March 10, 2006

Twins Notes

Lots of Twins-related stuff to get caught up on, so this may get downright Gleeman-length ...

  • Former Twins prospect Travis Bowyer, who was sent to the Marlins in the trade for Luis Castillo, is being given a legitimate chance to become Florida's closer coming out of spring training. It helps that the Marlins are basically a Triple-A team and have a new manager in Joe Girardi, of course. Here's an excerpt from an article about Bowyer in the Miami Herald:

    Bowyer speaks in a slow drawl acquired from his years growing up in Virginia. But there is nothing dawdling about his fastball, which routinely clocks at 99 mph and, as his minor-league average of nearly a strikeout per inning attests, is vicious on hitters.


    The Twins didn't turn Bowyer into a closer until last season (his first year of pro ball was in 1999 after being drafted in the 20th round), and though he responded with 23 saves for Triple A Rochester (N.Y.), there are many in baseball who believe rookies aren't mentally ready to handle late-inning pressure-cookers on a regular basis.

    Marlins manager Joe Girardi said he doesn't belong to that school of thought, though. "Some rookies can handle situations, some can't," Girardi said. "But I don't care if he's a rookie. I don't care if the guy pitched in [Single] A ball or he pitched 10 years. I feel that if he can close, and he shows me he can close, then he'll close."

    I've been reading about the Marlins quite a bit as part of my news-gathering job at Rotoworld, and so far at least I really like the way Girardi has approached what is a major rebuilding project. I have no clue how he'll actually manage, obviously, but I like the way he thinks and comes across in the media.

    Regarding Bowyer, as I wrote at the time of the trade: "I expect Bowyer to eventually become a reliable setup man and perhaps even a closer, but with their pitching depth the Twins could certainly afford to give him up." At best he'd have been fourth in line among right-handed Twins relievers this spring.

  • Gabe White's sudden retirement after a rough first outing this spring would seem to make it a two-man race for the LOOGY job between Dennys Reyes and Darrell May. However, since I'm not very optimistic about either guy due to their sustained track records of mediocrity, I'd love to see the Twins give homegrown lefty Jason Miller a chance.

    A former fourth-round pick who was a starter until 2004, Miller combined to post a 3.09 ERA and 83-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He doesn't turn 24 years old until June, looked very impressive in his spring debut, and unlike Reyes or May could actually turn into something more than a mediocre LOOGY.

  • I've been extremely vocal about disagreeing with the Twins' decision to sign Tony Batista as their regular third baseman this season. After also criticizing Batista's tendency to push his religious views on teammates last week, I received a number of comments and e-mails from people accusing me of holding some sort of a grudge against Batista.

    My negative reaction to the Batista signing isn't because he's mean to animals or isn't an organ donor, it's simply because he makes too many outs at the plate. Similarly, my negative reaction to Batista's evangelism isn't because he makes too many outs at the plate, it's simply because I'm not particularly fond of people who push their religious views on others. Two very separate issues, neither of which stem from a non-existent grudge.

    Many people are quick to assume that all criticism is personal and somehow must be linked together. However, four of my all-time favorite players are Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Frank Thomas, and Barry Bonds; clearly I couldn't care less about off-field behavior when assessing playing ability. And earlier this week some of you ripped me for saying that even in death I won't remember Kirby Puckett as perfect, so clearly someone's playing ability doesn't stop me from finding fault with off-field behavior.

    I bring all of this up today because I noticed that Bat Girl -- who is about as far from me as humanly possible when it comes to writing about the Twins and giving opinions on players -- has had some pretty harsh things to say about Batista lately herself. One thing that I found particularly amusing was Bat Girl's make-believe "exclusive interview with the newest Twin, Tony Fatista." It includes gems like this:

    BG: Right. Tony, so far your spring training batting average is .000. When do you think you might get your first hit?

    TF: Well, I don't know, Batgirl. I don't want to rush things. The hitting will come, but first I want to practice my striking out and my grounding to shortshop. I really want to be more than a one tool player.

    BG: Uh-huh ... And ... which tool is that?

    TF: I'm not really sure. But when I left the Orioles, Cal Ripken told me I was a giant tool. It was really flattering having a Hall of Famer say something like that.

    BG: Uh-huh.

    TF: Also, it's hard to see the ball over my gigantic beer belly.

    I can say with absolute certainty that if I were to write something like that -- assuming I suddenly was blessed with Bat Girl's sense of humor, of course -- I would be ripped far and wide for saying such nasty things about Batista. Heck, if I simply suggested the nickname "Tony Fatista" for Batista, without even writing up a pretend interview, all hell would break loose in the comments section. Hell, people used to get upset when I called Luis Rivas "Oh-For-Thrivas."

    Here's how Bat Girl explained the nickname:

    Batgirl shall be referring to Tony Batista as Tony Fatista for the time being. Not because it's funny to make fun of fat people, because it isn't. But because after management gives you a huge chance signing you after you've been released by your Japanese team you don't show up 15 pounds overweight for spring training on Batgirl's team. She might stop calling him Fatista when he takes off the weight. Maybe. Tony, Tony, Tony, BG has no idea how you fielded those balls at third around your giant beer belly, but honeyballs, God wants you to get in shape. He told me so.

    I have all sorts of thoughts about this, but I'm fairly certain that no one is interested in a meta-discussion about the way people react to my writing versus the way people react to other writing. So I'll just leave it at that.

  • Speaking of Batista, so far this spring he has shown up overweight and collected a lone single in 12 at-bats (.083 batting average) while grounding into two double plays.
  • Here's a recent note about the World Baseball Classic from Peter Gammons' blog that made me smile:

    The buzz on the Dominican team has been about young Twins lefty Francisco Liriano. "He hit 98 [mph] the other day," says [Manny] Acta. "He may be special right away. Imagine having him and [Johan] Santana on the same staff."

    I've been imagining exactly that for the past year or so.

  • On the other hand, here's another note from Gammons' blog that made me frown:

    One baseball official says Tony Batista looks "awful." The Twins cannot be happy that he came in overweight.

    That "baseball official" must have a grudge against him too.

  • Sid Hartman, who is clearly not patient enough to wait until my Top 40 Minnesota Twins series is finished, opined earlier this week that Puckett "was the best player to ever play for the Twins." Sure Sid, but was Greg Gagne 33rd-best?
  • Bret Boone, who last season had one of the least-successful short-term stints in Twins history, has decided to retire rather than try to win a spot on the Mets this spring.
  • Rivas, who from 2000-2005 had one of the least-successful long-term stints in Twins history, has had his attempt to make the Devil Rays as a backup infielder stalled due to a broken finger. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said the injury was "really unfortunate." That's like wanting to eat dinner at a restaurant that serves horrible food, seeing that it's closed, and saying, "What a shame."
  • Over the past few weeks both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press have run extremely favorable pieces on new Twins Rondell White, Castillo, and Batista. It's nothing unique, as the local media for every team basically does the same thing for each new player. What's interesting is reading the puff pieces that are written about former Twins, like the two devoted to Jacque Jones that ran in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times on the exact same day last week.

    Here are some of the highlights from the Chicago Tribune's version:

    It was only an intrasquad game, but Cubs right fielder Jacque Jones showed Wednesday he's intent on proving he can hit left-handers and right-handers alike. Jones, a left-handed hitter, homered in his first at-bat against lefty Rich Hill and singled off lefty Sean Marshall in his second time at the plate.

    Ah yes, the annual "Jacque Jones is going to start hitting lefties" refrain. Certainly two hits in a spring training game against two pitchers who spent most of last season in the minors will prove those doubters wrong!

    Here's my favorite part:

    "The more I see them, the more I get comfortable," Jones said. "Last year probably wasn't the best batting average, but it was the most home runs I had had against lefties, and the most RBIs and doubles. But everybody wants to dwell on the negative batting average."

    No Jacque, everyone wants to dwell on the fact that you can't hit lefties.

    YEAR      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    1999 .222 .231 .361 .592
    2000 .230 .269 .297 .567
    2001 .182 .224 .200 .424
    2002 .213 .259 .331 .590
    2003 .269 .310 .393 .703
    2004 .245 .328 .329 .657
    2005 .201 .247 .370 .617

    That's seven seasons worth of performances against lefties. You can pick whatever stat you like -- batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS -- you won't find a single good mark anywhere. Jones' career-highs against left-handed pitchers are .269/.310/.393 and in six of those seven seasons he failed to crack a measly .660 OPS against them.

    It's amazing that when it comes to his horrible numbers against lefties not only is Jones clueless and not only was Ron Gardenhire clueless, according to those articles his new manager, Dusty Baker, is too. Even better, the mainstream media in the entire city of Chicago seem willing to more or less write: "Forget seven seasons of consistently putrid hitting, maybe he'll be better this year!"

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