Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Whole New Team

The current Twins team has almost no relationship to last year's team. Of the 8 everyday players, only three players are back from last year. Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer will be the recognizable faces when the Twins take the field opening day. None of the other players will have played a single game in a Twins uniform before. Harris, Everett, Lamb, Young and Gomez are all new to the franchise. Kubel may add one more Twins "veteran" to the batting order as DH, unless Monroe grabs the opening day spot.

Pitching will be little different. Hernandez, the opening day starter, is new to the organization. Liriano didn't pitch at all last year and the other starters, Baker, Bonser and Slowey, combined for only 64 of the team's 162 starts. So while not as great as the turnover on the field, the pitching staff has little resemblance to last year's.

What this means in practical terms is that this is an entirely new team and last year's record is irrelevant. How good a team is an open question that you can try to answer looking player by player. But good teams are more than the sum of their parts. Players over time learn how to make use of their teammates skills to best effect.

Gomez speed brings a new dimension to the offense that the "veteran" Twins have not really seen on their team before. But that may not be true of players like Young, Monroe or Everett for whom everything is new. Young adds a second right hand bat may make some Twins less vulnerable to lefties. Moving Cuddyer between Mauer and Morneau will give him opportunities to see a lot more lefties. But while those changes may benefit those three players, we don't really know what impact they may have on Young, Lamb, Harris etc.

It will be interesting to watch how the Twins style of play adjusts to the skills of the new players. Not only on offense, but also in the field. The statement "we put it in play and let our fielders do their job" has become a cliche of the Twins pitching staff. As I expressed yesterday, its not so clear that approach makes sense when you second baseman is Brendan Harris and your third baseman is Mike Lamb. That is something we will all find out as the year progresses.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Doesn't Look Good

So the Twins have all but finished their roster to start the season. In past years the Twins have relied on pitching and defense to make up for a mediocre offense. But that has changed. Unfortunately the offense looks like it will still be mediocre, but the pitching and defense look to be even worse.

Lets look at the defense:

Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer are back in their same spots. The new players are Harris/Tolbert, Everett, Lamb, Young and Gomez. Everett projects as an improvement over Bartlett. We will have to wait and see how young does in left field, but he probably won't be much worse than last year's collection in any case. But Harris, Lamb and Gomez are not going to provide the defense the Twins have been used to. Gomez has the range and arm to replace Torii in center field, but he is going to need a few years to add the experience Torii brought to the position. Lamb and Harris are both simply questionable defensive players replacing guys whose defense was a strength.

Much has been made of the Twins young pitching, but it is pretty clear Liriano is not going to immediately provide the ace the staff lacks. Baker may or may not be ready to start the year either.  The rest of the pitching staff is mediocre - albeit with a lot of depth. Herandez will give them innings and, along with Bonser, is a solid 4th starter. Slowey did well this spring and may be a decent 4th starter as well. You will notice a pattern here. The Twins have guys who will keep them in the game, but they are not going to put the other team away very often. And they aren't going to have the same defensive support Twins pitchers have enjoyed in the past.

The bullpen is supposed to be a Twins strength. But Guerrier, Rincon and Crain did not shine this spring and they only have one lefty in Reyes. The bullpen  still looks good, but not guaranteed to be dominant even with Nathan closing.  And the starting staff may make matters worse by forcing the bullpen to eat a lot of innings.

So the question is has the Twins offense improved? Probably a little bit with the potential to be a lot better. They lost Torii Hunter (and Luis Castillo) , but they added Harris, Lamb, Young, Monroe and Gomez.  A lot will depend on how the young players develop. Gomez, Young, Kubel, Mauer and even Morneau are all on the spot to create an  offense that can carry the team, rather than just support an outstanding pitching staff.

In the end, spring training added more questions than it answered.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Four Survivors

The Twins are now down to four candidates for the last everyday player on the roster. This assumes they carry twelve pitchers, Mauer, Redmond, Morneau, Punto, Harris, Lamb and Everett in the infield and Cuddyer, Morneau, Kubel and Monroe in the outfield, plus one of either Span or Gomez as the centerfielder. Invitees Whiteside and Butera are still on the spring roster, but it is very doubtful either one will be going north. Likewise, its doubtful either of the young outfielders who loses the centerfield competition will be kept as a bench player.

That leaves Pridie, Buscher, Knott and Tolbert in a competition for the last roster spot. There has been some speculation that Gardenhire sees Tolbert as a potential everyday player. Its possible if both Harris and Punto continue their offensive struggles that Tolbert will be handed the everyday job job at second - or at least a semi-regular job. Absent that, it is likely they are taking a long look at him now and he will eventually end up playing everyday at Rochester and waiting for a chance. Pridie does not seem to have tools that compliment any of the existing outfielders and keeping him on the roster would be redundant. Like Tolbert, it is likely he will start the year at Rochester.

That leaves two real candidates. Knott, whose real weapon is his bat and Buscher who provides a bit more flexibility if he is able to play first as well as third. While I wouldn't rule Knott out, my guess is the job goes to Buscher. It is, of course, also possible that the Twins will grab someone off the waiver wire.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Looking Back at Top 100's

Below is the 1998 BBA Top 100. I am going back ten years because it takes that long before you know who really turned out and who didn't. I am not going to go through the entire list - but that guy at the top stands out. Ben Grieve - the best prospect in baseball? What were they thinking?

And the answer is that they were thinking quite clearly. The reality is there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to baseball prospects. As I have written before, the major leagues play a different game than the minor leagues. And sometimes the flaws don't show up immediately even at the major league level. Grieve was noted for his "patience". Unfortunately for him, major league pitchers throw a lot more strikes and Grieve didn't get good results when swinging at them.

For Twins fans remembering that Sidney Ponson, Ray Ortiz and Dennis Reyes were all once top prospects may make them a lot more patient with the Twins farm system's productivity. You can add Darnell McDonald to that list of curious acquisitions. Or Enrique Wilson, who some Twins fans mourned the loss of for years after he was traded away. And lets not forget how much heat the Twins took from some fans when they failed to get Rickey Ledee in the Knoblauch deal. Or that having lost Travis Lee in the draft looked like a real disaster in 1998, not so much in 2008.

You might want to notice some players who were missing from this list. Torii Hunter for instance. But I am not going to try to go back and create that list because it would be almost as long as the one below. The reality is that while top 100 lists are fun for fans and writers, they should not be mistaken for the scouting lists that every team maintains. Most of the best players will make the list eventually, even if it is just before they win a major league job. But the fact that a player is or isn't on it one year doesn't guarantee anything.

And that is important for Twins fans to remember this year when only three Twins prospects made the list, two of them just acquired in the Santana trade. The Twins have a lot of depth in their system. And that depth will likely produce more major league players than having a handful more players on this years Top 100.

1. Ben Grieve, of, Athletics
2. Paul Konerko, 1b/3b, Dodgers
3. Adrian Beltre, 3b, Dodgers
4. Kerry Wood, rhp, Cubs
5. Aramis Ramirez, 3b, Pirates
6. Matt White, rhp, Devil Rays
7. Kris Benson, rhp, Pirates
8. Travis Lee, 1b, Diamondbacks
9. Carl Pavano, rhp, Expos
10. Miguel Tejada, ss, Athletics
11. Todd Helton, 1b, Rockies
12. Mark Kotsay, of, Marlins
13. Chad Hermansen, 2b, Pirates
14. Brad Fullmer, 1b, Expos
15. Juan Encarnacion, of, Tigers
16. Matt Clement, rhp, Padres
17. Ruben Mateo, of, Rangers
18. Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals
19. Richard Hidalgo, of, Astros
20. Sean Casey, 1b, Indians
21. Darnell McDonald, of, Orioles
22. Brian Rose, rhp, Red Sox
23. Ryan Anderson, lhp, Mariners
24. Matt Anderson, rhp, Tigers
25. Eric Milton, lhp, Twins
26. Russell Branyan, 3b, Indians
27. Bruce Chen, lhp, Braves
28. Scott Elarton, rhp, Astros
29. Grant Roberts, rhp, Mets
30. Eric Chavez, 3b, Athletics
31. Cesar King, c, Rangers
32. Dermal Brown, of, Royals
33. Eli Marrero, c, Cardinals
34. Mike Caruso, ss, White Sox
35. Ryan Minor, 3b, Orioles
36. Troy Glaus, 3b, Angels
37. Rolando Arrojo, rhp, Devil Rays
38. Roy Halladay, rhp, Blue Jays
39. Braden Looper, rhp, Cardinals
40. Ruben Rivera, of, Padres
41. Francisco Cordero, rhp, Tigers
42. A. J. Hinch, c, Athletics
43. Carlos Lee, 3b, White Sox
44. Luis Rivera, rhp, Braves
45. John Patterson, rhp, Diamondbacks
46. Ricky Ledee, of, Yankees
47. Derrek Lee, 1b, Marlins
48. Alex Gonzalez, ss, Marlins
49. Ben Davis, c, Padres
50. Willie Martinez, rhp, Indians
51. Michael Coleman, of, Red Sox
52. Vernon Wells, of, Blue Jays
53. Ben Petrick, c, Rockies
54. Jason Grilli, rhp, Giants
55. Luis Rivas, ss, Twins
56. Magglio Ordonez, of, White Sox
57. Julio Ramirez, of, Marlins
58. Ryan Brannan, rhp, Phillies
59. Mike Judd, rhp, Dodgers
60. Ed Yarnall, lhp, Mets
61. Enrique Wilson, 2b, Indians
62. Damian Jackson, ss, Reds
63. Corey Lee, lhp, Rangers
64. Lance Berkman, of, Astros
65. Abraham Nunez, ss, Pirates
66. Joe Fontenot, rhp, Marlins
67. Shawn Chacon, rhp, Rockies
68. Robbie Bell, rhp, Braves
69. Brent Butler, ss, Cardinals
70. Preston Wilson, of, Mets
71. Mike Lowell, 3b, Yankees
72. Rafael Medina, rhp, Marlins
73. Jarrod Washburn, lhp, Angels
74. Ramon Hernandez, c, Athletics
75. Ramon Oritz, rhp, Angels
76. Wade Miller, rhp, Astros
77. Karim Garcia, of, Diamondbacks
78. Sidney Ponson, rhp, Orioles
79. Robinson Checo, rhp, Red Sox
80. Lorenzo Barcelo, rhp, White Sox
81. Derrick Gibson, of, Rockies
82. Gil Meche, rhp, Mariners
83. Javier Vazquez, rhp, Expos
84. David Ortiz, 1b, Twins
85. Nelson Lara, rhp, Marlins
86. Juan Melo, ss, Padres
87. Todd Dunwoody, of, Marlins
88. Chris Reitsma, rhp, Red Sox
89. Valerio de los Santos, lhp, Brewers
90. Jeff Wallace, lhp, Pirates
91. Dennis Reyes, lhp, Dodgers
92. Orlando Cabrera, 2b, Expos
93. George Lombard, of, Braves
94. Lariel Gonzalez, rhp, Rockies
95. Geoff Jenkins, of, Brewers
96. Geoff Goetz, lhp, Mets
97. Daryle Ward, 1b, Astros
98. Jackson Melian, of, Yankees
99. Kevin Witt, 1b, Blue Jays
100. Chris Enochs, rhp, Athletics

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