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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Wonder If I Would Have Taken PEDs

Let's make this clear from the start: I was never great at sports. Hockey -- I think I scored one goal in the couple years I played, and I quit right before checking started. Football and basketball -- just no. Soccer, I played goalie for the most part. I wasn't bad, but wasn't great, either. Long story short, if you don't like distance running, your options are limited in soccer. That left baseball as my best sport. I played VFW, Legion and JV, but was cut from the varsity team (Still an "ouch" moment for me -- thanks White Bear Lake Area High School baseball coaches for those lasting scars. And the team my senior wasn't even any good. OK, that was cathartic; I feel better. Thanks.). With respect to baseball, I was a periphery player, a guy right on the cusp. Never going to be a star, but a guy that wasn't bad and had some ability and a good grasp of the fundamentals. For a guy that was 5 feet 8 inches tall, and probably 145 pounds, I worked with what I had.

So many thousands of professional baseball players fall into that category -- guys right on the cusp, but that are unable to make it due to the amazingly high level of competition. AAA or AAAA-type players. Most of them never make the major leagues anyway, because that's just how the numbers work. But some do. Many (I gather), over the years, used some or other PED, but flew under the radar and were never formally accused or implicated. Others, like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds, were implicated in a formal manner, and either confessed or did not. It's a huge mess. I'll tell you that, if I had a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, I would not vote for a Bonds or McGwire. I certainly know the strengths and weaknesses of such a stance, and it's really a huge mess. But I just can't vote for known juicers.

That stance, however, doesn't mean I don't sympathize. My profession -- an attorney -- requires some degree of intelligence (insert joke here), but nothing special. There's nothing you can do, apart from being a genius, going to Harvard, and clerking for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, that will really set you up for certain success. In other words, if you're a moderately successful attorney on the "periphery," there's probably nothing more you can do than work your contacts in order to get to that next level. Baseball, though, is a little different. If you need to rebound from an injury quicker, or need to decrease the amount of time between muscle-building workouts, there are substances for that. Some are legal; many are not. If you're already a star with a gigantic guaranteed contract, like Joe Mauer for example, there's no real benefit for you. If you're a AAAA-type player, though, the situation might very well be different.

And I wonder what I would have done. Let's imagine -- just for a second because it's so ridiculous -- that I was good enough to get drafted in the later rounds of MLB's amateur draft. I'm small and a lefty, so that means I can only pitch. Let's also say I could throw 85. If someone told me that I could get an extra 3 or 4 miles on my fastball by taking a banned substance and continuing my workout regimen, I wonder what my response would have been? It'd be foolish to say "yes," but one can also see how it'd be foolish to say "no." I know I'm a good and moral guy in general, but the difference between having your career work out, and having it stall at High-A, is astronomical. I wonder if, given the opportunity and the apparent necessity, I would have taken PEDs? I still say no. But if you personalize the argument, it becomes much less "Player A committed a wrong and cheated," than it does, "Chuck Knoblauch, aging, took a banned substance to either speed his recovery from an injury or increase his chances of keeping a roster spot being threatened by a younger, cheaper player." Like anything else worth reading about, it's much more complex than black and white.

Luckily, baseball seems to be progressing from the PED era. Yes, there are still problems (Eddie Rosario recently testing positive for a banned substance, for instance). But things are much better now. My only real point here is that it's very, very easy and convenient to sit "on high" and judge players that have violated rules. And it's even easier to say, "no, they don't deserve a Hall of Fame vote." It's tougher, and perhaps fairer, to think about the individuals, and the profession in which they work. In the end, I still wouldn't vote for Bonds or McGwire for the Hall of Fame. And I really feel no sympathy for them. But that doesn't mean, though, that the PED issue isn't much more complex, and personal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thoughts: Pinto, Payroll and Pitching

Josmil Pinto played well all of 2013.
Is he Joe Mauer's heir apparent in 2014?
As I've mentioned recently on Twitter, I'm a big fan of the "Joe Mauer to first base" move. It's logical, it protects Mauer and the Twins' financial investment in him, and most of all, it solves what otherwise could be a problem that plagues the team between now and Opening Day, 2014. Yes, there's merit to the argument that perhaps third base, or right field, might be better -- and more premium -- positions for Mauer to play, but I'll leave that for another day. Quite simply, I'm just happy that the organization made a decision in early November, thus leaving months to fill the voids that this move creates.

One of the trickle-down effects of this decision, of course, is that the Twins need to select from within, or acquire from elsewhere, a starting catcher. Honestly, good cases can be made either way. On the one hand, Josmil Pinto sure looked good this past September in Twins uniform. On the other hand, great September stats sometimes mean little. A free agent veteran, like A.J. Pierzynski, might sign a 1 year deal for, say, $6-7 million. Assuming he stays healthy, there's pretty good value there, especially considering that the 2014 Twins may be shuttling several rookie pitchers (Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Kyle Gibson, etc.) who could benefit from a veteran like A.J.

I could see a guy like A.J. being a good move for a year, but I don't see him as a player on the next competitive (meaning capable of winning a division and playoff series) Twins team. For the past several months, that's been my focus with this organization: most any decision should be focused on acquiring talent that will (or should, if things play out) be part of the "next wave" of Twins talent. Chris Colabello: give him at-bats to see if the offense can stick in the majors (hasn't looked good so far). Chris Herrmann: the defense at catcher is decent, he's all right in left field, but can he hit .250? Aaron Hicks: yes, there are going to be low points, but can he go through the ups-and-downs of a major league season, on a team where it doesn't matter, so that when it does matter, he's ready? Same thoughts with guys like Oswaldo Arcia, and even Kyle Gibson (though his pitching last season was so awful that demotion was necessary). You get my larger point: a lost season presents a good opportunity for trial, error, and hopefully growth. So while a guy like A.J. might be a fun, and statistically good, signing, I'm not sure where it gets this organization long-term. If the Twins have a catcher -- Pinto -- that they believe will be catching the next competitive Twins team, say, in 2016, shouldn't Pinto be given every opportunity to learn the routine of the majors, and the Twins' pitching rotation/bullpen (some of whom will be around in 2016) in 2014?

Similarly, I'm also underwhelmed with the free agent starting pitching class. Bronson Arroyo would instantly improve the Twins' rotation. Does that mean the Twins need to go get him for, say, $10 million a year for a couple years? I'm not so sure. I haven't read a name, other than Masahiro Tanaka, that really wows me. As much as I complained -- demanded?? -- that the Twins spend money on pitching this off-season, I don't see this free agent class making the significant differences that are necessary to put this team back into contention.

I guess I'm suggesting that, to me anyway, there's not much of a difference between watching a 95-loss team, and an 85-loss team. I guess I'm suggesting that perhaps there's merit in saving money (really, saving guaranteed money and 40 man roster spots) on guys that I don't believe will be helping this team in 2016 and beyond.

As much as I wanted payroll to increase, say, $30 million, I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of sense right now, at least as starting pitching and catching is concerned. To be sure, there's money to be spent in the infield and outfield, but that's another post entirely.

In any event, I think this is a discussion question more than anything else. You have to go with me on 1 thing, though: the 2014 Twins won't be competing for the playoffs, even if they increase payroll significantly. They're simply too far away. That being said, should they spend, say, $25 million on incrementally better starting pitching, locking in a couple older, proven vets for 2-3 years; should they save for a better free agent pitching class, perhaps next year; instead of spending $25 million on a couple guys, should they make a huge bid for Tanaka; should this be a year to go after a marquis position player for 5-7 years? If so, who?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Miguel Sano Dingers: The Videos

Sometimes there just isn't much to say. The World Series has been exciting, I guess. The Twins aren't in it. Rather, they're in a state of flux. More on that forthcoming later this week or early next week.

Instead of trying to write something clever, angry, or prescient, I figured I would just embed a bunch of videos of Miguel Sano dingers. So here you go. As I would say on twitter, #FutureTwins and #PowerBanana

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013: A Postmortem

Yes, I am aware that there are a couple weeks left in the season. But the Twins are dead. Dead as a door-nail. And they've been that way for months (years?). Shortly after this season comes to its pitiful end, the Twins' brass and field personnel will assemble, as they do every year, in Ft. Myers, for the organizational meetings. Among other topics, they will dissect the 2013 season, and what exactly caused this year's ineptitude.

Ron Gardenhire: 2002
If Terry Ryan, Ron Gardenhire or Dave St. Peter needs to do some cramming on the Delta flight down south, what follows is a short(ish) list of causes for this season's horrid, embarrassing play. Make no mistake, this is not an exhaustive or detailed list. And I'm not adding very many stats this time around (it's 2013: if you need statistical support for my proposition that Darin Mastroianni wasn't spectacular offensively, check out any number of websites). Without further ado, and in no particular order of importance, here are my Cliff's Notes for the 2013 Twins Organizational Meetings.

1. Aaron Hicks was Not Ready for Primetime

The Twins made good trades, getting (potentially) quality arms for centerfielders Ben Revere and Denard Span. By getting rid of Revere and Span, however, the Twins' thrust Hicks into the spotlight. To be sure, he put on a good show at AA in 2012, and was dominant in Spring Training in 2013. But we know now -- hindsight being 20/20, of course -- that he was not ready for the major leagues. Yes, he had flashes of brilliance offensively, and was solid defensively, but this was too much, too soon, for Hicks, evidenced by the fact that he didn't earn a September call-up, and that the Twins selected a replacement-level centerfielder, Alex Presely, when they traded Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates last month.

2. Low Power in the Middle of the Order

Josh Willingham, who had a career year in 2012, was injured for a significant part of 2013, and his power numbers dwindled. He'll end up at around 15 home runs, and will be lucky to get 55 RBIs (last season, on an equally bad team: 35 dingers, 110 RBIs). Justin Morneau was serviceable, but also lacked the power that Twins fans enjoyed for the better part of a decade. Joe Mauer was good before his concussion, but his "power numbers" (dingers/RBIs) weren't high, mostly because no one was on base in front of him. In short, the guys that were penciled-in as the Twins' 3-4-5 hitters didn't do the damage that was expected. Make no mistake, RBIs are very much a team stat -- so perhaps it's more appropriate to say that the Twins as a whole under-delivered in giving the meat of the order opportunities to do damage.

3. Starting Pitching was Disgusting

Terry Ryan got what he (while spending Pohlad family money) paid for. It makes me physically ill reciting Twins' starting pitching stats from this season, so I'm not going to. But it's basically what you would expect: way too many hits, way too few strikeouts, way too few guys getting deep into games, and a batch of guys that probably wouldn't deserve more than a "cup of coffee" at the major league level being given multiple starts with the Twins this season. One thing to note: Vance Worley -- who projected to be not fantastic, but serviceable, failed this season. I didn't see that coming, and it's probably not fair to blame the front office for that (but note, at the same time, that Trevor May -- a better pitcher under team control for more years -- was the larger piece in that trade as far as the future goes).

4. Trevor Plouffe Showed Little Improvement

The Twins have given Plouffe, now 27, every chance. I know -- he showed great promise last season (I was at one of those games last July where he was just on fire, and it was exciting). But so far, those couple months have been, more or less, a flash in the pan. Although his average is a little higher than it was last year (.252 to .235), the OPS is lower, the defense isn't as solid as the team would like, and I'm not even sure how dedicated Plouffe is to the game (not my opinion -- based on a smattering of articles/tweets the past couple seasons from those "in the know"). With Miguel Sano on the rise, 2013 would have been a good season for Plouffe to establish himself as the Twins' starting third baseman to beat. Now, I expect the competition will be on in March, 2013. Sure, Plouffe will be better defensively than Sano, but will Plouffe be able to compete with Sano's power, and, equally as important, Sano's desire  -- desire to succeed, to improve on defense, to be an All-Star?

Ron Gardenhire: 2013
5. No Help from the Top of the Order

Aaron Hicks failed to get on base when the Twins gave him lead-off hitter duties. Here are some other guys that hit out of the 1-hole this season: Clete Thomas, Eduardo Escobar, Jamey Carroll, Alex Presley (and Brian Dozier, who really hasn't been bad in that position, but is an ideal 2-hole hitter). Not quite Denard Span-esque, huh? It's tough to give Dozier (when he's batting second, that is), Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Ryan Doumit the opportunity to do much damage with that rather pathetic crop of players occupying what is supposed to be a high on-base percentage spot in the lineup.

6. Little Assistance from the Farm

Long story short, when the Twins really needed talent to come up from their farm system and produce, they didn't get results. Yes, there were bright spots. In fact, I'm sure every guy called up this season performed well at some point. But in the aggregate, it was insufficient. Hicks, Kyle Gibson (remember the "Free Gibson" movement?), Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello (I hesitate to even put him here -- I'm a big fan, he performed so well at New Britain and in Rochester, and he's been up-and-down so much in 2013 that the Rochester-to-Minneapolis flight attendants probably know him by name -- but I've been let down), and Oswaldo Arcia (who started off well, and is doing all right now, but had a horrid stretch that resulted in a demotion to AAA) haven't given the Twins the boost they needed this season. And I'm not going to mention the rest of the pitchers (but I am glaring at Liam Hendriks, and he knows it).

7. No Top Prospect Forced their Way Up

Don't get me wrong. Miguel Sano had a great, great season. He exceeded expectations. But in the end, he didn't deserve a call-up -- unless you believe his call-up would have been just for the fans this season (not an unreasonable proposition, by the way). Sano slowed down at AA, and was inconsistent (though powerful and exiting). Trevor May was stable, in the sense that he was uninjured, but was never good enough to warrant a promotion to AAA, much less the Twins. And the best pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, was limited because of injuries, thus never even entering the equation for a mid-or-late season promotion. I need to be measured in my observations, because Sano and Meyer were very, very good, and May did improve. But make no mistake, none of these guys really forced Terry Ryan's hand when it came to a September call-up. Accordingly, they were unable to breathe life into the dead MLB team. But maybe that's for the best. I'm not sure I want Miguel Sano's first game to be one where Mastroianni is batting leadoff and one where the Twins are about to lose their 90th game of the season in front of an "in-the-stands" Target Field crowd of 8,000.

The end results: The Twins stopped playing meaningful games back in May or June. Again. Payroll decreased. Again. The Twins sold off an asset (Morneau). Fans stopped coming in person to the ballpark like they used to (even if they had paid for tickets in advance).

There is hope in sight (a very good farm system), but I am not at all convinced that the talented prospects, alone, will bring relevance to this organization.

As I mentioned, this was a non-exhaustive list. Please, leave a comment. Add your thoughts on what else factored into the Twins' failures this season.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Late Summer of My Discontent

When Target Field opened, I was living in Connecticut (as I do now), but harbored a dream of moving back to Minnesota. I was naive. I thought -- even though I was an attorney licensed to practice in Connecticut only, even though I owned a home in Connecticut, and even though many of my professional ties to Minnesota had dwindled -- that I could somehow easily move across the country and re-establish things back home. For many, many reasons (the prolonged economic crisis being one of them), that didn't happen. I'd be lying if I said that a part of me doesn't dream of going back to the Twin Cities, but I am very happy personally and professionally now. But that's not the focus of this post, believe it or not (but for my self-help blog, go here). No, I do aim to write about the Twins tonight. So read on, it's all connected.

When I thought, or, rather, naively dreamed, that Minnesota was in the cards for me, I filled out a form and paid something like $200 to get in the "On-Deck Circle" for Twins season tickets. I was only interested in a 20-game plan, which was the lowest that was offered. Yes, there was a time when demand for season tickets -- any package, anywhere in the stadium -- was so significant that the Twins simply couldn't supply tickets and seats for everyone that was interested. Long story short, I ended up getting out of the "On-Deck Circle," and of course am still writing this blog from Connecticut (side note: there's no "On-Deck Circle" for my awesome Rock Cats seats, which I very much enjoy).

The amazing part of this story is that my membership in the on-deck circle, and exit therefrom, took place in 2010. Only 3 years ago. Tonight, I could click on this link and place a deposit for up to 8 tickets for a 2014 20-game, 40-game, or full season plan for the team who will host next season's All-Star festivities, a team only 3 years removed from being one of the best teams in baseball playing in one of baseball's best stadiums.

What frustrated me in 2010 was that there was a certain hubris in the Twins organization. "We can't offer you any season ticket plan this year, or maybe not even next year or the year after, but we will hold your $200 in trust in the event that something ever becomes available. Then, we'll give you a call and take the rest of your money. OK? Talk to you later."

Good Seats Still Available
And now, in September, 2013, here is the Twins' crowd tonight (first image from Brandon Warne's Twitter account) as Pedro Hernandez was taking his warm-up tosses just before the game started. Yes, many of these seats were paid for, so the Twins received that money, but they sure are missing a lot of food, merchandise and beer revenue from that American Legion-esque crowd.

The part that bothers me, aside from the fact that the Twins are cruising toward their 3rd straight 90+ loss season, is that what I would consider to be the requisite humility from the front office simply isn't present. On the one hand, they are saying the right things, as in: "The losing is unacceptable"; "We're committed to doing better"; "This isn't the `Twins Way.'" But on the other hand, these are the exact sentiments fans heard after 2011. And after 2012. Heck, there was even anger in 2010 after they were swept -- again -- by the Yankees. I swear they recycle the same press releases. On paper -- in the win-loss ledger -- there hasn't been improvement.

Thank you to @Tappen2Feet for this image
I'll be the first person to tell you that the organization is in much better shape than it was a couple years ago. To be sure, I watched it all summer with Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Josmil Pinto and others. But with the exception of Pinto, those guys aren't contributing to the major league team now, and probably won't be on Opening Day 2014.

I hit a point where I need more. I need more than the promise of prospects (even though I understand that good prospects are the best way to build a sustainable winning franchise). I need actual accountability. I need results. On Twitter, I noted, after the Twins were swept at Target Field by the Yankees in a 4-game series over the 4th of July, that some managers in Ron Gardenhire's tenuous position would have been fired after that series. Not for losing 4 consecutive games, mind you, but for how those 4 games, against the Yankees, at home on a holiday weekend with fans having paid "premium prices," were representative of this organization's deficiencies.

As @Kayla_86 noted, the upper deck is empty
The Twins can't sell me, and many fans, on the All-Star Game in 2014. I wouldn't be there anyway, and it's really just a few events. At some point, the Twins have to sell fans on at least a few established players purchased in free agency. I'll just say it: they need to spend probably $30 million in free agency in order to make this team competitive for 2014. They have to make at least some changes at the very top levels of management, if for no other reason than that is the way it works in the business world. The problem with the Twins, though, is that unlike most businesses, even when their "product" is awful, they still turn a significant profit. So understand that the impetus might not be there to make the wholesale changes that some expect.

There is no grand point to this post, so apologies if you are looking for it. I would, however, sum it up this way: The organization doesn't have the humility I would expect for a team that has been one of the very worst in baseball for the past 3 seasons, and I am not at all confident that losing records are sufficient -- on their own -- to force the organization into wholesale changes. As fans, I guess we are forced to hope that this solid group of prospects does indeed pan out. I have little faith in the Twins hitting a home run on each one of their Top 10 prospects.

One final note: 2013 was the first year since Target Field opened that I didn't make it there for a game. In fact, I didn't make it to a Twins game in Boston, Baltimore or New York, either. I -- not intentionally, really -- didn't purchase any memorabilia related to a current Twins player. Heck, I didn't even renew my Twins radio subscription for $21.95 (or so) a season. I guess I'm unwilling to pay for this product. In the end, while I'll pay to watch the minor leaguers any day of the week, I'm unwilling to pay to watch the Twins waste the rest of Joe Mauer's prime years.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2013 Rock Cats MVP: Josmil Pinto

Rock Cats, Red Wings, and now Twins catcher,
Josmil Pinto
I'll be the first to admit that the bulk of my Rock Cats coverage this season has centered around Miguel Sano. And it's for a reason -- he's the best prospect that has played for New Britain since I have been following the team. People were interested in watching grainy videos of his #PowerBanana shots, and were curious about his defensive progression. Also, he's simply an electric personality. Trust me, you'll experience it firsthand in Minnesota next season. But there was much more to this team than Sano. And in my opinion, Sano wasn't the team's most valuable player, even in the months he was here. That honor belongs to Josmil Pinto.

What a 6 months it's been for Josmil Pinto. He started in April as the Rockcats' everyday catcher, and produced offensively and defensively. In fact, he hit .308/.411/.482. Watching him in person several games, it wasn't just his line drive swing that impressed me. He is a decent catcher with a very good arm. He was promoted on August 1 to AAA Rochester. That alone is a significant accomplishment. But Pinto didn't slow down. He continued to excel as a Red Wing, hitting .314/.333/.486, and is now a member of the Twins. He'll see significant playing time behind the dish, I expect, as the Twins would be wise to exercise caution with Joe Mauer.

The Twins gave Pinto at least 2 major votes of confidence: first, giving him 2 in-season promotions; and second -- and just as important -- trading Drew Butera at the deadline. These moves suggest that, between Chris Herrmann and Pinto, the Twins' back-up catching spots are covered.

To be sure, many guys offered great contributions this season in New Britain. Miguel Sano, Danny Santana, Trevor May, Michael Tonkin, Daniel Ortiz, Alex Meyer (pre-injury), and Nate Hanson (played all over the field very well) all come to mind. But none of these guys was as valuable on both sides of the ball, and was as consistent, as Pinto. He hit over .300, had a good K-to-walk ratio, showed good power, and continued to improve on defense. Yes, he still has a ways to go on the defensive front, but it won't stop him from being able to contribute to the Twins this September and next season. And in my opinion, the fact that he left the Rock Cats the last few weeks (give or take) of the season wasn't significant enough for another of the guys previously listed to trump his place.

Being completely honest, my decision is swayed in part by Joe Mauer's concussion. The concept of "most valuable" is subjective. I happen to see more "value" in places where it's needed. A prospect's value isn't tied solely to his current team so much as it is to the organization as a whole. In the Twins' present situation, we might see more value in prospects at shortstop, third base, starting pitching (ouch) and catcher, especially considering Mauer's advancing age and the recent concussion. In short, Herrmann and Pinto will need to step up. If not in 2014, then in 2015. The fact that Pinto has taken major strides this season, while Herrmann had, for the most part, a rough go of it, reinforces that Pinto is going to get the shot to prove himself at the major league level.

Congratulations, Josmil Pinto, on one hell of a season.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Justin Morneau Trade: My Reaction

I was at New Britain Stadium this morning
to take batting practice. This was the first
thing I saw upon entering the gates.
I've always been unable to separate the business side from the personal side when it comes to Justin Morneau. He's been my favorite Twins player for the better part of the last decade. I've met him a few times, I've watched him donate large sums to charity -- and organize his own charitable events, and I've watched him hit the hell out of the baseball and give 100% on the field all the time. I read every article on his concussion and rehabilitation, hoping against odds that he would come back to resemble the guy that was on an MVP pace the first half of 2010. This past month, I knew a trade was probably coming, but today my heart is still a little heavy knowing that #33 won't be manning first base any longer for the Twins. It's no understatement to say that this is the end of an era: the end of the "M & M" Era. I can acknowledge that Morneau probably wouldn't have been part of the next competitive Twins team, but that doesn't mean that I wanted to see him go.

The good news for Morneau is that he's healthy, he's been hitting for power this past month, and he's getting the opportunity to play in meaningful games for the first time in 3 years. He gets to go to Pittsburgh -- a fun, energized baseball city with one of the best parks. Hopefully, he'll play an important role for a team that has a good chance to compete in October. As much as Morneau's identity was intertwined with Minnesota and the Twins community, he's a professional athlete, and I'm sure the possibility of taking September and October at-bats in a pennant race produces a special kind of energy -- an energy he hasn't felt in several years.

But my source of frustration is that, in this trade, the Twins didn't really do anything to get better for the future -- aside from the possibility that the remaining $2+ million owed to Morneau could be spent this offseason on talent. Believe me, I completely understand that every single baseball team passed on Morneau during the waiver period. That alone is significant, and it strongly suggested that any trade return wouldn't be impressive. But if the Twins had been willing to eat part of that $2 million, could they have netted one solid prospect, rather than 28 year old fourth outfielder Alex Presley (we already have a few fourth outfielders), and Duke Welker, a righty reliever that throws hard but has control problems (note that at this time, Welker is only rumored to be the player to be named later)? Otherwise stated, my question is this: if the Twins had paid half or more of the money owed to Morneau, could they have received a better prospect from Pittsburgh? If the answer to that question is yes, then I'm disappointed with the result of this trade.

The Twins are obviously rebuilding. They haven't said it, which frustrates me, but it's happening. Part of a rebuild is that deals have to be made with the future in mind. If I'm Terry Ryan, I'm evaluating every trade with the following mindset: "Is Player X (meaning the player the Twins are to receive) likely to play a role on the next Twins team that is legitimately competing for a division title, which probably won't be until 2015 or 2016?" If the answer is "no," or if it would take a miracle for the answer to be "yes," then Ryan should go back to the drawing board. Yes, sometimes a legitimate return isn't really possible. Maybe that was the case with Jamey Carroll, in which case cash probably was an acceptable return. In fact, sometimes just having a player off your 40-man roster, and having another team take on the contract, might be enough of a return. But something was different about Morneau. Yes, he's not as good as he once was, but there is still gas in the tank. What if the Twins had let it be known that they would pay all the money owed to Morneau, but would expect a better return? It's tough for me to imagine that no team would have offered better than Alex Presley and a PTBNL.

This trade is complicated for me. I'm disappointed that I'll probably never see Justin Morneau play a game in person again. I'm sad -- as a fan -- that the M & M Era is over. I mean, these guys lived together and were practically best friends. I'm sad that Justin Morneau won't get to see good baseball in Minnesota again, when guys like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton come up. I'm disappointed that, unless the PTBNL pans out, the Twins probably saved $2 million, but didn't improve one iota for the future. In the end, maybe Ryan did offer to pay the entire $2 million, and maybe no team had a better offer. But I can't get it out of my mind that this feels like penny-pinching Twins deals of the mid 1990s all over again.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Miguel Sano Relegated to First Base Already? You Must be Joking.

Miguel Sano for the World team at the 2013 Futures Game.
Image courtesy of me.
Last night I had a brief, and sort of strange, Twitter exchange with Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press. He tweeted "I'm still waiting for the Twins organization to hand Miguel Sano a first baseman's mitt." I replied, "Why, his 3B defense is much improved." Powers added, "It had no place to go but up, and it's still not close to adequate." Finally, I stated, "He turned 20 in May. Feels a bit early to give up on, esp[ecially] with other in-house 1B options, and T. Plouffe underwhelming w/ bat." Here's the link to the first of the Tweets. This definitely wasn't a Twitter argument or war -- I try not to get into those really at all -- but it was still very confusing to me, and I still firmly believe I'm correct.

First, let's agree on one thing: Powers is correct that Sano's defense had nowhere to go but up. Improvement was expected, for sure. But let's look at the data: Sano currently has 21 errors on the season (in 111 games thus far); in 2012 he had 42 errors in 126 games. He's playing at higher levels in 2013 than in 2012, and his fielding percentage has increased from .884 to .932. In fact, he's likely to cut his errors almost in half. Yes, that's not deep analysis, but it's something. I've watched Sano in person about 10-12 games this summer. No, he is not going to be elite defensively. But I hope if you were fortunate to watch this past week's game on FSN, you saw Sano make a fantastic play coming in on a slow roller down the line. He fielded it expertly and made a strong throw to get the runner. Yes, he still makes bad plays, but fans who think he's some kind of stone-handed giant at the hot corner are simply wrong.

Yes, Sano's defense is not where it eventually needs to be -- just like his bat is not yet at the major league level. But would the Twins really move him, at age 20, to an "easy" defensive position and give up on him playing third base, which has been a position of need for this team for many years since I have been born (excepting the Gary Gaetti and Corey Koskie years)? In one word, that sounds foolish.

Moreover, here is a short list of guys who could play first base for the Twins in 2014 that are not Miguel Sano: Justin Morneau (if the Twins got him for a year cheap); Chris Colabello (will he get a shot at a long stint in the majors starting to see if he is better than a AAAA player?); Joe Mauer (he almost certainly will play fewer games behind the plate in 2014 than in 2013, but the team needs that bat in the lineup); and Chris Herrmann (Twins fans, please pay attention: he is arguably the most versatile player on this team). The Twins certainly don't need him at first base, and that's certainly not his only shot to the majors.

Let's talk about third base depth for just a minute. Trevor Plouffe, 27 years old, is hitting .231/.292./.386 for the Twins this season. He has 9 errors in 88 games at the hot corner, and his fielding percentage at third base is .959 this season. I'd be an idiot to state that his defense isn't better than Sano's -- of course it is. But is he that much better? Will he eventually be that much better on defense than Sano might? Open question, but I tend to think that the guy who is 20, a better prospect than Plouffe ever was, and -- let us not forget -- is still learning to play third base after growing up as a shortstop -- will eventually equal or surpass Plouffe defensively. Not to mention that Plouffe's hitting has been awful this season. Finally, I should mention Deibinson Romero for a second. I like him, and he has some pop in his bat. I watched him all last season at New Britain, and he's a fun guy to follow. This season, he has a .952 fielding percentage up at Rochester, to go with a .264/.369/.418 line. He'll turn 27 next month. I'd hardly call him a legitimate prospect, but it's possible he could see major league time. Hypothetically, though, if the Twins are going to invest time and innings (while the team is bad) in a prospect that needs to improve defensively (and offensively), wouldn't you rather Sano get the chance, than Romero? In fact, I'd rather Sano get the chance at some point in 2014 (assuming continued improvement in the minors) over Plouffe.

The bottom line is this: when the Twins are next competing for a division title, Miguel Sano -- and not Trevor Plouffe or Deibinson Romero -- is going to be playing a crucial role. To give up on him at third base now, when things honestly don't matter since the reset of the team is so bad, is incredibly short-sighted.

The idea that the Twins -- headed for their third straight 90 loss season -- would give up on their second best prospect, who just turned 20, at a position of defensive importance for the franchise -- is preposterous. Perhaps Powers was trying to drum up conversation or say something provocative, but I think it came off as crazy. Yes, maybe someday, if Sano doesn't continue to improve defensively, he will become a right fielder (he does have a good arm) or a first baseman. But that day won't occur in 2013. In fact, I'd be shocked if it came before the end of the 2015 season.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The New Britain Coaching Situation

Rock Cats' Manager Jeff Smith.
Courtesy of Richard Messina, Hartford Courant
I've been spoiled. This summer, I've been able to watch Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, from right over the home dugout, for $15 a ticket. You might think that having Sano and Rosario on the same minor league team, at the same time, is an affiliate's dream come true. To be sure, I'm confident that ticket sales increased after Sano and Rosario arrived, but the life of an affiliate is much more complicated.

I've heard it stated that the Twins control everything on the field, and the Rock Cats control everything else. I wouldn't call that a 100% accurate statement, but you get the general idea. Put yourself in the seat of a (relatively) small business owner -- a MiLB affiliate owner, to be precise -- for just a second: it's difficult to imagine giving away control over the on-the-field product, while retaining control only over the relatively ancillary things, such as ticket prices and promotions (granted, of course, that ticket prices and concession prices go a long way in determining profitability). If I was the Rock Cats' owner, I'd certainly want a large say in the roster, but that's not the way that the system works. In fact, if Terry Ryan calls New Britain and says that Angel Morales is going to play every inning of every game for the next week because he's going to be the "minor league part" of a trade, well, that's the way it's going to be.

Since I've been following the Rock Cats, it's been up-and-down. They will not make the playoffs this year, and fell just short the two prior years. Meanwhile, the Twins minor league system, as a whole, continues to ascend the organizational rankings. As I write this, the overall consensus is that the Twins have a Top-5, and probably even higher, minor league system. Why, then, haven't the Rock Cats been more successful?

I'm not about to place a large amount of blame on the coaches. Looking at this season only as an example: Alex Meyer (best pitching prospect on the roster) was injured half the season; Trevor May (second best pitching prospect on the roster) under-performed; and Sano and Rosario were only in New Britain half the season. The majority of the rest of the roster (excepting maybe half a dozen guys) are unlikely to play major league baseball for more than the proverbial cup of coffee. In other words, although there were Top Prospects, the deeper levels of talent might not have been there. Having a few good guys on paper does not a post-season team make.

But back to the managing. Jeff Smith is in his third year managing in New Britain, after working his way up from Beloit and Ft. Myers. He spent a lot of time in New Britain as a minor leaguer, but never made the majors. I have yet to hear anything on-the-record concerning his managerial skills -- and I actually do believe that he had the full support of the Twins' organization when he benched Sano last month -- but I'm not sure what role the Smith has in the organizational future, and I'm honestly not sure in what regard the current players hold him. Without any particular knowledge base, I'd put both Jake Mauer and Doug Mientkiewicz (today named as manager of the year for the FSL) above Smith. I do believe that the Twins are going to go a different direction this off-season with Ron Gardenhire. And I also believe that a Gardenhire decision will have a significant trickle-down effect on the affiliates.

Much in the same way, I'm not sure what the future holds for pitching coach Stu Cliburn (longtime member of the organization) and new hitting coach Chad Allen. Yep, Chad Allen, the same former Twins player who was named in the Mitchell Report, and who was never a great hitter (not that that is a prerequisite, necessarily, to be able to teach hitting). In short, it's a very interesting mix of young and old that converged this season to coach the Rock Cats. Far be it from me -- or probably anyone reading this -- to speculate with any accuracy whether they did or did not do their jobs, but I can guess that the effect of 3 Twins seasons of 90+ losses is likely to have a very direct effect on the New Britain coaching staff.

I want to end with this: Is there is something to be said for the fact that Cedar Rapids (definitely), Ft. Myers (definitely) and Rochester (likely) are all likely headed to the playoffs this season, but the Rock Cats are not. Is it simply bad timing on the Rock Cats' part, or is there something more?

Coaching is very difficult to judge. I generally agree with the sentiment that managers get too much credit on winning teams, and too much blame on crappy teams. But at the same time, I do think that, in almost any business, change is necessary after a protracted period of losses -- whether that be earnings per share in a Fortune 500 company or a win-loss record in a professional sport. I will be curious to see what happens this off-season. Even if Gardy keeps his job, I expect some change in the Twins' AA ranks.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I welcome any comments.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Trevor May: Still Hopeful

It's been a consistently inconsistent season for Trevor May
Tonight's game was a laugher. No real offense to speak of for New Britain until the game was well out of hand. In fact, it's not even worth discussing Sano or Rosario (on offense, at least, where they were non-factors). Let's get right to what's worth covering tonight: Trevor May, and New Britain's defense.

I think I've seen Trevor May pitch probably 3 or 4 times this season. I'd be lying if I said that May hasn't been frustrating, or that the Twins really pulled one over on the Phillies. Don't get me wrong -- May has been OK -- but not fantastic any means. Control problems have plagued him. Tonight, though, was not a bad outing, despite what the box score will tell you. May started off the game hitting 92-94 on his fastball, 83ish with the change-up, and upper 70s or lower 80s with a nice curve.

May lasted 5 and 2/3 innings and gave up 4 runs on 10 hits; he took the loss. He also struck out 9 and walked only 1 -- the last hitter he faced. On the night, he threw 107 pitches, 75 of them for strikes. In fact, perhaps he was a little too accurate, or threw too many strikes, leading to the 10 hits? He threw strike 1 to the majority of batters, consistently working ahead in the count. He changed speeds, and got a fair number of weakly hit pitches that were either choppers or pop-outs. In short, he did what you would coach any pitcher to do. The results just weren't there. But there's more to the story than that.

New Hampshire's first run of the game, in the second inning, came partially as the result of an infield chopper up the middle that died behind the mound. The next batter hit a well struck opposite field double to right center. Just like that, 1-0 New Hampshire. In the third inning, a 2-out, 2-strike opposite field solo homer may have rattled May, as he gave up a single past Sano to the next batter, but then worked out of the jam.

Aside from these hiccups and despite the runs allowed, May pitched to, generally, what his ceiling should be: low/no walks; the ability to strike guys out; and the ability to induce weakly hit balls by changing speeds. Of the hits he gave up, probably 5 were well struck, 3 were extremely weak (i.e., choppers or flares), and a couple were average.

The fateful 6th inning started with a pop-up behind second base that went for a single (good argument for the "team error" category) after Eddie Rosario and Danny Santana either didn't communicate, or miscommunicated. Thereafter, a clean single, an out (a fantastic diving play by Miguel Sano), a double that Jordan Parraz just missed in CF (which then rolled to the wall) scored 2 more runs. And that was it for May.

That pop-up behind second base felt worse than a lead-off walk. It was deflating, in fact. You just knew that it was going to be the death knell for May, who already was tiring.

May deserved better this evening. Was he perfect? No. But it's important to note that 2 of the 4 runs were partially a result of infield singles -- one of which was really a "team error" type of play. And there was no offensive support, either. Sure, you can't take away infield singles, and sure, team errors happen, but I only count 2 things that went May's way this evening (Daniel Ortiz making a great play to throw out a runner headed to second, and Miguel Sano making a nice diving stop and strong throw to save a hit), while a few things definitely went the other way. It was 4 earned runs. It easily could (should?) have been 2 or 3, and May could (should?) have been able to complete 6 innings. Honestly, it's a strange, strange start to strike out 9 and walk 1 and not be able to make it through 6 innings.

I hope people aren't ready to relegate May to the bullpen for his career. Look at tonight's start: 100+ pitches, still hitting 92 on the gun on his fastball when he came out. 9 Ks; 1 walk (on his last batter when he was gassed). The ERA doesn't support it, but I would absolutely argue that May has been better this year than last. Sure, it's not ideal that he's repeating -- and not dominating -- AA, but there has been improvement. His walks per 9 innings have decreased about .5 walks per game; Ks per 9 are consistent; HRs allowed per 9 have decreased a little; but hits per 9 have increased. Kyle Gibson, who just debuted a couple months ago, is 25. May is still 23 for another month. Let's not talk about May as if he's a Chris Colabello-esque journeyman. Sure, Gibson was delayed as a result of Tommy John surgery and recovery, but my point is only that May isn't "old," even if he is repeating AA. I'm still hopeful that he can figure it out; it just May take a little while longer than Twins fans would prefer.

One final note. I'm having a Twitter contest to win a Rock Cats Joe Mauer bobblehead that was just given away in New Britain a few weeks ago. Of course, you have to be on Twitter and following me to enter.
Go here for details.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Excellence in Broadcasting: Podcasting with Travis Aune

I was recently invited to join Texas Twins Fan, a/k/a Travis Aune, on his weekly podcast.

I had a blast, as I always do whenever I'm asked to talk about the Rock Cats. Among other items, we discussed Miguel Sano and his suspension, Trevor May and Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, and (in our opinion) the Twins' need for Latin American coaches in their farm system and at the major league level.

If you haven't yet, take a listen here.

Thanks again, Travis, for having me on!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Sano Quandary

If you can't tell, Miguel Sano is a kid.
Also, I own this jersey :)
If I told you that there was a Twins prospect at AA New Britain batting .243, you probably wouldn't blink an eye. If I told you he had some pop in his bat, and a good arm from the left side of the infield, maybe you'd express mild interest. But if I told you that the prospect was Miguel Sano, and that he had a combined 26 HRs and 80 RBIs in early August, playing in 2 pitchers' leagues, you'd probably be interested.

Anyone who is reading this piece probably knows what Miguel Sano might -- or could -- mean to this franchise: without exaggeration, he probably is the best power-hitting Twins prospect in the past 30 years.

He just turned 20, and he's holding his own at AA, which is generally considered the largest jump a hitter will make before reaching the major leagues.

The purpose here isn't so much to cast opinion (to be sure, I have one, but I'm trying not to let it play out), but rather to to present arguments in favor of, and against, the idea of Sano finishing the season at Target Field as a member of the Twins. Without further ado, let's go through the pros and cons.

Call Him Up!!!

1. Sano is the best power hitting prospect the Twins have had in . . . well, forever. The Twins need power. Joshn Willingham and Justin Morneau are probably gone, and in any event they have largely been ineffective in 2013; Trevor Plouffe is sporadic. Right now, this club needs a middle-of-the-order bat that can do damage for the next several years. Anyone have a better in-house option than Sano?

2. Yea, his AA batting average isn't great, but look at that OPS (.915). When he is getting on base and making contact, he's doing big, big damage. He has performed in the clutch this season with the Ft. Myers Mircale and the New Britain Rock Cats, and absolutely nothing suggests he won't continue that trend.

3. Twins fans have been really screwed over these past few years. Sweet Lord: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jason Marquis, a billion injuries, shredded payroll. Come on, Pohlad Family and Terry Ryan, we really, really need a glimpse of the future, even if he's only 80% ready. You can't sell All-Star tickets on mere promises. Or maybe you can, but good luck filling those seats for the 81 non-All-Star games next season.

People, Let's Be Prudent

1. There is no rush with any prospect in this organization. The Twins need to be taking a long look -- this is a team that needs to be set up to win in 2015-2018. Forget the last month of 2013. And look at his maturity issues. This is a guy that needs to be taught "the process," taught humility, and then brought up when he's ready.

2. Miguel Sano is not dominating AA. Let's not talk about this as if he's tearing the cover off the ball. The guy has 42 strike-outs in 41 games. Yea, he can, and does, hit the ball out of the park, but there's much more to being a major league player than that. And how about his defense. Yes, it's undoubtedly improved, but there's work to be done.

3.  A jump to the big leagues from AA isn't always in the player's best interest. Look at Oswaldo Arcia: a great hitting AA prospect, called up before he was ready. And it messed with his head. Let's not do that with Sano. Let's make sure he's ready, even if that means finishing this season in AA, or even starting 2014 in AAA. Sano is a rare, rare commodity. And the Twins can't screw this up.

In short, this is a great dilemma. Again, Miguel Sano is 20 years old. And tearing the cover off the ball.Yet, even the biggest Sano supporter should concede that he's far from a perfect prospect. For me, going into the second week of August, I'm almost 50/50 as to whether Sano should spend September with the Twins. I'd love to hear you comments -- and arguments both in support and against -- Sano spending the last month of this season in Minneapolis.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thoughts on Miguel Sano, Discipline, and the Twins' (and Rock Cats') Reaction

"Bocaton" is Miguel Sano's nickname.
It means "Big Mouth."
The biggest Twins story this past week hasn't been the team's resurgence toward respectability with a few series wins, or the impending trade deadline that will likely ship out fan-favorite Justin Morneau. No, to be sure, the focal point of discussion has been out here in New Britain, Connecticut, where Miguel Sano has been benched since a Tuesday night home run that undoubtedly left Terry Ryan (in attendance), manager Jeff Smith, opposing pitcher (and up until this June a Rock Cat himself) Bobby Lanigan, and others less than thrilled. If by chance you haven't seen the home run, here's a link to the video.

There are at least a couple schools of thought being played out in the media, and by fans right now. It's more complicated than two schools, but I'll distill it here for the sake of brevity. One school suggests that the Twins were correct to bench Sano for this display. They believe that the benching isn't an attempt to take away Sano's fire and attitude, but rather to instill in him the "correct" way to play the game. They also note that the benching didn't have as much to do with the homer as it did Sano's reactions to Ryan and Smith when questioned after the game.

The second school suggests that the Twins are trying to take away the lively and fiery personality of one of their best hitting prospects, and a guy that could help turn around this franchise as early as next season. "They're going to tell him to start hitting to opposite field," this crowd might say, in reference to what the Twins suggested to (then struggling hitter) David Ortiz.

As usual, I think the truth is somewhere in-between. I've seen 3 of 4 of Sano's AA home runs in person. A couple facts: he never runs fast around the bases, and he may linger at home plate for a second or two if he knows the ball isn't coming back. That being said, I've never seen him stand at home plate for 5-6 seconds, then take almost 30 seconds to round the bases. For some good background on this particular home run, and Sano's prior dealings with pitcher Bobby Lanigan, please, please read Pat Reusse's column here. Just like with most things in life, there's more than meets the eye in connection with this at-bat.

More important than Reusse's rendition of Lanigan's and Sano's past conflicts, however, is Reusse's call to action to the Twins to hire a coach from Latin America, pronto. To give credit where credit is due, Reusse is not the first person to point this out. I know, among others, that Thrylos at The Tenth Inning Stretch has been clamoring for the Twins to do exactly this for at least a few seasons. And right now, that suggestion really makes sense.

No, hiring a native-Spanish speaker (hopefully a younger, ex-MLB player) is not a cure-all. But there is something to be said for the fact that Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario, and Sano -- three players most recently disciplined by the Twins -- are playing on teams that lack a coach/mentor/leader that shares cultural characteristics. The Twins should be lauded for getting Arcia, Rosario and Sano. All 3 could be All-Star caliber players, and the Twins spent millions to get them. But something is being lost in translation, and I'm not sure what the fix is.

I watched, and loved, Ballplayer Pelotero, the documentary featuring Sano. I can't pretend to understand the struggle of these Latin American ballplayers. Yes, they often are given between several hundred thousand and several million dollars to sign, but that happens at age 16. And at least in Sano's case, it's been stated that he is not in control of that money, and that much of the money has been spent in real estate in his native Dominican Republic. These kids go from poor to somewhat wealthy; from living in the Dominican Republic or a similar country to living in Ft. Myers or Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and from being big-shots in their hometown to being cogs in a large, large wheel. The point here isn't to suggest that we need to feel sympathy for Sano et al., but rather that we, as fans, have no idea the pressures they face, and whether they are at all equipped to face such pressures.

I think Reusse's piece was spot-on. Trading aging veterans, continuing to sign top prospects, and allowing rookies to learn from their mistakes will make the Twins better in the long-run. Hiring multiple native Spanish speaking coaches at multiple levels of the system (assuming they're otherwise qualified, of course), will help this organization immediately. I can't suggest that this is a cure-all, but I can suggest that something is absolutely getting lost in translation. Would a native-Spanish speaking coach have prevented Sano's display? Probably not. But might that coach been able to have diffuse the situation (keeping in mind that Sano's English is improving but is not at all good) before too much damage was done? Perhaps.

A couple final points:

  • I expect Sano to be back in the lineup either today or when New Britain comes home tomorrow. The team has been drawing well at home, but is not selling out mid-week games. Sano puts people in seats, and fans want to see him the last month of the season. 
  • Sano is not a jerk. I've read on TwinsDaily, and a few other comment boards, where people are saying that they don't care what his personality is, so long as he gets the job done. There's some merit to that: the vast majority of Twins players are very nice and personable, and some (many over the past few seasons) simply don't get the job done. I want Sano to succeed on the ballfield more than I want him to be considered a logical replacement host for Michael Strahan when he retires from his gig with Kelly Ripa. But these aren't mutually exclusive. From my brief encounters with Sano, he is a nice guy. I see him supporting teammates, yelling "let's go," -- and meaning it -- as he trots from third base back to the dugout when the team was down by 5 runs late in a game. I see him signing for kids before games, and tossing balls into the stands as he jogs back into the dugout. Sure, part of this very well might be a display, but by no means have I seen him be rude or discourteous to paying customers or reporters.
  • Finally, HE IS 20 YEARS OLD. What kind of dumb stuff did you do when you were 20? Did you think that you knew a lot? I did. Did you think that money grew on trees when you got a big paycheck from that summer job? I did. The Rock Cats (through the Twins) are trying to make Sano mature a little faster than he is ready for. Why? Because next year at this time they fully expect he's going to be manning third base for the Twins. He's going to be on ESPN. He'll have sponsorship deals. He's going to be in the public eye of the nation, not just Twins Territory and Central Connecticut. Videos of his dumb displays won't be grainy and on YouTube; they'll be on SportsCenter for the world to see.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Futures Game Recap: Sano & Buxton Shine on National Stage; I Sweat

I attended Sunday's MLB Futures Game. It was pretty exciting. The pitchers really stood out -- 94-96 MPH fastballs, great breaking stuff to keep MiLB's best hitters guessing. The other thing that stood out was the heat. It was 95 degrees outside, and hotter at field level.

Miguel Sano started; Byron Buxton came in as a sub (speedster Billy Hamilton started over Baseball's #1 Prospect based on "seniority"; sounds kind of lame to me). Anyway, neither player made a big impact offensively, though Sano did hit the ball crisply.

I don't have much in the way of a review, except to note that these very, very young players put on a great show.

Here are a few pics of our guys:

Byron Buxton warming up before his first at-bat

Miguel Sano: Just An Absolute Beast

Guys, it seems like we might have an issue with uniform numbers . . . .

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Sano Show

Windy skies tonight in New Britain
This is a night where I'm glad I'm not a real journalist with a real deadline. Wow, what a game. Well, more specifically, what a game for Miguel Sano: 3-for-4, 2 HR, 5 RBIs. And the 1 out he made was a 400 ft monster fly ball that the Phillies' center fielder made a fantastic, leaping catch on. OK, I'll start at the beginning:

The conditions at New Britain Stadium were damp, to say the least. About an hour before game time, a brief but severe storm passed through. The infield remained in good condition thanks to the tarp -- more accurately thanks to the grounds crew pictured above -- but parts of the outfield (lacking the advanced drainage system of Target Field) were soaked. The grounds crew did a great job taking care of that issue, however, and the game started just over an hour late (one neat thing about minor league baseball is that it's very much an all-hands-on-deck mentality -- the same people helping with the tarp or the drainage might be some of the same people you encounter in the press box or the concourses later).

Perhaps Rock Cats starter Trevor May was off his rhythm due to the delay, because he surrendered a long and loud homer on the very first pitch of the game. It seemed as if May would settle down, though, and fortunately had his very good curve going early on, but it wasn't going to be that easy. A control problem that plagued May ended up (more or less) costing him 2 more runs: in the second inning, he walked the #7 hitter with 2 outs, then gave up another no-doubter to right field. It was his only walk of the night -- accompanied by 6 strikeouts -- but it was damaging.

On the whole, I'd call it an up-and-down performance for May. On the one hand, the struck out 6, only walked 1, and had flashes of excellent pitching. On the other hand, he allowed 2 long home runs, issued a costly 2-out walk that preceded a home run, and was over 50 pitches with only 1 out in the third inning. He ended up tossing 93 pitches to make it through 5 innings. Definitely not an awful performance, but also not the kind of performance that's going to make Terry Ryan pick up the phone and set May up in Rochester. His final line: 5 innings; 4 ER; 6Ks; 1 BB. 2 HR.

Offensively, wow. Have you heard of this prospect the Twins have? Miguel something-or-other? I'm no baseball expert, but I sure have been to a ton of MLB and MiLB games. Sano's performance tonight ranks right up there with any individual performance I have ever seen: A long, frozen rope single to left field; a first-pitch homer; and an amazing 9th inning homer. And his one out was a long, long fly to center. Ridiculous. Boy does that guy know how to hit. In fact, I have video of all his at-bats on my YouTube channel. Check it out. Again, I apologize for the poor quality of the video and the finger(s) that may occasionally appear in the corner of the screen. Hey, I never said I was Steven Spielberg!

Two funny things about Sano's at-bats this evening: his single was hit harder than either of the homers; and the flyout to center field probably traveled farther than either of the home runs. The power he generates is amazing. Jeez the guy is impressive.

Back to the game and the other 20-some players on the team. The problem with tonight's game is that there wasn't nearly enough Rock Cats offense. 5 hits -- 3 from Sano; one from Josmil Pinto; 1 from Nate Hanson. Although Trevor May wasn't great tonight, he did deserve better performance from the other 6 guys in the lineup.

I spoke to Rock Cats' manager Jeff Smith after the game. The obvious questions would have been about Sano. But what could Smith say besides "he's great" or "he's a rare talent." "Wow. He hit the ball hard and far tonight???" I can write crap like that (in fact, you're reading it!). Instead I asked about May. As I've written before, May's downfall typically has been issuing too many walks and prematurely driving up that pitch count. But what about tonight? Only 1 walk and 6 strikeouts -- peripherally good numbers. Smith stated: "Home run on the first pitch of the game, and just fell behind. . . . If you look back, [May] only gave up 5 hits, but his pitch count got up there pretty fast. . . . There were about 2 or 3 at-bats that the other team had that were about 10-pitch at-bats. It might have started 1-0, 2-0 [on the batters], and the next thing you know, a guy starts fouling pitches back. [May] didn't pitch that bad. A lead-off home run, and then an 0-2 home run."

For the most part that's an accurate assessment. There were a couple very, very long at-bats. May wasn't bad by any means. I didn't get a chance to speak to him -- and I'm pretty sure he would not have been one to make excuses -- but you do have to wonder what happens to a starter after an hour-long delay. Especially when the starter gives up a first-pitch homer. Although May took the loss, there were plenty of good things about his performance tonight: first-pitch strikes seemed to be better; the curve was great, especially early in the game; the extremely wet conditions on the field didn't seem to affect his control; 6 Ks to 1 BB in 5 innings with 5 hits is a solid performance, excepting that 2/5 hits were homers.

All in all, what a crazy night. I'll be honest: I wanted to see a Miguel Sano home run tonight. I got what I came for, and then some. I'll leave you with a couple funny Sano stats: he's 4th on the Rock Cats in home runs despite playing only 17 games for them. He has more homers than singles. He has 16 RBIs in 17 games. And get this, HE'S BATTING A LOUSY .236. What a freak of nature.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Podcasting with Cody and Eric: Talk 2 Contact Episode 42

I was fortunate to get an invitation to (re)join one of the best Twins podcasts out there, the Talk 2 Contact podcast. I strongly urge you to listen to/download/share the entire thing, but I come in around minute 42 and talk about the Rock Cats, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Logan Darnell, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Danny Santana. 

Take a listen here.
Thanks, Eric and Cody, for having me on.
itunes pic

Monday, June 17, 2013

How are AA Pitchers Approaching Miguel Sano?

Last week, I was in the right place at the right time: the AA debuts of top Twins' prospect Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. One big takeaway from Sano's and Rosario's first couple AA games was that their reputations preceded them; in other words, pitchers knew who these guys were. Take a look at the (grainy amateur) video I shot of some early at-bats -- the pitches weren't even close. As a result, Sano and Rosario, but Sano especially, seemed to only get maybe 1 pitch per at-bat in his wheelhouse. I suspect this is a problem that has plagued him his entire career, and probably won't stop until he he has someone equally or more talented hitting behind him.

Today I thought I would take a look at the very, very sample size that has been Sano's AA career. I want to see how pitchers are approaching his at-bats. As of the writing of this article, Sano has compiled 19 plate appearances for the Rock Cats: 1 hit, 6 walks, 3 Ks, and 9 other outs on balls in play. I'm going to use screenshots. As a caveat, please be aware that the Gameday information is imperfect: it's a good tool, but is, of course, subject to human error. That being said, let's take a look.

1: 5-pitch walk. Arguably 1 pitch to hit, and he fouled it off.

2: 2-pitch ground out to third

3: 3-pitch sac fly. All hittable pitches. 2 called strikes and the fly ball.

4: 4-pitch swinging K.

5: 5-pitch sac fly. The 3 balls appeared pretty far off the plate.

6: 6-pitch called strikeout. Looked like some hittable pitches up in the zone.

7: 5-pitch flyout to left.

8: 3-pitch flyout to right.

9: 1-pitch single to left. Looked like a good pitch to hit.

10: 2-pitch groundout to shortstop:

11: 5-pitch walk.

12: 3-pitch flyout to center.

13: 8-pitch walk. Looks like he was consistently worked outside.

14: 6-pitch walk. Again worked outside.

15: 6-pitch pop-out to first base. He was worked inside. Perhaps only the second or third plate appearance of thus far where a pitcher deliberately challenged him on the inner half.

16: 6-pitch walk. Again worked inside by Harrisburg starter Blake Treinen.

17: 3-pitch grounder to shortstop. Treinen went inside on the third pitch.

18: 3 called strikes.

19: 6-pitch walk. Check out those inside pitches.

Some quick takeaways from this very small sample size:

  • With the exception of the final game (appearances 15-19), teams are really working Sano outside. Not a big surprise. But the strange part is that the inside pitches, thus far, haven't produced big results. Sano is probably used to being pitched outside so much that the inside pitches might surprise him.
  • Sano has swung at the first pitch in 7 of these 19 plate appearances.
  • He has a strange, strange line of .091/.368/.091. This suggests at least 3 things: 1) the sample size is so small as to be meaningless; 2) Sano is not hitting yet; 3) he is reaching base via the walk at a high, high rate.
  • He's not striking out at a higher rate than he did at High-A.
  • Sano is taking good at-bats, even if they aren't ending with hits. He has only 1 one-pitch at-bat (it was his lone hit, by the way); he's averaging 4.3 pitches per plate appearance (for comparison, right now Joe Mauer is 6th in baseball with 4.24 pitches per plate appearance).
My quick take: Sano is doing what he should be doing. He's seeing pitches from pitchers that are new to him; he's managing to reach base at a good clip despite not getting base hits; he's "just missing" -- his words not mine -- baseballs. In other words, just be patient.

I'm curious what others think, or can glean, from these screenshots. It's going to be interesting to see how pitchers plan to approach Sano as spring becomes summer, and as Sano eventually starts to see some of these guys a second time. It will also help matters greatly if those batting behind Sano prove a formidable threat.