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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Anatomy of a Rock Cats Win & Postgame Conversation with James Beresford

Rock Cats starter B.J. Hermsen waits to deliver a pitch
It was a picture perfect night for baseball in Connecticut. No, our winter didn't extend into late April, as it did in Minnesota, but this was one of  the first days where it actually would have made sense to wear t-shirts and shorts around town. 4,615 were in attendance this evening as the Rock Cats took on the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Native Iowan, and righty, B.J. Hermsen was on the bump for the Rock Cats. This was only his second start of the year coming off the disabled list. Hermsen, who was last years' Twins minor league pitcher of the year, should be working for a promotion to AAA Rochester, so these early season starts are important for him. Hermsen survived the first inning, but didn't look very comfortable. He allowed a clean single to start off the game, threw a wild pitch, but then settled down. Hermsen was able to get a key strikeout and use his off-speed pitches to throw hitters off their timing. Hermsen didn't get tons of help from his defense early in the game. A strange weakly hit infield single to third base, a sinking liner that was almost caught in center, and a wild pitch that perhaps could have been stopped added to his workload.

Second baseman James Beresford got the Cats on the board in the second frame with a well placed, hard hit double down the left field line, scoring Danny Santana, who had singled to center and stolen second base. Beresford later singled to center on a sharp line drive, after taking 4 straight pitches to get in an advantageous 3-1 count. Although the season is young, Beresford has been very consistent. If he keeps that average around .300, with a .400 on-base percentage, there's no reason he should remain in New Britain as spring turns to summer.

The Rock Cats had a productive third inning. After singles from Antoan Richardson and Danny Santana (and a Mark Sobolewski pop-up that failed to drive in a run), Josmil Pinto unloaded on a 2-0 offering from Richmond starter Craig Westcott and that landed just under the New Britain scoreboard beyond left field for a home run. That was Pinto's 5th homer on the early season -- he's tied for second in the entire Eastern League. Pinto has demonstrated better hitting, and better discipline, in 2013, than he did in his brief stint in New Britain at the end of 2012.

B.J. Hermsen was . . . what Twins fans essentially expect, but clearly rusty. He issued only 1 walk, but had trouble locating some of his off-speed stuff. He did manage to limit damage. He wasn't missing many bats, and allowed 9 hits, but seemed to eek his way out of trouble, whether with a clutch strikeout, a groundball double play, or a couple pop-ups in situations where there was a runner on third. In all, Hermsen threw 92 pitches (53 for strikes) in 4 and 2/3 innings. There were several 3-2 counts, and of course Hermsen doesn't have a strikeout pitch. I was a bit surprised the Rock Cats let him come out for that 5th inning -- I figured he might be on a pitch count in only his second start.

After 4 and 2/3 innings, Hermsen was pulled in favor of lefty Jose Gonzalez, who promptly ended a Flying Squirrels threat with a strikeout. Gonzalez was effective in the 6th, as well, stranding a runner. He got in some trouble in the 7th, allowing a leadoff double and a walk, before getting a big called third strike against Richmond's cleanup hitter, a groundout, and a routine fly ball to left field to strand 2. Gonzalez really kept the Cats in the game, allowing only 1 hit in 2 and 1/3 innings, striking out 2 and walking 1. Edgar Ibarra came on to pitch the 8th, and got in a little trouble after allowing a double and a single. There was only one out, and the tying run was at the plate. Luckily, James Beresford made a nice play, fielding a grounder on a short-hop and flipping to SS Danny Santana to start a 4-6-3 double play and end Richmond's threat.

Ibarra got in trouble in the 9th, walking the leadoff batter (cardinal sin), and giving up a single. Suddenly, the tying run was at bat with no outs. Ibarra made matters much worse for himself after making a bad throw to second base (which ended up in center field) on a grounder, instead of simply throwing to first to get the easy out. Ibarra was charged with a throwing error, and Richmond scored its second run. That was it for Ibarra.

Michael Tonkin was summoned with the game on the line: runners on second and third with no outs in the 9th inning, and his team up by only 2 runs. Tonkin walked the first batter he faced on 5 pitches before getting big strikeouts for the first and second outs. A weakly hit grounder resulted in a 6-4 putout for the final out, and the Rock Cats won what ended up being a close and tense game.

Player of the game: Josmil Pinto; runner up James Beresford. Pitcher of the game: Jose Gonzalez; runner up Michael Tonkin.

I spoke to Beresford after the game about his hot start (.317 average; .403 on-base percentage). Most important, he stated, was "swinging at good pitches," getting in advantageous counts (like he did tonight on the 3-1 single to center), and "keeping [his swing] short, not trying to get too big." James is listed at 6'1'', 170 pounds on the Rock Cats website, and this seems to be one of the rare situations where the team doesn't lie in the media guide. Keeping weight and muscle on has been an issue for James. He gained "about 20 pounds" this off-season, and although Beresford will never be a power hitting middle infielder, the extra weight is certainly useful. He still has a goal to gain a little more weight (and not lose the weight as the grind of the minor league season drags on), so that's something to watch for. Finally, I asked Mr. Beresford about Chad Allen, the Rock Cats' new hitting coach. Beresford stated that Allen "keeps it simple," has been great to work with, and "gets everyone in a positive mind frame."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rock Cats: The First 2 Weeks

This picture of Justin Morneau hangs in a suite at New Britain Stadium.
The Rock Cats do a great job of paying tribute to the Twins' greats
that have come and gone from this stadium.
After approximately the first two weeks of the 2013 season, the Rock Cats stand at a respectable 8-7, which is good for a second place tie in the Eastern League Eastern Division. Reading, who always seems to put a good team together, stands at 7-6 -- a slightly better winning percentage.

I try not to read much at all into small sample sizes, but there are several players that have had noteworthy performances thus far. I'll start with offense. One player I've been very impressed with is infielder James Beresford. He had to fight for playing time the first week or so, but has demonstrated that he deserves to be the Rock Cats' starting second baseman. In 36 at-bats, Beresford has a .333/.444/.389 slash line, including 3 stolen bases. There's not much power to speak of, but Beresford can be successful as a singles hitter with a good eye (7 walks already) and above-average speed. Additionally, Beresford is an excellent defender. This is Beresford's second full season in Connecticut, and he's 24 years old. If he keeps the batting average up, and continues to demonstrate a good eye, I think a promotion to AAA is in his future. As I've said before, aside from starting pitching, if there's one area where Twins prospects should quickly advance in the system, it's the middle infield.

Daniel Ortiz has been tearing the cover off the ball. With a .345/.391/.638 line in 58 at-bats, Ortiz has impressed. He has 3 home runs, 6 doubles, a triple, and 13 RBIs. He does lead the Rock Cats with 16 Ks, so there is room for improvement, but it's fair to state that Ortiz, 23 years old, has exceeded expectations, and has helped this club make up for the absence of players like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia in the lineup.

The final hitter I'm going to highlight for the moment is Josmil Pinto. He ended 2012 with the Rock Cats, looking good in 47 at-bats. Currently with a .295/.394/.574 line, Pinto leads New Britain with 4 home runs and 14 RBIs. He's also hit safely in 9 of his last 10 games, including 4 multi-hit games.

On the whole, I've been impressed with the offense. They haven't quite replicated the Arcia/Hicks/Herrmann/Colabello power from 2012, but players like Beresford, Ortiz, Pinto, and even Antoan Richardson, have helped to keep the team in games.

Starting pitching has been exciting. Right now -- and probably only until the All-Star break -- the Rock Cats have both Alex Meyer and Trevor May, both top 10 prospects in the Twins' organization. Both have been as advertised. Meyer has a 1-0 record, a 1.69 ERA, and has struck out 19 and walked 7 in 16 innings. His WHIP is 1.25. Rock Cats broadcaster Jeff Dooley noted that Meyer hit 98 mph on the radar gun in one of his starts. He's doing exactly what we expect: missing bats. Hopefully, the control will improve just a little, and he'll be in AAA by July.

Trevor May has an 0-1 record, and a 3.14 ERA, but has 19 Ks and 10 walks in 14 and 1/3 innings. His WHIP is 1.60. Yes, there are control issues, but there's no reason that those can't be ironed out. May, who is 23, has a promising future, and he, too, can be out of New Britain later this season if he gets his control under control. As a fan, it's exciting to see Meyer's and May's (the new M & M Boys???) K totals. Twins fans should be excited.

The Rock Cats are currently on the road in Portland, Maine, and lost a tough one, 12-1, last night. I'll be in attendance and reporting when the return to New Britain Stadium next weekend, so expect some good content in the near future.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Podcasting About the Rock Cats

itunes pic

One of the best things about being a Twins fan is the community of Twins bloggers. On any given day, even during the off-season, there is no shortage of excellent, independent, well researched, Twins-related content that we, as Twins fans, are fortunate to have access to. And in more recent years, the online community has expanded to include podcasting.

Over the weekend, I was lucky to have the opportunity to join Cody Christie, from NoDak Twins Fan, and Eric Rolf Pleiss, who writes at Knuckleballs Blog, to talk about the Rock Cats season. We discussed the roster, predict the season, and talk about a few players to keep your eye on this season.

Please listen to/download the podcast here. I come on at about the 30 minute mark. Cody and Eric (and Paul, who is currently serving our country at sea with the United States Coast Guard) do a great job with podcast, and they deserve our support/downloads! Thanks, guys for having me on, and keep up the great work!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Rock Cats Annual Welcome Home Dinner: Who is Jason Christian???


This was my second year attending the Rock Cats' Annual Welcome Home Dinner. The players attend this function shortly after arriving in Connecticut. In fact, some don't even have housing or vehicles arranged yet! It's truly a crazy time of year for these guys. Last year, I had the good fortune of sitting with Twins' top prospect Alex Wimmers at this charity event that raises funds for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center. Wimmers was kind, funny, and excited about 2012. Looking back, of course, 2012 was indeed a forgotten year for Wimmers, who is now rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. I'd like to think that I wasn't a bad omen for Wimmers. I'd also like to think that he can fool those who no longer consider him a solid prospect.

Rock Cats players, including MN's own Nate Hanson (red),
and Daniel Rohlfing (blue), awaiting introductions.
Back to 2013. I thoroughly enjoyed this event, which was held for the first time at Hawk's Landing Country Club. The food was very good -- standard banquet fare, with an inexpensive cash bar. As always, the guys were great about signing autographs, especially for kids that were very excited to see real, professional baseball players.
The player seated at our table this year was a gentleman I had never heard of: Jason Christian. I bet you probably haven't heard of him either. Originally a 5th round draft pick of the Athletics in 2008, Christian has bounced around the A's, Reds and Braves organizations, peaking at the AA level, before signing as a minor league free agent with the Twins in 2013. The lanky infielder, who will be 26 in June, prefers shortstop. He got in a couple of the major league games toward the end of Spring Training.

A top prospect Jason Christian is not. In fact, he's probably happy to be playing professional baseball for at least one more season. Speaking with Jason, a true class act, was a great reminder that, for every Miguel Sano or Aaron Hicks, there are HUNDREDS of Jason Christians trying to live out their dream against the odds. But hey, if there's one position of need in the Twins' organization, aside from starting pitching, it's quality infielders. Stranger things have happened. Recently.

I'll write more about the 2013 Rock Cats soon, but I think this could be a very interesting team. What they lost in terms of offense (Aaron Hicks, Chris Herrmann, Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Colabello) might be mitigated by the presence of excellent pitching prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer. Additionally, I'm excited to watch Danny Santana, and firmly believe that there are going to be more than a couple pleasant surprises this season in terms of player development.
Jason Christian hit .277 with 32 RBIs in 58 regular-season games.
Jason Christian with the Kane County Cougars in 2010. Credit: Paul R. Gierhart