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

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Britain Rock Cats 2012 Hot Stove Luncheon & Bill Smith

As I have mentioned before, living in Connecticut puts me just about 20 minutes or so from the home of the Twins' AA affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats. One of my New Year's resolutions for this blog for 2012 was to provide more Rock Cats content. It makes sense, right? I'm no expert on the Twins' minor leaguers, but I do attend enough games to at least have some name recognition. I can only see the real Twins once or twice a year, so why not see tomorrow's stars today?

Yesterday I attended the Rock Cats' Hot Stove Luncheon, which was held at a hotel ballroom in central Connecticut. Apart from Rock Cat personnel, I would guess that there were probably around 300 people that attended. Many fans, and also some sponsors and members of the local New Britain community, comprised the crowd. I was most interested because former Twins' GM Bill Smith was the keynote speaker.

I wanted to provide you, my readers, with some quotes from Bill Smith regarding both the 2012 Rock Cats and Twins, as well as a couple interesting things that I picked up on. First off, Bill Smith was exactly the opposite of the gruff, sweaty, "no comment" personality that I had seen during some of his interviews when he was GM. He was affable, funny and extremely self-deprecating (he opened with a line to the effect of, when the team loses 99 games, someone has to be accountable -- and that person unfortunately was me). He mentioned that he never had any intention of leaving the Twins organization, and that he was happy in his new role, where he will actually be spending more time on player development. Now, onto the quotes:

On Miguel Sano: Has the "potential to be a Miguel Cabrera type player."

Joe Mauer: "100% healthy and intends to catch more than 120 games this season." He will also see time at first base and occasionally right field.

Justin Morneau: "We're confident he's going to be ready to go." Smith emphasized how detrimental concussions were, how teams are still learning more about them, and included Sidney Crosby as an example of how long-lasting and serious they can be.

Smith emphasised the Twins usage of the disabled list in 2011. I read it on another blog before, but the Twins lost 866 days to the disabled list. According to Smith, that translated into $28.8 million of salary. Pretty ridiculous.

On the Twins' performance last season: "Poor performance and lack of fundamental play" were the most frustrating aspects. This ties into later comments he made concerning player development at the AA level.

On AA call-ups Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson: They will get an opportunity to compete for a spot on the Twins opening day roster. Interestingly, Smith included Ben Revere with these two other players. Between what Terry Ryan has recently said about utilizing Trevor Pouffe in the outfield this season, and Smith's comments likening Revere to Parmelee and Benson, I'm starting to think that Revere may not be as likely to be starting in left field as I previously had thought, or, if he does, it may be in a platoon situation.

Rock Cats' manager Jeff Smith also spoke. He was a career minor leaguer, having played several seasons in New Britain. He said that his goal, aside from winning games, "is to have every player improve from game 1 to game 142." He suspected that, at some point in 2012, Rock Cats fans will see Aaron Hicks, and that Chris Herrmann and Logan Darnell would both be returning.

Jeff Smith's focus on player development was interesting for another reason. Bill Smith repeatedly said that, in the past several years, the Twins' best players all have come through New Britain (that makes sense, of course, as a matter of player progression). During his remarks, Bill Smith mentioned the instructional league, Class A Beloit, and AA Rock Cats as examples of organizations that prided themselves in player development. Not once during the 3 hour event was a single mention made of AAA Rochester. I'm reading between the lines a little here, but it makes some sense when you think about all the trouble the Twins have had with Rochester, and the fact that some of the guys coming up from AAA have not been fundamentally sound, or didn't seemed overly concerned with winning games. Bill Smith stated that call-ups from New Britain were prepared to play major league baseball. I think the negative implication from that statement, and the fact that Rochester was the only team never mentioned during the event, is that members of the organization do not believe that AAA is doing a good enough job developing players -- hence the house cleaning and promotion of Bruno to hitting coach.

In the end, this was a great event to attend. It was repeatedly emphasized that the Rock Cats and the Twins are both like families (for better or worse, I guess). And the event certainly had a family vibe to it. I'm still glad that Bill Smith got the axe as GM, but it's probably also fair to note that all the negative moves that fans criticized weren't done in a vacuum; Terry Ryan and the other staffers certainly had input. Hopefully he has more success in his new role.


  1. That's good stuff! So it looks like Hicks will start the season at Fort Myers and that Chris Herrmann does not have a chance for the Twins' back up catcher job. Too bad.

    On another note, AAA has not been used as a development league. It is more of a "reserve" league where players are pretty much ready to be called up. Funny thing about that is that the Twins have their best pitching coach in the system (yes, that includes Andy,) Bobby Cuellar in Rochester instead of Fort Myers or New Britain (interesting, btw, the non-mention of Fort Myers by Smith)

  2. Thanks for the comment, thrylos! I was pulling for Herrmannm too. Good point about AAA. It is interesting that we keep Cuellar in Rochester rather than in a lower league. My recollection of the Rock Cats games I attended last year was the offense was decent, but pitching was suspect.

    It kind of raises the larger issue of the development of coaches. I know they all usually work their way up the ladder just like the players, and most want to make it back to the show, but I wonder to what extent the Twins' front office thinks about where a particular coach might do the most good, when deciding where to staff the coaches?

  3. I agree that Rochester's role should be to provide a "reserve" pool for the Twins, made up of players that are (a) considered the most ready to contribute to the Twins if need be, (b) have developed to the point where they are already fundamentally strong and are now fine tuning their skills and facing better competition, and (c) can provide Rochester with some wins to keep the locals happy and the relationship with that community and organization strong.

    My sense is that Cuellar's strength is not teaching "Pitching 101," but taking guys who have already demonstrated ability and putting the finishing touches on them that give them a chance to succeed in MLB. Maybe that's helping with secondary pitches or communication with catchers or studying hitters. But pitching "instruction" is done at the AA level and below.

    I see Anderson's role as being just as much about dealing with the mental as the physical. A lot of pitchers have the talent to pitch at the MLB level, but facing the best hitters day in and day out and being successful more often than not requires mental strength and preparation that you are unlikely to have needed at any minor league level.

    Of course, we can certainly debate how well these coaches have done their respective jobs.

  4. Good report, AW. Interesting thoughts on Smith's comment about Ben Revere.

  5. Hey Andrew,

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    I thought you might appreciate it. You can see the story through my Scribd feed:

    If you're looking for a good gift idea, please keep it in mind!