May 2007

2007’s Transformation?

Twins fans were thrilled during the 2006 season when the Twins overcame a huge deficit, not to mention some key injuries to win their fourth division title in five years. 

There were a lot of reasons for the incredible surge and, perhaps, the best regular season baseball this area has ever seen. Justin Morneau’s MVP performance in the second half…Joe Mauer’s historic batting title…Torii Hunter’s return to health and the electrifying three months that Francisco Liriano gave the Twins.  Critically important to the turnaround was the decision to get younger and more athletic on the left side of the infield. By trading Juan Castro and calling up Jason Bartlett and releasing Tony Batista and giving Nick Punto third base, the Twins committed themselves to speed, youth and quickness on the left side of the diamond.

Twins fans…get ready…we might be seeing a similar transformation this summer, this time, on the pitching staff.

The Twins started the year with newcomers Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson in the rotation. While Ortiz was brilliant in April, both veterans now find themselves out of the rotation…Ponson released and Ortiz send to the bullpen.  The door is wide open for Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza to do for the pitching staff what Bartlett and Punto did for the left side of the infield.

Baker is already here and has given the Twins a magnificent start and another decent one. Slowey has been nothing short of superb in Rochester. He simply doesn’t have anything more to prove at triple-A without a chance to prove it up here. Garza has butted heads with some folks in the Twins organization, but his live fastball and improving off-speed stuff will probably make its’ way to the majors sooner rather than later. In his most recent start, Garza threw ten off-speed pitches(5 for strikes, 5 for balls). That’s enough for Twins’ management to consider bringing him up this summer. 

Obviously, the hope is that the extra seasoning the first two months has provided the talented young pitchers will ease the transition to the major leagues, Slowey in particular.  Remember, he’s never pitched up here. Both Garza and Slowey were in class A ball a year ago. 

While the Twins took a flier on Ponson and aren’t ready to give up on Ortiz yet, it’s clear that the time has come for the young guys to get their chance. Add Glen Perkins to the mix when he returns from his, thankfully, relatively minor shoulder injury and the Twins have the makings of an extremely talented yet inexperienced pitching staff.  Oh, and did I mention that the Twins are encouraged that next year Francisco Liriano will return to his dominating self of 2006?

Hi Twins fans,

As we wind our way thru their 9 game road trip, I have some Twins thoughts for you. Let’s get started.

I’LL BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS ABOUT…….Juan Rincon. 

The Twins star reliever for the last 6 years almost quit baseball. At the age of 16, Juan was told by scouts and coaches he was too small to play baseball and that he didn’t have a chance to advance in the game. Those people suggested he quit the game and go to school.  As you can well imagine, Juan was quite disappointed and when he went home with the bad news his mother told him, "Juan don’t you quit, you love the game to much, and you go out there and prove to those scouts and coaches that you are worthy of seeking a professional baseball contract!" Juan said, "no Mom, I am going to study in school and go to college and make something out of my life."  But his mother wouldn’t let him quit and Juan continued to pursue a baseball career. And there’s one more chapter to the story. One of Juan’s best friends is LHP Gustavo Chacin, now with the Toronto Blue Jays. And the coaches and scouts told Gustavo the same thing as they told Juan. So Juan and Gustavo made a promise to each other and to their Mom’s that they wouldn’t quit the game of baseball and look what happened. Nice going Juan, Twins fans sure are glad you followed your mother’s advice and didn’t quit the game.

MINOR LEAGUE UPDATE 

For most of the time we will concentrate on updating the progress of some of the Twins top prospects. I will get opinions from the Twins Minor League coordinators and coaches and managers on players like 3B Matt Moses, and RHP Kyle Waldrop just to name a few. But how about those players that are not on the radar screen as top prospects, but are starting to open some eyes of those co-ordinators and others. Let’s look at a few that are having outstanding seasons thus far, and might just be like a Denny Hocking (a 53rd round pick) or a Tommy Watkins (38th rounder) and climb the ladder to make it to the big leagues:

RHP Robert Delaney…..Closer with the Beloit Snappers. Undrafted out of St John’s University, Delaney leads the Midwest League in saves with 13 and just recently was chosen as the Twins Minor League Player of the Week.

2B Matt Tolbert…..Tearing up the International League, and at one time was the League’s leading hitter. Tolbert, a non-roster infielder, got a chance to play some in Grapefruit League games and impressed the coaches and Manager Ron Gardenhire. Alexi Casilla is considered to be the Twins top infield prospect at Rochester, but Tolbert is starting to make a lot of people take notice. Tolbert was a 16th round pick out of the University of Mississippi.

OF Eric Lis…..Yes, I know he is always going to be known for hitting a home run off Roger Clemens, when Clemens pitched againt the Fort Myers Miracle. But Lis can hit. He won the batting title last year at Beloit and is approaching being a .300 hitter with the Miracle. Lis was a 9th round pick in the ’05 draft out of Evansville University.

Keep your eye on these players folks, they might not be number one picks and Minor Leaguers that everyone is interested in, but they have put up some impressive numbers so far this year and are starting to be watched more closely.

TWINS TRIVIA TIME…..

When Garrett Jones was called up last week and stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat I pulled out my trusty little 3 X 5 card with the Twins players names that hit a home run in their first major league game. All told their have been 8 that have accompolished that feat! But just four that have hit a home in their first at-bat!  See if you can name the four. I’ll have the answer for you in the next blog.

Last Week’s Trivia Question:

Over the years the Twins have had some outstanding minor league players who later on have made it to the big leagues and helped the Twins to 4 divsional championships in the last 5 years. Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, and Lew Ford are all past winners of the Sherry Robertson Minor League Player of the Year. And, now all three are and have been major contributors to the Twins recent successes on the field.  In 2002, the Twins separated the Robertson Award and started naming a Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The award is named after Twins Director of Minor Leagues, Jim Rantz.  But only once has a minor league player won the award two years in arrow. Let?s see if you can name that player.

Answer to Last Week’s Question:

LaTroy Hawkins. He was selected the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994. 

That’s all for this time folks. Have a great day, and let’s hope the Twins keep going on the winning trail.

"Touch ’em All,"

John Gordon

Twins – Overcoming Injuries

We’re a month and a half into the season and I know a lot of Twins fans are shaking their heads about all the injuries. Imagine how Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire are feeling.  Rondell White, Luis Castillo, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer have all missed significant time already this season. Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau have had scary incidents that could have really crippled this team.

It’s no coincidence that the best Twins teams have been the healthiest Twins teams. With the exception of Harmon Killebrew’s elbow injury in 1965, the Twins have kept their best players healthy in their championship years. In 1987, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Kirby Puckett(Mt. Crushmore) all played more than 140 games. In 1991, Chili Davis, Dan Gladden, Brian Harper, Kent Hrbek, Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack and Kirby Puckett all had more than 440 at bats. Through both World Championship years the pitching staffs were remarkably healthy.

While injuries are a part of the game, avoiding them or recovering from them are critical to a team’s long-term success. Last year, the most impressive thing to me about the division title is that the Twins somehow found a way to recover from two potentially devastating injuries to two cornerstone members of the starting rotation.  When Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke had their seasons/careers forever altered with arm trouble, the team somehow persevered and won 96 games. That the team didn’t advance past the first round was due largely to the fact that the pitching depth wasn’t there. In retrospect, it would have been highly unlikely that the Twins would have had the depth in their starting rotation to survive three rounds of post-season play.

This year, the Twins have had an incredible number of injuries early in the season. As of now, the Twins are within striking distance of first place despite that. Twins fans should be encouraged that as Mauer and White return to the lineup, no other players will be taken out of it because of injury. Provided that happens, there’s no reason the Twins can’t get back into first place and make it to post-season play.

Hi Twins fans.  I don?t know about you, but I was quite satisfied with the Twins play in the first month of this 2007 season. The Twins were 14-11 and although they had their lapses, they still came out with a first-month winning record and now it is on to May. If the Twins can duplicate their April record in May and go into June 6 games over .500 I certainly will like their chances when the third month of the season rolls along. Now, here are my items for this week?s blog:

1. ?I?ll bet you didn?t know this about Jesse Crain.
2. A minor league update with some rather impressive performances from some of the Twins top minor league prospects.
3. And, our weekly Twins Quiz?.a question that may leave you scurrying to a Twins Media Guide to come up with the answer. 

Ok, here we go.

I?ll bet you didn?t know that Jesse Crain, Twins reliever, is a one heckuva of a ping pong player. Jesse grew up with a ping pong table in the basement of his house and he played ping pong during his growing up years. I asked Jesse if he ever played competitively and he said, ?no,? but that he would like to some day. Kiddingly ,he said that Forest Gump was his ?idol.? Jesse did say that he would like to play in a tournament some day, but for now it?s just a friendly game. There?s a ping pong table in the Cleveland clubhouse and Jesse is always ?game on,? with any challengers when the Twins visit Jacobs Field. Jesse says that Nick Punto offers the toughest competition, and he?s the only guy that has been able to get to 21 before Jesse. Jesse admits that Punto is a pretty good player. Jesse says his serve is just adequate, but that the key to his game is a strong forehand. Bring on the challengers says Jesse. I don?t know what would be more challenging… playing Jesse Crain in ping pong, or standing at home plate and facing Jesse?s 94 mile an hour fast ball. You make the call. 

Twins Minor League Update. The minor league teams fared well in the first month of the season. Rochester, the Twins AAA team in the International League, had the best record, while Beloit in the Class A Midwest League also sported a winning record. New Britain survived a number of rainouts and snowouts in the first two weeks of play and finished the month of April just under .500, while Fort Myers, in the Class A Florida State League, started strong but ended the month with a sub-500 record.

Perhaps the most impressive performance of the month was the pitching of RHP Jeff Manship at Beloit. He put up some rather amazing statistics. Manship, out of Notre Dame, dominated opponents in the Midwest League and was 2-0 in 5 starts. He gave up only 3 earned runs in 32 innings of pitching and struck out 36 while walking just 3!! Some month for the 22 year old righhander.

SS Trevor Plouffe had a very good start to the season at New Britain. The Twins number one pick in the 2004 draft (number 20 overall) hit .299 and held a .300 plus batting average most of the month.  Plouffe seems seems to be holding his own at the AA level. 

And 1B/OF Garrett Jones led the charge for the Rochester Red Wings. Selected as the Twins Minor League Player of the Month, Jones hit a strong .329 with 3 home runs and 16 runs batted in. 

RHP Kyle Waldrop was 3-0 at Fort Myers, 2B Nate Tolbert hit .370 for Rochester, and Beloit closer Robert Delaney had 5 saves for the Snappers with 19 strikeouts in 14-plus innings.  Some of the top performances of the Twins minor leaguers in the first month of play. 

This Week’s Twins Quiz: 

Over the years the Twins have had some outstanding minor league players who later on have made it to the big leagues and helped the Twins to 4 divsional championships in the last 5 years. Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer, and Lew Ford are all past winners of the Sherry Robertson Minor League Player of the year.  And, now all three are and have been major contributors to the Twins recent successes on the field. In 2002, the Twins separated the Robertson Award and started naming a Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The award is named after Twins Director of Minor Leagues Jim Rantz. But only once has a Minor League player won the award two years in arrow. Let?s see if you can name that player.  I?ll have the answer in the next blog.

Now here?s the answer to last week?s Twins Quiz…

Question:

Earlier this season, the Twins were off and running in a game vs Baltimore.  They stole 5 bases in the game. Was that a Twins record? And if it wasn?t what is the record for most stolen bases in a game for the Twins. I?ll have the answer when I write again.

Answer:

The Twins’ team single-game club record for stolen bases is 6 on September 9, 1992, against the Seattle Mariners. Incidentally, the Twins’ individual single-game record for stolen bases is 4 by Larry Hisle on June 30, 1976, against the Kansas City Royals.

That?s all for this week Twins fans. Let?s hope the Twins have a good homestand versus Boston, Chicago, and Detroit. 

?Touch ?em All,?

JG