July 19, 2006

Twins Notes

Some notes I typed up while watching the Twins move to within five games of a playoff spot ...

  • While doing my news-gathering gig over at RotoWorld each morning, I've noticed that it's now customary for the newspaper covering the other team to run a story about Joe Mauer each time the Twins begin a new series. The latest version comes from Devil Rays beat writer Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, and includes stuff like this:

    He is a good-looking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder with an unforced smile, and he politely answers every question. The media also has had some fun with Mauer's relationship with Chelsea Cooley, Miss USA 2005.

    Earlier this month I commented that nearly every article about Mauer written by someone outside of Minnesota contained a reference to either Paul Bunyan or Prince, but to Cristodero's credit he avoids that. He still can't help himself when it comes to Chelsea Cooley. I'm happy for Mauer and admit that it was interesting news when I first heard it, but only when it comes to Minnesota could a star athlete dating a woman who won a contest for being pretty possibly be included in every single story.

  • Let go by the Twins this winter, Matthew LeCroy signed with the Nationals. His lack of defensive ability seemed to make LeCroy an odd match for an NL team, and sure enough he made headlines by struggling when given a chance to catch and didn't hit particularly well in a limited number of at-bats. Relegated to pinch-hitting every couple games, Washington decided to designate LeCroy for assignment earlier this week.

    The Twins recently signed Erubiel Durazo to a minor-league contract, and up until a couple weeks ago I would have been in favor of a LeCroy-Durazo platoon at designated hitter. That would seem to make even more sense now given the Twins' injury situation, but the opposite is true. With Jason Kubel unable to play the outfield regularly and Rondell White showing some serious signs of life for the first time, the Twins simply don't have the DH spot open enough to warrant bringing LeCroy back.

    What makes the situation more confusing is that when White and Shannon Stewart are cleared off the roster this offseason and Kubel is (hopefully) healthy enough to play defense every day, a LeCroy-Durazo DH platoon would again make plenty of sense. Until then, I suspect LeCroy will latch on with another AL team and Durazo will provide little more than some much-needed offense in the depleted Rochester lineup.

  • It's been an odd season for the Twins in many respects, but nothing quite compares to watching White this week. He looked absolutely clueless at the plate for the first three months of the season, hacking at pitches that weren't close to the plate, taking strikes right down the middle, and hitting .182 with zero homers in 181 at-bats.

    Demoted to Rochester, White continued to struggle against Triple-A pitching, hitting .235/.245/.294 in 13 games while Ron Gardenhire said things like, "He hasn't been able to get to a fastball." The Twins called him back up when the outfield was wrecked by injuries and since then White has gone 8-for-14 (.571) with three homers, two doubles, six RBIs, and six runs scored in four games. Seriously.

    Last night White showed off bat speed and power that were non-existent during his first stint with the team, absolutely destroying two pitches by turning on them and yanking homers into the seats in left field. I'd say something cliche like "White's timing couldn't have been better," but the truth is that the Twins could have used him not being horrendous all year. Still, it's nice that he's providing a spark when given a second chance.

    Without Stewart and Torii Hunter around, the lineup can certainly use another productive right-handed bat for the stretch run. I'm not sure if he's finally over lingering shoulder problems or if this is some sort of deal with the devil, but if the baseball gods wanted to be really cruel they'd have White hurt himself now that he's playing defense regularly. I'm not sure if that'd be ironic or just sad, but it'd be something.

  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good article Monday on how Travis Lee used a loophole to become a free agent after the Twins selected him with the second overall pick in the 1996 draft. It was a big blow to the perpetually rebuilding Twins at the time and looked even worse when Lee hit 22 homers with the Diamondbacks in 1998, but in the years since he's proven to be a mediocre player.

    A slick-fielding, lefty-hitting first baseman, Lee has hit just .256/.336/.406 during his nine-year career, which basically makes him a poor man's Doug Mientkiewicz. Interestingly, the player who started at first base for the Twins during Lee's rookie season in 1998 was David Ortiz, whose eventual loss was just slightly more painful.

  • Perhaps I'm just a little gun-shy because of the whole mess with Tony Batista and Juan Castro, but when I saw that the Padres released Vinny Castilla yesterday, I immediately pictured Terry Ryan on the phone with Castilla's agent. Here's hoping the new-and-improved Nick Punto is new and improved enough for Ryan to ignore the latest crappy veteran to hit the open market.
  • ESPN.com college football columnist and friend of AG.com Bruce Feldman had an interesting Twins-related note earlier this week:

    Jared Mitchell, LSU's touted WR recruit, is still deciding whether to play college football and baseball or sign with the Minnesota Twins, who drafted the New Iberia, La., native in the 10th round in June, according to William Kalec.

    The chance for PT is there for Mitchell if he is ready. LSU only has three receivers--Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Craig Davis--with experience. "The question is how much money are the Twins going to throw at him," Les Miles said. "The issue is how much he wants to be a college student and play championship football and baseball."

    I watched some of the MLB All-Star Game last night, and it finally sank in how great of a baseball player Joe Mauer is. I wonder how different FSU football's recent history would be if he hadn't taken the baseball money.

    While Jared Mitchell has yet to make up his mind, the Twins quickly signed second-round pick Joe Benson, who likely also could have chosen to play college football. Benson has been fantastic thus far, hitting .337/.389/.558 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 23 games in the Gulf Coast League.

  • Former Twins outfielder Brian Buchanan is now playing for the St. Paul Saints after being let go by Cincinnati's Triple-A team. It's sometimes sad to see a former big leaguer clinging to his career like Buchanan is, but at the end of the day he's still making a living playing baseball. Buchanan had plenty of value as a prototypical lefty masher, but at 33 years old and with a .209 batting average in 22 games with the Saints thus far, this is probably the end of the line.

    Despite playing only 143 games in Minnesota, Buchanan's place in team history is secure thanks to being part of two important trades. Buchanan came to Twins along with Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, and Danny Mota in the deal that sent Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees in 1998. He hit .258/.319/.428 in three seasons with the Twins before being traded to the Padres for a minor leaguer named Jason Bartlett.

    One of the Twins' strengths is getting additional value out of trades, and Buchanan is an example. They traded Knoblauch for Milton, Guzman, Buchanan, and Mota, traded Buchanan for Bartlett, and dealt Milton for Punto, Carlos Silva, and Bobby Korecky. They also took Brian Duensing with the third-round pick they received as compensation for losing Guzman as a free agent, and he's got a 3.48 ERA and 89-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116.1 innings between Single-A and Double-A.

    In other words, by dealing Knoblauch to the Yankees the Twins ended up with an assortment of seasons from Milton, Silva, Bartlett, Guzman, Punto, Buchanan, Korecky, Duensing, and Mota. Plus, it's likely that at some point down the road they'll end up trading one of the five players from that list still in the organization, at which point the Knoblauch trade tree will grow even more branches.

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