Sano and Third Base

Missed on the prediction that Miguel Sano would start the season in Rochester. He will instead be in rehab.

While many fans are gnashing their teeth at the Twins medical staff for “once again failing to diagnose correctly”, I think that is an unfair characterization. According to at least one report, Sano got a second opinion that concurred on the recommendation to rest the elbow. As young as he is, the healing process often is done with rest.

Either way, he will be undergoing Tommy John surgery in the next couple of weeks and they will be on the long road of recovery – estimated to be about eight months. There seems to be some optimism on some fronts that he could DH toward the end of the minor league season then play in the Arizona Fall League or the Dominican winter league. That all remains to be seen.

The result for the Twins in 2014 is third base could be a major hole if Trevor Plouffe does not develop into the all-round player needed at that position. There are no real alternatives for anything other than stop-gap play unless the Twins trade for someone to fill the hole and give Plouffe some genuine competition, something he has not really had since being put at third base.

The more I think about the situation, the more I believe it is time to trade for an alternative. In fact, I would decide now to convert Sano to a first baseman so when he begins rehab he can begin to work on the position change. His elbow would not get near the stress in that position and his bat could get into the big league lineup quicker. How to juggle the Twins lineup and roster to make that happen can be discussed later, but I find it difficult to see how keeping Sano at third base does him or the Twins much good.

 

Standard Stories Surfacing

We are just a few days away from the beginning of spring training and already the typical “he’s in the best shape of his life” stories are beginning to show up in the media. (By media, I should hasten to say in this case I am using the term in the broadest possible sense – including bloggers, Twitter comments, etc.)

Some of the beat reporters are on the scene in Ft. Myers already, no doubt settling in to their temporary living quarters and starting to scope out which players, coaches and family members have arrived already. That inevitably leads to sightings of players who have put in some extra work and conditioning in the off-season and as a result become subjects of the common stories.

Those of us who are fans who follow the team closely during the off-season welcome any stories that  help us get a feel for what the coming season will bring. For example, hearing today that Vance Worley has lost 25 lbs is an intriguing bit of news that will be worth following as he battles for the 5th rotation spot or even a position in the bullpen. Will the weight loss improve his strength and help his accuracy or will it diminish his velocity making his pitches even more inviting to major league hitters. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does.

Apparently, Trevor Plouffe has also arrived early and is reportedly bulked up a little in hopes of improving his power. And, some of the younger players, not surprisingly have also added some weight during the off-season.

So, the count down to Monday’s first workouts for the pitchers and catchers continues.

Terry Ryan News

I’ve been eagerly waiting for any news from the Twins, anticipating more changes to the roster, but today the news from Twins’ headquarters is not good.

I hope Terry Ryan and his medical team will be successful at getting rid of the cancer. From the brief reports in the media today, there appears to be optimism that he caught it early enough and the treatments will be effective.

Best wishes to him and his family.

Coaches for 2014

The Twins’ coaching staff for 2014 is the same as last year with one exception. Last fall Paul Molitor was added as a major league coach, and according to the current listing of coaches on the Twins’ MLB.com site, his title is simply “Coach”. My recollection of the announcement back then is not very clear, but I do remember one responsibility as “in game adviser”. At the time I was wondering if he was being groomed to step in if Gardenhire is let go, but that is such an unlikely scenario it must be he is now ready for the full responsibility of a season. In the past, he was quoted as saying he wanted time with family and that kept him in a more part time status.

No matter what the motivation for this addition, it will be interesting to see what impact he has on the team throughout the season.

Writers I Follow 2014

Yesterday I mentioned appreciating the local sports reporters for what they do. Today I’ve decided to create a listing of the Twins beat reporters and others I follow for Twins news and discussion. I’m doing this mostly for my own benefit – long term. I think it will be interesting to be able to look back a few years from now and see a snapshot of the media I followed in 2014.

The two most prominent media in the Twin Cities area are the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Both have dedicated beat writers as well as others who regularly comment on local sports, including the Twins, especially in season.

Here is a listing of those I read regularly online:

Star-Tribune

  • LaVelle E. Neal, III
  • Phil Miller
  • Twins Centric
  • Howard Sinker

Pioneer Press

  • Mike Berardino

MLB.com

  • Rhett Bollinger

1500 ESPN Radio

  • Brandon Warne (beat writer in 2013, calls himself a “media free agent” now)

Fox Sports North

  • Tyler Mason

Local Bloggers

  • Twins Daily (Website that hosts Twins bloggers, led by four who merged their own sites to create it)
    • John Bonnes
    • Parker Hageman
    • Nick Nelson
    • Seth Stohs
  • Aaron Gleeman

Others I follow on Twitter who occasionally write about the Twins:

  • Phil Mackey 1500 ESPN radio
  • Patrick Reusse 1500 ESPN radio (also writes for Star-Tribune)
  • Jim Souhan Star-Tribune
  • Jon Krawczynski AP writer
  • Judd Zulgad 1500 ESPN radio
  • Ben Collin That’s Twins Baseball blog
  • Lindsay Guenzel KTWIN radio

Out-of-state Twins bloggers (whose blogs are in my links section)

  • Cody Christie (North Dakota) North Dakota Twins Fan
  • Jim Crikket (Iowa) Knuckleballs
  • Andrew Walter (Connecticut) Twins Fan From Afar

Shortage of Baseball News

This time of year can be frustrating for baseball fans. For us the season begins the first day pitchers and catchers take the field. In spite of that being just a dozen days away, there is not much real baseball news lately.

Local media have been posting new stories with less frequency than an eager fan is ready to read. And, those stories are mostly on topics that are essentially player profiles and feel good perspectives. I will hasten to say, I appreciate all of the sports writers no matter what they produce. Many of the recent stories are interesting for giving us some insights into what players are thinking and what goes on in the clubhouse. And, it is not the press’ fault there is very little hard news to report.

My guess is everyone – fans, sports writers, players – would love to see a little more action on the roster building front, but that requires more than one individual to get done. Whether Terry Ryan wants to add players or effect trades or not, there needs to be at least one other agreeable party. Right now with so little going on in all major league baseball, it is clear there is still some sort of log-jam that is holding up a sequence of signings. There are too many quality free agents still available for me to believe the action is done.

I thought it was the international pitchers holding up the market, but that does not now seem to be the case with the Yankees signing of the primary target and little else happening subsequently.

What else is going on? Right now, I’m baffled.

Maybe the rumors of some hitters being close to signing will break things open. There is, after all, not much time left before spring training begins. One would think it would be best to have all players in camp from the beginning rather than joining late and having to fit in to a network already established.

I am still of the opinion the Twins need to make some more moves to strengthen the regular lineup as well as maybe one more starting pitcher to compete for a spot.

And so, we wait. Impatiently.

Quiet January

The Twins made very few moves this past month. That is a little surprising to me because we keep hearing about not being done yet with the roster make over.

I doubt if anyone would consider the signing of Matt Guerrier to a minor league deal and granting Andrew Albers his unconditional release so he can sign with a South Korean team for 2014 as significant action. Yet those are the “big” moves of the month.

There were some other transactions made by the Twins, so I’ll report them all. They issued invitations to several non-roster players to spring training and they signed second baseman Eric Farris and pitcher Daniel Turpin to minor league contracts. Nothing earth shattering.

Now the big question is, with less than two weeks to catchers and pitchers reporting, will the Twins sign any more free agents, manage any trades, or make other roster adjustments before spring training opens.

I’ll be disappointed if they do not, because as currently constituted, the Twins are not a winning team. At best they are a fourth place in the division team again. A few more wins will not suffice to keep fans engaged unless they move up in the standings and are genuinely competitive in the middle to late season.

Here’s hoping for some action in the next ten days.

2014 Relief Pitchers

In this last segment of my five-part review of the Twins’ roster, I look at the bullpen. Last year it was the strength of the Twins. Going into spring training it looks like it will again be the strength with competition keen and enough quality pitchers to consider trading one or two to fill other needs before the season begins.

Glen Perkins is the leader of the pen. He has established himself as an effective closer and will continue in that role again in 2014.

Jared Burton has performed well the last couple of years even if wearing down by late season each year, and if he remains healthy, he will again be one of the set-up men.

Brian Duensing was less consistent last year, but still was effect in key spots. His salary, now over a million dollars, probably dictates that he will be on the roster opening day, but he may be used as trade bait.

Anthony Swarzak has established himself as a reliable long relief man, a position that can be important to help save the rest of the bullpen. At times he has been a spot starter, and if the circumstances are right, he could serve in that role again. He also may be a valuable piece in a trade, but I expect him to be the long man with the Twins when the season begins.

Casey Fien has also established himself as a valuable late inning reliever, so if he is not in a trade package, he will be a fixture again this year.

Ryan Pressly, Caleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin were all in the bullpen the last month of the 2013 season and they will again be competing for a spot, but will have some other competition as well. Two other members of the 40-man roster, Kris Johnson and Edgar Ibarra, will make strong cases to be included when the team goes north to open the season. One other note on Pressly, who was a Rule V pick last year and therefore had to be on the active roster all year, may see a role shift. Although the Twins’ management have not said much about it, he might find himself at New Britain or Rochester in the starting rotation in hopes he would develop into a viable major league starter. The clue as to whether or not this is in the offing will be if he is stretched out during spring training.

Matt Guerrier, recently signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, is recovering from elbow surgery, but if he is healthy, he also could be a strong contender.

And, finally, one or more losers of the rotation competition may end up in the bullpen so as not to lose them completely.

Unless something goes greatly awry this year, the relief corps should be solid again. If they are not overworked, they should help the Twins win more games this year.

2014 Starting Pitchers

Review of the field positions was relatively easy compared to uncertainty of the pitching staff. In the last few years of 90-plus losses, the starting pitching has been a primary problem. While moves this off-season have improved the prospects for better results on the mound this year, there is still plenty of room for concern.

Three key acquisitions through free agency are, at this point anyway, what gives some reason for optimism. One hopes the starters will be consistent enough not to completely wear out the bullpen as was the case the past couple of years. Ricky Nolasco is probably the number one starter going into spring and Phil Hughes is my number two. Both should be capable of putting up innings and keeping the team in the ballgame regularly. The third free agent signing was actually a re-signing of Mike Pelfrey, who was with the Twins last year. I list him as my number three starter over Kevin Correia because Pelfrey had a decent year last year in spite of coming off TJ surgery the year before. One more year out and he should be better yet this year.

Number four is Kevin Correia, who surprised many of us fans last year and pitched fairly well, at least in the context of the other starters. He is not overpowering but last year was pretty consistent at getting to the sixth inning or later with the game still winnable. If he does that again in the fourth starter slot, he will be a solid member of the rotation. He is in the second year of a two year contract this year, so if he falters, he is unlikely to be on the roster after June.

Several pitchers will be vying for the fifth starter slot including some who have had some success in the Twins’ rotation in the past. When he has been healthy and not completely wild, Sam Deduno has been very good. In the rotation last year, he was arguably the best of the bunch. Because he had surgery over the winter, he may not be ready to really compete the first day of spring. In fact, he may not enough time to get fully ready for opening day. If he is healthy, he will need to be on the active roster to avoid losing him since he has no more options.

Scott Diamond is another contender who is coming off a down year after being quite effective in 2012. If he is able to bounce back this year, he would be the only left-hander in the rotation (assuming the first four remain as I’ve predicted above). Diamond is another player without options, so his chances of making the roster as a starter or reliever are slightly better than someone who has options.

Although his major league debut year last year was anything but stellar, Kyle Gibson is still considered a major prospect with number one or two starter potential. If he is healthy and does well this spring, he may break camp as the fifth starter, but I expect him to begin again in Rochester and establish himself before being called up when another pitcher falters or is injured.

Vance Worley probably needs to at least be mentioned as a possible number five, but he is a long shot at this point. He might end up in the bullpen if the Twins want to keep him, but my guess is he will not make the team and will be subjected to the waiver process because he is out of options.

Logan Darnell and Trevor May are the two other starters on the 40-man who are not on the active roster. Though they have a slim chance of being the fifth starter, I expect them to be at Rochester or New Britain when the season opens.

Alex Meyer, the Twins’ top pitching prospect, is being talked about as being close to ready after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he would be making the jump from AA to the majors if he found himself in the rotation. I hope and expect he’ll get the opportunity to prove himself at AAA Rochester first. Maybe by mid-season depending on other circumstances, he will get the call up.

If I had to pick the rotation now, the first four are set and Scott Diamond would be my pick for number five with Deduno opening on the DL and Worley either released or stashed in the bullpen. Much can happen in the next couple of months, so I do not necessarily expect this prediction to hold.

2014 Catchers

The Twins have four catchers on the 40-man roster and all four are on the “active” roster.

During the off-season, Kurt Suzuki was signed as a free agent to strengthen the position after Joe Mauer was moved to first base. As of now, Suzuki appears to be the starting catcher.

That leaves Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer to compete for the backup position.

Pinto is almost certainly being groomed to be the starter of the future, but he needs some more seasoning defensively especially. My prediction is he will start the season in Rochester where he can play more regularly and gain the experience he needs in calling games, etc. His bat is promising and if he develops quickly, he could be on the major league club by May or June, depending on how well Suzuki responds to being the number one catcher again.

If I am right about Pinto, Herrmann and Fryer will battle it out for backing up Suzuki. Neither one has what it takes to be a starter on a regular basis, but both are adequate for spot duty. Fryer appears to be the better defensively and that may give him the edge for opening day, but Herrmann is more versatile in that he can play in the outfield. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the favorite this spring.