Posted by: gravessack | July 14, 2018

Where Did Astudillo Come From?

When I returned home from Fort Wayne July 2, the Twins and Brewers held their first game of the series in Milwaukee. Suddenly, a new addition appeared on the television. The figure was yet another infielder the Twins were willing to try. You see, ever since Miguel Sano was sent down to Single-A, and now that Logan Morrison is on DL, the Twins have started soul-searching to find a reliable guy to fill the void. Looking for improvement, the team brought up Willians Astudillo from Triple-A Rochester on June 29. But, never hearing about this fella, I began to wonder: who was he?

Growing up in Barcelona, Venezuela in the 1990s, Astudillo dreamt of one day playing baseball in America. That quickly became reality, when in 2009, Philadelphia signed him. His first three seasons were in the Venezuelan Summer League, on a team affiliated with the Phillies. In 2012, Astudillo joined their Rookie ball team in the States.

Playing for nine seasons in the minor leagues, Astudillo was in three different organizations. After leaving Philadelphia, Astudillo hooked up with Atlanta in 2016, and with Arizona the following year. The 26-year-old had decent minor league numbers. Including data from his performances earlier this year, he averaged .309, drove in 278 runs, and singled 666 times.

On November 30, the Twins signed Astudillo to a minor league contract with the invitation to spring training. The 5’9″, 225 pound man with a baggy uniform took some jabs, with teammates comparing him to Bartolo Colon. All grief aside, Astudillo performed sub-par this spring, averaging .182 in 22 plate appearances. The Twins demoted him to AAA to start the year, where he had decent stats. Astudillo was brought up when the organization put Taylor Motter on the 7-day concussion DL after running into the outfield wall.

Manager Paul Molitor plugged Astudillo instantly into the line-up June 30 versus the Cubs, signifying his MLB debut. The hopeful made an impact right away, going 1-for-2. Astudillo racked up 5 hits and averaged .455 in his first three games. However, since that spurt, he has not recorded a hit in the previous four games that he partook in.

Contrary to other Twins’ players, Astudillo likes to take a lot of swings early in the count, therefore he has more chances to hit the ball. Last year in Triple-A, he only struck out four times in 128 plate appearances. Compare that to this year when he whiffed nine times in Rochester. Those figures would suggest that he is a solid contact batter, which fans will appreciate.

Astudillo can play multiple positions, which include: catcher, first base, third base, and center field. In addition, he played some left field in his first game, which leads me to believe that he could play all outfield positions. The rookie’s versatility will bode well for him because the Twins could put him pretty much anywhere in case another player is hurt or playing poor. Although I hope the Twins brass will keep looking for upgrades, this is a good time for Astudillo to show what he can do!

In the end, if Astudillo can prove that his minor league strikeout rate will translate in the bigs, I see him staying in the line-up for the foreseeable future. Unless the Twins can grab a Mookie Betts type athlete!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

 

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Posted by: gravessack | July 8, 2018

Vote Rosario!!

Eddie Rosario batting for the Minnesota Twins

Photo: startribune.com

The AL and NL rosters for the 2018 All-Star Game were announced earlier tonight. Starting pitcher Jose Berrios was selected to represent the Twins, but outfielder Eddie Rosario, who is in the top 10 in the AL with a .301 batting average, was not…for now at least. He is one of five AL candidates for the Final Vote, the last AL and NL roster spots. Fans can vote an unlimited number of times between now and Wednesday (July 11) at 3:00 p.m. CT.

There is no question Rosario should be in the All-Star Game. In addition to his .301 batting average, he has 18 home runs and 53 RBI, and leads the Twins with 13 multi-hit games this year, two of those being four-hit games. He also plays outstanding defense in left field.

So, click the link above and help Rosario go to the All-Star Game! Remember, you can vote an unlimited number of times until Wednesday at 3 p.m. He definitely deserves to be selected!

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | July 4, 2018

USPSA Cups Round-Up; Minnesota Teams Struggle

The USPSA Conference Cup Series came to an end on July 1. It was a grand weekend at Turnstone’s Plassman Athletic Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Despite the Minnesota teams not getting the outcome that they had hoped for, they tried their best at making the experience a positive one. More on that later. But first, the nutshell results of each of the four power soccer tournaments from the bottom division on up.

Founders Cup: The championship match took place on June 30 with San Jose Flash in a match-up against Central Valley, out of California. The game was close throughout, but in the end, San Jose came up victorious by a 2-1 margin. For third place, Wisconsin upended the San Jose Rockets 4-1.

Presidents Cup: On June 30, a back-and-forth affair occurred as the title game between Chippewa Valley and Arizona was very offensive minded. Both teams kept scoring, with a seasoned Arizona team outlasting the Hooligans 8-6. Brooks Barracudas, from Florida, captured third by defeating Missouri’s River City Phoenix three to nil.

Champions Cup: The finale was between DASA, from St. Louis, and Ball State, out of Indiana, on July 1. Ball State played solid defense and captured the crown with a 2-0 result. Massachusetts’ PRHC Chariots went out and beat BORP, out of Barkeley, CA, 2-1 to capture the third position.

Premier Cup: On July 1, a grueling last game between two Indiana teams commenced. It was a tilt that had Turnstone going up against RHI Sudden Impact. RHI squeaked out the championship clincher by a score of 3-2. Circle City, also from Indiana, came in third when they defeated CNY United four to one.

As the Premier Cup was in its final stages, two teams from Minnesota ended up playing each other for fifth place. When the game’s clock ticked to the 40-minute mark on the last day, the Magic had shut out the Shockwave 5-0. It was surly a discouraging last game as these teams had loftier goals going into their tourney.

Meanwhile, for the Northern Lights, their quest for the Champions Cup took a hit when they went 1-3 in pool play. Except for an 4-1 loss to PRHC, all of their games were nail-biters. Unfortunately, the team earned a spot in the consolation round, which was played Sunday. In their first match of the day, Minnesota were victors against Boston by a score of one to nothing.

The Northern Lights’ final game against Atlanta Sting, which was to secure seventh, was crazy! In the first half, the referee tossed an Atlanta coach from the game for arguing. At the end of regulation, both teams had scored a goal. Early in the second overtime, Minnesota scored, setting them up for a victory. But, inexcusably, the referee called a foul on them with a second remaining. Atlanta pounded the penalty kick in, so the game continued on.

Teams started getting anxious, as three yellow cards were given. One of those being on me, when in the fifth overtime, I started pushing the goalie a little to hard, desperately trying to send the crowd home. The 10-minute sudden death frames kept ticking on by with both teams trying to find any way to score. Finally, in the 7th overtime and in the 102nd minute, the Northern Lights managed to push the 13-inch ball across the line for the 3-2 win. That was some game, since it lasted a few minutes more than a pro soccer game does!

The Power Soccer Development Group put on a memorable event, one of which won’t soon be forgotten. The conference cups conclude the USPSA season. We would like to congratulate each player on their performances!

And for my last game, although I didn’t score, it was a really fun one to play in!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | June 24, 2018

USPSA Conference Cups Are Upon Us

USPSA MK Battery Conference Cup Series iconWhile the FIFA World Cup keeps chugging along over in Russia, the United States is about to have a little soccer tournament themselves. Ok, I must confess, the word little may be a bit of an understatement! In fact, it is one of the largest adapted sports events that the U.S. hosts on an annual basis.

The 2018 United States Power Soccer Association‘s (USPSA) MK Battery Conference Cup Series will be held from June 28 to July 1 at the Plassman Athletic Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 35 teams will gather for a weekend full of fast-paced action. The series consists of four tournaments: Founders, Presidents, Champions, and Premier.

The Founders and Presidents Conferences will get things rocking on Thursday, with the rest starting Friday. Each national tournament will be round-robin style. After concluding pool play, a bracket will be drawn up for the four tourneys. The single elimination knock-out stage will take place over two days, with the championship games being played on June 30 and July 1.

This will be the fairly new Plassman Center’s second time hosting this event, after getting great reviews for its first go-around in 2016. According to Fort Wayne’s website, the center is “the fourth largest Paralympic Sport Club in the United States.” The layout of the facility works great for events for power wheelchair users, as it has four hardwood courts. Each playing field even has two scoreboards. Since the complex has immense flexibility, bleachers can be moved around as the games grow bigger in importance.

During the weekend, three teams from Minnesota will be hitting the court. In the Premier Conference, the Shockwave and the Magic will be hoping for a championship run. Meanwhile, partaking in the Champions Cup, the Northern Lights will be seeking redemption after a disappointing 4th place finish last year.

There are a couple of paths for fans if they want to follow the action from afar. Visit the USPSA website for schedules, results, and connections to live streams. The live streams are made possible thanks to Power Soccer Shop, a company out of Zimmerman, Minnesota.

In addition, the USPSA is using the TeamSnap Tournaments app this year. The application has what the website has, but it is presumably easy to use and you can get up-to-the-minute results. After downloading the app, just sign in and search for “USPSA MK Battery Conference Cup Series 2018.”

The four-day competition will feature around 200 athletes who all have some sort of physical disability. If you have not witnessed a power soccer match, this would be a mighty fine place to start! Players, coaches, and officials will try their best to make the event memorable. After it is all said and done, who will be the four champions? We will soon find out!

And, by the way, you should follow the Northern Lights closely, as I am on the team!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | June 13, 2018

Twins Snag Belisle Back

Apparently, not satisfied by how the bullpen has been pitching, the front office is keeping an eye on who may become available. Currently, the relief core is doing a fine job, adding to a 4.08 ERA to date. That is not going to cut it, though, if they are aiming to get in the play-offs for the second consecutive year. General Manager Thad Levine knows that too, and he showed that by signing another reliever in Matt Belisle.

After disappointing the Indians brass this year, the club outright released Belisle June 11. Seeing that Belisle was a free man, Minnesota quickly snatched him up the next day at a cost of $800,000 for the rest of this season. Belisle comes back to Minnesota where he had a decent year in 2017. Cleveland was hoping that he would perform better this year, but that was not the case, as the 38-year-old currently has an ERA of 5.06 with just 4 strike outs in 10.2 innings of work.

The Twins are counting on Belisle to become the pitcher he was last season. In 62 appearances, the Austin native pitched to a 4.03 ERA, which resulted in 54 strikeouts. He was also the substitute closer in which he totaled 9 saves. Belisle was not dominant, but could get the job done when he was called upon.

Belisle came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 2003, pitching 8.2 innings en route to a 1-1 record. Due to failures, he did not pitch in the majors the next year. However, in 2007, he rebounded and got to be the starter for thirty games with the Reds. Ever since then, the righty has been a reliever.

After going to the bullpen full-time, Belisle’s best year was in 2011 with Colorado. The pitcher went 10-4, had a 3.35 ERA, and struck out 58. Pitching for 15 years on 6 teams, he will bring in his career record of 51-57 and 690 knock outs to the Twins relief department.

Belisle is the first player to be brought in mid-season on a major league contract. This is saying two things: that the Twins bosses are not impressed with the pitching they have and they want the relievers to perform better. The Twins know that they must keep winning to have hope, and Levine and CBO Derek Falvey won’t be stagnant if they see something that needs improving. I just do not know how much Belisle has left in the tank; let us hope they do!

Nevertheless, Belisle is excited to have another MLB stint. “I’m honored and very grateful to be back with the Twins,” mentioned Belisle in a recent Star Tribune video.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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Posted by: gravessack | June 11, 2018

Bringing In Reinforcements

It is two-and-a-half months into the season, and the Twins are barely afloat. Thanks to a weak AL Central, they are still in the race. But, recent happenings have the organization nervous and looking for answers quickly. Cleveland’s slumber has ended as they are racking up wins and the Twins have injuries galore. The Twins front office knows that the offense needs to wake up to support the solid pitching. In the last several weeks, General Manager Thad Levine has bolstered the roster depth.

To kick things off, on May 4, the Twins signed left-handed pitcher Paco Rodriguez to a minor-league deal. Rodriguez debuted in 2012 with the Dodgers, throwing in 11 games. The 27-year-old appeared in 76 games a year after, pitching to a 3-4 mark and striking out 76. 2014 and 2015 were rough for him, as he pitched just 24.1 innings between the two years. Rodriguez missed all of 2016 because of a bone spur. Since the signing, he has a 3.68 ERA in 14.2 innings with two teams.

The Twins then swung a trade May 23 to get Chris Carter from the Angels, and immediately sent him to Triple-A Rochester. The eight-year veteran, who can play either first base or outfield, has some pop in his bat. After a rough three years in Oakland, Carter hit 37 home runs with the Astros in 2014. Two years later with Milwaukee, he slugged 41 home runs. Carter had just an average year in New York last season. On the negative side, Carter is very prone to strikeouts, as he has 951 in his career. The 31-year-old is hoping for a rejuvenation and to show what he can do with the Twins.

Four days later, the club sent depleting pitcher Phil Hughes to San Diego in exchange for catcher Janigson Villalobos. Hughes’ Twins tenure dwindled fast as he was struggling, and therefore, was put in the pen. Running into little opportunities to use him, they designated him for assignment and ultimately traded him. In Villalobos, the Twins get a catcher if they need one. He had 44 hits in two years in the Padres minor league system. Villalobos seems to be sidelined now, and is currently playing for the Gulf Coast League Twins.

The next day, on May 27, the Twins claimed shortstop Taylor Motter from Seattle. A three-year veteran in the league, Motter came up with Tampa Bay in 2016. During his first year in the majors, he batted just .188 in 93 plate appearances. He was traded to Seattle after one year. Motter’s 2017 debut season with the Mariners was a little more productive. In 92 games, Motter hit .198 and delivered 51 hits. Motter has not been in the majors much this season, playing in just seven games. The 28-year-old has played in eight games in Rochester since being traded to the Twins.

Their final addition, which will help bolster the catching department, came on June 8. The Twins signed catcher Cameron Rupp to a minor league deal.  Rupp debuted in 2013, appearing in 4 games. Having spent his entire career in Philadelphia, he has seen limited playing time. In his first three years in the NL, the 29-year-old played in 103 games. However, in 2016, Rupp’s 105 games produced a .252 average and 98 hits. Last season, he got into 88 games, hitting 14 home runs. Rupp will try to get back to the majors by improving his stroke at Triple-A.

These five players are hoping to contribute to their new club this year. Personally, I really want to see what Carter can do as he has the best potential out of the bunch. He can bring more power to the lineup. Meanwhile, Rupp will be a great asset that will probably be brought up sooner rather then later, especially if Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson falter.

The Twins sit in third place at 28-34 in a very winnable division – it is time for them to get going!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | June 3, 2018

Remember To Shovel Sidewalks/Curb Cuts!

An unshoveled curb cutMost days when I go to work, I take the city bus. This time of year, when there is no snow on the ground, I usually have no problem getting to and from the bus stops. When there is snow on the ground (a common problem in Minnesota!), though, snow presents a big challenge for wheelchairs, whether it is getting to and from the bus stop or getting on and off the bus.

One of the main problems for me and probably others is that there can be so much snow on the curb cut by the bus stop that I sometimes end up having to drive with my PCA to work, just because I can’t get up on to the sidewalk.

This can be a major problem not just for me, but for all people who use wheelchairs. I understand this could still be a problem even if sidewalks and curb cuts are shoveled, but shoveling is an important first step.

Here is an article from the Minnesota Council on Disability about the importance of shoveling sidewalks/curb cuts. Doing so will benefit everyone, not just those with disabilities, by making it safer to walk in the snow. Please share your opinion in the poll below on whether unshoveled sidewalks/curb cuts make it hard for you to get around during the winter. If you think of a possible solution, such as stricter enforcement of shoveling laws, please share that in the comments below. Even though shoveling sidewalks/curb cuts may mean a little more work in the short term, it will save a lot of time and energy in the long run!

 

Written by: Sam Graves

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Posted by: gravessack | May 25, 2018

Romero To The Rescue

Minnesota Twins pitcher Fernando RomeroFor years now, up in the front office, Twins officials have been boasting about their pitching depth in the minor leagues. As seasons went by, those coveted pitchers stayed put as they needed more experience, making fans impatient. Theoretically, that makes sense, however there is so much they can prove before being summoned to the majors.

The club’s starting pitching this year has been fine, if you discard Lance Lynn’s very poor starts and Phil Hughes’ disappointing performances that has led to his ouster. Needless to say, the rotation was definitely in need of a boost and the Twins just happened to have the key waiting in Rochester.

When Manager Paul Molitor decided to move Hughes to the bullpen on April 30, the Twins called up starter Fernando Romero, their #2 overall prospect. After six years moving through the system, Romero made his major league debut May 2, showing patrons why he is considered one of the best pitchers. In 5.2 shutout innings, Romero gave up no runs and struck out 5. He was even better May 7, when he pitched brilliantly, surrendering zero runs yet again in six innings. Romero got awarded wins in each game.

After giving up no runs in his first 15 2/3 innings, Romero finally gave one up in the May 13 match-up against the Angels. Despite having a smooth six strikeout outing, the Twins could not give him a third victory in a row. In Romero’s last outing May 19, he struggled, as the Dominican gave up four runs and a homer in five innings of work. In spite of Romero pitching like a rookie in his recent game, he has shown us his ability to get out of tense situations.

The Twins signed Romero as an international free agent in 2011. In the last three years, the 23-year-old rapidly moved from Single-A to Triple-A. Displaying an upper 90’s fastball and a wicked change-up, Romero had it easy with batters. Pitching for two teams in 2016, he had a record of 9-3 and whiffed 90 batters, which resulted in a 1.89 ERA. The rising star improved in 2017, striking out 120 batters at Double-A Chattanooga.

Romero proved that he can pitch, and the Twins had to oblige given their need. The five-man rotation is now looking promising with Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi in the loop. Ervin Santana, who has started a rehabilitation stint, is on deck to join the group. Slowly but surely, the Twins are creating a formidable gang of front men, and with the addition of Romero, they are one step closer!

Romero looks like a man on a mission. Going forth, though, does he have the ability to be the Twins first true ace in a long while? We shall see!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | May 13, 2018

Speechless Season 3 Is A Go

ABC's Speechless logo

Photo: ABC.com

There will be a third season of ABC’s sitcom Speechless! The Season 3 premiere date has not been announced, but there will be 22 episodes.

Season 2 ended with the DiMeos being evicted from their home. It will be very interesting to see where they move to and if J.J. is still living with them, since it seemed like he wanted more independence. Also, J.J. could not graduate high school in Season 2 because of his grades, I think, so it will be interesting to see if and where he goes to college after another year of high school.

I think it would be cool to see J.J. not live with his parents and for him to go to college to see how he handles that. Kenneth, J.J.’s aide, and Ray, J.J.’s brother, are my favorite characters, so I would like to see them a lot again next season (which seems very likely considering they’re both major characters). We’ll just have to wait and see what happens! Check back here for more details, including the premiere date, as they become available!

What are your hopes for Season 3?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | May 6, 2018

Ohtani’s Shining Out West

Shohei Ohtani batting for the Los Angeles AngelsA foreigner is making an impact on a major league team, which is not surprising everyone. What could be shocking to some is how fast he has contributed to his club.

When Hokkaido Nippon-Ham, a team in Japan’s Pacific League, granted pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani permission to negotiate with Major League Baseball clubs, multiple teams were interested. Each interested organization submitted a presentation to entice the Japanese phenom.

Since Ohtani is good at both pitching and hitting, American League teams were front-runners. In addition to Seattle, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels were on his tail. Because of his uniqueness, Ohtani wanted to join a team that was willing to let him pitch and bat. After a thorough process, Ohtani made the much-anticipated decision on December 8 to play for the Angels. The deal calls for him to make $545,000 or less for the next three years.

The Angels and Ohtani cranked out a program in which he can be the DH when he is not on the mound. That plan was trialed during spring training. His pitching performance was shaky at best, and Ohtani’s hitting was not all that wonderful either, as he just hit .125 in 32 at-bats. Despite poor numbers on both fronts, he made the 25-man roster to start the year.

Apparently, spring training did not bug the rookie as he has been great so far in the regular season. Ohtani made his pitching debut April 1, going six innings, striking out six, en route to his first win. His second outing was better, when he fanned 12 batters over 7 innings to get the April 8 victory. Ohtani’s next two starts weren’t as impressive. So this year pitching wise, Ohtani has an ERA of 4.43. I am sure that he is still hoping to improve his splitter, slider, and a fastball that can regularly approach 100 miles per hour.

When not on the mound, Ohtani is producing in the batter’s box. In his second game playing offense April 3, Ohtani clobbered his first home run off Cleveland’s starter Josh Tomlin, helping the Angels win. That game and the next two went really well for him at the plate. Ohtani notched 6 hits and 3 home runs, and drove in 7 runs. His productivity has been consistent, as he has reached base in most games. In Ohtani’s 59 at-bats this year, he has 20 hits, 4 home runs, and 14 RBIs, which have added up to a .339 average.

An April 27 play resulted in Ohtani suffering a left ankle sprain that has hampered him, albeit it is not serious. In fact, the Oshu native returned and pitched into the seventh inning on Sunday before being taken out, 12 days after his last outing. Ohtani wants to prove to the experts, who are saying that he should pick just one position, that he can in fact be solid at pitching and hitting. The Angels are certainly hoping that he can keep improving after he is healed and help them in the tight AL West.

It is bittersweet that Ohtani is gaining attention now. Ichiro Suzuki, who has spent 18 years in MLB, is on the brink of retirement as he moved to a front office role May 3 for the remainder of the season. Suzuki is 44 years old and has been the longest tenured Japanese player that has had good numbers in MLB. If it is indeed the end of Suzuki’s career, Ohtani will be determined to give fans back in Japan something to cheer for and someone to look up to for years to come!

Next time you are able to watch an Angels game or when they make the trek to Target Field, be sure to look for Ohtani. We may be witnessing the beginning of a great career!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

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