March 17, 2006

Twins Notes

  • Last week in this space I discussed how amusing it is to read the fluff pieces written about ex-Twins by their new hometown newspapers. The latest version is a lengthy article about Doug Mientkiewicz in the Kansas City Star. The article basically plays up every one of Mientkiewicz's possible strengths while more or less sweeping the fact that he's been a horrible player for the past two years under the rug.
    A scout charting the Royals for another team this spring suggests Mientkiewicz could have the greatest impact this season among all of [general manager Allard] Baird's veteran additions.

    The reasoning goes like this: Mientkiewicz should get regular duty if he rediscovers the line-drive swing that enabled him to bat .300 or better in two of his final three full seasons in Minnesota.

    If so, his defensive abilities, in addition to fielding his own position, will aid shortstop Angel Berroa and third baseman Mark Teahen -- and therefore the entire pitching staff.

    You'll notice that some careful and misleading wording ("two of his final three full seasons") allows the writer to conveniently ignore Mientkiewicz's .246 batting average with the Twins in 2004. Also, there's really nothing fluffier than a piece that talks about all the wonderful things that can happen if a player bats .300 when that player has hit .238 and .240 over the past two years.

    For Twins fans, here's the most interesting quote from the article:

    "I respect Terry Ryan more than any man in the world behind my old man," Mientkiewicz said. "He never lied to me. He always spoke the truth."

    That seems to be a pretty common theme when it comes to ex-players talking about Terry Ryan.

  • A slight variation of the new-hometown puff piece is the old-hometown puff piece, which the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Gordon Wittenmeyer wrote for Jacque Jones this week.
  • Joe Christensen had an interesting article about 7-foot-1 Twins pitching prospect Loek Van Mil in Monday's Minneapolis Star Tribune.
    Twins director of baseball operations Rob Antony refers to Van Mil as "a project."

    The club plans to start him in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League this year, to let him gain a professional foundation. Three days into his first camp, he already has made a decent impression.

    "You're thinking a 7-foot guy is going to be long and lanky, with a delivery that looks like a train wreck," said Rick Knapp, the Twins' minor league pitching coordinator. "That's certainly not the case with this fellow."

    Van Mil's fastball has topped out at 91 miles per hour. He also throws a slider and a change-up.

    The Twins need to refine his fielding skills, but Antony said the field staff "was shocked at how athletic he was."

    As the article points out, if Van Mil were to make it to the big leagues he'd be the tallest pitcher of all time. In fact, only five pitchers who were 6-foot-10 or taller have ever won even a single game in the majors. Who are the five? I'll post the answer at the bottom of this entry.

  • Michael Ryan, who managed to stick around for parts of four seasons with the Twins thanks almost entirely to going 24-for-61 (.393) down the stretch in 2003, is trying to latch on with the Braves for 2006. Ryan is basically the epitome of a Triple-A player in that he'll help a minor-league team win games and isn't the worst guy to have around solely for organizational depth. With that said, I doubt there's a spot for him in Atlanta with Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans already competing for at-bats in left field.
  • Speaking of former Twins players who aren't very good, Cristian Guzman may require season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Nationals don't seem overly upset about potentially being without Guzman for the entire year, which is probably about right considering he hit .219/.260/.314 in 2005. It sure didn't take long for the four-year $17 million deal Washington general manager Jim Bowden gave to Guzman last offseason to turn into a disaster.
  • Luis Castillo's leg problems from last season seem to have carried over to this year, and he had a quote in the Pioneer Press Saturday that caught my attention:
    I need to be more ready because I know I'm going to play on turf. Once I start playing on turf, it could be hard for me.

    While Twins fans seem to be optimistic about the turf helping Castillo offensively and defensively, an overlooked factor may be how it impacts his health. I don't expect him to steal a ton of bases, but Castillo does need to preserve his speed in order to remain an effective hitter. So while the playing surface may help a few more of his grounders turn into singles, it may also make things tough on his legs. Between Castillo, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Rondell White, and Jason Kubel, there will be an awful lot of attention paid to legs this year.

  • You know it's officially spring training when a new batting stance and a handful of hits can convince people that Nick Punto is capable of big things.
  • I've tried to avoid picking on Jim Souhan of late, but I just can't pass this one up. In a column about Mauer and Justin Morneau that is filled with Shecky's usual lame one-liners passed off as humor, he writes:
    If healthy, Mauer will hit .300 this year, if not .310.

    The difference between Mauer batting .300 and Mauer batting .310 would be no more than five hits over the course of the entire season. Souhan is basically saying, "If healthy, Mauer will hit .300 this year, and he might even get five more hits than that." Coming from a guy who struggles to include any sort of worthwhile, substantive analysis in his columns, such an exact prediction is amusing.

    But hey, thanks to Souhan we did learn that Morneau "is remindful of Kent Hrbek on Slim-Fast" and Mauer has "sirloin-sized sideburns." I've decided that each of Souhan's columns should conclude with a reminder to enjoy the veal and tip your waitress, just so we can get the full effect.

  • Jason Bartlett reportedly gained 15 pounds this winter. While I'm always skeptical of that sort of thing, especially for a player whose game is based on speed and athleticism, I do think Bartlett will benefit from being stronger. At times last season he looked physically overmatched at the plate, unable to put a strong swing on fastballs inside. The majority of Bartlett's value will always come from his defense, but being able to muscle a few more singles into the outfield would be a good thing too.
  • Speaking of Bartlett ... I'm not sure why -- since he was born in California, went to college in Oklahoma, was drafted by San Diego, and now plays in Minnesota -- but the South Florida Sun-Sentinel had a lengthy article about him last week.
  • This is barely Twins related, by my Rotoworld column this week is now available and deals with my last-minute sleeper suggestions for AL leagues. There are a few Twins mentioned, including one that might surprise you, and I figure the topic is of interest to the many of you who will be drafting fantasy teams over the next couple weeks. As usual, you can choose to read the column at Rotoworld.com or USAToday.com (and FoxSports.com, but they haven't posted it yet).
  • Trivia answer: The five pitchers who were 6-foot-10 and over who have won a major-league game are Randy Johnson (263 wins), Chris Young (15), Jon Rauch (8), Eric Hillman (4), and Andrew Sisco (2).


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