly break-up. In 2010, Perkins filed a grievance against the Twins for the way they handled his shoulder injury that season. He was sent to Triple-A while dealing with a shoulder injury and he felt like he should have been on the MLB disabled list so he could accumulate more big league service time. Oh, how things have changed!

Perkins will now make $22.5 million from 2014-2017 with a team option for 2018. This new deal means he will be in Twins pinstripes into his mid-30's at a relatively cheap price. The top 25 highest paid relief pitchers are all scheduled to be paid over $5 million this season. With Perkins new deal, he will get a little over $4 million. The most Perkins will make under his new deal is $6.5 million in 2017 and that amount would only rank him 13th on the current list of relief pitcher salaries. If MLB contracts continue to rise, the Twins will have a very good deal by the end of this contract.

It has been hard to ignore how valuable Perkins has been since he shifted to a relief pitcher role. When compared to other left-handed relief pitchers, Perkins is in some elite company. Over the past three seasons among lefty relievers with 150 innings, his 5.5 WAR ranks second to Aroldis Chapman and their ERAs are eerily similar, 2.43 for Chapman and 2.45 for Perkins. Where Perkins ranks the best is when it comes to strikeout to walk rate, his 4.2 SO/BB rate is the best in this category by a significant margin.

Minnesota has one of the best farm systems in baseball and now the team won't have to worry about the back-end of the bullpen during the club's rebuild. Perkins took a hometown discount to be part of the rebuilding process and this means the team will have extra money to spend on other parts of the roster. Perkins has become an integral part of the Twin Cities community and his value goes far beyond what happens on the diamond.

Monday, March 17, 2014

25-Man Roster Dissection: Casey Fien

Minnesota became the third organization in Casey Fien's career. He began his career in the Tigers organization before a brief stint with the Astros but his time in Minnesota is where he really began to shine. He was part of a strong back-end of the bullpen for the Twins that included closer Glen Perkins and set-up man Jared Burton. These three men will be relied on heavily during the 2014 season.

When it comes down to the final cuts, the Twins might need to try and find room for an extra starter out in the bullpen. This could leave some question marks around some of the less experienced players but Fien's performance was strong enough to mean he should be locked-in for most of next season.

2013 Recap: 3.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 73 SO, 12 BB (62.0 IP)
Twins fans saw a lot of Casey Fien during his rookie season with the club. His numbers were impressive enough for him to be named the club's most outstanding rookie as he beat out the likes of top prospects Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks. His 17 holds were second on the team to Jared Burton and this number was high enough to rank him in the top 25 for the American League. Among Twins pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings pitched, he had the second highest strikeout rate as he only trailed Perkins in that category. Minnesota needed to turn to the bullpen a lot and he was one of eight relief pitchers to toss more than 45 frames. His 1.02 WHIP also ranked him in the top 12 of the AL compared to other relief pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings.

Forecasting 2014: 3.45 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 65 SO, 15 BB (60.0 IP)
There will likely be some shifts when it comes to the numbers compiled by Fien in 2014. It would seem unnatural for his WHIP to be that low for two seasons in a row so a slight rise in that department can be expected. He will use his experience from last season to keep his strike out rate nearly the same and his ERA will be close to half a run lower. As Burton is starting to age, I think Fien will get many more opportunities to be used as the set-up man this season. The hope is Minnesota will be relying less on their bullpen so many of the men out there will pitch fewer innings this year. Fien will still be one of the most reliable men out of the bullpen and I could see him being a player that surprises many and outperforms even the numbers that are estimated above.

25-Man Roster Safety: Locked-In

Friday, March 14, 2014

Breaking Down Minnesota's "Core Five"

ESPN's Sweetspot blog posted an interesting entry earlier today looking at the top teams in relation to their "core five" players. They took the top five men from each roster and compiled their Baseball Reference WAR totals to come up with a top ten list. Obviously the better players you have, the more likely you are to be a very good team. Out of their top ten list, eight of the teams qualified for the postseason last year.

There's no surprise that Minnesota didn't crack the top ten list. However, the Twins were on a different top ten list within the same post. Minnesota finished in eighth place because 74% of the team's total WAR came from the club's top five players. Against other American League teams the Twins would have come in fourth place.

Here's a look at the Twins "core five" players and how their WAR helped the club last season:

1. Joe Mauer: 5.4 WAR
Mauer missed a big chunk of time in the second half due to his concussion symptoms and he still easily led the team in WAR. In fact, Mauer accounted for 26% of the team's total WAR in 2013. His defensive WAR of 0.9 was helped by his time behind the plate so it will be interesting to see how much the switch to first base impacts his defensive value in 2014. His 4.6 offensive WAR was one of the lowest totals of his career so fans could expect a jump in WAR value from Mauer moving forward.

2. Brian Dozier: 3.8 WAR
Dozier's breakout season at the plate and in the field helped him to finish second on the team in WAR. His 1.5 defensive WAR was second on the team behind Pedro Florimon. He finished second to Mauer according to offensive WAR. Dozier finished first on the team in home runs and he will be the top returning RBI man from 2013. Plus, who didn't love seeing his long locks making diving plays at second base?

3 (tie): Pedro Florimon: 2.1 WAR
Most of the WAR value produced by Florimon comes on the defensive side of the ball. He was tops on the team when it came to defensive WAR and he hardly made a blip on the radar offensively.If Minnesota wants to get back to winning games, there is no way Florimon should be in the team's top three of their "core five." His 2.1 WAR was over 10% of the team's total WAR for 2013 and that's just way too much for a player whose skill set is completely on defense.

3 (tie). Glen Perkins: 2.1 WAR
In his first All-Star season, Perkins was good enough to have the highest WAR of any Twins pitcher. The next three pitchers on the list threw 96 innings or more so Perkins was providing his value in shorter pieces of work. It's great to have Perkins as a core member of the team's roster but it would be much better to see some starting pitchers on this list ahead of him. This could change with the additions of free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.

5. Trevor Plouffe: 1.9 WAR
Hope were high for Plouffe entering last season as fans hoped to witness some more of the power he had shown in the minor leagues. Some injuries force Plouffe to change his approach at the plate and this took away some of his power. The former first round pick is still trying to prove his value to the Twins and this could be an important year for him. Is he part of the long-term core in Minnesota? Only time will tell...

Predicting 2014's "Core Five"
1. Joe Mauer 
2. Ricky Nolasco
3. Oswaldo Arcia
4. Brian Dozier
5. Phil Hughes

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Talk to Contact: Episode 74

The Detroit Tigers look to be the best team in the division, and it's not close. They're offense will beat you into submission and their pitching will have you doing all you can to scratch and claw a measly run or two across the plate. They are the team the Twins wish they were. This week on the podcast we are joined by Bryan Craves (@DisplacedTgrFan) to recap what's been happening in Motown since the Tigers were bounced out of the playoffs last season. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
In Twins news, the Talk to Contact gang discusses some prop bets for the upcoming season, review the first round of cuts coming out of Twins camp and somehow get sidetracked into a lengthy discussion of the Houston Astros. Come for the banter, stay for the beer.

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 iTunesRatings and reviews have magical iTunes powers that will help Jason Kubel remember how to hit a baseball.
__________________
Follow me, @NoDakTwinsFan, on Twitter. Check out the Talk to Contact Podcast (@TalkToContact) or email the show: talktocontact@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ranking the Twins Lead-Off Hitter Candidates

Some of the buzz of the Twitter world yesterday was surrounding the Twins and who should be the lead-off hitter when the team heads north from spring training. Ron Gardenhire would like one of the center field candidates to run away with the lead-off job but he had a surprise name as a back-up plan. With the ways things are starting to take shape, the team might have to get crafty with men near the top of the order.

Here is a look at some of the candidates for the lead-off spot. Some of the men have different traits that would suit him them for the job while other's would leave fans scratching their heads.

The Center Fielders
Either Aaron Hicks or Alex Presley will win the starting job in center field. Hicks is coming off a rough rookie season where he struggled in time at the big league level. In 10 games as the lead-off hitter, Hicks had two hits over 46 plate appearances for a .047/.109/.047 batting line. Presely was only with the Twins for part of the season but in his time with the Twins and the Pirates he had 41 hits in 146 at-bats including 8 extra-base hits as the number one hitter. His .281/.323/.370 batting line looks far superior to Hicks but the Twins still have hope for Hicks to turn it around. It seems more likely for Hicks to end up in Rochester to start the year and this could mean Presley is the leader in the clubhouse for the lead-off role.

The Second Baseman
Brian Dozier is coming off a breakout season where he set the club record for home runs by a second baseman. He goes into this season as one of the team's vocal leaders and he wants to establish himself as the second baseman for years to come. Minnesota struggled to find a lead-off hitter last season and this forced the team to turn to Dozier on multiple occasions. He started 74 games as the lead-off hitter last season and batted .253/.310/.462 with 38 extra-base hits including 12 of his 18 home runs. Ron Gardenhire likes to have Joe Mauer batting in the number three spot in the line-up so this could mean Dozier sees a lot more time as the number two hitter. If Presley or Hicks are struggling to start the season, look for Dozier to lead-off and Mauer to move up to number two.

The First Baseman
The Twins already moved Joe Mauer out from behind the plate this offseason and maybe this means it's time to move him to a different position in the batting order. As a career .323/.405/.468 hitter, Mauer has shown the skills necessary to get on base at a very high rate. In fact, his .323 batting average is the highest among active major league players. He will already be in the line-up on a more regular basis since he won't be catching so moving him up a couple spots in the order could mean more chance to get on base. Over his 10 year big league career, Mauer has never started a game as the lead-off hitter and that trend will likely continue this season. Gardenhire likes to have Mauer batting in the number three spot so he gets more opportunities to drive in runs. It seems more likely for Mauer to get a little time as the number two hitter but most of his at-bats will likely be out of the three hole.

The Catcher
Out of all of the men on this list, Kurt Suzuki might be the most unlikely choice for the lead-off role (even though Gardenhire mentioned the possibility of using him yesterday). He is a career .253/.309/.375 hitter with very little speed on the bases. Last season, he barely hit over .230 and his OBP was under .300. He's started 25 games as the lead-off hitter in his career but his .207/.258/.267 batting line is well below his career numbers. In his age 30 season, there is no reason to think Suzuki will magically be able to fit into the lead-off role. Even if the Twins were in a crunch for a game, it would seem more likely to put any of the other men mentioned above into the lead-off role over someone like Suzuki. 

Considering all of the things mentioned above, here is how I would rank the candidates for lead-off hitter at this point in the spring. It seems more likely for Hicks to be in Rochester than leading off for the Twins. Mauer and Suzuki would only be turned to as last minute options if an injury bug hit the team.

Ranking the Lead-Off Hitter Candidates
1. Alex Presley
2. Brian Dozier
3. Aaron Hicks
4. Joe Mauer
5. Kurt Suzuki

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Playing Pepper 2014: Minnesota Twins

Every season the folks over at Cards Conclave do a series called "Playing Pepper." In this series, they ask questions to a group of bloggers from each major league team to preview their club. There's offseason discussion, spring training battles, and even some rookies to watch. Overall, it is a fun series to take part in every year and you can click here to see the other Twins bloggers responses

I wrote the answers to these questions near the beginning of spring training so some items have already changed. Miguel Sano is injured and out for the season. Alex Meyer has already been shipped off to minor league camp. Other than that, things should look good. Enjoy this year's "Playing Pepper" article. 
1) How would you grade the offseason?
I would give the Twins a B for the offseason. The Twins were very aggressive early in the offseason free agent market with the signings of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. There was talk of bringing in one of the top free agent catchers but that market dried up quickly and the Twins had to settle for Kurt Suzuki. Minnesota is also hoping Jason Kubel can rekindle some of his offensive magic as the team struggled to score runs a year ago. Other than that, there will be a lot of waiting for top prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to make their debuts. 

2) Will the switch to first base pay dividends or cause any issues for Joe Mauer?
I love the fact that Mauer will be able to be in the line-up on a more consistent basis. For a career .323/.405/.468 hitter, this is good news for Twins Territory. He has shown the athleticism to play first base in previous years and he could be a Gold Glove caliber defender at his new position. On the negative side, he won't be working with the pitching staff on a regular basis and this could hurt the organization. He has also seen an increase in strikeouts in recent years and this trend could continue as he might try to increase his power numbers with his shift to a corner infield spot.

3) Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?
The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will be one of the most intriguing to watch. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey should occupy spots one through four. This leaves a variety of pitchers for the number five spot. Scott Diamond and Vance Worley both struggled last season and they are each out of minor league options. If neither wins a spot in the rotation, the team might have to make room for them in the bullpen. World Baseball Classic star Sam Deduno looked good for stretches last season and he might be the leader for the fifth spot going into spring training. Young pitchers like Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, and Trevor May could have an outside chance but they are more likely to end up in Triple-A. 

4) What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?
After a strong showing in his September call-up, Josmil Pinto should be in line to take on a more permanent role with the club in 2014. He hit .342/.398/.566 with nine extra-base hits over 21 games. There are still some questions about his defense and this is likely why he will start the year at Rochester. He's played more games at the big league level than at the Triple-A level. If he finds early season success in Rochester, he could come up a couple months into the season and split catching time with Kurt Suzuki.

5) What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
73-89, 4th place in the AL Central.

6) Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?
Twins closer Glen Perkins. I love the way he has developed from first round pick to failed starter to one of the best relievers in the American League. He also does some great things for the Twin Cities community so that helps his stock. Overall, he is a great player on the field and an even better person off of it.