Friday, February 28, 2014

Let's overreact to: Minnesota Twins Spring Training Opening Day lineup

In this landmark, new, award-winning feature, I overreact to stuff. 
Spring Training games officially start today, so we've officially reached the beginning of what I like to call "Overreaction Season."  Since we cannot avoid overreacting, let's just try to get it all out of our system before there's really anything worth overreacting to.  The Twins lineup for the first Spring Training game is about as meaningless as it gets, so let's really dig deep and find a few things to get mad about, then get mad, then get sleepy, then get over it. 

Here is the lineup:

I can't help but notice that a position change hasn't changed "Iron Joe Mauer."  I hope they have hammocks at first base.  I'll set the over/under at 110 games played and I'll take the side that lets me complain the most.  He better be in the lineup next game, or I'm going to completely ignore his upcoming 900 OPS season, instead of just partially ignoring it.

By the way, why is Chris Herrmann catching?  It's bad enough that Josmil Pinto isn't playing, but now our multi-million dollar free agent signing can't play either?  The only thing that Kurt Suzuki does well is make starts at catcher and now he's not doing that?  The Twins could have spent that $3 million on a left fielder who has more range than Rob Riggle.  Yeah, I'm doing pop culture crap now too!  He always plays the same character!

Is Trevor Plouffe soooooo good that he has to bat third?  Couldn't he hit behind Arcia?  Is this some ridiculous veteran pecking order garbage?  I can't stand that hierarchy.  Oh, Plouffe was born first, he deserves to hit first.  UUHHH.  Who cares?  Are we trying to keep the guys who can grow great hair but are too gutless to do so in order?  Hey Plouffe, you gotta earn that spot, you don't just get it handed to you.  Grow your hair out.  You too, Dozier.

Speaking of earning a spot, why is Jason Bartlett starting over Pedro Florimon?  I know Florimon isn't anything special, but if he didn't do anything to lose his job last year, why'd he lose it before this season?  Huh?  Remember when Bartlett couldn't get into the lineup because other guys were on scholarships?  Now he has a scholarship?  What gives?  Why can't we just give the spots to the best players on the team?  What an odd concept!

I guess Mike Pelfrey's our Ace and Opening Day starter.  Bully.  For the record, that game starts at 3:10pm and you can expect it to end around midnight.  Pelfrey will walk 40 miles around the mound.  Are the Twins ordering their rotation by height?  Is this a class photo or a baseball team?  On the plus side, the Red Sox hitters will get an extra round of batting practice, so that's altruistic.      

Oh, and it's great to see all the young guys in the lineup after losing approximately 2000 games over the last three seasons.  Where's Buxton?!?  Where's Sano?!?  Where's Meyer?!?  What are the Twins so afraid of?  They'll play well and drive up their free agent price?  When is this team going to start worrying about winning games more than winning money?  Although, when you find something that works, you just keep doing it, right?  

Are you a fan of saltine crackers?  This lineup looks like a sleeve of saltine crackers.  The sleeve that comes with one burnt side.   

That's all.  My blood is boiling!

You know what, I actually feel better.  I'm going to take a six-hour nap.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Miguel Sano

"Chicks dig the long ball."  Everyone remembers that commercial from the 90s.  Well, maybe not everyone and certainly more than just "chicks" dig the long ball.  Home runs are massively popular.  A home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa is often credited with "saving" baseball after the 1994 strike.  I'm not sure how valid that claim is, but I know that I love a good home run.  Big, booming home runs are even better.  Of course, the franchise that I cheer for generally doesn't develop a lot of big boomers, so when a guy with massive power comes along, it's pretty exciting.

The 5th most important Twins player in 2014 is Miguel Sano.

Who is he? 

Sano is one of the top prospects in baseball.  In late 2009, the Twins signed Sano as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic.  He quickly moved to third base, as he is a huge individual.  Sano impressed as a 17-year-old making his pro debut in 2010, but he really broke out with Elizabethton in 2011.  He hit .292/.352/.637 with 20 home runs.  He hit 20 home runs in 66 games!  Then, he hit 28 home runs with Beloit in 2012 and 35 home runs split between Fort Myers and New Britain in 2013.  Basically, Sano hits home runs. 

When Sano signed as a shortstop, everyone knew that he would be moving to third pretty quickly.  He hasn't played a game at short since 2011.  However, many experts also felt that Sano's final defensive resting place would be first base or possibly DH.  Recent reports have been more favorable in regards to Sano's defense at third.  In fact, in their Minnesota Twins top ten prospect list, Baseball Prospectus wrote that his "glove could end up being 5+."  That basically means that he could be an above-average defender, especially when you factor in his monster arm. 

Why is he important?

Since the last time the Twins won the World Series, you can count the number of Twins players who have hit 30 or more home runs in a season on one hand.  Four different players have reached that number - Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau (he did it 3 times).  A Twins player has hit 30 home runs in a season just 24 times.  24 times in 53 seasons!  8 of those seasons came from Harmon Killebrew!  Sano has the power to hit 30 home runs consistently, and some think he might be able to hit 30 home runs in 2014.  Home runs are popular and for that reason alone, Sano is a very important player for this franchise.  Willingham proved in 2012 that right-handed power plays at Target Field. 

Sano gets compared to Miguel Cabrera because he has a ton of power and can fake it at third base.  This comparison is unfair.  Sano doesn't make contact like Cabrera, so he won't hit .350 in a season and he may never hit .300.  Defensively, Sano and Cabrera do not compare.  "Faking it" is the perfect way to describe how Cabrera played third.  He got by.  Sano can play third.  He's athletic and he's got a fantastic arm.  He's big, but he's not fat and he can move.  Right now, Sano is a powerful third baseman who appears to be close to MLB-ready at age 20.   So yeah, he's important.

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

Oh man, I'm super excited for Sano.  The Twins have had potent offenses in the past, but they haven't had a guy who could consistently hit large quantities of home runs since Harmon Killebrew.  I wasn't alive when he was around, so I have never seen a guy with Killebrew's power in my lifetime.  Sano might have that kind of power.  The anticipation surrounding Sano is hitting a crescendo.  He didn't dominate AA last season, but he held his own at age 20.  It seems there will be a day in 2014 when Sano will make his MLB debut and if pumas were allowed at Target Field, you know that I'd be there. 

I'm really encouraged by reports I've read about Sano's defense.  With Joe Mauer at first for the foreseeable future, Sano needs to stay at third.  I wouldn't advocate keeping him there if he was going to be a mess because that isn't good for the team or for him.  I don't need Sano to be the best third baseman, but my hope is that he can make the routine plays, make some extra plays with his arm, and stay athletic enough to do those things for a number of years.  I'm sure he'll move to first one day, but I am confident that we won't see that day for quite some time.  I'm really excited. 

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I have to admit, I like the idea of a guy on the Twins with some swagger and personality.  The bland, boring Twins of the 90s and 2000s have long put me to sleep.  However, I worry that Sano will be more style than substance when he gets to Minnesota.  Reports about his defense have been more encouraging, but none of them state with certainty that he'll be a quality third baseman in the Majors.  Even in a "better" 2013 season, Sano still made 23 errors.  Plus, he's only 20, so he might get bigger.  How many 260 lb third baseman can you find?  Miguel Cabrera?  Let's be honest, he shouldn't have been at third in the first place. 

It's not like Sano's a finished offensive product either.  He only hit .236 with AA last season.  I imagine he would hit under .200 with the Twins if given the opportunity in 2014.  He can't possibly hit 30 home runs with a batting average under .200.  I say that because only Mark Reynolds has done that in the last 30 years and it took him almost 600 plate appearances.  There's no way Sano gets 600 plate appearances with the Twins in 2014.  In fact, I'd be shocked if he gets one plate appearance with the Twins in 2014.  The Twins are notably conservative with their youngsters and Sano needs to work on his contact/strikeouts/defense.  He's got a bunch of tools, but he still needs to learn how to use them. 

What to look for in '14:

Sano could start 2014 in AA, AAA or in the Majors and it wouldn't be a surprise.  He hit 19 home runs in 67 games with New Britain in 2013, but he also hit just .236.  The Twins could send Sano back to AA and it would be a completely logical move.  It would be upsetting for many fans, but it would be logical.  I'm not sure anyone would be able to argue with sending Sano to AAA, so that seems to be his mostly likely destination for the start of 2014.  Oswaldo Arcia played 69 games with AA in 2012 and started his 2013 season in AAA.  It makes sense for Sano to start with AAA and if he hits like he has, earn a promotion at some point during the season. 

If he goes back to AA, he won't stay there long.  If he starts with AAA, his MLB debut-watch immediately begins.  If he starts with the Twins, well, that would be awesome.  He's not a finished product right now, but he's getting close.  His power is legit and his defense seems to be coming along.  Some additional time in the Minors is the logical move, but my fan brain is very illogical.  I'd love to see him with the Twins on Opening Day.  That way, I could get a look at his defense with my fan eyes and my fan brain.

No matter where he plays, this is still a development year.  He'll play most of this season at age 21 and it will be important to remember that fact.  If he struggles with the Twins in April, just remember that he's still a very young player and he has a lot of years to put everything together.  At his peak, Sano could hit 40-45 home runs in a season.  Maybe 50?  Nah, it's not fair to expect that.  Whatever number you dream of, he won't get there right now.  Be patient, there's no reason to think that Sano isn't the power hitter we've all dreamed of. 

I'll be back next week with the 4th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

Note - this was written prior to the news that Miguel Sano will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery.  I obviously did not have a taunting intent.  I'm actually very nice.  If you want to read my analysis of his injury, click here.

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Kyle Gibson

Everyone loves a good Major League Debut.  The ever expanding availability of prospect and Minor League coverage gives fans a good idea of who players are before they ever play for their favorite team.  Not all prospects are household names, but certain Minor Leaguers are as well-known as the biggest stars on the team.  Pitcher debuts are scheduled days in advance and as a result, fanfare can be built up by local media.  You'll hear stories about the player, stories from the player and then you get to watch him pitch.  Last season, a former first-round pick made his MLB debut and understandably, it was a spectacle.  

The 6th most important Twins player in 2014 is Kyle Gibson.

Who is he? 

Gibson was the Twins' first-round selection back in 2009.  The Twins drafted him out of the University of Missouri and hoped that he would move quickly and join the rotation within a couple of years.  Early on, that looked like reality, as Gibson reached AAA in his first professional season.  His second pro season did not go well.  He struggled at AAA, posting a 4.81 ERA in 18 starts.  Even worse, he went down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.  He returned briefly in 2012, then went to the Arizona Fall League and dominated. 

Gibson headed back to AAA for 2013 and looked mostly great.  His stuff had returned to pre-injury form, but he was somewhat inconsistent at the beginning of 2013 (this became a running joke, but then proved to be a legitimate concern).  Even so, he earned a late-June promotion and made his MLB debut on June 29.  He threw six innings, gave up 2 earned runs on 8 hits, while striking out 5 and walking none.  Untortunately, this would prove to be his best start for the Twins.  He made nine more starts, ended with a disappointing 6.53 ERA and earned a demotion back to AAA in late August. 

Gibson's MLB debut was memorable, but his rookie season did not go as hoped.  

Why is he important?

Gibson is important for all of the same reasons the Twins drafted him five years ago.  Gibson is durable and consistent.  He has good stuff and better command.  His fastball is good, his slider is good and his change is good.  All of those attributes add up to what appears to be an effective number 3 starter.  Unfortunately, he didn't show off many of those attributes in 2013 and he certainly didn't show them with the Twins. 

That said, he was just one year removed from major elbow surgery.  He was on an innings limit and he had only made 38 starts in AAA.  He WAS inconsistent in the first half of the season, often following a good start with a poor start.  He was good enough that he deserved a chance in the Majors, but it wasn't that surprising that he was inconsistent with the Twins.  He's still made just 10 starts as a Twin and he won't be a free agent until 2020, when he'll be 33.  Basically, the Twins will get his entire peak.

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

It would be easy to discount Gibson because of his time with the Twins in 2013.  Honestly, he didn't look great.  He gave up a lot of hits, a lot of home runs and he walked more batters than he can overcome.  Gibson was advertised as a command-specialist who would get ground balls and just enough strikeouts to be effective.  He didn't strike out a lot of batters in 2013.  His command often looked shaky too, which certainly didn't help him when he got into trouble.    

That said, there are plenty of stats that make me think that Gibson was really unlucky in those ten starts.  First, his BABIP was .350 and that is very high.  .294 was the ML average in 2013.  Gibson did induce ground balls at a 50.3% rate, a figure that bodes well for Gibson in the long-term, but didn't pair well with that high BABIP.  He also had a 66.5% strand rate, seven points below the ML average.  Basically, when runners got on base, more scored than scored against the average pitcher.  Finally, even though Gibson induced a lot of ground balls, the fly balls he gave up went over the fence far too frequently.  His home run-to-fly ball ratio was 13.5%, three points over the ML average.

If given time to allow those figures to regress to the mean a bit, Gibson's luck should change.  The Twins would be wise to let those numbers even out in the Majors. 

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I did not like what I saw from Gibson in 2013.  His stuff was unimpressive and he gave up a lot of big innings.  It seemed like when things started to go bad, they just kept getting worse.  Gibson didn't show any ability to get out of a jam and he often made things worse by walking hitters with other runners on base.  I had read that Gibson was a guy who didn't give up many walks.  While Radke-clones bore me to death, there is something nice about knowing your pitcher won't give batters a free base.  Gibson didn't look like a Radke-clone to me.  

Plus, has anyone pointed out how old Gibson is?  He's already 26 and he has had exactly one good MLB start.  He's one month younger than Vance Worley, and everyone seems ready to kick Worley to the curb.  At least Worley had a good MLB season.  Has Gibson?  I understand that Gibson was injured and that he was an older draftee, but most pitchers have had some MLB success by 26.  Those who haven't often never do.  I don't want to get too negative here, but it's hard for me to get too excited about a guy who can't crack a 8.0 K/9 in AAA at age 25.  Gibson might have an MLB future, but I don't see anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.    

What to look for in '14:

Gibson will battle with Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Sam Deduno for the fifth rotation spot.  Gibson is the only player of the four with Minor League options, making him the darkest of dark horses.  However, as happened last year, if Gibson pitches well, he could be in line for a call-up at any moment.  Gibson is the youngest of the four (barely though, just one month younger than Worley as pointed out by our negative puma friend) and probably the most talented as well.  With the luck the Twins have had with their rotation over the last few seasons, they likely will need all the starters they can find and Gibson will find his way to the Majors before long.

While a lot of attention will be placed on where Gibson starts his season, where he finishes is likely more important.  Gibson is too talented and too advanced to pitch a full season with Rochester.  He needs at least a half-season with the Twins, so the team can gauge how much Gibson can contribute to their future.  The Twins already know that Gibson can handle AAA hitters, but they aren't in the business of developing AAA starters.  Right now, Gibson is one of the five most talented starters on the Twins' 40-man roster and you can make the argument that he's in their top three. 

Guys like Deduno, Diamond, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are not worth keeping Gibson from MLB starts.  Those guys are fine, but Gibson could be much better than fine.  The Twins have to know what they have in Gibson when 2015 starts and the only way to know for sure is to see how he handles another round of MLB hitters. 

I'll be back later this week with the 5th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Minnesota Twins Power Rankings: February 24, 2014

Now that Spring Training is underway, we can finally start ranking the most important stories from the past week.  It will be quite easy for you to know which stories are more important than others.  You see, 1 is better than 2, 2 is better than 3 and so forth.  Now that we all understand how numbers work, we can get to business. 

10.  Mike Berardino and Rhett Bollinger

There are going to be tons and tons of reports during Spring Training, but for my money (of which I have to spend $0), I prefer the coverage from these two reporters.  Berardino posts here and you can follow him on Twitter here.  Bollinger posts here and you can follow him on Twitter here.  You can get great news and reports from these two, then look for my analysis on their reports 7-50 days later.  It's a great cycle. 

Hendriks was released by the Baltimore Orioles earlier this week.  :( 

Hendriks was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this week.  :) 

The Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez and determined that he was better than Hendriks.  I mean, I guess that's fair.  With Toronto, Hendriks could have an easier route to Major League starts, as Toronto's rotation was awful last season they have done almost nothing to improve it.  If nothing else, Toronto's AAA affiliate is the Buffalo Bisons, which is probably the most creative team name in existence. 

When Hughes signed with the Twins, he decided that he wanted a new uniform number.  He had worn both 65 and 34 with the Yankees.  Obviously, 34 is not available in Minnesota.  65 is currently occupied by Trevor May, who has no chance of making the team this Spring and likely no intention to keep such an odd number.  Regardless, Hughes wanted a new number, so he picked 45.  Of course, that number was taken by Scott Ullger, who had worn it for like 20 years.  No big deal.  I guess a player trumps a coach.  Hughes is supposedly going to do something nice for Ullger and I have some suggestions:
  • A homemade thank you card on ACTUAL cardstock.  Don't skimp.
  • A pony.
  • Seasons 3-8 of The Simpsons on DVD (the glory years).
  • A firm handshake with appropriate eye contact.
  • A bunch of prost ice cream.
Ricky Nolasco's personal catcher?  This report is mostly about how prepared Ricky Nolasco is when he comes into Spring Training.  He's ahead of other pitchers, he throws more, he smells better, etc.  However, Dan Rohlfing is the official Twins player of this blog due to the fact that he (likely mistakenly) followed me on Twitter a few weeks back. 

The Twins love the concept of personal catchers, using Drew Butera with Francisco Liriano, Drew Butera with Carl Pavano and, surprisingly, Drew Butera with Les Straker.  Don't look that last one up, just trust me.  Hopefully, Rohlfing will have the inside track to catch Nolasco in Spring Training.  Hopefully, Nolasco will be outstanding.  Hopefully, this will lead to Rohlfing starting the season with Minnesota.  Every team needs a second catcher and the Twins like to have three.  Why can't Rohlfing be one of the three?

Gonsalves is a child that is currently employed by the Twins as a pitcher.  At just 19, the former fourth-round pick is loaded with promise.  Twins Daily had an interview with Gonsalves last week and he certainly didn't respond like a child.  Yes, he did use the dreaded "pitch to contact" idiom but if you can get past those three words, the rest of the interview is really insightful.  Check it out!

EVERYONE LOVES MINNESOTA!!!!  Recently, both Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia have expressed interest in remaining with the Twins beyond their current contracts, with Wililngham going so far as to say he wants to retire with the team.  Hey, I'd love to retire with the Twins too, but no one seems to want to ask me about it.  Correia said that he loves the city and the stadium, which will almost certainly lead the local news for the next fifty nights.  Willingham surprisingly admitted to liking the weather, although he is currently in Florida while the rest of us are trapped in our cars on 494. 

I think it is great that these dudes like playing here.  I hope their word gets out to other players and they come here as a result.  As to whether I want either guy to actually stay here, let's just say that I wish them both well in their future endeavors. 

4.  Head Injuries

Yay, Chris Herrmann.  Herrmann supports eliminating catcher collisions, according to this Bollinger report.  Good for him, why would anyone want to get run over when trying to catch a baseball.  This isn't mumblety-peg.  What is mumblety-peg?

Hmm, Ron Gardenhire.  According to that same Bollinger report, Gardenhire is not sold on the catcher-crushing rule changes:

"There's going to be times when a guy comes in there with no place to go and slides and he gets hurt and then you're going to have issues, because he can't protect himself as a runner trying to score and a catcher whacks him," Gardenhire said. "I'm more worried about my runners going in there than my catchers. They're going to have change what they do to score, which is scary because that's how you get hurt."

Wait, what?  The runner is initiating any contact, not the catcher.  Is the catcher going to have a boxing glove pop out of his stomach like in cartoons?  So basically, we should allow runners to plow catchers because we don't want them to have to slide differently?  Makes perfect sense.  I'll gladly trade a few knee/ankle injuries for better preserved brains. 

Boo, Kent Hrbek.  I love Kent Hrbek.  He's one of my favorite players ever.  That said, this quote from this Berardino story annoys me: 

“It’s just a different thing for what the guys have to go through to get back and play (following concussions),” Hrbek said. “They’re covering their (butt). Whatever. Joe is not going to have any problem over there.”

Concussions are brain injuries.  Until we all take them as seriously as they are, we won't be able to do anything about them.  We don't have the technology to eliminate concussions right now, but you can take proper precautions when a person has one to ensure that they recover properly.  The next time the topic of brain injuries comes up with Kent Hrbek around, can we just give him a drumstick to munch on?  Everyone, including Hrbek, will be much happier. 

By the way, "they" aren't covering their "butts" they're protecting player brains.  Pants cover butts and we have that technology.

Deduno seems to be ahead of schedule in his rehab from shoulder surgery.  Early in the Winter, it seemed unclear if he would be ready for Spring Training, but now I am reading that he has thrown multiple bullpens and faced some live hitters.  I've made my skepticism regarding Deduno's long-term success very clear.  However, he was pretty good last season.  If you had to pick someone for the 5th rotation spot based on 2013 results, Deduno would win that spot hands down.  Plus, he's a firecracker who eats necklaces.

Frick.  Bailey was set to be a free agent after the 2014 season, but then he selfishly signed a six-year, $105 million extension with the Reds, ending my hopes that the Twins would sign him next year.  I idiotically hoped that the Wayne Krivsky-Reds connection would lead Bailey to Minnesota.  Like they were best friends or something.  Bailey is an outstanding pitcher and he's getting better.  I'm happy for Reds fans but I also secretly hate Reds fans.  Man, why couldn't Krivsky have had the foresight to buddy up to Bailey?  I mean, here's a re-enactment of how much fun they would have had on a roller coaster together.

Hmm, I'd see that movie.

1.  Terry Ryan

During my free agency previews back in November, I introduced a new Terry Ryan.  A Terry Ryan who signs high-dollar free agents, wears a leather jacket and throws around fingerguns like mad.  Believe me, I was going to run that new TR into the ground.  Then, Ryan was diagnosed with skin cancer and it just didn't feel right any longer. 

Reports came out recently that Ryan had successful surgery to remove a cancerous lump from his neck and that he received a favorable report from his one-week follow-up visit.  Nothing is more BA than beating the crap out of cancer, so maybe TR will take on that persona that I invented for him a few months ago.  I am 100%  certain that Terry Ryan does not read this blog, but I still wish him the best of luck as he continues his recovery.    

Stories...Ranked!  If you hate good music, you should stop reading right now.

I don't like to get into "not baseball" too much, but in April, The Afghan Whigs are releasing their first album in 16 years and I can't contain myself.  This is one of my all-time favorite bands, they broke up 13 years ago, and I never thought I would ever get new music from them.  I love The Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli's new band, but The Afghan Whigs are just so cool.  Here's the video for their newest song, "Algiers;" it's outstanding.

I apologize for this musical interlude, but if you aren't familiar with their work, they are definitely worth listening to.  My favorite album is Congregation, but you really can't go wrong with any of their stuff.  Ok, "not baseball" over.  See you next week!

Friday, February 21, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Alex Meyer

The Twins don't have anyone who throws hard!  The Twins pitch to contact!  The Twins hate strikeouts!  We've all heard and lived these laments over the last couple decades.  The Twins have always had a fondness for pitchers who "put the ball in play" and "let their fielders to their jobs."  The anti-strikeout meme is so prevalent, a simple Google search reveals multiple articles from various reputable resources.

Some are analytical:

Each of those articles makes a reasonable argument based on the Twins history with soft-tossing, command-specialist starting pitchers.  Then, in the 2013 off-season, the Twins made a trade that may have started a new trend.  They acquired a young, hard-throwing starter and suddenly, that meme was just a little bit harder to promote. 

The 7th most important Twins player in 2014 is Alex Meyer.

Who is he? 

In November of 2012, the Twins acquired Meyer for former starting center fielder Denard Span.  Meyer is a former first-round pick and he has top-of-the-rotation stuff.  When the Twins made that trade, Meyer was coming off of his first professional season, posting a 2.86 ERA in 25 starts split between Low-A and High-A.  In 129 innings, he struck out 139 batters.  If the meme is to be believed, that 26.7% strikeout rate is an all-time Twins record!  The Twins went into the 2012 off-season looking to boost their farm system and find hard-throwing starters.  Meyer met both criteria. 

In his first season with the Twins' organization, Meyer looked good.  He made the jump to AA and actually improved his strikeout rate.  He posted a 28.1% strikeout rate in 70 AA innings. Unfortunately, he only managed those 70 innings, as he missed about two months with a shoulder injury.  He returned late in the 2013 season and looked good.  He then went to the Arizona Fall League and looked even better. 

Why is he important?

Meyer has a fastball that can hit 100 MPH, a nasty slider and a change that is getting better.  Meyer is a very tall man, so his biggest obstacle is his command.  He posted a walk rate of 9.7% with AA in 2013.  However, if he can keep his strikeout rate in the high-20s, he can overcome a few walks.  As he matures, his command could improve and he could develop into a number 1 or 2 starter.  The Twins haven't had a real number 1 or 2 starter since Johan Santana

Obviously, Meyer has great potential.  The height, command and injuries are all legitimate concerns.  Meyer can't change his height and his height actually enhances his stuff.  Because of his height, he'll have to work harder to repeat his delivery and keep his mechanics in line.  In addition, the shoulder injury that he dealt with last year was very scary at the time, but his late-season performance takes away some of that worry.  The Twins have to hope that Meyer moves to AAA in 2014 and has a healthy, effective season.  If he can be ready for the Twins rotation in 2015, his 2014 season will be a success.

If he can make his MLB debut in 2014, it would be fantastic for him and for the fans.     

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

I am very excited for Meyer's MLB debut.  I don't hate the "pitch to contact" philosophy as much as other fans, but I do enjoy a good strikeout.  If Meyer's slider is as nasty as reported, I imagine we'll see a lot of strikeouts in his future.  The fact that he throws really hard is a nice bonus as well.  I was disappointed when the Twins traded Denard Span, but if the guy they received in return can head the future rotation, it was a worthwhile trade. 

I have high hopes for Meyer.  He's moved through the Minors very quickly and could make his MLB debut during his third season.  I really like that his strikeout rate increased from 2012 to 2013.  Getting strikeouts in A ball is one thing, but AA hitters are more advanced.  Meyer's walk rate isn't pretty, but it's not terrible either.  His rate was 9.7% and AL average was 7.9% in 2013.  There's a gap, but at the same time, Meyer's 28.1% strikeout rate would be much higher than the AL average of 19.9% in 2013.  Obviously, Meyer will see a dip in his strikeout rate as he moves up, but he should still be able to eclipse the AL average and overcome some of those walks. 

I hope he pitches well in AAA and earns his MLB debut during the 2014 season.  

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I was against the Meyer trade when it happened and I would make the reverse move right now, if given the chance.  Why trade a known commodity for a lottery ticket?  I like young talent, but Span was a young man too.  The Twins created a gaping hole at a very important position, all to try to prove that they don't hate strikeouts.  Big deal.  One guy doesn't change anything.  Why not open up the pocketbook and sign a flamethrower?  Why not trade young guys for an established pitcher who absolutely will pay off? 

I don't dislike Meyer as a player, but I'm not convinced that he's going to lead the Twins to the playoffs anytime soon.  He walks a lot of batters and those issues can often take a long time to iron out.  Randy Johnson didn't find his control until he was 29 and he was amazing.  Is Meyer amazing?  A bunch of strikeouts doesn't do a lot of good if you're putting a lot of batters on base for free.  Meyer was able to strike out a lot of AA batters, but he still doesn't have an MLB strikeout.  Before we start penciling him into the rotation for the next 5-7 years, let's see what he can do against MLB hitters. 

This doesn't even address the fact that the Twins are so confident in Meyer's ability that they have about 9 pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart.  I don't expect to see him in Minnesota this season, so how can be the 7th most important player?

What to look for in '14:

Where will Meyer pitch in 2014?  You could make the case that he could start at AA, AAA or even the Majors.  I'd guess that he'll start in AAA as he pitched well with New Britain last season and he has moved levels pretty quickly.  I do wonder if he will make his MLB debut in 2014.  I could see the Twins adding Meyer in September, but I would guess that they don't want to use him before that.  The Twins are conservative with development and service time.  Plus, they have a lot of starters on roster, even if most of those starters are far less talented than Meyer.

Wherever he pitches, it will be interesting to monitor his strikeout and walk rates.  If his strikeout rate can remain stable and his walk rate goes in the right direction, then Meyer might be putting it all together.  I won't be surprised if his strikeout rate dips a bit as he moves from AA to AAA, but hopefully it won't dip too much.  2014 is about development for Meyer.  Even if he doesn't pitch an inning with the Twins, his season can be a huge success.  The Twins are going to be much better in 2015, and they need a healthy, effective Meyer for that season. 

I'll be back next week with the 6th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Josmil Pinto

The 2013 season wasn't exactly lousy with bright spots for Twins fans.  A few players exceeded expectations, but most of those players had low expectations to begin with.  Most of the young players who the Twins thought they could begin to rely upon scuffled in their MLB debuts (Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson and even Oswaldo Arcia to an extent).  One young player was brought up in September and finished that month as one of the Twins' best hitters. 

The 8th most important Twins player in 2014 is Josmil Pinto.

Who is he? 

If everything goes to plan, Pinto is the Twins' catcher of the future.  Pinto has been with the organization since 2006, and he truly emerged as a prospect with a very impressive 2012 season in High-A.  In that season, he hit .295/.361/.473 and earned his first taste of AA.  He followed that up with an even better 2013, hitting .308/.411/.482 in 107 AA games, earning a promotion to AAA on August 1 and then a promotion to the Majors on September 1.  Pinto went out and mashed, collecting 26 hits in 76 September at-bats, including five doubles and four home runs.   

Offensively, Pinto impressed everyone.  There are questions about his defense.  The Twins feel that he has development left and that seems reasonable.  In Baseball Prospectus' top 10 Twins article, they noted that Pinto is a good receiver with leadership skills.  They also laud his arm and catch/throw skills, stating that his glove is at least average.  They also note that his footwork isn't great and he isn't an impact defender.  If Pinto can be just "good" behind the plate, he has a chance to be a really great overall player. 

Why is he important?

Catcher is an important position.  The Twins have had the luxury of having Joe Mauer for nearly a decade, but they no longer have that luxury.  Putting a good offensive catcher in the lineup is something that every team would like to do.  The Twins place great value on defense, so Pinto will need to prove that he can handle his receiver duties.  This seems odd because they actually let Ryan Doumit catch at times, but it's generally true.  There's a reason the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki and seem intent on using him as the starter, at least at the beginning of the season.    

Pinto is the future though.  He'll be 25 next season and he's been a great hitter over the past two seasons.  His September with the Twins was almost certainly more than we can ever expect again, but it does give fans hope that the Twins have their catcher until at least the end of the decade.  He won't be eligible for free agency until 2020, so he'll be cheap labor.  The Twins love cheap labor. 

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

Pinto's September was outstanding.  It was the highlight of my fan experience in 2013.  In his second game, he had four hits.  He hit his first MLB home run just three days later.  On September 15, he hit a late three-run home run off of Joel Peralta, giving the Twins the lead and one of their last wins of the season.  Then, on September 23, he hit a walk-off single in the Twins actual last win of the season.  Pinto finished the month with a .342/.398/.566 batting line and he was amazingly fun to watch.  I know there isn't much analysis in this paragraph, but I just like Pinto.  I look forward to seeing him play catcher with the Twins for many years. 

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I'm going to give you a few names:  Chris Parmelee, Michael Ryan, Steve Lombardozzi, Mark Funderburk.  Yeah, I went Mark Funderburk on you.  Those four had ridiculous September call-ups, and I don't consider any of them to be great Twins.  Lombardozzi won a World Series, but he had a 70 OPS+ that year, so I'm thinking he wasn't a real integral part.  Parmelee is still kicking around, but I'm not sure why.  I'm not even saying Pinto is comparable to any of these guys, but a good September debut is hardly worth getting worked up over. 

Did you see his BABIP?  .440!  That is unbelievable.  Can we trust anything from that month?  He actually struck out a ton and didn't walk much at all.  Now, I don't think that is real either, as Pinto has controlled the strike zone very well in the Minors.  I don't think Pinto is going to be a flop or anything like that.  I think that those penciling him into the Twins lineup in 2014 are going to very disappointed.  First, the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki and playing Suzuki is a very "Twins" move.  Second, Pinto has barely played above AA.  Third, he needs more time to work on his defense. 

I think Pinto will be the Twins' Opening Day catcher in 2015, but doubt we see much of him in 2014. 

What to look for in '14:

Pinto only has 40 games of experience above AA and it appears that Kurt Suzuki will start for the Twins on Opening Day.  Pinto might benefit from some AAA time in 2014, but hopefully he'll force his way onto the Twins active roster sooner than later.  If Pinto does end up in Rochester, make sure to follow his games and reports from his games.  If reports of his defense are positive or encouraging, then he could be heading for Minnesota before long. 

Even if Pinto spends a prolonged period with Rochester, he can have a successful season.  If he continues to hit as he has the past two seasons, the Twins will still be able to rely upon him as their catcher for many years.  The 2014 Twins aren't going to be contenders, so that extra year of service time might be better kept for later.  Personally, I don't like to think that way and I like for my favorite team to field their best possible team.  I truly feel that Pinto makes the Twins better and I hope he spends more time in Minnesota than in Rochester.  Pinto is a hitter and hitters find their way to the Majors. 

I'll be back next week with the 7th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Minnesota Twins Power Rankings: Remaining Free Agents

Another quiet week in Twins territory.  Spring Training started, so "news" aficionados have their fill, but I don't care for "news."  The Twins did claim Brooks Raley from the Cubs, meaning they are just one punch away from a free left-handed starter at the Soft Tosser shop.  Beyond that most minor of minor deals, things are silent. 

Of course, the Winter had been bustling.  The Twins made a big splash early and now we can just enjoy the soft waves that rustle from the aftershock.  Of course, when you look at payroll figures, even though the Twins spent a bunch of money, the overall payroll is still about $84 million, roughly the same figure as last season.  Then, you consider that the Twins will shed another $20 million after this season (Josh Willingham, Kevin Correia, Jared Burton, Kurt Suzuki), and you figure there's still plenty of available money to spend. 

So, let's use these Power Rankings to spend some Pohlad cash!  There isn't much left on the current market, but I can still find 10 guys worthy of discussion.  Note, QO means they received a qualifying offer at the beginning of free agency and would cost the Twins their second-round selection this June. 

10.  Octavio Dotel

The Twins have absolutely no need for Dotel, but he's played for 13 different teams and the Twins aren't one of them.  With Dotel so close to a complete set, the team could throw him a bone, sign him and then trade him to one of the other 15 teams he hasn't played for.  It's just solid PR/karma.

9.  Nelson Cruz - QO

Cruz has hit at least 22 home runs in each of the past five seasons.  He's just 33 and slugged .506 last season.  He also got hit with a 50-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal.  I'm proud to say that is the first time I have ever typed "Biogenesis."  Anyway, Cruz doesn't walk much and he isn't much of an outfielder.  If the Twins were interested, they'd have to put him at DH or risk having literally the worst corner outfielders in baseball.  I'm not sure it's worth paying Cruz a lot of money to be a DH while also losing a second-round pick. 

If his stock dropped so much that he can't get more than say 1 year, $5 million, then he would make for a good value.  I'm just not sure he really helps enough to give up that pick.

8.  Kendrys Morales - QO

It seems that the general perception is that Morales is a better player than Cruz.  They had an identical 123 OPS+ last season.  Morales has been better in the past, but he's also missed a lot of time with injury.  In his last three healthy seasons, he's averaged 26.3 home runs.  Cruz has averaged 26.7.  Morales walks more, but he can't even fake it as an outfielder like Cruz.  My point is, these two are pretty similar:  above-average hitters with good power.  Morales walks more, but Cruz has more power.  Cruz is capable of standing in the outfield, Morales isn't.  Morales is three years younger and a switch-hitter, so I do ultimately prefer him.  However, I'd pass on both and just make Josh Willingham the DH. 

Bailey is very interesting.  His career in Boston was a combination disaster of injuries and poor play.  Prior to those two seasons, Bailey looked like a dominant closer with Oakland.  His 2012 was just horrible and he only managed 28.2 innings in 2013.  He did finish 2013 with a 110 ERA+ and the highest strikeout rate of his career.  Although, he didn't pitch after July 12 due to shoulder surgery. 

Yet, I'd still take a flier on him, especially if he is available on a Minor League deal.  He won't be 30 until May 31 and there aren't a lot of innings on his arm.  He's been generally good when healthy and his fly ball tendencies would play well at Target Field.  He won't be ready for Opening Day, but if the Twins invest a few million in him and give him an opportunity, they might find a willing trade partner at the deadline or a young-ish, talented reliever for the back of their bullpen. 

6.  Ubaldo Jimenez - QO

You can't argue that he's not the best or second-best free agent starter still on the market, but I wouldn't touch him.  Jimenez was basically awful from 2011-2013, save for September and MAYBE August of last season.  Even in August, his walk rate was much too high for my liking (10%).  In September, he was dominant.  His strikeout to walk ratio was over seven, he didn't give up a home run and he finished the month with a 1.09 ERA.  He could not have peaked at a better time and yet, here we are in mid-February and he's still unemployed.  Some of that is due to the qualifying offer, but some of it is due to Jimenez scaring the bejeebus out of teams.  I can't ignore 17 bad months, even if that one month was truly outstanding. 

That said, 2 years, $20 million?  I'd do that.  Has his value fallen that far?  I doubt it.

The Twins have worked so hard to put together their soft-tossin' lefty master set, why not just sign the guy who all of those youngsters hope to one day be?  Instead of hoping Scott Diamond rebounds, why not just sign a better version of Scott Diamond?  Instead of filling the roster with Brooks Raley and Kris Johnson, why not sign the guy who those two guys aspire to be?  Capuano doesn't throw hard, but he limits walks and gets just enough strikeouts to be effective.  Over the past three seasons, Capuano has averaged 163 innings and a 4.15 ERA.  Nothing special, but do you expect any of the three lefties I mentioned earlier to approach that?  He's only 35 and apparently will take a one-year deal.  Unless he wants 1 year and Elevendy Billion dollars, the Twins should really consider Capuano.   

Niemann is not special, but he's been a successful pitcher in the past and he's just 30.  He's coming off of major shoulder surgery and might not be ready until the second half.  His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates have been roughly in line with league-average over his career and his ground ball rate specifically was climbing over the years, prior to his injury.  Niemann would never be anything more than a number 3/4 starter, but he could replace Kevin Correia cheaply for 2015 and likely would surpass Correia's performance as well. 

Scott Feldman got 3 years and $30 million from the Astros and I think he and Niemann are pretty similar.  If the Twins can get Niemann for 2014, they might be able to work out an extension if they find him to be healthy.  I mean, once Niemann gets the sweet taste of Minnesota, he'll never want to leave.  Right?

3.  Ervin Santana - QO

I saw one report that Santana's new asking price was 3 years and $40 million.  I can't find it now because my computer is allergic to me giving credit to anyone else, but I know I read that.  I wasn't super high on Santana when I thought he could cost $90 million and a second-round pick.  However, that new contract figure seems very reasonable and possibly even a bargain.  When Santana can keep the ball in the park, he's a pretty good pitcher.  Target Field famously suppresses home runs, so it seems like a pretty good fit.  He'll be just 31 next season and could be a steal at the price listed above.  I'd even go a little higher than that, if it meant he would sign.  I don't love him, but I do think he'd be the Twins' best starter next season.

2.  Stephen Drew - QO

This is the guy the Twins need to sign.  He's going to cost a pick and that sucks, but the Twins need a shortstop.  I love Eduardo Escobar as much as anyone, but I'd gladly give up on the Eddie 400 at the end of this sentence if the Twins signed Drew.  The Twins' most MLB-ready prospect is Danny Santana and he might still be two years away.  Their best overall SS prospect is Jorge Polanco and he might be better suited for second.  Among likely 2015 free agent shortstops, I only count Jed Lowrie as being on Drew's level as a shortstop.  I doubt Hanley Ramirez and Yunel Escobar get to free agency.  Lowrie is also older and injury-prone.  J.J. Hardy is nice, but Drew is younger. 

This is the Twins' chance to address a need they've had since Greg Gagne.  Drew might be willing to take a one-year deal, but I'd rather sign him for 3 and just fill that void for a few years.  By then, who knows who is available via trade, free agency, draft or development.  The Twins can basically cross this position off their Xmas list right now, at a reasonable cost.  I wasn't high on Drew early in the off-season, but now I'm basically ready to by a Drew Twins shirsey the second he signs. 

This is pure sentimentality, as Santana likely will not be ready to pitch until mid-season.  However, I love him.  I just want him back with the Twins.  I don't care if it's extremely unlikely that he ever throws another MLB inning.  At least then, he could retire with the organization that helped him make his name.  I'd sign Santana, sight unseen, for a few million.  I wouldn't even give other teams a chance to swoop in.  This is reason number 573 why I would be a terrible GM. 

There's my list.  Who would you sign if you could spend ownership dollars?  I'd sign all of the top three, if it were possible.  That seems very unlikely, but I'd guess the Twins can afford to grab at least one of them.  It would be a great show of faith to the fans, that's for sure. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Um, Frank Viola retweeted me

On Tuesday, I wrote about my quest to pick one of Frank Viola's rookie cards.  Um, it was epic.  I posted it and it got a hefty nine pageviews, about four for each time I tweeted about it.  Jealous?  Anyway, that night, my phone sent me an alert that Frank Viola had favorited one of my tweets about that post.  I just figured it was one of those accounts that tracks certain players and I didn't think anything of it.

Then, two nights later, I got a notification that Frank Viola Jr. had retweeted that tweet.  I didn't notice it for a few hours, but when I looked at my blog stats, I had actual pageviews.

Whoa, that's weird.  This must have been the real deal Frank Viola.  So, I checked Twitter and sure enough, it was the real deal Frank Viola.  And, the other Frank Viola is his son.  It was all very exciting.  I'm not going to lie and say that Frank Viola is my favorite player of all time, but he is legitimately second to Kirby Puckett.  I can prove it.  I wrote about it about a year ago and it's posted right here.  See?

In that post, I talked about playing at Frank Viola Field.  This is also true.  Here's the plaque from that field:

I was a youth!  I grew up in Shoreview!  I knew Viola lived in my city but my parents wouldn't let me knock on every single door in the city looking for him.  I loved Frank Viola.  I wanted to be a pitcher just like him.  I hated that I was right-handed.  I just didn't understand why I couldn't throw left-handed too.  When the Twins traded Viola in 1989, I cried.  For real.  I was so upset.  Why would the Twins trade him?  He had just won the Cy Young!  He was amazing!  The business of baseball was completely lost on me.

Kids are stupid though.  Or, I was anyway.  Once Viola left, I forgot all about him.  I'd get his baseball cards in packs and fondly remember him for a few seconds, but I didn't properly follow his career.  I even took him out of my Twins binder!  Some fan!  As I got older, I remembered why I loved Viola.  His performance in the 1987 World Series is one of the few things I remember from my early childhood.  I don't really remember much about that Series, but I definitely remember watching Viola.

What's the point of this story?  When I was bawling about Viola being traded, my Dad should have just explained that one day Frank Viola would indirectly communicate with me via social media.  I would have instantly felt better.  For real, if I had been told as a seven-year-old that Frank Viola would communicate with me in any way, I would have been really excited.  It certainly would have cheered me up.

So, almost 25 years later, I've decided that I am really excited and it's really cool that he possibly read something I wrote about him.  As soon as I realized it was actually him, I rushed to read what I wrote again, just to make sure I didn't write anything really stupid.  I did, but it was all pretty harmless.  If he did read it, I really hope he got a bit of enjoyment from it.  When you think about it, I owe that to him for all the enjoyment I got from him when I was a child.    

In the same week, I got Frank Viola's rookie card and a tacit endorsement from Viola himself.  Having a blog is super weird, but it's cool.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Improving the MLB All-Star Game Festivities

The NBA All-Star festivities are set for this weekend.  The NBA has made some changes to their All-Star Saturday, including tweaks to the dunk contest and three-point shoot-out.  In addition, the Winter Olympics are going on in full-force.  There are skiers and snowboarders and skaters and it's all very frosty.  There are so many fun events, my head literally will not stop spinning.

What's your freaking point?

Ok, calm down just a bit.  The MLB All-Star Game will be at Target Field this July.  The game itself is always entertaining, but the events that accompany are either boring or stale. 

Celebrity softball?  Boring.  If I want to see a grown man try way too hard to impress his peers with how hard he can swing at a ball travelling slower than North Carolina traffic when snow is on the ground, I'd watch every single other softball game ever.  Cool, the guy from The Adventures of Pete and Pete can hit a fat baseball 220 feet.  How hard is he running though? 

The Home Run Derby?  Stale.  Unless the MLB Players Union would agree to the temporary use of horse testosterone, I'm pretty sure those balls are going to travel about 400-500 feet.  If you can spot the difference between a 450-foot home run and a 500-foot home run, then you have freakish vision.  Seriously, you missed your calling.  Also, home runs are exciting during games, but that's because they happen spontaneously.  The only suspense during the Derby involves which player will completely ignore the kid bringing him the post-dingers Gatorade.    

Oh, and Chris Berman.  That guy...

Therefore, I felt that it was my duty to come up with some better events.  I'm inspired by the ingenuity of the NBA and the spectacle of the Olympics.  Not all of these are winners, but you've got to try a lot of things.  For a few of these, I'm really only half-kidding. 

3 rules:
  1. There must be some baseball involved.  I don't want to see Evan Longoria dunking or cooking or whatever.
  2. Marketability is really important.  If the event doesn't have a snappy name, then why should it exist?
  3. I don't care about logistics.  That's MLB's problem.  I'm an ideas guy.  Think of me as a high-priced consultant who you didn't hire.
Now that we've got all that out of the way, here are some new events for MLB to try.

This is an actual game, so it should be pretty easy to coordinate.  Basically, my friends and I took my friend's older brother's super expensive baseball bat and hit everything we could find with it.  Baseballs.  Basketballs.  Cleats.  Cans.  This weird figurine we found.  So, for the ASG, we just find a random garage, grab an expensive bat and then start hitting the garage stuff with the bat.  I can't remember how you win the game, but isn't sport about the spirit of competition and not winning and losing?  I'm a Juan Encarnacion purist.  I do remember a basketball rolling pretty far down his street.  Maybe that's how you win. 

That Jamiroquai Video

Basically, put the field on a series of treadmills and see what happens.  I'm not sure a full nine-inning game is necessary.  You could always replace the Celebrity Softball game with this.  Who wouldn't want to see if Chris Pine can handle the shift from a "forwards" treadmill to a "backwards" treadmill.

That Jamiroquai Video but with trampolines

The previous event, but with trampolines instead of treadmills.  I'm leaning toward pro players now.  I feel like Carlos Gomez would be fun to watch on trampolines.  Giant floppy hats would still be required.

That Jamiroquai Video but with trampolines and treadmills

The best of both worlds.  Everything would be disguised so that none of players can anticipate anything.  Someone invent a trampoline treadmill so we can really give the fans a show.

Bo Jackson YouTube videos

We just watch Bo Jackson videos on a big screen. 

Surprise Home Run Derby

The idea here is that we take a bunch of different types of balls and make them all look like actual baseballs.  Tennis Balls, Racquetballs, Oranges, Bocce Balls, etc.  The pitcher just grabs a ball from the bucket and heaves it.  The batter is required to swing at everything.  Each home run is worth a certain amount of points based on the type of ball.  Who wouldn't enjoy seeing David Ortiz try to tee off on what he thinks is a baseball, but is actually an orange that's been painted white with red stripes.  How far can Bryce Harper hit a racquetball?  I think the Players' Union would need to ok this one.

You could also try different types of "bats" with standard baseball.  Tennis racket, golf club, submarine sandwich.  Although, there's little surprise involved there.  You could do giant wheel to pick a "bat" though.  Giant wheels = ratings.

Constant Ground Balls

Basically, we rig up a machine to just hit grounders at a fielder for like 5 minutes straight.  3 seconds apart.  Every ball the fielder successfully fields is worth a point.  Cup shots are worth two points.  Balls through the legs lose you a point.  The special "money ball" is worth five points, but it's orange because it's covered in marmalade and it's really sticky.  They really have to decide if it's worth it. 

Hot Pink Baseball

Everyone wears hot pink jerseys, pants, socks, shoes, caps, gloves, batting gloves, eye black (eye pink?) and cups (just because, you wouldn't see them).   Everything else is exactly the same.  This could also be done with neon green or electric blue.

Classy Baseball

Everyone in tuxedos.  Top hats required.  Players have to grab canes before they can run the bases.  Monocles. 

Other costumed baseball ideas:

  • Grunge
  • Wizard of Oz
  • RoboCops
  • Disney Princesses
Pros vs. Kids

A team filled with kids (ages 8-10, let's say) face off against professional players.  The pros are not allowed to take it easy on the kids.  The kids also cannot take it easy on the pros.  This could also be done in hot pink.

Doritos Locos Baseball

Standard baseball but with a Nacho Cheese Doritos shell. 

Talk to Derek Jeter

This is going to be Jeter's final All-Star Game, so maybe we should just talk to him and stuff.  You know, appreciate him while he's around.  This would be particularly interesting in Minnesota as we hate the Yankees because they're good. 

Pitcher Pictures

We load up baseballs with different colored paints.  Each pitcher has to construct a work of art using those baseballs.  They stand at the mound and throw the painted balls at a reinforced canvas.  You'd really get a good idea of Justin Verlander's artistic vision.  Who's just a generic motel room artist?  Does anyone have the stones to throw out an abstract piece?  Something daring?  Matt Harvey, maybe?  Something like this, perhaps:

Arena Baseball

The playing field is smaller and covered in a metal dome.  I'm not sure what kind of metal, but something that leads to a lot of ricochets.  The fans can view from a special monitor in the concourse.  The dome would be about 12 feet above the playing field.  The ball is always in play.  No dingers, and that sucks, but think of all the ricocheting! 

No Stopping Arena Baseball

The same as the previous idea, but in this event, you're not allowed to stop running.  You either get all the way around the diamond or you're out!  This is basically my slow-pitch softball strategy.  I don't trust anyone to make an accurate throw, so I just run until I'm out or home.  My teammates love me.  This style of baseball would lead to countless "pickles," which would be exciting and exhausting.  There would still be much ricocheting. 

Watch a blogger explain advanced metrics to a random player

Can Mike Trout calculate his Hall of Fame candidacy?  Each blogger is paired with one player.  The first blogger to get their player to calculate VORP is declared the winner.  Since this is not a given, judges also award style points based on specific criteria.  Generate a genuine smile from the player - 2 points.  Give a lecture on the ills of RBI or wins - 5 points.  Player calls blogger a "wad" of any kind - 10 points.  Player admits that Michael Young is overrated - 250 points.  You know, I'm not convinced this couldn't be hot pink too. 

Catcher Framing competition

The best of the best MLB catchers each have to frame a house.  To code.  In their catching gear.  It's a shame that Joe Mauer had to switch positions, as he'd have a nice height advantage. 

On second thought, maybe we just keep the Home Run Derby.  Could we at least try it in all hot pink though?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

14 Minnesota Twins to Watch in '14: Aaron Hicks

Young players are captivating.  They come up from the Minor Leagues full of promise, talent and excitement.  They haven't failed yet, at least not in the public eye, so anything is possible.  When a young rookie comes out of nowhere, it energizes a fan base.  We can dream of where that young player can take our favorite team. 

When a young rookie struggles, it frustrates a fan base.  We question whether the player "has what it takes" and we get antsy when they don't show the promise that accompanies their fanfare.  We understand that growing pains are normal, but that doesn't make them any less painful for fans and the player alike.  One Twins player experienced a lifetime of growing pains last season. 

The 9th most important Twins player in 2014 is Aaron Hicks.

Who is he? 

Hicks was the Twins first-round pick back in 2008.  He is a that archetypal five-tool player, with great speed, good power, capable hitting ability, solid defensive chops and a cannon arm.  Hicks was spectacular in 2012, hitting .286/.364/.460 in his first season with AA New Britain.  He carried that dynamic play into 2013 Spring Training, hitting balls all over the place and impressing the Twins enough to win the starting center field job.

Then, the actual MLB season started.  Before you could properly affix a pink backpack, Hicks was hitting .042/.179/.042, a seemingly impossible hitting line.  It was April 20 and Hicks had struck out in a staggering 36% of his plate appearances.  He had 2 hits.  Two.  He had walked a handful of times, but he wasn't being aggressive at the plate.  In addition, his defense was shaky, possibly because he was taking his hitting into the field with him (not literally, although that would explain his lack of success).  Hicks played better in May, but suffered a hamstring injury in June.  He languished through July and was sent to AAA on August 1.  He was not a part of September call-ups.  He did not excite in AAA.   

Why is he important?

Hicks has had just one bad MLB season.  Sure, he's had just one MLB season period, but it's still a valid point.  Hicks is only 24.  He's still just as talented as he was one year ago.  Now, he's had a taste of AAA and MLB pitching.  The Twins current center fielder (Alex Presley) is nothing special and not on Hicks' level when it comes to pure talent. 

Basically, there's a reason why Hicks was the starting center fielder last April.  He's a good defensive outfielder, and even in his miserable 2013 season, he flashed some of that defensive prowess and made some truly exceptional catches.  He also showed flashes at the plate, flexing some power and showing the willingness to take a walk.  He utilized his speed to the tune of nine stolen bases and three triples.  Hicks has the ability to do all of those things more consistently.  A player with those abilities is very valuable, especially at Hicks' age/price.

Paul the Positive Puma's Take:

It's hard to sugarcoat Aaron Hicks' rookie season.  Beyond a few spectacular moments, it was mostly a disaster.  That said, I do see a few things that keep me optimistic.  First, Hicks completely skipped AAA heading into 2013.  Many players do this, but I'm guessing that many struggle in the process.  In addition, Hicks was good with New Britain in 2012, but he wasn't a dynamo.  It was very reasonable to predict that he would struggle to adjust at first.  It should be no surprise that he struggled.

Second, he actually wasn't terrible after April 20th.  In fact, from April 20 and on, he posted a .223/.272/.399 batting line.  Now, that's not anything special, but it's a lot better than .192/.256/.338 (his season total).  His first 13 MLB games really tainted this pool.  In addition, he struck out in 36% of his at-bats in those first 13 games.  From then on?  25% strikeout rate.  That's still really high, but it does demonstrate some level of improvement.  If Hicks was hitting .223 on August 1, do you think he gets sent down?  I'm not so sure.

One last point.  Compare that .223/.272/.399 line from April 20 on to Oswaldo Arcia's successful rookie line of .251/.304/.430.  Arcia was basically thirty points better than Hicks across the board.  Arcia had a .336 BABIP in 2013 and Hicks had a .241 BABIP.  If you watched the two last year, it was pretty clear who was better.  Arcia hit the ball hard when he made contact and Hicks generally didn't.  That said, a one-hundred point BABIP disparity is pretty crazy and the reality for both players might be closer than it appears.  I don't think Arcia regresses, I think Hicks gets better. 

Peter the Pessimistic Puma's Take:

I just can't get the image of Aaron Hicks looking completely lost out of my head.  I wanted to believe in him.  I was so upset that the Twins traded Denard Span AND Ben Revere; I really wanted Hicks to produce at their level.  When I watched him hit (or try to hit, I should say), he just looked passive.  Some will cite his willingness to take a walk, but I'd call it a desperation to take a walk, so that he didn't have to swing and dribble a grounder to second or miss completely and head back to the bench. 

I suppose he can't get any worse, so that's something.  If he can get worse, then this better be his last chance.  Even so, I can't sit through another season of flailing at-bats.  If he looks even remotely lost during Spring Training, he has to go to AAA.  If he does, then the Twins' 9th most important player is playing for Rochester at age 24.  Alex Presley might not have upside, but at least he was competent last September.  I'd prefer Presley to Hicks in 2014 and I'm not sure Hicks would be in my plans going forward, unless something dramatic changes. 

What to look for in '14:

I loathe armchair psychology.  Trying to diagnose someone from your sofa is a useless endeavor.  That said, it will be interesting to try to figure out what's going on in Aaron Hicks' head next season.  At times in 2013, Hicks looked completely lost.  He looked defeated even.  How will he look in 2014?  Odds are, we won't see Hicks right away.  I imagine he'll start his season with Rochester.  Hopefully, he'll play well, earn a promotion and rejoin the Twins. 

Upon his return, it will be really interesting to watch his body language, facial responses and more importantly, his approach at the plate.  If he looks engaged and aggressive, then he could start the "dynamic player" portion of his career.  Hopefully, he'll attack the ball at the plate and in the field.  He'll take a walk, but as a result of a good eye, not a frightened will.  He'll make a spectacular catch, but not because he took a bad route.  It's impossible to get into a player's head, but players give hints.  If Hicks can conquer the mental element of adjusting to better players, then his talent can take him a long way.  

I'll be back next week with the 8th most important Twins player in 2014.  Have a nice day, everyone!

If you haven't been paying close attention, I'm counting down the 14 most important Twins players for the 2014 season.  This was just one part in a 14-part series.  If you missed any of the previous installments, just click here as I have put them all in one nice, tidy location for you.  I'm the best.