Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bill Smith Out, Terry Ryan In

          With the off-season underway, many Minnesota Twins fans were hoping the Twins would re-sign Michael Cuddyer and/or Joe Nathan and that would be a majority of the Twins off-season. Well that was quickly put on the back burner for a little bit. The more shocking news of the off-season was the firing of General Manager Bill Smith. I, like most Twins fan, had no idea their was disagreement within the Twins front office.
           There were thoughts about some possible re-shuffling within the front office once the Twins told the Baltimore Orioles they weren’t allowed to interview Mike Radcliff for their General Manager vacancy. People quickly started to wonder if there was going to be a change sometime down the road or maybe that Radcliff would just be the next in line for the GM position.
           Instead, former GM Terry Ryan will be in the interim GM until the Twins find a new, permanent GM. A time table has not been giving to find a replacement for Bill, so I expect for Terry to make smart baseball decisions and bring this team back to what it was two years ago. Terry was known for building from within the organization and acquiring players who fit the “Twins way”.
           Terry has already said that he expects the Twins payroll to be around the $100 million mark, slightly down from last years payroll of $113 million. So I could see him signing some veteran players at a lesser price to fill the holes on this team. It also appears this could help the Twins re-sign Cuddyer, who was drafted under Ryan’s first reign as Twins GM and also signed him to the contract that recently ran out.
           So as a Twins fans, I am very excited for a Twins off-season for the first time in a while as I expect some drastic changes to take place with the Twins roster. The first task for Terry is to sit down and talk with Cuddyer and Nathan along with their agents to discuss new contracts as well as to find an everyday shortstop. Terry has already said the current team doesn’t have a shortstop that is an everyday player, so I look forward to seeing what Terry can do in such a short amount of time.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts About Upcoming Contract Decisions

          As I sit at home watching the World Series, I can only think of what kind of season the Twins could have had this year. In no way did I expect the Twins to make a playoff run or anything, but to end up losing 99 games, the 2nd most losses in a single season since arriving in 1961, was just shocking. Most people were predicting the Twins to contend for another AL Central title this year, but quickly realized this wasn’t going to be their year.
          Everything from very poor pitching to ongoing injuries, the Twins were behind the eight ball from the very beginning. Having a payroll over $100 million doesn’t necessarily mean that you will do well that season, as that was clearly evident with the Twins. For the first time in franchise history, they passed the $100 million payroll mark as they had a payroll of $113 million. Many people thought that since they had a high payroll, that they would do well and make a playoff run.
          But if you look at the breakdown of the team payroll, you have to realize that 52% of the $113 million were the contracts of Joe Mauer ($23 million), Justin Morneau ($15 million), Joe Nathan ($11.25 million) and Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 million). The only healthy player out of that group of four this year was Cuddyer. Mauer and Morneau have been dealing with injuries for the last several years and Nathan was entering his first full season since Tommy John Surgery, so they weren’t sure how he would respond.
          Either way, that is a lot of money to have tied up with four players. With Mauer entering the first year of his 8 year, $184 million contract this past year, the Twins were very limited to their off-season moves prior to the season and will likely be in the same situation this off-season. However, the Twins have a few things going for them. They were able to get rid of Delmon Young, who made $5.37 million this year and expecting to make more and more as gets closer to free agency. The Twins also have a few impending free agents in Matt Capps, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, plus the $12.5 million club option on Joe Nathan.
          I fully expect that Capps and Kubel will not be members of the 2012 Minnesota Twins, so that will free up $12.4 million to use towards possible free agent moves. Also, the tough decision whether or not to re-sign Cuddyer will be the biggest decision for General Manager Bill Smith. There are rumors that the Twins had an offer on the table for the last few weeks, which is a $16 million, two-year offer. I could see the Twins giving Cuddyer a two-year, $18 million deal with a possible third year team option. Not only is Cuddyer a clubhouse leader, but he has also been one of very few regular Twins to remain healthy the last few seasons.
          Then there is the case of Joe Nathan. He has a team option for $12.5 million that is all but sure to be voided by the Twins, which will cost them just $2 million to void. After the option is void, I expect the Twins to quickly give him a new deal to return as the full-time Twins closer. Heading into the 2011 season he was assigned as the set-up man to Capps, but that didn’t last very long. Capps was very inconsistent and was given multiple chances by manager Ron Gardenhire, but was later swapped with Nathan. Nathan eventually settled into the role and proved that he was meant to be the closer from day one. Look for Glen Perkins to be the new set-up man, assuming Bill Smith pleases the fans and lets Capps become a free agent this winter.
          With a few key players become free agents this winter, Bill Smith will have to put his thinking cap on and get that check book ready if he wants to sign some players that can fill those holes and allow the Twins to return to contending for the division title.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Joe Nathan & Jim Thome Reach Milestones

          Over the last week, there have been a few Twins items to note. First thing that might come to mind is the fact that Delmon Young was traded to the Detroit Tigers on August 15th. Don't get me wrong, that is important news as many Twins fans were happy the Twins got rid of Delmon, but during that same night, something happened at Comerica Park in Detroit.
          Sitting at 598 career home runs, Jim Thome stepped to the plate in the 6th inning and hit a 2-run homer to left field. Ironic that former Twin, Delmon Young was making his first start as a Tiger and watched 599 go over the fence? I don't think so. Just wait, it gets better. In the top of the 7th inning, Jim stepped up to the plate again. this time with two runners on base. On a 2-1 count, with Daniel Schlereth pitching, Jim launched historic home run number 600 to the same spot, left field.
          Immediately following the home run, Twins fans and Tigers fans all stood and gave Jim a well deserved standing ovation. Then from behind home plate, Jim's father, wife and two children came out to have a family moment after the historic feat. Jim is only the eighth player in Major League Baseball to eclipse the 600 home run mark. That number really should be five with Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, and Barry Bonds on that list, but that's not important at the moment.
          When showing the replay of the 600th homerun, I couldn't help but notice who was holding the ball, which landed in the Twins bullpen, which was none other than closer Joe Nathan. Joe also reached a very big milestone just a few days before Jim reached his. Joe Nathan became the Twins All-Times saves leader at 255 career saves as a Minnesota Twin. I actually had the opportunity to go to the August 10th game against the Boston Red Sox when Joe picked up his 255th career save as a Minnesota Twin.
          After being acquired in a trade after the 2003 season, Joe quickly became one of the best closers from 2004-2009, racking up a league-leading 246 saves during that span. Without Joe, the Twins probably would not have been able to win the four division titles since acquiring Joe. The Twins will have a very important decision to make following the 2011 season as Joe has a 12.5 million dollar team option that would need to be exercised in order to be a Twin in 2012.
          In my opinion, it is a no brainer to pick up the option and even look to extend Nathan for two or three more years to allow him to retire as a Minnesota Twin. So, despite the Twins having a challenging year with so many injuries and very inconsistent play, this has been an exciting few days for the Minnesota Twins and Twin Nation.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Denard Still a Twin; At What Price Though?

          As the non-waiver trade deadline passed today at 4:00 eastern, the Twins didn’t make any moves, but sure created some buzz around a Denard Span deal. There had been talk about a trade with the Washington Nationals involving Denard Span for closer Drew Storen. In the end though, the teams just couldn’t agree on other players to include in the trade.

          Despite not agreeing to a deal with the Nationals, it might have done more harm than good on the Twins front. It appears as though Denard was starting to get irritated with all the ongoing talks and can you blame him? He had waited a couple years behind Torii Hunter before he was able to get his shot at the center field job. Once Torii left, it was Denard’s job to lose.

          Then over the past week or so, there had been talk about Denard being traded to make room for Ben Revere to be the full-time center fielder. I think there will be some tension in the Twins clubhouse once Denard rejoins the team. They can say that the Twins weren’t the ones to start the trade talks, but to continue to discuss trade possibilities with the Nationals won’t sit well with Denard. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Twins revisit a possible trade once the season ends.

          I fully expect Span to retake his center field job back when he is activated from the disabled list and rejoins the Twins, hopefully later this week. But as we all saw and heard this week, anything can happen come the week of the trade deadline. I also expect the talks over the last week to light a fire under Denard and look for him to go out and prove that he should be and will be the center fielder for the next 5 years.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Denard On Way Out?

With the non-waiver trade deadline just 3 days away, there was a few major moves yesterday, but none involving the Minnesota Twins. There was very little expectation of the Twins making any trades before the deadline, but one name has surfaced a bit the last few days. Outfielder Denard Span, who is currently rehabbing in Triple-A Rochester has been the focus of a rumored trade to Washington.

Why trade Span? That is the question many Twins fans maybe asking themselves. I look at it like this. The Twins have a plethora of outfielders currently at the major league level and then a few good looking prospects that will be at the major league level within the next three years, hopefully. With Delmon Young going through the arbitration years, I expect the Twins to hold onto him. Michael Cuddyer will be re-signed after the season ends. It would be a mistake for the Twins to not re-sign him, but that discussion is for a different day.

That brings me to Jason Kubel, who is also rehabbing at Triple-A. He will also be an impending free agent after the current season. I think the Twins will try to re-sign him, but signing him and Cuddyer could be an issue. The other outfielder on the current roster is Ben Revere. He appears to be set in the Twin Cities for a while. However, when Span comes back, where do you put Span or Revere?

This then brings us to the potential trade to Washington. The player that keeps coming up on the Nationals side, is closer Drew Storen. This may bring flashbacks to the Matt Capps-Wilson Ramos trade, but this is not at all like that trade. I personally am in favor of this trade as the Twins need to really bolster the bullpen if they want to make any attempt of a 2nd half run towards another Central crown.

Storen will turn 24 years old in a couple of weeks and has really impressed me this year so far. He has a record of 5-2 with 25 saves (28 opportunities) along with a 2.68 ERA. He could essentially be the Twins closer post-Nathan. Nathan has a team option for the 2012 season worth 12.5 million with a 2 million buyout, so the Twins will need to start thinking about the future closer role. There isn’t really anyone in the minor league system that would be suitable, so I think the trade for Storen would be a good one for the Twins.

Toss in the fact that Storen hasn’t even been in the league for two full seasons yet, so he will be under team control for many years to come. You can also argue that same point with Span, but Span will start asking for more money in arbitration years soon. Don’t forget that Span is coming off a concussion and as the Twins have seen with Justin Morneau, it could really alter his career, so if we can get someone as good as Storen for Span, I say pull the trigger.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trade Deadline Nears

With the trade deadline just two weeks away, there are thoughts of what the Twins will do come July 31st. Some people say they should look at improving their bullpen, while others think they should stay put and look to improve from within. The Twins are usually pretty quite at the trade deadline, but with the new stadium and more money, they could look to make moves.

However, one name that won’t be moving is Michael Cuddyer. Just a few days ago, the Twins came out and said that they will not be trading Cuddyer at any point this season. I believe that is a very smart move to not move Cuddyer. Even though he might be overpaid at $10.5 million, he has been one of the most reliable and clutch players over the last few seasons. He is also one of very few position players that has remained quite healthy for the Twins, as we have seen multiple players go down in bunches. Also, toss in the fact that he is a huge fan favorite, so trading Cuddyer would make Twins fans question the motive of Bill Smith’s thinking.

Despite being dealing with injuries throughout the season, Kevin Slowey remains the one Twin that will most likely be traded before the July 31st deadline arrives. Heading into the season, Slowey and Scott Baker were battling for the 5th and final rotation spot. At the time, I thought Slowey should have gotten the nod, as he performed very well during Spring Training. Manager Ron Gardenhire proved me wrong as Baker has been pretty darn good this year. With that move, Slowey was originally going to pitch out of the bullpen, but had to go on the disabled list. Once healthy, he was sent to Triple-A Rochester to start in the rotation.

The Pirates and Rockies have recently been reported as being interested in acquiring Slowey to insert into their rotation. The Twins should really consider trading Slowey to the first team that gives them a quality deal. If they do trade Slowey, they should focus on getting more bullpen help. With the recent poor performance by Matt Capps, that leaves basically Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan as the only two quality arms in the bullpen.

If the Twins want to make a push for another A.L. Central crown, they will need to upgrade their bullpen, as they don’t want to overwork Perkins and Nathan. A few names that come to mind when it comes to bullpen help are Heath Bell, Koji Uehera, Although it would take a lot to get Bell, it might be worth looking into. With Nathan returning to the closers role, the Twins may be reluctant to bring in another closer, as that might diminish the chances of Nathan hanging onto the closers role.

Whatever the Twins decide to do over the next two weeks, it should be interesting to see if not only the Twins make any moves, but any other team in the Central. Regardless, it appears that it will be another year where the winner won’t be decided until the last week, possibly the last day of the season.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Interview with Madison Boer

Madison Boer was the Twins 2nd round pick (87th overall) in the June First-Year Player Draft. He is a right handed pitcher out of the University of Oregon. He has recently reported to the Elizabethton Twins, their Single-A Short Season team, to begin his pro career. He was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions.

Kevin Lewis: Madison, lets start with your younger days as a baseball player. What made you decide to follow baseball as your career path? Did you ever consider any other sports as you were growing up and heading towards high school and later Oregon?

Madison Boer: I knew my best shot at making it to the highest level was baseball because I genuinely enjoyed practicing and doing anything with baseball. I didn't have the football mentality, I don't get super amped up like that, i just wasn't wired that way.

KL: Growing up, who was your inspiration and led you towards the baseball career? Who was your favorite team and player to follow?

MB: I used to watch Braves games on TBS all summer. When I was younger I played third base as well as pitching. My two favorite players were Greg Maddux and Chipper Jones. Greg Maddux and John Smoltz are my two favorite pitchers.

KL: Walk us through the day you got drafted by the Minnesota Twins. Did you have any idea you were going to go in the 2nd round?

MB: I was just watching the online feed at my girlfriend's parents house and my parents were there also. I started eating breakfast because I wasn't expecting to be taken for a whole round yet. All of a sudden, my parents started yelling and got all excited and I was still eating my pancakes when I asked what happened. They said, "the Twins picked you!!!! 2nd Round!" and we just started celebrating and my phone started blowing up.

KL: Following up with the previous question. How much does it mean to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins, being that you grew up in Eden Prairie, a very athletic high school in Minnesota?

MB: I was wondering for a long time, most of my life, what it would feel like to put on a professional jersey and I couldn't have felt more comfortable than to put a Twins jersey on.

KL: You quickly signed with the Twins and reported to Elizabethton to begin your pro career and you quickly notched your first victory. You actually recorded your first victory in your first appearance. How much of a confidence builder was that and could you just describe the moment you were called in from the bullpen.

MB: I wasn't nervous but excited to get my feet wet. Pitching is what I do and it's what I want to do with my life so I just went out to the mound and pitched how I knew I could. Luckily, we took the lead the following half inning and I got a victory.

KL: You throw a fastball that hits the high 80s and then also have a slider and curveball in our arsenal. If you were asked to give a scouting report on yourself, what would you say your strengths are and what could you improve upon as you make your way through the Twins system?

MB: Well that’s what I threw in High School. I have dropped the curveball to focus on a change up, and I have the slider and fastball still. With the strength and conditioning program at Oregon along with just simply getting more physically mature I now sit in the low 90's and can touch the mid 90's. The most important thing in pro ball is getting better everyday. The minor leagues are a long process and at this level everybody is very good. The only way you can separate yourself is to come to the field everyday and get better at something.

KL: The last thing I always ask players is that if you had the opportunity to talk to a group of young kids who aspire to become professional baseball players, what one piece of advice would you give them?

MB: I would say that you have to think about whats important to you? If it’s baseball, are you going somewhere to hit everyday. Eden Prairie has an excellent year round hitting facility called "Players Only." It is a great place that offers much more than just batting cages and you can get instruction on hitting and pitching. The single most important thing is being able to sacrifice free time to go practice, because if you really want to be a ballplayer you have to know whats important and make the right decisions on and off the field.

KL: I would like to thank Madison for taking time out of his busy life, as he begins his pro career, to answer a few questions about his journey to the draft and his future as a Twin. Hopefully one day we will see you back in Minnesota and on the mound at Target Field.

MB: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interview With Angel Morales

Angel Morales was the Twins 3rd round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He attended the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School. He has since quickly moved through the Twins minor league system and is currently playing for the Ft. Myers Miracle, their Advanced Single-A affiliate. As Angel rehabs an elbow injury, he took some time to answer a few questions about his career.

Kevin Lewis: Angel, lets start with the day you were drafted by the Twins. Did you expect to get drafted that soon? Was there any indication that the Twins were interested in taking you in the 3rd round?

Angel Morales: Well when I was a senior studying at a baseball academy in Puerto Rico more than half of my coaches were major league scouts, but none of them from the Twins. I knew some scouts were interested in me, but to be honest, I didn’t know how soon, or which team was going to pick me. I really thought the Marlins or Yankees were going to; just for the fact of how many tryouts they invited me to. Hector Otero, which is now not also the scout who drafted me, but a great friend of mine only saw me a couple of times before the draft occurred.

KL: If we were to go back to the 2007 draft and I was a fan interested in the Twins draft, what would your scouting report say about yourself?

AM: Well I would say that Angel Morales is a five tool player with good speed and a plus arm with some unpolished skills, but with the correct personnel, he can improve them and be the best complete five tool player he can be.

KL: You have quickly moved through the Twins organization, spending a full season at each level. It appears the Twins want to have you in the Twin Cities within the next few years. However, there is quite the group of solid out fielders in the Twins organization (Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, Joe Benson, Oswaldo Arcia), so it will be a battle for the outfield sports. What do you feel you have to improve upon to get the upper hand?

AM: Yeah I think it’s going to be fun one day. All of us in a major league camp competing for the spot. We have a very solid and talented group of outfielders. We all get a long very well and we talk about that at time when we have a moment. It will be a fun, but a difficult challenge, but I’m looking forward to it. I can’t really compare to anyone of them. I rather just focus on my ability and just trying to get better. I think I should work on my overall performance, but I think my biggest weakness is striking out too much, so if I cut those down I’ll be fine.

KL: You have had shoulder/arm issues this season at Ft. Myers. At first there was thought you need to undergo Tommy John Surgery and would really set you back on your way to the majors. It was later determined that surgery was not necessary and just rest and rehab would heal the injury. After moving through the system so quick, how tough has it been to not be able to play this season at Ft. Myers?

AM: Well just for the fact that I’m not having Tommy John Surgery I feel blessed. It has definitely been a tough time for me as an individual because I always set goals for myself and train so hard to accomplish them. Then the injury occurred and caught me off guard, but that’s part of the game. I just have to deal with it, stay positive, understand that this is a process that I have to go through. After that everything is going to be fine and I will be back to do what I love most, which is playing baseball.

KL: Being down in Ft. Myers this year and recovering from your injury, you have seen quite a few players from the Twins active roster come through dealing with their own injuries. Did you get the opportunity to get tips and/or workout with the likes of Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, and Jason Kubel?

AM: Well it was really special. I would definitely prefer meeting them in a major league camp rather than seeing them rehab injuries of their own, but I definitely learn a lot of things from them just by watching the way they handle their situations. You know about being injured they always have a smile on their face. They are very outgoing if they see someone who they think they can help they will. I mean they are very humble and I understand that it’s all about being healthy again to help their team win.

KL: Growing up as a young kid, was baseball always your sport and did you always know that you wanted to become a professional baseball player? Who was your baseball idol and favorite team growing up in Puerto Rico?

AM: When I was a teenager I just loved being active. I remember that I had my dad running all over the island traveling because I was involved with so many sports. I was on volleyball, track and field, basketball, softball, baseball, and even ping pong tournaments. I made my dad take me to tournaments of all sorts. But pretty much I knew baseball was meant for me because it was the sport that I enjoyed the most. I remember I always went crazy when I turned on the TV and watched Bernie Williams play. He was my favorite player and still is to this day. So every time the Yankees were on I always cheered for them because Bernie was on the team.

KL: The last question I always like to ask people is that if you had the opportunity to speak to a group of kids who one day want to play professional baseball, what one piece of advice would tell those kids?

AM: Follow your dream and don't let nobody take it away from you!!

KL: I would like to thank Angel for taking time as he rehabs his injury and wish him the best of luck the rest of the season and hopefully we will see you in the Twin Cities one day.

AM: Thanks for allowing me to share a little bit about my career as I make my way towards the Twin Cities. God Bless.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Will Twins Do With Cuddyer?

With the Twins fluctuating between winning streaks and losing streaks and not making up much ground over the last two weeks, there have been rumbling about possible moves around the trade deadline in July. One of the names that pops up is right fielder, Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer is in the last year of his contract that he signed back in 2008.

The average, everyday Twins fan would think it’s a no brainer that we re-sign Cuddyer and have him be our right fielder for a few more years. I don’t think it’s as clear cut as it may appear. You have to remember that he is getting paid 10.5 million dollars this year and is hitting .286 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in. Just two years ago, the last year at the Metrodome, he hit a career high 32 home runs.

So the Twins have a tough decision on their hands as Cuddyer just might be the most well liked Twin not named Joe Mauer, so letting him walk via Free Agency or trading him could put a sour taste in the fans mouth. If I am the Twins, I would sit down as a collective group and really decide what they want to do with Cuddyer and how they see the future outfield panning out. The toughest thing is, the Twins have a few other guys who are either in Double-A or Triple-A that could fill Cuddyers spot, so it makes that tough on the Twins.

If I am GM Bill Smith, I would look to trade Cuddyer come late July. There will more than likely be a contender or two that are looking for a hitter that can give them an offensive boost. Not to mention he can also fill in at first base as well. If the Twins decide to go the trade route, I would ask for bullpen arms in return. I don’t expect the Twins to spend much this coming off-season, so I would look for them to acquire an arm or two.

The other route the Twins could go with Cuddyer is to give him a multi-year deal in the 3 year range. Maybe even if they re-sign him to make him our starting first baseman as the Twins can’t afford to play the “wait-and-see” game with Justin Morneau and his health at first base. That is a very interesting thought as when he filled in for Morneau last year, he really picked it up and did a great job filling in for him. If you do re-sign Cuddyer though, how much do you give him? Making 10.5 million this season, he likely won’t take much of a hometown discount. I would maybe start by offering him 8-9 million per year making that 3rd year a team option.

Whether it’s a trade, re-signing him, or letting him test the free agent mark, I’m sure glad that I’m not in Bill Smith’s shoes. It will be a very tough decision deciding the future of Michael Cuddyer as a Minnesota Twin.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Interview With AJ Pettersen

AJ Pettersen was the Twins 25th round (778th overall) pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He played three seasons at the University of Minnesota after readshirting the 2008 season. He will start his minor league career at Elizabethton (Tennessee), one of the Twins rookie ball affiliates. AJ has been kind enough to answer a few questions before he heads off to Elizabethton.

Kevin Lewis: Not many Twins fans know much about AJ Pettersen. Could you give a little bio about your baseball career and what made you choose baseball as your career?

AJ Pettersen: I played in 2006 and 2007 for Minnetonka High School and for Excelsior Legion, followed by 4 years at the University of Minnesota. I chose baseball because I quickly learned there wasn't a whole lot of room for a short, skinny kid in basketball. In all seriousness, baseball has been my passion for many years and I enjoy every aspect of it. For that reason, it was an easy choice.

KL: While playing for the U of Minnesota during the 2009-2010 season, you guy were the first team to play a game at Target Field. How exciting was that experience?

AP: That was a pretty cool experience. It is definitely one of my most exciting baseball experiences. I think 37,000 fans showed up that day for the open house/baseball game and that more than tripled the highest attendance I had played for previously. The Twins have been very gracious to the Gophers for many years and getting that opportunity was pretty fantastic.

KL: You had a great 2011 season, hitting .344 with 12 doubles and an on-base percentage of .394 for the Gophers. If I was a team interested in you, what would your scouting report tell me?

AP: It would probably say that I don't have any one tool that will wow you, but if you keep coming back you will see consistently good performances. I pride myself on playing all aspects of the game well and for helping my team win in any way I can.

KL: Being a hometown guy, playing at Minnetonka High School and then attending the University of Minnesota, what was it like being drafted by the Minnesota Twins?

AP: It is quite an honor that I got picked by the Twins. I have been a fan of the Twins my entire life and it's awesome to be part of the organization now. I couldn't think of a better organization to be a part of.

KL: Growing up as a young baseball player, who was your favorite team to follow as well as your favorite player?

AP: Like I said, I have always been a big Twins fan. I have also always been a big fan of the little guys across the league. I used to be a big David Eckstein fan for obvious reasons and I am now a real big fan of Dustin Pedroia. Both of those guys play the game the right way and it's fun to watch.

KL: If you aren’t on the baseball field working on becoming a better player, what are you doing?

AP: If I am not playing ball I am probably hanging out with my fiance, my family and my friends. I like to play video games and just hang out and watch tv, movies, etc.

KL: If you were to speak to a group of young kids who dream to become pro baseball players, what one piece of advice would you give them?

AP: Keep working hard. I know that sounds cliche, but if I hadn't spent hours upon hours in the batting cages in the freezing cold, or taking ground balls in the wee hours of the morning I never would have made it this far. I would also recommend that kids play games of wiffle ball, stickball, etc. These games develop the instincts that many kids today lack because they play too much organized baseball. These games put kids in situations that they might not see as much in real games and force kids to think on their toes and make quick decisions.

KL: I would like to thank AJ for taking some time as he heads to Elizabethton tonight. I wish him nothing but the best and that one day he could maybe join Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins as a third hometown Twin.

AP: Thanks for giving me the chance to answer a few questions. Go Gophers and Go Twins!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Injury Updates: What Will Gardy Do?

As the Twins continue to win games and trim away at the A.L. Central lead, they also await the return of several all-star caliber players from their stay on the disabled list. Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Tsuyohsi Nishioka, and Kevin Slowey are all currently rehabbing and trying to get back to the Twins Cities soon. Some have taken longer than anticipated, but are nearing the completion of their rehab assignment.

As they continue to return from the DL, manager Ron Gardenhire will have a couple of tough decisions to make as who to demote to Triple-A Rochester as the players return from the disabled list. Some decisions might be easier than others, but as a manager, telling someone they are being sent to Rochester is never an easy task.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka:

The first player that appears closest to making his return to the active roster is shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. As soon as Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher slid into Nishioka as he broke up a double play, you knew something was wrong with Nishioka. It was later confirmed that it was a fractured left fibula and he would initially miss 6-8 weeks, but would end up taking longer. There were questions as to whether Nishioka would return as a second baseman or would move over to his more natural position of shortstop. It appears as though he will indeed move back to shortstop, which will force Alexi Casilla to play second.

With Nishioka returning on Wednesday, I expect the Twins to send Luke Hughes back to Triple-A. It would be either Hughes or Matt Tolbert and I honestly don’t see Gardenhire sending out Tolbert as he is a Gardenhire favorite. There is also a very small, remote chance they could send Danny Valencia down as he hasn’t produced like last year, but like I said it’s a very small chance.

Glen Perkins:

In my opinion, Glen Perkins has been the biggest surprise thus far for the Twins bullpen. Over the last couple seasons he has been shifted back and forth between starter and reliever, but this year it was known he was going to be a relief pitcher, so I think that allowed him to get into the mindset of his role. He didn’t give up a run, earned or unearned, until April 28th against Tampa Bay. Perkins would continue his early success while making 22 appearances with a 1.59 ERA and 22 strike outs. However, he would be forced to leave the May 22nd game at Arizona due to a right oblique strain.

It was an unfortunate time for the injury, although there is no good time, because Joe Nathan was also dealing with arm soreness. Having thought two guys out of the bullpen, you really have no stability. Perkins has made one rehab start at Triple-A Rochester and will pitch again tonight. If everything goes well, expect the Twins to bring him back up to the Twin Cities sometime this week. If I were the Twins I would send down Chuck James, who has gotten very little work while on the active roster.

Joe Nathan:

Joe Nathan is one of those guys that the Twins should rehab him very slowly and cautiously. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2009, he missed the entire 2010 season. Coming out of Spring Training, Nathan and Matt Capps were to split the closer role, but it appeared that Gardenhire was more confident in Nathan. I felt it was too quick to put him back into the closer role and his numbers backed that up. Before landing on the disabled list in late-May, he had an ERA of 7.63 over 15.1 innings with three saves. The Twins should slowly worked him back into the role and see how he would have handled non-close situations.

We probably won’t see Nathan back until late-June or early-July as he is just starting to throw live batting practice. He will likely go on a rehab assignment and then return to the set-up role. The only way I would put Nathan back into the closers role this season is if Capps struggles or Nathan can get command of his pitches better and can handle the high pressure situations. Look for the Twins to send either Jim Hoey or Phil Dumatrait down to Rochester when Nathan returns. If you go by just numbers, I would send Hoey down as he seems to struggle every time he enters a game, as it’s shown with his 8.31 ERA over 13 innings.

Jason Kubel:

If there was any Twin that was off to a hot start, it was Jason Kubel. As the Twins were very slow out of the gates to start the season, Kubel seemed to be the only one wanting to hit the baseball. Even though he hit just two home runs in the month of April, he had a .351 batting average. Kubel and Jim Thome usually split duties at DH, but with Thome having lingering back issues, Kubel got most of the appearances at DH. Like every other Twins player though, he due to end up on the disabled list.

After the May 30th game, Kubel was diagnosed with a left foot sprain and was later placed the DL. As of Saturday, he started taking bating practice, so I would expect him back sometime late next week, but the following week could be the best bet. I think without a doubt when he is the activated the Twins will likely send out Brian Dinkleman.

Kevin Slowey:

After a battle with Scott Baker on who would be the fifth starter to start the season, Slowey was designated for the long-relief role. There were some questions about Slowey’s future as a Twin, but that was put on the back burner after a slow start for Slowey. Despite his 4.91 ERA through 14.2 innings pitched, there were still some whispers about whether the Twins would hold on to him or find a suitor and try to improve their bullpen.

After his May 15th appearance he went to the trainers and was later diagnosed with a mild strain of the abdomen. He has yet to begin a rehab assignment as he currently threw off the mound for the first time since being placed on the disabled list. Once Slowey is healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep him in Rochester to put him in the starter role, which would attract teams to think about trading for him.

Denard Span:

After years of waiting in the wings behind Torii Hunter, Denard finally has taken the reigns of center and has no signs of giving it up anytime soon. After an impressive 2009 season, Span slipped a little bit during the 2010 season by hitting .264 in the lead off spot. What he may lack at the plate he makes up in the outfield. Despite not having the strongest arm, he makes some of the same diving catches that Hunter would have made. Entering the 2011 season, Span needed to prove that he was worthy of being the lead off man for the Twins. He has done a good job so far hitting .294 with an on-base percentage of .361.

Last year Span experienced dizziness and was forced to make a trip to the DL. It took a few weeks, but he was able to return to action without any lingering side effects. Well that same injury has reoccured and has forced Span to make a trip the newly formed, 7-day concussion disabled list. Pretty much Span just has to rest up and hopefully can resume baseball activities sooner than later. When he comes off the DL, I expect Rene Tosoni to be sent back to Rochester.

Joe Mauer:

Without a doubt Joe Mauer is the most followed and talked about Minnesota Twin whether he is healthy or not. Throughout his career, it has been thought that Mauer may be too tall to remain behind the plate as the Twins catcher. Toss in the continuing leg and back issues and there might be a legitimate reason to talk about moving him to a corner infield position. The Twins have quickly shot down the idea of moving Mauer to a different position as he is in the first year of his $184 million, 8 year contract. It’s so hard to find a franchise catcher, let alone a catcher who has half the ability that Mauer has, so I see no reason to move Mauer to a different position.

Mauer entered the 2011 season coming off minor knee surgery he had during the off-season. Some people were surprised that he had a minor knee procedure, but I think it could be an annual think, but obviously hope that’s not the case. Due to the off-season procedure, Mauer didn’t start in Spring Training until about half way through, but the Twins felt he was more than ready to break camp and start in Opening Day. Little did the Twins know that it was more than just his knees that caused him to be placed on the disabled list just 10 games in the season.

The Twins immediately had Mauer undergo testing to see what was causing the reported leg and back soreness. It was determined that Mauer had bilateral leg weakness. After resting and recovering from a viral infection as well, he was sent down to Ft. Myers to begin his rehab assignment. Rather than have him move from team to team throughout the minors, the Twins wanted him to stay near their Spring Training complex in Ft. Myers so they could keep a better tab on him and see how he was progressing.

As of late Mauer has been able to catch more and more every game, with him recently catching a full nine inning game. That is the best news that Twins fans could have wished for. His bat isn’t quite up to speed yet, but that is the least of his worries as we all know Mauer will eventually end up hitting .300 or better. The most important thing is to make sure that Mauer is as close to 100% as he can get before they decide to bring him back to the Twin Cities and insert him into the everyday lineup again.

It appears that Rene Rivera will be sent to Rochester when Mauer returns from the DL as Rivera has a minor league option. Keeping Drew Butera also allows Carl Pavano to have his personal catcher, Butera, when he makes his starts. It may not be a well received move, but I think it’s the right move to make rather than Pavano not feel comfortable when he makes his starts.

With all the moves that will be made over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how quickly this team can gel and get into a groove before the All-Star break arrives. I feel that if the Twins can be within 5-6 games of the division league at the time of the All-Star break and everyone gets some much needed rest, it should shape for yet another exciting race for the AL Central title.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Could the Twins Have Something Special Unfolding?

As the 2011 First-Year Player Draft wraps up today, the Twins future appears to be bright. There is one prospect who made his debut last season and could be a future face of the franchise. The great thing is, he wasn't drafted, instead he was discovered not only by the Twins, but other teams as well. The Twins were lucky enough to land Dominican prospect, Miguel Sano.

Sano is an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic and was highly sought after by many teams when he announced his intentions on coming to the Major Leagues. There were rumors of the Twins having some interest, but many people didn’t think the Twins would spend the money to sign an international free agent. Were they ever wrong when October 2009 came, the Twins signed Sano to a 3.15 million dollar signing bonus and the Twins made a big splash.

However, it wasn’t as easy as just signing a dotted line for Sano. As with every international free agent that signs with a Major League team, the commissioners office does a full identity check. There were multiple rumors that Sano was not infact 16 years old as he claimed he was, but after an investigation by Major League Baseball, he was given the okay to sign with the Twins.

After starting out by playing in the Dominican Summer League, Sano eventually made his way stateside and made his debut with the Twins Gulf Coast League and quickly proved why he was worth all the hype. In 41 games he hit .291 with four home runs and 19 runs batted in. Despite being a player who can play any infield position, I expect him to end up at third base or first base. There have been scouts saying that he could even outgrow the third base position and could end up in a corner outfield position or could be the the future cornerstone at first base. He has drawn comparisons to Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez when it comes to his physical size.

Even though the Twins would love to have him appear in the Twins Cities sooner rather than later, if I were them, I would move Sano through the system slowly. They can’t afford to rush Sano and blow their chance at having a very special player one day. So if there is a Twins prospect to keep your eye on when it comes to the offensive side of the ball, Miguel Sano could very well be that player. If he has a solid 2011 season in the Gulf Coast League, I could see him starting the 2012 season in Beloit. So hopefully he will appear in the Twin Cities around the 2015 season, but it’s tough to predict when a player will be ready for the majors, especially when a player is as young as Sano is.

It will be very exciting to see him grow into his body and hopefully become the player that everyone predicts and hopes he will become.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Future at Starting Pitcher: Kyle Gibson

        With the way the Twins have been playing so far this season, there have been a lot of players being promoted and demoted from Rochester. As I was watching the game last night, I was joking with my brother, “Do you think the Triple-A Rochester squad could beat the Twins?”. There is only one problem with that. 9 of the 25 players on the active roster started the season in Rochester. Now a few of those players have been up and down quite a bit as there has been at least one injury per week for the Twins.

        However, there is one player that hasn’t been considered being called up. That player would be Kyle Gibson, a right handed pitcher that was drafted in the 1st round (22nd overall) in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. He has quickly moved through the minor league system and is in line for a late season call up if the Twins are completely out of the division race. He had a very impressive 2010 Minor League campaign going 11-6 with a 2.96 earned run average and 126 strikeouts as he pitched in Single-A Ft. Myers, Double-a New Britain and Triple-A Rochester.

        Gibson has the potential to be a very good #2 starter for the Twins in 2012. Gibson is like any other current Twins starter, he is a ground ball pitcher. That is something the Twins have coveted for quite a few years now. If you look back at the Twins pitchers that came up through their system, you rarely see a hard throwing, strike out pitcher. So Gibson fits the mold perfectly.

        The most important thing about Gibson’s 2010 run through the minors was that he didn’t encounter any lingering side effects from a stress fracture that occurred during his junior year at the University of Missouri. There were some questions prior to the draft whether or not he would be able to fully recover and become the pitcher everyone knew him as while at Missouri. He quickly put the doubters in their spot.

        His velocity ranges from the high-80s to the low-90s, so he definitely won’t be a fast throwing, strike out machine, but his fastball has good movement on it and his slider is a good second pitch that causes all those ground ball outs. He has been working on improving his change-up, which will be crucial to get that down to be successful at the major league level.

        Look for Gibson to make his debut at the Major League level sometime in late August or early September. There is absolutely no reason to rush him considering the Twins appear out of the race early in the season. They need to let him build more and more confidence and really get his pitches down before they call him up, hopefully so he stays at the major league level and doesn’t bounce around between Triple-A and the majors. Twins fans should be very excited for this young pitcher, so everyone keep an eye on him.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Will Joe Remain Twins Catcher?

As the ongoing debate about whether catchers should block the plate when a runner is coming home and getting ready to take out the catcher, you continuously hear of one catcher that should be moved from behind the plate. That name would be Joe Mauer. All the outrage about the catcher blocking home plate started about a week ago when Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants broke his left fibula and severely strained some ligaments in his ankle. He will miss the remainder of the 2011 season.

Thus began the debate whether teams should put such valuable players behind the plate. My thought is to keep them behind the plate. You can’t move a catcher to a different position just because you are afraid he might get hurt on a play. If you did that then you wouldn’t have anyone playing defense, because then you could make the case that a second baseman could be taken out with a hard slide or whatever the situation is.

During all this talk about Posey and the thought of moving players from behind the plate, you hear a lot about the Minnesota Twins possibly moving Mauer to a different position. I totally disagree with their opinion on that. Not only is Mauer one of the best catchers in the game right now, but where would put him? They have Justin Morneau at first base through the 2013 season and Danny Valencia at third base for the foreseeable future. Those would be the only two positions I would put Mauer at if I was the Twins.

If you were to move Mauer, who would take over as the full-time, starting catcher? Drew Buetra? No thanks. Rene Rivera? No thanks. Steve Holm? Okay, you have to stop being funny. Wilson Ramos? Oh wait, the Twins traded him for Matt Capps. With the Twins payroll exceeding $100 million for the first time in franchise history, you wouldn’t have much wiggle room to go spend on a quality starting catcher, so that brings us back to keeping Mauer behind the plate. Also, don’t forget that Mauer is in the first year of his new 8 year, $184 million contract. So you can’t even think about moving him to a different position this early into his contract.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire put it perfectly the other day when asked about the possibility of moving Mauer to a different position: "He signed an eight-year deal to catch in the big leagues for the Minnesota Twins," Gardenhire said. "So we're trying to get him back as a catcher. If it doesn't work out when he comes back, then we're going to have to figure somewhere else. And that's a lot harder than everybody makes it out to be, because we have some corner people that are pretty good baseball players.”

I think the only way they move Mauer to a different position is if he continues to have knee issues during the off-season and into Spring Training. To me, the earliest you can think about moving him is after the 2013 season, but that would only work if the Twins don’t re-sign Morneau and then move Mauer to first base. That doesn’t mean I don’t want Morneau to stick around, as I certainly want him to stick around, but the Twins will have to really think about what is best for the organization.