Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Will The Bullpen Look Like?

    With the starting rotation pretty much set as the Twins look towards Spring Training, their biggest question has to be, “Who will be in our bullpen?”. The bullpen will have a different look in 2011 as the Twins let 4 key pitchers test the free agent market. Jesse Crain, along with Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes, was probably the biggest name to decline arbitration and test the free agent market. So far, it has been kind to them. Crain signed a 13 million dollar, three year deal with the Chicago White Sox and Guerrier signed a 12 million dollar, three year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    If you ask me, I would have given Crain 13 million over three years without hesitation. He was one of the hottest relief pitchers during the second half of the season as he had a 2.14 ERA with 15 walks and 33 strike outs in 33 2/3 innings pitched. The White Sox got a heck of a pitcher in Crain and I will continue to be a fan of Jesse, even though he will be playing for our biggest rival.

    With those four guys gone, the Twins will almost have an open audition for the bullpen this Spring in Ft. Myers. Looking at a list of potential bullpen arms, I have Joe Nathan, Pat Neshek, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares as locks to be in the bullpen. This leaves three more open spots to complete the pitching staff. The three players that I think will get the last three spots in the Twins bullpen are Alex Burnett, Glen Perkins and Anthony Slama.

    RHP Alex Burnett is at the top of my list of possible candidates to earn a spot in the bullpen. He made his Major League debut at the beginning of the 2010 season and had an okay season. He went 2-2 with a 5.29 ERA with 33 walks and 37 strike outs in 47.2 IP. That 5.29 ERA may worry some people, but he had a 3.60 ERA at the All-Star break. So he definitely showed signs of being a good relief pitcher. He would likely be the long relief pitcher when needed.

    Another interesting candidate is Glen Perkins, a left hander who has been with the Twins since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2004 draft. He was originally drafted with the thought of being a starting pitcher. In 2008 he went 12-4 with a 4.41 ERA, but then was shifted to the bullpen and he hasn’t been the same since. He was a call-up during the summer last season, but that didn’t go too well. He had a very rough August giving up ten earned runs in ten innings. He was able to rebound in September by allowing four earned runs in 11 innings and earning his only win of the 2010 season. I expect Perkins to get a spot in the bullpen, possibly as a long-relief/emergency starter roll.

    Unless the Twins sign a veteran bullpen arm, I believe Anthony Slama will be the last pitcher to round out the bullpen. Slama made his MLB debut in the middle of July last season. It didn’t last very long as he only pitched 4.1 innings before being sent back to Triple-A Rochester. Triple-A is where he has succeeded greatly the last two seasons. He has notched 21 of his 85 career minor league saves at the Triple-A level. After watching his brief stint at the major league level, some people may wonder if he is ready. You have to also ask, “Did he have enough time to prove himself?”. The answer to that is no. He only appeared in five games. He didn’t really get the chance to try and turn himself around. So hopefully having a very small bite of major league experience, he can go into Spring Training with the knowledge of what it will take. He is most suited for the 6th or 7th inning role.

    Despite the competition for the three remaining spots, the biggest question to me is, “How will Joe Nathan bounce back from Tommy John surgery?”. He is on schedule to  be ready for the 2011 season, but will likely start in the set-up role. I fully expect Matt Capps to be the Opening Day closer for the Twins. But anything can happen between now and Opening Day, so it will be very interesting to see how the bullpen turns out come April 1st in Toronto.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Meet Josiah Viera

I know this is supposed to be a blog about the Minnesota Twins and their season, but I wanted to share a quick story about a boy, Josiah Viera. I was just watching Outside The Lines on ESPN and they were sharing stories of kids with illnesses, disabilities, etc. Josiah Viera has genetic disease called Progeria.

Progeria is a condition where the symptoms resemble a rapidly aging body at a young age. It is so rare, that is occurs in only one-in-four million kids around the world. Josiah is one of those kids. However, this hasn’t stopped Josiah from living his life the way he wants to. Despite having to go to the hospital every day, he displays his love for baseball proudly.

He plays baseball whenever he can and he even bugs his sister and mother to play with him until they give in and go out and throw the baseball with him. But his one dream is to play baseball on a recreational team. Well that dream came true last year. He was able to play in the Tri-Valley Baseball League. He hit the ball in every at-bat and even had people from out of town come and watch him as word got out about him.

Since then, he has lived the celebrity life. He has gotten to meet a lot of athletes, but none was as special as his day with his favorite baseball player, Ryan Howard.

This may not mean a lot to some people, but the fact that he is able to continue to live his life and continue to play the game he loves, it just makes you stop and think about how fortunate we are all and that this could have be any of us.

Also, the fact that a multi-millionaire athlete like Ryan Howard will take the time and spend the day with Josiah is just so amazing.

Anyways, I just wanted to share the story of Josiah as we reach the holiday season and just how the simple game of baseball can touch and change a kids life.

To see more on Josiah, you can visit this link,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Twins Sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka; Trade Morales

Tsuyoshi Nishioka arrives at Japanese airport preparing to leave for Twin Cities

There are have been a few reports that the Minnesota Twins and Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka have come to an agreement on a three year deal worth $9-$10 million dollars, also including a fourth year option. If the contract is actually in the 9-10 million range, then the Twins very well. Reports are also saying that Nishioka will start at second base, but could eventually move to his natural shortstop position.

In other Twins related news, the Twins have traded catcher Jose Morales to the Colorado Rockies for minor league pitcher, Paul Bargas. With Morales being traded, due to being out of minor league option years, the Twins will continue to have Drew Butera serve as Joe Mauer's backup.

Bargas was drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 Amateur Draft. Last year at the Single-A level, he went 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA and collected five saves while striking out 65 and walking just 19 batters in 58 appearances. He is still a few years away from making any sort of impact for the Twins.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Off-Season Thoughts

With the MLB off-season in full swing and some major signings that have already taken place, the Minnesota Twins are sitting still for the moment. After extending Joe Mauer’s contract last off-season and bringing in Jim Thome, just to name a few of the moves from 2009, you may be thinking, “wow, now the Twins are actually going to sign some well-known free agents due to all the money they will make from Target Field”. Well, thus far, the Twins haven’t done a whole lot, but that is just how the Twins work as an organization.

The Twins have been known to wait until later in the off-season schedule to begin their activity, as they rarely attempt to sign the big name players at the start. On the other hand, over the last few years, the Twins have really showed the rest of the MLB that they will be players in the International Free Agent market for years to come. After signing SS Miguel Sano last year, they went out this year and bid on and won the rights to Japanese middle infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Nishioka led the Nippon Professional Baseball League with a .346 batting average and racked up 206 hits during the 2010 season. He is a switching hitter, one of very few switch hitters in Japanese professional baseball, which will help the Twin lineup as he will be in the lineup much more often then. Despite his strong 2010 season and being just 26 years old, there are questions about how he will adapt to Major League Baseball in the US.

With the imminent signing of Nishioka, the Twins had a decision to make. Do they move Nishioka to second base or keep him at his natural position at short stop? Well if they want to keep him at short, then they will have to make a decision on J.J. Hardy. It didn’t take the Twins long to make their decision, as they traded J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. If this was the best that the Twins were able to get, then maybe there is something wrong with Hardy or that he needs to prove that he can stay healthy before other teams were to go after him.

With the departures of Hardy and Harris, the Twins infield depth is very limited. As it looks, the Twins will start Alexi Casilla at second and Nishioka at short stop. This raises the question of “Who do we have to come off the bench?”. As of right now, the Twins would likely use Trevor Plouffe and/or Matt Tolbert. The Twins appear to be looking for infield depth over the next few weeks and heading towards Spring Training. So look for them to sign a less expensive option for the backup role.

The main area the Twins need to address before pitchers and catchers report is the bullpen. With the loses of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch, there are some major holes in the Twins bullpen. Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain have signed with other teams within the last 36 hours, so you can forget about a potential return to the Twins. Right now, the bullpen consists of Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Pat Neshek, Alex Burnett, Jose Mijares, and Glen Perkins. They have a few options at the Triple-A level in Anthony Slama, Rob Delany, Kyle Waldrop and Jeff Manship.

Some free agent names that come to mind are Juan Cruz, Kevin Gregg, Chad Qualls, J.C. Romero. Now, would any of those names be affordable enough? Only one way to find out, but it is important that the Twins get their bullpen figured out, otherwise it could be a long season and long games come the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.

So, despite the Twins looking for bullpen help and infield help, I have full confidence that the Twins will get everything figured and will make a run at another American League Central crown despite what the White Sox and Tigers have done thus far this off-season; White Sox adding Adam Dunn and the Tigers adding Vic Martinez. It may be too soon to predict how the division race will end up, but this has the looks of another last day battle for the Central title.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kyle Gibson Interview

Kyle Gibson was the Minnesota Twins 1st round selection in the 2009 MLB First-Year Amateur Draft. He has quickly risen through the Twins organization and is now starting for the Rochester Red Wings, the Twins Triple-A affiliate.

I recently got the opportunity to ask Kyle a few questions about his career thus far and I look forward to following him as he continues his journey to the Major League Level.

Kevin Lewis: You were originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, but decided to enroll at the University of Missouri. What was the thought process behind your decision then?

Kyle Gibson: I did not think I was ready for the everyday grind of 120 or 140 games. So i decided to go to college and bulk up and become a better pitcher.

KL: After a solid three year college career at Missouri, you were ranked as one of the top pitchers heading into the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. The Minnesota Twins then selected you with the 22nd overall pick. What was your reaction when the Twins selected you?

KG: I was just excited I had been picked! For a while there iI was slipping further and further down and I was just excited that someone gave me a chance to prove that the injury was only a temporary thing.

KL: It has now been one year since you were signed to a contract and became a Minnesota Twin. What has the professional baseball life been like?

KG: Its been a long year that has seemed as if it has passed by quickly. I have had a lot of fun and it has been a learning experience.

KL: It was known all along that you would likely rise through the minor leagues at a fairly fast pace. Going from Single-A to Double-A and now Triple-A all within one year, how has that quick adjustment from league to league been?

KG: It has been a quick adjustment for me and sometimes I have adjusted well and other times it has taken me a little longer to make the correct adjustment, but overall I feel as if i have had a decent year.

KL: As you became the baseball player that you are today, was there a player that you idolized?

KG: As a young player when I still played a position, I liked Omar Vizquel and Barry Larkin, but as a pitcher i liked watching Justin Verlander and Mark Prior.

KL: Have you had a chance to take a breathe and just take it all in that you are becoming a major league baseball player?

KG: Not yet. I still wake up some days and head to the park and it is pretty realistic at that point that I have become a professional baseball player. Obviously the Major League dream has not come true yet, so I still have a lot of work to do.

KL: Heading into the home stretch of the 2010 season is there anything you still hope to work on and improve?

KG: I still need to work on throwing more first pitch strikes and getting ahead of batters, as well as putting them away when I have the chance.

KL: With you being at Triple-A Rochester now, it appears to be only a matter of time before there is the chance for you to be called up the majors. What would it mean to be called up to the majors and to be a part of such a great organization?

KG: It would be a dream come true. I have worked very hard to get to the spot where I am now and I still have a lot of work to do in order to get to the big leagues. But it would be a huge dream come true.

With Kyle rising to through the minor league system as quick as he is, look for Kyle to be a mid-season call up in 2011.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Can The Twins Keep The Momentum Going?

The Twins are playing their best baseball during the most crucial time of the season. Heading into the All-Star Break, the Twins had a record of 46-42 and were trailing the Chicago White Sox by 3.5 games. Those three days for the All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Twins. They have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break with a record of 21-8 and now have a two game lead over the Chicago White Sox.

This has turned into another two team race for the American League Central title, as the Detroit Tigers have fallen out of contention. Usually you can never count a team out in the AL Central, but being 10.5 games back, the Tigers have a lot of ground to make up and their pitching hasn’t been consistent enough.

The Twins on the other hand have the 3rd best team ERA since the all-star break, with an ERA of 3.37. There was concern that the Twins pitching wouldn’t be consistent enough to carry them into the playoffs, but they have shown that they are more than capable of being a top team and possibly make a run in the playoffs.

One player that really stands out to me is Brian Duensing, who was recently added to the rotation when Nick Blackburn was sent down to Triple-A Rochester to work on his overall game. Since joining the rotation, Brian has gone 3-0 with an ERA of 2.44, seven walks and fifteen strike outs. His latest outing was a pitching gem against the Oakland Athletics last night. He would throw his first career complete game, which ended up being a shutout. Look for Brian to remain in the starting rotation for the remainder of the season and possibly start the 2011 season in the rotation.

Looking at the remainder of the 2010 season for both the Twins and White Sox, the Twins appear to have the easier road to the playoffs. The White Sox still have to the play the Yankees at home, then have seven more games against the Red Sox. Whereas the Twins are Twins are done playing AL East teams during the regular season. This is a huge advantage for the Twins as the AL East is easily the toughest division in the American League.

However, there is still a lot of baseball to be played and the momentum could turn very quickly. The White Sox will return to Target Field for the last time this season next week for a huge series. This should be a very fun, exciting race for the AL crown, so buckle in for a wild ride.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is This the Return of the 2006 Francisco Liriano?

When the Twins traded catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Boof Bonser and LHP Francisco Liriano, not many people knew about Francisco. However, he quickly became known as the next big thing in the Twins minor league system. Some people referred to him as the next Johan Santana. A hard throwing, left-handed pitcher with great stuff.

He quickly became the #2 pitcher on the Twins staff, only behind Johan Santana. Although he pitched out of the bullpen primarily in 2005, he truly became a full-time start during the 2006 season. He would go on to have a record of 12-3 with an ERA of 2.16 with 32 walks and 144 strike outs. He would be voted to his first all-star game. The Twins pulled off an achievement that not many teams have ever done. They had the AL Rookie of the Month (Liriano), Pitcher of the Month (Johan Santana), and the Player of the Month (Joe Mauer) all in the same month.

Where there is good news, there is always bad news. After having a phenomenal 2006 season, it all came to an end on September 13, 2006 after re-injuring his left elbow that had caused problems earlier in the month. You could tell something was clearly wrong as his arm just dropped to his side. It was later determined that he would undergo Tommy John surgery and would miss the entire 2007 season.

This was a huge blow to the Twins rotation that would have competed as having the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Johan and Francisco. Unfortunately that was the last time Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano were on the same team, as Johan was traded to the New York Mets. Not only did the Twins lose their future ace in Francisco, but they then traded Johan. The Twins were now without a sure fire ace.

After a year of rehab, Francisco Liriano made his 2008 debut against the Kansas City Royals. He struggled greatly and was send down to Triple-A Rochester to work on becoming the pitcher everyone saw in 2006. It didn’t take him long to prove himself at Rochester. He had stretch where he went 10-0 with a 2.67 ERA. The Twins called Liriano back up and they used him out of the bullpen before moving him back to the rotation, where he went 3-0 with a 1.45 in 18.2 innings.

2009 was an up and down season for Liriano, while composing a record of 5-13 with an ERA of 5.80. This marked the first full season at the major league level since coming off Tommy John surgery. Many people thought this would be the year that he would return to his 2006 form, but after an up and down year, some thought he may never return to that 12-3 form that he showed in 2006.

After the 2009 season, the Minnesota Twins allowed Francisco to return to Dominican Republic to participate in winter ball. He would go on to compose a record of 3-1 with a mind boggling 0.49 ERA in seven playoff starts. During this time, there were reports that he slimmed down some and was showing flashes of 2006 form. This brought a lot of optimism to the Twins’ organization and their fans.

2010 has by far been his best season since his return from surgery. Through August 1st, he has a record of 10-7 with an ERA of 3.18 with 38 walks and 150 strikeouts. He got off to a very hot start by going 3-0 with a league leading 0.96 ERA in the month of April to grab the AL Pitcher of the Month award. The most important aspect of Liriano’s arsenal is the fact that his dominating slider is back in full force. Something that Twins fans hadn’t seen since 2006.

Look for Liriano continue to build off a solid 2010 season and provide leadership for the Twins rotation down the stretch as they try to clinch the AL Central crown. I expect Liriano to become the Twins ace for many years to come.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Danny Valencia Era Begins

After several seasons without an everyday third baseman, the Twins may have found their man in Danny Valencia. Danny Valencia was drafted in 19th round of the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Miami (FL). He originally started the University of North Carolina- Greensboro, but decided to transfer back to his hometown of Miami, Florida and enroll at the U of Miami. The Twins were very surprised to find Danny still available in the 19th round and they quickly selected him. Danny then quickly signed with the Twins and reported to their advanced rookie team, Elizabethton.

He would climb the ladder of the Twins minor league system, where he spent the 2007 season at Beloit and Ft. Myers, where he would hit a combined .297 with 17 home runs and 66 runs batted in between the two leagues. He would start the 2008 season back at Ft. Myers where he would hit .336 with five home runs and 44 runs batted in before being promoted to Double-A New Britain.

He would continue his success at the minors by hitting .289 with ten home runs and 32 runs batted in at New Britain in 2008. After the 2008 season, some people thought he would start at Triple-A Rochester in 2009, but they decided to have him start the year at New Britain. But before he reported to New Britain, the Twins invited him as a non-roster invitee.

Danny continued to work on his offense and defense during the 2009 season at New Britain and Rochester. After the 2009 season, there was talk of Danny starting the 2010 season as the Twins third baseman. However, he would have to have a pretty good Spring Training to have a shot. Despite hitting .292 with two home runs, he was only able to drive in 4 runs. He was one of the last cuts in Spring Training, but he was sent to Rochester to work on his game for a little bit before they called him up.

That day arrived on June 3rd when he was called up to split time with Nick Punto at third base. He would go on to hit .360 in the month of June with four base on balls, nine strike outs. Not only was his bat strong, but his fielding was was even better. He has a very strong arm at third, although he isn’t as crazy as Punto is at third.

Danny had an even better month in July. He hit .508 and got his first major league home run, which happened to be a grand slam against Kansas City. Nick Punto was put on the DL in late July with a hamstring injury, so Danny is getting the full-time position at third. Hopefully he can keep up the good play and that he is up to stay for good.

I am very excited about Danny and look forward to following his big league career. Look for Danny to be around for many years to come and hopefully be a very solid third baseman that the Twins have been looking for.

Monday, August 2, 2010

2010 Season Update

With two months left in the 2010 regular season, the Minnesota Twins are finding themselves in a very comfortable spot in the AL Central. Although every team wishes to be in first place, the Twins find themselves one-half game back of the Chicago White Sox. This year has been a year of firsts and worsts for the Twins as they opened their new, outdoor ballpark, Target Field.

The Twins had to wait 28 years before outdoor baseball returned to the Twin Cities. They weren’t the only ones waiting, as the other 29 teams in the MLB were very excited that they never have to play at the Metrodome ever again. As with the Metrodome, the Twins have a good home record (33-20). They may have lost the noise factor from the Metrodome, but they still have the home field advantage.

Entering the 2010 season, there was a lot of hype about this team around the Twin Cities. With the additions of Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and J.J. Hardy, this was supposed to be one of the best lineups in recent years. Despite the offensive additions, there was angst within the fan base due to the lack of pitching upgrade. They were able to keep the rotation intact, but some felt that to get past the 1st round of the playoffs, they would have to upgrade their pitching.

That didn’t matter though as the Twins start the year by going 15-8 in April. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, referred to as the M&M boys, both had a good month of April. Both hit over .340 during the month, however Morneau really shined by hitting five home runs and driving in 17. The lack off leadoff hitting by Denard Span really hindered Mauer’s opportunity to drive in more runners.

The main question heading into April was, “Who will be the ace of this staff?”. With Scott Baker getting the Opening Day nod, some thought that he would be the ace. Francisco Liriano had a different idea. “How about me?”. Well, he sure as heck performed like the ace of this staff. In 4 April starts, he went 3-0, with an astonishing 0.93 ERA. He would go on to win the American League Pitcher of the Month for the month of April.

May was another good month for the Twins, as they would continue to hold onto first place in the A.L. Central. They entered May with a half game lead over the Detroit Tigers. The Twins offense would continue to produce runs at a steady pace, with Justin Morneau have another solid month by hitting .400 with six home runs and 19 runners driven in.

Twins top catching prospect, Wilson Ramos, would make his MLB debut due to Joe Mauer’s ailing left heel. Despite playing in only seven games, he would hit .296, but only drive in one run. No one expected him to stay up very long, which was the case as he was sent back to Triple-A Rochester once Mauer was healthy enough to resume his catching duties.

Jon Rauch would continue to be a solid fill in for Joe Nathan at the closer role, as he picked up 6 more saves during the month, bringing his season total to 13 saves. However, the real surprise of the pitching staff was Nick Blackburn. Nick was by far the best Twins pitcher in May as he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA in five starts. With the struggles of Francisco Liriano during May, the Twins really needed someone to step up and provide some consistent pitching. So, it was very cool to see Nick take the spot.

The Twins were feeling very good about themselves heading into June with a four and a half game lead over the Tigers and an eight and a half game lead over the White Sox heading into June. However, things would be very different at the end of June. The Twins had the worst month of the season thus far, thanks to very inconsistent pitching.

Delmon Young finally started to emerge as a threat for the Twins. He came into the 2010 season looking very different. Like 20-30 pounds lighter and really worked on his hitting in the off-season. There was question whether or not Delmon would be a good fit in Minnesota and whether he would show flashes of his offensive output like he did during his rookie season, when he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He would go on to hit .320 with three home runs with 24 runs batted in.

The move the Twins made during June that I was a huge fan of was the call up of third base prospect, Danny Valencia. Danny has been groomed to be the next Twins third baseman and possibly the first true third baseman since Corey Koskie. There was some thought that Danny would be the Twins starting third baseman coming out of Spring Training, but the Twins thought he could use more work at the Triple-A level. He would start off by splitting time with Nick Punto at third and then go from there.

The one aspect that really caused the Twins problems during the month of June was the lack of consistent starting pitching. Unless your name is Carl Pavano. Carl would begin what would turn out to be a great streak of pitching for himself. As it turns out, it was a very smart move to re-sign Carl for the 2010 season. He would go 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in five starts for the Twins in June. The rest of the Twins rotation would put up a record of 5-12, so Carl really came through in the clutch and allowed the Twins to finish June with a one game lead over Detroit and a two game lead over a streaking Chicago White Sox team.

The Twins were coming off a not so good June, where their starting pitching struggled and gave up quite a bit of ground in the AL Central. With the dog days of summer arriving, the fight for the AL Central crown was beginning to take shape. It’s going to be another battle to the end. Could we see another Game 163 this year? It may be too early to tell at this point, but sure looks like no one wants to keep control of an AL Central lead.

Delmon Young, aka Delmonster, continued to swing a hot bat and was the leader of the Twins offense during July as he would hit an amazing .434 with six home runs with 30 runs batted in. With the loss of Justin Morneau to a concussion and no idea of when he will return, someone had to really step up and be the offensive threat that Morneau usually is. Well it didn’t take Delmon long to adjust to that role. Despite it being a farfetched thought, Delmon could get a few votes for AL MVP come seasons end.

After a horrendous month of the June, the Twins starting pitching finally got their heads on straight. The starters went a combined 13-4 in the month of July. But that didn’t come with some change. After struggling quite a bit, manager Ron Gardenhire decide to move Nick Blackburn to the bullpen and give Brian Duensing a shot at starting. Carl Pavano continued to be the ace of the Twins staff after a little bit of a slow start. Through the end of July, Carl has a record of 13-6 with an ERA of 3.21 with 22 walks and 83 strikeouts. So without a doubt Carl Pavano is the ace of this staff with two months to go.

As the trade deadline approached, there was talk of the Twins possibly trying to acquire a starting pitcher, but GM Bill Smith had other plans. He traded catcher Wilson Ramos and LHP Joe Testa to the Washington Nationals for reliever Matt Capps. There was immediate confusion about why the Twins would trade one of their top prospects for a relief pitcher. The Twins must have felt that this was the best they could have gotten for Ramos. Capps will become the Twins closer, with Jon Rauch becoming the 8th inning set-up man for Capps.

Entering August, the Twins trail the White Sox by a half game, with Detroit in a free fall and now seven back of the White Sox. Anything can happen in the AL Central though, so this should be a very fun race to watch and we may even get to see a game 163 yet again. Will Justin Morneau be healthy enough to play at all down the stretch? How will the Twins starting pitching perform? These are just a few questions on Twins fans mind for the rest of the season.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Training Surprises

(Kevin Slowey, Ben Revere, Juan Portes)

With Spring Training winding down and the Twins roster starting to take shape for Opening Day, there were some Twins players who opened some eyes and showed a glimpse of the future for the Minnesota Twins. When you think Spring Training 2010, the people that come to mind right away are likely Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan.

With the Mauer contraction situation coming to an end over the last few days, all Twins fans can finally take it easy and let their worrying turn to whether Nathan will be able to be the same pitcher once he returns from Tommy John surgery next year. But that is for another day. The names I want to talk about briefly today are Kevin Slowey, Ben Revere, and Juan Portes.

You may be wondering why Kevin Slowey is part of this small group and the fact that we all know how he did last year before injuring his wrist, which required some screws to be put in. That is the very reason he is part of this group. The fact that he had surgery that required some screws to be put in his wrist. Most people would expect him to take a little bit to get back into the groove of things and that it would be a while before he was the pitcher that we saw go 10-3. So far this spring, Slowey has made 4 starts going 3-0 with an astonishing 0.56 ERA with only three walks and 15 strikeouts. To come off wrist surgery and put those kind of numbers on the table is amazing. Now, yes it is only spring training, but it’s still a very good sign of what is to come from Kevin Slowey in 2010.

If Ben Revere is a sign of things to come for the Twins, then our outfield could be one of the fastest and most fun to watch in a year or two. No one expected Ben to play the way he has this Spring. He has actually had the most at bats of any Twins player this spring, appearing at the plate 40 times. With about a week left of Spring Training, he is batting .325 with four runs batted in and an on base percentage of .450. He is regarded as one of, if not, the Twins best prospect by many Twins fans and baseball analysts.

Last year playing with the Ft. Myers Miracle, the twins High-A affiliate, he hit .311 with 2 HR, 48 RBI. He had an OBP of .372 and stole 45 bases. So he appears to be a potential lead-off man or even a solid #2 hitter when he arrives in the Twin Cities. I expect him to start in New Britain (Double-A) and possibly even reach Rochester later in the season. But the fact he is still with the MLB club at Spring Training is a very good sign. He is a prospect you will want to keep an eye on all season.

The other player that caught my eye this spring was 24-year-old Juan Portes. Not many people are familiar with Juan. He is already at the Double-A level and is doing very well there. In 2009 he hit .297 with 6 HR and 40 RBI while having an on-base percentage of .366. He will probably start in the outfield for New Britain, but can also play third base, which is here he will likely end up this season.

He has had a very impressive spring training batting .346 with a team leading three home runs and eight runs batted in. To make it to this point of spring training as a up and coming prospect is a very good sign. He will likely start the season in New Britain and if he gets off to a fast start, he could very well find himself on the way to Rochester (Triple-A affiliate).

If these three players can continue to their current play throughout the 2010 season in the respective leagues, then the future for the Minnesota Twins looks to be very bright and bring lots of successful seasons for Twins fans.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview with Carlos Gutierrez

With the beginning of the 2010 Major League Baseball season nearing, I thought it would be good to hear from a Minnesota Twins prospect. So, I had the opportunity to ask Carlos Gutierrez some questions about his life and baseball career thus far. For those of you who don't know much about Carlos, he was drafted in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft with the 27th overall pick.

Kevin Lewis: Carlos, thank you for taking time to answer a few questions today.

Carlos Gutierrez: No problem, thanks for having me on.

KL: Carlos, before we dive into the specifics about your first two seasons as a member of the Minnesota Twins organization, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you decide to become a baseball athlete?

CG: I have been playing baseball since I was about four years old. My dad always signed us ( my brother David) up in different baseball and basketball leagues. Baseball was something we were both good at and we just kept playing.

KL: Growing up in Florida, more specifically, the Miami area, who were some of your baseball idols that you looked up to and followed? Do you have someone in your life that was by your side while becoming a baseball player?

CG: I never had one person in specific I followed, but I always loved going to the University of Miami baseball games. My dad would take us to a couple of games a week there and we became really big fans.

KL: You were drafted 27th overall in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Entry Draft. A lot of people were wondering why the Twins would pick a pitcher just coming off Tommy John surgery. When you talked to the Twins, what did they tell you about choosing you?

CG: They never told me anything about choosing me, talking with scouts before from all teams the main thing everyone wanted to know was how I felt. I told everyone it felt better then ever.

KL: You have had a pretty good career so far in the minor leagues. It appears as though you will be starting at New Britain, the Twins Double-A affiliate. What do you feel you will need to work on this season to appear ready to jump to the next level at Rochester?

CG: There is always something any player can work on to get better. Something I thought needed to be addressed in my case was better feel for a change-up. I have been working on it almost daily every time I play catch and in my pens. It is something that still needs work and should come the more I use it in games.

KL: Some people have you as a future set-up man for the Twins, while others have you as possibly becoming a starter down the road. Have the Twins talked to you on how they plan to utilize you as a pitcher once you reach the 25-man roster?

CG: I have not heard exactly what they want but again there is still work that needs to be done. Whenever they feel I am ready I will do whatever is asked of me, whether that be coming out of the pen or as a starter. The Twins have a pretty good track record with this type of thing so I'm not too worried.

KL: How did your off-season go? Did you participate in any winter leagues or train with any other Twins players?

CG: I did not go to any winter leagues this off-season. I am currently training at the University of Miami with Adan Severino (Twins outfielder).

KL: As an avid baseball fan, what is life like as a minor league player? What is the typical routine for you during a day?

CG: I enjoy what I do everyday. Doing what we do traveling around being away from home away from your family for so long is not easy. It is something that you really have to love in order to put yourself through that every year, which I do. Typical off-season day is pretty much working out, throwing, and cardio. Not in any specific order, just to make sure you are getting stuff done and staying in shape.

KL: Playing at the University of Miami (FL) must have been such a thrill for you. Not only because they are one of the biggest powerhouse teams in college baseball, but also because you were born and raised Miami. Tell us a little bit about your experience at the “U”. Do you still remain in touch with your teammates?

CG: Playing at the "U" was a dream come true right from the beginning. As I said earlier, I would always go to games with my family. To put on that uniform for the first time was a great feeling. Then to have my brother join me on the team for a few years was also a great experience. We had great teams while I was there. Many friendships were formed in my time at UM and yes we do keep in touch. We all check up on one another, making sure we are doing okay.

KL: If you aren’t working out or on the road, what do you like to do in your free time?

CG: I pretty much do anything and everything just to get out and do something. I like to stay active. But on my down time I'll play video games or watch a movie.

KL: For all the current baseball players who have a wish to play in the majors, let alone get drafted, what advice would you give them?

CG: I would say to put in the work. Hard work pays off.

KL: Carlos, thank you for taking time, especially as Spring Training nears, to answer a few questions about your career as a minor league player for the Minnesota Twins. Good luck this season and hope to see you in the Twin Cities in a year or two.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thoughts on Off-Season Moves

With just one week until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, the Twins 2010 roster is looking as if they will be big time contenders this year. Not only for the A.L. Central crown, but possibly a deep run into late October. Going into this off-season, they needed to not only prove to their fans that they were going to improve their team heading into a new stadium, but they also needed to prove to Joe Mauer that they are committed to winning.

Entering the final year of his 4 year deal worth $33 million, Joe Mauer, reigning AL MVP, wanted to see what the Twins would do to try to improve the team and show him that they are committed to winning and ready to compete with the big guys (i.e. Yankees, Red Sox). Mauer should be very pleased with the off-season the Twins put together. Some people may think that the Twins may have had the best off-season of all 30 MLB clubs this year.

The Twins filled some holes that had been empty for a few years now and even increased their payroll to a new club high of 96 million dollars, 31 million more than last years Opening Day payroll of 65 million. The three biggest moves made this off-season for the Twins were the additions of Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy.

To kick off the Twins off-season activity was the acquisition of J.J. Hardy from next door neighbor, Milwaukee. With Orlando Cabrera hitting the free agent market, the Twins were in need of an everyday shortstop. So on November 6th, the Twins traded outfielder, Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy. Although Hardy’s numbers slipped a bit during 2009, the Twins feel as though he can be a quality shortstop for the next two years and hopefully he remains a Twin for longer than that. With the departure of Gomez, this pretty much sets the outfield to look like Young-Span-Cuddyer.

The Twins were also looking to improve their bench by trying to sign a left handed hitter. Well they got their man in Jim Thome. After years of torturing us as a member of the Indians and White Sox, he will be playing for his 3rd AL Central team. Although Thome will be 39 years old come Opening Day. But don’t let his age make you not like this signing. Last year he hit .249 with 23 homeruns and 77 runs batted, so he still has some left in the tank. Look for him to take some of Kubel’s at-bats at the DH position, while also coming off the bench. Don’t forget he also plays first base, so Morneau won’t have the pressure to stay healthy all year and play all 162 games at first base.

The Twins finished off their activity with the signing of second baseman, Orlando Hudson. Hudson will not only fill a need the Twins have had for many years at second base, but he will also provide leadership in the clubhouse. Hudson will likely jump into the #2 spot between Denard Span and Joe Mauer. He fits the Twins mold as he is a career .282 hitter and last year had a career high with nine sacrifice hits. That is typical Twins baseball. With the addition of Hudson, Nick Punto will split time with Brendan Harris at third base.

If these three signings weren’t a sign of commitment, then I don’t know what is. This was a very exciting off-season for myself and I’m sure for many other Twins fans. I think this will make the Twins the pre-season favorites to win their 2nd straight AL Central Title. This should be a very exciting inaugural season at Target Field.