Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Good morning! Before I get to today's main feature, I wanted to comment on just a couple of topics real quickly. Yesterday, I commented briefly on who I thought the Twins would use in Grant Balfour's roster spot. I also mentioned that I thought that Jesse Crain may start the season at Rochester. I said that I would select CJ Nitkowski and Willie Eyre for those two spots. Both would need to be added to the 40 man roster, meaning two players would need to be removed from the 40 man roster. Thank you to everyone who pointed out that the Twins will put Jason Kubel on the 60 Day Disabled List meaning that they will be able to replace him on the 40 man roster without losing another player.
Also, I mentioned some about the Minnesota State High School tournament, but I forgot to mention THE SHOT that you have probably seen, no matter where you are in the country. I know I saw it while watching the Timberwolves/Rockets game on ESPN on Sunday night. If you haven't seen it, you really need to check it out here!
Lets get started. Please feel free to e-mail me to just say hi or if you have any questions or comments.
ROCKCATS WITH BATS
Those of you who have been to this site since last summer know that each day during the minor league season I wrote up brief updates of what happened with each of the Twins affiliates. Throughout the season, three names popped up on nearly a daily basis. Garrett Jones, Luis Maza and Kevin West all had wonderful seasons, and most of their seasons were spent at Class AA New Britain. Maza hit second, Jones hit third and West hit fourth.
But when further researching these three ballplayers, we find that they have a lot in common. They all had real breakout seasons in 2004. I was actually surprised to see from how out-of-nowhere these three really came last year. So let's take a quick look at each.
Jones was selected in the 14th round of the 1999 draft out of an Andrew, Illinois, high school by the Atlanta Braves. He spent the rest of that summer with a Braves short-season rookie league team.
And then he spent 2000 at short-season rookie league.
And he spent 2001 at short-season rookie league.
And then the Braves let him go, released him.
The Twins signed him and he spent the 2002 season with Low-A Quad Cities. In 63 games with the Swing, he hit .202/.238/.372 with eight doubles, 10 homers and 32 RBI. He walked just 11 times and struck out 82 times. He moved up to High-A Ft. Myers in 2003. In 117 games, he hit .220/.280/.408 with 12 doubles, five triples, 18 homers and 67 RBI. He walked 32 times and struck out 98 times.
And then came last year. He started the season at Ft. Myers again, and you would think that he was called up to AA because of his performance. I don't think that is the case. In 19 games with the Miracle, he was hitting just .242/.286/.364 with five doubles, one homer and six RBI. He had walked four times and struck out 19 times.
What happened next is really almost unfathomable, based on his five previous seasons. After his call-up to AA New Britain, Jones became a monster. He hit .311/.356/.593 with 33 doubles, 30 homers and 92 RBI. He even stole ten bases. He walked just 28 times and still struck out 98 times, but that is acceptable when you put up those kinds of numbers!
So where did it come from? I wish I could answer that! I bet Jones wishes he could answer that! Jones is a big man (6-4, 205). He is still just 23 years old. Obviously the potential has been there, just without the results. Whatever it was, Jones took advantage. Following the season, the Twins put him on their 40 man roster because they would have lost him if they wouldn't have. He spent just a few weeks with the Twins in spring training, but showed the team a lot. Some even said that he might have the "most power in the organization." Until I see him do some of the things that Justin Morneau has done, I will be happy to say that Jones is the second most powerful hitter in the Twins organization!
He will likely spend the 2005 season at AAA Rochester and if he continues to perform and there is an injury in Minnesota to Morneau (let's hope not!), Jones could be recalled.
Maza was signed by the Twins as a free agent in 1997 out of Venezuela. He stayed in the country and played for the Twins academy there for a couple of summers. The Twins were very patient with him, keeping him in rookie ball through the 2000 season. Even in the rookie leagues, he was not much of a hitter.
In 2001, Maza played in 116 games at Quad Cities. He hit .280/.357/.403 with 24 doubles, nine homers and 46 RBI. He was also hit-by-pitch 23 times. He moved up to Ft. Myers in 2002 where he played in 105 games. He hit just .241/.302/.337 with 15 doubles, four homers and 38 RBI. And he was hit 13 times. He repeated at Ft. Myers in 2003 and played in 111 games. He improved to .290/.368/.400 with 18 doubles, six triples, five homers and 61 RBI. Good numbers, but certainly far from top prospect levels.
However, it was now time for Maza to show if he could do something, so last year, he moved up to New Britain. And another breakout season happened. Things actually started well in spring training when he went 3-5 with a home (and an HBP) for the Twins big league club. Maza played in 126 games and hit .311/.365/.470 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 12 homers and 66 RBI. And yes, he was hit another 15 times.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Maza is his defense. At one point last year, he went over 75 games without committing an error at 2B. He moved up to Rochester for nine games and had one error. In that brief stint, he hit .229/.289/.343 with two doubles, a triple and (you got it) two HBP.
Maza was a non-roster invitee to Twins training camp again this spring. Interestingly, he played most of the time at SS. I would think that the 24 year old Maza will spend 2004 at Rochester. He is one of few legit middle infield prospects in the Twins organization. But I don't know if he will play 2B or SS. Luis Rodriguez will likely play somewhere. Brent Abernathy and Andy Fox could both play in Rochester. I would certainly hope that Rodriguez and Maza would not be held back by the likes of Abernathy, Fox or Augie Ojeda.
25 year old Kevin West had been a decent power hitter since the Twins drafted him in the 16th round of the 1999 draft. The San Jose, CA, native was drafted out of Menducino Junior College.
West is a powerful 6-2, 195 pound right-handed hitter. He spent 1999 with Elizabethton. He then spent two years at Quad Cities. Then in 2002, West moved up to Ft. Myers where he played 129 games. He hit .275/.351/.430 with 25 doubles, 12 homers and 64 RBI. He walked 46 times and struck out 96 times. In 2003, he moved up to New Britain where in 136 games, he hit .279/.317/.451 with 41 doubles, 14 homers and 79 RBI. He walked just 27 times and struck out 110 times. That could have been a breakout season of sorts, I guess.
But in 2004, West played in 119 games at New Britain and improved to .293/.359/.551 with 35 doubles, 25 homers and 87 RBI. He struck out 41 times and walked 98 times. His strong played meant a promotion to AAA Rochester where he played in 19 more games primarily as a DH. Not only did he play, but he contributed while hitting right in the middle of the Redwings lineup. He hit .276/.296/.526 with seven doubles, four homers and 20 RBI. He walked just three times and struck out 19 times.
We have heard that West is not a swift-moving outfielder, so his future with the Twins would likely be as a DH or 5th outfielder. I feared that when the Twins left him off of the 40 man roster that he was going to be lost in the Rule V draft. Why? Because I think that he has the power to contribute to a big league club now. However, a couple of weeks ago, I e-mailed the Star-Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal and asked him about West. He told me that West was in minor league camp and in the best shape of his life. The concern with West is his ability to hit a big-league curveball. I can see where the concern would come from, based on his strikeout totals.
West will start the 2005 season with the Redwings in Rochester. Likely, he will spend some time in the outfield alongside Jason Tyner and Josh Rabe, but I would also expect that he will see plenty of time as the Designated Hitter. If he is able to put the ball in play more consistently and show the Twins brass that he can hit a curveball, he could help the Twins later in the season.
Three players who had all been slowly working their way through the Twins minor league system for a few years. Three players who hadn't really distinguished themselves as potential contributors to the Twins. Three players who likely started the 2004 season in New Britain in what could have been their last opportunities. Three remarkable seasons that each will hope to build on in 2005.
Everyone has heard of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jesse Crain and JD Durbin. Jason Kubel and Scott Baker moved swiftly through the Twins system last year. But it is important to remember that there are a lot of players in an organization, guys who have worked really hard to just move up a level a year. There are guys like Luis Rodriguez who has been productive the last two seasons at Rochester without even being given a real shot at a spot with the Twins. And then there are guys like Garrett Jones, Luis Maza and Kevin West. They had put in their time. And when each had a great 2004 season, they put their names on the Twins map. Each is now considered a possible future big leaguers. And these guys sometimes deserve to be noticed as much as the big leaguers whose realized dreams all of these guys are chasing as well.
Yesterday, the Twins played the Philadelphia Phillies. Scott Baker got the start and because of frequent rains, he went just three innings. He allowed five hits and gave up two runs, but one was unearned because of a Torii Hunter error. JC Romero pitched a perfect inning. David Gassner pitched two scoreless innings, but allowed a hit and walked two. Jesse Crain pitched two strong innings which is good to see! Beau Kemp pitched the ninth and got the Save. By the way, in the top of the 8th, Crain batted for himself and drove in the game-winning run.
Crain was selected by the Twins as a relief pitcher from the University of Houston where he was a dominant closer. But did you know that he was also the team's starting shortstop. His final (junior) season, he hit .310/.357/.488 with 13 doubles, 11 homers and 47 RBI. In other words, he probably could have played professionally as a shortstop, but I think that relief pitching decision was good for both he and the Twins. Although I would prefer the Twins use Crain as a backup shortstop than Juan Castro!
Interestingly Johan Santana stayed back in Ft. Myers and pitched for the Twins AAA team against the Red Sox AAA team. He went 5 innings. After the game, he bought 80 pizzas, enough for the entire Twins minor league camp. I guess he can afford it, but it is still a very nice thing to have done. Pat Neshek, on his website discusses major leaguers staying with the minor league camp rather than traveling distances, "I was talking to JD Durbin for a couple seconds and he said if the big leaguers didn't want to go on an away trip like the one today to Clearwater, they could pay a fine of $100 bucks and get to stay in Ft. Myers and play in a minor league game."
It is looking more and more like Jason Bartlett will be the Twins opening day shortstop (I think I mention it every day, but this makes me so happy), unless he breaks down over the next week. But if you read the comments from Gardy now, compared to things he said about Bartlett earlier in the spring, they are quite different. He used to say things like, "he needs to make plays" and basically they were saying that although they would take a big look at him, he would start the season in Rochester. He has played so well (hitting .394 this spring and just one error in 14 games). Now Gardy is saying things like, "I was a rookie shortstop. You have to be a rookie sometime or another. So I don't have any qualms" and If they let me open at shortstop, anybody can open at shortstop." For Twins things, this is a very good thing!
The second part of The Twins Geek Interview with Jim Rantz is incredible. He discusses many of the Twins top prospects and where many of the Twins pitchers will start the season.
Excellent LaVelle E. Neal article on Scott Baker today. Again, I love reading Gardy's comments like, "What's there not to like? He's a strong young man. He changes speeds very well. He locates the fastball and the breaking ball. He moves it in and out; he just doesn't flip it up there. He has a good angle. He knows how to pitch at a very young age, and that is impressive." I find it interesting, to compare the Twins current pitching staff to a possible future staff. Baker compares favorably to Brad Radke because of his control and composure, just with more pitches. Francisco Liriano compares to Johan Santana in more than just being left-handed. They both throw hard, but have three pitches, including a great changeup. JD Durbin seems, right now, to compare to Joe Mays. Clearly he has some great stuff, but might have a slight case of being a head case. That probably isn't fair to say without knowing either, but it is just a perception.
According to the Pioneer Press's Gordon Wittenmeyer, Michael Cuddyer is being overlooked and taken for granted this spring, and he's happy about it!
CJ Nitkowski has thrown 9 shutout innings this spring. Will he make the Twins opening day roster? He certainly has earned it so far!
Seriously, you need to check out Bat-girl's site for some incredible pictures!!!
Any thoughts on the Twins? Please e-mail me.
Former Twins pitcher Tony Fiore was assigned to minor league camp by the Baltimore Orioles. Here are how former Twins did this weekend:
Quinton McCracken, ARI, CF, 1-3, BB, K
AJ Pierzynski, CHW, C, 1-3
Todd Walker, CHC, 2B, 1-3, 2B
Henry Blanco, CHC, C, 1-2, R, RBI
Denny Hocking, KCR, 3B, 0-0
LaTroy Hawkins, CHC, RP, 1 IP, 1 K
Damien Miller, MIL, C, 1-3, BB
Corey Koskie, TOR, DH, 0-0 (Koskie was supposed to play but because of rain, they didn't play him)
Greg Myers, TOR, C, 0-3
Cristian Guzman, WAS, SS, 2-4, K
David Ortiz, BOS, 1B, 2-3, R
David McCarty, BOS, LF, 0-4
Casey Blake, CLE, LF, 0-2, R, 2 BB
Jose Offerman, PHI, 1B, 1-3, BB, RBI
Another school shooting incident. You just hate to see it. And this one is literally two hours south of where I live, maybe a little less. The gunman reportedly shot his grandparents before shooting seven people at school and finally, after exchanging shots with police officers, shot himself. I am going to guess that we will hear the question "Why?" on the news a lot regarding this story!
Former American Idol winner Ruben Studdard is being sued for $500,000 by his former agent, who is also his godfather.
This Terry Schiavo case is really interesting. I mean, as an individual situation, it is a very sad story. But the story that it has become is nothing but ugly. He name and face have been on the news too much. And really, as much as the Republican Party is saying that their speedy intervention and bill signing isn't political, it clearly is. Many may have a problem with that. I guess I don't. I wrote a paper in college about Euthanasia and it is a really difficult topic. I am sure there are opinions across the board as to what should be done, and what role government should have in it. Any thoughts?
As someone who works a 40 hour week, I was rather interested in reading about France's 35 hour work week. They went to that number because unemployment numbers were so high. The stated goal was to then encourage more people to be hired to ensure all work is done. However, that is not what has happened and unemployment is still high. I do like the idea of 35 hour work weeks though; seven hour days instead of eight! Of course, I would need that to be done with me still making as much money. But then again, if I'm being like that, we might as well also go to mandatory one month vacations and more benefits too, right?
And with that, thank you again very much for stopping by my site. I hope you enjoy what you read, but if you have any questions or comments on anything, please feel free to e-mail me. Have a great week!
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