Monday, May 23, 2011

Are the Twins Going to Trade Kevin Slowey?

       After I read a report that the Twins are planning on sending Kevin Slowey down to Triple-A Rochester to get some starts, my initial reaction was that it was a smart move by the Twins as he hasn’t gotten into many games at the major league level. But the more I read into it and thought about it, my reaction was “They are probably trying to build his arm back up and eventually trade him”. It has been known since Spring Training that Slowey is the pitcher the Twins would trade, if they were to trade one of their pitchers.

       I have respect for Slowey as he has handled his move to the bullpen with grace and open arms. Some pitchers would fight the move, but he wanted to do what was best for the team. He has had some arm troubles this year and even made a trip the disabled list, but he is still working very hard at becoming a reliable bullpen arm. At the same time though, he rightfully deserves to be in the starting rotation. He has done all the Twins have asked of him and more. But he recently started to feel that maybe Minnesota isn’t the place to be, which is a shame as he is well liked here and a great clubhouse guy.

       After winning 10 or more games in each of the previous three seasons, many thought he would be the Twins 4th or 5th starter, but with the off-season re-signing of Carl Pavano, there was going to be competition. Slowey even had a better Spring Training than Scott Baker, but the Twins decided Slowey would be more effective coming out of the bullpen rather than send him down to Triple-A.

       It appears that he is going to end up in Rochester sooner than later to get him back into the routine of starting. This then brings up the question “Will the Twins eventually trade Slowey?”. I personally would like to see Slowey make a few starts at the major league level. I would move either Liriano or Duensing to the bullpen in the mean time. Especially now that Glen Perkins appears to be out for a few weeks, we need a solid lefty in the bullpen.

       One of the other reasons it would be smart for the Twins to keep Slowey is that he is under team control through the 2013 at a very cheap price. That could also help the Twins if they choose to trade him, but only time will tell. If they do trade him, they must get a good pitcher in return. Whether that is a starter or a bullpen, preferably a bullpen arm as it would defeat the purpose to trade him for another starter.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bullpen Woes Hamper Twins

      Heading into the 2011 season, Twins fans were preparing for the worst when the late innings rolled around in games. After letting Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes all test the free agent market, the Twins were in for a rude awaking. Not knowing how Joe Nathan would recover from Tommy John surgery the year before, or just having a good idea of who works better in certain situations and innings, it has made for some interesting decisions.

      After having combined earned run average of 3.49 for the 2010 season, many people thought at least two of the four named above would be back with the club in 2011 and would be named as one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Twins thought differently. They decided to let them test the market and would rebuild the bullpen from within, primarily Triple-A Rochester.

      Heading into Spring Training, there were a few spots up for battle, but as we reach mid-May, it really didn’t matter who won the battles. The Twins have used 12 different relief pitchers, which only four have made more than 15 appearances. Some have found themselves on the disabled list, but the fact the Twins have already called and sent down several relief pitchers is not a good way to start the season.

      So, whether the Twins go out and sign a relief pitcher or trade for one, they need to get into a routine instead of calling up a new reliever every week. There has also been talk of moving Kevin Slowey into the rotation if Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing continue to struggle.

      Despite all the struggles in the bullpen this year, there has been a very pleasant surprise in the way of Glen Perkins. After transitioning back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, the Twins decided to make him a long-relief pitcher and sometimes the lefty specialist. Despite his 0-1 record, he has an uncharacteristic 0.82 ERA after 20 appearances. He had a scoreless streak that spanned 19 2/3 innings prior to allowing his first earned run in the May 14th game. The thing that has helped him the most this year is the fact that he knew he was only going to be used in the bullpen this year, so he was able to mentally prepare for that role.

      So as the season progresses more and more, it will be interesting to see if the Twins stick with the bullpen they have or if they will make any moves outside of the organization. I personally think they should stay within the organization at this point, but if they make a miraculous 2nd half come back, which isn’t a totally crazy thought, I could see them trade for a bullpen arm or two.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Twins Legend Harmon Killebrew Passes Away

      After a six month battle with esophageal cancer, Minnesota Twins legend Harmon Killebrew has passed away at the age of 74 today at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was one of the top Twins players, if not the top, of all-time. He currently sits 11th on the all-time career home run list with 573 home runs, 475 were hit in a Twins uniform. He drew so many fans during the Twins early days, that then owner, Calvin Griffith rewarded him by making him the first Twin player to make $100,000 in a season. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984 after receiving 83.1% of the vote.
      Not only was he a great baseball player, but he was even better off the field. Whether it was hosting a golf tournament to raise money for cancer research or just showing up at Twins Spring Training to help the current players become better and share tips.
      He was also known to be such a gentleman and everyone who worked with him, played with him, or just even said hi to him, he would take the time to talk to everyone and never worried about his own well being. Just this past weekend when manager Ron Gardenhire went to go visit him, Killebrew wanted to know how Gardenhire was holding up after a very slow start to the season. It was that kind of caring about others that made Killebrew such a fan favorite and he will be missed greatly.
      There will never be another player like Harmon Killebrew. So I end by sending my condolences to the Killebrew family and to the Twins organization as they mourn the loss of a true legend and an even better person.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What's Wrong With the Twins: Starting Pitching Is a Mess

          As the Twins continue to disappoint, the starting pitching is becoming one of the biggest question marks of the young season. It is known that the Twins don’t have the strongest rotation, but they weren’t expected to have one of the worst either. as we approach the weekend series at home against Toronto, the starting pitching needs to wake up and start pitching better.

          They have the 2nd worst earned run average amongst starters in the Majors with a combined 4.95 ERA, only ahead of the Chicago Cubs. They are also known the walk very few batters compared to the rest of the major league, but they have already walked 80 batters, compared to a total of 233 last year. Something needs to change quickly otherwise they will remain at the bottom of the MLB ranks.

          The most disappointing starting pitcher to me has to be Carl Pavano. Winning 17 games in 2010, he was re-signed by the Twins to a $16.5 million, 2 year contract. He was expected to be the ace of this staff entering 2011. So far in 2011 he is 2-4 with a 6.64 ERA in seven starts. This brings back memories of when he signed a four year contract with the New York Yankees back in 2005 after going 18-8 during the 2004 season with the Florida Marlins.

          He isn’t a strikeout pitcher, but to only have 17 strikeouts through seven starts is not a good sign. He really needs to go back and maybe look at film and find out what is going wrong. Whether its mechanic or just he is having a bad start to the season. If he is going to be the leader of this rotation, he needs to pitch like it.

          As you continue to go through the rotation, you ask yourself more and more question about whether this team has a pitcher that will win more than 10-11 games. Francisco Liriano is a perfect example of this situation. Ever since his Tommy John Surgery, people have been wondering if he will be the same pitcher we saw in 2006, when he went 12-3. He might have had too high of expectations when he was the #2 pitcher behind Johan Santana in 2006, so he might be trying too hard to live up to the hype. Everyone expected him to be the next Johan Santana, but we came to quickly realize he was not the same pitcher after the surgery.

          He shows flashes of brilliance, but then just as you get your hopes up, he goes out and gets shelled. The perfect example of this was just a couple of weeks ago. After lasting just three innings his April 27th start against Tampa Bay, giving up seven earned runs and walking four, his next start was in Chicago. Many people thought that this would be the start that would determine if he would stay in the rotation or not. Well he answered those critics by throwing a no-hitter against the rival White Sox.

          With just two more years, 2011 and 2012 season, left he needs to quickly prove to the Twins that he is worth keeping around. Otherwise he will find himself involved in a possible trade or even just let go and land in the free agent market. I personally think Liriano has the potential to be a solid #2 or #3 starter, but he has to figure out what he is doing wrong and work on it not only during the season, but also the off-season.

          So whether the problems within the rotation are mechanic related, psychological or just a run of bad pitching, the Twins need to figure this out and figure it out quickly. Otherwise, the Twins may be forced to look within the organization or do some shuffling around with the pitching. Whether that is re-inserting Kevin Slowey into the rotation or making a trade around the deadline.

          This could very well be pitching coach Rick Anderson’s toughest year on the job and he will need to show why is one of the better pitching coaches around. So it will be very interesting to see how this turns out.

What's Wrong With the Twins: Will Mauer Ever Be Healthy?

          When you ask people who the worst team in baseball is, you hear Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, Kansas City, or Cleveland. You never hear the Minnesota Twins come up in that discussion. Well that is how crazy the 2011 Major League Baseball season has been thus far. As we near the middle of May, the Minnesota Twins own the worst record in baseball at 12-23. They are eleven games back of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central.

          The Twins had trouble written all over them since Spring Training. Whether it was figuring out their pitching staff, dealing with the annual “Is Joe Mauer healthy?” question, or every fans favorite “Why didn’t the Twins make any major moves to match their division rivals?” question. I will spend the next few days discussing each of these issues and touch on a few other topics as well.

          The question that every Twins fan is asking is “When will Joe Mauer return?”. This is the $184 million dollar question, as Joe is in the first year of his new 8 year, $184 million dollar contract. Yet he has only played in 9 games out of the 35 played so far. His missed time is due to Bilateral leg weakness and a viral infection at the same time. The Twins believe the leg weakness was caused by his off-season knee surgery and the lack of preparation in Spring Training before the Regular Season started.

          Both the Twins and Joe later admitted that he was not ready strength-wise to start the Regular Season. Then I only ask, “Why did he start the season if he wasn’t ready?”. Yes, I know he is the face of the franchise and was entering the first year of his new contract, the largest ever given to a Twins player, but you have to make sure he is as healthy as possible. This could be a very long 8 year contract for the Twins. If he continues to have knee issues, they will have to seriously consider moving him to a different position.

          Everyone immediately says to move him to first base, but you have to remember that the Twins have Morneau under contract through the 2013 season and potentially longer if they choose to re-sign him. I think first base is truly the only position to consider moving Mauer to, so it would be 2014 season at the earliest. However, if you move Mauer to a different position, who goes behind the plate? Drew Butera? Steve Holms? The Twins will be lucky to find a catcher with half as much talent that Joe has, when he is healthy.

          If I’m the Twins, I would let Mauer take as much time as he needs this year to get healthy and slowly work him back into the lineup. Reports are saying he is still a few weeks away, but has been working out at Target Field and will likely go on a rehab assignment by the end of the month before he returns to the Twin Cities. So if you are planning on going a minor league game in late-May, be on the look out for those sideburns.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pat Dean Interview

Pat Dean, a left-handed pitcher out of Boston College, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk about his time with the Twins so far and what the future holds for him.

Kevin Lewis: You were selected in the 3rd round by the Minnesota Twins this past June. It must have been a great moment. What was your reaction like and how much does it mean to you being drafted by a team that has a good track record of developing pitchers?

Pat Dean: It was one of the biggest moments of my life, no doubt about that. I remember watching the computer with my family and girlfriend, anxiously waiting to hear my name called on the draft tracker. Once I heard that the Twins had selected me, I had all kinds of emotions going through me. Knowing that I would be playing professional baseball, and to be fortunate enough to be playing with a great organization that is well known for player development, it is a dream come true.

KL: If you were a scout before the draft, what would you scouting report say about Pat Dean?

PD: My scouting about myself would most likely say that I am a hard-working, competitor. Location is how I find my success. I am a student of the game, always learning ways to make myself a better player.

KL: You signed very quickly with the Twins after being drafted and then you were sent to the Twins rookie ball team, Elizabethton. Very similar to your Boston College days, you were put in the bullpen to start with, then made your way to the rotation. You had an astonishing 37-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. You have a track record of being a very accurate pitcher. What can you attribute to that?

PD: That can be attributed to catch in the back yard with my father. When I was younger, any time I threw a ball that got past him, I would have to go chase after it. We live on a hill so the ball usually went pretty far. I eventually figured out the easiest way to not get exhausted is to throw strikes. I think that was the beginning to my accuracy.

KL: As you get into the groove of things in the 2011 season, are there a few things, or maybe just one thing you feel you need to work on as you make your way through the minor league system?

PD: To me, everything can always be better. No one is perfect, and I know none of my pitching skills are. So it is important for me to be constantly learning new ways to get better. My goal this season is to work on something or learn something new every day that will in turn make me a better pitcher.

KL: Growing up as a young baseball player, who was you favorite player and what team did you grow up rooting for?

PD: I grew up a Yankees fan, and always enjoyed watching Andy Pettite pitch.

KL: I typically ask this question, but if you were to give the young baseball players of today a word of advice as they continue to improve, what would it be?

PD: My word of advice would be to always work hard. It takes no talent to do that. If you have a goal or a dream, don’t let anyone stop you from achieving it. Anything can happen if you put the time and effort in.

KL: I’d like to thank Pat Dean for taking time. Pat will be someone to keep an eye on this season as he hopefully makes his way through the system quick and we see him in the Twin Cities in a few years.