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.