Sunday, March 29, 2009

R.A. Dickey vs. Philip Humber


With the Twins Season Opener at the Metrodome just two weeks away, the roster is starting to take shape. Yet, there are still some position battles still raging on that will be very interesting to watch over the last two weeks of Spring Training. The Twins have had a pretty good Spring and hope to finish on a high note heading into the Regular Season. I believe the most intriguing competition going on is for a spot in the bullpen.

Philip Humber vs. R.A. Dickey

This is possibly the most interesting position battle that is still going on. If you would have asked me at the start of Spring Training whether either of these two would be fighting for a spot, I would have called you crazy. With the loss of Boof Bonser for the 2009 season, the Twins have been trying to figure out who could take his spot. With the starting rotation already set, these two will be battling for the long-relief position and/or the mop-up situation.

R.A. Dickey has had a very solid Spring, although the numbers may not show that. In 8 appearances he is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA. The stat that surprises me the most is his strikeout and walk total. He has 11 strikeouts and has only walked two batters. Once I think about it, I shouldn’t be that surprised as the Twins pitching staff is known for issuing very few walks throughout the season. And did I forget to mention Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher? That has something to do with the strikeout total as well. Dickey also has the veteran experience advantage over Philip Humber, so Dickey has been in many more situations and knows how to do deal with them.

Philip Humber is an interesting case when it comes to possibly winning the battle for a spot on the 25 man roster. He was acquired in the Johan Santana deal along with Carlos Gomez and Kevin Mulvey. So far, the Twins have really only been able to show off Gomez. I have a feeling we will be seeing more of Humber this season. Not only because we have two open spots and we need them filled, but also because he is out of minor league options. So, I would say he already has the advantage over R.A. Dickey for a spot. If the Twins don’t pick Humber, then he would be designated for assignment, which he can refuse. Then this leaves the Twins with two choices; place him on the active roster or release him. But after the Spring he is having, I don’t see why he shouldn’t win the spot. After giving up four runs in his first appearance, he has gone seven innings giving up only one earned run and just five hits. So he has definitely proven himself thus far and hopefully he can keep this up and earn a spot.

So, after watching and following this battle throughout the Spring, I would have to give the edge to Philip Humber. With two weeks left though, either of them could take a bad turn that would allow the other to win the spot, so this will be very interesting to watch down the stretch. One other scenario is that Humber could be waiting in the wing as an injury replacement if one of the starters goes down with injury. Hopefully that isn’t necessary though.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Player Profile: Carlos Gomez

With Johan Santana on the cusp of becoming a free agent and the Twins getting just a draft pick in return, the Twins had to make a move to insure they would get some quality players. Sure enough the Twins were able to pull off a trade after weeks of discussion. They acquired Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra, and Carlos Gomez. Carlos was the center piece of this deal and he has shown flashes of why he was that part.

Entering the 2008 season, Carlos was only 22 years of age, so that caused some scouts and analysts to question whether he was ready for the big leagues or if he should start in Rochester, the Twins Triple-A affiliate. There was only one problem if he had started in the minors. The Twins would have had nothing to show for right away through the Johan trade. So Carlos started in centerfield for the Twins on Opening Day.

However, his starting job was no gimmie. He had to fight of Denard Span to win the centerfield job. They battled all Spring Training as manager Ron Gardenhire watched and evaluated. It seemed that when one person would start pulling away, the other would get right back into the race. I believe the deciding factor was Carlos’ defensive skills. He has an unbelievable arm and is never afraid to lay out for a ball when it’s coming at him.

If it wasn’t for the defense of Carlos, I believe he would have started in 2008 and spent a good amount of time in the minors to work on his hitting. But Ron is a defensive minded manager and felt that Gomez was the best option for centerfield. Gomez committed just eight errors during the 2008 season in center. He is possibly the most exciting defensive player the Twins have had since Kirby Puckett. Yes, I would put him above Torii Hunter. It is just amazing to watch a Twins game and you think the ball is going to drop and all of the sudden you see Carlos enter the frame and make a game saving catch. If it wasn’t for Carlos last year, the Twins might have ended up with a few more losses.

Another asset of Carlos Gomez’s game that scouts cherish is his speed on the base paths. It has been said many times that Carlos Gomez is the fastest runner in the major leagues. He has said to be even faster than Mets shortstop, Jose Reyes. A good friend of mine, Joe DeMayo, who contributes to New York Baseball Digest, a New York baseball blog site, shared this opinion with me. “He reminds me of Jose Reyes in many ways. He is very raw at the plate, yet he has the blazing speed and fielding ability that Reyes had when he was coming up through the Mets system. He had struggles trying to hit the breaking ball, which Carlos has struggles with now, but in the long run, he was able to figure it out.”

Toss in the field turf, although for only one more season, and Gomez is flat out speedy. By having the amazing speed he does, the opposing pitcher not only has to worry about the batter, but has to worry about Gomez when he is on base. He completely changes the game for the Twins and the opposition. The Twins haven’t really had that kind of threat on the bases for years, so it nice to see we have someone who can get inside the pitchers head.

The one part of Gomez’s game that he still has to polish is his patience at the plate. Last year he struck out 142 times and only drew 25 walks. If he wants to continue to be the highly touted player that he is, he will need to improve those numbers. You do have to remember though that he is only going to be 23 years old when Opening Day rolls around, so he has a long ways to go. So far this Spring he has shown that he is getting better. He is hitting .318 with three homeruns and four runs batted in. He has struck out four times and walked twice. So it is certainly there, it’s just a matter of how disciplined he will be when Opening Day gets here.

So overall, Carlos Gomez is one of the most exciting players in baseball to watch today. He shows that attitude in the game that everyone loves to see. He will go all out on every play and never give up. Whether it’s laying down a bunt to start off an inning, or diving to prevent a potential game winning run. I look forward to watching him evolve into the next great Twins centerfield as he has some big shoes to fill with Kirby Puckett and then Torii Hunter after him.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spring Training Update; Twins Sign Baker

The Twins continue to play good baseball thus far in Spring Training. The starting pitching has been very solid and the bullpen has performed surprisingly well so far. Only one of the Twins’ losses has been by more than one run, which was a 10-1 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates. So that goes to show that the Twins are able to stay close in games. This is nothing new for Twins fans though, as you can never count them out.

Francisco Liriano pitched possibly the best game of any Twins starting pitcher so far in Spring Training. He pitched four innings, while giving up no hits or walks and struck out five batters. This is a very good sign as Liriano is in that 1½ year range of pitchers who had Tommy John Surgery. It typically takes about a year and a half to get the velocity back to pre-surgery form. So I can only imagine that Francisco will be the pitcher he was in 2006, when he won 12 games and was lights out.

Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez are both playing very well this Spring and are letting Ron Gardenhire know that they want their respective outfield starting position. Young is hitting .538 with two doubles and two runs batted in. Carlos, who participated in the Winter Leagues, is hitting .313 with two homeruns and three runs batted in. This is a very good sign from Carlos, as last year he was struggling with his patience at the plate. If he can continue this, he will be even more fun to watch this year.

Where there is good news, there is also always not so good news. Denard Span, one of the three players fighting for an outfield spot, has not been the same player he was last year. He is hitting a miserable .111 with no extra base hits. Although it is still early, this will not help his cause to try and claim a starting lineup position.

Not only is good stuff happening on the field, but off the field as well. This past weekend, the Minnesota Twins and pitcher Scott Baker agreed on a 4 year deal worth 15.25 million dollars. The new contract also carries an option for the 2013 season. This is a huge step forward for the Twins as Baker would have likely been a 10 million dollar pitcher after a couple seasons of arbitration. Bill Smith has really been a nice breath of fresh air for the Twins.

I have also heard that the Twins plan to sit down with Joe Mauer and his agent, Ron Shapiro within the next week to begin preliminary talks about a new contract. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, this has to get done before next season starts, otherwise it could be the Johan Santana fiasco all over again. I will keep you updated on this information and more as it becomes available.

The Twins will be traveling to play the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon with Kevin Slowey taking the mound going against Scott Kazmir.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Joe Mauer a Twin After 2010?

Joe Mauer a Twin past 2010? This is the main question all Twins fans will be asking themselves and others in the coming months and years. Joe Mauer will be entering his contract year starting in 2010, which causes a little concern for Twins fans. We all remember what happened to Johan Santana when his contract was close to running out. Although, the odds of us giving Johan a deal that would have kept him here were slim, the Twins sure learned their lesson. Don’t wait until the last few months.

Joe will be entering the last year of his 33 million, 4 year contract come Opening Day 2010. The Twins will certainly need to start extension talks with Joe and his agent, Ron Shapiro, this Spring. The Twins do not typically discuss contracts during the season, as it may cause distractions, so hopefully Bill Smith will make initial contact with Joe and Ron this Spring. Joe has been one of the faces of this franchise since his debut in 2004. He has been a fan favorite and a bright spot in the Major Leagues.

He is such an important asset to this team, that if the Twins fail to re-sign him, it will be a huge loss and could hurt this franchise beyond belief. I personally think no catcher has played better than Joe over the last 3 years. We all know Joe isn’t the power hitting type, but his high batting average has allowed him to win two A.L. batting titles. Up until that point, no catcher had ever won a batting title in the American League. Now he has managed to accomplish that twice over the last three years. He also has one of the best swings in the majors.

An interesting note about Joe’s approach at the plate and his preparation is that his grandfather will watch every game and report to Joe what he did wrong. His grandfather will record every game and analyze every swing Joe takes and then call him after the game tell him what he saw wrong and then Joe will work on that specific issue. That is the type of dedication that every manager loves to see from his players.

By re-signing Joe, it not only helps him and the Twins obviously, but it helps Justin Morneau and the players who hit after him. By having Justin hitting behind Joe, it doesn’t allow the pitcher to intentionally walk Joe, because then they have to pitch to Justin. So he is a very valuable asset to this club.

I believe a deal will get done by the end of the 2009 regular season. Bill Smith can’t allow this to be the Johan fiasco all over again by letting this drag out until the Spring of his final contract year. Ron Shapiro has a good reputation of keeping players with one team for their entire career. The most notable would have to be Kirby Puckett, the hall of fame Twins center fielder. I found it very interesting that Joe has the same agent that Kirby had when he was with the Twins. Ron was able to keep Kirby in Minnesota his entire career, so this is a very good thing to see. I truly hope the same can happen to Joe come time to discuss his contract.

The biggest issue will obviously be the money involved in the contract talks. With the Yankees and Red Sox likely waiting in the wings if the Twins can’t sign Mauer, there is a lot of pressure for Bill. I think the big question for Bill is, “How high do you go with the dollar amount?” Do you go above 18-20 million per year? Going that high for the Twins would be a first. But with the new stadium opening next season, the Twins will be bringing in more revenue, thus they can give players more money. But as well all know, the Twins are not quick to give out the big bucks. The other question is one Joe will have to answer himself, “Do I want to continue to play in Minnesota? If so, do I give them a hometown discount?”

Being a hometown kid, growing up in St. Paul, it would be very hard for Joe to leave Minnesota. This is truly why I think Joe will remain a Twin past the 2010 season. But anything can happen, especially when the Yankees and Red Sox will be ready to pounce when the 2010 free agency season begins. Until then, lets just cherish the moments we possibly have left with Joe Mauer and the great athlete he is and always will be.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Spring Training Update; Nathan News

Before I get onto my thoughts about Spring Training so far, I would like to share a key piece of news I read this morning. Early this morning, Joe Nathan informed the Twins that his AC joint in his shoulder has been sore and he has withdrawn from the World Baseball Classic. This is a very smart move by Joe. Some players may ignore that and continue to play in the WBC as planned. So I applaud Joe for taking himself out and resting his shoulder/arm.

The Twins are off to a fast start in Spring Training. They now have a record of 4-0 after defeating the New York Yankees yesterday by a score of 7-3. The Twins have been doing everything right so far this Spring. Their hitting has been outstanding; their pitching has been very good. I have been very happy with what I have read and seen thus far. But I have learned from the past, it’s way too early to get excited about the Spring. Anything can happen over the next several weeks.

Francisco Liriano made his Spring debut yesterday and struggled early. He would eventually give up two earned runs off four hits. He pitched two innings, before being relieved by Jason Jones, the Twins Rule V pick. I didn’t expect Francisco to be lights out his first day starting, so I’m not worried about it at all.

The bullpen has been the biggest surprise to be this Spring so far, but like I said, we are only four games into the pre-season. The only bad outing by a Twins relief pitcher has been Philip Humber. Humber gave up four runs on four hits and hit a batter last Thursday against Cincinnati. The Twins did win that game however 10-4. Humber will be interesting to watch this Spring to see if he can rebound and consistently pitch well. Otherwise, he could be gone, as he is out of options.

The Twins hitting has been very impressive in the short amount of time. They have been able to get the runs when they need them and more. Delmon Young has been a surprise this Spring, as he is fighting for an outfield spot. In 3 games he is hitting .857 with one double and two RBI. If he can continue to play like this, he will have the inside track of making the starting lineup come Opening Day.

Another guy who is catching my eye is Brian Buscher. As we all know about the off-season debate of who the Twins third baseman will be. Toss the Joe Crede signing in that mess and Buscher was all of the sudden on the outside looking in to make the Opening Day roster. Well, the Twins may have to re-think their plans as he is off to a fast start. In 3 games, he is hitting .750 with one homerun, four RBI and 11 total bases. The only issue working against him is that the Twins are in need of more right handed power and not left handed power.