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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Looking Ahead: Future Pitching Rotations and a "Forgotten" Prospect

Alex Wimmers: Let's Not Forget About Him

EDIT: The Twins have traded Ben Revere to the Phillies in exchange for starter Vance Worley and a pitching prospect, Trevor May. Worley is generally considered a #3 starter, and is also going to be under team control. May, 23, was rated Baseball America's 69th best prospect pre-2012. So already my post is obsolete. Add both of these guys to the mix, and congratulate Terry Ryan on a job well done (in my opinion).

It's no secret now that the Twins are essentially punting in 2013. It's disappointing. I felt it coming months ago (as did many of you). Make no mistake -- I'm not fine with it by any means. But I more or less accept it (or I'm just mentally tired of being angry about it), provided that this organization is willing to spend next season at this time to bring this team back into contention. Honestly, it's simply too draining to continue yelling at the organization to spend more money where there is not much hope of it happening.

It's also no secret that pitching seems to win championships, or at the very least, goes a long way toward getting a team into the playoffs. And of course, it's starting pitching that the Twins lack now. The Denard Span for Alex Meyer trade is -- potentially -- a big step toward helping shore up a future rotation. With that in mind, I want to take a quick look at who could comprise the Twins' rotation in 2014 or 2015, and what will be left to purchase on the open market.

Scott Diamond. Let's hope he continues to prove that he can be a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. Let's hope that he can improve with more experience. He would be affordable and under team control in 2014 and 2015.

Liam Hendriks/Sam Deduno: I hope one of these two players pans out as a #4 or #5 type starter. Something a little better than an "innings-eater." For the sake of this post, I'm just going to guess that one, but not both, will become a permanent starter. Again, both will be under team control and inexpensive in 2014 and 2015.

Alex Meyer: The Twins would not have made the Span trade if they did not believe that Meyer was a top-shelf prospect. I've read that he projects as a #2 or #3 pitcher. That's great. He can also throw 100 miles per hour. Accordingly, he becomes the organization's best pitching prospect. If he can stay healthy and successful and reach the majors in 2014, that is excellent. He, too, will be cheap for the next several years.

Kyle Gibson: What will 2013 bring for Gibson? In my view, a spot in the Twins' rotation is his to lose. Expectations should be low in 2013. So what if he has a little trouble adjusting to the majors? Let him get it out of his system in 2013, so that he's a better, more experienced pitcher in subsequent years, when wins will matter. Gibson is also cheap in 2014 and 2015.

And the player about whom not to forget: Alex Wimmers. I'm disappointed that he's apparently being written off by some Twins fans. Yes, he has had his share of mental (control) and physical (Tommy John) issues. So what? None of that really matters if he now has the ability to stay mentally and physically healthy. He also profiled as (probably) a #3 starter, maybe a #2 at his ceiling. He is older -- just having turned 24 last month -- so as long as he is healthy and dominant, the Twins will have no reason to hold him back in terms of development and advancement (but, of course, they would be prudent to limit his innings in his first season back after surgery). Even though Wimmers' anticipated debut was significantly delayed as a result of his surgery, he still could join the Twins' some time in 2014.

As I see it -- trying to be somewhat optimistic, but also realistic -- this organization has a few #3-type pitchers, a #2 pitcher in Meyer, and the possibility of #4 and #5 starters, all of whom could make close to league minimum in 2014 and 2015. Given these possibilities, acquiring an "ace" type pitcher for 2014, or even 2 very dominant and experienced pitchers, is absolutely doable, and affordable. And let's not forget J.R. Berrios. Because he is so new to the system, and to professional baseball, I didn't even mention him in this post as an option for 2014 or 2015. But he was successful in his first half-season of pro ball, so let's hope that he keeps it up and pushes for a spot -- whether he sticks as a starter or becomes a dominant reliever -- sooner, rather than later!

Yes, anything can happen. Diamond could prove to be a flash in the pan. Hendricks may never establish himself as a viable starter, and Deduno may never be able to sufficiently control that fastball. But for as much bad luck as the Twins have had the last couple years, just having 1 of those 3 pitchers turn into a reliable starter, and having Meyer and Wimmers reach close to their potential -- as they should be expected to -- and the 2014 or 2015 Twins' rotation, primarily composed of homegrown pitchers with hopefully a couple expensive studs, doesn't look too bad.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2012 Rock Cats Memories: Throwing a Ceremonial First Pitch; Meeting Terry Ryan

Steely Determination
 This past spring, when I attended the Rock Cats' annual welcome home dinner, where I was seated with (a pre-Tommy John) Alex Wimmers, I purchased $5 worth of raffle tickets and won the opportunity to throw a ceremonial first pitch before a Rock Cats game. I was pretty happy with the prize -- certainly better, and more unique, than a signed team ball or free game tickets.

I scheduled my pitch for a game in August for which I already had purchased tickets. When the day arrived, I have to admit that I was a little nervous. I have played in a softball league for a couple years now, but throwing a baseball is different, of course. I pitched in high school, too, but that was half a lifetime ago for me. Mostly, I was worried about two things: bouncing the ball and possibly causing injury to the player catching it; and throwing it wildly to the backstop.

You probably won't be surprised to hear that there are about 5-10 first pitches before a game now. Between charitable partners, season ticket holders, and drawing winners like me, there was quite a line that night. One nice thing -- the stadium was only about half full due to a late-arriving crowd. When my turn came (I was last in line, I believe, and was slightly intimidated follow a 10 year old kid who hurled a perfect strike), I decided to go with accuracy over velocity. After they called my name, I stepped up to the mound and, with a two-seam grip, was able to "fire" a strike to the catcher (who, I believe, is usually the most recent AA call-up). Just like that, it was over. No embarrassment; no Rock Cats player writhing on the ground; no popped shoulder joint. With these pictures, I'm hoping that TwinsDaily's Parker Hageman can analyze my arm action and recommend some areas for improvement (thanks in advance, Parker!).

Look at the follow-through

That same evening, Terry Ryan happened to be in town. This was a couple weeks before the end of the Rock Cats' season, and the possibility of September call-ups. Make no mistake -- Ryan was hard at work, closely charting pitchers all night while conversing with either a member of his own staff, or someone from the Rock Cats. On my way out of the stadium, I decided to say hi to Ryan. He couldn't have been nicer, especially after learning that I am a Minnesota native. We talked briefly about a few players, most notably Chris Herrmann, of whom Ryan stated, "he has plenty of bat to be a major league catcher." Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks also came up. Of course I didn't want to take up much of Ryan's time, but he was kind and courteous all evening with fans coming up to say hi, ask for an autograph, or give advice to a MLB general manager. Yet another unique aspect of Twins' minor league baseball.

Thanks to my friend, and Rock Cats season ticket holder, Sean, for the images and the company at New Britain Stadium!

Terry Ryan, pictured here trying to sign me to a MiLB
contract after watching me throw a ceremonial first pitch
strike. "Sweet Lord, we need arms," he said.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chad Allen Joins (Rejoins?) the Rock Cats

Chad Allen, flying through the air at the Dome
 Chad Allen. There's a blast from the past. He played for the Twins from 1999-2001, and thereafter with the Indians, Marlins and Rangers until 2005. In his career, he posted a .269/.321/.389 slash line and manned all outfield positions, though was primarily a corner outfielder. He was also named in the Mitchell Report.

Coming up through the Twins' system, Allen played 30 games for the Rock Cats in 1997, and a full season of 137 games in 1998, batting .252 and .262, respectively. Allen rejoins the Rock Cats for the 2013 season as their new hitting coach. Here's the press release. It was somewhat interesting to me that this is Allen's first job in the Twins' organization, and his first season as a hitting coach, anywhere.

I'm very interested in the 2013 Rock Cats roster. Will one of Oswaldo Arcia or Aaron Hicks start in AA, or will they both be promoted (keep in mind that, although Arcia dominated, he's only played 69 games at the AA level)? Will Alex Meyer start the season at AA, or do the Twins feel more comfortable with his development if he gets in a couple months at High-A? Finally, there's Chris Colabello. He is deserving of a promotion and an opportunity to hit against AAA pitching. Will he get that chance, or will he never be considered more than AA depth?

In any event, congratulations to Allen on the beginning of a coaching career. He was never a great player, and was never a great hitter, which is interesting given his new job. But then again, many of the best coaches were marginal full-timers or off-the-bench guys. As the saying goes, "those who can, do, and those who can't, teach."