Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Bowman Review: Minnesota Twins

When it comes to the Twins, there's a lot of hope stored up in the minor leagues. That's what makes Bowman baseball such an exciting release for card collectors. Bowman focuses on younger players and especially on the minor leagues. This means there is a ton of Twins action in Bowman's newest release.

Bowman's 2015 base set includes 150 cards which is down from 70 cards from recent years. Bowman made up for this difference by adding 40 cards to the prospect checklist to bump this total up to 150. There are a ton of on-card autographs in the set including many Twins prospects so that could make this set very fun to collect.

The Twins featured in the base set are an interesting conglomeration. There's no Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier,Torii Hunter, or Glen Perkins. Instead there's a mix of younger players and two new additions that were added to the team last season.

34. Kennys Vargas
40. Oswaldo Arcia
85. Kurt Suzuki
92. Phil Hughes
140. Trevor May- RC

While the base set might be lacking some Twins firepower, the prospect checklist is chalk full of top tier players. Besides the fearsome foursome of Sano, Meyer, Gordon, and Berrios, it's nice to see the inclusion of players like Aaron Slegers and Chih-Wei Hu. Hu is coming off a breakout season so I'm most excited for him to have a card, his first as a professional.

Prospect Checklist
33. Miguel Sano
36. Alex Meyer
75. Nick Gordon
91. Jose Berrios
105. Aaron Slegers
112. Chih-Wei Hu

The Chrome Prospects Autographs set includes the likes of Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves, Adam Walker, Jason Wheeler, and Zack Jones. Some players like Gordon and Walker have already had autographs in previous sets but Gonsalves and Jones can only strengthen prospect collectors sets.

May and Vargas are featured in the base set and both players have an autograph available to find. May is included in the Rookie Autographs set while Vargas is featured in the Sophomore Standouts Autographs. Vargas has been regularly featured in the autographs from Topps this year so it's no surprise to see him again.

Top prospect Byron Buxton has been missing from the set so far. His first card in the set is part of the Bowman Scouts' Top 100 insert set. Buxton is still considered the top prospect in the game by Bowman and he's joined by Sano (8), Gordon (26), Stewart (48), Berrios (51), and Meyer (82). Buxton, Sano, and Gordon all have autograph versions of their Top 100 cards as well.

The other top insert set for collectors is called The Farm's Finest. This set includes Twins prospects Buxton, Berrios, Stewart, Sano, and Gordon. There are also autographs available for Buxton, Stewart, Sano, and Gordon.

Bowman's only memorabilia cards in the set are from last year's Futures Game at Target Field. The cards are numbered to 25. Berrios and Meyer both get cards so it's interesting to see that Vargas isn't featured especially after being featured so heavily in the other releases from this year.

For top tier collectors, one of the toughest Twins cards to track down will be a dual autograph of Buxton and Gordon. There are also Pages of History Book Autograph Booklets that include the signatures of Gordon, Stewart, Sano, and Buxton.

This set is a dream for fans of the Twins minor league system. While the regular Twins cards that are part of the base set leave a little something to be desired, the prospect focus helps to redeem this release. It's nice to see the likes of Gonsalves, Hu, Jones, and Wheeler being added to the set for the hardcore prospect fan.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (4/27): All Good In Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

Jones earned a save in Double-A tonight
After fast starts for most of the minor league affiliates, things have come back down to earth over the last week. Cedar Rapids, Fort Myers, and Chattanooga have all lost multiple games in a row with the Lookouts in the midst of losing six of their last seven games. Top prospect Jose Berrios was on the mound to try and end that streak tonight.

Rochester has been picking up some of the slack with a nice little stretch of four wins in their last five games. This includes a two-game win streak to start this week. Would this trend continue or would the Red Wings fall victim to the rest of the losing happening on the farm?

RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester 6, Columbus 1
Box Score
A strong pitching performance from Taylor Rogers and a trio of home runs from Doug Bernier, Reynaldo Rodriguez, and Brock Peterson helped Rochester push their latest winning streak to three games. Rogers allowed one earned run on two hits over eight strong frames, the first time he reached the eighth all season. He walked four and struck out four on route to his second win. AJ Achter finished the game with a perfect ninth including two punch outs.

The Bernier and Rodriguez homers were part of a four run fifth inning that put Rochester up for good in the game. Peterson's knock, his team leading fourth of the year, was part of a two run eighth. Eddie Rosario went 2-for-4 and scored a run. Jose Martinez lead the team with three hits including his third double.

Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, who is currently on the disabled list, was with the team on Monday. He has been rehabbing from a pulled muscle injury and he will likely rejoin the team in the near future.

CHATTANOOGA CHATTER
Chattanooga 5, Tennessee 3
Box Score
Jose Berrios made his fourth start of the season on Monday night and he tried to help the Lookouts get back to their winning ways. He did his best to put his team in position to win by throwing six innings of two hit ball. The only run he allowed was on a solo home run. Berrios danced around a season high four walks but his five strikeouts helped get out of some jams.

Berrios left with 4-1 lead and things got a little dicey with Nick Burdi on the mound. The first batter he faced coaxed a walk and the next batter hit a home run. He'd get out of the inning with two pop outs, a single, and a strikeout. Jake Reed and Zack Jones combined to pitch a scoreless eighth and ninth to preserve the win.

Stephen Wickens drove in two runs and reached base three times to help power the offense. Byron Buxton had multiple hits for the second time in the last three games. Max Kepler collected his first triple of the year and Levi Michael scored a pair of runs.

MIRACLE MATTERS
Fort Myers 5, Palm Beach 4 (11 innings) 
Box Score
This was the fifth meeting between these two clubs this season and the Miracle had yet to find a way to beat the Cardinals. It took an extra-inning affair and a come from behind win but the Miracle finally found a way to come out victorious.

Luke Westphal made his third start and last four innings while giving up four runs on six hits. He struck out one and walked one. The Miracle Bullpen was masterful. Alex Muren, Brian Gilbert, J.T. Chargois, and Tim Shibuya combined to toss eight shutout innings with all but Chargois throwing multiple frames. Shibuya picked up his first win of the season.

Alex Swim started the rally in the 11th inning with a one-out single. The Miracle then used three consecutive walks from Mitch Garver, Niko Goodrum, and Marcus Knecht to score the winning run. Knecht and Bryan Haar had matching 2-for-5 lines with a double each. Swim and Chad Christensen both collected three hits.

KERNELS NUGGETS
Cedar Rapids- Scheduled Off Day

The Kernels are in the midst of a three game losing streak in which they were swept by Kane County. Cedar Rapids entered the day with an 11-7 record. That mark was good enough for second place, two games back, in the Midwest League Western Division.

Zack Granite currently leads the team in batting average (.364), OBP (.485), and OPS (.958). Trey Vavra leads the team in home runs (3) and slugging percentage (.589). Granite and Vavra are tied for the team lead with four doubles. Nick Gordon leads the team in triples (2) and RBI (15). Tanner English has stolen seven bases while Granite is not far behind with six steals.

Stephen Gonsalves, Mat Batts, and Jared Wilson lead the team's starters with two wins each. Gonsalves leads starters with a 0.90 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 20 IP. Cameron Booser leads the team with two saves and an eye popping 15 strikeouts in eight innings pitched. Felix Jorge has also been impressive with 24 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched with a 1.50 ERA.

TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Taylor Rogers, Rochester Red Wings
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Stephen Wickens, Chattanooga Lookouts


TUESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS

Rochester vs Columbus (5:35 CST) – RHP Alex Meyer
Chattanooga @ Mississippi (6:05 CST)- RHP Greg Peavey
Ft. Myers vs Palm Beach (6:05 CST) – RHP Aaron Slegers
Cedar Rapids @ Quad Cities (11:00 am CST) - RHP Jared Wilson

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Monday games.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Gardenhire's Possible Landing Spots

This is the first time in Ron Gardenhire's life that he hasn't been actively involved in baseball since his youth. However, it doesn't mean he wouldn't like to be back in the action. Fox Sports is reporting Gardenhire hired an agent for the first time in decades to "monitor possible managerial openings." 

Since there are currently no openings, he isn't actively pursuing a position but he's open to considering all possibilities. There's also no reason to hurry since he had a year remaining on his contract when the Twins let him go at the end of last season. 

Some managers are already on the hot seat even though the season is relatively young. Here are a few of the possible landing spots as Gardy looks for new employment. 

Miami Marlins
Reports out of Miami have manager Mike Redmond, a former Twin, on the hot seat even though he is only in his third year at the helm. Many writer's picked the Marlins as a playoff team this year but the team has floundered out of the gate. Team owner Jeffrey Loria has been quick to pull the trigger on managers in the past so it wouldn't be surprising if Miami decided to go in a different direction. From Gardenhire's prospective, Miami might not be the ideal spot since his job security would immediately be called into question. This would be quite the change from the consistency he knew in the Twins organization. 

Milwaukee Brewers
Much like Miami, the Brewers are off to a poor start as they entered the weekend with the fewest wins in baseball. Center fielder Carlos Gomez, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and second baseman Scooter Gennett are all on the disabled list so that hasn't helped the situation. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio came out earlier this week and said that neither Ron Roenicke nor general manager Doug Melvin are on the hot seat. That tune could change if the Brewers continue to lose games in the coming months. Since Gardenhire still makes his home in Minnesota, it seems like staying with a Midwest team like Milwaukee could fit his needs.

Los Angeles Angels
There have been some high expectations in Los Angeles over the last handful of years. Signing big name stars like Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to add to the likes of reigning AL MVP Mike Trout was supposed to put the Angles on a path to greatness. The club has only made the playoffs once in the last five seasons and they were swept out of last year's Divisional Series by the Royals. Mike Scioscia has been at the helm since 2000 and the Angels front office might want a new voice to try and lead their team to the playoffs. From Gardenhire's perspective, any manager would be crazy not to want to pencil Trout's name in the line-up card everyday.

Philadelphia Phillies
Charlie Manuel has only been out the door for a couple seasons by Ryne Sandberg hasn't finished better than fourth in the NL East. The Phillies roster is aging and it's hard to pick out what direction the team is going. There isn't a lot of light at the end of the tunnel at this point and the Philadelphia sports scene can be tough on failing clubs. A new manager like Gardenhire might not completely be the answer. If the fans get out the torches and pitchforks for Sandberg, Gardenhire would be available and the rich Phillies history could be enough to lure him to the City of Brotherly Love. 

Episode 128: Previewing the MLB Draft with Torii Hunter's Life Sized Demon Bobblehead

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

This week on the Talk to Contact podcast we rehash the week that was in Twins territory, including Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May pitching for a job in the rotation after Ricky Nolasco returns from his rehab start in Cedar Rapids, what the hell Torii Hunter is doing attempting a straight steal of home, and our very own Jay Corn finally earns his Talk to Contact membership card.

After a musical interlude from Egon's Unicat, we're joined by Jeremy Nygaard from TwinsDaily.com to discuss a myriad of topics including Paul Molitor's bench, the Twins' payroll, and the upcoming MLB draft.

And as always, beer, baseball and the news.

If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to tell a friend (or two, or three, or four hundred) and give us a rating/review on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help the Twins to continue to win series at home. 

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

2015 Topps Gypsy Queen Review: Minnesota Twins

Gypsy Queen is back!

This is one of the nicest products put out by Topps. This set has a old-school tobacco card feel to the design but it's full of a ton of mini cards, inserts, and some of the easiest pulls of autographs and relic cards.

The base set includes 300 cards of current and former stars. There are tough to find base set parallels. Short prints have been a staple of this product and there is a bigger 50-card set in this year's product. Also added to the packs are 50-cards with photo variations. Set collectors will have to spend some time hunting these down.

Mini cards make this set stand out from the crowd. There is one mini card per pack and every base card has a corresponding mini card. With only one mini short print card per box, these will be highly sought after items. To go along with the base mini cards, there are multiple variations including silver (#/199), red(#/50), black (#/5), printing plates (1/1), and graphite (1/1).

For Twins fans, let's dive into the set and see what players can be added to your collection.

42. Kennys Vargas
66. Joe Mauer
152. Rod Carew
172. Phil Hughes
251. Ervin Santana
287. Brian Dozier

Some of the standard inserts are back along with some new additions. Glove Stories have been a featured insert set since Gypsy Queen debuted. Aaron Hicks is the lone Twins player in the set making a sprawled out catch in the Target Field outfield. The Queens Throwbacks, a new insert set, has players wearing throwback uniforms similar to the Franchise Flashbacks set from Topps Opening Day. Joe Mauer gets the nod in this set.

The Kennys Vargas autograph market continues to grow as his signature has been used in many of the releases from Topps this year. Vargas can be found in the full sized and mini autograph sets. The full size autographs have multiple variations including Silver #/50, Gold #/25, Red #/5, Black 1/1.

Vargas isn't the only Twins autograph in Gypsy Queen. Joe Mauer is included in the Mini Autograph Patch Books Set but these cards are hard to a run of 25 so collectors will have to hunt them down. It might be easier for fans to find Mauer's relic insert cards. Besides the base model, there are also Gold #/25, Red Patch #/5, and Black Button 1/1.

The toughest Twins insert to find is an Original Art Patches of Rod Carew. This set includes a hand painted image and a piece of game worn jersey. There is only one of these cards available so the demand will be high among collectors.

One of the biggest critiques of this set has been the lack of statistics used on the cards. The back card design includes only words about the players. This has never really bothered me because it fits with the old-school design of the set. I was a little disappointed not to see a Harmon Killebrew card in the set for the first time in multiple years.

Ervin Santana gets his first Twins card but many fans likely won't be hunting this one down after his recent suspension. Vargas has gotten a lot of love from Topps to start the year so it will be interesting to see how the card market views his value throughout the season. In future sets, it would be nice to see autographs from some of the other core Twins players.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (4/20): Pitching Trio Honored

Right-handed pitcher Tyler Duffey, left-handed pitcher Pat Dean and right-handed pitcher Felix Jorge each walked away with "Pitcher of the Week" honors in their respective leagues.

Duffey earned the honor in the Southern League after tossing 13.2 scoreless frames with 18 strikeouts. Dean, a former third round pick, went 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 15 strikeouts in two starts to pick up the International League award. Jorge struggled in Cedar Rapids last season but he's off to a hot start (12 IP, 19 K, 4 BB) so he was honored by the Midwest League.

Besides the pitching honors, the Twins were busy making minor league roster moves on Monday. Max Kepler was promoted to Chattanooga after hitting .250/.308/.333 in six games to start the year. He's currently in the midst of a five game hitting streak. In a corresponding move, third baseman Bryan Harr was activated off the 7-day DL for the Miracle.

Cedar Rapids announced that catcher Brett Doe was joining the Kernels from extended spring training. Last season he hit .207 with a HR and five RBI in 23 games for Elizabethton. He is taking the roster spot left open because JJ Fernandez was force to go on the 7-day DL with a concussion. Fernandez was off to a strong start hitting .293 with three doubles and four RBI.

RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester --, Syracuse -- POSTPONED

Monday's scheduled game between the Red Wings and the Chiefs was postponed due to rain. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Tuesday. The first game is scheduled to begin at 1:05 pm and each game will be seven innings.

The first game pits top pitching prospects Alex Meyer (1-0, 8.31 ERA) versus A.J. Cole (0-0, 4.00 ERA). Taylor Rogers (0-0, 3.46 ERA) will start game two for the Red Wings

CHATTANOOGA CHATTER
Chattanooga 5, Mississippi 6
Box Score
Alex Wimmers made the most of his 2015 debut by tossing five one-hit innings with three strikeouts. He was effective by throwing 62 pitches with 38 being for strikes. One of the best signs might have been the zero walks he allowed. Cole Johnson kept the shutout going with two scoreless frames. D.J. Johnson struggled by giving up four runs in one inning before Jake Reed blew the save in the ninth.

The Lookouts were up 5-0 entering the bottom of the eighth inning so it was a tough loss. Jorge Polanco cracked his second home run of the season and scored a pair of runs. Dalton Hicks collected his first triple as part of a two hit night. Stuart Turner scored a run and had his second multi-hit game of 2015. Travis Harrison had a pair of RBI.

It was the third loss in four games for the Lookouts after winning five of their first six contests. Southern League Pitcher of the Week Tyler Duffey takes the mound on Tuesday with a chance to get Chattanooga back to their winning ways.

MIRACLE MATTERS
Fort Myers 3. Palm Beach 4 (10 Innings)
Box Score
For the second straight night, nine innings wasn't enough to decide this contest between the Miracle and the Cardinals. Fort Myers got off to an early lead by scoring three runs in the top of the second inning. Bryan Harr hit a double to start the frame and this was followed by three straight singles. The Cardinals wouldn't allow another run the rest of the night.

Luke Westphal made his first start of the season and allowed three earned runs in four innings. He struck out two and walked two. Tim Shibuya was effective in three perfect relief innings while striking out three. Madison Boer was charged with the loss after he couldn't get out of his third inning of work.

The loss drops Fort Myers to two games under .500 with a 5-7 record. This was the first of a three game series so the Miracle will need to bounce back if they want to win their second straight series.

KERNELS NUGGETS
Cedar Rapids 5, Burlington 2
Box Score
Nick Gordon's hot start to the season continued as his three hit, three RBI day was enough to push Cedar Rapids past Burlington. Tanner English also joined the hit parade with three hits and two runs. Zack Granite helped pace the offense with two hits including his first triple.

Jared Wilson picked up his second win of the season after tossing five innings and scattering four hits. He gave up one run while striking out three and walking four. Michael Theofanopoulos continued his scoreless streak to start the year. He pitched another two frames and he hasn't allowed a run across 8.1 innings. C.K. Irby finished the game by allowing one run in two innings of work.

With the win, the Kernels avoided their first three game losing streak of the year. They avoided the the sweep in the series but the club has still lost four of their last six games.

TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Alex Wimmers, Chattanooga Lookouts
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Nick Gordon, Cedar Rapids Kernels


TUESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS

Rochester @ Syracuse (12:05 CST) – RHP Alex Meyers
Rochester @ Syracuse (Game 2)- LHP Taylor Rogers
Chattanooga @ Mississippi (7:00 CST)- RHP Tyler Duffey
Ft. Myers @ Tampa (5:35 CST) – RHP Kohl Stewart
Cedar Rapids @ Wisconsin (6:35 CST) - LHP Mat Batts

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Monday games.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Episode 127: The Home Opener and the Return of Torii

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

This week we chat about the Twins' recent struggles, review our experiences from the Home Opener (including the return of Torii Hunter), and try and decide what is going on with Tommy Milone.

In the second half of the program we are joined by Seth Stohs from TwinsDaily.com to talk about the first week of Minor League baseball. Most of the minor league affiliates are off to a hot start so it was nice to have some positivity in the middle of the show. And of course, beer, baseball, and the news. 

If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to tell a friend (or two, or three, or four hundred) and give us a rating/review on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help Alex Meyer to throw strikes. 


Thanks for listening.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (4/13): Hicks and Buxton Power Wins

Minnesota's home opener was sure depressing but luckily all the Twins minor league affiliates picked up the slack on Monday. There were some big games from some big names so fans can turn their frown upside down with a look down on the farm.

To celebrate the start of the minor league season, we are offering the 2015 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook in paperback right now at a 15% discount. This is a limited time offer so make sure to order you copy now before this deal is gone.

RED WINGS REPORT
Rochester 6, Scranton/WB 4
Box Score
Aaron Hicks collected three hits and four RBI while finishing a home run short of the cycle. Danny Ortiz picked up the home run Hicks was lacking from his final line on his way to scoring three runs. James Beresford also scored a couple runs.

Mark Hamburger started the game but failed to get out of the fifth inning after surrendering four earned runs on nine hits. The Rochester bullpen shutdown the RailRiders the rest of the way. AJ Achter, Celeb Thielbar, and Ryan Pressly pitched scoreless frames while Michael Tonkin had a perfect ninth for his second save.

The Wings' bullpen has 12 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season.

CHATTANOOGA CHATTER
Chattanooga 11, Montgomery 5
Box Score
Much like Hicks, Buxton finished a home run short of the cycle as part of a four hit effort. Travis Harrison drove in three runs with a home run and a double. Levi Michael drove in three runs out of the number nine spot in the batting order. Stuart Turner collected two two-out RBI.

There was some question as to who would start this contest for Chattanooga but Adrian Salcedo got the nod. He allowed two earned runs on three hits over three innings. Cole Johnson picked up the win in three perfect innings of relief. Zack Jones struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth.

Chattanooga improved to 4-1 on the young season.

MIRACLE MATTERS
Fort Myers 11. Tampa 4
Box Score
Ryan Eades pitched six scoreless innings and the Miracle bats came alive in Tampa. It was Eades first start in the Florida State League and he scattered five hits and two walks. Todd Van Steensel pitched two shutout frames before J.T. Chargois gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth. Madison Boer came on to get the last two outs.

A hot start saw the Miracle score five runs in the first two innings. Niko Goodrum knocked two doubles and scored three runs out of the lead-off spot. Mitch Garver joined the doubles parade with two doubles of his own while reaching base five times. Michale Quesada collected his first triple and scored two runs.

KERNELS NUGGETS
Cedar Rapids 9, Beloit 0
Box Score
Felix Jorge struck out ten batters to help the Kernels improve to 5-0 this season. In seven innings of work, he surrendered just two hits and two walks. He is the fourth Kernels' starting pitcher to earn a win this season. Michael Theofanopoulos kept the shutout in order by pitching two scoreless frames to close out the game.

There were a ton of offensive accolades in this one. Nick Gordon and Max Murphy collected three hits with each player knocking a triple. Pat Kelly drove in three runs as part of a two hit effort including his first home run. Six of the nine hitters in the order collected two hits or more.

TWINS DAILY PLAYERS OF THE DAY
Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Felix Jorge, Cedar Rapids Kernels
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Aaron Hicks, Rochester Red Wings


TUESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS

Rochester @ Scranton/WB (5:35 CST) – LHP Pat Dean
Chattanooga- Scheduled Off Day
Ft. Myers vs Tampa (9:30 AM CST) – LHP Luke Westphal
Cedar Rapids vs Beloit (6:35 CST) - RHP Jared Wilson

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Monday games.

2015 Donruss Review: Minnesota Twins

For fans that remember the opening packs of Donruss back in the hay day of card collecting, this set will be a trip down memory road. There's a very nostalgic feel to the design and inserts including Rated Rookies and Diamond Kings. These designs includes a wide variety of current and former players.

The Donruss base set includes 150 cards with the Twins having five cards in the set. One of the biggest returns for Twins fans is being able to find regularly inserted Kirby Puckett baseball cards for the first time since 2007. Puckett is featured in the base set and in other insert sets throughout the design.

Let's bust open a few packs and see what there is to offer for Twins fans...

Donruss Base Set
118. Joe Mauer
119. Brian Dozier
120. Danny Santana
121. Phil Hughes
187. Kirby Puckett

Donruss seems to hit on many of the players that Twins fans would like to collect. Mauer and Dozier continue to be fan favorites and Hughes is coming off a remarkable year. Santana's hobby presence continues to grow after his breakout rookie season. One noticeable absence is Glen Perkins especially since he's been the team's All-Star representative the last two seasons.

One of my favorite insert sets from the late 1980's and early 1990's was Diamond Kings. Donruss has two different Diamond King variations in this year's set. The regular version of Diamond Kings includes current start players and Mauer is the lone Twins player featured in the set. All-Time Diamond Kings are new and they highlight 30 legendary players including Puckett.

Puckett also returns in a few other insert sets. 18-up Digital Form cards are variations of the base set. Puckett's card has replaced his full name on the front with the nickname "Puck." Puckett's only other card comes in the Donruss Preferred Bronze set along with youngsters Kennys Vargas and Byron Buxton.

Kennys Vargas gets a whole lot of love from the Donruss company. He's featured in the famous Rated Rookies set but it doesn't end there. Vargas was added to the Elite Dominator Set, the Elite Series set, and the Studio set. Fans can also find his autograph as part of the Signature Series set.

Dozier and his newly signed contract can be found in a couple insert sets. Pieces of his game-worn jersey can be found in the Jersey Kings set. Current outfielder Aaron Hicks is also found in the set. Dozier also appears in the Elite Set with top prospect Buxton.

It seems no set would be complete without it's fair share of Mauer inserts. While Topps seems to focus a lot on Mauer, Donruss has limited some of the Mauer card focus. Besides the Diamond King card mentioned above, Mauer's mug is part of the Inaugural 1981 Edition set. He's also part of a rare (#/2) Recollection Autograph Buybacks set. This set allows Donruss to use cards with MLB logos since they currently don't have those rights.

Donruss offers some good competition against Topps at the top of the hobby pecking order. There are some good editions to this year's set and it's always great to have Puckett back in the hobby. It's still tough to adjust to having cards without the team's logos. Sometimes Donruss does a good job of getting around this and other times the cards just don't look right.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Episode 126: A Dumpster Fire

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

The Twins have not been impressive. The offense has been anemic. The pitching has been atrocious. The defense has been porous. It's been bad, bad, bad. And yet, there have still been some bright spots... well one. J.R. Graham has looked good. 

This week's show contains a healthy amount of doom and gloom, but it's not all bad news bears. Yes, Ervin Santana has been suspended. Yes, the Twins have been outscored 24-1. But it's only three games in. The Twins can still win 159 games and go on to post-season glory. 

In addition to lamenting the cold start of the Twins, we also take a look at the minor league rosters for each of the Twins full season affiliates and talk about beer, baseball, and news from AROUND the league. 

If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to tell a friend (or two, or three, or four hundred) and give us a rating/review on iTunes

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2009: Bill Smith's Lasting Legacy

In the annals of Twins history, the legacy of Bill Smith is never going to be thought of in a positive manner. There are many dubious moments from his tenure at the helm of the Twins organization. During his first year, he had to deal with Torii Hunter, the face of the franchise, leaving via free agency and multiple Cy Young award winner Johan Santana wanting to be traded.

Hunter would head to southern California on a big contract. Santana was dealt for what amounted to be a bag of balls. Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey were sent from New York to Minnesota. None of these players made a significant impact on the Twins big league roster even though Gomez has developed into one of the best players in the National League.

The other big deal at the beginning of Smith's tenure was between Minnesota and Tampa Bay. Hunter's departure left a hole in the line-up and the Twins hunted down former top draft pick Delmon Young. It cost the Twins a hefty price in the form of Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, who would help Tampa win the 2008 American League pennant.

Even though these two trades have come to epitomize some of Smith's poor skills as general manager, the Twins are starting to see some positives out from the Smith era.

Smith's second MLB draft as general manager took place in June 2009. The Twins had the 22nd pick in the first round and used it to select college pitcher Kyle Gibson (Mike Trout was taken three picks later but a ton of other team's passed over him as well). Gibson has developed into a nice asset at the major league level and there's hope that new pitching coach Neil Allen will be able to help Gibson refine his change-up.

Minnesota's biggest steal in the draft might have been their eighth round pick a college shortstop by the name of Brian Dozier. Dozier has turned himself into one of the best second baseman in the American League and the Twins are committed to him being a cornerstone as the team tries to rebuild. According to Baseball Reference, Dozier has been worth more WAR than all but two first round picks (Trout and Stephen Strasburg).

Drafting Dozier and Gibson weren't the only major additions during this calendar year. Minnesota was active on the international market by signing Miguel Sano ($3.15 million), Jorge Polanco ($750,000), and Max Kepler ($775,000). Each one of these players has found their way onto top prospect lists and all three could end up being significant contributors at the big league level.

Sano has been highly thought of since signing with the Twins and he should make his major league debut this season. He's one of the best power hitting prospects in the minor leagues and the Twins are counting on him to make a significant impact over in the coming years.

Polanco continues to shine on the defensive side of the ball while showing he could have the skills to stick at the shortstop position for the long run. His offensive numbers continue to improve and last season he became the youngest player since Joe Mauer to debut with the Twins.

Kepler still has a lot of potential and Minnesota has been patiently waiting for him to have a breakout season. He's getting closer to the higher minors and he's already on the 40-man roster. If everything breaks right, he could turn into a very good everyday player with a wide-ranging skill set.

Reflecting back on the Bill Smith years can be kind of depressing. Besides the moves mentioned above, there was the JJ Hardy trade(s), the Matt Capps deal, and the signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka. It's starting to look more and more like his additions to the minor leagues during the 2009 season might provide a little light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Origins of Twins Opening Day Roster

Baseball team's are formed through the draft, trades and free agency. With how bad the Twins have been in recent years, the club is trying to dig out a pretty decent sized hole. This has meant spending historical amounts of money (at least for this team) on free agents and specifically starting pitchers.

One of the most interesting exercises to look at when it comes to any team is where their current players were drafted. Is most of the team first round picks? Are players home-grown in the Twins organization? Who was the lowest drafted player on the team?

Here's a breakdown of each player to crack the team's Opening Day roster:

2015 Minnesota Twins (Round Drafted In, Team Drafted By, Year Drafted In)

Pitchers
Blaine Boyer: 3rd Round- Atlanta Braves - 2000
Brian Duensing: 3rd Round- Minnesota Twins - 2005
Casey Fien: 20th Round- Detroit Tigers - 2006
Kyle Gibson: 1st Round- Minnesota Twins - 2009
JR Graham: 4th Round- Atlanta Braves - 2011
Phil Hughes: 1st Round- New York Yankees - 2004
Tommy Milone: 10th Round- Washington Nationals - 2008
Ricky Nolasco: 4th Round- Chicago Cubs - 2001
Mike Pelfrey: 1st Round- New York Mets - 2005
Glen Perkins: 1st Round- Minnesota Twins - 2004
Tim Stauffer: 1st Round- San Diego Padres - 2003
Aaron Thompson: 1st Round- Florida Marlins - 2005

Catchers
Kurt Suzuki: 2nd Round- Oakland Athletics - 2004

Infielders
Brian Dozier: 8th Round- Minnesota Twins - 2009
Eduardo Escobar: Amateur Free Agent- Chicago White Sox - 2006
Joe Mauer: 1st Round- Minnesota Twins - 2001
Trevor Plouffe: 1st Round- Minnesota Twins - 2004
Danny Santana: Amateur Free Agent- Minnesota Twins - 2007
Kennys Vargas: Amateur Free Agent- Minnesota Twins - 2009

Outfielders
Oswaldo Arcia: Amateur Free Agent- Minnesota Twins - 2007
Chris Herrmann: 6th Round- Minnesota Twins - 2009
Torii Hunter: 1st Round- Minnesota Twins - 1993
Eduardo Nunez: Amateur Free Agent- New York Yankees - 2004
Shane Robinson: 5th Round- St. Louis Cardinals - 2006
Jordan Schafer: 3rd Round- Atlanta Braves - 2005

So here's a break-down of the list of players above:
Highest Picks: Mauer (1st Overall), Stauffer (4th Overall), Pelfrey (9th Overall) 
Lowest Picks: Fien (592nd Overall), Milone (301st Overall), Dozier (252nd Overall)
Most Players from One Draft: 2004 (Hughes, Perkins, Plouffe, Suzuki), 2005 (Duensing, Pelfrey, Thompson, Schafer)
Home-Grown Players: 12 (Including Hunter)
Drafting/Signing Team (Other than the Twins): Atlanta Braves (Boyer, Graham, Schafer)
Number of 1st Round Picks: 9
Oldest Draftee/Signee: Torii Hunter (1993)
Newest Draftee/Signee: Kennys Vargas/ Kyle Gibson (2009)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ervin Santana Suspended 80-games for PEDs

The Minnesota Twins biggest signing in free agent history isn't getting off to a great start. Word came out on Friday that Ervin Santana would be suspended for the first 80 games of the 2015 season after testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing drug.

Santana signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the Twins during the offseason. It was the largest free agent contract in team history and he is the second highest paid player on the club. Minnesota also handed over a second round pick for Santana because the Atlanta Braves had offered him a $15.3 million qualifying offer.

The Twins offered up the following statement:
“We were disappointed to learn of the suspension of Ervin Santana for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. We fully support Major League Baseball’s policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing substances from our game. Per the protocol outlined in the Joint Drug Program, the Minnesota Twins will not comment further on this matter.”

Santana also issued a statement:
 "This is unexpected news for me and my family.  I am issuing this statement so the public knows where I stand.  First, my deepest apologies to my family, fans, colleagues, teammates and my current employer the Minnesota Twins.  I am very disappointed that I tested positive for a performance enhancing drug.  I am frustrated that I can't pinpoint how the substance in question entered my body.  I would never knowingly take anything illegal to enhance my performance.  What I can guarantee is I never knowingly took anything illegal to enhance my performance.  That’s just not me, never has been and never will.
“Ever since I was a child I always had to work harder than everyone.  Not too many people believed I could become a Major Leaguer.  I worked hard to achieve everything I accomplished and I take pride in proving that through hard work dreams can come true."
Removing Santana from the rotation puts the Twins in a bit of a pickle to start the year. Mike Pelfrey will be moved from the bullpen to the back of the rotation. Lefthander Aaron Thompson will be recalled from Rochester to take Santana's spot on the roster and be added to the bullpen mix. 

Episode 125: Predicting the Future. And Cats. Detroit Cats. Tigers.

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

The Talk to Contact crew takes a crack at predicting the results of the 2015 season. There are a couple of bold pics. And I'm not talking bold like the Indians will win the central, I'm talking BOLD. We discuss the recent roster moves by the Twins, and discuss the roster that will head north with the Twins when they leave Fort Myers and head north to take on the Detroit Tigers next week. 

Speaking of the Tigers, we spend the end of the podcast wrapping up our reviewing the rivals series and talk with Bryan Craves (@displacedtgrfan,http://displacedtgrfan.tumblr.com/) and catch up on what's been happening in Detroit since the Tigers were bounced from the playoffs last season. 

All this and more on this week's episode. If you enjoy the show, please take a moment or two and share us with your friends. Thanks.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

2015 Minnesota Twins Award 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
Each of the awards below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are legends from the past and all have had a significant place in Twins lore.

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Joe Mauer, 1B
Previous Winners: Brian Dozier (2014), Joe Mauer (2013), Josh Willingham (2012), Michael Cuddyer (2011), Joe Mauer (2010)
It seems like a yearly tradition to pick Joe Mauer to be the best player on the Twins. Since I have been handing out these awards, Mauer has been close to alternating between winning and losing. That should put him in line for a bounce back season. Brian Dozier could take some major strides on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. If Dozier's all-around game improves, it will be tough for him not to win this award for the second consecutive year. Mauer has the most talent so hopefully the numbers show this by season's end. 

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Phil Hughes, RHP 
Previous Winners: Phil Hughes (2014), Kevin Correia (2013), Scott Diamond (2012), Carl Pavano (2011), Carl Pavano (2010)
Hughes is comfortable in Minnesota and he's coming off a record breaking season. The Twins rewarded him for his output with a bump in pay even though they still had Hughes under contract. It's hard to imagine anyone else taking this spot away from Hughes unless Kyle Gibson were take a big jump forward. Hughes might not end up being as good as last season but he's still the best pitcher the Twins will send out there every fifth day.

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: Glen Perkins, LHP
Previous Winners: Glen Perkins (2014), Glen Perkins (2013), Jared Burton (2012), Glen Perkins (2011), Jesse Crain (2010)
With the way this award is shaping up, it might need to be renamed the Glen Perkins Relief Pitcher of the Year. Perkins has won the award in three of the last four seasons and he could be the front runner for the award again this year. My pick is for Casey Fien to have a breakout season and be one of the best relief pitchers in Minnesota's pen. Perkins struggled through an injury this spring but the closing duties are still under his control. Perkins strikes out more batters and he won the award last season even though he missed some time at year's end.  

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Trevor May, RHP
Previous Winners: Danny Santana (2014), Oswaldo Arcia (2013), Scott Diamond (2012), Ben Revere (2011), Danny Valencia (2010)
May made his debut at the end of 2014 and the Twins will have him start the year in Rochester. There were some rough patches in the first few appearances for May but he calmed down near the end of the season. If one of the other starters is struggling or injured, he should be the next one up from Rochester. He put together a solid spring and this could help him focus in on the 2015 campaign. Alex Meyer needs to work out some control issues and Miguel Sano is coming off a major surgery so May is my guy unless the other's surprise me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

2015 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.

2015 Preview Series
1. Cleveland Indians: Projected Record 88-74

The Positive: Cleveland has one of the best young rotations in the game and a veteran line-up that should provided just enough offense to win the Central. Michael Brantley could be in the MVP discussion at the end of the year. Brandon Moss was added in the off-season to add a little more pop to the line-up. The division is going to be tight but Cleveland will come out on top and find itself with its first division crown since 2007. 

The Negative:  The Indians have some injury concerns with some of their veteran players. Nick Swisher missed time last season and he won't start the season with the club. Michael Bourn seems to miss time every year. Jason Kipnis signed a big deal and hasn't really lived up to that money as of yet. If all these players can stay healthy and on the field, Cleveland will be a force.

2. Detroit Tigers: Projected Record 85-77 (Wild Card)

The Positive: Detroit has won the Central Division for four straight seasons so it's tough to pick against the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will be joined in the middle of the line-up by Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. David Price is in a contract year and he will have a full season in Detroit to prove he is worth Max Scherzer type money. Anibal Sanchez might also be one of the most overlooked starters in the American League. Detroit could easily end up on top of the division again so time will tell.

The Negative: There are still questions about Justin Verlander and his health. With the departure of Scherzer, Detroit is going to need Verlander to start resembling his old self. The bullpen is terrible and Detroit did nothing to address this problem. Joe Nathan is well past his prime so the Tigers are hoping Joakim Soria is healthy and ready for a more prominent role. 

3. Chicago White Sox: Projected Record 79-83

The Positive: Chicago went out and retooled a roster with a flurry of off-season moves. Zach Duke, Adam LaRoche, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera were all brought into the fold and each will provide value to the club. If Chris Sale's foot injury doesn't bother him too far into the season, the top of Chicago's rotation includes a scary trio. Jose Abreu had a monster rookie season and he will look to repeat that campaign in his sophomore season. Chicago could sneak up on the other team's in the division and walk away with the crown but middle of the pack seems more likely.

The Negative: The last couple spots in the White Sox rotation are a little weak and the bullpen was one of the worst in the majors last season. They've made a couple of nice additions but a bullpen can't just rely on Robertson and Duke. Second base is a big question mark and it's hard to know what the team will get from the back-end of their line-up. 

4. Kansas City Royals: Projected Record 78-84

The Positive: Flags fly forever and the Royals are still basking in the glow of the 2014 World Series appearance. Kansas City's bullpen was fun to watch last season and Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland are all back at the disposal of Manager Ned Yost. Yorando Venturna is one of the most exciting young pitchers in the division and he will have to rely on last year's postseason experience to anchor the Royals rotation. There are some good pieces in the line-up and each of them now has the experience of last year to drive them.

The Negative: Spending money on Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, and Edinson Volquez doesn't seem like the wisest investment. James Shields is no longer there to anchor the rotation. Last year's strength was the bullpen and now there are more question marks in the rotation. Also Yost rode those players into the ground last season so the team will have to rely on some other arms to get them through the 2015 season. 

5. Minnesota Twins: Projected Record 75-88

The Positive: It seems likely that the Twins could avoid losing 90 games for the fifth consecutive season but it could be close. The rotation should be improved with the addition of Ervin Santana to go along with returning starters Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson. Brian Dozier is coming off a strong season and it seems likely for Joe Mauer to get back to his former self. Minnesota will be a strong baserunning team again with Dozier, Danny Santana, and Jordan Schafer leading the way. Minnesota should see some of their top prospects debut this season and that gives hope for the future.

The Negative: The Twins gave up a top-50 draft pick to sign Santana and it seems like there were other arms in camp that could have filled his spot in the rotation especially since the Twins are expected to contend for a few seasons. Minnesota's outfield defense was bad last season and adding Torii Hunter doesn't exactly help the situation as he continues to age. Minnesota's not winning this year but the rest of the division has flaws as well.