Twins Notes: Tools, Ballet, Fastballs, Casinos, and Retirement
From the minors to the majors several Twins were picked in Baseball America's annual "best tools" survey of managers. Joe Mauer was named the league's best hitter and best defensive catcher while placing second behind Bobby Abreu for best strike-zone judgment and third behind Carl Crawford and Ichiro Suzuki for most exciting player. Joe Nathan came in second to Mariano Rivera for the AL's best reliever and Justin Morneau won for the league's best power.
In the minors Ben Revere earned best hitting prospect, fastest baserunner, and most exciting player in the Florida State League, David Bromberg was named the FSL's best pitching prospect, Brad Tippett was picked for the best control in the Midwest League, and Drew Butera was named the International League's best defensive catcher. Now, the same BA managers survey once pegged David Ortiz as the best defensive first baseman at Triple-A, but grain of salt or not the picks are always interesting.
John W. Miller of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great profile of Max Kepler-Rozycki, the 16-year-old German outfielder who recently signed with the Twins for $800,000. His parents, American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki, met while starring together in the Berlin ballet, which led to an intriguing upbringing for their baseball-playing son. Twins scout Andy Johnson first saw him when he was 14 years old and described Kepler-Rozycki running to first base "like a galloping baby deer."
Dave Allen of Fan Graphs put together an eye-opening analysis of Francisco Liriano's struggles this year, basically concluding that his slider and changeup remain very good pitches while his fastball has gone from good to awful following Tommy John surgery. In terms of damage done on specific pitches, only Armando Galarraga has had a less effective fastball than Liriano. Meanwhile, despite averaging a modest 90.9 miles per hour with the pitch Scott Baker has had the majors' ninth-best fastball.
Whoever runs Morneau's personal website posted a bunch of photos from his recent "Casino Night" fundraiser, so you can see what Morneau, Mauer, Baker, Nick Punto, Mike Redmond, Brendan Harris, and Orlando Cabrera look like in their civvies. Also pictured: General manager Bill Smith after losing 40 pounds, MLB.com beat writer Kelly Thesier, Morneau playing poker with his wife on his lap and then raking in chips after winning a pot, and finally this beauty of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel:
Former first-round pick Jay Rainville has decided to retire from baseball at the age of 23 after failing to reestablish himself as a prospect following 2006 shoulder surgery, explaining:
From the arms-crossed guy standing guard behind Cuddyer and Thesier making an appearance in the background to Kubel's omnipresent shit-eating grin and Andy Sipowitz-like formal wear the photo is all kinds of amusing. And more importantly, Morneau and company raised $75,000 for juvenile arthritis.
I think I owed it to the Twins and the Rock Cats not to keep spinning my wheels. I didn't have what it takes to pitch competitively. I did everything I could. I was able to get my arm strength back but never quite got the velocity back. It's tough to pitch when you don't have any velocity. I sat down with my family and thought about it and I feel this is the right move.
In my annual ranking of the Twins' top prospects Rainville placed 21st in 2007 and 28th in 2008, but he dropped off the list after serving up 23 homers and posting a 5.45 ERA in 138.2 innings between high Single-A and Double-A last season. He continued to struggle at Double-A this year, allowing 51 runs in 69.2 innings while opponents hit .315. Rainville had a 3.15 ERA and great control in the low minors, but even before the surgery a high fly-ball rate and modest strikeout totals limited his upside.
Torii Hunter's tough-guy act took another hit recently, as he spent six weeks on the disabled list with a groin injury and then delayed his return thanks to "flu-like symptoms" after dining at the Olive Garden. Seriously. Hunter spent his final season in Minnesota publicly criticizing Mauer for not possessing the toughness to play through injuries, yet has missed 56 of a possible 284 games since signing with the Angels and has been in the lineup just eight more times than Mauer during the past five years.
Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times found that every team but the Rays, Reds, and Brewers have had at least one player produce a 200-hit season since the Twins last got one from Paul Molitor in 1996. In fact, Mauer and Morneau are the only Twins to have even 180 hits since then. Interestingly, the Brewers' last 200-hit season also belongs to Molitor, way back in 1991.
Either the people who write the captions for Associated Press pictures are dyslexic or the Twins have a new pitching prospect.
Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.