Kevin Lewis: Seth, thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions about the Twins 2008 season and the future.
Seth Stohs: Always happy to talk about the Minnesota Twins. Thank you for asking me!
KL: Before we get into the future of this ball club, whether it be the off-season or prospect, I would like your take on the 2008 season. So many Twins fans thought this was going to be a down year with the losses of Johan Santana and Torii Hunter. But did they ever surprise us, well at least they surprised me. But I have to ask these two questions. Who was the biggest surprise of the season? Who was the biggest disappointment of the season?
SS: The biggest surprise, for me, was the whole team. I expected them to win about 75 games this year. But if I had to pick a player, I would have to pick Denard Span. Like many bloggers, I have been tough on Span, not seeing any power, poor base stealing percentages, not “enough” walks, etc. But when he came up, he ignited the team. And once he moved into the lead-off position, he really was excellent. The biggest disappointment was the Pat Neshek injury (not Neshek but the injury). As much as they maybe missed Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, losing Pat Neshek really hurt the team. It meant too much work for Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain, who should have been more limited due to just coming back. It would be easy to just say Matt Guerrier, but he was very good until he got used too much.
KL: Now moving onto the off-season. I think this off-season we really need to nail down the left side of our infield, but that is just my personal opinion. But, do you feel there are any major holes on the team that they need to address either through free agency or via trades? Or do we have some sleeper in Rochester that is just waiting to blossom at the major league level?
SS: People may want to say Luke Hughes is a sleeper, but Twins fans paying attention talked about him a lot last year. I also just don’t think he’s ready to make a major contribution yet (but he could). If I had to pick a sleeper, maybe Trevor Plouffe or Steve Tolleson to get a shot in spring training.
So, I think that the Twins need to address the left side of the infield through trade or free agency. I personally would keep Alexi Casilla at 2B. With that though, I would only want a 3B with a one year deal (either Free agent, or in a trade). I am a huge believer in Danny Valencia and that he should be the 3B of the future as early as 2010. I think he’s close. That really narrows it to a trade for Adrian Beltre. Garrett Atkins isn’t much outside of Coors and Kevin Kouzmanoff has too much time left before free agency. Hank Blalock is mentioned, but 1.) he’s left-handed, 2.) he’s always hurt, and 3.) he’s really not all that good.
KL: I think one of the biggest questions I have for the ball club heading into the 2009 season is what are we going to do about our outfield situation. Now that Michael Cuddyer is healthy again, we will have five outfielders who are capable of playing everyday. I would imagine Carlos Gomez has centerfield nailed down. But then that leaves the corners up for grabs. In left field, we have Jason Kubel and Delmon Young. Then in right field, we have Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span. If you were Ron Gardenhire, what would your approach be for the outfield situation?
SS: First, if I’m Bill Smith, I would keep them all just in case of injury or regression. For Gardy, I do think that he will have to find a way to keep them all active and fresh and put them into situations that they can succeed. Ideally, you work out a situation with the following playing time breakdown. All five will/can play eight out of ten games.
LF – Delmon Young – 7 times per 10 games
CF – Carlos Gomez – 8 times per 10 games
RF – Michael Cuddyer – 7 times per 10 game
DH – Jason Kubel – 8 times per 10 games
That leaves Denard Span. I think he is the outfielder most capable of playing all three outfield positions well. I would have him play 3 out of 10 games in LF, 2 out of 10 games in CF and 3 games out of 10 in RF. That makes him the team’s lead-off hitter at least eight out of ten games. I think that Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer can DH at least once every 10 games. Obviously Jason Kubel can play the corners once in awhile or in case of injury.
I would run with that through about 90-100 games. They will work out the playing time down the final month or two and hopefully all will remain healthy and fresh.
KL: As I mentioned earlier about the sleepers in Rochester. Do you feel anyone in Rochester could step in right away next year. Whether that is a pitcher or an offensive player. I have been paying attention to Rochester this year and I have a few guys that I want your opinion on whether they could make an impact. Luke Hughes is the first guy that comes to my mind. He came out of no where this year and played very well at Double-A with New Britain and was then promoted to Triple-A Rochester in August. Another guy I have my eye on is pitcher, Brian Duensing. Although he is a starting pitcher, could he possibly work out of the bullpen as maybe a middle relief guy or even long relief (ala Boof Bonser). What are your thoughts on those two guys in Hughes and Duensing?
SS: In terms of pitching, I think that if needed, Brian Duensing, Kevin Mulvey and Anthony Swarzak could all come up and give the team a chance to win. All of them still have things to work on, but enough talent and stuff to succeed. I think that Luke Hughes is likely the only player at Rochester who could come up and immediately have some impact. He could platoon at 3B, maybe DH some, and fill in at 2B. He has some pop, but he needs to work a lot at AAA on putting the ball in play and not making so many errors on defense. Jason Pridie would be the team’s “6th outfielder” in my above scenario. Another half-season, and I think that Trevor Plouffe will be ready. Dustin Martin, Erik Lis and especially Danny Valencia are guys who could start in Rochester or New Britain and contribute in the right situation .
KL: I want to move onto some prospects that I saw in your reports on your web page. The three guys that some Twins fans might want to know more about are the following:
A) Steven Tolleson is the first guy I would like your opinion about. This year at Double-A New Britain, he hit .300 with 9 homeruns and drove in 50 runs. In my opinion, he seems like the guy who could be the starting 2B in 2010 when we move into Target Field. You may ask, "what about Alexi Casilla". Well I imagine by 2010 Punto will be gone. So then we could possibly shift Casilla over to SS and then put Tolleson at 2B. Or maybe, they could try him at 3B, since that seems to be a position we can never figure out.
B) The next guy I would like to talk about is SP Anthony Swarzak. He started the year in Double-A New Britain and went 3-8 with a 5.67 ERA. His BB/K ratio was ok. He walked 37 and struck out 76. Then he was promoted to Triple-A Rochester and went 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA. He walked 14 and struck out 26. Hopefully they will keep him at Triple-A next year and then maybe he could be a September call-up or if someone gets hurt (knock on wood), he could fill in. But he looks like he could be a #3 or #4 guy in the Twins rotation. What are your thoughts on him?
SS: Steve Tolleson was a guy that really jumped up in my rankings this year. He actually had a very solid season in 2007 in Ft. Myers, but what he did in 2010 tells me that he should be in the Twins plans. In reality though, I look at him as another utility type, although I would have zero concern if he needed to take over starting for a couple of weeks. In my mind, I would rank him about where I would have ranked Matt Tolbert. Good speed. Good glove. Nothing spectacular, but he could be defined as a ball player.
Swarzak is a very interesting case. I ranked him very highly following the 2007 season despite his slow start and that 50 game suspension. He dominated the Eastern League the last two-plus months of the season. The assumption was that he would move up to Rochester to start the 2008 season, but instead he went to New Britain again, and he was horrible. The numbers tell it all. He got lit up, he walked too many. He didn’t strike out many. The concern was a lack of a third pitch. For some crazy reason, he was promoted to Rochester and made seven starts late in the season, and he was remarkable. I was told that he was throwing FOUR big league pitches. So, that’s why he is ranked highly again. I am concerned though about a guy who wasn’t able to bring his good stuff back to AA with him this year and stepped it up when he got promoted. Sounds like an attitude type of thing. Or, maybe it was something else. He’s worth watching. His ceiling would probably be a #2 starter, but mid-to-back of the rotation is more likely. If he doesn’t have a good third pitch, could be a bullpen guy.
KL: Lastly, I would like your opinion on the 2009 Twins outlook. I know it's not even the off-season yet, but it's never too early to think about 2009. If we can get a decent third basemen and maybe even bolster our bullpen, where do you see the Twins? I can see us finishing 2nd or even making another run for the A.L. Central crown.
SS: My concern is that the Twins will rest this off-season after a tumultuous off-season last year. If they do that, they will be in trouble. They won’t hit over .300 with Runners in Scoring position again. That was an all-time record, so that’s not really repeatable. Some guys will regress. Some guys will continue to improve. They will have to make a few moves, and they have a lot of pieces to deal and plenty of cap room. I personally don’t want to see more than one more-major deal as I don’t think that the Twins need to break up the current core too much. My point is just that they will need to improve to continue to compete for the division title. I have to believe that Cleveland will bounce back in 2009. I think Chicago will get worse. I actually don’t think Detroit will be a lot better. But Kansas City has a solid manager and they will play well.
KL: Well, I want to thank you Seth for taking a few moments to answer some questions that Twins fans want to know.
SS: Good luck with Twin Nation! I look forward to checking it out all off-season. Thanks for giving me this opportunity. Again, it’s always fun to talk about the Twins, especially when the snow will be outside soon!