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.