March 26, 2007

Get-Together & Twins Notes

As hinted at in this space Friday, Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has set up a blog-sponsored get-together for Twins fans on Saturday, April 7. I'll be there, as will Sinker and Will Young, and I expect at least a couple other Twins bloggers to be in attendance too. It should be a fun time, whether you're interested in meeting some of us bloggers or simply want to watch the Twins play the White Sox with a bunch of other Twins fans. Here are the details:

Who: Howard Sinker, Aaron Gleeman, Will Young, multiple Bloggers to be Named Later, and various other Twins fans and blog readers.

What: Eat, drink, be merry, watch Twins beat White Sox.

Where: Buffalo Wild Wings in Crystal (5590 West Broadway, to be exact).

When: Saturday, April 7, at 2:45 p.m.

Why: Because previous get-togethers have been a lot of fun and good attendance at this one means we can justify doing more of them in the future.

If you're reading this right now and live within driving distance of the Twin Cities, I encourage you to show up, along with multiple car loads of friends and family. If you plan to be there, drop me a note via e-mail or the comments section, so we can get a general idea of what kind of turnout to expect and plan accordingly. For any bloggers out there planning to stop by, please let me know and I'll add your name (and link) to the list of scheduled attendees.

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A few Twins notes with Opening Day (and my closing!) now less than a week away ...

  • For one day at least, the "Face of the Franchise" was apparently a scowl.
  • Joe Nathan would like to sign a long-term deal before the end of spring training, but Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that it doesn't sound likely.
  • The Biz of Baseball's Jerry Differding recently interviewed Terry Ryan and, as usual when Ryan talks on the record with someone, it's worth reading. In particular, Ryan's lengthy response to a question about prospects who haven't developed as the team had hoped stuck out to me:
    I am not too bent on looking at raw statistics to decide their fate, you go see them play, watch how they react, see how they compete, what kind of health history they have had, their age versus the league they play in, the ballpark they play at, all those things. If you go and watch them play and continue to see some sort of movement and some sort of mental and physical advancement you don’t give up on them, you just continue to move them along.

    While I'm certainly a big believer in minor-league statistics being important in evaluating prospects, I'm in complete agreement with everything Ryan said above. In fact, I'm pleased to see him talking about placing "raw statistics" in the context of age, level of competition, and playing environment, all of which are things I focus on when putting together my own prospect rankings each year. With that said, the second half of his answer struck a nerve with me for whatever reason:

    There is no better example than Cuddyer. He never had great statistics in the minor leagues. You just keep moving them along and if you have faith, and see that they are going to be a good teammate, work hard in pregame, work on situational hitting and on their base running you just keep them moving.

    Again, I agree with Ryan's overall premise about how to treat prospects whose numbers don't match their potential, but the idea that "there is no better example" of that than Michael Cuddyer is untrue to the point of being the opposite of reality. Specifically, Ryan's statement that Cuddyer "never had great statistics in the minor leagues" is simply false. In reality, people like me touted Cuddyer as someone the Twins should give 500 at-bats to because of his consistently outstanding numbers in the minors.

    Prior to Cuddyer finally being given a chance to work his way into an everyday role over the course of nearly the entire 2006 season, I spent countless words here and elsewhere describing what I felt was the Twins' misguided treatment of him. I didn't like the way they jerked him in and out of the lineup based on a couple weeks' worth of performance, and I didn't like the way they demoted him back to the minors after he clearly had nothing left to prove there.

    There are several reasons for why I felt that way, but without question chief among them was the fact that Cuddyer's minor-league numbers were excellent and suggested that he would become a very good major-league player if given the opportunity to do so. And so you don't think this is merely after-the-fact rationalizing on my behalf, here's something I wrote about Cuddyer for The Hardball Times back in May of 2004:

    Cuddyer has been an excellent hitter in the minor leagues, hitting .308/.380/.541 in 139 games at Triple-A and .301/.396/.560 in 141 Double-A games.

    There's plenty more where that came from, but I'll limit the self-quoting to one more passage from that same article. Back then the Twins were into giving Cuddyer brief "chances" to establish himself both offensively and defensively at a new position, before pulling the plug and jerking him around again. On that particular date second base was the position and then-starter (and former AG.com whipping boy) Luis Rivas was his competition, so I compared the two players:

    Rivas has played every day for years and Cuddyer has been given brief stints of a week or two at ever-changing positions, before getting sent back to Triple-A or the bench. ... Given a chance to establish himself at one position, to get his feet entrenched in the job like Rivas has, I have no doubt that Cuddyer would blow Rivas out of the water offensively.

    "Blowing Rivas out of the water offensively" is obviously no great feat, but the larger point remains. Suggesting that "there is no better example" than Cuddyer of a prospect whose numbers didn't match his potential is like saying Johan Santana is a perfect example of someone who wasn't helped by developing a changeup at Triple-A or Joe Mauer is the best example of someone who turned into a great player despite not being highly touted coming out of high school.

    From Cuddyer to Santana to Mauer, each of those three statements are clearly false. In Cuddyer's case, anyone who could look at his track record and conclude that "he never had great statistics in the minor leagues" while suggesting he's an example of a prospect who numbers underrated is either deliberately attempting to spin the issue in a different direction or simply doesn't know what he's talking about. For the record, I would never accuse Ryan of failing to know what he's talking about.

  • The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune, reports that the Twins have more or less decided upon which 25 players they'll break camp with next week. As Ron Gardenhire put it yesterday, "We pretty much know what we are going to do. We aren't going to announce it right now, but pretty much know." It sounds like the Twins wanted to go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players, but are re-thinking that with Lew Ford and Alejandro Machado sidelined.

    LEN3 makes it sounds like J.D. Durbin has little chance of making the team despite having no options left, which means the Twins will either trade him for whatever they can get or risk losing him on waivers. With Durbin apparently out of the picture, that leaves No. 1 prospect Matt Garza and 33-year-old situational left-hander Mike Venafro fighting for the 12th spot on the pitching staff, assuming Gardenhire and Ryan don't shake things up in a big way by demoting Carlos Silva to Triple-A.

    Every indication is that the Twins are extremely disappointed with Silva's spring performance and very impressed with how well Garza has pitched, but Silva's $4.35 million contract clouds the issue. All of which is why I spent most of the winter discussing what a bad idea it is to give large amounts of guaranteed money to pitchers who had ERAs nearing 6.00 last year. There's no doubt that Garza is one of the team's five best starters, yet there's plenty of doubt about whether he'll have a rotation spot.

    Even setting aside the fact that I expect the veteran trio of Silva, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson to collectively pitch horribly for the $9 million the Twins will be paying them, breaking camp with a non-optimal team in place for reasons that go far beyond on-field factors is a shame. Of course, it's also par for the course with the Twins. As I've lamented before, between Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker it's very possible that four of the Twins' six best starters will be in Rochester.

  • UPDATE: LEN3 reports that the Twins have cut Venafro (plus Matthew LeCroy and others) despite his 0.00 spring ERA and the stated preference for a second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen alongside Dennys Reyes. The Twins may be hoping that Venafro will accept the demotion to Triple-A and potentially join the team later, much like Reyes did. They now have 29 players left in camp, including Garza and Durbin.

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