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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wednesday's Twins Minor League Report

Every Wednesday night, I write a column for the TwinsDaily website going over all of the minor league action from that day. If you're at all curious about the Twins minor league system, I highly recommend reading these daily reports -- you'll quickly get an understanding of what's going on in the system, who's hot, who's cold, and who's ready to be promoted. Last night's minor league games were especially interesting -- a couple high-scoring affairs, a couple good pitching performances, and some good outings from top Twins prospects. Here's what I wrote:

Sweet Lord, the Twins swept a series. Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano. Those were all big names going into 2012, and they all had good performances at some point in this series. Bottom line: the Twins won 3 games in a row. Yes, it was against another bad team, and yes, there are still major problems with the Twins. But, as fans, isn't it nice to see a few wins grouped together, rather than many, many losses? I posted this earlier at Twins Fan From Afar, but here's some food for thought: Justin Morneau is on pace for 29 home runs and 81 RBIs; Joe Mauer is on pace for 39 doubles, 107 walks and is currently a seeing-eye single away from batting .300; Josh Willingham is on pace for 113 RBIs and 32 home runs; and Denard Span is on pace for 45 doubles (which would come close to doubling his career high of 26 from 2010). Yes, there are many bad things happening in Minnesota, but there are some good things, as well.

Let's take a look at how the Twins' affiliates fared tonight.


This was a crazy game! The Red Wings had a good offensive showing tonight, and despite the fact that the pitching simply didn't keep them in the game, the Red Wings managed to win. Rochester scored 4 in the 9th to tie, and 1 in the 10th to win.

Starter Liam Hendriks had a rough outing. He went 5 innings, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits, striking out 1 and walking 2. He allowed 2 home runs -- both 2-run shots. Out of the bullpen, reliever Deolis Guerra had a rare poor performance. In 1 inning of work, he allowed 3 runs on 3 walks. He didn't allow a hit and struck out 1. Lester Oliveros also allowed a run in 2/3 of an inning, giving up 2 hits and walking 1. Carlos Gutierrez tossed 2 scoreless innings, striking out 4 and giving up only 1 hit. He earned the win. Anthony "why isn't he in Minnesota" Slama closed the door and earned his 9th save, tossing a scoreless 10th.

There's a lot of offense to discuss. Rochester banged out 18 hits tonight. The big slugger tonight was the recently demoted Chris Parmelee. He was 3-for-4 with a 3-run home run, a walk, and 5 RBIs. Shortstop Pedro Florimon also had 3 hits and an RBI. Clete Thomas had 3 hits (2 doubles). Danny Valencia had 2 hits (1 double) and an RBI. Catcher J.R. Towles had 2 doubles, Matt Carson had 2 hits, including a double, and 2 RBIs. Sean Burroughs was 2-for-4, and Ray Chang had a single as a pinch hitter.

Here's the link for the box score.


This was an evening about top Twins prospects. Let's start with pitching. Starter B.J. Hermsen had a great start: he was one out shy of a complete game! In 8 and 2/3 innings, he allowed 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 and issuing zero walks. His ERA at AA is 2.68. His stock is rising, and it's tough not to be a little excited about that. Luis Perdomo struck out the final batter of the game.

On offense, almost every Rock Cats starter contributed. Top prospect Aaron Hicks connected for his 6th home run of the year, and catcher Chris Herrmann hit his 5th of the season. Both were solo shots. Danny Lehmann and Matt Rizzotti both had doubles, Rizzotti's driving in 2 runs, and James Berersford had 2 hits, including a triple, and 2 RBIs. Shortstop Estarlin De Los Santos had 2 singles, and Deibinson Romero had a single and an RBI.

Here's the link for the box score.


Miguel Munoz had a solid start for the Miracle tonight, going 5 innings, and allowing 1 run on 5 hits and a walk. He struck out 3 along the way. Nelvin Fuentes gave up 2 runs in 2 and 1/3 innings, allowing 3 hits, striking out 3 and walking 1. Both runs came on a 2-run home run. Bruce Pugh earned his 5th save of the season, and he was great, going 1 and 2/3 innings and striking out 4. He allowed no hits.

Top prospect Oswaldo Arcia had another great game, going 4-for-4 with a home run, his 5th of the season. Daniel Santana was also excellent, going 3-for-4 with a double and a triple, and driving in 2 runs. Levi Michael and Angel Morales also had singles.

Here's the link for the box score.


This was not a good night for the Snappers. Starter Tim Shibuya only made it 2/3 of an inning, and allowed 12 runs on 10 hits. He walked 1, struck out 2, and allowed a home run. Ryan O'Rourke was somewhat better, going 4 and 1/3 innings and allowing 2 runs on 3 hits. He struck out 3 and walked 1. Corey Williams allowed 4 runs (3 earned) in 1 inning of work, giving up 3 hits, striking out 3 and walking 1. Michael Tonkin tossed the 7th, allowing 1 run on 2 walks and 2 hits. A.J. Pettersen -- yes the infielder of TwinsDaily lore -- tossed a scoreless 8th inning, issuing 1 walk.

There wasn't much offense to speak of tonight. The Snappers amassed only 5 hits. Adam Bryant had a double, and Drew Leachman, Kyle Knudson, Eddie Rosario and A.J. Pettersen each had singles.

Here's the link to the box score.
Players of the day for May 30, 2012
Hitter of the day: Chris Parmelee (close call with Arcia, but 5 RBIs gets the nod).

Pitcher of the Day: B.J. Hermsen (close call with A.J. Pettersen, but I'll give the nod to the actual pitcher).

A Look Ahead: Schedule for Thursday, May 31

BELOIT @ QUAD CITIES --- LHP Steven M. Gruver

4 road games, 4 lefties, one of which uses his middle initial!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

If Someone Told You . . . .

A little thinner? Yes. Perhaps playing with a bit of trepidation
about his future? Yes. On pace for 29 home runs? Yes.
Let's have a little fun with numbers. This afternoon, the Twins completed the 50th game of the season. They have played 30 percent of the schedule and have 70 percent of the season remaining. Let's forget about wins and losses for a second (easy to do when your team loses most of the time) and focus on the performance of a few key offensive players.

* If someone told you back in March, 2012, that Justin Morneau would be on pace for a 29 home run, 81 RBI season, would you be fine with that? How about if that production in 50 overall team games occurred for Morneau in only 33 games due to time spent on the disabled list? With 9 home runs and 25 RBIs, that's Morneau's pace.

* If someone told you back in March, 2012, that Joe Mauer would have played in 48 of the Twins' 50 games, and would be 1 seeing-eye single (my guess is a grounder just to the left of the second baseman) away from a .301 batting average, would you be fine with that? How about if they told you that, although the home run power was still largely absent, Mauer would be on pace for 39 doubles and 172 hits, as well as 107 walks. With 12 doubles, 53 hits in 179 at-bats, and 33 walks, that's Mauer's pace.

* If someone told you back in March, 2012, that Josh Willingham would be on pace for 113 RBIs and 32 home runs despite playing 52 percent of his games in cavernous Target Field, my guess is that would be fine with you.

* If someone told you back in March, 2012, that Denard Span would be on pace for 45 doubles (which would almost double his career best of 24 from 2010), would you be all right with that?

Sure, numbers are easy to spin. And we all know that Morneau was on pace for an historic 2010 season when he suffered a concussion in July. But the point for each of these players is the same: if someone had asked me, in a "take it or leave it" scenario, would I be happy with this production from each player, I would say "yes" in a heartbeat.

There are a lot of negative things going on in Twins Territory right now. We're talking about trading away several players this summer, we're hoping that the front office doesn't screw up the amateur draft in June, and preparing for the possibility -- maybe even probability -- that the Twins will have a very high selection in the 2013 draft. Very few things have gone right this year for the Twins. I try not to be overly optimistic, and struggle not to be too pessimistic. These 4 players I just highlighted all have deficiencies: Morneau's health; Mauer's health and lack of power; Willingham's hot-cold nature and low career batting average; and Span's health and inconsistent performance over the past 3 seasons. Although it's important to take notice of those shortcomings, I think, as fans, it's just as important to acknowledge when something is going right. For each of these guys -- especially Mauer and Morneau with the gigantic question marks hovering over their heads -- multiple things are going right this year, even the results in the win-loss column are not representative.

Wednesday Rock Cats Report

New Britain is looking for more
consistency from center fielder
Aaron Hicks
Last night's Rock Cats-Fisher cats game was postponed for weather. If the weather in New Hampshire last night was anything like the weather in central Connecticut, postponing was definitely a good idea! With the day off, let's assess how the team is doing, and take a look at a few specific players. The Rock Cats are 29-21, a .580 winning percentage that is good for first place in their division. They are still just 0.5 games ahead of the Reading Phillies, who looked pretty good when I saw them play earlier this month. The Trenton Thunder, at 26-22, are in third place.

Many of the batting averages have settled into the .240-.260 range. There is no current Rock Cats player that is batting even close to .300, and no player has an OPS over .800. As I mentioned yesterday, one guy to keep an eye on is catcher Chris Herrmann. After a slow start, he's been playing well lately, batting .324 over his last 10 games. He's fourth on the team in OPS (.721) and tied for first in batting average (.260).

Aaron Hicks continues to confuse me. I'll start with the positives: from what I have seen, his defense, speed and base running skills are all there. He's got a good arm, too. He's very inconsistent on offense, and I think part of that inconsistency is due to the fact that he is not a solid batter from the left side of the plate. Perhaps, after this season, the organization will make the decision for Hicks that he's better off batting exclusively right-handed. Compared to last season in High A, the walk % is a little lower, the strikeout percentage is a little higher, and the BAPIP is also lower. On the season, he's hitting .246/.335/.392. His last 10 game have been a little better, though: .273/.375/.424 (1 HR and 2 2B in that time frame). It's safe to say that, if the season ended today, Hicks would not have earned a promotion to AAA. In March, I questioned whether Hicks was ready for AA. From what I have seen, he was ready, and he fits in well here. But he definitely has not demonstrated that he is even close to ready for the next level. Hopefully he can settle into a routine and start hitting more consistently as the summer comes.

Finally, I get somewhat frequent questions or comments on Deibinson Romero, probably for a couple reasons: first, he has had a decent year at the plate, and has shown some power; and second, anyone who looks at all decent at third base in the Twins minor league system necessarily will be intriguing to fans as a possible stop-gap between what we have now, and Miguel Sano (unless he outgrows the position). Romero's slash line on the year is .253/.344/.414. It's probably safe to say that he has been one of the two or three best hitters on the club. He, too, has been better over his last 10 games, going .273/.375/.455 with 2 HR and 6 walks. One positive thing: Romero has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last season, he whiffed 93 times and walked only 40; thus far in 2012, he has struck out 27 times and walked 19. Romero will be 26 years old in September and, barring a promotion this season, it will be his second full season in New Britain. As I have mentioned in other posts, however, the defense is hurting Romero. He has 6 errors on the season, and quite simply does not look sure-footed at the hot corner.

Romero is an interesting case, though: for an organization lacking depth at third base, he has shown the ability to hit for decent power. Is his defense a lost cause, or is there someone, somewhere in the organization that can help this guy take the next step? Sure, I have every expectation that Danny Valencia will work his way back to Minnesota, and I do believe that Valencia can be an adequate big league third baseman, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have some competition.

Tonight the Rock Cats are back in action against the Fisher Cats, and the series concludes with a Thursday morning getaway game. Over the weekend, New Britain hosts the Harrisburg Senators. Be sure to check back for updates! Finally, if you feel like voting for any of the Twins prospects for the 2012 AA All-Star game, you can do so here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Candidate for Promotion: Chris Herrmann

If you want to see Chris Herrmann playing
for the Rock Cats, my advice would be
to get a ticket soon
Catching depth in Minnesota is . . . interesting. In fact, I'm not sure that "depth" is the correct word. There's Joe Mauer. And then there's a pretty big drop off. Ryan Doumit can catch, technically, but he is not good defensively. And Drew Butera can call a good game, but I'll be surprised if he can hit above the Mendoza line, and most fans acknowledge that his best role is one in which he doesn't accumulate more than 250 plate appearances per season.

Over in Rochester, there is J.R. Towles, who is 28 years old and batting .183 in 21 games, and Rene Rivera, who you probably remember as one of several bad catchers that were given a shot last year. Rivera, who will be 29 in July, is hitting .193 in 28 games.

There's no perfect back-up catcher currently playing for the Twins, or on the Red Wings. Either the player is not predominately a catcher, is past his athletic prime, is an offensive liability, or is some combination of those things. All of this brings me to Chris Herrmann. Herrmann, 24 years old this season and a native Texan, is in the middle of another solid season in the Twins' minor league system. I'm just going to focus on this season and last season for reference. In 2011, Herrmann was called up to AA New Britain mid-season and appeared in 97 games. His batting line was solid: .258/.380/.392. He had 14 doubles, 5 triples, 7 home runs and 46 RBIs in that time. In 2012, again in New Britain, Herrmann started off very cool, struggling in the first month of the season to get the average above .200. But then, as with the New England weather, Herrmann heated up. As of today, here is Herrmann's slash line: .260/.310/.410, with 14 doubles, 4 home runs and 17 RBIs in 44 games. As you can see, although he has some work to do with the on-base percentage, the power has been increasing. As I mentioned, he has been playing better lately, recording 4 hits in consecutive games last week. Over his last ten games, Herrmann is .324/.405/.405 with 3 doubles and 5 walks (he has 13 walks on the season, so it's nice to see him showing more patience at the plate recently).

It's also worth noting that Herrmann has frequently stayed in the lineup on days he doesn't catch, either serving as designated hitter or playing left field. I have seen him in left field, and he did not appear to me to be a defensive liability. I'm not sure how baseball professionals would describe his defensive ability at catcher, but he seems, at the very least, solid to me. He does have a good arm.

I'm not sure how much more Herrmann has to do to earn a promotion to Rochester, or even to Minnesota. It's clear that Towles and Rivera are nothing more than minor league depth. At 24, Herrmann has a lot of baseball in his future. Clearly, there is room for improvement in his game, but I'm not certain that sticking it out in New Britain the rest of 2012 is the best thing for Herrmann's development. I've (sort of) jokingly been calling Herrmann "Mauer's 2013 backup," but he really could be more than that.

Most people reading this post are prudent enough to realize that Joe Mauer won't be catching full-time by 2014 or 2015. In Herrmann the Twins have a young catcher, capable of playing multiple positions, who has the ability to hit and get on base, and has shown more than occasional power. As much as I have enjoyed watching Herrmann at New Britain Stadium, I think it's time to see what he can do at the next level. In fact, by the end of this summer, I think it's time to see what Herrmann can do at Target Field.

Friday, May 25, 2012

That Certain Age

As an 8 year old, I couldn't understand why
GM Andy MacPhail would trade away
Frank "Sweet Music" Viola
I recently surpassed it. A couple years ago, in fact. The average age of an MLB player is 28.68 years old. I'll be 31 in a couple months. For every Jamie Moyer helping to increase that figure, there's a Bryce Harper doing just the opposite. For every Cal Ripken, Jr., that holds on for another year and tries to delay the inevitable, there's a Miguel Sano hoping to knock on the door before he turns 21. It really is a machine that, as described in Field of Dreams, has been "the one constant through all the years."

It's funny what age does to the way you view the game. In fact, sometimes I even hesitate to call MLB "the game" -- a more apt term might be "the business based around the game." I remember the day that Frank Viola was traded to the Mets. July 31, 1989. I had just turned 8, my family was at the cabin for the week, and I was the biggest Viola fan in the world. One of my parents told me the news. The 8 year old me couldn't understand the practical implications of trading away Viola for, among others, Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera, both of whom would go on to have excellent Twins careers. The 8 year old me didn't think in those terms, of course. To a kid, losing a good player -- right in the middle of the season, no less -- made no sense.

With the benefit of age, and hopefully a little wisdom, things are somewhat different. I'm still a fan of the game -- of the institution. The older I get, though, I realize that the players, for the most part, come and go. They are well-compensated cogs. Denard Span, for instance, has been a great Minnesota Twin: a solid player; excellent with fans; and the recipient of a relatively team friendly contract. If I was 8, I would probably be crushed if he was traded this season. As a 30 year old, though, part of me is really hoping for it because the Twins would stand to get a couple decent prospects, at least one pitcher, that could help this team for the next several years.

I find myself thinking much more about the Twins' future than I did when I was 8, or even 18. Part of that undoubtedly is because the Twins have played so bad this season, but the other part might generally just be a change in the way I think about things. As a kid, or even a teenager, all you really need is a good day-to-day approach in order to get by. Good luck doing that as an adult! If you own a home, work, or ever plan to retire, you had better be forward-thinking and sometimes shrewd in your decisions. I think that's where I am with the Twins now.

But it hasn't been a 100 percent shift from the 8 year old me to the 30 year old version. I don't go to too many Twins games, based on where I live, and I actually hadn't seen Joe Mauer play in person until 2010 (not counting when I played against him as a teenager). So I still get excited for Twins games. I still think that there are players, like Mauer for instance, that I just wouldn't want to see traded from the Twins, no matter what the haul. I have a similar feeling for Justin Morneau. And I was still pretty excited this April when Mauer tossed me a game ball at Camden Yards. Things like that don't get old.

Now, though, there are just some other ways to appreciate games. Being able to look into some advanced stats has made me appreciate certain facets of the game. As I kid I probably didn't care about anything besides home runs and batting titles. Becoming a fan of the Twins' minor league system has also been great. And I would add blogging to this list, as well: being able to communicate about baseball to hundreds of other fans is pretty cool. But part of me -- probably a large part -- is still pretty similar to that 8 year old fan who probably said some pretty awful things about Andy MacPhail in late July, 1989. The 30 year old me is just as much a Twins fan, but hopefully a little wiser, and soon will need to seriously consider wearing sunscreen on the top of his head when he heads out to a ballgame.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday Rock Cats Report: A Game That Got Away

After collecting 4 hits in consecutive games,
Rock Cats catcher Chris Herrmann couldn't tripilicate
the feat yesterday.
Every Wednesday night I write a recap of all the happenings in the Twins minor league system for TwinsDaily. You can find last night's recap here. Here's what I wrote about the Rock Cats' loss to the Binghamton Mets:

New Britain 1, Binghamton 8Today's game was quite a test for the Rock Cats, facing top Mets pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. He routinely hits 97 with the fastball, and probably won't be too long for AA. He looked good against New Britain this afternoon, throwing 8 innings and allowing 2 hits and 1 run. But David Bromberg, starting for the Rock Cats, also had a solid performance, going 6 strong innings, striking out 8, walking 3 and giving up just 1 run on 4 singles. Blake Martin relieved Bromberg, tossing a scoreless 7th and walking 1 batter. He gave up 1 hit to lead off the 8th before being removed in favor of Luis Perdomo. Then things got ugly. Perdomo walked one, but the Mets scored twice following a sacrifice bunt, a single, and a Danny Lehmann throwing error. Brett Jacobson threw 2/3 of the 9th, issued 5 walks and gave up 5 runs (2 earned) -- a 3-run home run and a bases-loaded walk. Bobby Lanigan came on to get the last out in the 9th, which he did after hitting a batter with the bases loaded to bring in the Mets' 8th run (charged to Jacobson). Martin ended up with the loss. To sum up: starting pitching was good; the bullpen wasn't.

There wasn't much offense to speak of for the Rock cats. Minnesota's own Nathan Hanson had an RBI single in the 5th to score Aaron Hicks, who had walked and stolen second (stolen base #13 for Hicks). Reversing a recent trend, Chris Herrmann did not get 4 hits today, but he did coax a walk out of Wheeler. Danny Lehmann had a double.

Here's the link
to the box score.

There isn't much time to dwell on this ugly loss, though. The team plays bright and early today -- 10:35 a.m. to be precise. Two recent AA call-ups, B.J. Hermsen for the Rock Cats and Jenrry Mejia for the Mets, will face each other. A win today would give New Britain 3 of 4 in this series. Going into today's game, New Britain has a 1.5 game lead in their division.

Don't forget to check back for more updates later!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Rock Cats and Pitching

In each of his 4 starts since joining the Rock  Cats,
B.J. Hermsen has gone over  6 innings.
Yesterday, I reviewed some notable hitting prospects for the New Britain Rock Cats. The team is now 10 games over .500 and is in first place with a 1.5 game lead over the Reading Phillies. So although the offense has been scoring plenty of runs, the pitching has also kept this team in games.

Today I thought I would take a look at the Rock Cats' pitching. Keep in mind that Lucas French, Lester Oliveros and Deolis Guerra have all been promoted to AAA Rochester, so less than 2 months into the season, the Rock Cats have lost 3 of their most consistent arms. With that being said, let's see how a few of the pitchers are doing:

First, some starters:

Logan Darnell: 5-2, 4.53 ERA, 51 and 2/3 innings, 35K, 16 BB, 1.37 WHIP.

Steve Hirschfeld: 3-4, 3.14 ERA, 49 and 2/3 innings, 37K, 14 BB, 1.39 WHIP.

Andrew Albers: 1-1, 4.31 ERA, 48 innings, 37 K, 4 BB, 1.35 WHIP.

David Bromberg: 1-1, 3.94 ERA, 29 and 2/3 innings, 26 K, 12 BB, 1.31 WHIP.

B.J. Hermsen: 2-1, 2.57 ERA, 28 innings, 16 K, 2 BB, 0.86 WHIP.

And now some of the bullpen arms:

Daniel Turpen: 3-1, 5.56 ERA, 22 and 2/3 innings, 4 saves, 24 K, 4 BB, 1.19 WHIP.

Luis Perdomo: 3-2, 2.45 ERA, 22 innings, 1 save, 22 K, 9 BB, 1.23 WHIP.

Bobby Lanigan: 1-2, 2.49 ERA, 21 and 2/3 innings, 3 saves, 22K, 3 BB, 1.11 WHIP.

Caleb Thielbar: 1-0, 2.61 ERA, 10 and 1/3 innings, 1 save, 7 K, 3 BB, 1.45 WHIP.

There you have it. As a group, there are no major standout performers -- no guys with a 1-point-something ERA or massive strikeout totals. But if you look a little deeper, some of the stats are pretty impressive: BJ Hermsen has been very good so far, and you have to like his control. In fact, I would say that, as a team the Rock Cats have shown good command of the strike zone. Perdomo, Lanigan and Turpen all have been striking out close to 1 batter per inning while exhibiting good control. And new Rock Cat (and Minnesota's own) Caleb Thielbar has been solid out of the New Britain bullpen thus far.

Finally, I'm going to dig a little deeper on Daniel Turpen. In two rough performances this season (most recently on Monday night), he allowed 4 runs and 6 runs. In those outings he pitched a combined 4 and 1/3 innings. In his other 18 and 1/3 innings pitched, he has allowed only 4 total earned runs -- good for an ERA right around 2. Not to imply that you can simply "take away" bad outings, but when we're dealing with relatively small sample sizes, it's important to at least note a couple factors that are contributing to Turpen's interesting stat line.

The Rock Cats play a noon game today, and a 10:35 a.m. game Thursday, so be sure to check back for updates!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The New Britain Rock Cats and Affiliation: Part II

I'm partial, of course, but am hoping
to still see this logo in New Britain
next season
Last week, I wrote about an interesting promotion whereby Rock Cats fans could meet New York Mets prospects prior to a game held at New Britain Stadium in an event arranged by the Rock Cats organization. Between the facts that the Rock Cats are under new ownership this season, the Rock Cats-Twins affiliation agreement is set to expire after this season, and the Binghamton Mets are looking for a new home, some eyebrows were raised.

This afternoon, John Willi, President of the Rock Cats, did a Q & A session on Twitter for Rock Cats fans. I asked a question concerning the relationship with the Twins, and clearly I wasn't the only person curious about this subject. There were a couple other similar questions, as well. Here were the pertinent questions and answers on this subject:

Q: Thus far, how have you enjoyed having the Twins as a parent club, and how has the relationship been?

Tuesday Rock Cats Report: Diary of a First Place Team

Rock Cats catcher
Chris Herrmann
The New Britain Rock Cats won what ended up being a fairly close game last night, 10-7, over the Binghamton Mets. It was 10-2 going into the 9th inning, but Daniel Turpen let the game get a little too close for comfort. A win is a win, though! The big performer last night was Chris Herrmann, who was 4-for-5 with a double. For more on last night's game, check out the nice recap on TwinsDaily.
As I do every now and then, I thought this might be a good time to provide updates as to player progress and how the team is doing in general. The good news is that the Twins organization has a team that is currently in first place, and that team is the Rock Cats. After last night's win they are 26-17, good for a .605 winning percentage. They are 1 game ahead of the Reading Phillies in the win column, so they lead the Eastern Division by a half game. Interestingly, New Britain is 12-12 at home, but an impressive 14-5 on the road. They are 6-4 over their last 10 games, and have won 3 of their last 4.

Now for some reports on prospects you may be watching. In general, the batting averages have dipped in the past few weeks. Perhaps the grind of the season and the bus travel is starting to get to the players a little? Today I'll profile some hitters, and later in the week I'll take a look at pitching.

Aaron Hicks: .248/.328/.412, 5 HR, 1 3B, 8 2B, 25 RBI, 12 stolen bases. 20 BB, 42 K.

Deibinson Romero: .257/.344/.400, 3 HR, 1 3B, 9 2B, 22 RBI, 15 BB, 23 K.

Chris Herrmann: .256/.299/.417, 4 HR, 13 2B, 14 RBIs, 10 BB, 32 K.

Matt Rizzotti (in 20 at-bats): .250/.348/.450, 1 HR, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 5 K.

Chris Colabello: .228/.305/..426, 6 HR, 9 2B, 24 RBI, 12 BB, 31 K.

Joe Benson (on disabled list now due to wrist injury): .156/.250/.250, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 8 K.

James Berersford: .267/.350/.286, 2 2B, 8 RBI, 13 BB, 15 K.

This evening, the Rock Cats continue their series against Binghamton. Thereafter, the teams play a noon game on Wednesday, followed by a 10:30 a.m. series finale on Thursday. Then, the Rock Cats head out of town for a week for series against the Portland Sea Dogs and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Rookies: Harper and Dozier

Brian Dozier, new Twins shortstop
 One player you probably have heard of since he was 15 years old. Between the prodigious 500 foot home runs as a teenager, the eye black that could be mistaken for war paint, and an ego big enough to handle a $6.25 million signing bonus, he came into professional baseball already anointed as "the chosen one." Despite putting up fairly pedestrian numbers in relatively short stints at AA and AAA, it was of little surprise that the Washington Nationals promoted him early in the 2012 season: they want to sell tickets and be successful, and there's little doubt that he is a long-term solution to both those issues.

The other player only fans of the Twins minor league system had heard of up until this past spring. He is a college graduate and was a 4-year starter on the Southern Mississippi baseball team, he's 25 and just getting his first taste of the big leagues, was an 8th round draft pick, and (mostly) flew under the radar until he was named 2011 Twins minor league player of the year. He's not flashy, does not hit 500 foot home runs, and from what I have seen, he does not even wear eye black. He's not viewed as the second coming of Babe Ruth, and he's not expected to permanently change the face of the Twins franchise.

But just for kicks, I thought it might be fun to do a side-by-side comparison of Bryce Harper and the Twins' new shortstop Brian Dozier. On paper, of course, they couldn't be less similar players: one is a power-hitting teenage outfielder that may hit 500 home runs in his career; the other is a solid middle infielder expected to hit for decent average and with moderate power. It's interesting, though, that both broke into the big leagues at almost the same time -- Dozier's first game was May 7; Harper's was April 28 -- and both were brought up to inject some life into their clubs. The point here isn't to compare Dozier and Harper to one another -- that would be senseless. Rather, I'm just comparing what they have done, in a similar time span, with what fans of both organizations might have hoped for or expected.

As of today, Harper has a .244/.333/.449 slash line with 2 home runs, 2 triples, 6 doubles and 7 RBIs. His OPS is .782. Dozier stands at .279/.292/.426 with 2 home runs, 3 doubles and 8 RBIs, with an OPS of .719. Just looking at those basic stats, a couple things stand out: first, although Harper "only" has 2 home runs, his ability to hit for extra bases is noteworthy. Second, it's not surprising that Harper is batting under .250 -- he hit .256 in 37 games at AA, and .250 in only 20 games at AAA. Yes, you're reading that right: he only played 57 games above A level minor league baseball before being called up. As I mentioned, his promotion was not solely merit-based.

With respect to Dozier, he has been as advertised: capable in the field, some power, and the ability to hit for a good average. In short, in the extremely small sample sizes, both players are performing pretty much like you might expect. Dozier has been good on defense, has hit for average, and has shown occasional pop; Harper's batting average is lower than it was at AA or AAA, but he has demonstrated that, when he does hit, the power is there.

It's funny that there is so much hype for one player, Harper, and the other, Dozier, will play this season in relative obscurity (it doesn't help Dozier's case that the Twins will be out of the national spotlight all summer). Yes, I do think that Harper will be an excellent major league player for years to come, and I also admit that I have enjoyed watching the way he hustles on the field 100 percent of the time. But this season, while ESPN is cutting into other broadcasts to alert us as to what great athletic feat (turning a single into a hustle double) or crazy behavior (hitting himself in the head with a bat) Harper is engaged in, I'll be content to watch a solid-fielding shortstop, who seems like a genuinely decent guy, who hopefully can anchor the Twins' infield for the foreseeable future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Strange Goings On In New Britain, Connecticut

Is 2012 the last season that the Twins organization will
call New Britain the home for their AA team?
Something is amiss. Something doesn't feel quite right to this blogger.

Take a look at this link. The Rock Cats, who play host to the Mets' AA affiliate, the Binghamton Mets, next Monday through Thursday, are doing a "meet and greet" at New Britain Stadium with the Mets prospects before the start of Monday's game. That's right, with Mets players.

I've never seen anything quite like this before. There could be at least a few normal explanations, and I'll go through a couple. First, it's a spring weeknight game, and the team (from what I have seen), although drawing well, has not been selling out during the week nights early in the season. Minor league teams are known for creative promotions, and this is just another creative promotion. Second, and somewhat related, Connecticut residents are (in order of popularity) Yankees, Red Sox and Mets fans. It stands to reason that many people living in central Connecticut who are Mets fans might love the opportunity to meet some AA prospects without having to drive to Binghamton, New York -- a 4 hour drive from central Connecticut -- to do so. In other words, it's just catering to something that many Connecticut fans might desire. Maybe they would be wise to schedule a similar promotion when the Red Sox affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs, next comes to town?

But, underlying these superficially satisfying explanations are a couple factors that intrigue me. First, in the few years that I have been attending Rock Cats games, I have never before seen a similar event done for a visiting team. Admittedly, I could be wrong about this, but I don't recall ever hearing about a promotion where fans could meet members of a visiting team, such as the Red Sox or Yankees affiliates. I understand that rivalries aren't the same in minor league baseball as they are in the major leagues, but still -- can you imagine the Twins arranging for fans to have meet and greet with White Sox players when they come to Target Field? Or, maybe a more appropriate example: Does Minnesota native Jack Hannahan work officially in conjunction with the Twins to meet some fans when he comes to town with the Indians? My guess -- and it's strictly a guess -- is no.

Second, and more importantly, here is what is possibly happening behind the scenes: It's no secret that there is going to be some AA organization shuffling taking place this offseason. Specifically, the Binghamton Mets are done with their affiliation after this season. The article I just linked to surmises that the Mets would move to New Britain, the Twins would move to New Hampshire, and the Blue Jays (currently in New Hampshire) would move to Ottawa, as an ownership group is purchasing a AA team and moving it there.

From a business standpoint, I can understand why it might be attractive to New Britain ownership to align with whatever local professional team -- the Yankees, Mets or Red Sox -- that had a farm club available. As it is, those 3 teams receive all the media attention in Connecticut, and they all have loyal followings, like the Twins do in Minnesota. The difference is that the Twins prospects -- after they get called up to Target Field -- are relatively forgotten by most in Connecticut (except for Rock Cats fans, of course).

Simply stated, there's no "Twins brand" in Connecticut, outside of what the Rock Cats have done a great job of cultivating on their own (on that note, and in fairness, I need to mention that many of the Rock Cats fans -- primarily season ticket holders -- I have gotten to know this year, are devout Twins fans, who probably know more about the organization than I do; their numbers just aren't as strong as the number of Yankees, Red Sox and Mets fans around me).

At the same time, though, if this speculation is correct, I can't wonder if the Rock Cats would be alienating some of their fan base by aligning with one of the three local professional baseball teams. Since I have lived out here, I don't think I've met one person that told me that they hate the Twins. Sure, some are simply not fans, but far more appreciate the team on at least some level, whether it's an association with Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer, or the fact that the Twins used to be "the little engine that could." I emailed with a local reporter a few months ago when the Rock Cats' new ownership agreement was announced, inquiring whether he believed that the sale of the team increased the odds of the Rock Cats realigning. His response was a qualified "no," for precisely the reason that I just stated: the previous ownership had believed that, if they aligned with one of the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets, they would lose some who are fans of the other two teams (i.e., a Red Sox fan is not going to pay to watch Yankees prospects if the Rock Cats became a Yankees farm team); if, however, the Rock Cats remained aligned with a club whose major league team was not local, they could develop their own fan base (which they did), while still attracting fans of all three local pro teams (which they do).

In the end, I don't know exactly what's happening, and it's none of my business. The Rock Cats have been very good to me as far as being accessible and helping me provide some fan coverage (more on that to come hopefully next week), and I don't intend to make a mountain out of a molehill. It's just a very interesting promotion, and the timing -- going into the last 3 months of the Rock Cats' contract with the Twins -- is curious. The Twins fan in me, and of course the blogger in me, wants this business relationship to continue, and to prosper, but I ultimately will not be shocked if this new ownership group has plans to align with the Mets. Will I still be a fan of minor league baseball in New Britain? Of course. Will it be the same for me? Of course not. Perhaps this promotion will test the proverbial waters to gauge the extent of Connecticut fan interest in the Mets prospects?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rock Cats Split a Twin Billing

Target Field probably feels pretty far away
for the struggling Joe Benson
Last night, I wrote Wednesday's Minor League Recap for TwinDaily, wherein I gave a brief summary of every Twins minor league game that took place yesterday. Check it out here. The Rock Cats played an interesting doubleheader last night, comprised of two 7-inning games. Here's what I wrote about the Rock Cats in my recap of those games:

Game 1: New Britain 0, New Hampshire 3
The story of the first game of this day on which the Rock Cats and Fisher Cats played two 7-inning double headers is that hits came at a premium for Hardware City. Chris Herrmann, playing left field today, was 1-for-3 with a double, his 11th of the season, and new Rock Cat Matt Rizzotti, demoted from AAA, had a single in 3 at-bats. That was it. 2 hits all afternoon. Steve Hirschfeld took the loss, and is now 2-4 on the season. But he pitched pretty well -- 6 innings, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts and 2 walks. He did, however, allow 8 hits and 2 solo home runs, which is what did him on this day when the offense couldn't muster anything. Blake Martin pitched a scoreless final inning.

Game 2: New Britain 6, New Hampshire 3
The Rock Cats salvaged a split of the double header tonight. Logan Darnell was decent on the mound, going 6 innings, giving up 3 runs. Importantly, though, he walked 1 and struck out 8. He did allow 2 solo home runs. Daniel Turpen picked up the save, tossing a scoreless 7th, allowing no hits and walking 1. New Britain had only 5 hits in this night cap, and Estarlin De Los Santos did the most damage, with a 3 run home run and a double. Matt Rizzotti also had a double, and Nathan Hanson and James Berersford each had singles. Joe Benson was 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts and a walk, and Aaron Hicks was 0-for-3 with three Ks.

You have to be worried about Benson at this point. He's 2-for-24 (.083) since joining the Rock Cats, with 7 strikeouts and only 2 walks. The move to AA was supposed to accomplish at least a couple things: to get Benson's swing back; and to restore his confidence. So far it's failed on both counts. Yes, it's only been 6 games, but Benson has been worse in New Britain than he was in Rochester. When I attended last Thursday's game, where Benson was 1-for-4 with a walk, I remarked that 2 of his 3 outs were hit very hard. I wanted to chalk up that performance to bad luck. But there's only so much bad luck you can have. It should be noted that Benson played right field in the second game, and sat the first game, so it's not as if he is taking away playing time from Hicks.

Benson, and the rest of the team, will get an opportunity for a series win this morning at 10:35 eastern time, when they face the Fisher Cats in the rubber match. The Rock Cats do a lot of "Baseball in Education" days, where school groups attend day games -- hence the early start. Righty David Bromberg starts for New Britain; hopefully he's having his morning coffee right about now.

The Rock Cats are 23-15 on the season, in a dead tie with the Reading Phillies for first place. The Trenton Thunder, at 19-17, are the only other team in the division that is above .500. Reading is off today, so a New Britain win would move them into sole possession of first place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dave St. Peter Press Release: Twins "All In" on 2013 #1 Overall Draft Pick

From the confines of his Target Field office this morning, Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter issued the following press release:

"Twins Fans. It's been a rough start to 2012. We here at the Minnesota Twins are especially disappointed by the way this season has gone, especially after having sat through 2011. In 2011, when things were going bad, we took what we thought was every available measure to achieve baseball's worst record and secure the #1 overall draft pick for 2012: we made sure that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were never at Target Field -- never even in Minnesota, in fact -- at the same time; we traded away Jim Thome, the only player that was able to hit home runs; we even gave Drew Butera 254 plate appearances. 254! We made you watch Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Rene Rivera, Steve Holm, Jim Hoey and Phil Dumatrait, and we put Matt Capps (Cappy, around here) into the rare games when we had a lead or were tied. In short, we did what we thought was necessary. We came close, but fell short. And that's not good enough around here.

"I'm here today to announce that the Twins, as of today, are officially `All In' on achieving the worst record in baseball. We're off to a good start: 10-26. You might say that we're pretty much killing it! Our .278 winning percentage puts us squarely in first place with respect to achieving next year's 1st overall draft pick. San Diego is our closest competition right now, with a .351 winning percentage, but we think we have a winning plan in place, and I want to share that with you today.

"First, Jason Marquis will stay with this team. What you saw him do yesterday is exactly what we want him to do all season long. His ERA, at 6.68 right now, is OK. To add what we here like to call the ol' `carrot and stick' situation, we have restructured his contract with certain performance incentives. If he finishes the season with an ERA over 7.5, that's an extra $1 million. For every start where he can't get out of the 4th inning, that's $50,000. You get the picture: these guys respond to money, and we know that. But that's not all. You saw that we brought Drew Butera back up. He's off to a fast start, batting .200, but we know he'll slow down. He should get at least 250 plate appearances this year, and there's a little something for Gardy on the side if that number creeps higher.

"We're not limiting ourselves to current players, either. I was just in Aruba speaking with Sidney Ponson. You remember what he did for us in 2007, right? We here at the Twins think he can do it again. He's only 35. He's been doing a lot of fishing lately. He said that the casting motion has really kept his arm in shape, so we can only assume that he'd be ready to go. If Scott Diamond looks too dominant, Ponson might be making the flight up to Minneapolis.

"When's the last time you have seen Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau play together? It's been a while, right? Coincidence? Maybe; maybe not. And yes, while Joe Mauer has been healthy enough to play, we've taken what you might call "measures" to ensure that he is not overly productive. I don't know if you've seen the movie Misery with Kathy Bates and James Caan, but let's just say that, in that back room behind the clubhouse -- that room that media doesn't have access to -- there's a little area set up to `regulate' Mauer's knees in the event that he starts hitting for too much power. We call it the `Hobbling Corner.' So far this season, it's mostly just served as a looming threat to Joe, but I think you'd agree that it has worked well to date.

"Finally, we're going to be looking right within our own state for some homegrown talent. Twins fans know that, year in and year out, we scout the local high schools and colleges, and usually draft at least a few players from right here in Minnesota. Right now, we're looking specifically at at pitcher from the Staples Motley VFW baseball team. He gets it up there around 73 or 74 miles an hour, and has good control, which you know is what we look for. He's 15, so it might get a little sticky with those so-called "child labor laws" and what not. But we think that he could provide bullpen depth as the season goes on after we trade away Glen Perkins and anyone else with an ERA under 3.5. Most of our scouts have been assigned to watch this kid's starts, especially against teams like Peqout Lakes and Brainerd -- you know, where the competition is a little stiffer. Is it crazy to send a 15 year old kid right to Target Field? Maybe. But might it be `genius crazy?' We think so.

"In closing, Twins fans, I know it's been a rough 13 months of Twins Baseball. We're trying to right the ship as best we can. And sometimes you have to think outside the box. The plan we have in place, though radical, will work. Give it a chance. In the meantime, keep coming out to Target Field this summer. You have literally no idea what you'll see on any given night."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Morning Rock Cats Update

Wilkin Ramirez is not long for AA if he keeps up
his 1.228 OPS
Like their parent club, the Rock Cats split a 4-game series over the weekend against the Reading Phillies. I attended Thursday night's game, a 10-3 loss. You can find my game recap here. Apparently, I picked the one bad game to go to. The rest of the series was pretty evenly matched, and featured some excellent pitching performances.

New Britain won 4-1 on Friday. In that game, hits were at a premium, with the teams combining for only 5 all night. David Bromberg, starting, and Lester Oliveros, out of the bullpen, were great for the Rock Cats. Chris Herrmann had a double, and Wilkin Ramirez hit his 3rd home run of the season for New Britain.

The Rock Cats also won Saturday, 8-4. New Rock Cat starter BJ Hermsen was excellent, going 7 innings and giving up only 2 runs, striking out 3 and walking 2. He earned his first AA win. Wilkin Ramirez was a 1-man wrecking crew, hitting 2 triples and another home run. Aaron Hicks also contributed 2 doubles. He had 3 RBIs and 2 stolen bases (9 on the season). Every starter except for Joe Benson and Estarlin De Los Santos had at least one hit.

Sunday, New Britain wasn't as lucky. They lost 6-4, and were only 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Andrew Albers delivered a quality start, tossing 6 innings and giving up 3 runs, but took the loss. New Rock Cat Caleb Thielbar had a rough appearance, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits in just 1 and 1/3 inning. You can't help but think that this is one game New Britain would like to have back: they had a chance to increase their division lead, but instead are now back in second place; they scored 4 runs, but only managed 4 hits (3 singles and a Chris Herrmann home run). As it stands, they are still doing well, sitting at 22-14, just 1/2 game back from Reading. They are off today, and then go back to work tomorrow with a double-header comprised of 2 7-inning games.

Here are some current slash lines of players you might be keeping an eye on:

Aaron Hicks: .258/.347/.414, 4 HR, 6 2B, 21 RBIs.

Chris Herrmann: .246/.288/.415, 4 HR, 10 2B, 13 RBIs.

Deibinson Romero: .264/.350/.430, 3 HR, 9 2B, 21 RBIs.

Wilkin Ramirez (in 49 at-bats): .388/.412/.816, 4 HR, 3 3B, 3 2B, 7 RBIs.

Joe Benson: (in 21 at-bats): .095/.174/.095, 2 RBIs.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Anatomy of a Rock Cats Loss: Beyond the Box Score

The Rock Cats lost big last night, 10-3, against the Reading Phillies. You can read a good re-cap of the game by Seth Stohs here at TwinsDaily, and here at the Rock Cats' website, but I thought I'd try to provide you with a few things that won't show up in the box score, which you can check out here.

Wearing #30 for New Britain,
Joe Benson looked like a man
on a mission at the plate
Let's start with Joe Benson. He was just demoted a few days ago from AAA Rochester, and you can only imagine what a blow to his pride that was. Here's a guy that -- although he looked rough in his September call-up in 2011 -- was on most any short list for Twins outfield vacancies, and had fought for a position this Spring. Instead, he was placed in AAA and didn't hit at all. I was curious what his demeanor would be being relegated back to New Britain. I'll tell you, from everything that I witnessed, Benson seemed to be in good spirits. He was joking around with teammates and coaches just before the game started, and spoke to a few season ticket holders at the stadium that had developed a good relationship with him. The box score will tell you that Benson went 1-for-4 with a walk tonight. I'll tell you that 2 of his 3 outs were smashes to left field. 1/8 of an inch higher or lower on the bat, and we're looking at a rocket single that falls in front of the left fielder, or a double (or home run) to left field. Funny enough, his one hit to right field was probably his weakest contact of the night. That's just how baseball works, unfortunately. But from what I observed tonight, Benson put very, very good swings on the ball and, just as importantly, took good at-bats and appeared to be in a good place mentally.

Logan Darnell had a really tough night. After cruising through the first two innings, Darnell got in trouble in the third. A walk, followed by consecutive singles, loaded the bases for Darin Ruf, who looks like a prototypical power hitter. He hit a no-doubt grand slam, and it was suddenly 4-0. I wasn't sure if Darnell, like many young pitchers, would become rattled, or would be able to shake it off. His pitch sequence to the next batter, lefty Steve Susdorf, was his best of the night. Darnell started Susdorf off with a called strike, then threw a great curve that buckled the batter. And on 0-2, Darnell threw a perfect change-up that looked (from where I was sitting) low and away, and Susdorf flailed helplessly at it. Unfortunately, the positives for Darnell were few and far between last night. His fastball was pretty consistent at 89, although he did hit 92 a couple times when trying for a strikeout pitch.

Journeyman Chris Colabello
taking infield before the game
I also want to mention Chris Herrmann. I'm one of the people that believes he's just about ready for the next step in his progression. But to do that, he needs to get that average up, and he made a step in the right direction last night, going 3-for-5 with a double and a run. The double was actually pretty close to a home run to right-center field, and Herrmann was robbed of another double in his first at-bat: he smashed a line drive down the third base line, but Reading's defender made a fantastic play on the ball. You could see the frustration on Herrmann's face as he was walking back to the dugout. Luckily, the negative result in the first at-bat didn't get him down, and he put together a nice game.

Finally, there is a new Rock Cats player, Shawn Roof. I wouldn't have noticed it, but thanks to a couple friends at the ballpark, it was pointed out to me that a new and unfamiliar player was in uniform, wearing #5. After investigation, this person was revealed to be Roof. Here's a little more information on him. Roof can probably best be viewed as middle infield depth, which is something that New Britain needs right now after losing Pedro Florimon to Rochester.

Sometimes on Fridays, I'll link to other great Twins blog posts from the week. This week, you'll find a few links, but to different material. I'm not sure if you have ever visited the UMPS Care Charity website, but it's pretty cool. In short, it's connected to MLB and was established by MLB umpires, and the proceeds from this charity provide sick or at-risk children with unique baseball experiences -- like on-the-field events and the opportunity to meet players.

Not only does this just sound like a good charity, but it is relevant to Twins minor league fans, because right now there are 3 Twins-related auctions taking place for ticket packages. The first is 4 GA tickets to a Snappers game of your choosing, and the opening bid is $11. That's right, $11 for all 4 tickets. There's already one bid, so the tickets will go for more than the minimum, but it's still worth checking out if you're in that area of the country.

If you're near Rochester, NY, then you're close to the AAA Red Wings. This auction is for 24 premium box seat tickets, and the opening bid is only $106. The tickets can be divided into groups of 4, so you could attend up to 6 games. I know Rochester is never great, but can you beat $4.42 for a baseball ticket? Also, Tsuyoshi Nishioka will strike out in front of you at least twice each game (it's in the fine print).

Finally, the organization's rookie level Appalachian League team, the Elizabethton Twins, have a great package up for auction. They haven't started play yet, but when they do, for $60 you can bid on a skybox pizza party for 12 people, which includes tickets, pizza, popcorn and drinks. That comes out to just $5 per person.

These auctions end Sunday, so if you have any interest, make sure you check out the links!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trading for Prospects: What Arrival Time are We Looking For?

In exchange for Denard Span,
should the Twins be targeting
MLB-ready talent, or guys set
to contribute in 2014 and beyond?
There has been a lot of fun and interesting talk lately about the Twins potentially trading away some veterans, such as Denard Span and Carl Pavano, to a contending team. This, unfortunately, is what losing teams do in order to re-stock. What's doubly unfortunate is that these discussions are taking place in the first part of May, 2012. The Twins' nice win last night notwithstanding, it seems like the stars have to align lately to get both a good pitching and hitting performance out of this team, and that feels unlikely to change. Naturally, fans (and hopefully the front office) begin to look toward the future. Last season, many in Twins Territory were hopeful that 2011 was an aberration -- that the Twins would be healthy and bounce back in 2012. We now know that 2012 is heading in a similar, or worse, direction as 2011, and that the Twins are in the midst of a rebuild, even if they haven't yet uttered that dirty word.

Denard Span is our most tradeable asset: he is a good offensive player, a solid defender, and he is under a relatively team-friendly contract through 2014 with a club option for 2015. There have already been a couple notable outfield injuries in baseball this year, such as Jayson Werth of the Nationals. The Nationals, of course, were the team that had interest in Span last season and were dangling young reliever Drew Storen. The deal never happened, thankfully. But it got us all talking about what it would take to move Span.

Because this team is rebuilding, every potential deal that the Twins consider this season must be made for the future. We have high hopes for players in the low levels of our farm system like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Even if you fast-track both of those players, and even if they exceed expectations, their ETA at Target Field for a permanent call-up is probably 2015. We have some good, yet unrefined, talent at AA New Britain in Aaron Hicks, and hopefully Joe Benson can find his swing again. And there isn't much to speak of at AAA right now after Brian Dozier's promotion. Kyle Gibson is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and top prospect Alex Wimmers might be next on the operating table, pushing back (what I had figured to be) a 2013 Target Field debut if he had a successful 2012 at New Britain and Rochester. These are just a few guys of dozens in the farm system, but you get my point: the best Twins' minor league talent is not yet close to knocking on Target Field's door.

When the Twins consider offers for Span, or Pavano (or even Liriano if he could manage to string together 3 or 4 good games in a row), they need to think about acquiring young players that will be ready for 2014 at the earliest -- and that will be under team control for those years immediately thereafter. Drew Storen, the Nationals reliever, is an interesting study precisely for that reason. Notwithstanding the fact that I don't believe in trading Span, an every day player, for a relief pitcher that will throw around 60 total innings, let's examine it. Storen, a very good pitcher who would be an asset in pretty much any bullpen, will become a free agent in 2017. Yes, that sounds really far away. But it isn't. In 2017, this team could just be getting good again. Let's say Sano pans out -- he would be in his age 24 season, perhaps his 3rd or 4th season, and at his athletic peak -- and Rosario would be 26. Mauer would still be under contract, and who knows, he could still be a .330 hitter. Gibson, Wimmers and Hicks would still be under team control, too. In other words, a young, affordable nucleus. Does that sound familiar, Twins fans? It sounds to me like the teams of the early-to-mid 2000s. Yes, it's all speculation, but when your team is this bad now, I do think you have to look at the big, very distant picture, as you evaluate deals.

What I'm getting at is that it might not be best, as many (including myself) have suggested, for the Twins to look for pitchers -- or other position players -- that are close to "major league ready" this season. If it's indeed going to be tough in Minnesota for a few years, why do I want a pitcher that, as an example, has Storen's current service time? Just so he can be ready for an expensive contract right when the new nucleus of the Twins is coming into its prime? Or so I can watch him pitch on losing teams for 2 or 3 years? Perhaps the best bet -- and it is indeed a gamble -- is to look for younger players. Make no mistake: I'm not talking about low round draft picks or anything like that, just young, high-ceiling players that have a distance to travel before they, too, are ready for Target Field.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday's Rock Cats Report

New Britain had an unscheduled night off Monday, and maybe that was a good thing. At 18-12, the Rock Cats are just 1.5 games out of first place in their division, but are 5-5 over their last 10 games, and had lost 2 of 3 to the Portland Sea Dogs over the weekend before Monday evening's contest against the Binghamton Mets was rained out. So it's a good time to take notice of a few things.

First, player movement. If you haven't read it here or elsewhere, Joe Benson, Twins outfield prospect who started the season in AAA after playing last September for the Twins, is a Rock Cat once again. His offensive line at Rochester wasn't where it needs to be. Benson played very well last season in New Britain, so hopefully he can get his swing back. Also, capable shortstop Pedro Florimon was promoted to Rochester to take the place of new Twin Brian Dozier. Great news for him. His defense was very sound at New Britain, and I hope that he can keep swinging the bat well in Rochester.

Second, it was announced a couple days ago that top pitching prospect Alex Wimmers has a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), located in his elbow. This is definitely not good news. What was first an elbow strain has now been diagnosed as a "very slight tear." No surgery is scheduled right now, as the Twins are going to wait and see if the injury can be rehabbed. Unfortunately, though, Tommy John surgery is a common result for pitchers suffering this type of injury. Wimmers, having made just one start this season back in the first part of April, could use some good luck, but it's tough to be optimistic about this variety of injury.

Finally, let's talk offense. For the first few weeks of the season, it seemed like the Rock Cats were scoring runs in bunches -- like 5, 6 or 7 runs a game. There was timely hitting, and plenty of power. As the weather has warmed, however, the bats have cooled. After the Rock Cats' 3-1 loss to Portland on Sunday, a good pitching battle during which the team had 7 hits but was 1-8 with runners in scoring position, manager Jeff Smith stated the following: "We had chances once again. Our bats are very poor with runners in scoring position. We're getting a lot of hits, what I call meaningless hits without any guys on base. We need to transfer those over and have better intensity with guys in scoring position." Does that sound familiar, Twins fans? Unlike with the Twins, however, New Britain's pitching has kept them in most games. New Rock Cat starter BJ Hermsen took the loss on Sunday, but had a quality start (3 runs in 6 and 1/3 innings). If the Rock Cats are going to continue their offensive success, some players are going to need to step up in crucial spots.

I'll finish this morning with a few current slash lines for some of the players that you probably are keeping tabs on:

Aaron Hicks: .278/.355/.444, 4 HR, 4 2B, 17 RBIs

Deibinson Romero: .276/.358/.457, 3 HR, 8 2B, 18 RBIs

Chris Herrmann: .236/.283/.396, 3 HR, 8 2B, 11 RBIs

Monday, May 7, 2012

Breaking Rock Cats News: Joe Benson is Back; Pedro Florimon is Gone

Benson, struggling at the
plate, is a Rock Cat once

The outfield and infield composition will look a little bit different in New Britain. Outfielder Joe Benson, who started the season in AAA after a September call-up in Minnesota, has been demoted to New Britain. He was really struggling at the plate this spring, so hopefully he can regain at New Britain whatever he lost in Minnesota and Rochester. I enjoyed watching him last season, but was hoping that his ascension would continue.

Florimon's solid
defense and
steady bat
earned him a

The other move today is good news. Pedro Florimon, who has been reliable both on defense and at the plate, posting a .283/.347/.718 line, has been promoted to AAA Rochester, taking the place of former Rock Cat Brian Dozier, who will be starting with the Twins (hopefully for the next several years).

Time to Question Mauer's Health Yet?

Since taking a foul tip to the knee
last week, Joe Mauer hasn't been
the same
 Since Joe Mauer dinged his knee taking a foul tip on April 29, he has not been the same player. Yes, he missed only one game, which is a testament to the fact that he is resolute in his desire to to play this season. That, especially when compared to the way Mauer and the organization dealt with his injuries last season, should be commended. But what about the product on the field?

Last week, I wrote about Mauer's ground ball rate -- specifically, the fact that we should keep an eye on the frequency of his ground outs second base as a possible indicator of his health. To sum up that post: In Mauer's 2009 MVP season, he hit into the 4-3 putout 12.2 percent of the time; in 2011, when he was injured, but before being placed on the disabled list, that figure was 26.3 percent. And as of last Tuesday's game (when I wrote the post), that number was 18.2 percent.

The last four games (since I wrote the post about the ground ball rate) have not been good offensively for Mauer, and that has me worried. Take a look at his Fangraphs game log, and tell me if you don't agree. In 16 plate appearances (14 at-bats because Mauer walked twice), Joe has 1 hit -- an infield single to shortstop. He has grounded out to second base 6 times in those 14 at-bats, including one double play grounder. Only 4 balls have left the infield -- all flyouts. And -- possibly the worst sign for Mauer -- not a single line drive. Horrible numbers from our former MVP and team leader. His percentage of at-bats that result in grounders to second is now at just under 21 percent on the season.

I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill. In Mauer's defense, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez pitched 2 out of those 4 games, and they are, of course, very good pitchers. And the sample size is still small. But don't we expect more from Mauer against good pitchers (than we do, say, Drew Butera), and isn't that a fair expectation? Deep down, don't you think that something is wrong with Mauer -- i.e., that the knee is really plaguing him and that he's just grinding out at-bats? Admittedly, I didn't watch this weekend's games, but from what I listened to on the radio, they described Mauer as "cautious" when he was running.

For those that are still stuck believing that Mauer's best -- or only -- value to this team is as the starting catcher for the next several years, this is what we have to look forward to. Yes, there are going to be weeks-long and months-long stretches of great baseball from Mauer, even if he remains at catcher forever. But there are also going to be stretches where his legs and knees are so banged up that he can't get any power into his swing. Aside from that "clutch" infield single (which I read could have been ruled an error), Mauer hasn't provided very much value to the Twins in the past week. This isn't my rally cry to move Mauer from catcher immediately and forever, as much as it is a recognition -- maybe the fifth or eighth or tenth recognition in the past several years -- that, as he ages, Mauer's best "value" to the Twins is being healthy and on the field, regardless of the position. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Mystery of Safeco Field

The Twins have not realized much success
in Seattle lately
 There are some teams that, for no reason in particular, the Twins seem to struggle against on the road. No, I'm not talking about the Yankees or the Rangers here; I can list some solid explanations for the Twins' lackluster performances against those teams. I'm talking specifically about the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners, usually bringing up the rear of the AL West, seem to turn it on when they play the Twins at Safeco. Here's a recent history of the Twins-Mariners season series: Last season, the Twins were 3-5 in their season series against Seattle (1-1 at Safeco). Our good team from 2010 managed a 6-4 record (3-4 at Safeco), our 2009 team went 5-5 (1-2 at Safeco), and the 2008 Twins went 5-4 against the Mariners (2-4 at Safeco). You have to go back all the way to 2007, when that year's Twins team went 6-3 against Seattle, and had a 5-1 record at Safeco, in order to find the last time that we posted a winning season series at Safeco. If you add it up, the Twins are 7-11 at Safeco in that 2008-2012 period, against a team that is usually among the worst in baseball. Just for reference, here is Seattle's winning percentage each year from 2007-2012: .543; .377; .525; .377; .414; .407.

It's curious. Yes, Seattle has had some great pitchers over the last few seasons, like Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, who are always formidable opponents. So it's never going to be an "easy" road series when you draw King Felix. And yes, Safeco is known as a pitchers' park -- but so is Target Field, where our 2010 team went 3-0 against the Mariners. I wonder what it is about Safeco that's bogging down the Twins? On paper, Safeco would seem to be a match for most Twins teams: good for our "pitching to contact" philosophy and large gaps for our speedy hitters -- much like Target Field. But for whatever reason, it hasn't translated into success.

Most years, I stay up to watch the Seattle games, and am left at the end of the series feeling like the Twins missed an opportunity to gain some ground. Just generalizing -- they really seem to scuffle at the plate in Seattle. Whatever it is that has prevented the Twins from realizing much success at Safeco these past few seasons, hopefully the fact that we have several new players this season, like Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, will bring about a change in the way the Twins play the annual Seattle series.

Or, perhaps I should just hope that we get at least one base hit tonight.