January 20, 2009

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 36-40
35. Bobby Lanigan | Starter | DOB: 5/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-3

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2008 RK 13 13 2.78 74.1 74 5 65 9

As a Division II program Adelphi University isn't exactly a baseball hotbed, but the school that produced Gary Dell'Abate and Public Enemy also provided the Twins with their 2008 third-round pick. A big righty who ranks as the school's all-time leader in strikeouts, Bobby Lanigan had a 1.94 ERA as a junior and then signed very quickly for $417,000, debuting at rookie-level Elizabethton with a 2.78 ERA and 65-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

Lanigan wasn't dominant at Elizabethton, totaling more hits allowed (74) than strikeouts (65) over 74.1 innings, but he ranked fourth among Appalachian League pitchers in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He fits the Twins' mold as a strike-throwing machine, but is hardly a soft-tosser with a low-90s fastball and sharp slider. For now Lanigan looks like a future fourth or fifth starter, but snatching him up in the third round signals that the Twins may think his 6-foot-5 frame can eventually support more velocity.

Lanigan will make his full-season debut this year and won't be on the same type of fast track as fellow 2008 draftees Carlos Gutierrez and Shooter Hunt, but is polished enough to possibly climb two rungs on the organizational ladder if things go well. If not, Lanigan needs only to hang a big clock around his neck or mispronounce the name of his favorite cartoon character to follow the career-making footsteps of Adelphi's most successful alumni.

34. Oswaldo Sosa | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2006 A- 20 20 2.75 117.2 102 1 95 36
A+ 6 6 2.08 34.2 23 1 27 18
2007 A+ 19 19 2.23 105.0 94 2 82 36
AA 9 9 4.50 48.0 45 4 35 22
2008 A+ 17 6 5.44 43.0 46 0 33 32
AA 13 13 5.81 62.0 70 4 47 43

Oswaldo Sosa was fantastic in the low minors, posting a 2.95 ERA while allowing just four homers in 301 innings at Single-A, but stumbled when he moved up to Double-A for the first time in mid-2007 and completely fell apart last year. Sosa began last season at New Britain, but was demoted back to Fort Myers after making 13 starts with a 5.81 ERA. He split time between the bullpen and rotation following the demotion, but couldn't get on track and finished 2008 with an ugly 80-to-75 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Sosa has never missed a ton of bats, so 80 strikeouts in 105 innings is nothing out of the ordinary, but the deterioration of control is concerning. His walk rate was just nine percent from 2004-2007, but that number jumped to 15 percent last season and came along with a .289 opponent's batting average. He continued to induce a high percentage of ground balls and served up just four long balls to 492 batters, so at least the basics of Sosa's success remained intact while his control faltered.

It's also worth noting that Sosa played the entire season at the age of 22, so it's not surprising that he had trouble versus Double-A hitters. In fact, Sosa and Anthony Swarzak were six months younger than anyone else on New Britain's staff and most of the pitchers were 24 or 25. That doesn't explain Sosa's continued struggles after being moved down to Fort Myers, but it does provide enough reason to show some patience in the hopes that he can get back to throwing his heavy fastball over the plate.

33. Steve Singleton | Second Base | DOB: 9/85 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2006-11

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2006 RK 156 .340 .368 .556 4 18 5 19
2007 A- 391 .271 .294 .346 2 22 8 47
2008 A- 259 .302 .348 .421 6 14 13 29
A+ 277 .295 .371 .452 5 26 26 24

Steve Singleton has had an up-and-down pro career since the Twins selected him out of the University of San Diego in the 11th round of the 2006 draft. He signed quickly and debuted by hitting .340 in 41 games at rookie-ball, but then moved up to low Single-A in 2007 and batted just .271/.294/.346 in 102 games while battling through shoulder problems. Not only did Singleton struggle offensively, his lack of arm strength led to 10 errors in 22 games at shortstop before a move to second base.

Back at Beloit to begin last season, Singleton stayed at second base defensively and bounced back in a big way at the plate, hitting .302/.348/.421 in 65 games to earn a midseason promotion to Fort Myers. Singleton then batted .295/.371/.452 in 62 games at high Single-A, finishing the year at .298/.360/.437 in 536 plate appearances overall. Within his 157-point jump in OPS compared to 2007 was significant improvement in both plate discipline and strike-zone control.

Singleton walked 39 times compared to just 53 strikeouts after coming into the season with an ugly 66-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio for his career. With just 17 homers in nearly 1,000 at-bats Singleton will have to get on base at a good clip to be valuable, so tripling his walk rate while cutting strikeouts by 20 percent is an excellent sign. Maintaining those improvements and adding a little more pop would give him a chance to be a starting-caliber second baseman, but for now he looks like a nice utility man.

32. Tyler Ladendorf | Shortstop | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2008-2

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2008 RK- 175 .204 .308 .293 1 10 17 29

Drafted by the Yankees in 2006 and the Giants in 2007, Tyler Ladendorf put off his pro career to spend two years at a junior college in Texas. During that time he emerged as the country's top junior-college hitter and then went to the Twins in the second round of June's draft. This time Ladendorf signed for a $700,000 bonus and reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he struggled mightily while hitting just .204 with little power and a strikeout in 17 percent of his plate appearances.

Ladendorf's pro debut wasn't pretty and casts some further doubt on his ability to thrive against tougher competition, but his junior-college numbers were so insanely spectacular that they can't be ignored. As a freshman Ladendorf batted .425 while stealing 65 bases without being caught a single time and as a sophomore he went 31-for-32 swiping bases while hitting .542 with 49 extra-base hits, 47 walks, and a ridiculous 1.060 slugging percentage in 53 games. Slugging percentage, not OPS.

He turns 21 years old in March and is already big for a shortstop, so Ladendorf seems unlikely to stay at the position long term. That makes his offensive development crucial, so even if it was only 175 plate appearances at rookie-ball his poor pro debut was concerning. Still, Ladendorf's junior-college exploits suggest that he'll hit for strong batting averages soon enough, he displayed solid plate discipline amid the overall GCL struggles, and the Twins are clearly believers after taking him 60th overall.

31. Jonathan Waltenbury | First Base | DOB: 4/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-7

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2007 RK- 144 .244 .347 .366 3 9 18 31
2008 RK 293 .319 .382 .540 10 35 27 46

Taken out of a Canadian high school in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, Jonathan Waltenbury had a modest debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League before breaking out at Elizabethton last year. As a Canadian first baseman with a left-handed stroke and 6-foot-4 frame Waltenbury has naturally drawn comparisons to Justin Morneau and he showed that type of power potential by totaling 35 extra-base hits in 263 at-bats for an Isolated Power that was 77 percent above the Appalachian League average.

Among all the hitters in the Twins' minor-league system last year only Angel Morales, Evan Bigley, and Chris Parmelee flashed more raw power than Waltenbury. Better yet, that impressive pop also came with a reasonable strikeout rate of 16 percent and he's displayed nice patience for someone so young, drawing 45 walks in 437 trips to the plate. Bigley was his Elizabethton teammate and hit .300/.360/.587 for similar raw stats, but is a year older, struck out 15 percent more, and walked 40 percent less.

Not only did Waltenbury tear up the Appalachian League, he did so at a young age and showed some important secondary skills within that performance, which are very important distinctions to make when examining eye-popping numbers in the low minors. He's a long way from being compared to Morneau in a meaningful way despite wearing the same No. 33 to honor his fellow Canuck, but Waltenbury has gotten off to a great start and oozes offensive potential.


January 18, 2009

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

40. Charles Nolte | Reliever | DOB: 3/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-24

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2007 RK- 14 0 1.85 24.1 17 0 22 11
2008 A- 44 0 2.05 70.1 63 1 75 35

Charles Nolte underwent Tommy John elbow surgery following his senior year of high school and then barely pitched during his college career at San Diego State, but the Twins still liked the big right-hander enough to take him in the 24th round of the 2007 draft. Not only has Nolte stayed healthy as a pro, he's emerged as an intriguing relief prospect by racking up 97 strikeouts in 94.2 innings while inducing an extreme number of ground balls.

Nolte has served up a grand total of one homer while facing 417 batters, which is what happens when 71.3 percent of your balls in play are on the ground. To put that stat into some context, consider that no MLB pitcher had a ground-ball rate of even 70 percent last season and no Twins pitcher was above 60 percent. Nolte has induced over five ground balls for every fly ball as a pro and that alone would make him someone to watch even without the low-90s fastball and strong strikeout rate.

Most relievers who dominate in the low minors eventually fail to pan out and Nolte is a long way from Minnesota, but his combination of velocity, missed bats, and ground balls is much tougher to find than just another sparkling ERA at low Single-A. His lack of college experience suggests that Nolte could be a late bloomer and also means that his arm hasn't accumulated much mileage since the surgery four years ago, so if healthy he has a chance to move pretty quickly through the Twins' system.

39. Dan Osterbrock | Starter | DOB: 1/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2008-7

YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB
2008 RK 13 13 3.00 75.0 70 7 104 8

The all-time wins leader at the University of Cincinnati, Dan Osterbrock went 18-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 156-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 193.1 innings during his final two college seasons. Selected by the Twins in the seventh round last June, Osterbrock debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton and had a 3.00 ERA and 104-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 innings spread over 13 starts, thoroughly dominating the less experienced competition to lead the Appalachian League in strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

After taking home Appalachian League pitcher of the year honors he had 11 strikeouts in seven shutout innings to win the league title game. His fastball typically resides in the high-80s and he's anything but overpowering, so his high strikeout rate surprised everyone. "I've never really been a strikeout pitcher," Osterbrock said. "I'm not sure how it happened this year. A lot of times they just swing and miss. I've been throwing a slider down and in on righties, and that's really been working for me."

That will change now that Osterbrock is finished facing lineups filled with overmatched teenagers, but his control has been excellent with just 43 walks in his last 268 innings dating back to college and with a 3.09 ERA during that time he clearly has the offspeed stuff to get by with a modest fastball for now. His ability to get by on command and secondary stuff will be tested soon enough, but in the meantime he looks like a potential back-of-the-rotation starter and shouldn't need a ton of time in the low minors.

38. Danny Rams | Catcher | DOB: 12/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-2

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2007 RK- 106 .258 .311 .361 0 9 5 22
2008 RK 166 .228 .301 .428 5 16 15 71

Danny Rams' sophomore year didn't go a whole lot better than his disappointing pro debut and he now sports an ugly .240/.305/.398 line with 93 strikeouts in 68 games two years after being a second-round pick. Rams was drafted based mostly on what Baseball America ranked as the best power in the 2007 high school class, but so far he's had trouble simply making contact, whiffing in 34 percent of his plate appearances.

Rams struck out in 71 of his 166 trips to the plate at rookie-level Elizabethton last year, which works out to an astonishing 42.8 percent. Strikeouts aren't necessarily a horrible thing and certainly many power hitters struggle to make consistent contact, but 43 percent is well beyond an acceptable amount. With that said, Rams did show considerable pop at the plate when he actually put the ball in play, batting .436 with an .808 slugging percentage when he made contact.

That's certainly grasping at straws in search of some reason for optimism, but five homers and 16 total extra-base hits in 149 at-bats from a teenager in a pitcher-friendly environment definitely qualifies as big power potential. Rams also drew a solid number of walks and saw regular action at catcher, which is key given that his future behind the plate has been questioned due to his massive frame. He's very raw and has started down the bust path, but it's early yet and Rams still has potential if things click.

37. Daniel Ortiz | Right Field | DOB: 1/90 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2008-4

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2008 RK- 205 .274 .328 .419 2 18 11 30

Drafting Angel Morales in the third round two years ago has worked out so well thus far that the Twins decided to select another toolsy high school outfielder from Puerto Rico when they made Daniel Ortiz a fourth rounder in June. Morales debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit .256/.357/.405 in 2007, so naturally Ortiz followed in his footsteps by batting .274/.328/.419 in the GCL after signing for $253,000. While his .747 OPS may not seem like much, Ortiz's debut was actually very impressive.

As a whole the GCL batted just .253/.331/.356 last year, so Ortiz was about 10 percent above average offensively as an 18-year-old. His power was particularly good, as Ortiz smacked 18 extra-base hits in 186 at-bats for an Isolated Power that was 41 percent above par for the GCL. For comparison, Justin Morneau's power was 35 percent above the MLB average last year. Ortiz struck out a lot and didn't walk much, but showed plenty of promise at the plate to go along with good speed and athleticism.

Ortiz is under six feet tall and has a very slight build, so despite the pop shown in the small sample of his debut it's tough to project a ton of power. Of course, he's young enough that adding more size and strength is inevitable. He'll probably climb only one rung on the organizational ladder this year, going from the GCL to more short-season competition in the rookie-level Appalachian League, as the Twins' suddenly outfield-rich system should let them take things slow with Ortiz.

36. Reggie Williams | Second Base | DOB: 10/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-4

YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO
2008 RK- 96 .286 .358 .440 0 10 9 10

Reggie Williams was drafted out of a California high school in the fourth round two Junes ago, but was left off last year's version of this list because he signed too late to make a 2007 debut. His pro career began in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season and Williams looked very good in a limited number of games, hitting .286/.358/.440 while seeing most of his defensive action at second base and one appearance at third base.

It doesn't make much sense to put a whole lot of weight on 96 plate appearances versus short-season competition, but Williams showed a promising all-around offensive game for a teenager with as many extra-base hits as strikeouts and a solid walk rate. Williams was drafted as a shortstop and praised for his athleticism, so he'll try to stay a middle infielder for as long as possible before potentially moving to third base if his left-handed bat develops as planned.

He's a long way from the big leagues and probably won't even see full-season competition until 2010, but Williams was touted as a high-upside prospect when the Twins handed him a $153,000 signing bonus to lure him away from a scholarship to Cal-State Fullerton and he has already shown flashes of that potential. If he can handle second base and put together a good campaign at Elizabethton there will be room for Williams much higher on this list next year.


January 15, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • As those of you who've inexplicably continued to check the Fat-O-Meter despite no change in months have no doubt noticed, I'm back on the weight-loss plan. Again. This is my third attempt to restart the weight-loss process since dropping 92.5 pounds several years ago only to gain most of it right back, so the odds are clearly against things working any better this time. We'll see. There are two problems when it comes to starting up another weight-loss effort after losing and then gaining back 92.5 pounds.

    The first is that being fat, losing a huge amount of weight, and becoming fat again is significantly more depressing than simply being fat and remaining that way the entire time. The other is that previously having lost 92.5 pounds makes me all too aware of just how long it will take to do it again. However, the signs are all pointing to me needing to drop some pounds again even if being successful means losing Hall of Fame eligibility.

  • Even the combined power of Erin Andrews, Buzz Bissinger, Chris Berman, and a pantsless Mike Singletary can't match the magic of Baby Mangino. Seriously.
  • Just penning lyrics like "get me on the court and I'm trouble, last week f***ed around and got a triple double" and "I had the brew she had the chronic, the Lakers beat the Supersonics" makes it obvious that Ice Cube is a musical genius, but seeing "It Was A Good Day" presented in the form of a flow chart hammers that point home and then some.
  • Not only did the new Mariners front office create a "statistical research and analysis department" run by SABR member Tony Blengino and bring on friend of AG.com Tom Tango as a consultant, they use The Hardball Times' defensive stats. On a related note, during a KFAN radio appearance last month my comment that the Twins are one of the increasingly rare MLB teams without any sort of department focused on statistical analysis apparently drew the ire of the front office.

    Assistant general manager Rob Antony brought up my comment on the air a few days later while being interviewed by LaVelle E. Neal III and noted that the Twins do in fact use stats in their decision-making. However, my suggestion was never that the Twins completely ignore stats, because that would be silly. Rather, my point was that for better or worse they don't employ the more advanced statistical tools that have become available recently and are now in fairly wide use among other teams (like the Mariners).

    In other words, my point was about things like PitchFX and Zone Ratings rather than home-road splits and fielding percentages. There's a big difference, so in an effort to clear the air I sent Antony an e-mail. To his credit he responded with an explanation of the Twins' stance on the issue, but also confirmed that they indeed "do not have a department devoted to statistical analysis" and are not using the type of advanced tools I was talking about. Whether that's good or bad is up for debate, but it's definitely true.

  • On another related note, the Red Sox hired Diamond-Mind creator and longtime SABR member Tom Tippett as their director of baseball information services, but that's really nothing new for a team that's employed Bill James and various statistical analysts for years. In other words, you can be assured they aren't sitting around pouring over home-road splits.
  • Speaking of LEN3, he reports that the Twins "have inquired about" Eric Gagne, who was one of four relievers suggested as low-cost targets in this space two months ago. Here's my write-up from then:
    Eric Gagne was baseball's best closer from 2002-2004, posting a 1.97 ERA with 365 strikeouts in 247 innings while converting 152-of-158 save chances (96.2 percent, including 55-of-55 in 2003). Tommy John elbow surgery followed and Gagne pitched just 15 innings over the next two years before signing with Texas in 2007. He converted 16-of-17 save chances with a 2.16 ERA for the Rangers, but fell apart after a midseason trade to the Red Sox and continued to struggle for the Brewers this year.

    Gagne is coming off the worst year of his career and has an ugly 5.82 ERA in 65 innings dating back to the trade to Boston, which along with the injuries and inclusion in the Mitchell Report makes him a big risk. However, it also means that he'll be cheap and Gagne quietly had a 20-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio from July 1 on while allowing zero runs in 24 of 30 games. He's a shell of his old self, but look closely and he still has more upside than anyone in his price range.

    At the time my suggestion was that the Twins should offer Gagne a one-year contract worth $3 million plus incentives, but given how the non-closer reliever market has played out since then that's probably more than they'd need to spend. Gagne is far from a sure thing, but there's a decent shot that he has 60 innings of a 3.50 ERA in him and the Twins are in obvious need of another capable option to bridge the gap from the starters to Joe Nathan.

  • Part of my job at Rotoworld involves reading the baseball coverage at nearly every major newspaper in the country on a daily basis, so I've become extremely familiar with the various newspaper websites. Most of them are more or less the same in terms of quality, but a handful stand out as either really bad or really good. For instance, the St. Paul Pioneer Press' website is among the worst, which is a shame given the good work that Phil Miller does covering the Twins.

    Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website is among the best when it comes to content, layout, and innovation. All of which is why online managing editor Will Tacy resigning may quietly be the most significant of the newspaper's growing number of departures. Most of the Star Tribune's audience has surely never heard of Tacy and just about everyone is understandably far more concerned about what's happening with the columnists they read than the guy who puts the website together.

    However, in the midst of steadily declining print circulation and a rapidly changing industry landscape the Star Tribune has made tremendous strides with its online presence recently. I'm certainly not in a position to say how much impact Tacy has had or predict what his loss means to the newspaper, but there's zero doubt that the massive gap in quality between the Star Tribune's website and the Pioneer Press' website has shaped my reading habits, and that's more than can be said for any single writer.

  • Meanwhile, the Star Tribune has officially filed for bankruptcy despite ranking among the nation's top newspapers in terms of both print circulation and website readership.
  • The latest batch of new television shows has been so incredibly disappointing and unwatchable that I've resorted to devouring ridiculous amounts of Homicide: Life on the Street and West Wing reruns, but Alan Sepinwall offers some good news on a pair of returning favorites.

    UPDATE: Even better news from Sepinwall: Stringer Bell and Michael Scott, together on The Office. As a wise man once said: "Giggity, giggity."

  • From John Madden with Brett Favre, Tim McCarver with Derek Jeter, and Dick Bremer with Nick Punto we're all used to announcers fawning over certain players to the point that it becomes tough to stomach, but world-class blowhard Thom Brennaman took it to a whole different level with Tim Tebow during the BCS title game. Tebow is an excellent college football player and by all accounts one helluva guy, but Brennaman's never-ending hero worship was embarrassing and took away from the game.
  • My MinnPost colleague David Brauer recently had an interesting note about what Patrick Reusse's new morning radio gig means for his Star Tribune column:
    He cut back to half-time at the Star Tribune, but will still write Thursday and Sunday columns. ... Reusse originally wanted out of newspapering; he asked to be part of the Strib's recent buyout, but was turned down. Sportswriters weren't eligible, so half-time was the compromise.

    [...]

    Reusse doesn't deny that the Strib's precarious economics were a factor in taking on more radio work, but there were other reasons. "I don't want to get on a plane and go do stuff anymore," he says. "Travel is a pain in the ass. And frankly, I wasn't sure if what I do is what my [newspaper] bosses were looking for."

    Reusse's odd rants against bloggers annoy me and his storytelling has always been much better than his attempts at analysis, but he also clearly stands above the rest of the Twin Cities' barren wasteland of sports columnists. It's ironic that someone who rails against bloggers has cut back on a newspaper column in part because he doesn't want to travel or report as much, but more than that it'll be a shame if Reusse lessening his workload simply clears even more space for Sid Hartman and Jim Souhan.

  • One of my pet peeves when it comes to mainstream baseball writers is how often they try to pass off ignorance and anti-intellectualism as a form of analysis. King Kaufman of Salon.com agrees:
    In what other profession do practitioners brag about their ignorance regarding current events and developments? In what other area of journalism is lack of awareness a mark of distinction? Cut it out, fellow writers. Do your job. Engage with your material. Stay current. Learn about things you don't understand. Ignorance isn't a virtue. It's not something to brag about. It's something to fix.

    Earlier this week Jim Rice was inducted into the Hall of Fame by receiving almost as many votes as Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines combined, and the dozens of columns explaining why were filled with so much of the anti-intellectualism Kaufman described that it can't be a shock that Rickey Henderson was left completely off the ballot by 28 of those same voters.

  • She's certainly gone through plenty of ups and downs before, but sadly it appears as though former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Elisha Cuthbert is no longer even trying.
  • Jay Mariotti has found an online home at the newly redesigned AOL Fanhouse after being let go by the Chicago Sun-Times following two decades as a columnist. While a blog-driven site hiring a veteran newspaper columnist is somewhat novel, it's also disappointing. Mariotti has long eschewed analysis and informed opinion for forced controversy and knee jerk criticism, and it's a shame that one of the top places for online sports coverage has decided that he's worth adding to the team.

    I'm sure that hiring Mariotti will bring more eyeballs to AOL Fanhouse because he's always been able to drum up an audience. However, sports fans getting fed up with guys like Mariotti in newspapers is a big part of why people flocked to blogs in the first place and now that online media has gained some serious footing in the marketplace it's unfortunate to see him land a job simply for being a controversial figure with a recognizable byline. Let the newspapers have him, because we don't need him. Oh well.

  • Not that we really needed any more evidence that the train has left the station, but the Dallas Morning News and Forth Worth Star-Telegram announced this week that they'll begin sharing sports coverage next month, with one newspaper covering the Rangers and one newspaper covering the Mavericks. As Barry Horn of the Morning News explained: "It's all about cost-cutting economics in this troubled time for newspapers." And he wrote that on his blog, of course.
  • One of the most rewarding aspects of having an audience is being able to send my readers to other sites. Obviously much of that comes from Link-O-Rama entries, but it never ceases to amaze me how many of you arrive at other sites by way of the sidebar links here. For instance, AG.com is currently the No. 2 referrer for Wicked Chops Poker and finished 2008 as the No. 5 referrer for Tao of Poker, which is fairly astounding given that neither site is linked to or mentioned much here beyond the sidebar.

    All of which is a long way of saying thanks for not only reading AG.com, but for checking out the various other sites that I've plugged on the sidebar. I've intentionally kept the number of sidebar links small, so you can be certain that any site found there is legitimately part of my daily reading routine and definitely worth reading. That makes me some enemies at sites not found on the sidebar, but the alternative is flooding the page with dozens of links and that seems silly if I'm not even reading them.

  • Craig Monroe is the latest in a depressingly long line of washed-up veterans to go from getting paid millions by the Twins one year to managing only a minor-league contract with another team the next.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Gladys Knight & the Pips doing a live version of "Midnight Train To Georgia":


  • Movie Reviews: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Iron Man

    I'm not sure why exactly, but after a recent pay-per-view binge it struck me as a good idea to write up a couple quick movie reviews. Apparently this is what happens when re-signing Nick Punto is the biggest headline of the Twins' offseason. Sorry.


    Forgetting Sarah Marshall tends to get thrown into the massive and ever-expanding Judd Apatow pile, but his producer-only influence appears to be pretty minimal compared to his writing and directing. Most of Apatow's movies are filled with obvious laughs in funny scenes built around goofy banter that's seemingly pieced together around a basic plot to make a film, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall is much more story driven and ultimately more cute than funny.

    There are still plenty of laughs, but the memorable one-liners are more or less non-existent and aside from a little male nudity the film more easily fits under the umbrella of modern romantic comedies than something out of the Apatow factory. Jason Segel is bumbling at times and very charming at others as a relatively unique leading man, and Russell Brand is a perfect fit as the swarthy rock star who breaks up Segel's relationship with Kristen Bell's character.

    Of course, perhaps the movie's biggest flaw is that while Bell plays a television actress on a hit show she gets overshadowed by Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com third runner-up Mila Kunis, who plays what can only be described as the world's most beautiful and down-to-earth hotel desk clerk. Perhaps not enough setup is devoted to showing why Segel's character would be so crushed by breaking up with Sarah Marshall, or perhaps her celebrity implies the heartbreak and Kunis steals her spotlight anyway.

    Either way, at no time during the film did it seem like Segel should be leaning toward Bell over Kunis, which given the plot was a fairly big bump to get over. Apatow favorites Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd make amusing quasi-cameos, 30 Rock co-star Jack McBrayer provides the most laughs per second as an out-of-his-element honeymooner, and there are a pair of obese hotel workers who account for a large percentage of the movie's big laughs.

    Ultimately the movie is a step above the average romantic comedy because of some well-placed adult-themed humor and a good cast, but fails to hit as many high points as the average Apatow flick thanks to the Segel-penned script refusing to stray quite as far into the world of absurd dialogue. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because several of Apatow's latest films are more hit than miss anyway, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall didn't give itself a chance to be a truly memorable comedy.

    Cheesy and incredibly forced baseball-related rating: Line-drive single.


    I'm not usually a huge fan of superhero movies or even films that revolve around special effects and/or action sequences, but Iron Man is far more than that thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent portrayal of Tony Stark. Downey as Stark is so amusingly charming and the actual creation of his superhero is so intriguing that my favorite parts of the movie were the non-action scenes and the story captivated me despite zero prior knowledge of the comic book.

    Most of the secondary characters lacked depth because the movie focused on establishing Downey as the uber-cool hero, but Jeff Bridges still managed to play a plenty convincing, slick villain and Gwyneth Paltrow was fetching enough in an extremely understated role to convince you that Stark could develop a crush on his longtime assistant even while being a brash billionaire genius super-celebrity who has everything and everyone else he wants.

    Jon Favreau directed a sleek, fast-paced film that seemed a half-hour shorter than the 126-minute run time despite needing about 30 minutes of setup before completely diving in. I'm rarely blown away by superhero attempts and Iron Man certainly doesn't come close to ranking among my all-time favorite movies, but it's clear to me how much comic book fans would adore the film and even as a non-comic book guy it definitely had little trouble holding my attention.

    In fact, between great special effects, interesting action scenes that avoided being overdone, a likable yet slick hero, snappy dialogue, and a cameo by Marvel icon Stan Lee it was nearly a perfect comic film for a non-fanatic. Downey carried the film far more than the story or effects, and Bridges again showed that he can thrive playing just about any type of character with any type of haircut. Not a perfect movie by any means and no hugely memorable moments, but two hours of non-stop enjoyment.

    Cheesy and incredibly forced baseball-related rating: Ground-rule double.


    January 13, 2009

    AG.com Live Chat Today at Noon

    We haven't done one of these in a while. Today's live chat will begin at noon, with doors opening 15-20 minutes early for pre-submitted questions.

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