Tuesday, March 31, 2015

2015 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.

2015 Preview Series
AL East Champions: Boston Red Sox
Boston made some big changes this off-season and this could see them jumping from worst to first in the AL East. The Red Sox have done this in the not so distant past as they went from the cellar in 2012 to World Series winners in 2013. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will help the offense while Wade Miley and Rick Porcello add to their rotation. Newly arrived Cuban player Rusney Castillo could be in the running for AL Rookie of the Year. The Yankees and Blue Jays will be in the running but Boston ends up on top. 

AL Central Champions: Cleveland Indians
The Indians are becoming a trendy pick especially in what could turn out to be the toughest division in baseball. Detroit, Chicago, and Kansas City all have a shot at winning the division. Michael Brantley is coming off a break-out season and he could be in the MVP discussion if this trend continues. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber might come back down to earth but there's enough other young parts in the rotation to intrigued by the possibility of multiple players having career years. This is the toughest division to pick but the Indians might be poised for a playoff run.  

AL West Champions: Seattle Mariners
The last time the Mariners made the playoffs it was 2001 but it could be time for things to change this year. Felix Hernandez just barely lost out on the Cy Young last year and this could add fuel to his fire. Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and young Taijuan Walker combine to make one of the strongest rotations in the American League. Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager will power the offense and the addition of Nelson Cruz should only help to improve their offensive output. The Angels won't go away quietly but the Mariners will be the ones celebrating at the end of the year.

Wild-Card Winners: Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers
An team with Mike Trout in their line-up on a daily basis seems like they should have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs. Albert Pujols showed he might not be as over the hill as was once thought. There are enough health concerns to keep the Angels from winning the division. Detroit could be fighting for the division title but will likely have to settle for a Wild-Card spot. David Price eases the pain of Max Scherzer leaving town and Yoenis Cespedes adds some pop to a line-up that already included Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Wild-Card Game: Tigers over Angels
Divisional Series: Mariners over Tigers, Indians over Red Sox
Championship Series: Mariners over Indians
World Series: Nationals over Mariners

American League Award Picks (Sleeper Pick)
MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Michael Brantley, OF, Indians)
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox)
Rookie of the Year: Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox (Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays)

Monday, March 30, 2015

40-Man Roster Dissection: Corner Outfielders

After the exciting young and veteran players among the middle infielders and corner infielders, the corner outfielder group is a little lackluster. Torii Hunter is an aging veteran. Eduardo Nunez is an organizational depth type of player. Chris Herrmann offers some versatility. Overall, Oswaldo Arcia still has some upside but his ability to stay healthy is a big question mark.

It will be interesting to see how this group develops throughout the season. It seems likely that other players like Aaron Hicks, Jordan Schafer, and even Trevor Plouffe could see some time in the right or left field. Arcia and Hunter will be penciled in for Opening Day but will they be there at the end of the year?

Oswaldo Arcia
.231/.300/.452, 20 HR, 16 2B, 57 RBI, 46 R
Between the big leagues and Triple-A, Arcia played in a professional high 125 games in 2014, Arcia has dealt with a variety of injuries throughout his career and this has limited his ability to stay on the field. In just over a hundred games, Arcia finished second on the team in home runs and slugging percentage. A healthy Arcia could mean the team's first 30 home run hitter since Josh Willingham in 2012. This will be Arcia's age-24 season so there is still time for growth on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Chris Herrmann
.213/.253/.253, 0 HR, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 8 R
Herrmann is already 27 and he has played parts of the last three seasons at baseball's highest level. There hasn't really been any signs of improved offense and he's had over 500 Triple-A at-bats while hitting .262/.331/.399. If Kurt Suzuki or Josmil Pinto ends up on the DL this season, Herrmann could serve as a back-up catcher since he's already on the 40-man roster. There doesn't seem to be a ton of upside left with Herrmann and the Twins have some other good young catchers moving through the system. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes (Because of Pinto Injury)

Torii Hunter
.286/.319/.446, 17 HR, 33 2B, 83 RBI, 71 R
All off-season Twins Territory has heard about the leadership Hunter will provide in the clubhouse to the young core of Minnesota's team. After batting .262/.336/.429 in 2011, Hunter has seen an offensive rebirth over the last three seasons, During that stretch, he's hit .301/.339/.455 while averaging 17 home runs and 31 doubles per season. The defensive metrics have not been kind as Hunter's body has aged entering his 19th big league season. He says he wants to end his career in Minnesota but will he strive on a rebuilding team. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Eduardo Nunez
.250/.271/.382, 4 HR, 7 2B, 24 RBI, 26 R
Some people were surprised when the Twins offered salary arbitration to Nunez. He seems likely a fairly replaceable player. However, it has only been a little over a year since the Twins acquired Nunez from the Yankees for Miguel Sulbaran. Nunez might be limited offensively but his ability to play three infield positions and both corner outfield positions. This versatility could be his likely saving grace when it comes time for the team to head north for Opening Day. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

2015 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 Pasttime."

Throughout 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.

2015 Preview Series
  • National League Preview
  • American League Preview
  • American League Central Preview
  • Minnesota Twins Awards Preview
NL East Champions: Washington Nationals
The Nats have baseball's best rotation and an offensive that should be able to score enough runs to support that staff. Anything less than a World Series run will seem like a disappointment for this year's squad. Max Scherzer's addition for truckloads of money shows how serious this club is about winning now. Bryce Harper could be ready for a breakout season and a healthy Anthony Rendon could have his name in the NL MVP race. This could be one of the best team's in the history of the game and they seemed destined for greatness.

NL Central Champions: St. Louis Cardinals
This might be the most highly contested division in the National League since the Nats and the Dodgers are expected to run away with things. St. Louis seems destined for another trip to the playoffs after trading for Jason Heyward. Their line-up looks solid from top to bottom and this makes it tough to get outs. There are some question marks in the rotation as Adam Wainwright had off-season elbow surgery. Pittsburgh will be breathing down their throats but St. Louis has the stronger team and will have to match-up with the Dodgers in the Divisional Round.

NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers and the Nats will be battling for the NL's top overall seed. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu anchoring their rotation, this team has one of the best trio of pitchers in the league. Off-season additions of Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, and Howie Kendrick add some veteran leadership to go alongside young players like Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson. The Padres are improved and the Giants are the defending champions but it's hard not to imagine the Dodgers coming out as the division winner.

Wild-Card Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins
There's a strong chance the Pirates could sneak in and win the NL Central especially if St. Louis suffers an injury or two. Andrew McCutchen will be back in the MVP race and the organization has been running like a well oiled machine in recent years. Miami surprised a lot of people last season and their young players have one more year of experience under their belt. A Marlins playoff appearance would end an 11-year playoff drought. Jose Fernandez is back to anchor a rotation with five solid starters and Giancarlo Stanton could win his first MVP.

Wild-Card Game: Pirates over Marlins
Division Series: Nationals over Pirates, Cardinals over Dodgers
Championship Series: Nationals over Cardinals

National League Award Picks (Sleeper Pick)
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins (Jason Heyward, OF, Cardinals)
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers (Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals)
Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Yasmany Tomas, 3B, Diamondbacks)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Episode 124: Talking Kansas City and the Brian Dozier Contract

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

This week we talk about the strange details of the Brian Dozier contract, Eric owing a bunch of people helmet nachos, and we try and figure out (again) who is in the lead for the fifth starter spot. After a couple of adult beverages, we talk baseball with Royals Review, http://www.royalsreview.com/, editor-in-chief, Max Reiper and find out what the Royals have been doing this winter.

We finish up with our beverages of choice, baseball and the news.

Enjoy this week's episode. 

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes to rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help the Twins make the right choice for the fifth starter spot.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Perspective on Dozier's Extension

Well Twins fans, Brian Dozier isn't going anywhere for the next four years.

What's that? He was already under team control through 2018. Then what just happened...

The Twins and Dozier agreed to a $20-million, four-year contract extension. This new contract covers his eligibility for salary arbitration in the coming years. However, the deal isn't long enough to impact his future timing of free agency. Contracts for pre-arbitration eligible players typically include options years for the team at the end but this one didn't.

So why did this deal get done?

Dozier's Perspective
$20 million will no doubt change the life of Mr. Dozier. He is now guaranteed that amount of money and he doesn't have to worry about going through the arbitration process. By not giving up any option years at the end of the deal, Dozier has the opportunity to hit the open market following his age-31 season.

Depending on his level of play and salary arbitration increases, Dozier might have given up a little bit of money at the end of this deal but he had to do that for it to make sense for the Twins. It sounds like Dozier wants to stay in Minnesota for the long haul even though he's been part of some bad Minnesota clubs. "Hopefully this is a steppingstone for something possibly even longer," Dozier said.

Minnesota's Perspective
The Twins seem to be pushing the fact that they have some cost certainty with Dozier throughout his arbitration years. If Dozier were to hit .320 with 35+ home runs, his arbitration salary could have gone through the roof. They now know what Dozier will get paid and they don't have to worry about the arbitration process. Minnesota has locked up players like Nick Blackburn and Joe Mays and ended up regretting the deal in the end.

Minnesota also likes the type of player Dozier is and what he means to this organization. "He has character. He's a good man. He's good in the clubhouse," general manager Terry Ryan said. "People follow him. We wouldn't extend this type of dollar figure and security to a guy that we don't trust. We trust him, on and off the field."

Aging Gracefully
Overall, Dozier debuted at an older age and will be Most sabermetric's would say that players peak around age 27 while a more recent study says players peak around age 29. Either way Dozier will be past his peak during the life of this contract.
playing in his age 28 season this year.

This deal could end up working out great for the Twins and maybe it ends up resulting in an even longer deal for Dozier. At this point, it doesn't seem like the Twins gained enough by locking up Dozier for his arbitration years. He's a valuable part of the deal but a similar deal could have been struck next off-season if Dozier continued to perform at a high level.

40-Man Roster Dissection: Center Fielders

The race for the starting center fielder job is one of the hottest contests in spring training this year. Aaron Hicks has been the Opening Day starter the last two seasons but he hasn't been able to hit at baseball's highest level. Jordan Schafer seems more like a fourth outfielder than an everyday player. While Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario, might not be ready for baseball's highest level.

Rosario has certainly played well enough during the spring to deserve and opportunity but this comes on the heels of a rough regular season in 2014. It seems far more likely for Hicks or Schafer to split playing time until one of the young players in the system proves they are ready for the role.

Aaron Hicks
.215/.341/.274, 1 HR, 8 2B, 18 RBI, 22 R
Hicks has come north with the club in each of the last two seasons. However, he hasn't show offensive consistency and this has resulted in him combining to play 150 MLB games. There was some talk of him switching away from being a switch hitter last season but that talk has cooled. Minnesota has given Hicks plenty of chances so it could be a make it or break it season for him with other younger options getting closer to being big league ready. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Max Kepler
.264/.333/.393, 5 HR, 20 2B, 59 RBI, 53 R (High-A Level)
Since the Twins signed Kepler at such a young age, he had to be added to the 40-man roster while he was still multiple years away from Target Field. Kepler's power numbers dropped last season during his second year of full season ball. The majority of his minor league games have come as a center fielder but he's also played a large chunk of games in both corner outfield spots and a little at first base. It seems likely for him to have to break into the big leagues at a position other than center field. 25-Man Roster Prediction: No

Eddie Rosario
.243/.286/.387, 8 HR, 20 2B, 40 RBI, 45 R (High-A & Double-A Level)
Rosario began last season serving a 50-game suspension for his second positive drug test. Once he was able to get into games, he compiled some of his worst hitting numbers of his professional career. Things started to get back on track during his second stint in the Arizona Fall League. He was one of the best hitters in the league and he helped led his team to the championship. His spring training numbers could mean he's finally recovered from last season's disastrous start. However, he'll probably still need to start the year in the minors. 25-Man Roster Prediction: No

Jordan Schafer
.238/.310/.305, 1 HR, 9 2B, 15 RBI, 26 R, 30 SB
With Paul Molitor at the helm, the Twins might be a little more aggressive on the bases. That's where Schafer could provide some positive upside for the club. He stole 30 totals bases last year with 15 of those steals coming after he was claimed off waivers by Minnesota. He's other offensive numbers don't exactly excite anyone and that's probably why he would be most valuable as a back-up outfielder and late inning pinch runner. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 Topps Opening Day Review: Minnesota Twins

With only a handful of days until the actually opening of the baseball season, Topps Trading Cards has released their annual Opening Day set. This set is a simplistic version of their 2015 Topps set and it is the cheapest product offered by Topps. The lower cost makes this set perfect for younger collectors and it is any easy set for set builders to complete.

The base set includes 125 cards from Series One and 75 Series Two preview cards. Each card in the main set has multiple parallels such as Blue Opening Day, Opening Day 1/1, and four printing plates per card. The base set doesn't include an foil in the design but both Opening Day parallels feature a foil stamp with the date of MLB's Opening Day.

Unlike some other team's the Twins have a fairly strong presence in the base set and in the inserts. The Twins base set includes two veteran star players and some of the other young up-and-coming players that made a splash last season.

2015 Opening Day Base Set
30. Danny Santana
68. Joe Mauer
89. Brian Dozier
126. Oswaldo Arcia
168. Kennys Vargas

Danny Santana is not only featured in the base set, he's also in the "Franchise Flashbacks" set. This set profiles 20 different players wearing throwback uniforms. Joe Mauer is featured in the "Opening Day Stars" set, which are 3-D cards of some of the game's best players.

TC Bear makes the cut for two different Opening Day inserts. 25 different mascots have cards featured in the set and left-handed slugger is one of the lucky few. He's also one of five mascots to have a Mascot Autograph included in the set. TC Bear is one of two mascots to be featured in the "Team Spirit" insert set along with eight of the best players in the game.

In a unique feature, two Twins fans will have their photography used in the "Stadium Scenes #ToppsLive" set. Lance McKinnon and Tony Voda each took pictures at Target Field last year and published their photos on Instagram. Topps picked the best photos and used them on cards.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Episode 123: Rosario in CF and the Indians Preview

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

This week’s Talk to Contact podcast is filled with rampant speculation. Can Eddie Rosario win the CF job this spring? How long will uber prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton spend in AA? Can either Alex Meyer or Trevor May do anything to make the opening day roster? Can Danny Santana be a legitimate leadoff hitter and avoid the “sophomore slump”? All these questions answered and more. 

We finish the podcast with a special guest, Jason Lukeheart (@JasonLukeheart), the managing editor of Let’s Go Tribe (http://www.letsgotribe.com/) to find out what’s been going on in Cleveland since the season ended and find out what the Indians ball club will look like heading into the 2015 season. 

Thanks for listening.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes to rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help the Twins figure out their center field situation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

40-Man Roster Dissection: Corner Infielders

Minnesota's corner infield group includes two veteran players and two up-and-coming prospects. Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe are both former first round picks who have a strong presence on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas will both be trying to prove they can stick long-term at baseball's highest level.

Out of all of the groups profiled in the "40-Man Roster Dissection" series, the corner infielders might be the most solid. Mauer and Plouffe will be penciled into the Opening Day line-up with something to prove. Sano and Vargas offer hope and the possibility of a bright future.

Joe Mauer
.277/.361/.371, 4 HR, 27 2B, 55 RBI, 60 R
Mauer is coming off a transitions year where he shifted from behind the plate to first base. The hope was that this move would result in some more power and fewer injuries. His batting average was the lowest of his career and he struck out over 95 times for the first time in his career. Mauer will be 32-years old this season and fans are going to look for him to get back to his old offensive ways. The Twins were able to have a top tier offense last season without Mauer performing at his best so a bounce back season could be just what the doctor ordered. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Trevor Plouffe
.258/.328/.423, 14 HR, 40 2B, 80 RBI, 69 R
Plouffe is coming off of arguably his best season at the big league level. He was finally able to combine some solid offensive numbers with much improved defense at third base. His 40 doubles were good for fourth in the American League. It will be interesting to see what the long-term plan is for Plouffe with a healthy Sano lurking in the minors. He might follow the path of former Twin Michael Cuddyer and be asked to move to a corner outfield spot.  25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Miguel Sano
Didn't Play in 2014 (Tommy John surgery)
Sano is back this season and ready to prove he's healthy. A year removed from Tommy John surgery, Sano will likely start in the higher levels of the minor leagues with the assumption that he'll make his debut in the second half of 2015. His powerful swing has always been his ticket to the big leagues even if there have been questions about his defense. This might have been the biggest drawback from missing an entire season as he would have been able to continue to improve at third base. He should be among a strong core of players starting at Double-A. 25-Man Roster Prediction: No

Kennys Vargas
.274/.316/.456, 9 HR, 10 2B, 38 RBI, 26 R
Vargas made a splash in a limited amount of playing time last season. His smile and powerful swing have quickly made him a fan favorite. Before being called up, he compiled some of his best numbers in the minors and started at first base in the Futures Game. He could use some more seasoning in Triple-A and there could be some issues finding him regular at-bats in the big leagues. Mauer is penciled in at first and players like Josmil Pinto, Oswaldo Arcia, and Torii Hunter might need to fill-in at DH. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Playing Pepper 2015: 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 off-season discussion, some spring training topics, and even some 2015 predictions. 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) What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason?  Did they do what they needed to do?
The biggest change this offseason was the team firing Ron Gardenhire and revamping the coaching staff with Paul Molitor at the helm. Adding Ervin Santana should help a pitching staff that finished with the American League's worst ERA.  Signing Torii Hunter will bring a lot of smiles back to the faces of Twins fans but there are questions about how he will be able to produce on the field. His leadership and mentorship of young players like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks should be worth the money Minnesota is paying him. Because of the poor starting pitching performances in recent years, the Twins bullpen has been taxed. Adding free agent Tim Stauffer and Rule 5 pick JR Graham will help strengthen the bullpen. All of these moves seem great on paper but it's still a waiting game until their core of young prospects is ready.

2) Will Miguel Sano make it to the majors this season?
Sano will be on a mission this year and I think he will make it to Target Field by the end of July or beginning of August. He's always wanted to be on the fast track to the big leagues and he's so close that he'll be pushing himself even harder this season. It also helps that young players like Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas had success last season. This might make the Twins more likely to give Sano a chance. It will cause a ripple effect on the team as Trevor Plouffe could be pushed to the outfield but that decision is a few month away.  

3) Is it good to see Torii Hunter back in a Twins uniform?
Yes and no. I'm not sure how much more Hunter has in the tank. His offensive numbers dipped a little last season and the defensive metrics aren't kind to him. It also sounds like he wants to bat in the number two spot in the order which could be good or bad depending on his offensive production. He's already been working long and hard with younger players like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks. This is great for spring training but when the season starts, Buxton and Hicks might both be in the minor leagues. If things go south in a hurry with this team, it will be interesting to see what kind of leadership Hunter shows. 

4) What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
I would love to say Aaron Hicks because he seems to have all the tools and talent to make it as an everyday player. There just hasn't been any signs of life from him at baseball's highest level. I think Brian Dozier has the best opportunity to make some strides this season. In his third full season of playing second base, he could make some strides on the defensive side of the ball to enter the conversation as one of the best second basemen in the American League. His offense can be streaky so it will take some more consistency this year especially since it sounds like he'll have a new contract in place before Opening Day. 

5) What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
77-85, 5th Place in the AL Central 

6) What do you like best about being a Twins fan?
Even though there have been some rough years recently in Twins Territory, the core group of fans have stayed true to this team. Hopefully, they will be rewarded in the next handful of years with star players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, etc.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Radical Idea: Start Buxton in Center

New Twins manager Paul Molitor had some strong words in relation to a mental mistake committed by Aaron Hicks, the Twins player who made the last two Opening Day starts in center field. This came on the heels of two base running mistakes earlier in the week.

Hicks isn't doing himself any favors as he tries to win back his starting job. The biggest problem might be that the Twins don't have a lot of other options for this important defensive position. Jordan Schafer can adequately fill-in but he isn't a long-term solution. Danny Santana got most of his playing time in center a year ago but the team is committed to him at shortstop.

This led to an idea that might seem to be a little radical... The Twins should start Byron Buxton in center field on Opening Day.

There are a multitude of reasons why this shouldn't happen. Buxton has only played one game at the Double-A level and he ended the game being carted off the field. Last season was basically a lost year for baseball's top prospect as he weathered through a storm of injuries. The Twins also have to keep in mind his arbitration clock because the less service time he accumulates, the cheaper his salary will stay.

Buxton was among the first group of players cut from big league camp over the weekend. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said, "He needs to go down and get some playing time. I think everybody's aware, he got some time here but we need to get him going. He'll need regular playing time, four at-bats a day, center field everyday." In eight Grapefruit League at-bats, Buxton managed just one hit with two walks and three strikeouts.

All that being said, there would be plenty of excitement surrounding Buxton making his debut. Minnesota's season ticket numbers have dropped in recent years as the luster of Target Field has started to wear off. Nothing can bring people back to the field faster than the opportunity to see a potential budding superstar.

However, it's not all about selling tickets. The AL Central is wide open this season and many are predicting that the Twins will finish in last place again. Minnesota could get some surprise performances from the starting staff and continue to pump out last year's offensive numbers and find themselves in the race. If Buxton were able to debut early in the year, he could make some adjustments early in the year and be a threat in the season's second half.

Most performance estimates like Steamer/ZiPs have Buxton hitting between .240-.250 while getting on base around 30% of the time. His speed and power potential are also high so he's projected to be a threat in multiple ways. Hicks is a career .201/.293/.313 hitter while Schafer a little better by hitting .229/.311/.310. Buxton is projected to be better than both of these marks and that's not counting his defense.

Hicks was lauded for his defense and athleticism in the minor leagues. His performance has been up and down at the major league level. Buxton's defense has also been highly rated. His speed helps him to track down balls in center and he has a strong arm from spending some time as a pitcher during high school. Buxton's all out approach to defense caused some injuries last season but with more maturity he'll continue to adjust to baseball's highest level.

One of the main reasons Torii Hunter was brought in was to provide mentor-ship to some of the younger players on the roster. Now that Buxton has been sent to the minor league side of camp, he won't be able to work with Hunter as frequently. Leaving him in the majors would give him the opportunity to play along side Hunter to start his career.

Fans are going to be clamoring to see him at some point in 2015 and Hicks and Schafer don't instill a sense of confidence. Recent top prospects like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper made their debuts while still in their teens and there were some initial growing pains. Buxton could be baseball's next great star so let him work on his game at the big league level.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Episode 122: I Hate the White Sox

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

This week's episode features a guest interview with Tom Flynn (@mighty_flynn or http://mightyflynn.tumblr.com). Tom joins us to talk about the whirlwind off-season that took place on the South Side of Chicago and walks us through all the changes to the White Sox roster and what we can expect from them in 2015. 

Before getting to the White Sox, however, Eric, Paul, and Jay discuss the happenings down in Fort Myers at Twins camp, Should Eduardo Escobar be the starting shortstop? Can Josmil Pinto stick at the MLB level? What does the future hole for Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Nunez, and Michael Tonkin? 

Stay tuned to find out.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes to rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas to become the new "Bash Brothers." 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

40-Man Roster Dissection: Middle Infielders

With the emergence of Danny Santana last season, the Twins have a little more confidence in their middle infielders than a season ago. Brian Dozier is coming off a strong season and Eduardo Escobar showed that he could be a very useful member of this team. There are still some questions surrounding this group.

Santana played most of last season in center field so he will be charged with sticking at shortstop. Dozier saw a decline in his numbers during the second half of the year. Escobar finished in the American League's top 10 for doubles and he enters the spring without a starting job. Polanco made his debut last year but it was a big job from High-A to the big leagues.

Brian Dozier
.242/.345/.416, 23 HR, 33 2B, 71 RBI, 112 R, 21 SB
In his age-27 season, Dozier got off to a tear at the beginning of the season to put him in consideration for the All-Star team. He wouldn't make the team but he was asked to participate in the Home Run Derby contest as part of the week's festivities. His hot start put him on pace to become the sixth player in Twins history with a 20 HR- 20 SB season.

Dozier is never going to be a high average guy but he finds a way to get on base and his ability to steal bases continues to improve. One big area of improvement for this season could be his defensive skills. If he can make some big strides on the defensive side of the ball, he could move into baseball's top tier of second basemen. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Eduardo Escobar
.275/.315/.406, 6 HR, 35 2B, 37 RBI, 52 R
Entering last season, Escobar had never played more than 66 games in a season. He was able to more than double that total and put together some impressive offensive numbers. He knocked 25 doubles in the season's first half and his entire slash-line improved in the second half. Escobar proved to be a valuable member of the team and it will be interesting to see what his role is moving forward.

In 98 of his appearances, he played at shortstop and the Twins are committed to Santana at shortstop so this could mean Escobar will be asked to fill a utility role. His ability to play multiple infield positions will help his cause. It's still uncertain if Santana will be able to stick at shortstop or if the Twins will have to go in a different direction. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Jorge Polanco
.333/.500/.833, 0 HR, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R
Polanco got a very brief taste of the big leagues last season (8 plate appearances in 5 games) when the Twins found themselves in a little bit of a roster crunch. He became the first 20-year old to debut with the Twins since Joe Mauer back in 2004. Minnesota limited his on-field experience but he finished the season at Double-A which puts him a phone call away from the big leagues this season.

The Twins are going to want to see some continued improvements from Polanco as this season progresses. After splitting time between both middle infield positions during his first four minor league seasons, Polanco played almost 120 games at shortstop. He played under 40 games at Double-A so there's a good chance that's where he'll start in 2015. 25-Man Roster Prediction: No

Danny Santana
.319/.353/.472, 7 HR, 27 2B, 40 RBI, 70 R, 20 SB
Santana's rookie campaign couldn't have gone much better. He hit better than any level during his professional career and he did all of this while learning a new defensive position. In 55 fewer games than Dozier, Santana almost matched Dozier's steal total and fell six doubles shy of his output. A full season with both of these players in the middle infield could be one of the best speed/power combos in the American League.

There are plenty of people that look at Santana's track record and are expected some regression this season. His defensive transition back to shortstop will also be something to keep an eye on. If he is able to play average defense at shortstop and combine that with above average offense, he will be very valuable. It will be interesting to see how long the Twins will be willing to stick with him if his defense isn't up to par. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Monday, March 9, 2015

2015 Topps Heritage Review: Minnesota Twins

Flashback to 1966 and you will find where Topps got it's inspiration for their 2015 Heritage set, a base set that has become a annual must-own for trading card collectors. The base set is based off the design of the 1966 Topps set and it includes 425 veterans, rookies, and managers.

Plus, there is a set of 75 short print cards that collectors can hunt down. In a unique addition, there are cards that feature bubble gum stains on their backs. These cards are available for all the base cards in the set.

The Twins base card checklist is full of the team's favorites including the Heritage debut of a few younger players on the roster and the return of Torii Hunter.

40. Phil Hughes
87. Torii Hunter
89. Eduardo Escobar
120. Brian Dozier
165. Kennys Vargas
173. Trevor Plouffe
190. Oswaldo Arcia
236. Ervin Santana (w/ the Braves)
240. Kurt Suzuki
246. Kyle Gibson
264. Trevor May/ A.J. Achter- RC
347. Danny Santana
378. Ricky Nolasco
400. Joe Mauer
416. Glen Perkins

Joe Mauer and Harmon Killebrew are all over the Heritage insert sets.

Mauer is featured in a unique 20-card set of "Throwback Uniform Variations." This shows playes in old-school uniforms. He's also featured in the always popular "Chrome Parallel" set. This set comes with refractor, black refractor (#/66), and gold refractor (#/5). Mauer's other numbered insert is the "Mini Parallel"set which is numbered out of 100.

Collecting pieces of game worn jersey and autographs have become very popular in recent years as a way to get fans closer to the game. Mauer doesn't have an autograph in this set but he is included in the annual "Clubhouse Collection Relics" set.

Two of the more unique insert sets to collect include cards with other collectible items inserted into the cardboard. "Postage Stamp Relics" that are numbers to 50 have Harmon Killebrew and an American stamp from 1966. There's also the "66 Mint" set which has a coin minted in that year along with the likeness of "The Killer." There are four variations including nickel (#/15), dime (#/10), quarter (#/5), and JFK Silver Dollar (1/1).
Other Killebrew inserts include a "1966 Bazooka" set. He's also featured multiple times in the "Then and Now" series, which pairs Killebrew, a 1966 league leader, with his counterparts from 2014. The last Twins card in the set is a "1966 Oversized Punchboard." These cards feature a 1966 player with a current player with a card from a popular game at the time.

Overall, the throwback design is one of the most popular sets for collectors. It's nice to see more players that figure to be part of the team this season compared to those that were featured in Topps Series 1. In a reoccurring theme, Mauer is the featured player in many of the insert sets. It's nice to see the continued presence of Killebrew in these sets so younger collectors have an opportunity to add him to their collections.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Episode 121: Eric Drinks a Whiskey Drink

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

Miguel Sano! Byron Buxton! Jose Berrios! Baseball! LIVE BASEBALL! WELCOME BACK BASEBALL FANS!

Baseball is back in Twins Territory with the return of Spring Training baseball on television and the sound of the crack of the bat. We're back for our third full season of Twins baseball, which is a milestone in itself. 

This week we talk all about Spring Training, we continue to review the roster, and of course, Beer, Baseball, and the News. 

Enjoy the show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes to rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help Miguel Sano blast moonshots. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

40-Man Roster Dissection: Catchers

The Twins only have two catchers on the 40-man roster so both men have to feel pretty good about making the team's 25-man group that heads north from spring training. Barring injury, it will be the same two catchers that made the trip north a season ago.

After a tremendous first half, Kurt Suzuki made the All-Star team in his first season for the Twins. Josmil Pinto went back and forth between Rochester and the big leagues as he tried to find his place with the club. Now both men will enter the 2015 season with something to prove.

Kurt Suzuki
.288/.345/.383, 3 HR, 34 2B, 61 RBI (131 Games)
Suzuki made quite the impact in his age 30 season. He played over 130 games for the first time since 2011 and he had a batting average close to the .300 mark until very late in the season. Suzuki found himself in many situations early in the season where he needed to come up with a timely hit and he usually found a way to produce. With the beating he took behind the plate, it's no wonder his numbers suffered a little down the stretch.

It was also the sixth season where he's spent over 1000 innings behind the plate so one has to wonder about the wear and tear on his body as his career progresses. Twins pitchers enjoy working with him but his defensive abilities are limited. He allowed the fifth most stolen bases in the American League last season and it was the fourth time he's finished in the top five including a first place finish in 2011. 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Josmil Pinto
.219/.315/.391, 7 HR, 8 2B, 18 RBI (57 Games)
Pinto will be an interesting case to watch this season. There's no other fall back options on the 40-man roster so the Twins must feel comfortable with him sticking at the big league level. Close to half of his big league starts came as a designated hitter last year but it's tough to know if those at-bats will be available this year. Kennys Vargas, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Oswaldo Arcia all figure to get some time at DH.

There have been plenty of questions about Pinto's ability to call a game and play defense. Glen Perkins threw Pinto under the bus near the beginning of last season saying, "He's a long ways away, to be honest with you. Balls close to the zone, balls below the zone--- I guess I don't really know about blocking and all those things --- but his pitching framing, he's got some work to do." He went on to say, "I don't know what level he's at, but he's surely not at the big-league level as far as catching for me." 25-Man Roster Prediction: Yes

Overall, it will be interesting to see what the club does if either Suzuki or Pinto need to spend any time on the disabled list this season. Chris Herrmann is on the 40-man roster and he's played catcher in the past. Eduardo Escobar has done a little work catching to be used in emergency situations. The team would likely be hesitant to use either one of these players for a significant amount of time.

Both players have their own flaws and both players enter the season with a chip on their shoulder. Suzuki needs to prove his numbers from last year weren't a fluke. Pinto needs to prove he can be a viable big league catcher for the long-term.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Starting Opening Day Might Not Be An Honor

When Twins pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, new manager Paul Molitor wasted little time in naming Phil Hughes as the team's Opening Day starter. This seems like a no-brain decision for the manager after the season Hughes compiled in 2014. Among pitchers in the American League, he finished in the top 10 in WAR, innings pitched, wins, and strikeouts. He did all of this while setting the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio record.

In recent memory, the honor of being the Twins Opening Day starter hasn't always translated to a positive performance on the field. From 1996 through 2007, all but one season opener was started by either Brad Radke or Johan Santana. Since that point, the Twins have trotted out a combination of Livan Hernandez, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Vance Worley, and Ricky Nolasco.

Most of these players ran into their share of bumps and bruises in the season that followed their Opening Day assignment:
Hernandez (2008): 10-8, 5.48 ERA, 139.2 IP, 54 SO, 29 BB, 1.63 WHIP
Liriano (2009): 6-4, 3.91 ERA, 76.0 IP, 67 SO, 32 BB, 1.40 WHIP
Baker (2010): 15-9, 4.37 ERA, 200.0 IP, 162 SO, 48 BB, 1.19 WHIP
Pavano (2011): 9-13, 4.30 ERA, 222.0 IP, 102 SO, 40 BB, 1.36 WHIP
Pavano (2012): 2-5, 6.00 ERA, 63.0 IP, 33 SO, 8 BB, 1.40 WHIP
Worley (2013): 1-5, 7.21 ERA, 48.2 IP, 25 SO, 15 BB, 1.99 WHIP
Nolasco (2014): 6-12, 5.38 ERA, 159.0 IP, 115 SO, 38 BB, 1.52 WHIP

Hernandez would be traded before the season ended. Liriano spent more time pitching in the minors than on the big league roster. Baker actually had one of his best statistical seasons of his career. Pavano got progressively worse and he hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2012. Worley would be done in Minnesota after 2013. Nolasco is under contract through 2017 and is almost guaranteed a spot in the Twins rotation coming out of spring.

From 2008-2010, the Twins were able to overcome a poor season from their Opening Day starter to still finish in the top two in the AL Central. The last four years have been rough in Twins Territory and that's definitely reflected in the numbers compiled by their season's first starter. Starting pitching has been a weak spot and it's something the front office has tried to address over the last two off-seasons with big contracts for Ervin Santana along with Hughes and Nolasco.

Hughes is going to have to buck a rough recent trend if he doesn't want to be added to the Pavano-Worley class of Opening Day starters. After a record breaking season, it seems likely for Hughes to come back down to earth a little as the season progresses. He just needs to try and avoid the pitfalls of his Twins Opening Day  predecessors.

Moving forward it will be interesting to see how Molitor approaches the selection of his Opening Day starter. Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire usually liked to stay loyal to the more veteran player on the team even when that player might not have been the best option.

For this season, Molitor had an easy choice with Hughes. Santana's the shiny new toy in town but Hughes has built up more of a following in Minnesota. In the grand scheme of a 162-game season, one start at the beginning of the year doesn't make or break a club.

It would still be nice for Hughes to end a long drought of poor seasons from the Twins Opening Day starter.