March 11, 2007

Twins Notes (Plus an Aaron Van Gogh Update)

  • I ranked Glen Perkins as the Twins' No. 3 prospect, so I obviously think very highly of him, but his one major flaw is being an extreme fly-ball pitcher. As Perkins himself put it when speaking to Kelly Thesier of MLB.com yesterday, "I think I led all of organized baseball last year in fly-ball outs." That's not quite the case, but Perkins is definitely one of the most extreme fly-ball pitchers in an organization that's overflowing with them. All of which is why it's good to hear that he's working on changing that:
    The solution for Perkins was to develop a sinker. It's a pitch that he used in his first start of the spring on Sunday in the Twins' 8-5 win over the Blue Jays. Though Perkins had thrown the pitch during his first two appearances in relief, he said it's taken some time and work with pitching coach Rick Anderson on his grip to really get comfortable with the pitch. But after his results Sunday, he feels like progress is being made.

    [...]

    Besides the sinker, Perkins said he has also tried getting ground balls by throwing inside more often. It worked on Sunday, as he got some ground balls by jamming a few of the hitters in what was a loaded Blue Jays lineup.

    It seems somewhat risky to start tinkering with a pitcher's fundamental approach. In Perkins' case, being an extreme fly-ball pitcher might be what's allowed him to be this good in the first place, rather than what's keeping him from being better. With that said, if Rick Anderson can get him to maintain a similar level of overall effectiveness while converting a fraction of his fly balls into ground balls, it will make a big difference long term. As with most "changes" in spring training though, I'm skeptical.

  • Lew Ford is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery today, which will knock him out of action for a month or so. If the Twins had somehow known that Ford would be sidelined into the season, my guess is that they would have cut him loose this winter and looked elsewhere for a fourth outfielder. Instead, they're on the hook for $985,000 and Jason Tyner is basically guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster (if he wasn't already). The outfield depth has gone from bad to horrible.
  • Alejandro Machado's shoulder problems have also left the Twins thin in the infield, because they were counting on Machado backing up Jason Bartlett. The team doesn't feel that Luis Rodriguez can handle shortstop and Ron Gardenhire is oddly stubborn about not wanting Nick Punto to slide over from third base. If Gardenhire was willing to let Punto play shortstop once in a while--with Jeff Cirillo likely filling in at third base--the Twins could go with Rodriguez or even Matthew LeCroy on the bench.

    Instead, they'll have to either hope that Machado is healthy enough to begin the season on time (setting aside whether or not the Rule 5 pick is good enough to earn a spot in the first place) or acquire a middle infielder from outside the organization. There's been some talk of No. 6 prospect Alexi Casilla breaking camp on the roster, but that seems incredibly short-sighted given that he could use additional seasoning at Triple-A and would be burning valuable service time while rarely playing.

    I expected the Twins' lack of position-player depth to hurt them this season, but I didn't think it would start doing so in March.

  • The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III, penned a nice feature-length article on Jason Kubel, who's reportedly looking healthy and focused this spring. I've remained front and center on the Kubel bandwagon throughout his injuries and struggles over the past two seasons, and fully expect him to be one of the Twins' best hitters this year.
  • Sidney Ponson finally made his official spring debut Friday after getting his visa problems settled, but he was knocked around by the Dodgers and reportedly didn't look very good:
    Ponson did coax some grounders, but the Dodgers drilled some of his pitches, too. Scouts behind home plate clocked his sinking fastball between 86 and 89 miles per hour. In 2003, when he won 17 games, he often hit 94 mph. After having surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow in October, Ponson said he is still regaining strength. "It's my second start of the spring," he said. "I'm not going to beat myself up over it."

    On the other hand, Gardenhire said Ponson's outing "was pretty good" and "if he keeps throwing like that, we're going to be happy." I realize that's more or less a meaningless mid-March quote designed to keep the pressure off Ponson following his first outing of the spring, but just once I'd love to see Gardenhire give someone under the age of 25 that same type of treatment.

  • Denard Span has show little sign of becoming a quality hitter since the Twins made him the 20th overall pick in the 2002 draft, but at least he's still really fast:
    Span ... impressed the entire team bench with the motor he showed as he turned a double into a triple in the ninth inning of Sunday's game. Span ran so fast around the basepaths that his batting helmet flew off, and it earned some chiding from Gardenhire. "We need to get some Velcro for that helmet because it keeps falling off, he runs so fast," Gardenhire said with a chuckle. "Maybe we can put a spoiler on it, something to keep it on and keep the wind down."

    I'm a sucker for anecdotes like that and Gardenhire can always be counted on to supply a good quote, but for all that speed Span has never stolen as many as 25 bases in a season and has been thrown out on one-third of his career steal attempts. He's also managed just 36 doubles and 18 triples in 1,452 pro at-bats--not counting the double he apparently "turned into a triple" yesterday--which is why he's the Twins' No. 29 prospect. Oh, and my suggestion would be a chin strap.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    I'm burying what is hopefully my third and final "ear update" here at the bottom of today's entry, because the majority of the people reading this site likely don't really care. Plus, even the small percentage of you who are interested enough in what's happening with my ear to read the previous two updates probably aren't overly excited about seeing an incredibly gross picture of it, post-surgery. So, consider this your warning.

    Proceed at your own risk.

    Seriously, stop scrolling down unless you want to be grossed out.

    Really, don't do it.

    Fine, just don't blame me.

    See, I told you not to look.

    That's what my right ear looked like, about six hours after undergoing auricular pseudocyst surgery. It was pretty gruesome for a while and probably even looked worse than the "before" shot, but thankfully the various fluids stopped leaking out of the area at some point and things have calmed down quite a bit over the past 24 hours. For as awful as that picture looks, it was probably one of the "easiest" surgeries of all time.

    I was at the hospital for about five hours, which is far from a great way to spend your Friday afternoon, but the actual surgery lasted all of 25 minutes. I required zero sedation during the slicing and dicing, and was eating dinner with eight other people (and later playing poker) within two hours of the final stitch being sewn up. Actually, I would have gone from surgery table to dinner table within an hour if not for the hospital "misplacing" the bag that contained my clothes for about 45 fun-filled minutes.

    Things got a little scary once the area ceased being numb later that night, but I'm proud to say that I've taken just one pain pill--so I could get some sleep Friday night--despite getting a whole bottle full of vicodin. I'm not sure if I have a high tolerance for pain or if the surgery just wasn't that big of a deal, but I was back to work last night and will be working my full schedule this week (beginning this morning), although I did skip my weekly video report on NBCSports.com to avoid freaking the viewers out.

    Oddly, I apparently have little problem freaking the people who read this site out. Go figure. Sorry.


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