Sunday, March 30, 2008

10 Reasons to Watch

If you were a Yankees fan who wanted to win a World Series, you could just sit back and wait for the top free agent to hit the market and demand your team sign him. And, I suppose, if you wanted to be a successful parent, you could just adopt a 17-year-old National Merit Scholar.

But Twins fans are like the rest of us parents. We understand that it is infinitely more rewarding to see success come from someone in whom we’ve invested some time. While it isn’t clear that this team is ready to add to the four division championships they’ve had this decade, the players’ minor and major league histories show that they’re not as far as some might think. So, if you like watching kids grow up, here are the Top 10 reasons to watch the Twins this year:

10. Justin Morneau – He has an MVP award in his back pocket, he’s going to be a Twin for the next six years, and he still hasn’t entered his prime. It’s almost become a cliché that baseball players often have a career year when they turn 27, and Morneau’s 27th birthday is May 15th.

But the critical question about Morneau might be: what happens when this guy doesn’t slump for two months of the year? Last year, he had 28 home runs by the end of July, but slumped the last two months hitting just .222 with 3 home runs in August and September. And in 2006, when he won the MVP, he was hitting just .244 entering June. We still haven’t seen this guy’s ceiling.

9. Scott Baker – As he entered the ninth inning of a perfect game last August, it was pretty clear we were watching Baker make “the leap” that we had been waiting for. In reality, this was the second leap. The first was in 2004 when he motored through three levels of the minors and we got all excited. It’s taken three years, but he’s still just 26 years old.

8. Brendan Harris – He showed last year in Tampa Bay that he could hit in the majors, but he’s going to need to show the Twins that he can field for an organization that cares about details. He’s the starting second baseman for now, but watch to see how many rollers make their way through the right side of the infield. If he even becomes average defensively, he’ll likely hold this job until the new ballpark opens. If not, you’ll see him backing up someone next year.

7. Boof Bonser – Apparently, I’m contractually obligated to talk about Bonser’s weight, or at least that’s what I gather based on the thousands of words penned about the topic this spring. Instead, let’s focus on a minor league career that included a strikeout title in the AAA Eastern League. For all last year’s struggles, he still kept striking out batters (136K/173 IP), which bodes well for continued success in the majors. Fatso or no, he projects to be a legitimate #2 pitcher in the next year or so.

6. Jason Kubel – “Before The Injury”. It seems like those three words have almost become a new first name for Kubel. Like “Before The Injury, Kubel was a more exciting hitter than Mauer or Morneau.” Or “Before The Injury, Kubel was one of the top prospects in the minors.” The sad truth is that Kubel may never be the player he was Before The Injury.

Then again, maybe he will be. Shortly after Twins fans started tuning out last year, Kubel started locking in. He hit .341 over the last two months last year, and showed both patience (.400+ OBP) and power (.500+ SLG). Could that be from the increased plate discipline he showed as the year continued? In April he was striking out four times for every walk. By August, the ratio was 1:1.

(Space is getting short. See what I mean about having a lot to watch? Let’s do a lighting round….)
5. Kevin Slowey – “He needs a strikeout pitch!” Really? He struck out 342 batters in his 354 minor league innings. Maybe he can just use the pitch he used for those. I’m just saying.

4. Joe Mauer – “Where’s the power?” He’s 6’ 5”, 225 pounds, 24 years old and is a career .313 hitter. I’m thinking it will come. Just a hunch.

3. Carlos Gomez - “He’s not ready!” Probably not, but over the last three years, he has averaged 45 stolen bases per year. Only three Twins have ever stolen that many in a season – Chuck Knoblauch, Rod Carew and Cesar Tovar.

2. Delmon Young – “He’ll swing at anything!” True, but if he can learn to recognize pitches that he can’t hit, he may have the highest ceiling in this list. In Tampa Bay, he was striking out four times for every walk. This spring he continued that trend, so he certainly has a ways to go. For now, his power, arm, and lack of plate discipline will remind you of Torii Hunter, both the good and the bad.

1. Francisco Liriano – “What’s his velocity?” Quit obsessing about the radar gun and watch the strikeout totals instead. In his last two spring training starts, he struck out twelve batters in nine innings. Giggle.

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I'll be at the home opener tonight, and GameDay will be sold across the four corner of the Metrodome as usual. This year, I'm going to be working with the vendors a lot more than in the past, so you might well see me walking around in my red vest (and red stocking cap) tonight. If so, please say "Hi".

And of course, look for GameDay vendors with the red vests and the colorful covers featuring art by Robert Blehert this month. (You can see it at the top of the entry.) This month's guest editor is Nick Nelson and the opposing team's Dugout Splinters is by an Angels blogger from HalosHeaven.com. Plus, there are stories by Jesse Lund and Seth Stohs. It's a virtual bloggers cornucopia.

6 comments:

neckrolls said...

Excellent point about Slowey's Ks. And I bet this is the season that Mauer's HRs will arrive.

Wish I could be there at the game - but I'll be watching from California.

Anonymous said...

The problem with parents watching kids grow up is that the parents aspirations for their kids don't always match the kid's talents.

Here is the flip side:

Morneau - he may have a better year in him, but we may have already seen his best. The stats don't suggest that players have their best year at 27, that is the median age for players' career years.

Baker - bad pitchers sometimes pitch no-hitters. I don't know that Baker is a bad pitcher, but his no hitter his leap last year was pitching decently. I don't think there is much reason to expect a lot more.

Harris - Harris is unlikely to become average defensively. The question is whether he will ever even be acceptable. I doubt Harris can keep the job if Casilla develops into a second baseman. His long range role may be as an offensive oriented utility player.

Bonser - I think he is a number two starter only in his dreams. He may go deeper into games and become an inning eater. That will make him a solid part of a rotation. Its unlikely he is ever going to dominate games consistently.

Kubel - I think Gardy is right. Kubel is what he is. You aren't going to see a lot more out of him. And you are misreading his stats from last year. There is no evidence he became more patient.

Slowey - He lacks the ability to strike out major league hitters. Its nice that he can strike out minor league hitters, it will be helpful for a long career bouncing around AAA. I'm just saying.

Joe Mauer - You may wait a long time for Mauer's power to show up. He's the Twins number two hitter.

Carlos Gomez - You have to get on base to steal bases. Gomez is going to be a good player, someday. This year, probably not. He may steal 45 bases, but he may get half of them at AAA if he makes enough rookie mistakes and Span's spring turns out to reflect his real development.

Delmon Young - So long as Young reminds us of Torii Hunter he will be fine. But that needs to include the smile. The question with Young isn't his bat, its his attitude.

Francisco Liriano - He is starting in the minor leagues for a reason. He doesn't really have major league command of his fastball. If that continues, we are going to see him struggle a lot once hitters figure that out.

Yeh - I am being overly negative. This bunch of players could easily be the core of a very special team in a couple years. But this year could just as easily be a struggle, with a lot of "disappointments" for impatient fans.

Andrew said...

Anonymous said...
The problem with parents watching kids grow up is that the parents aspirations for their kids don't always match the kid's talents.

Here is the flip side:

Are you Dan (why accentuate the positive when you can scream the neagtive and call people names and melt down in embarrassing fashion) Barreiro?

Padraig said...

Are you promising to having someone at 11th ave and 6th st? Last year was hit and miss at best.

John said...

Are you promising to having someone at 11th ave and 6th st? Last year was hit and miss at best.

I don't think we will. Tonight was a miserable night to sell programs, so not too much can be made of what I saw. But even on a sold out night, I just don't see anyone on that corner. My intention was to have someone there, but we just don't see the traffic there to justify it.

Any ideas of better spots? I'm open to suggeststions.

Padraig said...

I've always tried to pick game day up b/c its a good read and has a better scorecard then what they in the dome, but I certainly appreciate the lack of traffic issue at 6th and 11th.

The problem being anyone from St. Paul who knows anything should park down there.

Just another instance of St. Paul getting the shaft.