Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Rock Cats Starting Pitcher Lucas French Promoted to AAA Rochester

Lucas French, who logged MLB time with the
Tigers and Mariners, is working his way
back up the chain
The minor league moves continue in the Twins organization. It was just announced that Rock Cats lefty starter Lucas French has been promoted to AAA Rochester Red Wings. This, as with the other recent moves, is hardly surprising. French, who has major league experience, dominated at AA this spring, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings pitched. In his month with the Rock Cats, French struck out 18 and walked 12, giving up 17 hits along the way. Presumably, new Rock Cat starer BJ Hermsen will replace French in the Cats' rotation.

Here's a release announcing the move.

Congratulations to Lucas!

Monday's New Britain News

Newly promoted B.J. Hermsen will take the
mound tonight in his AA debut

The landscape for the New Britain Rock Cats is already starting to change only 23 games into the season. A couple days ago, reliever Deolis Guerra was promoted to AAA Rochester. Congratulations to him! He's now just one step away from joining the Twins. If he can do in Rochester what he did in late-inning situations for the Rock Cats, it won't be too long before we see Guerra making his Target Field debut. Also, Rock Cats starting pitcher Alex Wimmers is now rehabbing his elbow strain in Ft. Myers, so it sounds like it will be some time before he rejoins the team. Although Guerra was yanked from the Rock Cats, Ft. Myers Miracle pitchers BJ Hermsen (1-0 with a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings) and Caleb Thielbar (1-1 with 0 earned runs allowed in 12 and 1/3 innings, with 16 strikeouts and 2 walks) were promoted to New Britain. Good luck to them, especially Hermsen who will start tonight's game.

Over the weekend, the Rock Cats dropped 2 of 3 games against the Richmond Flying Squirrels, and are 14-9 on the season, 1.5 games back of the Reading Phillies. Yesterday, they won. As I wrote in TwinsDaily's Sundy Minor League Daily, Starter Logan Darnell picked up the win (3-0). He pitched 6 and 2/3 innings, gave up 7 hits and 2 runs, and struck out 8 while walking 1 along the way. His ERA stands at 4.56. He has been the recipient of some solid Rock Cats offense when he has pitched this season. Reliever Daniel Turpen pitched the rest of the game, 2 and 1/3 innings, and earned the save, his second of the season. He was very effective, giving up no hits and no walks, while striking out 2. This effort improved his ERA to 4.5.

On offense, the team had 9 hits. Every starter except for Estarlin De Los Santos and Evan Bigley tallied at least one hit. Chris Herrmann was 2-for-3 with a walk, and also reached base on an error in his other plate appearance. He scored 3 runs. Nathan Hanson also had a good game, going 2-for-4 with a double and accumulating 2 RBIs. Aaron Hicks was 1-for-4 with a single and a stolen base (his 3rd of the season), and is batting .265 on the season. Deibinson Romero hit a triple, and shortstop Pedro Florimon had a double.

On Saturday, New Britain lost 5-3 to the Squirrels. Start Steve Hirschfeld (6 innings, 10 hits, 3 earned runs, 5 strikeouts and 2 walks) picked up the loss, and the offense couldn't muster too much, only accumulating 7 hits all day. Brett Jacobson pitched 2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Notables on offense included Evan Bigley, with a double and 2 RBIs, Chris Herrmann with an RBI single, and Pedro Florimon, Aaron Hicks, Nathan Hanson, James Beresford and Danny Lehmann with singles. Bigley also stole 2 bases, giving him 3 on the season.

For a quick recap of Friday night's game, a 13-inning 5-4 loss (though Andrew Albers had a quality start), check out this earlier post from Saturday. So, after starting out hot, New Britain has cooled a little. Their record, 14-9, is still good, but they are 4-6 over their last 10. Tonight, they begin a 4-game series against the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals, who coincidentally are also 14-9.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Britain News: Alex Wimmers and Deolis Guerra Updates

Alex Wimmers, third from right, will be rehabbing his
elbow injury in Ft. Myers
Good afternoon. It's nice here in Connecticut, but that's not the case in Minnesota, where today's Twins-Royals game has been cancelled. But there's non-Twins news happening right now that's worth mentioning.

Last night, the New Britain Rock Cats lost a tough game. After being down 2-0 in the 8th inning, Aaron Hicks and Deibinson Romero came through with clutch RBI hits (single and double, respectively), and the Rock Cats tied the game up in dramatic fashion. The game went into extras. In the top of 13, Aaron Hicks hit a 2 run home run to give New Britain a 4-2 lead, but unfortunately Blake Martin and Bobby Lanigan couldn't protect the lead. Richmond hit a walk-off home run to win the game.

There were 2 pretty significant Rock Cats developments in the last 24 hours. First, reliever Deolis Guerra was promoted to AAA Rochester. If you've been following New Britain, this is possibly the least surprising news. Guerra was lights-out for the Rock Cats, and if he can mimic his Rock Cats results for the Red Wings, look for Guerra to join the Twins bullpen later this season. Congratulations, Deolis!

The second new item is not as positive. Rock Cats starter Alex Wimmers, who has been on the disabled list with an elbow strain, and who had an MRI performed yesterday, will rehab that injury in Ft. Myers. On the one hand, this is is positive in the sense that it doesn't sound like this injury will require surgery. On the other hand, though, it's disappointing for Wimmers, and Twins fans, because we are all hoping he's on the fast track for Target Field. Good luck, Alex, and we hope to see you back in New Britain soon! John Shipley of the Pioneer Press broke the Wimmers news.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Observations and Links

A few Friday observations:

First, I'm glad the New Britain Rock Cats have been playing good baseball. It feels like we're in for a long, long season in Minnesota, so it's nice to have something else to focus on. Chris Colabello, Aaron Hicks and especially Deolis Guerra have played well. If Guerra keeps up this pace, it's only a matter of time before he gets a promotion. Too bad he's not a starter!

Thankfully, Chris Parmelee seems to be doing ok
after this beaning. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press)

Attendance at Target Field has fallen off, as NoDak Twins Fan aptly noted the other day. In fact, if you're looking to go to tonight's game, you can get a ticket on StubHub for $6.95 (plus fees). Only 2 years ago, the nosebleeds at Target Field were going for a lot more than that. If you're looking for a barometer of where fans are with the team, you don't have to look much further than the fact that the secondary market for tickets has significantly dwindled.

Over on the Twins' website, there is a new, and free, Twins browser you can download. Check it out! You can automatically get scores and stats and all those great things right in front of you. 

The crew at Knuckleballs is rapidly approaching their 100,000th visitor. Pretty impressive. They are holding a contest to guess the day and time of when that milestone will take place. My guess was pretty bad.

Miguel Sano, the Twins' top prospect, has been tearing the cover off the ball in low-A Beloit, but he also has been striking out pretty often. Sean Berg, from On the Road with Sean, wonders if it's time to promote Sano to high-A Ft. Myers. It's a good read. Although I'm not in favor of rushing Sano just because he's our top prospect, it certainly would be great if he played well enough to fly through A ball.

Finally, Chris Parmelee seems to be doing OK after being drilled in the head Wednesday night with a Justin Thomas fastball. Scary stuff. And obviously ironic -- though not at all humorous -- that he is only in the majors because our real first baseman is still playing his way back to full strength from concussion issues. 

It was a busy week on the blog, and be sure to check back over the weekend for updates on the Rock Cats as they play a weekend road series against the Richmond Flying Squirrels!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

3 Twins Complaints I'm Sick and Tired Of

I get it: Joe Mauer is getting paid
$184 million and doesn't hit
many home runs
When a team is losing, like the Twins are so far this season and did all of last season, it's easy to complain. In fact, it feels really, really good to complain. I sincerely think that us fans deserve better than the product that the Twins have been putting on the field, and that we deserve better than some of the excuses we have heard from the front office and management. Still, though, there is only so much complaining one can do. I read almost every Twins blog, as well as the Star Tribune Twins content, and I peruse TwinsDaily -- and post and comment there -- very often. For the most part -- not counting the Star Trib -- the comments sections of the blogs and of TwinsDaily are great places for discussion. Sure, people often disagree, but it's mostly respectful disagreement. When I write something, I could care less if people disagree with me. In fact, that's one of the fun things about blogging -- going back in forth, in a good-natured way, about our shared interest -- the Twins. There are, however, a few things that just keep popping up in the comments sections that drive me crazy. It seems that, no matter what the topic, people keep drifting back to these issues. Not that they are not important or do not warrant discussion, but they are simply played out. Without further ado, here are three of those complaints.

1. Joe Mauer's contract. It doesn't seem to matter if the topic of conversation is Ben Revere as a fourth outfielder, pitching to contact, or the 2012 amateur draft. People always manage to drift back to Mauer's $184 million contract. For the record, I still support it and am not going to change my mind on that. I certainly, however, understand and respect the arguments to the contrary. But I think it's time to get past it. It was entered into 2 years ago, and it covers the next 6 seasons after this one. Yes, it absolutely impacts the ability of this team to sign other players. Yes, it's possible -- and even likely -- that Mauer won't be "worth" the money in the end (but see Fangraphs "value" indicator for Mauer for 2012, suggesting that he's already been worth $3.2 million this season -- close to $20 million over the course of the season if he maintains this moderate, but successful pace). And yes, it was a great topic for debate in 2010, and even last year when he wasn't playing much. But I think we should move on. It is what it is. Maybe, as fans, we should have been a little smarter and realized that the 2009 Mauer was the aberration, and not the rule? To me, the Mauer contract is sort of like purchasing your first house: it's a significant financial investment; it may or may not prove to be a wise choice; and it hampers your ability to do other things with your money. But after you sign the mortgage and note, it's a done deal. Start to focus on other things. I hope that Twins fans can start to focus on other things. There's a lot of good -- and bad -- things happening with this organization that have nothing to do with Mauer that are worthy of discussion, debate and attention.

2. The Public Financing of Target Field. Minnesotans, primarily residents of Hennepin County or people that do their shopping there, are footing the bill for a large portion of Target Field, and will continue to do so until the stadium has been paid for -- 30 years in total. The Target Field sales tax adds an extra .15 percent to Hennepin County's existing sales tax. Not much money on the purchase of a sandwich, but it's the principle, not the pennies, that angers this contingent. And rightfully so. I disagree with the way that stadiums are often funded. Why should the Twins -- the profit-making entity -- only foot 1/3 of the bill for the stadium, leaving county residents, regardless of whether the have any interest in the Twins, to pay the rest? It is fundamentally unfair. But that's life. It's no different than when my town decided that the annual bill I receive to connect to the town water and sewer was going to go up 10 percent, or when my property taxes were raised. This tax stinks for Hennepin County residents. They got the short end of the stick, no doubt. But it's a tired argument. Nothing is going to change until 2037, when Target Field has been paid for. Finally, it's worth noting that not all the revenue generated from the Target Field tax goes toward paying for the stadium: some is placed in a capital reserve fund, some is allocated to improve library hours, and some helps to construct amateur sporting facilities. I side with the complainers on this one, but it's time to move on.

3. Justin Morneau as a "Soft" Player. Admittedly, this one has started to dwindle, as Morneau has been healthy and fairly productive (great double last night) in 2012. Honestly, though, I was often astounded at what I read about Morneau, his concussions, and his recurring post-concussion symptoms on the Star Tribune message boards last season. It actually made me glad that I wasn't at Target Field last season -- I didn't want to hear that kind of stuff in person, because I would be tempted to respond. I suspect that the Morneau detractors were a minority, but they certainly were a vocal minority. All I can say is this: the medical profession, and all of the different professional sports, have begun to recognize (just in the past couple years) the serious and debilitating long-term effects that concussions -- especially multiple concussions -- have on athletes. There's a reason why retired athletes, including 40 retired NFL players, pledged in 2009 to donate their brains to science. There's a reason why Sidney Crosby has hardly played hockey in the past year. And there's a reason why the Twins have been extremely cautious with Morneau. Science has advanced significantly just in the past 10 years with respect to the study of concussions. I don't know how players played with concussion symptoms in the previous decades, but they did it. It was probably a result of several things: the medical profession not really knowing the danger to player health; organizations not looking out for player safety; players wanting to be perceived as "tough"; and athletes concerned with keeping their roster spot. Maybe, for some, it makes these old guys seem "tougher." And maybe they are. But that's an outdated, ill-informed view, in my opinion. No one wants to see a 45 year old retired player, perhaps coming back for a special event at the stadium, looking like a shell of the man he once was because his brain is severely and permanently damaged. Someday, the Twins will retire Morneau's #33. When that day comes, I hope we see a somewhat older, probably heftier Morneau, with his wife and kids by his side, looking and sounding 100 percent healthy.

Ironically, this post is basically just me complaining about complainers. I hope I don't sound like (or look like) Andy Rooney. But that's the great thing about America. We can praise or complain about just about anything, without fear of getting dragged out of our houses in the middle of the night. So, have I missed anything? Are there other "played out" complaints? And another great thing -- if you think I'm way off base, you can complain to me, about me, right in the comments section. What a country!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Major Comeback in New Britain!

Chris Herrmann celebrates his
first inning home run.
Mauer's 2013 backup???

Unlike their parent club, the New Britain Rock Cats put up a fight after the odds were stacked against them Tuesday night and, thanks to a 5-run 7th inning, came back to defeat the Portland Sea Dogs 7-6.

The weather was not great last night, and neither were the Rock Cats for the first several innings. They were stymied by Portland starter Billy Buckner (no relation to Bill Buckner of Red Sox lore), who tossed an easy 6 innings, giving up only 3 hits while striking out 11 and walking 1. The one bright spot for the Rock Cats against Buckner was a Chris Herrmann solo home run in the 1st inning. Other than that, Buckner really challenged the New Britain hitters. In contrast, the Rock Cats did not get a good start from Logan Darnell, who lasted only 3 innings after giving up 6 earned runs on 8 hits and 4 walks. He had no strikeouts, and gave up 2 home runs. Notably, the wind seemed to be blowing out at a pretty good clip, so hard hit balls really sailed. Watching Darnell, the worst part of the night was that he simply didn't miss bats -- yes, there were some weak grounders and routine fly balls, but for the most part everything was hit hard. The Rock Cats were down 6-1 after the third inning, and things did not look optimistic.
You may recognize the gentleman
in the middle in the black jacket
as Hall of Fame member
Paul Molitor.

For the second consecutive night, however, the Rock Cats' bullpen kept them in the game. Actually, the bullpen -- called on for 6 innings tonight -- was pretty perfect. Lester Oliveros, Brett Jacobson and Deolis Guerra each tossed 2 scoreless innings. Oliveros walked and struck out 1; Jacobson walked 2 and struck out 3. And then there's Guerra, who walked 0 and struck out 5 in his 2 innings, picking up the win in relief. Guerra's ERA stands at 0.71. In 12 and 2/3 innings, he has only allowed 5 hits and 1 earned run, and has struck out 15 and walked 1 along the way.

Once Buckner left the game after the 6th inning, the tides changed. With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, New Britain completed a 5-run comeback to tie the game. 7 straight batters reached base, and here's how it played out: Pedro Florimon walk; Danny Lehmann single; James Beresford single; Aaron Hicks single to score Florimon; Chris Herrmann walk with bases loaded to score Lehmann; Evan Bigley infield single to score Beresford; Chris Colabello single to score Hicks and Herrmann. Nothing fancy -- some walks and some singles got the job done against the Sea Dogs' bullpen.

With the game tied in the bottom of the 9th, Herrmann opened things up with a single to left field. Thereafter, he was sacrificed to second by Bigley. Colabello was intentionally walked, and then Deibinson Romero popped out to catcher. But again with 2 outs, the Rock Cats came through. Nathan Hanson had the game-winning, walk-off hit to score Herrmann from second, and New Britain won!

It was quite a game. Here are just a few notes from what I observed (In full disclosure, I picked an awful time to leave -- right as the comeback, and a hard, cold and slanty rain, were both commencing):
Hicks batted leadoff tonight -- to my knowledge he had been batting 5th all season.

Chris Herrmann has some pop in his bat. His home run, though helped somewhat by the wind blowing out to right field, was smacked. He was playing left field in this game.

Paul Molitor is in town this week as a roving instructor. It was neat to see him interact with the young guys on the team. I'm sure they can learn a lot from a Hall of Famer with 3,319 big league hits.

All of New Britain's runs came with 2 outs tonight. Impressive, and great that they can score that way, but it would have been nice to see some earlier rallies.

Finally, the team is back in action at 10:35 this morning completing their homestand in a rubber match against Portland.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Joe Mauer and Runners in Scoring Position

Though he had 2 hits last night, Joe Mauer came up
short when it counted the most.
Regardless of what some people in Twins Territory might think, the fact of the matter is that Joe Mauer has been very solid in his career when there are runners in scoring position. You might even call him "clutch," if you are one who believes that such a thing as clutch hitting exists. For his career, Mauer is a .323 hitter. When there are runners in scoring position, he's a .339 hitter. When there are runners in scoring position and 2 outs, Mauer becomes a .348 hitter. There's data from 2004-2012 backing those stats up, so it's anything but a small sample size at this point.

Thus far in 2012, Mauer is batting .313, with 1 home run and 9 RBIs. He has played in every game this season, which is a great sign. It's an even better sign that he's playing, and being productive. Still, though, it's easy to remember a few occasions during the first month of 2012 where Mauer failed to get a runner home from third with less than two outs. One incident, of course, was last night, following Jamey Carroll's leadoff triple in the bottom of the 8th inning. The game was tied at 5, and I thought the Twins were going to win it. After working the count to 3-and-2, Mauer helplessly flailed at the next pitch and bounced out weakly to first base. I'm not sure how he didn't break his bat or throw his helmet in the dugout in disgust. But it had to be frustrating. The other game that comes to mind was the Twins' great come-from-behind victory over the Angels a couple weeks ago at Target Field, when both Mauer and Morneau failed to get a runner on third home. The Twins won that game, though, and Mauer and Morneau both homered, so presumably all was forgiven.

But still -- in this short sample size of April, 2012, doesn't it feel like Mauer has stranded a higher-than-normal percentage of runners in scoring position? After all, over the past 5 games, the team is batting .170 (8-for-47) with runners in scoring position. Well, it turns out that Mauer is consistent -- even this early in the season -- in that his average with runners in scoring position is higher than his batting average. He's batting .412 (7-for-17) with runners in scoring position this season, and an even .400 (2-for-5) with runners in scoring position and two outs. Small sample size, yes, but given the several years of career data, it seems that Mauer is doing what he always has done: perform better when it matters most. It's interesting, though, because I went to bed thinking about this question, and fully expected that his average with runners in scoring position would be very low this season. It's funny what your brain focuses on. Still, though, the Twins need Mauer to be consistently great when runners are on, and he wasn't last night. It cost them a run, and possibly the game. Despite having 2 hits and a walk before the failed 8th inning at-bat, hopefully Mauer will come back with a chip on his shoulder tonight.

A quick New Britain Rock Cats update. In chilly conditions last night, the Rock Cats lost the series opener to the Portland Sea Dogs 5-3, despite outhitting Portland 10-8 and being the recipient of 2 Sea Dogs errors. Starter Steve Hirschfeld took his first loss of the season -- in fact, the first loss of the season for a New Britain starter. He went 5 and 2/3 innings, gave up 5 earned runs on 5 hits, walked 3 and struck out 3. He's 2-1 on the season now, and his ERA stands at 2.78. Blake Martin, David Bromberg and Luis Perdomo were almost perfect out of the bullpen, which is a good sign. The trio allowed no hits, walked 3 and struck out two. On offense, Evan Bigley and Estarlin De Los Santos each had 2 hits, and Chris Herrmann, Aaron Hicks, Deibinson Romero, Pedro Florimon, Nathan Hanson and Mark Dolenc all tallied 1 hit. Hanson, who had a double, drove in 2 runs, and Romero was responsible for the other RBI with a sacrifice fly. Much like their parent club, the Rock Cats scuffled with runners in scoring position, going 2-for-12. They will be back in action tonight. I plan to attend the game, so expect a better re-cap and some pictures tomorrow.

Finally, it was also announced that the Rock Cats placed starter Alex Wimmers on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. When I heard the announcement on AM radio, I believe the organization referred to the 7 day disabled list. The DL trip is no surprise, as Wimmers has not pitched since April 9. Here is the press release. Hopefully it's just a minor strain, and he has a speedy recovery.

Monday, April 23, 2012

3 Weeks of Rock Cats Baseball: A Review

New Britain fans have been treated to a lot of wins
early in the 2012 season
The minor league baseball season is just about 3 weeks old. For the New Britain Rock Cats, it has been a successful first few weeks. The team stands at 12-5, and is currently 1/2 game up on the Reading Phillies for first place in the Eastern League. Surprisingly, the Rock Cats have been better on the road, going 6-1, than they have at home, where they are 6-4. It is really over their past 10 games where the Cats have shined. They are 8-2 in that span, including a 6-game winning streak, and had won their past 2 contests before Sunday's game was rained out. I've attended 3 games (would have been 4 but for the rainout), and have been impressed with the on-the-field product.

The Rock Cats have had several good performers on offense. I've been pleasantly surprised by Chris Colabello, journeyman first baseman who, at age 28, finally finds himself playing in affiliated baseball. After 15 games played, Colabello's slash line is .313/.414/.667, for an OPS of 1.080. In 48 at-bats, he has 4 home runs, 5 doubles, 12 RBIs, and has 6 walks and 6 strikeouts. Evan Bigley has also performed well. In 17 games, his slash line is .308/.361/.462. He's accumulated 1 home run, 2 triples and 2 doubles, and also has driven in 12 runs. He has 12 strikeouts to go along with 6 walks, and has stolen 1 base, but has been caught twice. Pedro Florimon has been a pleasant surprise. With a .306/.358/.435 line, 2 homers and 2 doubles, 4 stolen bases (having only been caught 1 time) and 7 RBIs, it's been a good start for Florimon. Unfortunately, he's struck out 14 times, while walking 5, in 62 at-bats, but he has played error-free defense at shortstop. Aaron Hicks has been good, but streaky. From having attended a few games, it seems that, on any given night, he either has it, or doesn't. His line is solid, though, at .276./362/.534, with 3 home runs, 1 triple and 4 doubles. He's driven in 10 runs, has struck out 15 times and has walked 9 times in 58 at-bats. He's committed one error in the field. Finally, there is Deibinson Romero. He's been in the Twins' system for too many years to be a top prospect, but is batting well this year. At .274/.338/.516, with 3 home runs and 6 doubles, the offense has been there for Romero. Unfortunately, the glove has been a little troublesome. He's committed 4 errors in 17 games. From what I have seen, it's mostly fielding, and not throwing, issues. Perhaps this is the year where he can be comfortable with his offense, and make a jump in his defensive ability? He does lead the team with 14 RBIs, so he's getting the job done in the batter's box.

As you can see, these 5 players -- Colabello, Bigley, Florimon, Hicks and Romero -- have done considerable damage for the Rock Cats in only 17 games. Any lineup that has 5 core guys batting above .275, with a combined 13 home runs and 19 doubles in 17 games, is probably going to be pretty potent.

Starting pitching has also been decent for New Britain. I'm still getting used to the way the rotation works in AA. Due in part to Jason Marquis' presence for a couple starts, and Alex Wimmers' recent injury, there have been several starters, 7, for the Rock Cats thus far: Lucas French has dominated at AA (and he should). In 4 games started, French is 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.93. He has struck out 14, but walked 12 (6 in 5 innings on Friday) in 23 and 2/3 innings of work, so there is room for work on control. Steve Hirschfeld, in 3 starts, is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.05. He's struck out 15, while walking 4, in 17 innings. Lefty Logan Darnell is also 2-0. I saw him hitting 93 on the radar gun consistently in his start last Thursday night. In 16 innings of work, his ERA stands at 2.81, with a WHIP of 1.19. He's struck out 10 and walked 6 along the way. Andrew Albers has probably been the weakest starter, but has not been bad by any means. In 3 starts, he's 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA and a WHIP 1.05 in 20 innings. But wait for this stat: in those 20 innings, Albers has struck out 16 . . . and walked 0. No walks. So although Albers has given up too many hits (21) in 20 innings, if he can convert a few more batted balls into outs, that 7.2 K/9 innings ratio might start to make him more effective.

The final interesting stat about Rock Cats starters is that not a single one has been charged with a loss. All of the 5 losses have been charged to the bullpen. This is not to suggest that the bullpen has been bad, because a few pitchers have been great in clutch situations. Daniel Turpen, in his first year with the Rock Cats, is already 2-0 with 1 save in 9 and 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. His ERA stands at 2.89, and he's struck out 9 while issuing no free passes. Similarly, Deolis Guerra has been excellent for the Rock Cats. In 10 and 2/3 innings of work, Guerra has a tidy 0.84 ERA, a 0.47 WHIP, and has struck out 10 and walked 1, picking up 1 save and 3 holds along the way. If this production keeps up, look for Guerra, who just turned 23 this past week, to not stick around in central Connecticut for too many more months.

In sum, yes, it's only been 17 games -- just over 10 percent of the season schedule. But this core consisting of guys like Hicks, Colabello and Bigley on offense, French, Hirschfeld and Albers starting games, and Turpen and Guerra in late-inning, high-leverage situations, has worked out well thus far. This team will be even better when Chris Herrmann (.228) comes around and hits like he can, and when Wimmers re-emerges healthy and set to take a position in the starting rotation. New Britain is back in action tonight, beginning the first of 3 games at home against the Portland Sea Dogs, while their parent teams do the same thing. Let's hope for a bunch of Minnesota-New Britain success over their Boston counterparts.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tough Night in New Britain

The Twins of Tomorrow watch baseball on a
beautiful Spring evening in Connecticut
It was a beautiful evening for outdoor baseball in central Connecticut -- the kind of night where you might come wearing a t-shirt, but had better pack a hooded sweatshirt for when the sun disappears behind the bleachers. The Rock Cats began a homestand tonight, and it was "Anti-Diet Night" at New Britain Stadium. For $12, or $14 if you wanted the good tickets, you could get all-you-can eat hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos and popcorn. Also (as I have mentioned before), Thursdays are Sam Adams happy hours, with discounted beer. Can you beat these deals? I heard that the Twins are charging $10.75 for buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese. I spent about $20 tonight -- including my ticket right over the Rock Cats' dugout.

It was a tough defeat for the home team tonight. They lost 6-5, after coming from behind to tie the game up in the 8th inning. There were some good things, however, that bear mention. The Rock Cats did a lot of hitting tonight: Evan Bigley, Chris Colabello and Estarlin De Los Santos each contributed two hits. Aaron Hicks had a clutch 2-out RBI single to get the scoring going in the first inning -- a sharp line drive back up the middle. Chris Herrmann and Deibinson Romero each had doubles. Colabello continues to impress me. He was 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs and a walk tonight, and is batting an even .333 on the season. I'm not sure quite what to make of him -- 28 and in his first year of affiliated baseball -- but he is definitely not in over his head at AA. He's the kind of guy you want to root for; it's the kind of story that makes minor league baseball so great.

For me, the most interesting play of the night involved Hicks. With one out and Hicks on first, Romero hit a deep fly ball to deep left field. There was never much doubt that the ball would be caught, but it appeared to make it to the warning track. Hicks retreated to first, then proceeded to successfully tag up on the play. It was a gutsy, heads-up base-running play. A better left fielder might have made the play on Hicks, but not tonight. It was the first time I saw Hicks sprint out of necessity, and the guy was fast!! He didn't end up scoring that inning, but those are the types of plays that gamers make.

Logan Darnell warms up for New Britain
On the mound, Logan Darnell was adequate. He went six innings, gave up 4 runs, walked 3 while striking out 5. He never appeared to have complete control of his pitches, though. His fastball was hitting 93 most of the evening, and definitely had some pop. His offspeed stuff was about 83 and 79 (I'm guessing change-up and curve). He fooled several hitters. Darnell, unfortunately, was charged with 2 errors on pickoffs. On the error that I witnessed, the baserunner broke toward second, and all Darnell had to do was make a solid throw to first. Unfortunately, he threw wildly and the ball ended up in the right field corner. Hopefully that was a one-night problem for Darnell. Hicks also had a miscue, but it was ruled as a hit: he failed to see a fly ball of the bat (the sun was setting and it is apparently tough to pick up the baseball at that time of night), and it went for a double. So, although Darnell wasn't perfect tonight, there was room for improvement with the defense.

Lester Oliveros took the loss for the Rock Cats. After they had tied the game up on a clutch two-out two-run triple to center field by Evan Bigley, Oliveros couldn't keep the momentum going into the 9th inning. A walk, stolen base and single did him in. The good thing about baseball, though, is that you need a short memory. New Britain will be back in action this morning, in fact. I'll be going to Sunday's game, so keep an eye out for more pictures and a game summary.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rock Cats Lose, Streak Halted at 6, and Where is Wimmers??

The New Britain Rock Cats lost a close game this afternoon, 2-1, to the Portland Sea Dogs. This was a pitcher's duel, to be sure. Starter Steve Hirschfeld pitched 7 strong innings for the Rock Cats, striking out 7 and walking none, to lower his ERA to 1.06. He surrendered just three hits. Blake Martin struck out 2 in a scoreless 8th. Luis Perdomo blew the save after allowing two walks and a double in the 9th, and then lost the game when, after intentionally walking the next batter, he gave up a walk-off single.

Offensively, the Rock Cats tallied only 3 hits all afternoon. Mark Dolenc, Aaron Hicks and Pedro Florimon constituted all the offense today, and the only run of the game came on a wild pitch in the first inning.

One interesting thing: It's been several days since Alex Wimmers pitched for New Britain. His last -- and only -- start was on April 9th. He pitched just under 5 innings, and was solid. He didn't appear to leave the game with any injury. But there have been 9 games since then. Here is who started for New Britain since Wimmers' last appearance:

Luke French
Andrew Albers
Jason Marquis
Steve Hirschfeld
Logan Darnell
Luke French
Andrew Albers
David Bromberg
Steve Hirschfeld

I was already beginning to get concerned, and then this very topic came up on the TwinsDaily discussion board, so I thought it would be worthwhile to at least mention that Wimmers has been absent from 9 games now. Was this related to Marquis getting work in with the Rock Cats? Who knows. I'll update if I find anything out when I go to tomorrow's game.

[Update: That was quick. Thanks to Seth Stohs at TwinsDaily, we now know that Wimmers has a sore back and a slight flexor strain, and will miss at least a couple starts. Thanks, Seth!]

I'm Glad the Twins Aren't Paying for an Ace Right Now, and a Rock Cats Report

With no Scott Baker in the fold, and with an
ineffective Francisco Liriano, the future of the Twins'
rotation is dubious, at best
You all know the story by now: Last night was not a good night to be a Twins fan. A completely ineffective Francisco Liriano ruined what could have been some nice momentum in a tough, 4 game series against the Yankees, and we received news that Tommy John surgery was performed on Scott Baker, instead of a simpler procedure to "clean up" his right elbow. Liriano's awful performance (after a stellar spring), and Baker's 12 month (minimum) recovery period have likely caused a sea change in the way that the front office is viewing the starting rotation, for 2012 and beyond.

In my head, I had always penciled in one of Baker or Liriano as possibilities for 2013, thinking that it would be possible -- maybe even smart -- for the Twins to try to extend one of these veteran starters. Now, Baker's 2013 option will certainly be declined, as he is shelved for at least a year, and who knows what to do with Liriano? Sure, he could come back in his next start and fire a no-hitter, but that doesn't seem at all possible right now. Handed a 3-1 lead in Yankee Stadium, against CC Sabathia no less, Liriano couldn't even get out of the third inning. He threw more balls than strikes (I acknowledge, though, that the strike zone last night was bad), and Yankees hitters took advantage of pitches left out over the plate. This is not the kind of guy you build your rotation around. This is the kind of guy that winds up in the bullpen, which is where I expect Liriano will be by June if he doesn't straighten out. Worst of all, for a team that right now doesn't appear to be contending for anything other than the worst record in baseball, he's not even accumulating value for the Twins to trade him.

All of this brings me to my main point this morning. I, along with most of Twins Territory, wished during the past few off-seasons that the Twins would acquire an upper echelon pitcher. It hasn't happened, of course. Carl Pavano and Jason Marquis hardly qualify. But think -- just for a second -- if they had. What if, for example, we had gotten a guly like Cliff Lee, or Roy Halladay, or even Zack Greinke? What a colossal waste of money it would be for 2012, and probably 2013. We would be paying basically $1 million per win for this pitcher. In other words, $20 million for 20 or so wins. Yes, it'd be great to have a 20 game winner on staff, but not if that pitcher is literally your only consistent weapon. This team -- without Baker and with an ineffective Liriano -- still wouldn't be much better. Certainly it would win 10 or so more games over the course of the season, but probably not nearly enough to win the division. For right now, at least, it would seem like misallocated money. It's great to have a dominant pitcher -- the kind of guy that you know stands a very good chance of winning every 5th day and throwing 7, 8 or 9 innings -- but it's not so great if there are no #2 or #3 starters to round out the stable. I had always envisioned this ace alongside a couple other good, younger pitchers, leading the staff and perhaps even helping the others become better pitchers. For right now, anyway, it would seem like a waste of money.


Amid all the bad news about the Twins, there is good news out of Twins Territory to report: The New Britain Rock Cats won their 6th straight game last night. Chris Colabello was the big star last night. He hit 2 home runs and had 3 RBIs to lead the way to a 6-3 victory over the Portland Sea Dogs. Colabello, 28, is one of those great baseball stories. He spent 2005-2011 playing in the Canadian-American League, which is an independent baseball league. He spent all but one of those seasons with the Worcester (Massachusetts) Tornadoes, and 2012 is his first year playing in the minor leagues. At 28, he's too old to be a top prospect, but you really, really have to respect the guy for going out there and trying to make a career as a professional ballplayer. I hope he does more than "provide minor league depth," or whatever scouts or front office people might tell you. Deibinson Romero, Pedro Florimon, Nathan Hanson, Evan Bigley, Chris Herrmann and Estarlin De Los Santos also picked up hits for New Britain. David Bromberg and Bobby Lanigan each pitched 3 innings for the Rock Cats, with Lanigan picking up the win after allowing no runs. Delois Guerra got the hold, pitching very well in the 7th and 8th innings, allowing no hits and striking out 2. Lester Oliveros pitched the 9th and, although he got into some trouble, allowing 2 earned runs on 2 hits and a walk, was able to make it through the inning. The Rock Cats are now 10-3, and play this afternoon to wrap up what has been a very successful road trip.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Minnesota Momentum and ESPN SportsCenter Coverage

Is tonight the night where Francisco Liriano puts it together?
CC Sabathia is down. In two starts this season, he has 0 decisions. In 12 innings pitched, he's given up 16 hits, 9 earned runs, 2 home runs and 5 walks, while striking out 15. His ERA in this brief stretch is 6.75. Clearly, he's looking to rebound against the Twins tonight, and for good reason: in his last 9 starts against Minnesota (including the postseason), Sabathia is 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA. So, although the Twins have the momentum going into tonight -- thanks to great games by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Alexi Casilla, and a solid outing by Carl Pavano -- Sabathia has the momentum in the historical sense. Tonight's game, featuring lefties Sabathia and Francisco Liriano, could be very good, or it could be rough: both are capable of shutting down offenses, but both have been very hittable thus far.

As I wrote last year, I think it is possible for this team to have success off of Sabathia. I still would love to see a couple bunts (for base hits) in the first few innings tonight. Between Sabathia's bulk, and the fact that neither Alex Rodriguez nor Mark Teixeira is fleet of foot, bunting would be a great way to upset Sabathia early on. Anything that gets him off of his routine is a positive, in my book. Second, Liriano needs to bust a few Yankee hitters inside. Last night, Pavano pitched well, but you could see the Yankees waiting for those pitches that were on the outer half of the plate, without any fear that Pavano would instead go inside and upstairs to "give them a different view of the ball," so to speak. Liriano, with better velocity than Pavano, can do just that. It could be a great game tonight, like a 2-1 or 3-2 contest, if Liriano and Sabathia are both "on." Judging from past performances this season, though, my guess is that one or both are going to struggle. Hopefully it's Sabathia.

Finally, I want to formally thank ESPN's SportsCenter for their wonderful coverage of last night's Twins-Yankees game. This game featured, among other things, a gigantic Justin Morneau home run to the deepest part of Yankee Stadium, 3 hits from Joe Mauer, including hard-hit doubles down both lines, and a solid RBI single in the first inning by Josh Willingham to give the Twins an early lead. Of all those plays, SportsCenter's coverage after the game showed one of the Mauer doubles (and Alexi Casilla's nice play up the middle). They spent most of the time -- like 80% -- focusing on Derek Jeter's leadoff 351 ft. home run, Curtis Granderson's shot immediately thereafter, and -- get this -- a Jeter infield single. An infield single. A meaningless infield single in a game the Yankees lost by a considerable margin.

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but seriously: we have Morneau trying to come back, against some pretty significant odds, to resurrect what was once a great career, and they don't even show his home run. We have Willingham, who has hit in every single game this season, and they don't show the line drive that he ripped to open up the scoring for the Twins. And there were a handful of other plays during the game that constituted Twins highlights in my opinion, but were, of course, left on the cutting room floor. I'm very, very glad I got to see Jeter leg out that single to shortstop. Thanks, as always, ESPN, for the fair and balanced coverage. And I really, really look forward to watching the Red Sox-Rangers on ESPN's Wednesday night baseball, and the Yankees-Red Sox on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rock Cats' Winning Streak Pushed to 5

The New Britain Rock Cats defeated the Portland Sea Dogs tonight 10-5. Despite the lopsided score, this game actually took 11 innings to produce a winner. The sides were knotted at 5 runs until the Rock Cats exploded for 5 runs in the 11th inning, and then shut down the Sea Dogs in the home half to secure the victory.

For all the runs tonight, New Britain only accumulated 9 hits (they also walked 5 times). Big producers tonight included shortstop Pedro Florimon, who hit his first home run of the year, and drove in 2 runs. Chris Colabello had the most important hit of the night: a 3 run game-tying home run (his second of the season) in the top of the ninth inning with two outs. On the evening, Colabello also had a double and a 4th RBI. Quite a night for the first baseman! Right fielder Evan Bigley had 3 singles and a walk tonight, in 4 at-bats, and also scored 2 runs, pushing his batting average to .311. Deibinson Romero, Estarlin De Los Santos and James Beresford also had hits for the Rock Cats. New Britain sent 10 men to the plate in the decisive 11th inning.

Lefty Andrew Albers got the start for New Britain, lasting 5 innings, and giving up 8 hits, 4 earned runs, and striking out 4 while issuing no free passes. The bullpen, however, was better. Although reliever Brett Jacobson gave up a run in one inning of work, Blake Martin pitched a scoreless 7th, and Luis Perdomo and Daniel Turpen each pitched 2 scoreless innings, with Turpen picking up the win in extras. Aaron Hicks was hitless tonight, but did have an outfield assist, nailing a Sea Dogs runner at third base. Martin (on a pickoff) and Florimon each committed their first errors of the season.

This is now the 5th consecutive win for the Rock Cats, pushing their impressive record to 9-3. They are also undefeated on the road, which is good for any team looking to gain confidence early in the season. They'll be back in action tomorrow night -- same time, same channel.

Rebuilding the Minnesota Twins

This beautiful photo, taken by former Twin Michael Cuddyer,
illustrates the main concern for the Twins organization:
empty seats
The White Sox officially announced that they were rebuilding last December, when they traded pitcher Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays for a pitching prospect. At that time, General Manager Kenny Williams said, "It is the start of a rebuilding. You guys know I have not used that word in 12 years. It's the start of a rebuilding now." It's sort of rare for a front office to officially admit that a team is rebuilding, and you can see why -- there is a stigma attached to the word "rebuilding." Most often, it's very obvious from actions, rather than words, that a team is rebuilding. They will never admit it, but it's more than clear.

It's embarrassing, in any personal or professional endeavor, to admit that your Plan A, and perhaps Plan B and Plan C, didn't work. You have to go back to the drawing board completely, and it's going to cost you. With respect to Major League Baseball, it's going to cost you ticket sales, and everything that comes with putting people in your seats: concession and liquor revenue; merchandise revenue; parking revenue; and probably the ability to attract top talent to your team. The list goes on, I'm sure. Over the end of last season, and into the off-season, it seemed like the Twins were re-tooling -- or reloading, rather than rebuilding: a guy that left, like Michael Cuddyer, for instance, was replaced with a comparable, yet somewhat cheaper alternative, like Josh Willingham. Through these efforts, the Twins went into 2012 fielding a seemingly competitive team (not World Series competitive; just competitive in the sense they could win 81 games), but also reduced payroll. In the end, you definitely would not have called last offseason one of rebuilding.

And then the last 10 days happened. Scott Baker is done for this season without throwing a pitch, and his career as a Twin might be over. Nick Blackburn has been injured, though he is scheduled to pitch this week -- I'm not holding my breath there. Already, two of the most veteran arms are suspect. This doesn't take into account Francisco Liriano, who certainly is not pitching like it's a contract year. Offensively, Jamey Carroll has been mostly dreadful. Couldn't Brian Dozier do the job for less? He'll probably be given a shot next month, so we'll find out. Josh Willingham, great at the plate, has shown that he'd be better suited for designated hitter. This isn't just supposed to be a laundry list of complaints about my favorite team. I'm listing them to illustrate the massive holes that this team has -- even with a $100 million payroll.

The word "rebuilding" is loaded. When a GM utters that word, there's no going back. You are bound to lose ticket sales. At Target Field, commencing only its third year, an official period of rebuilding probably was not an option. But here's a question for you this morning: would the money the Twins would lose in, say, 2012 and 2013 by officially rebuilding, be less than or greater than the money they could stand to lose in the future, say, 2014-2016, if their failure now to officially rebuild and sell off tradeable contracts comes back to bite them in the form of 5 or 6 sustained years of non-winning teams, versus just 2 or 3? Long-winded question, I know. I don't know the answer, but I think it's worth discussing.

Right now, that's my worry. Yes, there are some great prospects coming up. We should be excited by guys like Miguel Sano and Alex Wimmers. But they -- especially Sano -- are some time away from arriving. If the Twins continue the subpar play into May, and then June, I'm hoping that we see some major moves for the long-term health of this organization. That's tough to say for the fan in me that likes each of these players for different reasons, but the Twins might have an opportunity to do what they failed to do at the deadline last year -- move competitive players for decent prospects. If that's the case -- and for the record I hope this team gets going and puts posts like this to rest -- I hope that the front office acts this time around. Act for fans of the Twins organization; act for 2014 and beyond.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Britain's Winning Streak Continues

I think 4 games in a row constitutes a winning streak. If that's not the case, well too bad! The final score today was 3-0 New Britain, and the Rock Cats, in the midst of their first road trip, are now 8-3. The Sunday Rock Cats-Fisher Cats matinee at New Hampshire was essentially a pitcher's duel for much of the game. New Britain starter Lucas French tossed 7 scoreless innings (92 pitches) for the Rock Cats, allowing only 2 hits, and walking 3 and notching 3 strikeouts along the way. He improved to 2-0 on the young season, and his ERA stands at a tidy 0.96.

New Britain's offense came from an Evan Bigley RBI single (he had two hits on the day), a Chris Herrmann solo home run (his first of the season), and a Nathan Hanson sacrifice fly. Herrmann, especially, is in the middle of an important season -- I'm viewing him as Joe Mauer's potential back-up catcher for 2013. Also notching hits for the Rock Cats were Mark Dolenc, Chris Colabello, Deibinson Romero (who committed the only error for New Britain), and Pedro Florimon, who had 2 hits. Aaron Hicks was hitless, batting as a lefty, but his batting average is still a solid .297.

The other good story today was the Rock Cats bullpen. After almost giving the game back yesterday, it was much better today. Deolis Guerra pitched a scoreless 8th inning to get the hold, and Lester Oliveros struck out one in the 9th to get the save. New Britain's pitching staff only gave up 3 hits all day, striking out 4 and walking 3. The road trip continues tomorrow, as they travel to Portland, Maine to face the Red Sox AA affiliate, the Sea Dogs.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

New Britain Rock Cats Continue their Winning Ways

Good players come through New Britain
Following up on last night's victory, the New Britain Rock Cats again defeated the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in a Saturday afternoon game. I guess it's a cat fight this weekend (pun intended, and you're welcome). They dispatched the Fisher Cats 7-6 to improve their record to an impressive 7-3. This morning, we learned that outfielder Darin Mastroianni was promoted to AAA Rochester, to take the place of injured Rene Tosoni. Today's outfield was Mark Dolenc in left, Aaron Hicks in center and Evan Bigley in right.

New Britain did its damage early in the game, scoring 3 runs in both the second and third innings. Chris Colabello contributed 3 hits, including 2 doubles, and scored 2 runs in 5 at-bats. Aaron Hicks continues to impress. He was 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and 1 RBI. He's batting .333 with an OPS of 1.112, so the power is there. Deibinson Romero looked good, as well, contributing two hits, including a double, and driving in 3. It didn't help New Hampshire's chances that their defense committed 4 errors in the first few innings.

On the mound for New Britain, Logan Darnell gave up 3 hits in 5 innings of work, walking 2 and striking out 1 along the way, and earned the win. Bobby Lanigan was just OK in relief, giving up 3 hits and 1 run in 2 innings of work, but striking out 2. Blake Martin contributed a scoreless 8th, striking out 2.

David Bromberg pitched the 9th, and that's where things got interesting. After walking the first batter and hitting the second, Kevin Howard hit a 3 run home run for New Hampshire to make it a ballgame. The next two batters singled, and Bromberg surrendered another run, before being replaced by Daniel Turpen, who worked last night, as well. Turpen allowed an inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly before shutting the door on New Hampshire. In all, it was 3 hits and 5 earned runs for Bromberg in 1/3 of an inning. Hopefully he'll bounce back.

Interestingly, Koby Clemens, Roger Clemens' son, is a player for New Hampshire. He came on as a pinch hitter and struck out twice. He's 26 years old, is listed as a first baseman, and is hitting .167 on the year. I guess dad's pitching ability wasn't passed on to the next generation.

Friday, April 13, 2012

4/13/12 Rock Cats Report

My stock minor league picture until I make it to
another Rock Cats game next week
Just a quick note tonight. The Rock Cats continued their good play, beating the New Hampshire Fisher Cats 6-1 in convincing fashion. Importantly, they played error-free baseball.

Notables: Starter Steve Hirshfeld went 5 innings, striking out 4 and giving up only 2 hits. He walked 2 along the way. Luis Perdomo pitched 2 innings, giving up the only New Hampshire run, but struck out 2. Lester Oliveros and Daniel Turpen both pitched scoreless innings.

On offense, first baseman Chris Colabello had both a double and a home run in three at-bats, with 4 RBIs. If you're looking for a player of the game, it's definitely him! Catcher Chris Herrmann was 3-for-5 with 2 doubles, and Aaron Hicks was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk. Hicks and Herrmann each had a stolen base, also. In my opinion, Herrrmann, a returning Rock Cat, has got to be the front-runner for the Mauer back-up in 2013.

Rock Cats fans, we're looking at a good team here. A good mix of power, speed and pitching. This team is 6-3 going into Saturday's action, and hopefully they can keep it going.

I Can Fix the Pitching Rotation . . . for 2014

This season, the Twins are shelling out $28.25 million on their intended starting pitching staff. Here's the breakdown:
Twins fans are wondering when, and if, Kyle Gibson
will become part of the Twins' rotation
Scott Baker (will not pitch an inning this season): $6.5 million
Nick Blackburn: $4.75 million
Francisco Liriano: $5.5 million
Carl Pavano: $8.5 million
Jason Marquis: $3 million

As you can see, it adds up pretty fast, and no one player is making close to league minimum. Also, a few of these contracts aren't particularly good. Pavano is overpaid for what he produces (aside from the fact that he will probably pitch 200 innings this season), and I believe that the Twins could have done better for $3 million than Marquis, or could, at this point, just give the spot to a young guy.

It's no surprise that there will be massive turnover in this rotation over the next couple seasons. In fact, none of these guys is under contract for 2014. It seems as if Baker's time in Minnesota is likely over, unless he wants to come back to the Twins at a lower amount than the $9.5 million 2013 team option that will most certainly be declined. I guess that's a possibility. For right now, though, let's just assume, for what I'm about to propose, that Baker is out of the scenario. Additionally, the Twins hold an $8 million option on Nick Blackburn for 2014. For right now, I'll assume that they decline that option. Unless Blackburn can extended his perennial April and May success into the hot summer months, it's a lot of money to spend on a pitcher that can't consistently deliver quality starts.

The entire landscape of the Twins -- or at least many aspects of it -- could be very different in 2014. Justin Morneau might not be with the team, although I hope that's not the case. Denard Span could be traded as early as this season, especially if he remains healthy and it appears that Joe Benson is ready to take over in center field as part of a rebuild. Danny Valencia's job could have been usurped by Miguel Sano. And it's almost a foregone conclusion that Brian Dozier will be playing shortstop for the foreseeable future. In all, that sounds to me like the potential for a lot of contracts in 2014 that are close to league minimum, which is good news for the budget conscious Twins.

In my mind, some of that extra money saved in position player salaries would be well spend on pitching. Here's what I propose to get this team's pitching back on track for 2014. And I can do it for roughly the same amount:

1) Major Free Agent Signing. I'm targeting Zack Greinke, specifically. I wrote last week for Through the Fence Baseball on why we should try to get him. The common refrain is that the Twins need a pitcher that can miss bats, and Greinke might be our most attainable shot. Is he an ace? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It depends on your definition. But if he signed in Minnesota, he would instantly become our best starting pitcher since Johan Santana. With pitching payroll coming off the books, and with Greinke becoming a free agent after this season, I say the Twins go after him. $18 million/season.

2) Kyle Gibson. Admittedly there is no longer certainty as to whether we will ever see the pitcher that he once was on the path to becoming. He's out until late this summer recovering from Tommy John surgery. But he was so close beforehand. Aaron Gleeman still has Gibson as the #7 Twins prospect, incidentally. Perhaps he will not become the #2 starter that we dreamed about, but there is still a good chance that Gibson will be a solid starter for years to come in Minnesota. And, importantly, he'll be making close to league minimum. $500,000 (I'm ballparking a little here. Depending on when any of these rookies come up, they will get raises, so it could be a little more than that.).

3) Alex Wimmers. He's on the fast track. Yes, he's not nearly as close to The Show as Gibson is, but by promoting him to AA this season after only 40 innings in Ft. Myers, the Twins have indicated in no uncertain terms that Wimmers, if productive, will quickly climb the ladder. If he's successful this season, there's a chance that he could crack the Twins rotation at some point in 2013. $500,000.

4) Liam Hendriks. It sounds like Hendriks will get a lot of experience in 2012 now that Baker is shelved. He's making $480,000 this season. Let's assume that he's successful and put him, for the sake of argument, at $1.5 million in 2014.

These four pitchers put us at roughly $20.5 million. Let's round up just for budgeting purposes, and call it $22 million. We have some money left over for the 5th pitcher, so let's use it!

5) Solid veteran free agent signing, or Francisco Liriano. Don't laugh. I still hold out hope that Liriano can get his head under control. Don't get me wrong -- these first two starts were pretty awful -- but he looked so good just two weeks ago. Can the Twins get him for $8 million a season in a deal before he hits free agency? Do they even want to? Would they be crazy to? Or, are they looking for him to throw well so they can trade him? Yes, the signs point to Liriano not being with the Twins next season, but it's an option.

If the Twins don't go that route, that leaves them about $8 million to sign a pitcher. That money should get you a solid, middle of the rotation guy.

So, for around $30 million, we're set for 2014, in my mind, anyway. These young pitchers salaries' will escalate, so it will not be a $30 million rotation for the long-term (although they would be under team control for a few more years, so the raises would be reasonable). And don't forget that the Twins hopefully will draft a pitcher with the second overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft. Maybe this guy will be MLB ready by 2015? And, I'm sure I have forgotten about another prospect or two, such as Adrian Salcedo, that could crack the rotation in another few years.

I recognize that writing a list like this is speculative in nature. There's a chance that neither Wimmers nor Gibson ever throws a pitch at Target Field. But there's also a good chance that they realize their potential. For all the rotten luck the Twins have had (Baker's injury, Liriano's Tommy John surgery and subsequent inconsistent performance, and Blackburn not living up to his contract), it's about time that a few things go in the Twins favor.

So there you have it. 2012 doesn't look like Minnesota's season to win it all, and there are still some contracts on the book in 2013 (Jamey Carroll, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, even Morneau because his future is so tentative) that may prevent the Twins from making a big move, but they should definitely court Greinke and try to build a young rotation around him.

Finally, if you have time, check out my post today at Through the Fence Baseball, romanticizing, #34, Kirby Puckett.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rock Cats Report

How lineups are posted in
New Britain -- on a large posterboard
when you walk in the stadium.
Gotta love it!

Yesterday morning, the Rock Cats played at 10:35 a.m., eastern time. That's right, as many of you in Minnesota were settling into your workday routine, so were the Rock Cats. These weekday early morning games are interesting. In fact, looking at the season schedule, it looks like the team will play several morning games throughout the season. I'll have to check one of these games out eventually!

Going into tonight's game, the Rock Cats are 4-3, after losing yesterday to the Harrisburg Senators in the finale of their 3-game series. This was the Rock Cats' second loss in a row. They lost 8-4, but Aaron Hicks came through with another extra base hit -- a double -- and was 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. Although it was great that Hicks had another extra base hit (he had homered in both of the previous two games), yesterday's double was encouraging because Hicks was batting left-handed, the side of the plate where he needs to gain consistency. By my math, Hicks has 5 hits in his last 3 games. After starting out just 1-for-12, Hicks has hit in 5 of his last 11 at-bats, so that's great news. Small sample size, yes, but Hicks is showing that his promotion was deserved. In fact, after batting .083 just a few days ago, Hicks is up to respectable .261. And I can tell you from watching both the first game of the season, where Hicks was hitless and appeared nervous, and from watching Monday night when he had 2 hits, including a massive opposite field home run, that he is more relaxed at the plate.

The second player I wanted to mention this morning is third baseman Deibinson Romero. He doesn't come up on prospect lists much any more. But I've attended two games, and have enjoyed watching Romero hit. He's not a typical prospect -- he'll turn 26 at the end of this season -- so I'm not sure what his future holds. From his career numbers, it's clear that Romero started off as a decent prospect, but saw his hitting stats drop once he hit High A baseball in Ft. Myers. This will be his second season in New Britain. He played 121 games there last year, batting 256/.327/.411. Already, however, he has two errors this season at third base, after having committed twenty at that position last season, so his defense may be an issue. Still, though, he's batting an even .333 with 8 hits early on, 4 of them doubles, and has 3 RBIs in the last two games. I'm not suggesting here that Romero is set to take Danny Valencia's job or anything, just that he has performed well at the plate this season, which for Romero would be a prerequisite to a promotion to Rochester. I like rooting for an underdog. Romero might see consensus #1 prospect Miguel Sano pass him by next season, and he might never play a single inning at Target Field, but perhaps this is his year to put things together?

Tonight, the Rock Cats begin a 7 game road trip in New Hampshire against the Fisher Cats, AA affiliate of the Blue Jays. It's probably about a 3 hour bus ride from New Britain (just so you guys reading this stuff have an idea of the distance these players are traveling). After 4 games there, they will drive just a couple hours to play the Portland Sea Dogs, the AA affiliate of the Red Sox. Then it's back home for 7 games against those same two teams. All in all, the Rock Cats are in a stretch of 17 games in 17 days. Thankfully, their bus trips don't seem too lengthy. I'll probably hit up next Thursday night's game against New Hampshire, so you can expect game coverage from that, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Silver Lining on the Scott Baker News

Will this man-child ever throw for the Twins again?
There's no good news report today, as it was just announced that our best righty, Scott Baker, will miss the entire season as a result of elbow surgery. This is bad news, make no mistake. When he's on, Baker is the second best pitcher in the rotation. Before injuries sidelined him in 2011, he was having arguably an all-star season, and he's one of just a few Twins pitchers that can consistently get hitters to swing and miss. Also, he seems like a nice guy. I met him last year, and he was nothing but polite. But tonight, in a rare Twins Fan From Afar evening post, I'm going to present the silver lining on the Baker news. Here it goes:

1. The Twins won't have a tough decision to make on his 2013 option. It's for $9.5 million, and I'd be really, really surprised if they picked it up. Sure, this isn't Tommy John surgery, but with Baker's lengthy injury history, it would be a significant risk to take, for a traditionally risk-averse organization. Roughly speaking, $9.5 million is 10 percent of this team's payroll. It's the equivalent of a starting position player, or approximately half the salary of an "ace," however you define that term. In other words, there are things the Twins can do with that payroll space.

2. I'm not going to give you some line like "this gives another guy an opportunity to step up and show he belongs." If "he" belonged, he'd already be up here, because our pitching depth is not at all, well, deep. What will happen, though, is that the Twins will lose more games this season. Sure, that's no fun in 2012, but this team wasn't going to make the playoffs, anyway. If you are a sub-.500 team, the more games you lose, the better your draft position. This injury, unfortunate as it may be, probably bumped the Twins up a few slots in the 2013 draft. If moving up a few slots is the difference between drafting the next Justin Verlander -- or even the next Scott Baker -- and missing that selection, it's not insignificant.

3. This makes it more likely that Francisco Liriano stays. Not sure if that is good or bad, but it would be nice to have a veteran starter not named Carl Pavano or Jason Marquis next season. To me, it had seemed, until today, like the Twins would either attempt to keep one of Liriano or Baker, or neither -- but not both. Now, they either will attempt to sign Liriano, or let him walk. Either way, they won't have to think about paying their two most senior pitchers around $10 million each.

4. If Baker does come back to Minnesota, it will be for cheaper. Let's assume Baker does want to stay loyal to Minnesota. He can come back on a 1-year deal and try to re-establish value, and then hit free agency in 2014. What better place to build good pitching stats than Target Field? If not, perhaps Kyle Gibson will be ready to take a spot in 2013?

In closing, I'm in no way suggesting that today was a good day in Twins Territory. We lost a good guy -- definitely our first or second best Twins pitcher. That's bad news, and I hope Baker recovers quickly. But if you view this news in the larger context of the 2014-2018 Twins -- who could be very good -- perhaps there is a sliver of good news hidden in there.

Aaron Hicks and the Rock Cats, Twins Baseball and the Future, & the SethSpeaks Weekly Twins Podcast

Thus far, good things are coming out of New Britain
A few unrelated items this morning. First, if you missed it, yesterday I wrote about Alex Wimmers' first AA Rock Cats start that took place Monday night, and Aaron Hicks' monster game that helped give the Rock Cats a big victory. This morning, the good news coming out of New Britain, despite a 7-2 loss to the Harrisburg Senators last night, was that top prospect Aaron Hicks was 2-for-4 with another home run. That's two home runs in two days, and the latest came batting lefty, which is the weaker side for Hicks. A batting average that was a laughable .077 just a couple days ago is now .250, and Hicks is 4 for his last 8, with 5 RBIs in just two games. Clearly, when he's "on," his bat can lead a team. We're all looking for consistency from Hicks, so hopefully these past couple games are a sign of things to come. Whether the Twins decide to keep him as part of the projected 2014-2015 "new look outfield" that's easy to imagine being fantastic (with Joe Benson, too), or whether the organization eventually tries to package him in a trade for some kind of power starting pitching, it's an incredibly important season for Hicks in terms of development and career trajectory. The final Rock Cats note for this morning concerns middle infield depth. Pedro Florimon is off to a fast start for New Britain, with a .400/.429/.450 slash line in his first 20 at-bats, and has looked solid in the field from what I have seen. I don't expect too much from him in terms of what he could do for the Twins, but it's nice to see him start off hot. The Rock Cats play at 10:35 eastern time this morning. Talk about an early start! If anything newsworthy happens, I'll post this afternoon.

Second, how about those Minnesota Twins? I've barely been discussing them lately. Between the pathetic offense (except Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham) and the fact that Scott Baker is already out indefinitely, I feel like we're in for a long season. Yes, I know that 4 games is nothing, and tonight the Twins could easily start a 4-game winning streak. That's just how baseball works. But the pitching has me worried for the long-term, and that hasn't even been the weak point for this team thus far.

A lot of fans are concerned with the depth of the Twins' minor league system, and rightfully so. Here's a question for you: What if the Twins stink again this season? I don't mean winning 78 or 80 games, but more like winning 65 or 68. What if they can secure a top 3 pick in the 2013 draft? Between this year's #2 overall pick and a top selection next season, the Twins could have a rare opportunity to add top-shelf draft talent, which would complement some of the exciting players, like Miguel Sano, that are coming up through the organization.

In other words, if you agree with me that this is not a playoff team in 2012, even with a healthy Scott Baker and Joe Mauer, would you rather watch an 81-81 season, or would you prefer to see a bad season in which the team unloaded some players before they hit free agency, and was able to secure a top pick next year? It's an interesting discussion, anyway.

Finally, I was thrilled to be a guest on Seth Stohs' SethSpeaks Weekly Twins Podcast. I talked Rock Cats baseball for 10 minutes or so, and was happy for the opportunity to do so. Seth had me on right after Brian Dozier finished up. A tough act to follow! Dozier sounds like a great guy, and I believe he's ready to take over at shortstop right about now. If you didn't listen to the podcast live, you can listen any time by clicking here.