Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nick's Turn

For Nick Punto Day, I thought I'd revisit Punto's history a little bit. Within a month of playing under Ron Gardenhire, we knew Nick Punto was destined for greatness. How? Because Ron Gardenhire said he was destined for greatness.

This was first published on way back on March 16, 2004 during Punto's first spring training with the Twins.

Ron Gardenhire has a chance this year to learn a lesson from his predecessor. In order to do so, I think we all need to step back and take a deep breath concerning Nick Punto....

Gardenhire said Nick Punto has the ability to be a starting shortstop.

'I've seen this kid enough to know he can play a little,' Gardenhire said. 'He's got skills.'"
- Star Tribune

[Punto] is an aggressive, excitable, peppery player who can cause all sorts of commotion.
- Tom Powers in the Pioneer Press

Over the last few day, it hasn't been a Twins update if it doesn't mention Nick Punto in it at least once. Nick Punto could be a starting shortstop. Nick Punto could play some center field. Nick Punto will motivate Cristian Guzman.
Nick Punto WILL play center field this week. Enough already.

Nick Punto is a utility infielder, and that might be optimistic. "Futility" infielder is probably more accurate, because for all his feisty, peppery play, he hasn't shown he can hit in the majors. Or even above A ball:

The 111 at-bats last year in Scranton are the nearest he's looked to a major league regular, and the seven hits he has in spring training this year can't undo the last five years of full season baseball.

This isn't to say that Punto doesn't have his uses. He's supposedly a great fielder, and he'll bring some more speed to the team. He may also provide some roster flexibility, since the Twins can try him in center field. In fact, he seems to be the perfect compliment to Michael Cuddyer in that he could play all the positions Cuddyer can't and his speed compliments Cuddyer's power. He's also a switch hitter, which makes him more valuable on the bench, and his feistiness might well be an attribute.

Hold it. Where have we heard this before? A feisty, switch hitting infielder who is solid defensively. Wanna see something eerie?Denny Hocking was a year older and performed slightly better in his first year at AAA, but the resemblance is spooky. And if a comparison to Hocking runs chills up and down your spine, you're not alone. But it's important to remember that Hocking was also a useful player, in much the same way that Punto is. What caused Twins Geeks to wince every time his name was announced was how much he played.

From 1999 through 2001, Hocking had 1086 at-bats, which is nearly twice as many as a utility infielder (who can't hit much) should get. That's not Hocking's fault - that's Tom Kelly's fault for falling in love with Hocking's feistiness and flexibility.

"He brings electricity, he is a gamer, he's able to play every day and do the job, he can absolutely fly, and he has a cannon for an arm. I've seen enough of this kid to know that he is pretty good."

- Ron Gardenhire
Uh-oh. Uh Ron, there's another quote I'd like to acquaint you with:

"Those who do not understand the past are destined to repeat it."
- George Santayana

If you're posting anything about Nick Punto for Nick Punto Day, make sure to send out a tweet about it with a link and the hashtag #NickPuntoDay. Then it should display over on the right. Have fun exploring what all the other bloggers are saying. We'll see you back here on Monday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nick Punto Day is TOMORROW!

Don't forget, tomorrow is Nick Punto Day. It's your job to write about Nick Punto. It's our job to read it.

Andrew Kneeland, whose brainchild this is, is adding a widget to his site at which will show all the entries. All you need to do to add yours is tweet about it (with a link of course) and use the hashtag of #NickPuntoDay and it will be picked up. (If I can get the same widget, I'll add it here as well.)

I'm really looking forward to what people can come up with. Have fun!

Maple Street Press Twins 2010 Annual

I'm about to make a mistake that I've made on this site roughly 965 times - and that isn't an exaggeration.

The nature of blogging as a second occupation is that you're forced to a lot of writing on the fly. You don't have time to research as much as you would like. You find yourself cutting entries short so you can get some sleep. And you really don't take the time to let a story marinate in it's own juices.
You just crank it out and live with the imperfections.

And that's the mistake.

This story should marinate, because I really hope I refer to it several dozen times over the next month or so. And because the people involved, who I greatly respect, deserve that time for me to get things just right.

They're not going to get it. Here we go.....

Right about now, if you find yourself in this god-forsaken icebox of a state, a little spring would be a nice thing. I find myself watching the shadows on the snow, convincing myself that they're getting shorter every day, and that it's getting lighter.

Today, I got a box of spring. It had several issue of Maple Street Press Twins 2010 Annual. Anything baseballish in February is reason enough to get excited, but I'm especially excited about this because the 128 pages of content were provided by TwinsCentric and various independent baseball writers here in the Twin Cities. Just so you know what you're getting into, here's the stories you'll be able to find:

The Team Section
  • Player Profiles by TwinsCentric - Each page and player has so much information, your eyes will bleed. And they ain't sugar-coated.
  • A Division for the Taking by TwinsCentric - A candid and irreverent review of all the teams we've learned to hate in the AL Central.
  • On the Defensive by Phil Mackey - The Twins defense is analyzed and Mackey concludes that it has slipped considerably over the last couple of years.
  • Talkin Twins with Gardy by Darren Wolfson - A six-page interview with manager Ron Gardenhire about 2009 and the offseason.
  • No Regrets by Phil Miller - Miller was the Pioneer Press beat reporter during the Johan Santana trade scramble, and he recalls the pressures that were applied and the decisions that were made.
  • Spanning the Outfield by Alex Halsted - Denard Span talks candidly about the disappointment he felt at the beginning of the 2009 season and how Twins players mentor each other.
  • The "Little Things" by Adam V. Peterson - Does the Twins reputation for playing fundamental baseball translate into more wins?
  • The Travails of an Aging Right Fielder by Dan Wade - Michael Cuddyer had a huge year in 2009, but what does that mean for his future with the Twins?
  • No Money, No Problem by Andrew Kneeland - Kneeland looks behind the scenes at how a "small-market" team can remain competitive.
  • Power Surge by Nick Nelson - Nelson looks at the breakthrough years by Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer.
  • An Industry Leader by Parker Hageman - Hageman looks at the ups and down that Joe Nathan experience in 2009 and what it means for 2010.
  • Retrospect 2001 by Seth Stohs - Stohs revisits the decision to draft Mauer over Mark Prior and how it played out.
Stadium Section
  • Built for Baseball by Howard Sinker - Complete with gorgeous pictures, Sinker looks at Target Field
  • Between a Rock and a Home Plate by Judd Spicer - Everything you ever want to know about the Minnesota-quarried rock that adorns the new ballpark.
  • Magic and Money by John Bonnes - Thirteen small-market teams have opened new stadiums in the last 20 years. I look at how they spent their new-found booty.
Minor League Section
  • Strength in Numbers by Seth Stohs - Stohs gives a comprehensive look at the depth in the minors, position by position.
  • An International Focus by Josh Johnson - The Twins organization broke through in their signing of international prospects last year.
  • Class of 2009 Primer by Seth Stohs - Stohs reviews the Twins 2009 draft, pick by pick and talks about their future.
History Section
  • A Long History by Stew Thornley - Thornley reviews Minnesota baseball history before the arrival of the Twins, and how the Twins time in Minnesota began.
  • Popping Champagne - and Each Other by Jim Thielman - The feisty Twins of the late 60s may be best understood from the vantage point of manager Billy Martin's fight with his own starting pitcher.
  • A Common Vision by Arne Christensen - An interview with Mike Pagliarulo touches on the spirit of the 1991 World Series Champs.
In the letter from the editor I wrote:

"The Twins sport a population of independent baseball writers that other fan bases envy for the quality and passion."

I think you'll see that in the Annual, and that the community can support something this ambitious. I'm proud of that, and I think anyone who supports these writers can be too.

You can learn more about the Annual (and order it) here. Or look for it on newstands and magazine racks throughout Twins territory. I hope it brings you a little bit of spring.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Return of Frenchy

I have a good friend who has referred to Jacque Jones as "Frenchy" for his entire baseball career. That's one of the reasons I smiled when I heard the Twins signed Jones yesterday to a minor-league contract. But it's not the only reason.

For starters, I just like bringing back one of those Twins from the Tom Kelly era. And I like Jones considerably more than, say, Rich Becker.

Another reason is that way back in the day I used to harp annually about how Jones should be shopped around as a center fielder. Remember, he was a center fielder in his first few years with the Twins. He wasn't bumped because he couldn't play there, or because his defense was poor. He was bumped because the Twins had Torii Hunter.

In my mind, the Twins consistently failed to leverage Jones' value as a center fielder in a trade. He was used as an average corner outfielder, but would have been well-above average offensively as a center fielder. That should have had real value for some other aggressive front office. Jones could have been Franklin Gutierrez, without the extreme defensive chops.

It sounds like the Twins will be seeing if he can still play there, judging by the timing of the announcement. Yesterday we also found out that the Twins had lost Jason Pridie on waivers. They had to put Pridie on waivers to drop him from the 40-man roster in order to make space for recent signee Orlando Hudson.

There was a fair amount of debate locally on who would be dropped from the 40-man roster for Hudson, but I never saw anyone suggest it might be Pridie. After all, he was the only real option to back up Denard Span in center field heading into spring training. Now that designation seemingly falls on Jones shoulders.

Is another move coming to get a "true" center fielder, ala Endy Chavez or Wily Tavarez? No, probably not. If the Twins sign a 5th outfielder to a major league contract they have the same problem now that they had with Hudson - they need to find a spot on the 40-man roster. Their moves indicate they are now limited to offering minor-league contracts, like they did with Jacque Jones.

Which means if I'm the agent with a defensively-gifted minor league center fielder, I'm calling Bill Smith TODAY about a minor-league deal for my guy. Maybe Jones can handle center field. After all, he posted above average defense in center field for the Cubs as recently as 2007. But if Jacque can't, there aren't a lot of other options for the Twins.

Span needs a backup. And with Delmon Young in left field, Jason Kubel likely to get a fair amount of starts in one of the corners, and Cuddyer's shaky range last year there could be PLENTY of reasons for a defensive substitute late in games. On an otherwise loaded Twins roster, there is still a very real need there.

That might be best-handled with an offensively challenged rangy centerfielder, who are supposedly a dime-a-dozen in the minors. We'll see if an older ex-Twins can still handle it. And whether my friend is again ready to kvetch about Frenchy.