I trust everyone had a good weekend. Sorry I wasn't able to post until now but this weekend was pretty hectic, the Superbowl being the least of my concerns somehow. But I will put in my brief thoughts about that later. What I'd like to do today is to go over the the rest of the equation for the Twins in 2006. Mostly, this is a look at some of the up and coming players and what they might show us (if given the opportunity) in 2006. I also will look at some of the invites to spring training, that is those most likely to stick around. As far as making projections go, it's extremely difficult in these situations because you really don't know how much time, if any, they'll get to see on the big club. Obviously if someone goes down, there are some guys at the top of the list to come in and get a shot so I'll keep that in mind too. After that I actually do want to make my predictions for each division in the American League. I'll start today looking at our very own Central Division. Looking at who played with the Twins last year there seems to actually be quite a few players who might find themselves out of the loop next year and maybe being picked up by other teams. Brent Abernathy is gone. The signing of Sierra seems to kick Terry Tiffee of the 25-man roster. Mike Redmond's back- up on the 40-man roster may very well change this year with someone like Shawn Wooten coming into the picture, possibly leaving out Chris Heintz and/or Rob Bowen. How much longer is Glenn Willams going to stick around? Somebody elsewhere might find use for Jason Tyner, though I am unsure of his status for 2006. For 2006, I actually see Gardenhire spending much less time giving opportunities to guys without any Major League experience. Most of the guys on the following list (not all), tend to be a bit older or have had found some success at the Major League level at some point in their careers. I think Gardenhire was very frustrated after last year, in dealing with so much immaturity on the team.
2006 Cameos and More
Utility IF Luis Rodriguez
September LF Alex Romero
Option 3B Glen Williams
September 1B/PH Garrett Jones
Option C Shawn Wooten
September RP Pat Neshek
Season Relief Darrell May
Spot Starter Dave Gassner
Spot Starter Boof Bonser
Spot Starter Glen Perkins
As already seen in my rant about Nick Punto, I really believe Luis should be on the 25-man roster as opposed to Nick Punto. In 2005 Luis was very much an intangible that nobody thought much of until now. Towards the end of the season, I really looked for Luis's name on the roster before the game because I think he's a lot of fun to watch. Obviously, he's a player with a variety of skills. He is a switch hitter, which I like. So far he's hit better from the left side of the plate, somewhat typical for non-power switch hitters. Since he only had 175 AB during his Major League debut we don't want to assume to much in that area just yet. So far though, he's hit for pretty good average and has some decent power for his size. Obviously he wont be hitting many homeruns, but he gets a decent amount of doubles and an occasional triple as he is not slow but not exceptionally fast. The thing that was most impressive for such a young player in 2006 was his plate dicipline. In 175 AB Luis struck out 23 times but also walked 18 times. In his short stint, Luis also offered us a hint of poise when the game was on the line, hitting a very nice .375 BA with RISP. Defensively, Luis spent most of his time at 2B last year, although he did see a good deal at 3B and some at short. He did committ 3 errors but all occured while playing 3rd base, the least natural of his positions. Second is his best position. After the fall and departure of Rivas in 2005, there was some question about 2nd base for a while there. After recent aquisitions however, 2nd is almost a log jam. Castillo's the starter and now with the aquisition of Alexi Casilla, there appears to be an eair-apparent in line. So we'll see how that pans out as 2006 unfolds. As far as 2006 is concerned I would be very dissapointed if he spent all his time in AAA, although that's probably how he'll spend a good deal of it. If any of our middle infielders go down, I think Luis is at the top of the list. Course you could always trade Punto for whoever (I don't care) and then bring Luis in as the utility man of the bench. But that's probably just me...
Depending on what happens in right field this season, if Alex has another good year you would have to assume that he'll find himself in the main competition for left field for 2007. This is assuming that the Twins don't resign the aging Shannon Stewart after his contract expires. You also have to take in account the development of Jason Kubel. If things go the way I think they will, Ford will start the year in RF and then become the 4th outfielder when Kubel jumps up sometime about halfway into 2006. Then in 2007, Kubel should be starting in RF and then Ford will provide competition for Romero for the starting job in LF. Also in question here is whether or not Torii will still be patrolling CF in 2007. Anyways, as far as Romero is concerned, his power numbers are developing as he continues to hit for average. He does have a good deal of speed, but he still needs work with it if he wants to become a basestealing threat in the majors. Although his isolated discipline was not as noticeable in 2005, that has been one of his strengths and hopefully he continues to develop along that path. In all honesty Romero and Kubel are shapping out to be very similar hitters and could become a formidable duo in the corners in the next couple of years here. I have my tally sheet of outfielders coming through the Twins system who have failed to live up to expectations (Mohr, Ryan, Restovich, Buchanan and others), hopefully that sheet is not in the future for either of these guys. Romero's likely status for 2006 will be a September call-up in which I expect him to show some good things to come. If injuries were to occur, I find it more likely that someone like Jason Tyner will get the call if he's still around.
I have to believe that depending on the performance of Tony Batista during Spring Training, Glenn Williams might be given a serious look. I read Aaron's post on aarongleeman.com on a writer from the DR's comments about Batista, and I have to say that I myself was a bit concerned. Why indeed would a Japanese team be cutting this guy especially since they still had to pay him the 5 million. Looking at offensive numbers, they shouldn't be too dissapointed with that. Ryan has made several remarks about Batista's clubhouse presence, so the likelyhood of that seems slim (though not impossible). What it would have to be then is the decline of his defensive skills. From what I've heard, it's a good possiblity that he's out of shape and his defense is suffering because of it. For his sake, I hope he's been working on it, because this organization does have some options. Obviously, what Williams did in his short stint had to be exciting for him. He has the possibility of being a good average hitter, but he would definetly be somewhat of a liability in terms of complete lack of power for a 3rd basemen. As far as possibilities other than Williams, you would have to assume Cuddyer would get another shot and might even play there some anyways in 2006. Punto, Castro and Rodriguez have all played some at 3rd, but obviously not their ideal position. In the system we have both Matt Moses and David Winfree, both who seem to be progressing very well, but both are still very young. Anyways, this is more just a discussion on possible 3rd basemen considering the uneasiness about Batista, but as far as Williams is concerned, his window of opportunity is quickly closing here and with what he did in his short stint in 2005 I do kind of feel like he should be given another shot at some point in 2006. Best of luck to ya!
Jones made the move from AA to AAA in 2005. After having a great year offensively in 2004, the power was still there in 2005 but that was about it. Garrett did not adjust well to the pitching in AAA as he struck out 109 times in 488 at-bats and didn't walk all that much to compensate, posting a dismal .244 BA. But obviously there's still some potential here, as he remains on the 40-man roster and did end up playing in the Arizona Fall League. There, Garrett had a massive .680 SLG percentage, hitting 19 extra base hits along with a handful of singles. Garrett is getting older so 2006 should be a defining year for him. If he can make the adjustment to AAA pitching he could earn himself a September call-up despite the fact that Justin Morneau is squarely in his way. Obviously, if Garrett threw right-handed he might be considering a change of position (say third base), but unfortuanelty he hits and throws lefthanded. If Garrett can make some significant strides, hitting wise, Morneau has already trasitioned to 1st base from catching, maybe he might make another trasition to 3rd leaving 1st to Garrett in 2007. You'd have to admit there's some potential for a powerful corner infielder duo there that we haven't really seen in Minnesota, since Koskie and Morneau didn't really have a chance to develope together. Yes Garrett is another lefty bat, but those things seem to work themselves out when you're performing well. I know I'm ranting a bit, either way if Garrett performs well in 2006, which I think he will, he could find himself in the scenario I explained for 2007. I think last year he experienced a combination of two things, new challenges presented by better pitching in AAA and lack of motivation due to the success of Justin Morneau. This year he has to decide to do well enough where he forces the organization to find options for him in 2007.
In 2006 I believe there's a better than average chance that we'll see Wooten remain on the 40-man roster. Obviously with so much hype running around Mauer there hasn't been much for catcher prospects coming through the Twins minor league system. Chris Heintz and Rob Bowen are basically destined to remain minor league catchers, nothing more. The best strategy in my mind would be to keep Wooten around in 2006 because he does have a good deal of experience and some success at the major league level. That way if something were to happen to Redmond or god forbid Mauer, we'd have a decent option available. Wooten is also nice commodity because he has played both and 1st and 3rd, and frankly, we might need a bit of help picking up some of the slack late in the season at those positions. At 5'10'', 230lbs obviously Wooten is not a defensive stud but he has proven to be a capable back up and a pretty good hitter too. Overall, I think there's a more than an average chance he'll stick around in the organization and find himself called upon at some point in 2005.
As far as auxiliar bullpen guys I really wanted to go with JD Durbin, but I'm not convinced anymore that his stuff is legit. Even if it is, I don't think he's got the mental apptitude to take it to the next level. Durbin has yet to perform well beyond AA. With the Twins he struggled in 2004 and he has yet to impress during spring training either. More importantly however, he hasn't even looked very good at the AAA level. Now, since the organization was already high on him once, if he comes out well in 2006 at Rochester, I do believe there's a better chance he'll see time instead of Neshek But like I said, I'm not counting on it. Neshek is, in fact, older than Dubin and has shown tremendous ability to get outs coming from the bullpen. While he isn't truly overpowering, Neshek struck out 95 in 82 innings of relief for New Brittain in 2005. What's more impressive is that he threw 82 innnings of relief in 55 games. Showing that he is more than just a simple closer. The only reason that Neshek has not spent time at AAA is because an older and equally achieving Willie Eyre was Rochester's closer all of last year. If Eyre makes the bullpen spot like I projected in 2006, Neshek would move to be the closer in Rochester. In my mind it is no longer about progress with Pat as much as it's about when he's going to get his shot. The Twins could find themselves a pleasant surprise if they give this guy his opportunity.
When I first read about May's signing I had to say I was a bit insulted. My reasoning is this, the Twins have two openings in the bullpen for 2006. Reyes and White had already been signed and now a third was being brought in. To me it signalled an unwilligness to work with the options already available solely on the basis of lack of experience. All three of these guys have some experience, and except for Reyes, have some experience with success. What bothered me is that two of these guys were going to get the two spots, leaving all of our prospects to still waste away in the minors. However, I am still optimistic that just one of these guys will get a spot and the other will go to whoever proves himself to be more worthy. The way I projected the bullpen to work out was, White as the loogy and Liriano as the power-lefty/ long relief to start the season. Then later Liriano would transition into the rotation and Eyre will fill the hole left in his wake. While that is probably not the most likely projection, I do believe it to be the best model for success. May, however, seems to be higher than I would have expected on the Twins list. May had one successful season as a starter for the Royals in 2003. But that is now a distant memory as May struggled in 2004 and then was unable to successfully transition into a bullpen role in 2005. While I might not appreciate his certain talents, other of my fellow bloggers have reminded me that the Twins have had good success in making very average pitchers look very good. I have slowly started to accept May as part of a larger role for the Twins in 2006. My developing thought is that while May probably wont win a job on the 25-man roster to start the season, I see him taking advantage of this situation/opportunity to revitalize his career. We have a lot of capable coaches in Rochester, and May has some things to learn/relearn about being a reliever and pitching in general. Obviously May did something right in 2003, it's just a matter of rediscovering that stuff and maximizing it for future successes. May, will stick it out with this organization in 2006 and find away to be effective again at the Major League level.
For Gassner, I assume 2006 was very frustrating. In 2003, Gassner had a very good year in AA earning a late season promotion to AAA. Then in 2004 Gassner moved from the Toronto system to the Twins system and started the year in Rochester. In 2004 he went 16-8 with a 3.41 ERA for Rochester. That performance earned him a look during Spring Training in 2005, where he pitched pretty well out of the bullpen (while his ERA was low he did give up 2 HR's in just 11 innings). In 2005 he also earned himself two starts. The impressive one of the two came against Cleveland, where he pitched 6 innings (throwing only 72 pitches) and gave up only one run. Gassner, can be best compared to a Jamie Moyer/ Greg Maddux type pitcher. His repertuoir includes a fastball, change-up, curve and slider, all which he has impressive command over. His fastball tops out at 86mph and his curve stuggles to reach 70mph. After his outing in Cleveland, Gassner started again on April 21st. This time however, Gassner was given a warm greeting to the majors by the AAA roster known as Kansas City. Gassner failed to finish the 2nd inning, getting shelled for 4 runs. I'm not sure what the deal is with Kansas City, but I really think they mount a lot of confidence coming into games with young pitching. My guess is that they know those are the only days when they're going to get their hacks... Besides his poor performance that particular day, Gassner's 2005 seasoned was marred by some nagging injuries during his time in Rochester where he went 8-8 with an inflated ERA. At 27, obviously time is wearing thin for Gassner. I do believe that in another system he could be competing for the 4th or 5th spot in a rotation, unfortuanetly the best he'll be able to do for the Twins in 2006 is compete for that lefty spot in the pen. I do think that Gassner projects better as a starter because of his control and ability to rack up innings without striking out a lot of guys. Putting him in a bullpen I think exposes a team to certain risks. While he's very crafty and does baffle a lot of hitters (anyone remember Tony Fiore?) I think he poses a considerable risk of giving up long balls at the wrong time. Anyways, I do like Gassner a good deal and I wish him the best for 2006. Though there are a lot of pitchers in the system who deserve some looks in spot start situations, I do not feel it would be a waste for the Twins to give Gassner a couple more looks in 2006.
Bonser is the last element of the Perzynski trade with San Fransisco yet to prove himself at the Major League level. Obviously Nathan has proved his value, and Fransisco Liriano is set to make his mark in 2006. Bonser started 2004 in New Brittain and then 2005 in Rochester. While he has not made any dramatic statements, he has progressed nicely over these past two years. At AAA last year, Bonser put up a very respectable 11-9 record with a 3.99 ERA, averaging a just over a strike-out an inning. Bonser is also getting a bit up there in age and I think if Bonser continues to put up similar numbers (or better of course) it would be in the best interest of the Twins to get a legitimate look at Bonser in 2006. I, personally would be baffled to see Lohse in 2007. Although according to the Star Tribune today, there are some talks about a 2-year deal with Lohse. Hopefully that's just to make him more tradable! Plus, Radke is a huge question mark for 2007. While I wouldn't be surprised to see him delay his retirement, retirement is his current direction. What I'm getting at is that the Twins need to plan on adding at least one more starter to the rotation in 2007, Bonser is another guy who could (should, if he continues to improve) get some spot starts in 2006 to see what his potential is.
Perkins, as most of you know, hails from Stillwater and played for the Minnesota Gophers. For Minnesota, Perkins was one of their more dominant pitchers in recent history. Then after being drafted in 2004, Perkins dominated both Elizabethton and Quad Cities. By 2005, Perkins was in high A ball and on the fast track. However, after being moved up to AA after just 9 starts at Fort Myers, Perkins finally struggled. What was surprising was that he had lost his most defining feature, his control. In 79 innings he walked 35, making the reason for his struggles quite obviously. Remaining confident in Perkins stuff, the organization sent him to play in the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2005. Perkins had to be one of the more dominant pitchers in the league even though he only aquired 1 decision in 7 starts. There he refound his control striking out 39 in 32 innings and walking only 6, all the while posting a 2.53 ERA. Yes, I know there's a serious temptation to over-hype Perkins because he's an actual Minnesotan, but I really believe Perkins can find his way into the Twins plans for 2006 and especially 2007. The Twins have taken it upon themselves to give Perkins a look during Spring Training and I actually feel most compelled to give Perkins a couple spot starts in 2006. He should start the year in AA and hopefully find himself in AAA before long. I start to tingle a bit thinking of a 2007 rotation featuring Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Fransisco Liriano, Scott Baker and then Glen Perkins. I know many teams rarely have two lefties in their rotations, much less three. But I don't think it's completely unlikely, because although Santana and Liriano are similar lefties, Perkins defines himself more by his control and craftiness (though he does throw rather hard). Besides, the last team I remember featuring three very good lefties was the 2002 Athletics and they won 103 games...
Predictions for AL Central
Chicago White Sox-
So much talk this offseason has surrounded the White Sox and whether they will repeat in 2006. What is so funny for all of us who have watched the sports world discredit the Central for years is that in 2005 we were suppose to remain the weekest division in the American League and now, for 2006, they're talking about the White Sox returning to the World Series. Which seems odd for such a weak division, right? Anyways, I believe that the White Sox will be stronger in one respect for next year. Their pitching, which is hard to imagine considering their recent success. What Don Cooper has done with what he has been given is simply amazing. Mark Burlhe will remain the stud, and will remain largely unhearlded as he doesn't have anything electric. Freddy Garcia seemed to be fadding a bit in Seattle, but now that's a distant memory. Jose Contreras may struggle a bit early, but he will again be dominant down the stretch. Jon Garland finally broke out in 2005 after 5 decent seasons. He showed why the organization was so high on him despite is lack of anything exiting. The great thing for him is that he's still young, although personally, I'm not expecting huge numbers again in 2006. The aquisition of Javier Vazquez, while not praised by many in the Twins community, is probably the smartest thing the White Sox could've done for 2006. Vasquez will probably be the best number five guy in the entire league. Vasquez has a history of putting up successful numbers without many wins. The biggest thing is that he's an innings eater. I fully expect Don Cooper to work with him a bit and show Vazquez how to be as succesfull as the rest of the guys on this rotation. What scares me with this rotation, is I really don't see any of these guys with a losing record. Even more exciting for the Sox is that all these guys, with the exception of Contreras, have a history of gobbling up innings. In fact, everyone on this staff has atleast had 200 innings in a season, four of them have done more than 220 in a season. What's even scarier is that their pen is very solid, even though they probably won't need it much. They might even consider having one less guy in the pen than the standard. Just a thought though. The one downside for the Sox in 2006, is that I think their offense will continue to be weak in 2006. In 2005, the Sox completed the pitching and defense part of the equation but their offense was actually not very good. However, that didn't matter in the postseason, where they showed an extreme nack for timely big hits. Not to be negative, but I think Brian Anderson will be a major flop next year. I also think that Thome is not going to produce like they're hoping. I think some injuries will come back and nag him and while they might not put him out, I think they'll hurt his production. He'll probably hit 25 HR's but I think his BA will be dismal and he wont accumulate a whole lot of RBI's. Still I think White Sox will reclaim 1st in the Central
I believe the Twins will actually take that step forward in 2006. They will win a lot of games with their pitching, but not as much the Sox. I'm hoping they'll be in a good enough position to contend for the Wild Card, although the AL East is showing signs of having three really good teams. The Twins will continue to struggle some offensively, but by the All-Star break I think all the pieces will fall into place and everyone will start feeling comfortable with their expectations. The Twins I think will have their fare share of surprises, having a couple guys step up that are currently not being counted on.
In my mind this is potentially the most dangerous team in the division. I say that because I think they are going to bang up other teams in the division and make 2006 very interesting. Their rotation will be much improved. Rogers wont be the Rogers of the first half of 2005, but he will bring a veteran presence to the rotation and provide some inspiration for the rising talent on this club. Verlander I think will come on strong and I think Joel Zumaya could be a potential wild card down the stretch. I think offensively, they will be much healthier next year. They have a nice core of young outfielders and the addition of Polanco last year will pay it's dividends in 2006. What people haven't noticed yet is that Detroit actually has a very good bullpen, and the addition of Tom Jones will prove vital to their success. Look for Detroit to finish several games above 500 and become a huge frustration to whichever team is playing for the Wild Card in this division.
I don't think people have realized yet the strides backwards Cleveland has taken back this offseason. A couple of days ago one of the writers for mlb.com, Jim Molony, took a look at the AL Central for 2006. I thought he exemplified the continuing lack of knowledge about the AL Central, despite it's successes in 2005. Where I thought he was most ignorant, was with his analysis of Cleveland. He didn't even mention that Cleveland lost Kevin Milwood, the reigning ERA leader in 2005. Neither did he mention the loss of Scott Elarton. In my estimation the aquisition of Paul Byrd can nullify the loss of Elarton, but that leaves a major discrepency between Milwood and Jason Johnson. Johnson is weak even for #5 starter. If the Indians want to even compete in 2006, they will need Sabathia to step up to the plate and Westbrook will have to find his stuff he had in 2004. What was most laughable about Molony's predictions for 2006, was Cliff Lee as a 20 game winner. While Cliff Lee did make some huge strides in 2005, his record of 18-5 was very generous. The biggest difference with Lee in 2005 compared to 2004 is that he learned how to use his stuff better to get outs instead of trying to strike guys out. To think that he could ever be a 20 gamer in 2006 is ridiculous for two reasons. While he is proving to be a very good pitcher, he is by no means dominant. He still gives up a lot of hits in the innings he pitches. OVbviously though, he's been successful in limiting runs depite the high number of hits. The second and more telling stat is that he has a total of one career complete game and only one season of 200 innings. Twenty game winners are guys who consistently go deep into ball games, accumulating at least 220 innings in a season. Anyways, the Indians bullpen will continue to be their strongest suit in 2006 (even though Wickman is overrated). The Indians are actually the team most susceptible to injury though, as they do not have a lot of depth beyond their starters. Though most of their starters are mostly young talent, I forsee lack of depth nipping them in the butt causing them to fall off in the division. Although with this division in 2006, they could be 4th in the division with a .500 record.
Kansas City Royals
Considering their offseason aquisition across the board, it would be hard to fathom the Royals being completely horrible again in 2006. To me it's an indication that they too are willing to step it up in the Central and are committed to not being the resident wipping boy. Coincidently, there are two former Twins starters who should make the Royals rotation barring injury. Redmond will do alright, but I don't think they know what they have in Mays yet. It appears as though his last start as a Twin was actually a try-out for the 2006 Royals. After being hammered early, Mays showed some real grit and finished with three scoreless innings. Mays, for the first time in a long time, will play inspired in 2006. Essentially, restating why pitchers need two years to fully recover from Tommy John surgery. The Royals also aquired Elarton, who I also expect will make the Indians second guess their offseason moves. All three of these guys are number 4 and 5 starters but they will be an obvious improvement to the children on the mound last year. I also think that Sanders and Grudzielanek will prove to be good additions. Hell, Mientkiewicz might even turn his career around... Essentially, there's a lot of potential for improvement here as a combinations of veterans will try to revitalize their careers and youngters will try to prove they're legit.
- I thought the Superbowl was actually kind of boring. Seattle did play their game, just not well enough to win. I predicted that the Steelers would win if they stuck to their equation. Early success in the passing game, hard defense and then run, run, run. While they did win, their equation was nonexistant as their win was fueled by three big plays: a 75-yard run from Willie Parker, a timely interception by Ike Taylor and an amazing on the run pass from an option quarterback to the Super Bowl MVP. What was even more surprising was that even though Ben looked collected o the sidelines, his play was very uncharacterstic. He completed 9-21 passes. He seemed to be contantly missing his targets by at least 3 feet. Anyways, I know that the Steelers felt a good deal of frustration after losing in the playoffs last year after going 15-1, so winning out this year was a testament to them as a team after going 11-5 this year.
- Kelly Thesier, the Twins beat reporter for mlb.com, answered one of my questions in her mailbag this week. I basically brought up my deal where I think that Silva would be more productive in the 2 spot instead of Radke. Her response was what I expected, having to do with Radke's history with the team. I guess it was a bit silly to ask the question even though I knew the answer I'd be given. Oh well. She did bring up the fact that Radke is a control pitcher as opposed a "power hurler" and that's why he'll remain the number 2 guy. I think it's interesting though that in many ways Silva is both an extreme control pitcher and kind of a power hurler. Anyways, mainly just happy that one of my questions was answered.
- Thanks to everyone who has written comments about my site. It is much appreciated!