February 27, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • Based on this photo of CC Sabathia at his first spring training with the Yankees it may not be too late to begin my pitching career.
  • Normally when a fat guy takes off his belt it just means he's preparing for a second trip to the buffet, but in LenDale White's case it means you should probably duck.
  • Remind me not to have Jerry Zgoda write my obituary:
    Dying to be loved. Born to be hated. And now Rashad McCants has been traded. ... McCants overcame microfracture knee surgery his rookie year to become the Wolves' second-leading scorer last season, but his streaky and unabashed shooting, his reluctance to pass the ball, his propensity to commit turnovers and maybe his moodiness left him on the team's bench since early January.

    Sure, but other than that.

  • John Mayer wrote a touching song to celebrate Conan O'Brien's move to The Tonight Show.
  • In case going from stridently anti-blogger newspaper columnist to radio show host with a blog of his own wasn't enough of a switch for Patrick Reusse, he's also now on Twitter. I'm not even on Twitter.
  • When he's not dancing with the JabbaWockeeZ at All-Star games, Shaquille O'Neal is using Twitter to give away tickets at malls and meet fans at restaurants. Let's see Reusse do that.
  • Here's the uncut video of LeBron James scoring 16 points in two minutes against the Bucks:


    Gatorade had a commercial a couple years ago that utilized special effects to show James effortlessly sinking full-court shots, but the above footage of him repeatedly sprinting to a spot on the floor in order to launch off-balance 25-foot jumpers over out-stretched defenders would be infinitely less plausible if it didn't actually happen earlier this week in Milwaukee. I'd call it the heat check to end all heat checks, but it's more like compelling evidence of alien life form on earth. Watch it, you won't be disappointed.
  • I've criticized Ron Gardenhire plenty, but I'll never question his taste in music or hit-and-run targets.
  • When the supermodel you're dating vows to remain a virgin until marriage ... well, no wonder Marko Jaric wanted to get married before the actual wedding.
  • According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Telly Hughes is leaving his job as sideline reporter for Twins games on FSN to take the same gig covering the Brewers. My television was probably on mute for about 90 percent of Hughes' reports, but he almost always looked sharp while seemingly passing along misinformation about injuries whenever the volume was up. Unfortunately for Hughes, there's no amount of dressing well that can make him easier on the eyes than predecessor Trenni Kusnierek.
  • I'm sad to report that one of my all-time favorite movie characters, Lawrence Cohen of The Goonies, no longer looks like a "Chunk."
  • I'm among the world's biggest Adam Carolla fans, but his morning radio show ending because the Los Angeles station switched formats last week actually qualifies as great news. In three years hosting the morning show Carolla unfortunately shifted further and further away from the rants and personal stories that made his time on Loveline so great, but he's gone back to basics with a daily bare bones podcast free of program directors, commercial breaks, traffic-and-weather updates, and co-hosts.

    He launched the podcast Monday and so far it's just Carolla sitting in his living room with a microphone and a guest, yet there are already hundreds of thousands of subscribers and I'm already back to being giddy about listening to him each day instead of relying upon decade-old Loveline recordings. His first week had Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Simmons, Dr. Drew Pinsky, and Dave Dameshek as guests and other "dear, dear friends" like David Alan Grier, Norm MacDonald, and Dana Gould are on tap. Good times!

    Oh, and Carolla also has a new sitcom in the works for CBS.

  • Speaking of Carolla, Simmons, and podcasts, they teamed up on ESPN.com earlier this week for 90 minutes of non-stop chatter that was so good it may qualify as the highlight of my month. Seriously.
  • When he wasn't podcasting with Carolla, Simmons was in Baron Davis' kitchen hanging out with the Clippers' point guard and Jessica Alba's husband.
  • Friend of AG.com Sean Forman is now a millionaire, which is beyond well deserved for the creator of Baseball-Reference.com and one hell of a nice guy.
  • In one of his spring training updates on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website last week LaVelle E. Neal III checked in from Florida to note: "Jim Souhan has arrived to take our coverage to the next level." Saddest statement yet about the newspaper industry's decline or strongest case ever made for HTML needing a "sarcasm" tag? You decide!
  • His timing is off by a decade or so, but Larry Johnson has good taste in mid-90s pop stars.
  • Luckily for them no one buys fast food because of how it looks.
  • With the newspaper world falling apart, ESPN has smartly begun preparing to fill the inevitable gaps in local sports coverage.
  • David Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner wrote a great piece analyzing the impact and importance of outfield defense. While his analysis focuses on who the Mariners should play in left field, substituting "Denard Span" for "Endy Chavez" and "Delmon Young" for "Ken Griffey Jr." basically turns it into a Twins article.
  • My efforts to promote Rotoworld's online Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide now include an interview with Steve Marantz over at Sports Media Guide and a weekly Saturday afternoon appearance on Pittsburgh radio with Pirates postgame show host Rocco DeMaro. I'm still not a big fan of calling into radio shows because not being able to see the other person bothers me for some odd reason, but if anyone else is interested in doing a written Q&A while helping me pimp the Draft Guide just let me know.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Van Morrison's live version of "Sweet Thing":


  • February 25, 2009

    Twins Notes: Baseball!

    Thanks to MLB Network showing the Twins' spring training opener against the Red Sox last night I've got some thoughts on watching nine glorious innings of baseball in February, but first a few notes ...

  • Exploratory surgery on Boof Bonser's sore right shoulder yesterday revealed labrum and rotator cuff tears, so his 2009 season is done before it even started. Bonser pitched his way out of the rotation last season and wasn't much better following a demotion to the bullpen, finishing with a 5.93 ERA in 118.1 innings. However, his peripheral numbers were much better than the ugly ERA and the Twins were set to give Bonser another chance to claim a bullpen spot this spring.

    His 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings as a reliever had me optimistic about Bonser's odds of bouncing back in the bullpen and perhaps even emerging with a prominent late-inning role at some point, but now his days with the Twins may be over and his career is in jeopardy. Bonser's injury along with Bobby Korecky being lost on waivers to the Diamondbacks last week will make it much easier for Philip Humber to claim an Opening Day roster spot.

    As discussed in this space last week, there are seemingly 10 locks for the Twins' pitching staff, which leaves Humber battling Jose Mijares, Jason Jones, and assorted other arms for one or two bullpen spots. Humber is out of minor-league options and Jones is a Rule 5 pick, so unlike Mijares they can't be sent to Triple-A. My preference has always been for an 11-man pitching staff and it sounds like the Twins may be leaning that way, which would make Humber the heavy favorite to serve as long reliever.

  • At one point last week the Arizona Republic claimed that the Twins were on the verge of pulling off a sign-and-trade deal with the Diamondbacks for Juan Cruz, but that report has mysteriously vanished from the newspaper's website and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune now notes that "the Twins will look elsewhere for bullpen help." According to LEN3, trade talks with the Diamondbacks never actually took place because Cruz turned down the Twins' contract offer.

    Cruz is an elite setup man and would have upgraded the Twins' bullpen tremendously, but aside from that rogue Arizona newspaper report there was never much indication that a deal was close. In order for a sign-and-trade involving Cruz to work he'd have to accept the Twins' contract offer and then the Diamondbacks would have to accept the Twins' trade offer, thus working around his status as a Type A free agent. Cruz would have been a perfect fit, but it was probably wishful thinking from the start.

  • Once an outstanding catcher prospect who became a slightly less outstanding first-base prospect, Justin Huber inexplicably never got much of a chance with the Royals despite seven straight seasons with an OPS above .800 in the minors. He finally stopped hitting last season, batting .246/.318/.352 in 61 games at Triple-A and .246/.303/.393 in 33 games with the Padres, but Huber is still just 26 years old and will try to get back on track at Rochester after signing a minor-league contract with the Twins.
  • Longtime readers of this blog will be amused to note that Luis Rivas is competing for a bench spot with the Cubs. Rivas played last year with the Pirates, hitting .218/.267/.311 in 223 plate appearances, and the former AG.com whipping boy sports a .257/.303/.377 career line in 2,290 trips to the plate. I've been wrong about plenty of players in six-plus years of blogging, but constantly opining that Rivas was more hype than upside appears to have been right on the money.
  • MLB Network broadcast the game via the Red Sox's television network and usual color commentator Jerry Remy was home sick, so several fill-ins joined play-by-play man Don Orsillo in the booth. Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald was excellent for two innings of commentary and former Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach was also pretty enjoyable on the air. In other words, I'm already sick of Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, and they haven't even started yet.
  • There was some talk last week about Delmon Young reporting to camp in significantly better shape and it looked last night like he may have dropped a few pounds during the winter, but he certainly didn't appear to have gone through any major changes. Whatever the case, just like last season he hit a pair of ground balls in two at-bats and tip-toed his way around the outfield.
  • Michael Cuddyer can still chuck it from right field and Justin Morneau can still hit the ball really far. Cuddyer drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd in Fort Myers after unleashing a throw to third base and Morneau lined a Tim Wakefield knuckleball deep into the left-center field gap despite being way out in front on the pitch. Aside from Morneau's double, the Twins mostly dinked and dunked Wakefield and the Red Sox to death in a 5-2 victory that saw a total of 53 players used.
  • Matt Tolbert solidified his status as a poor man's Nick Punto by attempting to bunt for a base hit in his first at-bat of spring training after coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. You can be certain Ron Gardenhire was dreaming about the fouled-off bunt as soon as his head hit the pillow.
  • Luis Matos graded out reasonably well as a center fielder earlier in his career, but the 30-year-old non-roster invitee didn't show much range on a couple balls hit over his head. Alejandro Machado has battled serious arm problems during the past couple seasons and came up with a pretty weak throw to first base on a potential double play in the seventh inning. Machado batted .338/.376/.472 in 54 games at Triple-A last year, but may not be capable of playing shortstop any longer.
  • Dustin Martin had an ugly swinging strikeout against side-arming left-hander Javier Lopez, but my No. 27 prospect later lined a sharp single off another left-hander, Billy Traber. Back-to-back matchups against veteran lefties would normally be a tough assignment for a young left-handed hitter like Martin, but he actually batted .343 versus southpaws at Double-A last season and is at .298/.361/.386 against them for his three-year pro career.
  • Baseball!

  • February 24, 2009

    AG.com Live Chat Today at Noon

    Back to the noon start time this week. As always, doors will open a few minutes early for pre-submitted questions. I'm not quite sure what you guys have left to ask now that the third-base situation is settled, but I'm confident you'll think of something and will keep going until the questions run out.

    Twins Notes: Canada, College, Korecky, and Quotes

  • Debilitating struggles with post-concussion syndrome have sidelined Corey Koskie since crashing to the ground while chasing a foul ball on July 6, 2006, but he's been training in Twins camp recently and landed a spot on Canada's roster for the World Baseball Classic next month with an eye toward joining an MLB team. Koskie's comeback faces long odds at the age of 35, but it'd be great to see him play again after a freak injury ended a .261/.343/.490 season and basically ruined his life for two years.

    Random trivia: Koskie went 27-of-33 stealing bases in 2001 and is just one of five third basemen this decade to steal 25-plus bases in a season. Chone Figgins, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, and Aaron Boone are the other four. Aside from that 2001 season Koskie has only 44 career steals, including no more than 11 in one year. He stole double-digit bases three times, which ranks second in team history behind four from Gary Gaetti, whose 14 steals in 1986 are second among Twins third basemen.

  • Baseball America recently posted their top 100 college prospects for this year's draft and the players ranked 7th, 32nd, 63rd, and 66th were previously drafted by the Twins but went unsigned. For instance, the Twins drafted left-hander Andrew Oliver in the 17th round when he was coming out of high school in 2006, but failed to sign him. Now he's a junior at Oklahoma State University and BA ranks Oliver as the No. 7 college prospect in the entire draft.

    LSU outfielder Jared Mitchell and Missouri outfielder Aaron Senne were other unsigned Twins picks from that same 2006 draft class and Mississippi right-hander Aaron Barrett ranks No. 66 on BA's list after going unsigned as last year's 20th rounder. Of course, the Twins are far from alone, as nine of the top 13 players were drafted previously. Among them is USC shortstop Grant Green, who was unsigned as a Padres pick in 2006 and is now the consensus top college position player available.

  • Signing Luis Ayala and Joe Crede required the Twins to clear two spots on the 40-man roster. One spot was created by placing Pat Neshek on the 60-day disabled list, which is strictly a procedural move given that he's out for the season following Tommy John elbow surgery. The other spot was created by waiving Bobby Korecky, which cost the Twins a usable bullpen arm when he was claimed by Arizona. Korecky is unlikely to be more than a solid middle reliever, but he deserved more of a chance.

    He's spent the past three seasons stuck at Triple-A despite posting a 3.34 ERA in 210.1 innings there, including a 2.91 ERA, 71-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, .237 opponent's batting average, and 26 saves in 74.1 innings last season. Despite consistently strong numbers at Triple-A and a 3.09 ERA over 425.2 innings as a minor leaguer Korecky got a grand total of 16 appearances with the Twins before they let him go for nothing.

    Korecky is already 29 years old, so he's unlikely to haunt the Twins, but cutting him while keeping Matt Macri, Drew Butera, Jason Jones, and Armando Gabino on the roster is odd. Macri was superfluous with Brendan Harris around and overkill after inking Crede. Butera has hit .215/.303/.324 in the minors, so his upside is good-glove, no-hit backup catcher. Jones is a Rule 5 pick who'll be offered back when he doesn't make the team. And Gabino is a 25-year-old reliever with worse numbers than Korecky.

    UPDATE: Boof Bonser announced this morning that he's slated for shoulder surgery, which makes the decision to let Korecky go for nothing even more regrettable and increases Philip Humber's chances of making the team (and perhaps intensifies the Twins' pursuit of Juan Cruz).

  • Speaking of Ayala, can the people who get paid to write about the Twins please stop referring to him as a "sinkerballer"? When the Twins signed Ayala two weeks ago Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Phil Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press both called him a "sinkerball specialist" and last week LaVelle E. Neal III called him "the sinkerballing Ayala." Ayala and the Twins may tell you that he throws a sinker, but he hasn't actually had an above-average ground-ball rate since 2004.
  • Reports varied last month regarding how far along in negotiations the Twins got with Brandon Lyon, but Jon Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press notes that "Lyon turned down a multi-year offer to set up for the Twins ... for the chance to close in Detroit." If that's true the Twins can't be criticized for failing to sign Lyon, although choosing Ayala over relievers like Russ Springer, Jeremy Affeldt, Joe Nelson, and Bob Howry is still plenty questionable.
  • Last year Livan Hernandez got a one-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives from the Twins. This year Hernandez managed only a minor-league deal from the Mets. Here's an amusing excerpt from the New York Post story about Hernandez signing:
    Hernandez slipped badly last season, with scouts noticing a significant drop in his velocity to the low 80 mph range, and he bounced between Minnesota and Colorado. He finished 13-11 overall, but was just 3-3 with an 8.03 ERA in the thin Denver air with the Rockies.

    Hernandez attributes his swoon at the end of last season to pitching at Coors Field, which he said is a struggle, humidor or not. "Anybody in the league going to Colorado has to make an adjustment," said Hernandez, who also had knee problems in recent years. "I mean, you throw a curveball and the curveball doesn't work."

    That excerpt contains two of the many reasons why I'd be a horrible newspaper reporter. First, I'd never be able to write about "scouts noticing a significant drop in his velocity" to make it appear like passing along insider information because I'd just go to Fan Graphs and see that his average fastball velocity has actually remained remarkably consistent over the past three seasons at 83.9, 83.6, and 83.7 miles per hour. Not only aren't "scouts" needed for that information, they're apparently not even right.

    Beyond that, I'd never be able to write something like "Hernandez attributes his swoon at the end of last season to pitching at Coors Field" without mentioning the fact that Hernandez had a 5.71 ERA in his 26 starts that didn't take place at Coors Field. Apparently my alarm didn't go off on the mornings when they taught "quoting experts with incorrect versions of freely available information" and "making excuses for your subject that ignores evidence" in journalism school. Or maybe they tell you that stuff at graduation.

  • Patrick Reusse wrote a good column in the Star Tribune last week catching up with former Twins prospect Michael Restovich, who's now 30 years old and trying to make the White Sox this spring as a non-roster invitee. Restovich is a Minnesota native and 1997 second-round pick who BA ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Twins' system for both 1999 and 2000, the No. 3 prospect for 2001, and the No. 4 prospect for 2002 and 2003.

    Despite being a highly touted former second-round pick who hit .274/.364/.442 in assorted brief stints with the Twins through the age of 25, Restovich received a grand total of just 113 at-bats before being waived at the end of spring training in 2005. He's done little since then, but given Restovich's pedigree and .284/.359/.501 career line in 4,424 plate appearances as a minor leaguer it's always surprised me that he was only able to accumulate 297 plate appearances in the majors.

  • We talked so much Twins during my live appearance on FOX's "Sports on Demand" show yesterday afternoon that the video is now broken up into six clips on the station's website.
  • Out of Context Quote of the Week, courtesy of Justin Morneau speaking about Joe Mauer: "I've told Joe, if he ever leaves me, I'll never speak to him again."

  • February 22, 2009

    Watch Me on FOX's "Sports on Demand" Webcast

    Joe Crede joining the Twins motivated me to do some rare weekend blogging, so if you haven't already please check out my analysis of the signing. Also, you can watch my live appearance on FOX's "Sports on Demand" show with Seth Kaplan and Doogie Wolfson today at 3:00 p.m. We're scheduled to spend the entire show talking Twins, so there will be plenty about Crede and Juan Cruz along with the outfield logjam, bullpen setup, and spring roster battles. You can watch us live on FOX's website at 3:00 p.m.

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