Thursday, July 28, 2005
Twins Minor League Report
Q&A with Jim Mandelaro
Good morning everyone! I will be out of town, in the cities, for a wedding the rest of the week, and probably into Monday. So there will be no new posting tomorrow (Friday), but there may be one on Monday if I have the time to write something up. So please check back. The Twins play this afternoon against the Yankees before heading to Boston for the weekend. Should be some good baseball.
Thursday morning quick update - A couple of quick notes. Be sure to check out John Sickels site today. He takes a look at his Top 20 Twins prospects to see how they are doing. Good stuff! The Twins and Johan Santana beat the Yankees last night 7-3. Joe Nathan picked up his 28th Save. Justin Morneau hit a home run in the 9th after Jacque Jones hit a two-run shot earlier. Rough night for the Twins minor league affiliates as they went 0-5.
But today, I am thrilled to be able to introduce Jim Mandelaro to the SethSpeaks audience. Jim writes for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. That is Rochester, New York, as in the home of the Twins AAA affiliate. Jim was kind enough to take the time to answer a bunch of questions that I had for him. I have some questions about him and his career, the Red Wings organization and many of its players. I think it is very fun and interesting and hope you will enjoy it. So, let's just get started. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me. If you have questions for Mr. Mandelaro, I will be sure to forward them to him. Have a great weekend!
SethSpeaks: How long have you been at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle?
Jim Mandelaro: I started at the D&C part-time in 1982 while still in college. I switched over to the afternoon paper in town, the Times-Union, in 1986 (both were owned by Gannett) and worked there until the papers merged in 1992. The T-U went out of business a few years later.
SethSpeaks: What is your position there?
Jim Mandelaro: I am a sportswriter and sometimes columnist.
SethSpeaks: Do you cover other sports and teams aside from the Red Wings?
Jim Mandelaro: I cover Syracuse University football and area college sports.
SethSpeaks: What is your background in journalism and how did that transfer into your current position?
Jim Mandelaro: I majored in journalism at St. John Fisher College here in Rochester and worked part-time in the Democrat and Chronicle sports department from 1982-86, doing everything from answering phones to writing high school roundups.
SethSpeaks: What is your background in baseball? Did you play ball growing up?
Jim Mandelaro: I played from Little League through high school. I was a pitcher early on, then a first baseman and finally a left fielder. I was pretty darn good for awhile, too.
SethSpeaks: Who were your favorite ball players growing up?
Jim Mandelaro: My favorite player of all time was Catfish Hunter. I was a huge Oakland A's fan and cried when he signed with the hated Yankees. My other favorite player was Fred Lynn, a great lefty hitter like myself :-)
SethSpeaks: Were there any writers that influenced you?
Jim Mandelaro: I loved Dick Young's take-no-prisoners style, and I also was a fan of Roger Angell, who wrote beautiful prose about baseball.
SethSpeaks: What is your typical routine on a game day? Do you travel with the team?
Jim Mandelaro: I do not travel with the team, but I do cover games in nearby Buffalo and Syracuse (about 70 miles each way on the New York State Thruway) in addition to the 72 home games here in Rochester. I typically arrive at the ballpark a few hours before game time and begin work on a nightly notebook, focusing on player moves and trends and quirky anecdotes from the clubhouse.
SethSpeaks: Do you ever take the time to read sports blogs on the Twins or other topics? If so, what are some of the better ones?
Jim Mandelaro: I read LaVelle Neal and Joe Christensen from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune all the time. Those guys have got it going. I don't read many blogs, but I'll start reading yours! (Seth Note - WOO HOO! I mean... ahem, Thank you!)
SethSpeaks: How do you draw the line between friendships with players and coaches and a professional relationship with them?
Jim Mandelaro: I've only had lunch with one player in my life. I try to be very friendly without being friends. One exception was former Red Wings manager Marv Foley, who is now the manager at Triple-A Colorado Springs. I had dinner with Marv and his family at their house in Sarasota, Fla., during spring training.
SethSpeaks: Rich Miller has done a great job in the place of manager Phil Roof this season. Both have been in the Twins organization for many years. Can you describe both managers and as people?
Jim Mandelaro: Both are baseball veterans who know the game inside out. Phil is the kindest man I have ever met, in or out of baseball. He is extremely likeable and modest. Rich is more of a Type-A personality but is also easy to get along with. He stepped into a difficult situation but has done a very good job.
SethSpeaks: Three seasons ago, the Rochester Red Wings dropped their affiliation with the Baltimore Orioles and took on the Twins. What was that transition like for Rochester fans?
Jim Mandelaro: This was a very hard decision for Red Wings executives. The Orioles had been here for 42 seasons, the longest marriage between a big-league club and its Triple-A affiliate in history. There were many good times, but the Orioles proved over and over that they were not serious about putting a winning product on the field. The change to the Twins was strange, but the Twins executive are so knowledgeable and so nice that it made the switch very easy. They have brought respectable baseball back to Rochester.
SethSpeaks: The Twins have had a lot of prospects and role players come through Rochester in the past two or three seasons. I've always wondered how tough it is to be a minor league fan, knowing that the better players may not be around for very long.
Jim Mandelaro: The bad part about being a fan of a minor-league team is that your favorite players won't be here for more than 2-3 seasons. The good news is that you can brag to your friends that you knew these players way back when, before they were famous.
SethSpeaks: Every team seems to have a prankster. Who would that person be with the current Red Wings team? Any good stories that you would care to (and be able to) share with us?
Jim Mandelaro: I would say that J.D. Durbin is by far the most gregarious player on the team. He'll be working out on the treadmill in the trainer's room, and when he sees me he'll start yelling "Get out! Get out!" And then he'll flash me a big "I'm just kidding" grin.
SethSpeaks: OK, on to some questions about some of the current Red Wings, or at least guys who have spent time in Rochester in the last season or so.
I am always curious about a guy like Chris Heintz. He is an older player and certainly not a 'prospect', but he always hits and he hits well. This year he has even played some 3B after primarily being a catcher. He does all the little things. It says a lot about him as a person. What type of player is Chris Heintz and could he be a big leaguer?
Jim Mandelaro: I would love to see Chris take that final step to the big leagues. He is a gritty player and an underrated hitter. I think he would make a very good coach or manager. I don't know if he would ever be a big-league star, but he could definitely be a backup catcher for a lot of teams.
SethSpeaks: The pitching staff at Rochester is impressive. We have already seen David Gassner and Scott Baker succeed with the Twins, but could you say a few words about the Rochester starters?
Scott Baker - He is sneaky fast and quietly overpowering. When he's on, he is among the best pitchers in the International League.
David Gassner - Dave has an amazing year in 2004 but has struggled this season. I don't know if hitters are catching up to him or what. I know he is missing his spots lately. He is a very smart left-handed pitcher who makes up for his lack of an overpowering fastball with some great breaking pitches.
JD Durbin - He was having a disappointing season even before his latest arm injury. It's far too early to give up on him. I think J.D. sometimes throws more than he pitches.
Boof Bonser - I like his stuff, but he gives up too many homers (18 as of this writing). He could probably use another year of seasoning at Triple-A but he has potential.
SethSpeaks: I'm going to leave a question on its own about Francisco Liriano. He has only been in Rochester a short time, but I think he is the Twins best starter. That sentiment seems to come from people everywhere. Tell us a little more about Liriano, and how good can he be?
Jim Mandelaro: I agree with the consensus. Liriano can be very good. He often has been called a younger Johan Santana, and now I see why. He throws a fastball in the mid-90s and yet his slider and change often are his best pitches. He has a very athletic build and seems to have shaken off the arm strain that plagued him a few years ago. I think the sky is the limit for him.
SethSpeaks: Likewise, there has been a lot of talk of late about bringing up Red Wings closer Travis Bowyer to the Twins. We know he throws very hard. Do you think he's ready? What can you tell Twins fans about him?
Jim Mandelaro: I don't think he's quite ready, but he is a joy to watch. Travis has added about 8 mph to his fastball since high school. He has hit 99 mph and simply overpowers hitters at this level. But he'll need to develop another pitch if he is to succeed in the majors.
SethSpeaks: As I said earlier, there have been many transactions between Rochester and the Twins. I guess I'm curious what you see in a player when they are sent down. Let me use a few examples to maybe better ask this question:
When Jason Bartlett was sent down earlier this season, we heard it was to regain his confidence at the plate and continue to work on his defense. How was he mentally in the days following the demotion and how is he progressing?
Jim Mandelaro: I think he was a little depressed, which is understandable, and it showed in his batting average. He finally snapped out of it and has been one of Rochester's best hitters of late. (Seth Note - Through Wednesday's game, Bartlett is hitting .327/.401/.463 in Rochester.)
SethSpeaks: When Terry Tiffee was last sent down, he was in a horrible slump and that continued in a 4-40 stretch to start at Rochester. I think that his struggles had to be mental. But he figured things out and certainly deserved his promotion back to the Twins this weekend.
Jim Mandelaro: Tiffee has had a difficult season. He's been like a human yo-yo, with four separate callups to Minnesota. He was horrible during that slump with Rochester but finally broke out of it. This is a big period for him, because the Twins are looking for someone - anyone - to take control at third base.
SethSpeaks: Now, Michael Ryan was sent back down over the weekend when Baker was called up. Ron Gardenhire said that he did not deserve to be sent down. How does he handle the demotion, knowing there is a good chance he could return to the Twins in 10 days or so.
Jim Mandelaro: Michael has always suffered from a lack of confidence, but I'm hoping his success in Minnesota will help him get through this little setback. It will be interesting to see if the Twins recall him in 10 days or stay with Tiffee. I suppose Tiffee will have a lot to say about that.
SethSpeaks: Garrett Jones certainly has a lot of power, but he clearly is not ready for the big leagues. What is he missing at this point (besides the baseball with all those strikeouts)?
Jim Mandelaro: Garrett simply strikes out too much. When he hits one, as he did with Tuesday's grand slam against Durham, the ball is gone in a second. He has Morneau power. He likely will return for a second season at Triple-A next year, and that's a good thing for him and for Red Wings fans. He's an exciting player.
SethSpeaks: When a guy gets called up, it has to be such a thrill. Have you witnessed when guys have been told they are moving up to the Twins?
Jim Mandelaro: I haven't personally witnessed it, but I have heard stories. Glenn Williams cried when he learned he was going up after 12 minor-league seasons.
SethSpeaks: Luis Rodriguez was at Rochester the last two seasons and again to start this season. He has come up and been great with the Twins. Does that surprise you? What type of person is he?
Jim Mandelaro: Luis is a nice but shy person. I am happy for his success because he is a very hard worker. He's the kind of utility player that would make any manager proud.
SethSpeaks: Is Josh Rabe going to be able to play again this season?
Jim Mandelaro: Rabe returned to the lineup tonight (July 26) after missing nearly a month with plantar fasciitis (inflammation of his foot). He took over for Michael Ryan after Ryan was ejected in the seventh inning. Rabe hit a double off the wall in left in his first at-bat, missing a homer by a foot. He says he feels fine.
SethSpeaks: How important are guys like Augie Ojeda, Jason Tyner and Todd Dunwoody to a minor league roster?
Jim Mandelaro: Augie is a defensive whiz who can play second, short or third. Tyner is a table setter who just churns out hits. And Dunwoody is the clubhouse leader, a nice guy who has enjoyed the highs and endured the lows of pro baseball. He's a good man.
SethSpeaks: Are there any other stories that you would like to share with Twins fans about any of the players or coaches?
Jim Mandelaro: This group of players has been a joy to work with. They are professional and are always cooperative with the media. The same goes for the coaches. It's just a very classy organization, from top to bottom.
Seth Speaks: Would you like to single out any players as really special players or special people?
Jim Mandelaro: Phil Roof. He is going through a terrible time now, with his wife battling cancer. Phil is humble, mild-manner, soft-spoken, dedicated and filled with 1,001 baseball stories. I really miss him.
SethSpeaks: What are a few things that you would like Twins fans to know about yourself, the Red Wings or anything?
Jim Mandelaro: It's been eight years since the Red Wings have made the playoffs. This group of players wants it, and the fans want it. August is going to be an interesting month.
There you have it! Thank you very much to Jim Mandelaro for taking the time to answer my questions. I certainly found it very interesting and learned a lot. Be sure to check out Jim's writing throughout the year at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
If you have any thoughts, please e-mail me. and if you'd like, I will forward any questions to Mr. Mandelaro.
TWINS MINOR LEAGUE REPORTS
The minor league reports are going to be put on hold for the next couple of postings. I will be out of town Thursday night through Monday night and won't be in a place that I will be able to find box scores, take the time to update, etc. So, be sure to take a look at the following for your Twins minor league information:
Team SitesOfficial Twins Site
Rochester Red Wings
New Britain Rockcats
Ft. Myers Miracle
Alexander Smit Site
Pat Neshek's Site
And here is a great site to get lots of minor league information, box scores, stats and more.
And of course, be sure to take a look at these other Twins blogs. I know all of these are on the left-side of the screen, but I want to draw some more attention to them and encourage you to take a look at a new one or two. I think you'll like them.
Aaron's Baseball Blog
Dickie Thon Fan Forum
Will's Organization Big Board
Stick and Ball Guy
The 7th Angel
Third Base Line
MN Sports Journal
Ft. Myers Baseball Site
Sports Spyder Twins Site
And with that, I am going to call it a day and a week! I hope everyone has a good one! As always, please feel free to e-mail me your thoughts on the Twins, the minor leagues, or anything you would like to discuss.
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