Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What Will Twins Do With Cuddyer?

With the Twins fluctuating between winning streaks and losing streaks and not making up much ground over the last two weeks, there have been rumbling about possible moves around the trade deadline in July. One of the names that pops up is right fielder, Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer is in the last year of his contract that he signed back in 2008.

The average, everyday Twins fan would think it’s a no brainer that we re-sign Cuddyer and have him be our right fielder for a few more years. I don’t think it’s as clear cut as it may appear. You have to remember that he is getting paid 10.5 million dollars this year and is hitting .286 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in. Just two years ago, the last year at the Metrodome, he hit a career high 32 home runs.

So the Twins have a tough decision on their hands as Cuddyer just might be the most well liked Twin not named Joe Mauer, so letting him walk via Free Agency or trading him could put a sour taste in the fans mouth. If I am the Twins, I would sit down as a collective group and really decide what they want to do with Cuddyer and how they see the future outfield panning out. The toughest thing is, the Twins have a few other guys who are either in Double-A or Triple-A that could fill Cuddyers spot, so it makes that tough on the Twins.

If I am GM Bill Smith, I would look to trade Cuddyer come late July. There will more than likely be a contender or two that are looking for a hitter that can give them an offensive boost. Not to mention he can also fill in at first base as well. If the Twins decide to go the trade route, I would ask for bullpen arms in return. I don’t expect the Twins to spend much this coming off-season, so I would look for them to acquire an arm or two.

The other route the Twins could go with Cuddyer is to give him a multi-year deal in the 3 year range. Maybe even if they re-sign him to make him our starting first baseman as the Twins can’t afford to play the “wait-and-see” game with Justin Morneau and his health at first base. That is a very interesting thought as when he filled in for Morneau last year, he really picked it up and did a great job filling in for him. If you do re-sign Cuddyer though, how much do you give him? Making 10.5 million this season, he likely won’t take much of a hometown discount. I would maybe start by offering him 8-9 million per year making that 3rd year a team option.

Whether it’s a trade, re-signing him, or letting him test the free agent mark, I’m sure glad that I’m not in Bill Smith’s shoes. It will be a very tough decision deciding the future of Michael Cuddyer as a Minnesota Twin.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Interview With AJ Pettersen

AJ Pettersen was the Twins 25th round (778th overall) pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He played three seasons at the University of Minnesota after readshirting the 2008 season. He will start his minor league career at Elizabethton (Tennessee), one of the Twins rookie ball affiliates. AJ has been kind enough to answer a few questions before he heads off to Elizabethton.

Kevin Lewis: Not many Twins fans know much about AJ Pettersen. Could you give a little bio about your baseball career and what made you choose baseball as your career?

AJ Pettersen: I played in 2006 and 2007 for Minnetonka High School and for Excelsior Legion, followed by 4 years at the University of Minnesota. I chose baseball because I quickly learned there wasn't a whole lot of room for a short, skinny kid in basketball. In all seriousness, baseball has been my passion for many years and I enjoy every aspect of it. For that reason, it was an easy choice.

KL: While playing for the U of Minnesota during the 2009-2010 season, you guy were the first team to play a game at Target Field. How exciting was that experience?

AP: That was a pretty cool experience. It is definitely one of my most exciting baseball experiences. I think 37,000 fans showed up that day for the open house/baseball game and that more than tripled the highest attendance I had played for previously. The Twins have been very gracious to the Gophers for many years and getting that opportunity was pretty fantastic.

KL: You had a great 2011 season, hitting .344 with 12 doubles and an on-base percentage of .394 for the Gophers. If I was a team interested in you, what would your scouting report tell me?

AP: It would probably say that I don't have any one tool that will wow you, but if you keep coming back you will see consistently good performances. I pride myself on playing all aspects of the game well and for helping my team win in any way I can.

KL: Being a hometown guy, playing at Minnetonka High School and then attending the University of Minnesota, what was it like being drafted by the Minnesota Twins?

AP: It is quite an honor that I got picked by the Twins. I have been a fan of the Twins my entire life and it's awesome to be part of the organization now. I couldn't think of a better organization to be a part of.

KL: Growing up as a young baseball player, who was your favorite team to follow as well as your favorite player?

AP: Like I said, I have always been a big Twins fan. I have also always been a big fan of the little guys across the league. I used to be a big David Eckstein fan for obvious reasons and I am now a real big fan of Dustin Pedroia. Both of those guys play the game the right way and it's fun to watch.

KL: If you aren’t on the baseball field working on becoming a better player, what are you doing?

AP: If I am not playing ball I am probably hanging out with my fiance, my family and my friends. I like to play video games and just hang out and watch tv, movies, etc.

KL: If you were to speak to a group of young kids who dream to become pro baseball players, what one piece of advice would you give them?

AP: Keep working hard. I know that sounds cliche, but if I hadn't spent hours upon hours in the batting cages in the freezing cold, or taking ground balls in the wee hours of the morning I never would have made it this far. I would also recommend that kids play games of wiffle ball, stickball, etc. These games develop the instincts that many kids today lack because they play too much organized baseball. These games put kids in situations that they might not see as much in real games and force kids to think on their toes and make quick decisions.

KL: I would like to thank AJ for taking some time as he heads to Elizabethton tonight. I wish him nothing but the best and that one day he could maybe join Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins as a third hometown Twin.

AP: Thanks for giving me the chance to answer a few questions. Go Gophers and Go Twins!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Injury Updates: What Will Gardy Do?

As the Twins continue to win games and trim away at the A.L. Central lead, they also await the return of several all-star caliber players from their stay on the disabled list. Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Tsuyohsi Nishioka, and Kevin Slowey are all currently rehabbing and trying to get back to the Twins Cities soon. Some have taken longer than anticipated, but are nearing the completion of their rehab assignment.

As they continue to return from the DL, manager Ron Gardenhire will have a couple of tough decisions to make as who to demote to Triple-A Rochester as the players return from the disabled list. Some decisions might be easier than others, but as a manager, telling someone they are being sent to Rochester is never an easy task.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka:

The first player that appears closest to making his return to the active roster is shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. As soon as Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher slid into Nishioka as he broke up a double play, you knew something was wrong with Nishioka. It was later confirmed that it was a fractured left fibula and he would initially miss 6-8 weeks, but would end up taking longer. There were questions as to whether Nishioka would return as a second baseman or would move over to his more natural position of shortstop. It appears as though he will indeed move back to shortstop, which will force Alexi Casilla to play second.

With Nishioka returning on Wednesday, I expect the Twins to send Luke Hughes back to Triple-A. It would be either Hughes or Matt Tolbert and I honestly don’t see Gardenhire sending out Tolbert as he is a Gardenhire favorite. There is also a very small, remote chance they could send Danny Valencia down as he hasn’t produced like last year, but like I said it’s a very small chance.

Glen Perkins:

In my opinion, Glen Perkins has been the biggest surprise thus far for the Twins bullpen. Over the last couple seasons he has been shifted back and forth between starter and reliever, but this year it was known he was going to be a relief pitcher, so I think that allowed him to get into the mindset of his role. He didn’t give up a run, earned or unearned, until April 28th against Tampa Bay. Perkins would continue his early success while making 22 appearances with a 1.59 ERA and 22 strike outs. However, he would be forced to leave the May 22nd game at Arizona due to a right oblique strain.

It was an unfortunate time for the injury, although there is no good time, because Joe Nathan was also dealing with arm soreness. Having thought two guys out of the bullpen, you really have no stability. Perkins has made one rehab start at Triple-A Rochester and will pitch again tonight. If everything goes well, expect the Twins to bring him back up to the Twin Cities sometime this week. If I were the Twins I would send down Chuck James, who has gotten very little work while on the active roster.

Joe Nathan:

Joe Nathan is one of those guys that the Twins should rehab him very slowly and cautiously. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2009, he missed the entire 2010 season. Coming out of Spring Training, Nathan and Matt Capps were to split the closer role, but it appeared that Gardenhire was more confident in Nathan. I felt it was too quick to put him back into the closer role and his numbers backed that up. Before landing on the disabled list in late-May, he had an ERA of 7.63 over 15.1 innings with three saves. The Twins should slowly worked him back into the role and see how he would have handled non-close situations.

We probably won’t see Nathan back until late-June or early-July as he is just starting to throw live batting practice. He will likely go on a rehab assignment and then return to the set-up role. The only way I would put Nathan back into the closers role this season is if Capps struggles or Nathan can get command of his pitches better and can handle the high pressure situations. Look for the Twins to send either Jim Hoey or Phil Dumatrait down to Rochester when Nathan returns. If you go by just numbers, I would send Hoey down as he seems to struggle every time he enters a game, as it’s shown with his 8.31 ERA over 13 innings.

Jason Kubel:

If there was any Twin that was off to a hot start, it was Jason Kubel. As the Twins were very slow out of the gates to start the season, Kubel seemed to be the only one wanting to hit the baseball. Even though he hit just two home runs in the month of April, he had a .351 batting average. Kubel and Jim Thome usually split duties at DH, but with Thome having lingering back issues, Kubel got most of the appearances at DH. Like every other Twins player though, he due to end up on the disabled list.

After the May 30th game, Kubel was diagnosed with a left foot sprain and was later placed the DL. As of Saturday, he started taking bating practice, so I would expect him back sometime late next week, but the following week could be the best bet. I think without a doubt when he is the activated the Twins will likely send out Brian Dinkleman.

Kevin Slowey:

After a battle with Scott Baker on who would be the fifth starter to start the season, Slowey was designated for the long-relief role. There were some questions about Slowey’s future as a Twin, but that was put on the back burner after a slow start for Slowey. Despite his 4.91 ERA through 14.2 innings pitched, there were still some whispers about whether the Twins would hold on to him or find a suitor and try to improve their bullpen.

After his May 15th appearance he went to the trainers and was later diagnosed with a mild strain of the abdomen. He has yet to begin a rehab assignment as he currently threw off the mound for the first time since being placed on the disabled list. Once Slowey is healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep him in Rochester to put him in the starter role, which would attract teams to think about trading for him.

Denard Span:

After years of waiting in the wings behind Torii Hunter, Denard finally has taken the reigns of center and has no signs of giving it up anytime soon. After an impressive 2009 season, Span slipped a little bit during the 2010 season by hitting .264 in the lead off spot. What he may lack at the plate he makes up in the outfield. Despite not having the strongest arm, he makes some of the same diving catches that Hunter would have made. Entering the 2011 season, Span needed to prove that he was worthy of being the lead off man for the Twins. He has done a good job so far hitting .294 with an on-base percentage of .361.

Last year Span experienced dizziness and was forced to make a trip to the DL. It took a few weeks, but he was able to return to action without any lingering side effects. Well that same injury has reoccured and has forced Span to make a trip the newly formed, 7-day concussion disabled list. Pretty much Span just has to rest up and hopefully can resume baseball activities sooner than later. When he comes off the DL, I expect Rene Tosoni to be sent back to Rochester.

Joe Mauer:

Without a doubt Joe Mauer is the most followed and talked about Minnesota Twin whether he is healthy or not. Throughout his career, it has been thought that Mauer may be too tall to remain behind the plate as the Twins catcher. Toss in the continuing leg and back issues and there might be a legitimate reason to talk about moving him to a corner infield position. The Twins have quickly shot down the idea of moving Mauer to a different position as he is in the first year of his $184 million, 8 year contract. It’s so hard to find a franchise catcher, let alone a catcher who has half the ability that Mauer has, so I see no reason to move Mauer to a different position.

Mauer entered the 2011 season coming off minor knee surgery he had during the off-season. Some people were surprised that he had a minor knee procedure, but I think it could be an annual think, but obviously hope that’s not the case. Due to the off-season procedure, Mauer didn’t start in Spring Training until about half way through, but the Twins felt he was more than ready to break camp and start in Opening Day. Little did the Twins know that it was more than just his knees that caused him to be placed on the disabled list just 10 games in the season.

The Twins immediately had Mauer undergo testing to see what was causing the reported leg and back soreness. It was determined that Mauer had bilateral leg weakness. After resting and recovering from a viral infection as well, he was sent down to Ft. Myers to begin his rehab assignment. Rather than have him move from team to team throughout the minors, the Twins wanted him to stay near their Spring Training complex in Ft. Myers so they could keep a better tab on him and see how he was progressing.

As of late Mauer has been able to catch more and more every game, with him recently catching a full nine inning game. That is the best news that Twins fans could have wished for. His bat isn’t quite up to speed yet, but that is the least of his worries as we all know Mauer will eventually end up hitting .300 or better. The most important thing is to make sure that Mauer is as close to 100% as he can get before they decide to bring him back to the Twin Cities and insert him into the everyday lineup again.

It appears that Rene Rivera will be sent to Rochester when Mauer returns from the DL as Rivera has a minor league option. Keeping Drew Butera also allows Carl Pavano to have his personal catcher, Butera, when he makes his starts. It may not be a well received move, but I think it’s the right move to make rather than Pavano not feel comfortable when he makes his starts.

With all the moves that will be made over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how quickly this team can gel and get into a groove before the All-Star break arrives. I feel that if the Twins can be within 5-6 games of the division league at the time of the All-Star break and everyone gets some much needed rest, it should shape for yet another exciting race for the AL Central title.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Could the Twins Have Something Special Unfolding?

As the 2011 First-Year Player Draft wraps up today, the Twins future appears to be bright. There is one prospect who made his debut last season and could be a future face of the franchise. The great thing is, he wasn't drafted, instead he was discovered not only by the Twins, but other teams as well. The Twins were lucky enough to land Dominican prospect, Miguel Sano.

Sano is an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic and was highly sought after by many teams when he announced his intentions on coming to the Major Leagues. There were rumors of the Twins having some interest, but many people didn’t think the Twins would spend the money to sign an international free agent. Were they ever wrong when October 2009 came, the Twins signed Sano to a 3.15 million dollar signing bonus and the Twins made a big splash.

However, it wasn’t as easy as just signing a dotted line for Sano. As with every international free agent that signs with a Major League team, the commissioners office does a full identity check. There were multiple rumors that Sano was not infact 16 years old as he claimed he was, but after an investigation by Major League Baseball, he was given the okay to sign with the Twins.

After starting out by playing in the Dominican Summer League, Sano eventually made his way stateside and made his debut with the Twins Gulf Coast League and quickly proved why he was worth all the hype. In 41 games he hit .291 with four home runs and 19 runs batted in. Despite being a player who can play any infield position, I expect him to end up at third base or first base. There have been scouts saying that he could even outgrow the third base position and could end up in a corner outfield position or could be the the future cornerstone at first base. He has drawn comparisons to Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez when it comes to his physical size.

Even though the Twins would love to have him appear in the Twins Cities sooner rather than later, if I were them, I would move Sano through the system slowly. They can’t afford to rush Sano and blow their chance at having a very special player one day. So if there is a Twins prospect to keep your eye on when it comes to the offensive side of the ball, Miguel Sano could very well be that player. If he has a solid 2011 season in the Gulf Coast League, I could see him starting the 2012 season in Beloit. So hopefully he will appear in the Twin Cities around the 2015 season, but it’s tough to predict when a player will be ready for the majors, especially when a player is as young as Sano is.

It will be very exciting to see him grow into his body and hopefully become the player that everyone predicts and hopes he will become.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Future at Starting Pitcher: Kyle Gibson

        With the way the Twins have been playing so far this season, there have been a lot of players being promoted and demoted from Rochester. As I was watching the game last night, I was joking with my brother, “Do you think the Triple-A Rochester squad could beat the Twins?”. There is only one problem with that. 9 of the 25 players on the active roster started the season in Rochester. Now a few of those players have been up and down quite a bit as there has been at least one injury per week for the Twins.

        However, there is one player that hasn’t been considered being called up. That player would be Kyle Gibson, a right handed pitcher that was drafted in the 1st round (22nd overall) in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. He has quickly moved through the minor league system and is in line for a late season call up if the Twins are completely out of the division race. He had a very impressive 2010 Minor League campaign going 11-6 with a 2.96 earned run average and 126 strikeouts as he pitched in Single-A Ft. Myers, Double-a New Britain and Triple-A Rochester.

        Gibson has the potential to be a very good #2 starter for the Twins in 2012. Gibson is like any other current Twins starter, he is a ground ball pitcher. That is something the Twins have coveted for quite a few years now. If you look back at the Twins pitchers that came up through their system, you rarely see a hard throwing, strike out pitcher. So Gibson fits the mold perfectly.

        The most important thing about Gibson’s 2010 run through the minors was that he didn’t encounter any lingering side effects from a stress fracture that occurred during his junior year at the University of Missouri. There were some questions prior to the draft whether or not he would be able to fully recover and become the pitcher everyone knew him as while at Missouri. He quickly put the doubters in their spot.

        His velocity ranges from the high-80s to the low-90s, so he definitely won’t be a fast throwing, strike out machine, but his fastball has good movement on it and his slider is a good second pitch that causes all those ground ball outs. He has been working on improving his change-up, which will be crucial to get that down to be successful at the major league level.

        Look for Gibson to make his debut at the Major League level sometime in late August or early September. There is absolutely no reason to rush him considering the Twins appear out of the race early in the season. They need to let him build more and more confidence and really get his pitches down before they call him up, hopefully so he stays at the major league level and doesn’t bounce around between Triple-A and the majors. Twins fans should be very excited for this young pitcher, so everyone keep an eye on him.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Will Joe Remain Twins Catcher?

As the ongoing debate about whether catchers should block the plate when a runner is coming home and getting ready to take out the catcher, you continuously hear of one catcher that should be moved from behind the plate. That name would be Joe Mauer. All the outrage about the catcher blocking home plate started about a week ago when Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants broke his left fibula and severely strained some ligaments in his ankle. He will miss the remainder of the 2011 season.

Thus began the debate whether teams should put such valuable players behind the plate. My thought is to keep them behind the plate. You can’t move a catcher to a different position just because you are afraid he might get hurt on a play. If you did that then you wouldn’t have anyone playing defense, because then you could make the case that a second baseman could be taken out with a hard slide or whatever the situation is.

During all this talk about Posey and the thought of moving players from behind the plate, you hear a lot about the Minnesota Twins possibly moving Mauer to a different position. I totally disagree with their opinion on that. Not only is Mauer one of the best catchers in the game right now, but where would put him? They have Justin Morneau at first base through the 2013 season and Danny Valencia at third base for the foreseeable future. Those would be the only two positions I would put Mauer at if I was the Twins.

If you were to move Mauer, who would take over as the full-time, starting catcher? Drew Buetra? No thanks. Rene Rivera? No thanks. Steve Holm? Okay, you have to stop being funny. Wilson Ramos? Oh wait, the Twins traded him for Matt Capps. With the Twins payroll exceeding $100 million for the first time in franchise history, you wouldn’t have much wiggle room to go spend on a quality starting catcher, so that brings us back to keeping Mauer behind the plate. Also, don’t forget that Mauer is in the first year of his new 8 year, $184 million contract. So you can’t even think about moving him to a different position this early into his contract.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire put it perfectly the other day when asked about the possibility of moving Mauer to a different position: "He signed an eight-year deal to catch in the big leagues for the Minnesota Twins," Gardenhire said. "So we're trying to get him back as a catcher. If it doesn't work out when he comes back, then we're going to have to figure somewhere else. And that's a lot harder than everybody makes it out to be, because we have some corner people that are pretty good baseball players.”

I think the only way they move Mauer to a different position is if he continues to have knee issues during the off-season and into Spring Training. To me, the earliest you can think about moving him is after the 2013 season, but that would only work if the Twins don’t re-sign Morneau and then move Mauer to first base. That doesn’t mean I don’t want Morneau to stick around, as I certainly want him to stick around, but the Twins will have to really think about what is best for the organization.