Posted by: gravessack | February 20, 2017

Let Us Do The Outfield Shuffle

Other than the catcher and pitcher competitions, the Twins must assess the outfield options when full-squad workouts get revved up this week. The club believes that they have an idea on who will be the starting three outfielders, although some of them struggled at the plate last year. So, the bosses brought in two veteran players who will compete for a spot. In all, there will be eight players competing for four or five outfield slots on the major league roster. The outfielders must be better in 2017, and thankfully, Miguel Sano won’t be in the mix, as he has all but solidified the third base role.

The most likely outfield combination that will start the season is: Eddie Rosario in left, Byron Buxton in center, and Max Kepler in right. Those players have proven in recent years that they are ready to take the next step, albeit some struggles still show. After having 16 assists in his rookie year, Rosario had just 10 last year. The 25-year-old has a .292 career batting average with 17 triples. Twins minor league phenom Buxton has had a rough start to his career. When he came up in 2015, he looked lost at the plate, totaling 44 strikeouts in 46 games. Buxton showed some improvement last year, resulting in 19 doubles and 38 RBIs. He has proven to us that he has great speed and has the skills to be a great center fielder. Meanwhile, Kepler broke into the major leagues last year like a hungry chimpanzee going after a fresh banana. One of the other young hopefuls, Kepler steamrolled through 113 games, averaging .235 with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs. The 24-year-old also had 9 outfield assists last season. You are probably wondering if these three will be the starters, who is vying for back-up roles?

Looking to secure back-up roles are newcomers Drew Stubbs and J.B. Shuck, both non-roster invitees. Stubbs, who played for Baltimore last year, is an eight-year veteran. During his first 6 years, Stubbs had decent power numbers, although he has eight home runs in 2015 and 2016 combined. He also has a batting average of .244 and 283 RBIs, while racking up 39 outfield assists. Shuck, who has been around the league for five years, has very poor numbers. The 29-year-old has a career .251 batting average with just 8 home runs and 80 RBIs. Shuck also has 18 career outfield assists. I feel that Stubbs can secure a role on this team, yet there are more players who could take away Stubbs’ spot.

The dark horses that could squeak past Stubbs are Robbie Grossman, Danny Santana, and minor leaguer Daniel Palka. Grossman and Santana have spent some time in the big leagues, while Palka has never reached the majors. Grossman has been in the majors for four years, playing for Houston for the first three, and has averaged .254 while adding 100 RBIs. Santana has been with the Twins for three seasons and has been used as an utility player. He is listed as an outfielder this spring. He started off hot in 2014, hitting .319 in 101 games. However, the last two seasons were a disappointment, as he recorded just 35 RBIs. Palka has spent four seasons in the minors, with one of those in the Twins organization. The 25-year-old has immense power, as he has 94 home runs, and has racked up a .268 BA. One of Palka’s downsides is his 540 strike outs. If I had to guess, Grossman and Santana will lead this pack, while Palka falls behind due to his strikeouts.

The crowded outfield competition will begin Friday as the Twins take on Tampa Bay in Fort Myers in their first spring training game! It will be exciting to see who comes up on top, and if my predictions hold true. All we know is the Twins need three solid guys to roam the outfield, and I’m sure the players will be tested harder this spring then in years past.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 13, 2017

Twins 2017 Season Preview

Spring training has arrived! All Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp today, February 13. The first workout will be February 15 and the first game will be February 24. It’s an exciting time to be a baseball fan!

As you all know, the Twins have been through a LOT since the start of last season. The team finished 2016 with its worst record in franchise history. The team shook up management after former general manager Terry Ryan was fired in the middle of last season. Minnesota has made several changes to its coaching staff and roster throughout the off-season. Below are some of my thoughts (and predictions) on the 2017 Twins:

Though the Twins may trade second baseman Brian Dozier at a later date, I am very happy he was not traded this off-season. Trading Dozier, who hit 42 home runs last season, would essentially mean Minnesota has given up on 2017, since Dozier was by far the best offensive player last year. If Dozier has a good first half of 2017 and the team doesn’t, expect trade rumors surrounding Dozier to resurface.

I am very interested to see how the team does under new Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine. Falvey last worked for the 2016 AL champion Cleveland Indians and Levine for the 2016 AL West champion Texas Rangers. Falvey and Levine seem to understand the importance of analytics in baseball today, something Terry Ryan did not.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the Twins in 2017 is starting pitching. Last year’s starting rotation was awful. Jose Berrios needs to be better this year after not getting even close to living up to high expectations last season. I expect Phil Hughes to be better now that he is healthy. Kyle Gibson also needs to be much better than last year, as he is crucial to the team’s future. Click for more on questions facing the Twins as the team heads into spring training.

I predict first baseman/designated hitter Byung Ho Park will have a bounceback year. Park, who struggled and was injured last year, was designated for assignment February 3. He was sent to AAA Rochester after clearing waivers. If Park stays healthy, he could have a breakout year.

Although I hope the Twins will win the division in 2017 (and the World Series!), that is not being realistic. My realistic prediction is that the Twins will win 75 games in 2017, about 15 games better than last year, and will finish fourth in the AL Central with an outside chance of finishing third. I think the pitching will keep the team from having a better year. Hopefully I’m wrong and the Twins shock the baseball world in 2017! Anything can happen! After all, the Cubs did win the World Series last year!

What do you expect from the Twins in 2017?

Written by: Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | February 11, 2017

The Likely New Catcher Duo

Between 2004 and 2013, the Twins’ catcher situation had no worries as Joe Mauer was a reliable backstop. When Mauer took a series of foul balls off the facemask, he started to have concussion and vision problems. Then-General Manager Terry Ryan took no chances, moving Mauer permanently to first base, starting in 2014.

Since then, the Twins have been trying to find a young catcher to replace him. Former Twin Kurt Suzuki did a decent job for three years as he was on the All-Star team in 2014. Last off-season, Ryan traded starting center fielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy, which produced horrendous results. Soon after new leaders took the helm, they let Suzuki sign elsewhere, and found two new catchers who could have some different and much-needed strengths.

Jason Castro, who signed a three-year contract worth $24.5 million November 30, is the front-runner for the starting position. Castro’s ability to frame pitches is what intrigued GM Thad Lavine. He can get strike calls from umpires more than other catchers in the league. In fact, Castro had 96 strike calls last year that were not strikes. An All-Star in 2013, the 29-year-old has spent six seasons with Houston, batting .232 with 62 long balls and 212 RBIs. Castro has thrown out 26% of base stealers throughout his career. Castro led the National League in having the least passed balls by a catcher in 2014 with 11. The Twins would like him to get comfortable with the pitching staff and learn the inaccuracies of pitchers.

To compete with Castro, the Twins booked Chris Gimenez on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite January 19. The 34-year-old is an eight-year veteran who has very average numbers. Playing for four teams, Gimenez has a .218 batting average, 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, and 33 doubles. Gimenez only has thrown out 24% of base stealers during his time behind the plate. Twins’ Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey might have played a role in his signing since they knew each other in Cleveland. Gimenez is expected to compete for a back-up catcher role among a slew of hopefuls, including Murphy.

The Twins really needed to get the catching predicament shored up, and adding these two is good progress. Murphy, who hit a measly .146 with 3 RBIs in 26 games last year, and Triple-A Rochester’s Mitch Garver might be dark horses to earn a spot if they perform decently this spring. In just a couple of days, the quest to finding the top two catchers in the organization begins! Keep an eye on Castro and Gimenez as they will be the ones leading the pack and getting most of the playing time.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | February 5, 2017

Twins Sign A Reliever, Cut Byung Ho

At this point last year, Twins fans were excited at the possibly of adding a 40 home run hitter to the line-up. A year later, those hopes have went completely caput, and keeping Brian Dozier now looks like a fantastic decision. The Twins needed relief pitching, which they got this week. While adding pitching, they made a somewhat surprising cut to free up space on the 40-man roster. The move could be deemed controversial, but a necessary one to improve the club.

The Twins announced that they inked veteran reliever Matt Belisle to a one-year, $2.05 million contract on February 2. Belisle is known to eat up innings, as a bridge from the starting pitcher to the set-up man. The 36-year-old was drafted by Atlanta in 1998, however was traded to Cincinnati five years later. Belisle debuted in 2003, where he went 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in six appearances for the Reds. Earlier in his career, Belisle started some games, but transitioned to the bullpen in 2009. His best year in the bullpen came in 2011, while pitching for Colorado. Belisle had a record of 10-4, racking up 58 strikeouts, while recording a 3.25 ERA that year. Pitching for four teams, Belisle has a career record of 49-55 and an ERA of 4.20. Belisle is known to be hard-working, and the Twins hope that he will bring his skills with into a bullpen that needs help.

With the addition of Belisle, the Twins designated Byung Ho Park for assignment the same day. The Korean slugger came to Minnesota with high hopes, and his first season in the Major Leagues ended in disappointment. Park made the team in 2016 in hope of providing power to the line-up. While he showed his skills with 12 home runs in 62 games, Park had just a .191 batting average while striking out 80 times. Because Park looked so bad, he was sent to Triple-A in July and never returned due to his poor performance and season-ending wrist surgery. Park just could not get used to the pitching in America, and it was painful to watch sometimes. Nonetheless, when he connected, the ball went far! Park is not expected to get picked up on waivers, so he is expected to remain in the Twins system. If Park does get picked up, General Manager Thad Levine could release him.

There is your Twins update for the week. Enjoy the Super Bowl today (go Falcons!). Remember once the game is over, we can turn our attention to baseball. Spring Training starts February 13 in Florida!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | January 29, 2017

Meet The Newest Twins Pitchers

When General Manager Thad Levine took over, he knew quite well in order for the Twins to improve, fixing the starting pitching must be priority number 1. Obviously, we all knew that the new leader had to take some time analyzing what the Twins had, but fans’ curiosity peaked when December passed without a pitcher signing. Eventually, he had to do something to keep his promise, and on January 11, the Twins struck deals with two starting pitchers.

The most notable signee that day was Ryan Vogelsong, a 17-year veteran in the league. He was a decent starting pitcher until he was beaned in an eye last May by a Colorado pitcher while batting. Although he returned in August, Vogelsong won just three games in 2016, while finishing with a 4.81 ERA. The 39-year-old won the World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 2012 and 2014, while recording a 3.86 ERA and 6 strikeouts in his appearances. Pitching for two National League teams, Vogelsong has a 61-75 career record, while collecting 900 strikeouts. Because of his eye injury and age, the Twins should be careful with him. With that said, Paul Molitor and Pitching Coach Neil Allen should slot Vogelsong in as the 5th starter, if he earns it.

The Twins also signed Nick Tepesch, who is still trying to gain his ground in the Major Leagues. Tepesch signed with the Texas Rangers in 2010 as a 21-year-old. Three years later, he made his debut with the Rangers, posting an 4.84 ERA in 19 appearances, with 17 of those being starts. Then in 2014, Tepesch had just 56 strikeouts with 5 wins. Tepesch missed all of the 2015 season when he experienced inflammation in his elbow and barely pitched last season for the Dodgers. Tepesch would not make an ideal choice for a starter or even a bullpen guy, so I would advise the Twins to start the 28-year-old in Rochester. He just has not shown any consistency in his pitching to show he is ready for the big leagues.

Both Vogelsong and Tepesch will be at spring training starting February 18 on minor-league deals, so their signings are not risky if they perform poorly. It is great that Levine is giving the two a chance, but I really hope our new head honchos will provide the coaching staff with more experienced pitchers. With the signings of catchers Jason Castro and likely back-up Chris Gimenez, hopefully our pitchers will have better support behind the plate this year.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | January 23, 2017

Target Center Renovation Currently An Accessibility Nightmare

I have been to Target Center, home of the Minnesota Timberwolves, three times in the past month. Target Center is currently being renovated and renovation will continue through summer 2017.

Target Center, which was previously pretty inaccessible (especially with just one small elevator that goes to the different seating levels), is even more inaccessible due to the renovation. Currently, there is no good wheelchair drop-off zone. While there is technically a drop-off zone, it is on 6th Street, near 2nd Avenue (click here for more), which is basically on the opposite side of the arena from where the drop-off zone normally is on 1st Avenue. I would think Target Center would be able to figure out how to have a drop-off zone closer to the main entrance! Also, there appears to be little information online on Target Center accessibility.

Since Target Center has always been pretty inaccessible, the renovation must address the issue of accessibility! According to one Target Center employee, three elevators will be added over the next few months. In addition to the arena adding elevators, Target Center should increase the size of the elevators so multiple wheelchairs can fit without it being cramped (Target Field’s elevators are good in this way). The drop-off zone issue will hopefully be fixed once the renovation is complete. I have contacted a Target Center Guest Services representative about accessibility issues the renovation will address but have not received a reply.

Although accessibility will likely continue to be a problem throughout the renovation, Target Center will hopefully be more accessible than ever before once renovation is completed!

Written by Sam Graves

Posted by: gravessack | January 17, 2017

Timberwolves, Lynx Ticket System Could Be Inaccessible To Some

In recent years, there has been a new ticketing phenomenon blooming. Teams and venues are looking for ways to make the guest experience more convenient. One of their solutions is garnering some backlash due to its complexity. However, if you dig deeper into the issue, the concept could actually be an accessibility miscue.

Flash Seats, which are powered by AXS, are digital-based tickets that are used to attend games or shows. When someone buys tickets, that person’s credit card or State I.D. is his or her ticket to the event. In addition, if consumers have the Flash Seats mobile app, their tickets are stored on there and that will work at the gate. Event-goers must bring one of these to the arena gate to access their tickets. According to flashseats.com, the ticket system “offers an innovative, cutting-edge solution combining digital venue access, a branded marketplace for electronic event access rights, and a retail-class behavioral marketing system for the sports and entertainment industries.” Flash Seats is advertised as a way to easily transfer tickets to anyone and taking away the possibility of stolen tickets. There are also ways to get into events if you forget your cards. For instance, you can go to the venue’s box office so they can verify your tickets.

The Flash Seat system, which the Timberwolves and Lynx both partnered with in 2015, sparked a lawsuit last year in which some fans say Flash Seats make it difficult to sell and transfer tickets. It is not known what the outcome was but the lawsuit cited that Flash Seats provide “unlawful limitations” that could be a pain to some. Fans were not happy about how hard it was to re-sell or transfer tickets to their friends. Timberwolves and Lynx officials rebuked these claims by saying: “The Timberwolves and Lynx organizations are confident that Flash Seats supplies the best possible experience for our fans.”

With that said, fans with disabilities could have an unpleasant experience using Flash Seats. Some with physical disabilities have a difficult time manipulating multiple cards, and they might not have personal credit cards that can be used. They may have to rely on their caregiver’s card in which it is not always available to them. Recently, I used a credit card to purchase Timberwolves tickets for a game at Target Center that I did not have access to that day. So, on game day, I had to go through hoops and try to switch which card would work as my ticket. I succeeded but it was time consuming and could have been prevented. People with disabilities may not be able to reach their cards, and placing them on their trays could have bad consequences. In my opinion, having paper tickets is better than Flash Seats due to the fact that handing real tickets to a staff at the door would be much easier than figuring out how to attend an event with Flash Seats.

In the future, teams should look at adding ways to provide admittance for fans. Flash Seats can seem convenient at the forefront, but could be difficult when trying to use them. Organizations should hold off in partnering with Flash Seats until they find an easier solution. Providing the option of old-fashioned tickets to patrons would greatly improve the game day experience for all.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

 

Posted by: gravessack | January 13, 2017

Twins Keeping Dozier; On Lookout For Another Big Bat

We have a decision! Ever since October 2, one of the resounding question marks the Twins had to answer is whether they should trade Brian Dozier. Of course, the Twins would want a Major League-ready pitcher in exchange for the All-Star, but would other teams oblige? General Manager Thad Levine wanted to make the right deal but not further harm the team’s chances this coming year. Besides from the Dozier talks, there have been some rumblings on possibly adding an additional slugger.

About a week into Levine’s appointment, the annual winter meetings occurred in early December. Knowing that Dozier, who cranked out 42 home runs while driving in 99 last season, could be traded, we fans were anxious. As the week went by, it became clear that Dozier would not be traded.

Weeks passed and the year changed with the Los Angeles Dodgers being the lone club in the running for the coveted second baseman. However, the Twins asked teams to make final offers two weeks ago. It was reported that the Dodgers would not give up pitching prospects Jose De Leon, Brock Stewart, Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler, who were all on Levine’s radar. The communication between the two teams stalled, and Levine will not make any further calls shopping the 29-year-old. Dozier diehards can take a sigh of relief, although the Twins will still take calls even though they have moved on from trying to make a trade.

In an interesting side note to Dozier staying in Minnesota, Levine wants to add another Designated Hitter to the mix. While they have Kennys Vargas and Byung Ho Park coming back, the Twins feel that signing an additional power bat would be ideal. Shockingly, free agent superstar Jose Bautista has recently been connected to the team. However, some think Falvey and Levine are scoping out every available player and it is not a serious possibly. It is getting late for players to sign with teams, so maybe Bautista, who has hit 308 career home runs, will come here because the Twins can give him his best offer! Other available designated hitters that the Twins could grab are Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo and Coco Crisp.

Personally, I think our offense right now could get the job done with solid pitching behind them. With that said, there is no doubt that the Twins will benefit from keeping Dozier, and adding another reliable power threat in the middle of the line-up would provide extra assurance. In a recent Star Tribune article, Falvey said: “Given the landscape of players that remain out there, I would expect more activity later this month as we get closer to spring training.” Let us see if that comes true!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Posted by: gravessack | December 22, 2016

The Two Jeffs

Since letting go of hitting coach Tom Brunansky and first base coach Butch Davis nearly 11 weeks ago, the Twins have been working to build the 2017 Twins coaching staff. We’re happy to report that it now is complete!

After General Manager Thad Levine brought in former Yankees minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson to be the hitting coach, two more coaches officially joined Manager Paul Molitor’s staff on December 21. To replace Davis, the Twins promoted Jeff Smith. Smith has been in the Twins organization for the past 20 years, including the past two as the Fort Myers Miracle Manager. He coached three different minor league teams from 2006 to 2014. In 2009, the Florida State League named him Manager of the Year for helping his team win the division crown. Smith had an eight-year playing career when he was drafted by the Twins in 1995. He was in three organizations, but never reached the major leagues. Besides his first base duties, Smith will handle the catching and base running instructionals next season.

The Twins also announced that assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez won’t be in the dugout next season, making the hiring of Jeff Pickler, who will be on the bench, possible. It is uncertain what Pickler’s role will be but he is listed as a Major League Coach on the Twins website. According to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com, Pickler will be a “conduit between the front office and the coaches to convey analytics to the staff and players.”

For the last two seasons, Pickler has been in the Dodgers front office doing five separate jobs that involved some on-field time. Pickler was busy and thorough there, however the passport that got him hired by the Twins were his analytical skills. When he worked in the scouting department with the Dodgers, Pickler had experience in baseball analytics, which is Falvey’s favorite term these days. Since the maximum number of coaches that can be on the bench is seven, and with Hernandez removed, bench coach Joe Vavra is staying put for now.

Below are the nine coaches that will try to revive our hometown team in 2017. Remember some of these coaches may have more than one role.

Here are the coaches that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine picked to lead the Twins in 2017.

Written by: Michael L. Sack

There are two baseball clubs that rock the Twin Cities each summer. There is the team which is struggling to find the win column and the team across the river that can’t seem to lose. What you may not know is that these teams have been sending some players back and forth. Three notable players who boarded the Saints-Twins train are utility man Nate Hanson, outfielder Mike Kvasnicka, and pitcher Mark Hamburger.

Hanson, a former Golden Gopher, received the call he had been waiting for when the Twins selected him in the 28th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Hanson, now 29, started his quest to MLB with Elizabethton (Rookie League) in 2008, where he batted .215 with 8 RBIs and 2 home runs in 29 games. Until 2014, Hanson moved all around the Twins farm system, never having his dream realized. Seeking better opportunities, Hanson joined the Saints, an independent team from the American Association, in 2015. He played just 19 games before rejoining the Twins, playing for Rochester for the rest of the season. For Rochester, Hanson batted .262 with 4 RBIs in 17 games. He rejoined the Saints this past season and is currently listed on their roster for 2017.

Twins fans will most remember Kvasnicka – not for making the big club but for what happened during a minor league game. In August 2014, Kvasnicka and then-top prospect Byron Buxton collided in the outfield, giving Buxton a significant concussion. After being drafted in 2010 by Houston in the Amateur draft, he joined Houston’s Single-A team in Lexington, batting .248 with 19 home runs and 112 hits in two years. Right before the 2013 season, the Astros traded Kvasnicka to the Twins for pitcher Gonzalo Sanudo. He was assigned to Fort Myers, where he played 69 games in 2014. Kvasnicka jumped up to Double-A in 2015, where he hit .257 in 112 games. When the 28-year-old was released by the Twins, Kvasnicka stayed close and joined St. Paul last season. In 70 games, he batted .290, smacking 10 long balls. Kvasnicka is currently listed as a Club Director, as well as Hitting and Fielding Coordinator, for the Northstar Baseball Club of Minnesota.

Hamburger signed with the Twins in 2007 and has played on numerous minor league teams in Texas, Houston, San Diego, and Minnesota. He also played in Puerto Rico in 2010 and Venezuela in 2013. Unlike with Hanson and Kvasnicka, Hamburger had a taste of MLB in 2011 with Texas, posting a 4.50 ERA with 6 strike outs in 5 appearances. He joined the Saints in 2013, starting 21 games while recording 120 strike outs. Hamburger rejoined the Twins in 2014 for almost two years, playing for New Britain and Rochester, before setting out to play in Venezuela and Mexico for winter ball. In 2016, when he settled back in Minnesota, Hamburger pitched very well for the Saints, ending the season with a 12-6 record and a 3.29 ERA. The 29-year-old starter is expected to be in the Saints rotation next year (if he doesn’t actually run for St. Paul Mayor!).

There are other players with ties to both teams; including Caleb Thielbar, who recently signed with Miami, and Brandon Kintzler, who is still in the Twins organization. It would be curious to see if the Saints become a Twins Minor League Affiliate someday to keep this train rolling!

Written by: Michael L. Sack

Older Posts »

Categories