September 10, 2014

Twins Notes: Santana, Escobar, St. Peter, Thorpe, Mauer, and May

Danny Santana Twins

Danny Santana picked a bad season to be a .320-hitting rookie center fielder, because White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is hitting .317/.378/.590 with 33 homers and will run away with the Rookie of the Year award. However, assuming that he doesn't go into a prolonged slump down the stretch Santana's performance would be enough to make him a deserving Rookie of the Year winner in quite a few previous seasons. Last season, for instance.

Last season's winner, Wil Myers of the Rays, hit .293/.354/.478 in 88 games as a right fielder. Santana has hit .320/.358/.475 in 84 games as a center fielder/shortstop. They've been nearly identical as hitters and Santana has large edges in base-running, defense, and positional value. Looking at Twins history, Marty Cordova won the award in 1995 while hitting .277/.352/.486 in 137 games as a left fielder in a much higher era for offense.

Here's where Santana currently ranks among Twins rookies in Wins Above Replacement during the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014:

                    YEAR     WAR
Francisco Liriano   2006     4.5
Lew Ford            2004     4.5
Denard Span         2008     4.3
Bobby Kielty        2002     2.7
DANNNY SANTANA      2014     2.7

Longtime readers of this blog will probably remember that I thought Bobby Kielty was destined for stardom. He was not.

• Santana was thrust into center field without ever playing there regularly before and has done reasonably well, but assistant general manager Rob Antony recently said: "I think he's going to be our shortstop of the future. Any opportunity we get to play him at shortstop is a good thing." Which is fine, except with Aaron Hicks back in the majors the Twins are still going out of their way not to play Santana at shortstop, even using Eduardo Nunez there instead of him.

• On a related note: Since a strong start Eduardo Escobar has hit just .247/.292/.365 in his last 85 games. He's now a career .253/.299/.363 hitter in 761 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

• For most of the past four years the Twins' bullpen has been a strength amid the team's overall struggles, but now the relievers are struggling too. In the first half the bullpen had a 3.21 ERA with a 13-10 record. In the second half they have a 4.92 ERA with a 6-10 record, including a 5.81 ERA during the past month. Their season totals now include ranking 22nd in ERA, 29th in xFIP, and dead last in strikeout rate. Of course, the rotation has still been worse.

• Twins president Dave St. Peter apparently didn't mind Keith Olbermann ripping the team to shreds on ESPN, but he predictably did mind me saying their brand survey was "tone deaf." On a related note, we spent a large portion of this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode discussing the Twins' increasing assurances of "we get it" in the face of mounting evidence that they don't.

• Pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe, an 18-year-old left-hander from Australia with 144 strikeouts in 116 career innings and one of the highest-upside arms in the Twins' farm system, has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. For now the Twins are insisting he'll be fine, but UCL injuries are what lead to Tommy John surgery.

Jose Berrios had one of the 10 best starts by any pitching prospect this season, according to Baseball America.

Joe Mauer has a .405 on-base percentage with more walks than strikeouts in 28 games since returning from the disabled list. During that time he's got an .848 OPS. His career OPS is .861.

Kurt Suzuki has hit .235/.279/.337 in 27 games since his two-year, $12 million extension. He hit .237/.294/.357 in 477 games from 2010-2013.

Tommy Milone allowed 21 runs in 21 innings for the Twins after coming over from the A's in exchange for Sam Fuld and now he's hurt. (Fuld has hit just .218/.269/.307 in 35 games since the trade.)

• Since his disastrous MLB debut Trevor May has a 24/12 K/BB ratio and three homers allowed in 27 innings. It'll take a while for his ERA to not be hideous, but he'll be just fine.

• After nine seasons as the Twins' minor-league hitting coordinator and 14 total seasons in the organization Bill Springman has been let go.

• At one point this season the Twins were 23-21. Since then they are 39-61.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

April 17, 2013

Twins Notes: Four hits, two strikes, leading off, and mystery pitchers

joe mauer four hits

• Monday night Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a homer and a double for his 20th career four-hit game and then he followed that up Tuesday night by going 4-for-5 for his 21st career four-hit game, which ranks fourth in Twins history and third in Twins history through age 30:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Kirby Puckett      47        Kirby Puckett      33
Rod Carew          42        Rod Carew          29
Tony Oliva         28        Joe Mauer          21
Joe Mauer          21        Tony Oliva         15
Chuck Knoblauch    15        Chuck Knoblauch    15

You certainly wouldn't know it based on this week, but strictly in terms of racking up hits Mauer is at a small disadvantage because he draws so many walks, especially compared to a free-swinger like Kirby Puckett. Here's the Twins' leaderboard for games getting on base at least four times:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Rod Carew         117        Rod Carew          84
Kirby Puckett      94        Joe Mauer          79
Harmon Killebrew   92        Chuck Knoblauch    76
Joe Mauer          79        Kirby Puckett      59
Chuck Knoblauch    76        Kent Hrbek         59

"Four-hit game" rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than "four-times-on-base game" but as always walks are a good thing too. Either way, Mauer is ridiculous right now.

• Three of Mauer's four hits Monday night came with two strikes, which prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to comment:

One of the best hitters I've ever seen with two strikes. It's incredible how he can go deep into a count and never panic, never have any fear, have a nice swing and barrel it just about every time.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com recently adding splits data to the already amazing Play Index here are the active leaders in batting average and OPS with two strikes:

TWO-STRIKE AVG                 TWO-STRIKE OPS
Todd Helton        .263        Albert Pujols      .789
Juan Pierre        .261        Todd Helton        .784
Ichiro Suzuki      .260        David Ortiz        .698
Albert Pujols      .258        Ryan Braun         .697
Joe Mauer          .256        Miguel Cabrera     .696
                               ...
                               Joe Mauer          .668

As you might expect, guys with low strikeout rates have the best two-strike batting average and guys who're simply great all-around hitters have the best two-strike OPS. Mauer ranks fifth in batting average and 17th in OPS with two strikes.

• Last night Gardenhire moved Aaron Hicks out of the leadoff spot for the first time, which got me thinking about the history of Twins leadoff hitters. First, here's a list of the most starts in the leadoff spot in Twins history:

Cesar Tovar        742
Chuck Knoblauch    695
Denard Span        549
Zoilo Versalles    547
Dan Gladden        478
Kirby Puckett      417
Jacque Jones       320
Shannon Stewart    313
Lenny Green        263
Hosken Powell      225

Zoilo Versalles and Dan Gladden are two of the five most-used leadoff hitters in Twins history despite posting on-base percentages of .299 and .318 in the role. Jacque Jones and Hosken Powell weren't a whole lot better at .329 and .327, although at least Jones also slugged .472 for the highest mark by a Twins leadoff man. In all 25 hitters have started at least 100 games in the leadoff spot for the Twins and here are the leaders in on-base percentage:

Chuck Knoblauch    .399
Steve Braun        .386
Lyman Bostock      .362
Otis Nixon         .360
Shane Mack         .359
Shannon Stewart    .358
Luis Castillo      .357
Denard Span        .354
Lenny Green        .350
Larry Hisle        .348

As part of my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I compared Steve Braun to Chuck Knoblauch and called him one of the most underrated players in team history. Braun played in a low-offense era, so his OBP was even better than it looks. The worst OBP by a Twins leadoff man with at least 100 starts belongs to Carlos Gomez at .280, which won't surprise anyone. Hicks has led off 10 times so far, which ties him for 69th in Twins history with Pedro Munoz and Mark Davidson.

• Hicks tied the all-time record for most strikeouts in a hitter's first 10 career games:

Aaron Hicks       2013     20
Brett Jackson     2012     20
Matt Williams     1987     19
Russell Branyan   1999     18
Ray Durham        1995     18

There's no real positive way to spin 20 strikeouts in 10 games--particularly when combined with just two hits--but Matt Williams and Ray Durham went on to have very good, long careers and Russell Branyan was a productive slugger for quite a while. And just short of cracking the above top-five is Giancarlo Stanton, who had 17 strikeouts in his first 10 games in 2010 and is now one of the elite hitters in baseball.

• Just a few weeks ago Terry Ryan said this about Hicks as the Opening Day center fielder:

The guy has earned it. I find it almost humorous that people are talking about service time, starting the clock. We didn't trade Span and Revere to stall the next guy. ... I can't ever feel guilt about stopping a guy that deserves to be there because I know if I put myself in that man's shoes, I would be severely disappointed.

Are we trying to win, or what are we doing? Can you imagine if we sent somebody out that did what the kid did, and I had to look at Willingham and Morneau and Perkins and Mauer and those guys that are trying to win, and I'm going to stop that guy? I just don't believe in that. I hear this stuff. Not here.

"Earning" something by playing well for 20 spring training games can be a funny thing, although perhaps not as "humorous" as Ryan found the service time discussion.

Oswaldo Arcia's first taste of the big leagues lasted all of one game before Wilkin Ramirez returned from paternity leave, but he managed to get his first hit, make his first error, and have Mike Trout rob him of his first extra-base hit. And now with Darin Mastroianni going on the disabled list Arcia is coming back up after a 24-hour demotion to Triple-A. Arcia debuted about three weeks before his 22nd birthday, making him the 10th-youngest Twins player since 1991:

Joe Mauer           20.352
Cristian Guzman     21.016
Luis Rivas          21.017
Johan Santana       21.021
Rich Becker         21.221
Pat Mahomes         21.247
A.J. Pierzynski     21.253
David Ortiz         21.288
Francisco Liriano   21.314
Oswaldo Arcia       21.341
Javier Valentin     21.359

I believe the technical term for that list is "mixed bag." Jim Manning was the youngest player in Twins history, debuting in 1962 at 18 years and 268 days. He pitched seven innings that season and never played in the majors again. As for Arcia, it may take a trade or an injury but the odds seem pretty strong that he'll be a regular in the Twins' lineup for good by August. I rated him as the Twins' third-best prospect coming into the season, one spot ahead of Hicks.

• It's possible that the Twins demoted Liam Hendriks to Triple-A primarily because the various off days mean they won't need a fifth starter for a while and liked Pedro Hernandez more as a bullpen option during that time, but clearly their faith in Hendriks isn't very high right now. Faith in a pitcher with an ERA near 6.00 tends to be minimal and I've never been especially high on Hendriks as a prospect, but writing him off after 22 career starts would be a mistake.

Compare the following three Twins pitchers through 22 career starts:

                 IP      ERA     SO9     BB9     HR9
Pitcher X       118     5.63     5.4     2.5     1.4
Pitcher Y       137     5.40     3.8     2.2     1.6
Pitcher Z       121     5.20     6.5     2.1     1.5

One set of those lines is Hendriks and the others are Brad Radke and Scott Baker, who also frequently got dinged early on for not throwing hard and giving up too many homers. I'm certainly not suggesting he's the next Radke or even the next Baker, but if there's any benefit to being a bad team with a poor rotation it should be having few qualms about giving a 24-year-old like Hendriks an extended opportunity to sink or swim in the majors.

• Back in January team president Dave St. Peter was our guest on "Gleeman and The Geek" and we asked him if the Twins' recent struggles played a part in the inability to sign some free agent pitchers they targeted. St. Peter denied that was the case, repeatedly saying that "dollars and years" were the main factor:

No. It's dollars and years. It's dollars and years. And at the end of the day, a player might have Option A and Option B, depending where they're from. He may be able to take less in Option A, but at the end of the day it's ultimately going to come down to dollars and years.

I found that interesting at the time, because it seemingly differed from some previous things said by other members of the organization. Fast forward to last week, when Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town interviewed assistant general manager Rob Antony and got a much different answer to a question about the inability to sign targeted pitchers:

We made very competitive offers to a couple pitchers, and maybe even better offers than what players signed for. You get into a situation when you're coming off of two 90-plus loss seasons, some pitchers, and to their credit they are looking to land in a place where they'll get a chance to win, and some teams can just offer that and a player will look at it and believe it more so than when we say "Hey, we're trying to win, too." ...

So we tried to get some guys. We went after some free agents who basically didn't have a lot of interest in coming here, just because they thought that at this point in their career they wanted to win and they thought they could get the money and win somewhere else better than ... be in a better situation than they would be here.

That's about as far from "dollars and years" as you can get.

Glen Perkins continued his recent media tour by talking to my favorite interviewer, David Brown of Yahoo! Sports. It's great, because how could it not be? For example:

DB: How are you personally coping without Denard Span? I don’t think I’d be doing too well.

GP: This is the first year since 2004 that we won't be teammates. It's weird. I unfollowed him on Twitter. I guess that's my coping mechanism.

Perkins actually unfollowed Denard Span right after the trade in January, later refollowed him, and then unfollowed him again. I know this because Span pointed it out each time on Twitter.

• On a related note, Span had no idea what a double-switch was until this week despite playing two dozen interleague games under NL rules while with the Twins. And also, you know, being a professional baseball player.

Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus did some really interesting research about catchers and framing high and low pitches, with Mauer playing a prominent role in the analysis.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times tells the story of the time Bert Blyleven charged the mound.

• For a lot more about Hicks, Hendriks, and Arcia, plus the Twins' premature press release, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new GAME SIX shirt, commemorating one of the best moments in Minnesota sports history. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

February 27, 2012

Twins Notes: Zumaya, Morneau, Span, three catchers, and old friends

• It took 13 batting practice throws for Joel Zumaya to show why he was available to the Twins for a non-guaranteed, incentive-laden deal and why they were foolish not to add another setup man in a buyer's market flooded with veterans willing to sign cheaply. Zumaya felt elbow pain during Saturday's mound session, walked off with a trainer, headed to his too-familiar place in an MRI machine, and was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

He'll miss the entire season, his Twins career is over before it even started, and Zumaya may call it quits at age 27 following what would be his seventh surgery in five years. And it's a shame, because throughout all the injuries Zumaya never lost the ability to throw gas--he reportedly showed mid-90s velocity in the abbreviated session Saturday--and signing him to a one-year deal worth just $400,000 in guaranteed money was a smart gamble by the Twins.

Not so smart was their decision to view Zumaya as something more than a lottery ticket, but by passing on cheap, decent bullpen options like Todd Coffey, Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, and Takashi Saito in favor of overpaying Matt Capps and counting on Zumaya they're left with a right-handed setup man void and only in-house arms like Anthony Swarzak, Alex Burnett, Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Gray, Lester Oliveros, and Carlos Gutierrez to fill it.

Justin Morneau created a big stir last week when he showed up to spring training and gave a less than encouraging update on his now two-year-long concussion comeback. Morneau noted that he hasn't had concussion symptoms "since January." He meant that in a positive way, but that only dates back a month, and five weeks ago Morneau told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he hadn't experienced symptoms "since December."

Asked what he'll do if the symptoms return this spring, Morneau said:

I don't think there will be a career if it's something I'm dealing with. That's the reality of the whole thing. I've kind of come to grips with that. I'm obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point when you can only torture yourself so long. It's something I love to do, but you keep preparing and keep being let down, that's something that nobody wants to go through, obviously.

In other words, his baseball career may very well be determined by the next six weeks.

Denard Span's own comeback from a season-ruining concussion has flown under the radar a bit compared to Morneau, but Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that "he still is bothered by an occasional bad day" nine months after the initial brain injury. This offseason Span changed his diet, took up yoga, and started seeing a chiropractor, but much like with Morneau there isn't a lot he can do now besides wait and see how his brain responds to increased activities.

• As much as injuries wrecked the Twins last season, it could have been worse. Well, sort of. Jeff Zimmerman of Fan Graphs crunched the numbers and the Twins were close to the middle of the pack when it comes to total days spent on the disabled list in 2011, ranking 13th. They did, however, lead baseball in disabled list stints with 28. By comparison, no other team had more than 24 disabled list stints and the Royals only used the disabled list nine times.

• Because they didn't make any changes to the training and medical staff it's unclear how the Twins plan to achieve their oft-stated goal of keeping players on the field and off the DL more this year, but what we do know is that injury information will be disseminated differently. Last season Ron Gardenhire was often tasked with giving medical updates to reporters, which was no fun for the manager and frequently led to confusing or misleading details.

This time around general manager Terry Ryan and assistant general manager Rob Antony will take responsibility for giving those day-to-day injury updates. Ryan explained that the change is in part to "streamline the process" and in part to let Gardenhire focusing on managing. Asked if he was in favor of the change, Gardenhire said: "When he announced that, I wanted to give him a man hug. I'm happy. Yeah, that's the last thing I want to talk about is injuries."

• Bollinger reports that "the Twins are widely expected to carry three catchers to start the season." While perhaps not ideal, particularly when one of those three catchers will almost surely be Drew Butera, no one should be surprised. In fact, in projecting the Opening Day roster back in mid-December my assumption was that they'd carry Butera along with Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit. At this point I'd be surprised if they didn't.

Mauer's durability plays a big factor, as does Doumit being counted on to be the starting designated hitter. Toss in Gardenhire's longstanding fear of having to forfeit the DH role in the middle of a game if the DH is needed behind the plate and Butera's spot seems fairly safe despite his ghastly .178/.220/.261 career line in 142 games. Elias Sports Bureau found that the Twins have lost the DH spot mid-game just eight times in 10 years under Gardenhire.

• Old friend Cristian Guzman, who sat out last season, will attempt to get back into the AL Central after agreeing to a minor-league contract with the Indians. Cleveland manager Manny Acta managed Guzman in Washington and apparently talked the 33-year-old into making a comeback as a potential utility man. Guzman has hit .279/.314/.384 in 565 games since leaving the Twins as a free agent following the 2005 season, including .266/.311/.337 in 2010.

• Another old friend, Juan Rincon, signed a minor-league deal with the Angels. Rincon's four-year run as a dominant setup man tends to be overlooked--he posted a 2.93 ERA with 318 strikeouts in 319 innings from 2003-2006--but he was pretty much washed up at age 29 when the Twins released him in mid-2008 and since then has logged a total of just 66 innings with a 6.27 ERA for three different teams.

• Just a reminder: John Bonnes and I are hosting a get-together/meet-up/viewing party next Monday night, March 5 at Wild Boar in Hopkins, where we'll watch the Twins-Red Sox spring training game on television, record a "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast episode, drink beer, and talk baseball. It should be fun and if the turnout is decent we'll probably do a lot more events during the season, so come hang out.

November 14, 2011

Twins Notes: Plouffe, Iwakuma, Wada, Thome, Krivsky, Toby, and Kiss

Terry Ryan revealed during a 1500-ESPN interview yesterday that Trevor Plouffe will be an outfielder going forward, which isn't shocking considering how awful he looked as an infielder despite playing 680 games at shortstop in the minors. He has the tools to be a strong corner outfielder defensively and with Jamey Carroll signed that may be the clearest path to at-bats, but before the middle of this year Plouffe had never played the outfield in seven pro seasons.

Moving to the outfield full time also means Plouffe's bat will be held to a much higher standard and aside from a 50-game stretch at Triple-A this year he's never really produced like a corner outfielder offensively. He's batted .262/.316/.451 in 337 games at Triple-A and .226/.286/.382 in 103 games in the majors, so unless his two-month breakout in Rochester at age 25 is a sign of things to come Plouffe will have trouble hitting enough to be more than a platoon player.

According to Nippon Sports the Twins are interested in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada, both of whom are outright free agents and can be signed without going through the posting process. Last winter the Twins reportedly finished runner-up for Iwakuma, who failed to sign after the A's bid (and were refunded) $19.1 million for his negotiating rights. He remained in Japan and had a 2.42 ERA in 119 innings, but missed time with a back injury.

Wada was even better, throwing 185 innings with a 1.51 ERA, but the 30-year-old left-hander may not have the raw stuff to thrive in the majors. I've seen Wada compared to Bruce Chen and Jamie Moyer as a strike-throwing southpaw with mid-80s fastball velocity and in talking to people who've seen him pitch in Japan the consensus seems to be that he's no more than a possible fifth starter.

As teams were bidding on Iwakuma last year there were some reports of him potentially being a No. 2 starter in the majors, but apparently those back problems sapped his already modest velocity this season. Iwakuma has more upside than Wada, but the 30-year-old right-hander likely projects as a mid-rotation starter even if his fastball returns to the low-90s. Intriguing, but unless the price tags are modest I'd be surprised to see either pitcher land with the Twins.

Jim Thome signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Phillies, which is a price the Twins should have been willing to match. However, prior to being fired Bill Smith ruled out bringing back Thome because of how his inability to play defense limits the roster and it may have been a moot point anyway, as the future Hall of Famer loves Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and reportedly had been hoping to be traded to Philadelphia rather than Cleveland in August.

Thome will have a very limited role with the Phillies, who view him as only an emergency option at first base even with Ryan Howard potentially out for the entire first half. That means pinch-hitting and serving as a designated hitter during interleague games, which probably won't add up to more than 150 plate appearances. His attempts to recruit Michael Cuddyer to join him in Philadelphia might have a bigger impact than Thome's on-field performance.

Wayne Krivsky was Ryan's right-hand man prior to leaving the Twins to become the Reds' general manager in 2006, but returns now as "professional scout and special assistant to the GM." Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune looked into his role and says "Krivsky will scout 15 major league teams, with scout Kenny Compton handling the other 15." And he'll be stationed out of Kentucky, so Rob Antony remains the No. 2 guy in the front office.

Days before firing Smith the Twins denied the Orioles permission to interview vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff for their GM opening, but several sources have suggested that was more about Radcliff's lack of interest in the job than anything else. Radcliff was the Twins' longtime scouting director prior to switching roles when Smith replaced Ryan in 2007 and is a big part of the organization, although Ryan admitted Radcliff was "spread too thin" recently.

• To put into context how odd the Twins' timing was in firing Smith: Eno Sarris of Fan Graphs reports that Smith was the first MLB general manager to be fired in November since 1950.

• Last month the Twins dropped Brian Dinkelman from the 40-man roster, making him a free agent, but the 28-year-old second baseman/corner outfielder has re-signed on a minor-league contract. Dinkelman's performance didn't warrant being called up to the majors twice this year, but he certainly took advantage of what may prove to be his lone opportunity by notching 22 hits in 23 games and the organizational solider will provide some veteran depth at Rochester.

• Rochester will also likely have right-hander Jared Burton in the bullpen after the Twins inked the former Reds reliever to a minor-league deal. Burton had a 3.47 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 161 innings from 2007-2009, but missed most of the past two years with shoulder problems that required surgery. He's exactly the sort of cheap, readily available player who makes giving 40-man roster spots to Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray so confusing.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, will not be offered a contract after becoming a minor-league free agent. Nepotism got Gardenhire to Triple-A despite being a former 41st-round pick with a .232/.292/.274 career line, but his defensive versatility served a purpose for Rochester and ultimately at least they cut him loose based on merit.

• Other minor leaguers to leave the organization as free agents include Andy Baldwin, Dusty Hughes, Chuck James, Jake Stevens, Allan de San Miguel, Jair Hernandez, Chase Lambin, Paul Kelly, Yangervis Solarte, Jeff Bailey, and Brandon Roberts. Hughes and James pitched for the Twins this year, Kelly is a former second-round pick, Baldwin is a friend of AG.com, and Lambin was the subject of a Grantland article, but only Solarte resembles any kind of prospect.

• Getting a veteran middle infielder with very strong on-base skills was obviously nice, but I've stumbled across the primary reason the Twins signed Carroll:

Presumably "shorter than Gene Simmons' daughter and Shannon Tweed" wasn't prominently featured on the scouting report.

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!

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