Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Guess who's back!

Hey! I know it has been an extremely long time since I wrote anything on Twins Chatter, but I just thought I would let y'all know that I'm still alive and kicking. After a bit of trouble at the airport (let's just say that I spent a night in Atlanta and yada yada yada, I was really tired the next day) I returned from Florida yesterday (Monday) morning. The trip was a great experience and I got to take in an absolute ton of baseball overall. However, most of it was St. Olaf baseball and not Minnesota Twins baseball, so I don't have loads and loads of content to share with you at this time. That being said, I was able to attend last Thursday's spring training game against the Pirates at Hammond Stadium, and I'll have a few things to share with you from that day later this week.

Also, another reason Twins Chatter went un-updated last week was the fact that my $2,000 laptop computer suffered a major mishap during our first day in Florida. As some of you might know, one of the reasons I went along with the team was to webcast a number of their games via our website for the good folks back home. I brought my computer along with me to the field last Monday (to do statistics and play music) and in what was quite possibly the most freakishly amazing event in the history of the world, my computer screen was nailed ON THE FLY by a foul ball from a neighboring field, rendering it completely unusable.

Before you dismiss my previous claim (the one about the freakishness and the history of the world, etc.), take these facts into account:

-I was sitting over a 100 feet away from home plate on the adjacent field (where the rouge foul ball originated from)
-My laptop's screen is a mere 15" wide
-The impact occured during the second batter of our first game, and not a single foul ball landed any where near me for the next 10 games (a span of about 75 innings)
-The ball hit smack dab in the middle of the screen, leaving a large crater in its wake, but then just bounced harmlessly away, leaving the actual inner workings of my computer completely unharmed.

So now I am left with the world's most expensive non-portable laptop computer, as I am relegated to my desk (where I have rigged up an old monitor to use as a working display). My laptop screen actually looks pretty cool, what with the impact crater and the jagged cracks in the LCD display. If you look closely enough, you can even see where the seams of the baseball hit! Perhaps tomorrow I'll put up a picture so you can all see what I'm talking about.

Anyway, the entire point of my rambling disertation was to tell those of you loyal readers (the ones who haven't completely given up on me yet) that I'm still alive and kicking and that Twins Chatter is far from dead: I'm back from my trip and rip-roaring ready to go. Spring is a very busy time for me, so I can't make any promises as to how often I'll be able to write, but rest assured I will squeeze in some time before school ends to share my Twins-related thoughts with those of you who care to read them. Thanks for noting my absence in the comments section below; it's good to know that people were still hoping I'd write something!

Until next time,

Ryan Maus

Friday, March 18, 2005

A Tumultuous Week Behind... And Ahead

First off, I want to apologize for taking this week off. I know I was riding high after churning out four pretty decent posts last week, but part of the reason I did that was because I knew this past week would be hectic. It was mid-term time up here at St. Olaf, and I was plenty hard myself. Writing for this site was a luxury that I simply did not have time to do, unfortunately.

However, next week is my spring break and I have a special announcement to make: I'm going to Florida! I'll actually be in the Fort Myers area (in the neighborhood of Port Charlotte) with the St. Olaf baseball team on their spring trip. I'm sure it will be a blast to be down in the warm weather watching baseball every day under beautiful sunny skies.

Even though this will not be a Twins-centric trip (someday perhaps, but not this year) I'm still planning on spending a couple days at Hammond Stadium late next week. To be certain, Twins Chatter readers will benefit greatly from this visit. I've got something lined up with a member of the team's front office and I'm bringing our athletics deparment's very nice camera with to (hopefully) snag some excellent photos. More information will be forthcoming, but obviously I'm very excited about the trip!

Have a good weekend everyone.

-R. Maus

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Light's On But Nobody's Home

Sorry again about the lack of a new post today. Mid-terms are coming up this week and things have been getting extremely hectic around campus... plus, I need my sleep! If it's Twins talk you're looking for, look no further than Stick and Ball Guy, one of the most up-and-coming blogs on the Twins scene. Tuesday is Twins Day, and SBG is ranting about someone near and dear to the collective heart of Twins Chatter: the Official Player of this Blog, "Sweet" Lew Ford. Check it out today!

Also, I'd like to call your attention to this little gem on the newly-formed Twins Territory site. The article, written by someone named dukemag1, is rather interesting and details the "Trade that Keeps on Giving", i.e. the Knoblauch trade. I highly recommend that you check the article out as well some of the other good stuff at Twins Territory.

That's all from me today. Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow, but as has been the case since I began flying solo (temporarily, hopefully) a couple months ago, I can't promise anything. Until then, have a great Tuesday!


Friday, March 11, 2005

2004 Draft Follow-Up: Part Two

Hello! Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today. I especially want to welcome all of you who made the trip today because you just had to read more from the genius who so dominated Stick and Ball Guy’s weekly game of Pepper! today. Well, here I am!

Seriously, SBG has a great thing going with his Friday feature, as well as his many other features throughout the week. It seems like nearly every Twins blog has been at the top of its game the past few weeks, and I’d like to think that Twins Chatter is holding its own as well.

Today, as promised, I’m going to finish reviewing the Twins’ fourth, fifth, and sixth overall draft choices from last year’s June draft: Matt Fox, Jay Rainville, and Anthony Swarzak. This will wrap up prospect week, but in case you missed it, here’s all that went on:
Twins Chatter’s Top 10 Prospects #6-10
Twins Chatter’s Top 10 Prospects #1-5
2004 Draft Follow-Up: Part One

Matt Fox (1st rd supplemental– 35th overall, RHP, U. of Central Florida)
In the buildup to the draft, I saw Fox’s name listed at around #65 in terms of the draft’s best players, so I was somewhat surprised when the Twins took him with the 35th overall pick. However, it was good to see the Twins draft a more polished collegian to help balance out all the high school pitchers they ended up drafting.

After having a spectacular senior spring season at Central Florida (14-2, 1.85 ERA, 10.07 K/9) Fox also experienced success last summer down in Elizabethton. His 5.40 ERA is a little misleading, as he averaged almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings and allowed just eight walks in 26.2 innings. Just like Waldrop, Fox has shown excellent command thus far, a great sign for a rookie pitcher.

Fox is a big guy (6’3”, 190 lbs.) and as you can also see, a strikeout pitcher. I’m looking forward to following Fox’s progress this season, as it will be interesting to see if he’s able to achieve a rapid rise to the big leagues like some of the team’s other polished college pitchers. ETA: late 2007-2008

Jay Rainville (1st rd. supplemental – 39th overall, RHP Bishop Hendricken HS, Pawtucket, R.I.)
Rainville, who has drawn comparisons to a young Roger Clemens, was considered one of the top high school pitchers entering the draft but saw his stock fall slightly in the days immediately preceding draft day. Fortunately for us, Rainville’s (slight) loss was our immense gain!

He is a big (6’3”, 220 lbs.) hard-throwing righthanded strikeout pitcher, the kind that scouts dream about. Last summer, Rainville pitched well with the GCL Twins (low-rookie ball), allowing 19 runs in 34 innings while walking just three (!) and striking out 38. Keep in mind this was at the lowest level of the minor leagues, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens with Jay this season at Elizabethton. ETA: 2009

Anthony Swarzak (2nd rd. – 61st overall, RHP Nova HS, Ft. Lauderdale FL)
Of all the prospects on this list, I regrettably admit that Swarzak is the one I know the least about (I do have his rookie card at my house, but I’m still at my dorm right now). But I do know that Swarzak had a very good first professional season with the GCL Twins (click on his name to see the stats) which vaulted him up near the top of many Twins’ prospect lists. Other than that, there isn’t much I can tell you. ETA: 2009

Overall, it appears that the 2004 draft was an immense success for the Twins. The team was able to squeeze several very good players out of what was perceived as a relatively mediocre draft pool. It also served as a way to replenish a minor league system that had graduated many top prospects (Mauer, Morneau, Crain) into the major leagues. With a solid foundation in place at the lower levels, there is no reason the Twins can’t continue to win using their current approach: scout well, draft well, and develop your own talent.

Personally I had became a bit worried last June after reading quotes like “this isn’t a good year to have a lot of picks” or “2004 features one of the weakest drafts in years”. But the Twins made the right choice in focusing on high school pitchers, which are much more high risk/high reward-type players than their college counterparts. If even a couple of these players live up to their potential, the 2004 draft may go down as one of the best in team history.

That’s quite enough for one night. Again, if you haven’t done so already read my Pepper! answers over at SBG. After writing four elaborate posts in a row, I may be taking next Monday off, so don’t be too disappointed if there’s nothing new to start next week. However, John (remember him?) may possibly make his triumphant return to the Twins blogging scene sometime in the next few days, so keep your eyes open for that.

-Ryan Maus

Thursday, March 10, 2005

2004 Draft Follow-Up: Part One

Wow! I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have come to Twins Chatter for prospect week thus far, especially yesterday to see Twins Chatter’s top 5 prospects. It’s good to know that everyone enjoyed what I had to say. Prospect week continues today with my exclusive follow-up analysis of the 2004 amateur draft.

As you may remember, the excitement surrounding last June’s amateur draft was considerably higher than usual. Because of the free agent defections by LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado, the Twins received several early compensation picks, giving them a total of six picks in the first two rounds (including the supplemental first round). Last June I spent an entire day crafting an in-depth Draft Preview, which was well received by many readers. I encourage you to go back and read some of the things that I said, as it’s interesting to see where I was both right and wrong! The next day I also wrote a short draft recap, which you can read here (it's the second post on the page).

Below I’ll write a little about the top three of those first six picks, including what was said about them when they were drafted last year, their performance in 2004, and their prospects for the future. The other three will be discussed tomorrow.

Trevor Plouffe (1st round, 20th overall, SS, Crespi HS, Northridge, Calif.)
Plouffe was the team’s first pick in the draft last June, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me. I was under the impression that he was going to be available for the team in the supplemental round, allowing them to draft Missouri prep infielder Blake DeWitt (who went 28th overall to the Dodgers). However, the Twins decided to fill an organizational weakness by taking a guy they know can play shortstop (DeWitt played SS in high school but projected as a 2B/3B in the pros).

Plouffe, who I named the team’s 10th best prospect the other day, started his professional down in Elizabethton last summer. He hit .283/.380/.340 in 237 at-bats, which falls under the category of good-but-not-great. Unfortunately he did commit 16 errors at short, which obviously isn’t the most impressive stat in the world.

“Why on earth,” you’re probably asking me by now, “did you name this guy on your top prospects list if he had such a mediocre first season?” For me, the key word here is “projectable”. Plouffe is still a young kid, but he’s got a tall, athletic frame, good hands, and an excellent arm (he threw over 90 mph as a pitcher in HS). Once the 18 year-old fills out a little (he’s listed at just 175 lbs.) and gains some experience as a hitter, I could see him patrolling the infield of the not-yet-constructed Pohlad Park for a long time.

Glen Perkins (1st round-22nd overall, LHP, U. of Minnesota)
Perkins also made it on to my top-10 list the other day (he was number 7) has established himself as one of the up-and-comers in the organization. Last June there was little doubt that the Twins would be the ones to sign the ‘U’ product and Stillwater native; it was just a matter of when. Well the team played it safe and took the lefty with their second overall pick.

Perkins, who was one of the best pitchers in Gopher history, pitched extremely well during his first season at low-A Quad Cities (although the Twins eased him into pro ball by throwing him a few innings in E-Town before that). In 9 starts, Perkins posted a 1.30 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and struck out 9.12 batters per nine innings. I assume he’ll start 2005 with the Fort Myers Miracle (keep an eye out Dianna!) and don’t be surprised if he earns himself a mid-season promotion up to AA as well. This kid is definitely on the fast track.

As we discussed the other day, the only knock against Perkins is his size. He’s 5’11”, 190 lbs., which isn’t small by any means but also isn’t big. The thing is, if Perkins was 6’1” or 6’2”, the Twins would never have had a chance to draft him in the first place! There are countless examples of pitchers making it without possessing great height (our very own Johan K. Santana, for instance) so I’m not too worried about Perkins. I see no reasons why this guy shouldn’t be able to fill a spot in the Twins rotation beginning in 2007.

Kyle Waldrop (1st round-25th overall, RHP, Farragut HS, Knoxville TN)
It is players like Waldrop that separate award-winning organizations like the Twins from the average major league program. Waldrop was a dark horse in the 2004 draft. Draft previews said that he would most likely go in the 10th round or higher, despite possessing first-round skills, simply because of signability issues. This is sometimes the case with top high school players—Dexter Fowler (14th rd, Colorado) and Mark Trumbo (18th rd, Anahiem) are two prime examples of outstanding talents who dropped to the later rounds because of such concerns.

However, the scouting director Mike Radcliffe and the rest of the team’s front office sought out Waldrop before the draft and worked out a deal with him, allowing the team to take the prep righty with the 25th overall pick and quickly sign him for a $1 million bonus. He quickly proved his mettle down in the Gulf Coast League and in Elizabethton, going 5-2 overall with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, including just seven walks (an outstanding number for such a young player). Looking back, Waldrop appears to be the steal of the first round.

Because he’s so young, we must temper our excitement at least slightly when it comes to this kid. Dominating the Appalachian League (rookie ball) is one thing—doing well in A or AA is quite another. Even with that being said, I think Waldrop has a good chance of succeeding and making it to the big leagues someday.

I don’t want to drag on too much for one day, so that’s all I’m going to print for today. Be sure and check back tomorrow (Friday) as I round out prospect week by profiling picks #4-6 from last year. I'll also finish off the two-part post with a brief preview of the June 2005 draft. Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter!

-Ryan Maus

p.s. If you're still looking for more coverage of last summer's draft, be sure and read this piece from Baseball America, published last November.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Twins Chatter’s Top 10 Prospects: Part Two

Yesterday marked the beginning of prospect week, which I kicked off by naming prospects 6-10 on the Twins Chatter Top 10 prospects list. Today we’ll complete the list, and the choices become a little more controversial (although just a little).

5. Kyle Waldrop - When the Twins drafted Waldrop with the 25th overall pick in last year’s draft, most people (including myself) were very surprised. Because of perceived signability issues, Waldrop was not projected as a very high pick. But Terry Ryan and the Twins’ scouting department did their homework and convinced Waldrop to sign for a fair price (appx. $1 million).

The 19 year-old most definitely did not disappoint in his first pro season. Waldrop displayed amazing poise and control for such a young pitcher at both levels of rookie ball. He posted a 2.14 ERA and walked just seven batters in 63 innings. It looks like the Twins have found another gem where others couldn’t! ETA: 2008

4. Francisco Liriano - When the A.J. Pierzynski trade was announced, Liriano was most definitely the most unknown piece. As it turns out, he may yet prove to be the most valuable. Liriano may not have the raw stats of a Baker or Waldrop, but he has the word “projectable” written all over him. Just 20 years old and in already entering his fifth season of pro ball, Liriano finally dispelled the injury concerns that haunted him in the Giants organization the past few years. He’s a flame-throwing lefty who has actually drawn comparisons to Johan Santana. Sounds like one heck of a pitcher; can’t wait to see him in the Show! ETA: 2007

3. Jason Kubel - Ah, yes. We come to it at last: Jason Kubel, the great unknown. Had I published this list any time between last summer and October 21, Kubel would be a no-brainer at number one. The guy had arguably one of the best minor league seasons in team history, posting a 1.120 OPS at AA and slugging 16 homers with 71 RBIs in just 90 games at AAA. 2004 was the epitome of the “breakout season” for Jason Kubel.

Then came that fateful day in the Arizona Fall League, when Kubel collided with an infielder while trying to make a catch and suffered “a torn anterior cruciate ligament, torn posterior cruciate ligament and torn lateral collateral ligament”—whatever all that means (edit: actually, I do know what an ACL is). In any case, it was some bad [stuff]. Kubel had to have major surgery this winter and will most certainly miss the entire 2005 season. Will he ever be the same player again? Many think that he will make a full recovery, especially given the fact that speed was never a big part of his game. However, you don’t just take a year off and not suffer any consequences. I’m still optimistic that Kubel will turn into the player we all hoped he’d become early last fall, but I’m not entirely sure of myself. ETA: 2006

2. J.D. Durbin - Yes, I know Durbin is having yet another horrible spring, but the fact remains that this guy is very highly regarded prospect. We’ve all heard gobs about his tough demeanor and “makeup” (which coincidentally doesn’t seem to be serving him all that well at the moment) but Durbin’s also got great stuff and throws hard. Plus, he’s proven that he can succeed at every level of the minor leagues. Let’s hope this recent funk is nothing more than a speed bump on the road to greatness. ETA: late 2005

1. Jesse Crain - The Twins are in somewhat of a unique position with their two top “prospects”, Joe Mauer and Jesse Crain. Both played a pretty decent amount in the majors last season, and both experienced considerable success. However, I have chosen to omit Mauer from this list and deny him his “prospect” status (as I’m sure he values my opinion on the subject very much). But Crain is in a little different boat from Mauer. Despite the fact that he was with the team from the trading deadline on, he threw only 27 innings and was used surprisingly little by Gardenhire, which in my mind still makes him somewhat of an unknown.

However that all should change this season. Jesse Crain is now an integral part of what is sure to be on the American League’s best bullpens. He throws absolute gas (95+ mph) and has, as Gardenhire said last spring, a “curveball from hell”. I actually think his best pitch is his slider, but we’re not here to nitpick. Crain is still the best relief prospect in the bigs and is the closest thing to a “sure bet” that exists in the Twins organization today. ETA: 2005

Well, there you have it folks. To recap, here’s the complete list:
10. Trevor Plouffe
9. Adam Harben
8. Jason Bartlett
7. Glen Perkins
6. Scott Baker
5. Kyle Waldrop
4. Francisco Liriano
3. Jason Kubel
2. J.D. Durbin
1. Jesse Crain

As you can see, that list contains an inordinate amount of pitchers (7 in all) and most of them relatively young. That is indeed where the organization’s current strength lies: young pitching. Just you know, that is a very good thing! There are tons of organizations that would love to have the Twins’ surplus of young stud arms, and if Smilin’ Carl decides to open up the checkbook at the trading deadline this year (an annual vain hope in Twins Territory) then we definitely have the chips to bargain with.

Prospect week continues tomorrow with an analysis of the monumental 2004 amateur draft. Until then, take care!

-Ryan M.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Twins Chatter’s Top 10 Prospects List: Part One

First off, thanks for coming by the site today. I know I have been extremely unreliable of late, but school and some other things have been just kicking my butt recently (I’m speaking in the figurative sense of course, although it wouldn’t surprise me if those words proved prophetic, the way things are going right now). Anyway, last week I promised that prospect week was on its way, and I intend to deliver on that promise.

I’ve been contemplating when to do my top 10 Twins prospects lists for quite some time (the post practically writes itself!) but I just haven’t found the most opportune time yet. But I figured with spring training starting and all (minor leaguers will be reporting next week I think) I thought it was high time I gave it the ol’ college try.

The top five will be released today, while I’ll post the next five tomorrow. More analysis and discussion will also be forthcoming over the next few days, but feel free to post your own thoughts and comments as well below.

Twins’ Top 10 Prospects

10. Trevor Plouffe (SS, drafted 1st round 2004) – The Twins have so many solid prospects that this spot could have gone to any number of players, but I particularly like Plouffe. He’s a bit on the spindly side right now (6’1”, 170 lbs) but has an athletic body that projects well. He experienced moderate success at Elizabethton last year, and it will be interesting to see how he fares during his first full pro season in 2005. ETA: 2008

9. Adam Harben (RHP, 12th rd. 2002) – Harben is a guy that neither I nor most other Twins fans know much about right now, as he’s kind of flown under the radar. But people like John Sickels and Baseball America regard him highly (especially as a sleeper) and his stats are very impressive from Quad Cities—3.09 ERA and 10.8 K/9 IP a year ago. Not too shabby at all. ETA: late 2007/2008

8. Jason Bartlett (SS, acq. in Brian Buchanan trade 2001) – Obviously this is a “prospect” list for a reason, as the major league-ready Bartlett is pretty advanced compared to some of the other guys on this list. I like Bartlett’s chances to be a very solid (if unspectacular) shortstop in the major leagues for quite some time. He should hit well enough to keep a job in the long run (this season notwithstanding) and if his defensive issues can be worked out (and I believe the Twins coaching staff was right to be critical of him last year) he could have a good career ahead of him. ETA: 2005

7. Glen Perkins (LHP, 1st rd. 2004) – For whatever reason, Perkins just hasn’t gotten as much recognition as I would have anticipated coming off a strong first pro season. First of all no major baseball card manufacturers produce a rookie card of the ‘U’ product (which might not strike you as particularly noteworthy, but from someone who knows, believe me—it is odd) and then BA leaves him completely off their top-10 prospects list. Who knows why this is the case, but we do know that Perkins is a very advanced and polished pitcher who probably won’t ever been a #1 starter, but should end up as a very solid lefty for the Twins within the next couple of years. Keep an eye out for a Scott Baker-like rise from Perkins in 2005. ETA:2007

6. Scott Baker (RHP, drafted 2nd rd. 2003) – Baker’s rapid ascension in 2004 was pretty unexpected, but exciting. The 23 year-old pitched at three different levels last season (A, AA, and AAA) and dominated the first two during this rather brief stints. However, he did hit up against reality at Rochester, where his ERA jumped up to almost 5.00 and his strikeout rate dipped significantly. I firmly believe Baker will be ready for the Show after a full season at AAA and could possibly help the team later in 2005 if injuries and/or ineffectiveness become a problem. I get the impression that Baker doesn’t quite have the stuff to dominate the majors like he did the minors last year (which is why he’s sixth on this list instead of like two or three), but there’s still no reason that he shouldn’t be a solid #2-4 starter in the very near future. ETA: mid-to-late 2005

TOMORROW:Prospects #1-5

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Cosmetic Upgrades

In lieu of a new post today, I decided instead to spend my time on a few much-needed cosmetic upgrades for Twins Chatter. Simply put, the site was getting extremely stale. It was a very plain site to begin with, but after 10 months I was getting sick of seeing the same drab lettering over and over.

Overall, I've tried to simplify things a bit. Gone are all the funky, multi-colored lines, and gone is the super long marquee "Twins Chatter: A Better Way for Twins Fans". I assume those of you with older Macs or low-resolution monitors couldn't even fit those words on one line of your screen, let alone the equally tedious blog description below it ("Your source for insightful, thoughtful, and somewhat opinionated Minnesota Twins coverage..."). So they are gone. I know it seems like there is a lot of empty space up there, but that will change within the next few days. I'm in the process of creating a banner that will incorporate our official logo (what you see above) with some photos of Twins players. I'm still a Photoshop novice, but hopefully it will turn out well in the end.

Anyway, the otherwise hardly-noticable changes are the result of a couple hours' work tinkering with my Blogger template. I flirted with the idea of starting from scratch and creating a whole new site using Macromedia Dreamweaver but the complexity of the software and the cost of server space pretty much squashed that idea. It is possible to have a pretty decent looking site using Blogger, so I've decided instead to work with what I have.

I know you all didn't come here today to read my ramblings about the appearance of the site, so I'll provide a little teaser for tomorrow. I've decided that my next string of posts will deal with the Twins minor league system/prospects, which is a topic near and dear to my heart. Baseball America recently finished naming their 100 Top Prospects, and to mark the spirit of the occasion I've decided to follow suit in the coming days. Keep checking back over the course of the next week or so as the series gets started.

-Ryan M.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Nothing Doing

I absolutely hate to once again disappoint all of you that made the trek to Twins Chatter today, but I simply don't have it in me tonight to write a quality post. My numerous non-blogging activities (newspaper, baseball team, school) have been taking up an insane amount of my time the past two days, and I am completely exhausted.

I was actually at the Metrodome for most of today, where I witnessed the St. Olaf Oles lose their first two games of the season to Wartburg College. They were disappointing losses, to be certain, but my little brother Josh (an infielder on the team) played well in his collegiate debut, which was good to see.

Anyway, I have a few juicy topics cooking on the back burner right now and promise write about one of them for tomorrow. Right now, however, it is time for sleep.

-Ryan M.