October 29, 2007

Twins 2007 Minor League Numbers: Hitters

Yesterday in this space I discussed the importance of putting minor-league performances in proper context based on adjustments for leagues, ballparks, run-scoring environments, ages, and defensive positions. I also laid out my method for arriving at those context-adjusted numbers, so you'll want to read that before going any further with this entry. Today I'll reveal what putting the numbers into context shows about the Twins' position-player prospects and later this week I'll do the same for pitchers.

Before I get to the good stuff, please note that these are not my rankings of the Twins' top prospects. That annual list will be published later this offseason and includes both multi-year track records and long-term potential as huge factors, whereas the numbers below focus solely on what each player did this year. The point here is to simply determine who had the best 2007 season by putting everyone's numbers through the same context-adjusting system.

The first step is taking raw numbers and adjusting them for run-scoring environments, with the idea being that everyone should first be placed on an even playing field before evaluating their performance. For example, former first-round pick Chris Parmelee batted just .239/.313/.414 in 128 games at low Single-A, which looks horrible at first glance. However, the Midwest League as a whole batted just .255/.324/.372 while scoring 8.6 combined runs per game in 2007.

The run-scoring environment that Parmelee played in this season was about 12 percent worse for offense than MLB, which is a big part of his underwhelming numbers. Once you normalize the Midwest League to fit the level of offense found in MLB, then Parmelee's hitting line improves to .251/.325/.471. That's still not great, but it's well above average and clearly superior to his raw numbers while better showing the significant power potential that Parmelee (pictured below) possesses.

Parmelee slugging just .414 this season is misleading, because he played in a league where hitting for power was exceptionally difficult. Once you account for that his adjusted slugging percentage jumps to .471, which shows him in a completely different light. Because the Twins' minor-league system is filled with teams playing in poor run-scoring environments, normalizing their organization-wide hitting numbers causes nearly every position player to receive a Parmelee-like boost.

Even after those adjustments the Twins still boast one of the weakest collections of hitting prospects in baseball, but as a group their position players weren't nearly as inept as the raw numbers suggest. Putting hitting prospects in leagues where the average team doesn't even slug .400 will do a lot to skew the perception of their ability and that's the case throughout the Twins' system. Once you account for run-scoring environments, here are the top adjusted 2007 hitting lines from Twins minor leaguers:

                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Deibinson Romero 304 .328 .409 .560 .969
Ozzie Lewis 261 .337 .378 .584 .962
Ben Revere 216 .346 .393 .543 .936
Brian Buscher 431 .316 .388 .540 .928
Rene Leveret 283 .320 .403 .517 .920
Rene Tosoni 297 .314 .411 .478 .889
Brock Peterson 455 .290 .383 .505 .888
Danny Valencia 521 .308 .363 .518 .881
Brian Dinkelman 570 .280 .378 .493 .871
Matthew Macri 357 .298 .348 .519 .867
Erik Lis 539 .281 .340 .519 .859
Wilson Ramos 316 .306 .358 .498 .856
Johnny Woodard 436 .250 .361 .490 .851
Garrett Jones 446 .286 .338 .507 .845
Juan Richardson 220 .337 .368 .472 .840
Garrett Guzman 526 .318 .360 .480 .840
Dustin Martin 552 .298 .368 .470 .838
Luke Hughes 362 .288 .357 .464 .821
Mark Dolenc 265 .299 .384 .436 .820
Darnell McDonald 556 .304 .366 .454 .820
Steven Tolleson 571 .293 .395 .422 .817
Rashad Eldridge 407 .297 .361 .455 .816
Matt Tolbert 477 .300 .357 .457 .814
Jose Morales 411 .318 .370 .427 .797
Chris Parmelee 501 .251 .325 .471 .796
Juan Portes 552 .276 .342 .453 .795
Yangervis Solarte 203 .322 .346 .444 .790
Tommy Watkins 402 .278 .353 .433 .786
Joe Benson 507 .268 .360 .418 .778
Jeanfred Brito 229 .308 .333 .443 .776

Plenty of the organization's hitting prospects had solid seasons at the plate, although five of the top six came from rookie-ball players who batted under 300 times. Even adjusted, those numbers are the product of a small sample of playing time and should also be taken with a grain of salt for another reason that I'll get into momentarily. Among players who batted at least 400 times, Brian Buscher put together the best season with an adjusted hitting line of .316/.388/.540 between Double-A and Triple-A.

The trio of rookie-ball hitters whose seasons ranked above Buscher--Deibinson Romero, Ozzie Lewis, and Ben Revere--show the importance of the next step, which is making further adjustments for age and defensive position. In other words, how does each player's offense compare to other players at his position and how old was each player relative to the prospects he was playing against. If you take the normalized numbers above and apply further adjustments based on age and position, you get:

                      AGE     LEVEL     POS     OPS%
Wilson Ramos 19 A- C 1.31
Deibinson Romero 20 RK/A- 3B 1.23
Ben Revere 19 RK CF 1.22
Jose Morales 24 AAA C 1.20
Trevor Plouffe 21 AA SS 1.17
Luke Hughes 22 AA 2B 1.15
Brock Peterson 23 AA 1B 1.13
Joe Benson 19 A- CF 1.13
Brian Buscher 26 AA/AAA 3B 1.12
Danny Valencia 22 A-/A+ 3B 1.11
Matt Tolbert 25 AAA 2B 1.11
Alexi Casilla 22 AAA 2B 1.11
Chris Parmelee 19 A- RF 1.10
Matthew Macri 25 AA/AAA 3B 1.10
Rene Tosoni 20 RK/A- RF 1.10
Brian Dinkelman 23 A-/A+ 2B 1.09
Ozzie Lewis 21 RK LF 1.08
Brandon Roberts 22 AA CF 1.07
David Winfree 21 AA 1B 1.07
Steven Tolleson 23 A+ SS 1.07
Garrett Guzman 24 AA LF 1.05
Juan Portes 21 A+ 3B 1.05
Johnny Woodard 22 A-/A+ 1B 1.05
Garrett Jones 26 AAA LF 1.05
Dustin Martin 23 A+ CF 1.04
Denard Span 23 AAA CF 1.04
Erik Lis 23 A+ LF 1.02
Tommy Watkins 27 AAA SS 1.02
Jeanfred Brito 19 RK 2B 1.02
Rashad Eldridge 25 AA CF 1.02

Shown above is a player's age this season, which level(s) he played at, which position he primarily manned, and how his context-adjusted offense compared to "average." For instance, Parmelee was 19 years old, spent the entire season at low Single-A, played primarily right field, and was about 10 percent above average offensively once everything was taken into account. The first list took only offense and run-scoring environment into account, while this list also factored in age and position.

The two rankings are very different and a look at the aforementioned rookie-ball trio of Romero, Lewis, and Revere helps shows why. All three players posted an adjusted OPS above .900 while playing at rookie-ball, but Romero and Revere stay at the top of the second list while Lewis drops from second to 17th. The reason for that is two-fold, with the first being that Lewis split time between left field and designated hitter, while Revere (pictured below) manned center field and Romero played third base.

The further down the "defensive spectrum" that a player moves, the less impressive that his hitting becomes relative to other players at his position. In other words, a .900 OPS is much better coming from a shortstop than a first baseman. Lewis is essentially at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, while Revere is at the top and Romero is in the middle. Toss in their projected defensive value and it's easy to see why Lewis' .900 OPS doesn't look quite as impressive as it did initially.

Beyond that, Revere and Romero both joined the Twins' system without playing college ball and played this season at 19 and 20 years old, respectively. Meanwhile, Lewis played three years at Fresno State before being drafted and was 21 years old this season. The difference between 19, 20, and 21 may not seem like much, but even one year is huge when it comes to projecting player development and evaluating someone's performance in the low minors.

Plenty of 21-years-olds who're drafted out of college thrive at rookie-ball, in large part because they're older and have more high-level experience than most of the players they're competing against. Plus, the Twins have several 21-year-olds already at Double-A. On the surface Romero, Lewis, and Revere had similar seasons offensively, but dig a little deeper and you can see that Lewis' year wasn't on the same level. The same logic also holds true beyond rookie-ball, although perhaps to a lesser extent.

Based purely on offense Garrett Jones had the 14th-best season of any hitter in the Twins' system, but he was also a 26-year-old playing his third season at Triple-A and was limited to first base or an outfield corner defensively. Once you take Jones' normalized numbers and adjust them further for his age and position, he drops to 24th on the list. While guys like Lewis and Jones move down on the second list, up-the-middle defenders who were young for their leagues move up.

In particular, adjusting for age and position pushes Wilson Ramos into the top spot after ranking 12th on the offense-only list. Ramos batted .291/.345/.438 at low Single-A, which works out to an adjusted hitting line of .306/.358/.498. That nice line gets even nicer when you consider that Ramos was a 19-year-old catcher. An .856 OPS from anyone is good, but an .856 OPS from a teenager manning arguably the most important defensive position while playing in a full-season league is fantastic.

Once you account for the run-scoring environment that he played in and adjust for both position and age, Ramos' 2007 season was about 31 percent above average offensively. That's an amazing year for a prospect who many observers think can potentially be a tremendous defensive catcher and Ramos leads the way among a total of 30 Twins minor leaguers who were above average offensively while batting at least 200 times.

Among hitters who came to the plate at least 400 times, Triple-A Rochester's Jose Morales--last seen suffering a gruesome ankle injury during a call-up with the Twins--was best at around 20 percent above average thanks to being a 24-year-old catcher with a .318/.370/.427 adjusted hitting line. Also having strong context-adjusted seasons in 400-plus plate appearances were Trevor Plouffe, Brock Peterson, Joe Benson, Danny Valencia, Matt Tolbert, Parmelee, and Buscher.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

October 28, 2007

Twins 2007 Minor League Numbers: Intro

Later this offseason I'll be putting together my annual Top 40 Twins Prospects rankings, but before that happens it's important to evaluate how the team's minor leaguers performed in 2007. When it comes to major-league players, most fans recognize the need to take things like defense, home ballpark, league, and run-scoring environment into account when evaluating their performance, but for some reason those same factors are often overlooked in examining minor-league players.

Putting a player's numbers in context is even more important in the minors, because the differences between ballparks, leagues, and run-scoring environments are often far more extreme than in the majors. For an example, take a look at how different the two Triple-A leagues are when it comes to offense. As a whole, the Pacific Coast League batted .279/.346/.437 and saw 10.3 runs scored per game. Meanwhile, the International League batted .262/.332/.395 and saw 8.7 runs scored per game.

Most people wouldn't think twice about saying that a pitcher "had a 4.00 ERA at Triple-A," but "Triple-A" can be vastly different depending on the league. A 4.00 ERA in the Pacific Coast League was fantastic in 2007, checking in at about 15 percent better than average. Meanwhile, that same 4.00 ERA in the International League was actually worse than average in 2007. In fact, a 4.00 ERA in the PCL was roughly equivalent to a 3.30 ERA in the IL, and that's far from the most extreme league-to-league gap.

Beyond leagues, ballparks, and run-scoring environments, there are also factors like age, defense, and multi-year track records. For an example, compare Garrett Jones hitting .280/.334/.473 at Triple-A with Trevor Plouffe batting .274/.326/.410 at Double-A. With a 71-point edge in OPS, Jones' season appears on the surface to be much better. However, look deeper and there's little doubt that Plouffe had the more impressive season and is the superior prospect.

Jones was a first baseman playing his third season at Triple-A and at 26 years old was 1-2 years older than most of his competition. Plouffe was a shortstop getting his first taste of Double-A and at 21 years old was 2-3 years younger than most of his competition. For Jones and Plouffe, putting their numbers in context casts their performances in a completely different light, and the same can be said for players throughout the Twins' minor-league system.

In an effort to create an even playing field for evaluating how Twins minor leaguers performed in 2007, I've created a quick-and-dirty system that normalizes all leagues and run-scoring environments to fit the level of offense in MLB this season (.268/.336/.423 with 9.6 combined runs per game). I've also put in adjustments for a player's defensive position and age relative to the level he played at, so that guys like Jones and Plouffe can be compared properly.

On an organization-wide level much has been made, both here and elsewhere, of the Twins' lack of quality position-player prospects. That's accurate and it's telling that among all the position players in the entire Twins minor-league system who batted at least 350 times, not a single hitter posted an OPS of even .900. However, the system also features extremely pitcher-friendly run-scoring environments at every level, which means that the sub par numbers are much better than they initially appear.

Meanwhile, even more has been made of the Twins' abundance of quality pitching prospects. While also accurate, those same pitcher-friendly run-scoring environments play a big part in the pretty ERAs that were posted throughout the system. Just as the lack of .900-OPS hitters can't be written off entirely to a dearth of position-player talent, the system's never-ending stream of 3.00 ERAs can't be credited entirely to great pitching talent. Over the next few days I'll try to put all of that in context.

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Last October, I created a WhatIfSports.com Hardball Dynasty league for readers of this blog. We're on the verge of completing Season 4 of "Gleeman World" and there will be a handful of open franchises this offseason. The league is filled with a bunch of friendly AG.com readers who fill the message board with daily chatter, but it's also extremely competitive. Because of that, any new owners would have to convince me that they're capable of devoting time to maintaining their team on a near-daily basis.

Previous experience with WhatIfSports, and especially Hardball Dynasty, is a substantial plus, but not necessarily required. However, Hardball Dynasty is unique and nothing like fantasy baseball, so you should at least read up on it before deciding if it's for you. If you're interested in claiming a spot and aren't worried about real-life responsibilities getting in the way of running a fake baseball team made up of pretend players, drop me an e-mail.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

October 26, 2007


  • As I've documented previously, every few months I get an odd form letter from someone claiming to be interested in purchasing AaronGleeman.com. The latest version arrived in my e-mailbox yesterday:

    Good morning,

    My name is Chris and I am writing to ask if you know if the aarongleeman.com domain name may be for sale?

    I am looking to purchase numerous websites in the entertainment industry, so I am emailing websites that I have in my bookmarks.

    I appreciate this is not your usual request, but could you please put me in touch with the site owner.

    Many thanks,


    I remain as confused as ever about why exactly someone would send out an e-mail like that, but last year I replied to one after settling on $1.2 million as my asking price. I figured it was such a ridiculous, random number that it might be so intriguing to the prospective buyer that they couldn't help but pay it. Sadly, I didn't hear back. I'm thinking of asking for $10.6 million this time, just because I turn 25 years old in January and it's probably time to retire to an island somewhere. What do you think? Too low?

  • Before the internet, where would people have gone to find video of a way-too-intense, borderline insane-looking Kevin Garnett doing a Ric Flair impression? Also, there's this.
  • Who knew that the sidelines at Lambeau Field were so interesting?
  • Miami Heat beat writer Ira Winderman reported Tuesday on his South Florida Sun Sentinel blog that an unnamed scout opined to him that "he could not envision any team trading for Antoine Walker." Less than 24 hours later the Wolves traded for Walker as part of a five-player deal. The timing of the scout's quote and the Wolves' trade is no doubt less than shocking for everyone who's gotten used to Kevin McHale's ways as general manager, but the trade actually isn't a bad one.

    Ricky Davis and Mark Blount for Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien, and a future first-round pick. Simien was a first-round pick in 2005 and at 24 years old still has a chance to be a productive NBA player if he can get healthy, but it doesn't sound like he's in the Wolves' plans. That means they turned Davis into what will likely be a mid-first rounder in 2008 while swapping the three seasons remaining on Blount's albatross of a contract for the two seasons remaining on Walker's albatross of a contract.

    A mid-first rounder and salary relief isn't a great haul for the team's second-best player, but Davis is a pending free agent whose departure clears minutes and shots for the team's building blocks. Walker would be a horrible fit on such a young team (or any team, for that matter), so hopefully McHale can make him disappear. It sounds like several other trades are in the works, which makes sense given that the Wolves currently have more players under contract than can fit on the 15-man roster.

    It's too little too late and he's only in this position to begin with because of his own decision-making ineptitude, but so far at least McHale's rebuilding effort has been a pleasant surprise. It's nice to see the Wolves actually gaining future draft picks in trades after doing the opposite for far too long and between Al Jefferson, Randy Foye, Gerald Green, Corey Brewer, Rashad McCants, Sebastian Telfair, and Craig Smith there are some intriguing long-term pieces in place.

  • In the wild world of punctuation-related comedy, there's no doubt that this blog is the "best."
  • I've had to turn down many interesting opportunities because of my exclusive deal with Rotoworld and NBC Sports, which I knew would be the case when I signed a multi-year contract. However, the one that I regret most might be recently passing on managing the Twins in a Strat-O-Matic reenactment of the 1986 season on The Sporting News' website. Friend of AG.com Stick and Ball Guy took the job instead, so the Twins are in good hands, but the list of other managers is impressive.

    Along with SBG, the league's skippers include Curt Schilling, Doug Glanville, Will Leitch, Dan Shanoff, David Pinto, Sean Forman, Jeff Sackmann, Chris Mottram, and Jeff Sullivan. That's a murderer's row and it doesn't even include the two guys who I'd most like to be in a league with: Gary Dell'Abate and Jon Hein from Howard Stern's radio show. The idea that I turned down a chance to manage a pretend baseball team alongside Bababooey is something that keeps me up at night.

  • Having once unsuccessfully pitched a "you could turn my blog into a book" idea to a publisher, I'm glad to see that I didn't ruin it for everyone.
  • As if offering up a new Johan Santana-to-the-Yankees rumor every week isn't enough, the New York media is now trying to pass Chad Pennington off on the Vikings. Thanks, but no thanks.
  • One of the only positive things associated with the University of Minnesota football team's dismal season is being able to read Sid Hartman's column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune following each loss. It's almost as if Hartman watches a different team play a different game each week, because the inexplicably positive spin that he puts forth has grown thicker with each defeat. Last week, rather than wait for the Gophers to lose again before praising them, he instead wrote the following prediction:

    The Jeff Sagarin computers ratings make North Dakota State a one-touchdown favorite to beat the Gophers on Saturday at the Metrodome. The Las Vegas oddsmakers don't offer a line on any games involving teams in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). However, the Sid Hartman pick is: Gophers 42, North Dakota State 21.

    This is a game the Gophers won't lose, even though with 25,000 visiting fans in the stands, there might not be much of a home-field advantage. NDSU (6-0) has an impressive record but against non-Big Ten opposition. ... I'm convinced that last year's narrow escape by the Gophers--a 10-9 victory over NDSU--was an accident. They caught the Gophers on a bad day.

    It turns out that last year's Gophers victory was an accident, but not quite in the way that Hartman meant. Apparently the computers were right, because the Gophers were "caught" on another "bad day" while losing 27-21 at home to a Division I-AA team. On a related note, I'm usually not shy about pointing out when a prediction that I've made turns out to be right, but this time friend of AG.com Al Bethke was kind enough to point it out for me.

  • Three words: Fantasy philanthropy league. If someone can get it going, I'll gladly write a Daily Dose column for it.
  • Longtime Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly recently left the magazine to sign what's reported to be a five-year, $10 million contract with ESPN. Reilly has held one of the highest-profile jobs in all of sportswriting for a long time and wins big-time industry awards seemingly every year, but I've never understood what all the fuss was about. With that said, I give him credit for doing an interview with The Big Lead in which he accurately described the money that he'll be getting from ESPN as "ridonkulous."

    I can't imagine leaving a gig as the back-page columnist for SI and the magazine reportedly offered Reilly $7.5 million over five years to stick around, but apparently the lure of television, radio, and the many other opportunities that only ESPN can offer were too strong. The non-compete clause in his contract means that Reilly can't start his new job until June, at which point he'll no doubt begin screaming opinions into the camera alongside the other writers who're now ESPN "personalities."

  • In light of this new, horrifying evidence, I now believe that I'm the only person in the world who has avoided doing the Soulja Boy dance on video.
  • Over at The Hardball Times, frequent AG.com commenter Chris Jaffe interviewed Rob Neyer of ESPN.com, who I described earlier this week as "basically my introduction into the world of baseball analysis." Here's an exchange from the interview that might be of interest to Twins fans:

    Jaffe: Growing up, were you always a baseball fan? Who was your favorite player as a kid?

    Neyer: Gosh, that was a long time ago. My first memories of Major League Baseball are from 1973 or '74. We lived in southwest Michigan, and my best friend Joel Proud must have been a White Sox fan, because I remember listening to the radio and hearing a great deal about Wilbur Wood and Richie Allen. But earlier we'd lived in Minnesota, and while I'd never become a Twins fan, at some point I did adopt Rod Carew as my favorite player, which lasted for a few years. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, we had to make a photo collage on a silhouette of our head, and the dominant element in mine was a photo of Carew I snipped from Sports Illustrated.

    One of the many reasons why I'm such a big Neyer fan is that his story reminds me an awful lot of my own, from dropping out of college to sort of lucking into a great opportunity to write about sports for a living. He discussed all of that within the interview, and also re-told the story of how he came to work for Bill James.

  • Speaking of THT, along with their annual season review--the fourth edition of which will be in stores beginning next month--they also recently announced plans to publish a season preview that includes player projections and team forecasts. I'm no longer involved with THT, but it remains a must-read site and an excellent cause to support.
  • Earlier this week I noted that it'd be nice to see more Twins blogs focused on the team's history. If you found yourself agreeing with that, make sure to check out Will Young's blog for an outstanding six-part series on "The Shakeup of 1986": Part 1 ... Part 2 ... Part 3 ... Part 4 ... Part 5 ... Part 6.
  • Speaking of Twins blogs that focus on the team's history, readers sent in a few favorites that I wasn't all that familiar with: Coffeyville Whirlwind ... Tony, The Killer, and Carew ... Metrodome Memories.
  • And while you're looking over some new blogs, check out Baseball Reflections and JeffShreve.com.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Billy Joel doing "Only the Good Die Young" on a Chevy Chase-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live from 1978:

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    October 24, 2007

    Twins Notes: Cuellar, Koskie, Skippers, and Brothers

  • Along with several amusing quotes from new general manager Bill Smith, Tom Powers' recent column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press also contained some interesting notes about the Twins' plans. Among them is that the Twins will increase their payroll in 2008, plan to "stay left-handed" as they move towards the new ballpark in 2010, and will make an "effort" to "beef up the quality of position players at the minor-league level." Here's a quote from Smith regarding the "stay left-handed" issue:

    We've tried to get left-handed over the last decade. Mauer, Morneau, Santana, Kubel. And if you go back, Pierzynski, Koskie, Mientkiewicz. It's been a conscious effort. In our ballpark, there's no question left-handed pitching has an advantage because of the bigger left field, and left-handed hitters have an advantage because of the short right field. We have a pretty good handle on the dimensions of the new ballpark. It's not so dramatic, but it still favors lefthanders.

    And here's Smith on the lack of minor-league hitting depth:

    We'll try and address that. If we are able to make any trades, it could involve trading pitching depth for position-player depth. We have more pitching depth at the higher levels than position-player depth.

    Actions speak much louder than words, of course, but so far Smith is talking a good game.

  • As expected, the Twins will exercise their $6 million option on Joe Nathan for next season rather than give him a $1 million buyout. The move was a no-brainer, as Nathan would command twice that on the open market after saving 37 games with a 1.88 ERA and 77-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71.2 innings this year. Like Johan Santana, Nathan can become a free agent following the 2008 season, with his agent indicating yesterday that there are no ongoing long-term contract negotiations.
  • The "reporting" found in Charley Walters' Pioneer Press columns is always to be viewed skeptically, but he wrote yesterday that "the Twins have offered free-agent pitcher Carlos Silva a three-year deal worth slightly more than $7 million a season." If true, that qualifies as a low-ball offer and likely signals that the team isn't especially serious about re-signing Silva. If he wants to accept $7 million per season, Silva could no doubt get a four-year contract from several teams on the open market.

    Joe Christensen suggesting earlier this month that Silva could command $25 million over three years seemed very low to me, so $21 million is pretty much a non-offer. As I've written here several times over the past month or so, my guess is that Silva will end up getting closer to $40 million than $20 million. My hope is that the Twins don't make a serious play for Silva, because with their MLB-ready pitching depth a mid-rotation starter making $8-10 million per season isn't needed.

  • In a move that no doubt flies under the radar for most Twins fans, the organization has brought back one-time Triple-A pitching coach Bobby Cuellar as the new manager at Double-A New Britain. Cuellar is a name that many fans probably don't even know, but played a huge role in the development of both Santana and Francisco Liriano. Here's an excerpt of a Patrick Reusse column from June of 2006 that ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

    "Bobby Cuellar," Liriano said. "He's the man."

    Cuellar was the Rochester pitching coach. He was hired away from the Twins organization by Pittsburgh to serve as manager Jim Tracy's bullpen coach this season.

    Liriano said Cuellar refined the young lefthander's delivery to throw more strikes, taught him a new changeup grip and worked with him to make the slider more reliable.

    "I probably would not be in the big leagues, not yet, without the help from Bobby Cuellar," he said.

    Amazingly, whatever work Cuellar did with Liriano ranks second to the fact that he taught Santana his world-class change-up while they were together at Triple-A in 2002. At that point Santana had a modest minor-league resume and a 5.90 ERA in 129.2 career major-league innings. Under Cuellar he began the 2002 season with 75 strikeouts in 49 innings at Triple-A to earn a return trip to Minnesota, posted a 2.99 ERA with 137 strikeouts in 108.1 innings with the Twins, and hasn't looked back.

  • In other minor-league managerial news, Jake Mauer was named the new skipper for the Twins' rookie-level Gulf Coast League team. Joe's older brother played college ball at St. Thomas and was the Twins' 23rd-round pick back in 2001, but hit just .256/.319/.292 in five minor-league seasons. Now 28 years old, he's spent the past two years as a coach on the GCL team.
  • Speaking of the Mauer boys, Joe Mauer was initially expected to undergo hernia surgery at some point this offseason, but Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reports that doctors have now told Mauer that surgery isn't needed. My hope is that this story ends better than when Liriano was told that surgery wasn't needed, because bypassing a relatively common procedure now will look like an awfully big mistake if Mauer has more hernia-related problems next season.
  • Corey Koskie missed most of 2006 and all of 2007 with post-concussion syndrome, so it was no surprise that the Brewers declined their $6.5 million option on him for 2008. However, LEN3 reports that the 34-year-old Koskie plans to play next season. "I'm probably 100 percent better than that last time you saw me," Koskie said. "The funny thing about this injury is that I thought I was doing pretty good then. I look back now, and I was still in la-la land." Here's more on his current status:

    After visiting doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and working with a Twin Cities specialist, Koskie no longer suffers from headaches or dizziness after the lightest of activities. He can lift some weights and get some light exercise in. Most importantly for him, he can play with his kids. He figures that, at this rate, he will be ready for baseball activities by spring training.

    Koskie isn't even guaranteed to be cleared by doctors at this point, so he's obviously far from a sure thing to ever be a productive major leaguer again. It's also worth noting that the Twins didn't re-sign Koskie in 2004 and then passed again when he was made available by the Blue Jays for pennies on the dollar two offseasons ago, which is how he ended up with the Brewers. With that said, he did hit .261/.343/490 in 76 games with the Brewers before suffering the concussion in 2006.

    Given the Twins' need for a third baseman and limited budget, they might be willing to see if Koskie has anything left in the tank this spring on a minor-league contract. Being a valuable player as recently as last season makes him much different than guys like Tony Batista, Sidney Ponson, and Ramon Ortiz, none of whom possessed any meaningful upside to balance their risk. If reasonably healthy, he could be a nice backup at both corner-infield spots or perhaps even a platoon starter at third base.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    October 23, 2007

    The Answers (Part 2: Random Questions)

    Opening the floor up for questions last week led to over 100 being submitted between the comments section and e-mails. In an effort to respond to as many of them as possible, I addressed questions on baseball-related topics in a separate entry yesterday and will tackle the non-baseball topics today.

    Would you eat the moon if it were made of spare ribs?

    No, I'm back on a diet.

    Ever thought of expanding AG.com to include a Vikings blog during the Twins' offseason?

    Football is at best my third-favorite sport and from September to January I write about it six days a week over at Rotoworld, so when it comes time for this blog that's just about the last topic on my mind. Plus, at this point regularly blogging about the Vikings sounds like some sort of court-ordered punishment for law-breaking writers.

    Can you settle on an Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com?

    Apparently not.

    When does the real debate about the next Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com start?

    The debate is always ongoing.

    Who is in the pool of candidates?

    Previous titleholders Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, and Elisha Cuthbert will always be factors, but the top candidates at this point are Keeley Hazell and Jenna Fischer. However, they've been the leading contenders for several months now and the throne remains vacant, so it's safe to say that I'm waiting for a new third-party candidate to emerge. As Saint Augustine once said, "Patience is the companion of wisdom."

    If forced to choose between the two, would you rather watch an hour of Nick Punto at-bats or listen to an hour of a Jeff Straub podcast?

    This is an easy question, because I'm a huge Jeff Straub fan. The podcast that he devoted to me was absolutely brilliant and a true comedic masterpiece, even if he didn't mean for it to be that way. I linked to the podcast here, tried my best to keep the site that hosted it from censoring him, and made sure that everyone in my family listened to it. In particular, my grandfather seems fascinated by Straub, bringing him up often. Meanwhile, everyone just tries to forget every Nick Punto at-bat they've seen.

    Any good restaurant recommendations in the Highland Park neighborhood?

    I grew up in Highland Park, but spent most of my childhood eating at chains and haven't lived there in about eight years. With that said, there's a good Chinese buffet on West 7th Street called Buffet King.

    Who is your favorite ESPN.com writer?

    Last week in this space I discussed being a huge Bill Simmons fan and I've talked several times in the past about idolizing Rob Neyer, who was basically my introduction into the world of baseball analysis. Beyond Simmons and Neyer, I also enjoy John Hollinger, Peter Gammons, Len Pasquarelli, Keith Law, Chad Ford, Jerry Crasnick, Eric Neel, D.J. Gallo, Jonah Keri, Marc Stein, Matt Mosley, and Mike Sando. And I'm sure there are another handful of names that I'm forgetting.

    Can you get me a date with the hot girl from your NBCSports.com videos?

    Tiffany Simons is easy on the eyes, likes sports, has a good sense of humor, and is extremely nice, so my guess is that she has enough suitors to avoid getting hooked up via my blog. With that said, there's a chance that I could get you a date with her co-host, Gregg Rosenthal.

    Do you think that you'll ever beat me in checkers?

    This question comes from a fellow University of Minnesota journalism-school student who faced off against me in virtual checkers hundreds of times over the course of a semester while we sat in the computer lab during a "magazine editing and production" class, which perhaps provides a glimpse into why I never did graduate.

    This summer you wrote that the breakdown of your air-conditioning unit had a negative impact on your mood and ability to blog. Yet you've also expressed an extreme dislike of indoor baseball, specifically the Metrodome. How do you reconcile these two opinions on climate control?

    Baseball is meant to be played outside. Sitting around the house and typing on a laptop is meant to be played inside.

    Do you have any interesting pre-SABR convention travel plans coming up?

    The annual Society for American Baseball Research convention tends to be my lone vacation each year, although next week I'm flying to Milwaukee for a long weekend. I'm fairly certain that three nights in Milwaukee isn't most people's idea of "interesting," but I'm looking forward to it. Other than that, it's all work and no play until the 2008 convention in Cleveland.

    Are you going to the Winter Meetings again?

    It doesn't look like it. A big part of why NBCSports.com sent me to the Winter Meetings last December was that they didn't have any other baseball writers on staff yet. Now the site features columns from Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News and Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald, both of whom will presumably be at the Winter Meetings for their newspapers anyway.

    Better career: Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush?

    I wrote about favoring Adrian Peterson over Reggie Bush when they were both still in college, saying the following about Bush when he was nearing the end of his Heisman Trophy-winning season back in 2005:

    I still have some questions about his ability to be an every-down back in the NFL, particularly near the goal line, and I wonder how he'll fare when he doesn't have as many opportunities to run in open space.

    I got quite a bit of criticism for that and for favoring Peterson, but my feelings haven't changed. Bush is a fantastic talent and I'm sure that he'll have a great career, but so far he's averaging 3.6 yards per carry and 7.6 yards per catch. Peterson is leading the NFL in rushing despite having two-thirds as many carries as his closest competitors. For as much national attention as Purple Jesus has gotten already, the hype would be off the charts if the Vikings would actually get him the ball 20 times per game.

    If you stopped linking to pictures of scantily-clad starlets, would you lose readers? And if so, how many?

    I receive more e-mails and comments about the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com stuff than just about anything else, which you can see from the multiple OFGoAG.com-related questions today. While the dominant topic here is the Twins, this blog has also always covered stuff that has nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with whatever interests me. It's possible that certain non-baseball topics push people away, but the odd mix of topics is likely a big part of why many people enjoy the site.

    Would you anticipate gaining new readers (presumably female) from such a change?

    Perhaps, but not many. First, the linking to pictures of women is generally reserved for Friday entries, which are pretty clearly not related to baseball for anyone who wishes to skip them rather than be offended. Beyond that, the actual number of links to "pictures of scantily-clad starlets" tends to be pretty minimal. For instance, last week's Link-O-Rama contained only one such link and the same is true for the previous week's entry.

    In fact, the Link-O-Rama on October 5 was completely devoid of such links, which caused someone to leave a note in the comments section that read: "No links to hot women? You're losing it, Gleeman." I once assumed that this site's readership was pretty close to 100 percent male, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of regular female readers over the years. Plus, if someone is truly offended by non-nude pictures of beautiful women, then I don't mind not having them as a reader.

    Why don't you write for The Hardball Times any more?

    I co-created The Hardball Times along with Matthew Namee back in early 2004, and for several years I served as editor-in-chief and near-daily columnist while running the site alongside Dave Studenmund. Unfortunately, I had to give up my involvement in THT as part of my contract with NBCSports.com and Rotoworld, but the site and its annual book are thriving without me and remain must-reads for baseball fans.

    What is your official title at Rotoworld and NBCSports.com?

    It says "Senior Editor" on my business card.

    Who do you think is a better wide receiver, Randy Moss or Terrell Owens?

    Terrell Owens is obviously very good, but when healthy and motivated there are few wide receivers in NFL history who can compete with Randy Moss.

    What are your thoughts on "suiting up" to go to a casino?

    I'm not sure what this means, but generally speaking I'm in favor of anything that promotes gambling.

    What should have been my reaction when some random guy at Canterbury Park told me that I look like Nick Punto? Was it merely an attempt to put me on tilt?

    Punto doesn't strike me as a bad-looking guy. If the person at Canterbury Park had told you that you hit like Punto, then those might have been fighting words.

    Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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