February 23, 2011

Twins Notes: Morneau, Liriano, Gardenhire, Nishioka, Slama, and Punto

Justin Morneau arrived at spring training Monday and spoke extensively about his status to the reporters on hand, saying he's made a lot of recent progress in his recovery from a July 7 concussion but remains less than 100 percent healthy nearly eight months after taking a John McDonald knee to the helmet while trying to break up a double play. He's been cleared to fully participate in workouts and took batting practice yesterday, which qualifies as a big step.

However, the Twins have indicated that he's likely to sit out at least the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule and when asked about a timetable for game action Morneau replied: "We'll find out over the next week or so." In other words he still has plenty of hurdles to clear before anyone should feel confident about Morneau being in the Opening Day lineup. We're six weeks away from that, but he's still not totally symptom-free eight months after injuring his brain.

Francisco Liriano was scratched from his first scheduled throwing session of spring training last week because of shoulder soreness, but an MRI exam revealed no structural damage and he had a problem-free bullpen session yesterday. Pitching coach Rick Anderson blamed that early soreness on Liriano failing to follow his team-recommended offseason workout program, which is certainly the type of thing that adds to the Twins' skepticism about his future value.

UPDATE: And now the Twins announced Carl Pavano, not Liriano, as the Opening Day starter.

• Twinkie Town editor-in-chief Jesse Lund conducted a lengthy interview with Rob Antony in which the Twins assistant general manager gave lots of interesting, detailed answers covering a wide range of topics. Kudos to Lund for asking strong questions and to Antony for being so generous with his time. Good stuff.

Rob Kuhn of MiLB.com has a good interview with Billy Bullock, who ranked 10th on my list of the Twins' top prospects for the second straight season.

• Speaking of top prospects, Kelly Thesier of MLB.com wrote a nice feature article about Twins scouting director Deron Johnson.

• Johnson and the scouting department recently added two international pitching prospects by signing 17-year-old Felix Jorge from the Dominican Republic and 19-year-old Markus Solbach from Germany. Ben Badler of Baseball America has video of Jorge in action and reports that the 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander "has an 88-91 mph fastball that has touched 92 ... a good delivery, a loose arm, and shows feel for spinning a solid curveball." He signed for $250,000.

Solbach spent four years in the United States as a kid and has been pitching in Australia, with international scouting director Howard Norsetter calling the righty "a projectable talent" with "good arm action and a chance of throwing the ball consistently hard with decent breaking stuff" out of his 6-foot-5 frame. Last year Norsetter and the Twins signed 16-year-old German outfielder Max Kepler for $800,000 and now he ranks 16th on my list of the team's prospects.

Ron Gardenhire never actually played for the Twins, spending his entire 285-game career with the Mets, but he did appear in a Twins uniform during spring training in 1987 and Edward Thoma of the Mankato Free Press discovered video evidence of him striking out against Astros right-hander Julio Solano:

In addition to simply getting a look at skinny Gardenhire, the video is great because it features announcers John Rooney and Harmon Killebrew discussing Gardenhire, Al Newman, and Ron Washington being in a three-way battle for utility infielder. Newman beat out the two future managers, but went on to hit .221/.298/.303 in 349 plate appearances despite Rooney saying "he can do a lot of things." Gardenhire hit .272 with a .380 slugging percentage at Triple-A.

Denard Span introduced himself to Tsuyoshi Nishioka and "asked him how his English was." It turned out to be minor leaguer Ray Chang, whose English is fantastic because he was born in Missouri. And then Span tweeted about it.

• Speaking of Nishioka, this 1500ESPN.com video of him fielding ground balls is worth watching because he doesn't use his non-glove hand at all. Presumably the Twins were well aware of his fielding mechanics when they signed him, but I can't imagine the coaching staff letting that go without some tweaks.

• Nishioka was also the subject of a New York Times article by Brad Lefton.

• After retiring former Twins catcher/designated hitter Matthew LeCroy took a job managing in the Nationals' minor-league system and has been promoted from low Single-A to high Single-A, where he may work with No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper at some point this year.

Nick Blackburn is the latest in a long line of Twins players to perform horribly while trying to play through an injury. I'll never understand why so many people view that as a positive thing.

Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle explains why the Twins signed more minor-league veterans than usual this offseason.

Anthony Slama told Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com that he spent the offseason adding a cut fastball to his repertoire, which may help the right-hander fare better versus left-handed bats. Slama, who ranks 25th on my list of Twins prospects, will hopefully get an extended chance to show that his dominant minor-league numbers can equal big-league success.

• Remember all that stuff I wrote about how the Twins should have re-signed Nick Punto if he was willing to accept the bench role and $750,000 salary he got from the Cardinals? Well, now he's out 8-12 weeks following hernia surgery. Ouch.

• I may have to add this beauty to my bobblehead collection, which for now is limited to just Al Newman and Bill James.

• This might be the most Joe Mauer has talked, ever. And an important topic, too!

8 Comments »

  1. I always loved how Killer pronounced the name “Ron Wurshington.”

    Comment by Tom — February 22, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  2. From the NYT article, I love that Nishi introduced himself to his hero, Jeter, by saying that he wanted to replace him as the Yankees shortstop.

    Comment by Mike in SD — February 22, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

  3. Punto out 8-12 weeks following hernia surgery….

    Comment by JB (the original) — February 23, 2011 @ 7:06 am

  4. I too have always wondered how playing badly through an injury is better than not playing (from the team perspective for sure). I don’t get how going out there and being bad makes you more “manly” than someone smart enough to realize they are hurting the team.

    Comment by mike wants WINS — February 23, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  5. The Nishi video of him taking ground balls is scaring me. He looks like a bad high school infielder with a 1980′s glove which is much too big and floppy to make him look the part. And seriously, do they not teach guys to use their top hand when fielding a ground ball in Japan? YIKES!

    Comment by mlbdaddy — February 23, 2011 @ 9:18 am

  6. I think Punto actually was given quite a bit less then $1 million by the Cards this off-season. $600,000?

    Comment by Dave — February 23, 2011 @ 9:39 am

  7. Has there ever been a MLBer to field like Nishi? Looks terribly awkward. Wonder if all the coaches’ stomachs sunk a little when they first watched their starting 2B/SS field.

    Comment by Bryn — February 23, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  8. Nick Blackburn is the latest in a long line of Twins players to perform horribly while trying to play through an injury. I’ll never understand why so many people view that as a positive thing.

    Probably the same reason people appreciated Nick Punto’s “hustle” when he dove into first base and always ended a game with dirt on his chest (or the first inning).

    So – because people are stupid.

    (I’m not saying that Punto didn’t have positive qualities and didn’t do some things well, but the silly things that some people appreciated him for were stupid)

    Comment by Son of Shane Mack — February 23, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

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