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

Monday, June 2, 2014

So Many Rock Cats Notes

I own this Kennys Vargas jersey.
If you can believe it, it's more
orange in person.
I'm going to wear it to a black tie event.
It's been a busy couple weeks in New Britain. I'll start out with a little breaking news. Late this afternoon, the Hartford Courant placed a story on its front page suggesting that the Rock Cats' owners may be moving the team to Hartford in 2016 (it's only about 10 miles away, but would be significant for many local reasons I won't get into now). Journalism is funny in the Internet age. The original title of the piece was "Rock Cats Close to Deal to Move to Hartford." It now reads, "Rock Cats in Talks to Move from New Britain to Hartford." All sides -- the City of Hartford, New Britain's Mayor, and the Rock Cats officials, haven't indicated that there's truth to this story. But the fact that it was written by, among other reporters, Hartford's Government Watch reporter (as opposed to a sportswriter, who might not have the political connections to piece together the story), suggests to me that the Courant was pretty confident in its report.

What does this mean for the Twins? Nothing, necessarily. Regardless of this deal, the Rock Cats will play 2014 and 2015 in New Britain. And the Twins and Rock Cats must decide this season whether to renew their player development contract. New Britain Stadium is owned and operated by the city -- not the team. I can't opine on this, as I have not seen other Eastern League ballparks, but it's been said to me more than once that the New Britain playing field, and perhaps the facilities, are not as good as they could be. Like I said, I have nothing to compare this to. But assuming that's true to an extent, a new ballpark would appeal to the Twins, or most any other team moving from a non-state-of-the-art-facility. It's way, way too early to speculate any more, though. When there are developments, follow me on twitter for the latest.

Kennys Vargas continues to hit. After missing a few games with a strange wrist injury (suffered in batting practice), Vargas hasn't missed a beat. 40 percent of the way through the minor league season, Vargas has a .323/.398/.508 line, which is good for a .906 OPS. He has 11 doubles, 8 home runs, 24 walks and 34 strikeouts. The .323 average is nearly identical to Vargas' career-best season -- 2010 in the Gulf Coast League. Something interesting has happened in the last couple weeks, though: Vargas isn't hitting for much power, but he is hitting for average. In fact, he hasn't homered in a couple weeks, and has only 1 double in that time frame. But in his last 10 games, he still has 14 hits, 8 RBIs, and a .378 average. So although the power has tapered a little (perhaps the wrist isn't 100%), Vargas is still extremely effective. If he makes it through June still hitting and reaching base at this rate, I'd like to see him promoted. Most important, however, is playing time. It makes no sense to Vargas to share at-bats with whoever's in Rochester (Colabello/Parmelee/Arcia -- you get the point). I was at last Saturday's game where Vargas had 2 hits. One thing that stood out to me was that he was comfortable taking what the pitcher gave him -- in that game it was 2 singles to opposite field. Neither was that well hit, but it's so much better than what many big guys do: roll over the outside pitch for a grounder to first or second.

Danny Ortiz was the Rock Cats' best hitter in the month of May. After hitting only .227 in April, Ortiz heated up with an amazing .388/.402/.660 line in May, including 4 homers, 2 triples and a whopping 12 doubles. In fact, New Britain Herald sportswriter Matt Straub noted that Ortiz, 24 years old this season, has been perhaps the team's most consistent player. I've always been pleasantly surprised with Ortiz' arm, but he's an under-the-radar guy, mostly due to a pretty low career average, and the fact that he simply doesn't walk. On the season, Ortiz has a respectable .324/.340/.500 line, but notice that on-base percentage. He's struck out 34 times, and walked only 3. Unless he can sustain a .330 average -- which he hasn't been able to -- that's problematic. But, it's great to see him hitting the ball hard. Perhaps plate discipline can come later for Ortiz?

Eddie Rosario is back! Or, he will be back. Soon, we hope. Working his way back up to New Britain, Rosario started off 1-for-11 with the Ft. Myers Miracle, but was 2-for-3 in Sunday's game with a walk, an RBI and a stolen base. I have no particular knowledge, but my guess would be that Rosario will put in another week, give or take, before he comes back to Connecticut -- provided he has good at-bats. I think they'll keep him in the outfield predominately. The Rock Cats' lineup could use more help at the top, and Rosario -- after foolish behavior cost him 50 games -- needs to put himself in a position to compete for a 2015 MLB position.

Mark Hamburger is back! The former major leaguer, former St. Paul Saint, is in New Britain, hoping to make his way up to the Twins' bullpen. I saw his only appearance thus far -- a 2 inning, 2 hit, 2 strikeout, 1 walk outing. He was all right. Nothing much more to report on him now, except for wishing him good luck and hoping he can revive his career and resist the temptations that got him in a little trouble in the past.

Finally, I tend to focus so much on the individual players (or, perhaps only a couple individual players), that I lose sight of the team's win-loss record. But baseball is a team game, and even in the minor leagues -- where player development is primary -- I want these guys to learn winning baseball at every level. The Rock Cats had a better May, and currently stand at 25-29, riding a 3-game win streak. What they could use: better starting pitching; more offensive threats.

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