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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aaron Hicks' Career Day, and His Future

Photo credit: Richard Messina, Hartford Courant
If you haven't heard it by now, I should tell you: Aaron Hicks had undoubtedly his best game as a professional baseball player yesterday. He went 5-for-6 with a home run (his 10th), 2 doubles (14th and 15th), 2 RBIs (44 and 45), and 10 total bases. Here's what's also impressive about Hicks' performance yesterday -- he got 3 hits off of New York Mets top prospect Zack Wheeler, and 1 hit off of real Mets closer Frank Francisco, who is rehabbing in AA at the moment. So it's not as if Hicks' big day came against has-beens, or never-will-be major league player types.

Finally (it seems funny to say finally, because Hicks is still only 22 years old -- young for AA), Hicks seems to have put it together. Here's his AA line for the year: .284/.379/.456. Importantly, he seems to have figured out the switch-hitting, too, as he's batting .299 versus lefties, and .278 versus righties. It was only back in May that Hicks seemed to really struggle against righties.

So what happens now? A couple people have asked whether I think that Hicks should move up to AAA before the end of this season. My gut response is "no," for a few reasons. Before I explain my reasons, let me preface them by stating that I am aware that the Twins usually don't "rush" prospects, and that, sometimes, I would like to see them move prospects along faster. Hicks, however, is a different case.

First, Hicks is now playing well on all sides of the ball, and is starting to resemble the prospect that Twins fans hoped he would become. I'm not sure that one month in Rochester will do anything other than change a routine that clearly has been working lately for Hicks. Second, Rochester is a bad team. With the Rock Cats, Hicks is on a winning team right now. I firmly believe that there is something to be said for playing on winning teams, even in the minor leagues. Rochester has been a disaster lately, and quite frankly, I'd prefer to see Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia playing together in the same outfield, on a good team, and learning to become comfortable with one another. After all, if things pan out, there is a good chance that Hicks and Arcia could comprise two-thirds of the 2014 Twins outfield. Finally, this doesn't mean that Hicks should not get a September call-up to Minnesota, if he continues his solid season. And I'm certainly not suggesting that Hicks should start 2013 in AA, either. Hicks is unique -- a first-round pick who, aside from his Gulf Coast League numbers, had never really put together an impressive season at any level. If you view Hicks -- best case scenario -- as the Twins center fielder of the future, and taking into account the fact that he has struggled in the minors until this season, I'm not sure what one month in AAA does for Hicks. The last thing Hicks needs right now is a bad end to an otherwise good season.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Solid Weekend for the Rock Cats

The Rock Cats had a successful road trip to Harrisburg over the weekend, taking 3 of 4 from the Senators. The offense showed up in all of the wins, scoring 13, 5, and 8 runs. New Britain was shut out, 5-0, in the loss. New Britain is still 2.5 games back of the Trenton Thunder in their division, but if the season ended today, they would make the playoffs. As I've mentioned recently, most impact pitchers have already been promoted to AAA by this point in the season, so for the Rock Cats to continue to win during this final month or so of the season, it's going to be up to the offense.

Luckily, offense hasn't been in short supply. Let's take a look at how some of the players are doing.

Oswaldo Arcia (in 113 AA at-bats): .319/.381/.540, 6 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 32 RBIs, 10 BB, 29K. In just over a month, Arcia has probably moved up a couple spots on my Twins top 10 prospect list. About the only negative thing you can say about him is that he is striking out too often. But, then again, he's also only 21 years old, and is basically tearing up AA. He hit a walk-off home run last week, and his stock is on the rise.

Aaron Hicks: .276/.372/.436, 12 2B, 6 3B, 9 HR, 43 RBIs, 51 BB, 85 K, 22 SB (9 CS). Hicks, the "forgotten" top prospect going into 2012, has put together a very solid season. Defensively, there's no question that he is ready for the major leagues, and offensively he has increasingly become a catalyst for this team. At the beginning of the season, Hicks was often batting 5th in the order, but he has become the leadoff hitter since Arcia's promotion. This move seems to make sense -- Hicks draws a lot of walks, and has great speed. The fact that he hits for some power is a bonus.

Chris Herrmann: .269/.344/.394, 21 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 38 RBIs, 41 BB, 63 K. Herrmann's average isn't quite where I'd like to see it, but he, too, has been solid and has shown some pop in the bat. He is good behind the plate, and can play a decent left field, as well. Has he done enough, right now, for a promotion (forget for the sake of this discussion that Danny Lehmann was recently promoted to AAA for some crazy reason)? I'm not sure. I'd like to see Herrmann get a September call-up, and he has to be added to the 40-man roster after this season.

Chris Colabello: .276/.339/.480, 29 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 70 RBIs, 26 BB, 63 K. Colabello has been nothing if not a pleasant surprise. Initially signed to provide what might be characterized as "minor league depth," he has done that, and then some. He currently leads the Eastern League in both doubles and RBIs, and has really picked things up after a slump a couple months ago saw his average down close to .220. I'm not sure what the future holds for Colabello. Certainly, he's behind Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee on the Twins' first base depth chart, but it's almost crazy to think that I'd be writing about Colabello being deserving of a promotion to AAA when, just a few months ago, he seemed likely to be nothing more than a roster-filler for New Britain.

The Rock Cats are back home tonight for 3 games against the Binghamton Mets, then hit the road for a stretch against the Reading Phillies and the Bowie Baysox. Be sure to check back here for updates!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rock Cats to Stay in New Britain Through 2014; This Blogger is Happy

It's no secret, if you read this blog with any frequency, that at least half of what I write is about the New Britain Rock Cats. Earlier this season, there were rumors floating around that the new Rock Cats ownership group was interested in aligning with the Mets organization, and thus severing ties with the Twins after the parties' contract was set to terminate. There were legitimate reasons why such a switch might have made sense for the Rock Cats. I wrote about it here and here. In the end, though, the Twins and the Rock Cats have just agreed to extend their business relationship through the 2014 season. The press release isn't out on the Rock Cats' website yet, but it has been confirmed by several sources, including John Shipley of the Pioneer Press. So in the end, it sounds like those creative promotions -- like the meet and greets with Mets or Yankees farmhands -- were just that: ways to get more people in the door.

As a Twins fan living in Connecticut, I'm glad the parties are continuing to work together. The current AA roster is pretty stacked when it comes to offensive prospects: Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Joe Benson and Chris Herrmann all currently call New Britain home. This has been a fun team to watch and cover, and I'm sure that the Twins will continue to make sure that their best prospects spend ample time here.

I've had a couple busy work weeks, which has resulted in fewer blog posts. But rest assured that I'll continue to cover the team down the home stretch of the season. As it stands today, they just took 3 of 4 from the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, and begin a 4-game weekend series at Harrisburg. The Rock Cats are in second place in their division, with a 54-43 record, and trail division-leading Trenton Thunder by 3.5 games. This very well could -- and should -- be a playoff-bound team, as long as the pitching can hold up (anyone with a pulse has already been sent to AAA Rochester, it seems). This offense won't get shut out very often, and is capable of putting runs on the board in a hurry. In addition to the names I just mentioned, Chris Colabello has been arguably the most productive player for this team, and he's not even a legitimate prospect!

So stay tuned, not just this season, but through 2014, for continued Rock Cats coverage.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Twins Fans: Who Are the "99 Percent?"

Who are "the 99 percent" when it
comes to Twins Territory?
If you made your way to this blog, you're not an average Twins fan. Did you find it from my Twitter account (where I tweet almost exclusively about the Twins and Rock Cats)? Do you subscribe to my blog and read or peruse most every post? Or are you reading this at, where I double-post a lot of my articles just to reach a different, more diverse fan base? Regardless of how you got here, you're not normal. You probably know the geographic location of at least one of the Twins minor league affiliates. Maybe you even recognize names like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. I bet you can match some of the Twins' retired numbers with the correct player names. And you probably watch enough Twins baseball on FSN that you tire of Dick & Bert, and occasionally mute the TV, turn on AM 1500, and follow along that way.

The purpose of this post is to tell you that, if some of these above-referenced descriptions apply to you, you are not a normal Twins fan. In fact, you might be in the "exclusive" 1 percent of Twins fans. I love discussing Twins baseball, reading about it online, and writing about it. If I could go back and re-do life, I'd probably try to be a sports writer. And many of the people -- Twins fans -- that I come into contact with on the internet (or even the die-hard season ticket holders at Rock Cats games) are the same way. A lot of us, myself included, are quick to react to trades, contract extensions, and personnel moves, and we closely track the development of top prospects. Some of the most dedicated do our own research and come up with suggested trades of our own. It's a fun game, really. And being a Twins fan to this extent is a great hobby.

I think, though, that it's important to step back and think about the who the Twins do business for: the masses, the other 99 percent. The 99 percent go to maybe 1 or 2 Twins games a year, and to them Target Field might very well still have a newness factor that, on its own, is enough to get them out to the ballpark. The TV or radio broadcasts are often background, or ancillary, to other activities are going on in the house. The 99 percent often tune in for bits and pieces of the game before bedtime. They'll read some of the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press coverage, but certainly not everything that is written about the Twins. Sure, they love a winner, but a bad Twins season doesn't keep them awake at night (in fact, they probably go to those same 1-2 games a year even if the team stinks). It might not cross their minds that the Twins, after 2 awful seasons, might make a managerial change. These people are the 99 percent.

There's nothing at all wrong with the 99 percent of Twins fans, and this post isn't intended to disparage them in any way. I'm just suggesting that certain moves that bloggers and serious fans might advocate (just say, for example, replacing Ron Gardenhire after this season) likely are viewed through at least 2 different lenses by the Twins' front office: the winning-on-the-field lense, and the business-PR lens. We hope that the winning-on-the-field perspective trumps the PR perspective, but the Twins, as a profit-making entity, are bound to consider every move they make in terms of how it affects the financial bottom line. With the overwhelming majority of Twins fans likely self-describing as "casual," it's clear that we -- those reading this post -- are a vocal minority.

As we think about the Twins at the trading deadline this year, I'm reminded of the Twins' failure to move players such as Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Jason Kubel last season. Perhaps last season is the perfect example of the dichotomy between the baseball side, and the business side, of Twins baseball. It certainly would have made baseball sense to deal at least one of two of those players, but the Twins were still drawing well at Target Field, despite an awful record. Was there a fear in the organization that having a fire sale would substantially dwindle attendance and hamper 2012 season ticket sales? Perhaps. In the end, of course, the team failed to trade any of these players, and lost all via free agency. So what made sense to me -- dealing Cuddyer for whatever you could get for him since he was aging, expensive and shouldn't have been re-signed -- might not have been as clear-cut a decision for the organization. Still, though, when it comes down to it, you would like the organization to make moves designed to help the team win games, not just fill the ballpark. And that's where the Twins scare me a little bit.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wednesday's Twins Minor League Daily

Chris Herrmann, one of three Rock Cats
players to see action in the AA
All-Star game last night
I'm back in action after a hiatus that took me, by car, halfway across the country to the beautiful Twin Cities, then up to Lake Superior, just south of the Canadian border, to parts of Minnesota that I had never seen. What a fantastically beautiful part of the state!

3 Rock Cats players appeared in the Eastern League All-Star Game last night: catcher Chris Herrmann, who I interviewed last month, and pitchers B.J. Hermsen and Daniel Turpen. Herrmann was hitless in 2 appearances, Hermsen gave up 1 run in an inning of work, and Daniel Turpen got the win, getting the final out of the game. Andrew Albers was also named to the team, but did not play. Congratulations to those guys on their achievements this season!

Each Wednesday evening I write a recap of what happened in the Twins' minor league system for TwinsDaily. Even though the major league teams are still resting in preparation for the second half of the season, there were plenty of minor league games last night, so let's take a look at that action.

Tom Stuifbergen got the start for the Miracle tonight, and went 4 innings. He gave up only 1 hit, and struck out 4. Twins fans, take note: Matt Capps threw tonight, on his rehab assignment, after Stuifbergen. Capps tossed 1 inning, allowed 1 hit and no walks, but did surrender an unearned run. Thereafter, Adrian Salcedo tossed 3 innings, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits, striking out 1 and walking 1. Michael Tonkin picked up the save, his first of the season, throwing a perfect 9th.

On offense, Andy Leer and Anderson Hidalgo both homered. Daniel Santana had 2 hits, including a double. Joe Benson (yes, the Joe Benson that is still a top prospect rehabbing a wrist injury) had a double in 5 at-bats, as did Michael Gonzales in 3 trips to the plate. Kyle Knudson and Daniel Rams also singled.

Here's the link to the box score.

Tyler Jones started for the Snappers tonight, and lasted 3 and 1/3 innings. He gave up 8 hits and 5 runs (4 earned), striking out 3 and walking 2. The bullpen was better: Cole Johnson threw 2 and 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed only 1 hit; Dallas Gallant tossed 1 and 1/3 scoreless, striking out 1; and Corey Williams threw 1 inning, allowing 1 run on 1 hit, striking out 2 and walking 1.

On offense, let's start with the big guy, Miguel Sano. He was 2-for-3 with a triple, his third of the season. He had 2 RBIs, a walk and a strikeout (also he committed 0 errors). Stephen Wickens, Drew Leachman, Steven Liddle, Jonathan Goncalves and Jairo Rodriguez all singled.

Here's the link to the box score.

Ricardo Arevalo got the start for the E-Town Twins tonight, going 4 innings. He gave up 6 runs on 5 hits, striking out 4 and walking 1. Brett Lee threw 2 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits and striking out 2. J.T. Chargois was also effective, tossing 1 perfect inning and striking out 1. Tyler Duffey threw the 8th inning, giving up 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 1.

E-Town had ample offense, just not enough runs. Jhonatan Arias, catcher, had 3 singles in 4 at-bats, Jorge Polanco and Niko Goodrum each had 2 hits, Joshua Henkricks had a double, and Max Kepler, Adam Walker and Travis Harrison each singled.

Here's the link to the box score.

GCL TWINS 5, GCL ORIOLES 2 (7 inning game)
Felix Jorge tossed 4 scoreless innings, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 4. Alexander Muren threw 2 scoreless innings, striking out 1, and Gonzalo Sanudo was the only Twins pitcher to get into trouble, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits, compiling 1 strikeout along the way.

Center fielder John Murphy and Joel Licon each had 2 hits, Murphy with 1 double and Licon with 2 RBIs. Aderlin Mejia and Javier Pimental each singled.

Here's the link to the box score.

Jouse Montanez was very effective, going 5 innings and allowing only 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 5 and issuing 0 free passes. Jose Berrios earned the save, tossing 2 perfect, scoreless innings and striking out 3.

Rene Tosoni had 2 hits tonight, both doubles, and 2 RBIs. Second baseman Jose Ramirez had a double, and Joel Licon, Bryan Haar and John Murphy all singled. Mejia, Haar and Murphy also had RBIs.

Here's the link to the box score.
I'm hitting up tonight's Rock Cats game, so be sure to check back tomorrow for a "beyond the box score" report and hopefully a few pictures.