January 22, 2008

Going to Dallas

I'm flying to Dallas this morning on a business trip to the Beckett Media offices, where I'll be putting the finishing touches on the annual Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide magazine (click here to see the cover of last year's version, featuring Johan Santana). Blogging may be light or perhaps even non-existent for the next couple days. While I'm gone, please feel free to check out any installments that you may have missed in my ongoing Top 40 Minnesota Twins series:

- #16 Corey Koskie
- #17 Earl Battey
- #18 Rick Aguilera
- #19 Dave Goltz
- #20 Camilo Pascual
- #21 Gary Gaetti
- #22 Zoilo Versalles
- #23 Cesar Tovar
- #24 Shane Mack
- #25 Brian Harper
- #26 Eddie Guardado
- #27 Larry Hisle
- #28 Tom Brunansky
- #29 Kevin Tapani
- #30 Jacque Jones
- #31 Butch Wynegar
- #32 Al Worthington
- #33 Greg Gagne
- #34 Matt Lawton
- #35 Steve Braun
- #36 Dave Boswell
- #37 Jimmie Hall
- #38 Eric Milton
- #39 Scott Erickson
- #40 Randy Bush

January 20, 2008

The Answers (Part 1: Random Questions)

Opening the floor up for questions last week led to over 100 being asked in the comments section and another two dozen or so being sent in via e-mail. Responding to all of them would be pretty tough, but I'll tackle as many as possible by breaking up the answers into two entries. Below you'll find the first installment, which covers questions that I'd classify as "random." That means stuff about this blog, my personal life, and basically anything that's not directly related to the Twins.

Is this the worst list of questions that you've ever gotten?

Yes, and it's not even close.

Do bloggers have groupies?

They do, but unfortunately most of them look an awful lot like the blogger.

What references/websites do you use for your statistics?

I use Baseball-Reference.com and The Hardball Times most often, but also find plenty of numbers at Rotoworld, Fan Graphs, Retrosheet, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Cube, ESPN.com, MLB.com, and MiLB.com (plus several other places that I'm probably forgetting).

If you could have dinner with any three people in the world, who would they be?

I've actually answered this question before as part of the "Better Know a Citizen" series at Stick and Ball Guy's blog. I'll say now what I said then: Howard Stern, Adam Carolla, and Bill Simmons. Among people I've never met, those are my three favorite.

How do you remain so interested in baseball when a guy like Johan Santana gets offered $20 million for four years and says, "Sorry, not enough"?

Why should Johan Santana agree to a four-year deal worth $80 million when he can easily get $125 million or more by not accepting it? I'm unable to grasp the logic in ceasing to be interested in baseball because a great player isn't willing to accept significantly below-market pay for the prime-earning years of a career that will likely be over before he's 40 years old. Beyond that, do you stop enjoying movies because Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt turns down a $20 million offer to star in one?

If offered sound advice on improving your prospects with women would you be interested?

Sound advice? No. Horrible advice? Maybe.

What have you been working on for Rotoworld since the NFL regular season ended?

One of the reasons why the amount of content here has been somewhat lighter than usual lately is that over the past few weeks I've been working pretty much non-stop on the annual Rotoworld Baseball Draft Guide. Most of the writing and editing work for the 160-page magazine is finally complete, but tomorrow morning I'm flying to the Beckett Media offices in Dallas to put the finishing touches on the whole project.

Last year's business trip to Dallas involved sitting behind Mark Cuban at a Mavericks game, actually putting some of the skills learned in journalism school to use, getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the top-secret Beckett Grading Services facilities, witnessing a city cancel school because of what couldn't have been more than a quarter-inch of snow, closing down a Hooters after a hard day of editing, and successfully talking everyone at Beckett into featuring Santana on the cover.

My goal for this year's cover? Pat Neshek.

Are we ever going to see another installment of the Top 40 Minnesota Twins series?

Of course. My ability to research and write the Top 40 Minnesota Twins series depends largely on how much of my time is spent on my actual job, so working non-stop on the magazine has made it tough to continue the series since naming the No. 16 player in Twins history last month. I'm midway through the write-up for No. 15, so hopefully I'll be able to finish that and then get going on No. 14 after returning from Dallas. In the meantime, here are links to the first 25 installments of the 40-part series:

- #16 Corey Koskie
- #17 Earl Battey
- #18 Rick Aguilera
- #19 Dave Goltz
- #20 Camilo Pascual
- #21 Gary Gaetti
- #22 Zoilo Versalles
- #23 Cesar Tovar
- #24 Shane Mack
- #25 Brian Harper
- #26 Eddie Guardado
- #27 Larry Hisle
- #28 Tom Brunansky
- #29 Kevin Tapani
- #30 Jacque Jones
- #31 Butch Wynegar
- #32 Al Worthington
- #33 Greg Gagne
- #34 Matt Lawton
- #35 Steve Braun
- #36 Dave Boswell
- #37 Jimmie Hall
- #38 Eric Milton
- #39 Scott Erickson
- #40 Randy Bush

Who do you support for president?

Jim Souhan, with Sid Hartman as his older, more experienced running mate, but only on the condition that they both cease writing columns for the Minneapolis Star Tribune once they take office.

Would you be willing to wear a t-shirt saying "Free Jason Kubel!" if I got a bunch of them printed?

Sure. I regularly wear a Gophers football t-shirt, so I'm not exactly picky.

What about wear it on television?

This seems like a trick question, unless you mean wear it while literally standing atop a television set.

Does Elisha Cuthbert flipping off the camera last week help or hinder her chances of being the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com again? I got the impression that it helped, but to me it should only help Jenna Fischer's chances because she seems sweeter.

When a former OFGoAG.com wants to improve her chances of reclaiming the throne, flipping off some paparazzi while wearing a skimpy bikini is probably the way to go. Jenna Fischer's sweetness (or at least her character Pam Beesly's sweetness on The Office) certainly plays a major factor in her being an OFGoAG.com contender, but my aunt recently came up with a theory on why I'm such a big fan of Fischer/Beesly that has me reconsidering her chances. Seriously.

When are you going to crown a new OFGoAG.com? It's been long enough, you should be able to pick by now.

It's been over a year since Elisha Cuthbert was stripped of her title and it's unfortunate that the throne has remained vacant for so long, but this obviously isn't a decision that should be taken lightly or rushed. Each of the three previous title-holders--Cuthbert, Jessica Alba, Heidi Klum--clearly emerged from the rest of the pack to claim OFGoAG.com honors and I'm waiting for a similar emergence to take place this time around.

Keeping Cuthbert on as the interim OFGoAG.com was always an option and going with Fischer or Keeley Hazell as the fourth OFGoAG.com certainly wouldn't be a mistake, but by being patient my hope is that a clear choice will step forward. As always, suggestions are encouraged, especially if they come with photographic evidence. Sadly, it looks like Alba is no longer a factor. Actually, between Alba and Klum procreation has ruined some pretty good OFGoAG.com careers.

Would you ever consider doing a football/Vikings blog during the offseason?

I write several thousand words about football over at Rotoworld every day from September to January, so short of some kind of football-blogging grant from the government you'll probably never see much Vikings-related stuff covered in this space.

What's your dream car? Dream car that you can reasonably afford?

I'm not really much into cars. I've owned two in my life and their combined value at the time that I've owned them is probably less than $3,500. Of course, if my daily commute to work involved actually leaving the house I might feel more compelled to get a better ride.

How does Jesus feel about the Red Sox?

He's a big fan of Kevin Youkilis and Theo Epstein, although I don't own a shirt for that.

Back in the early days (before you and your freakishly large hands were regular sights in national magazines), what did you do to draw readers to your blog?

I'm asked this question quite often and wish that I had a better answer to give, but the truth is that I didn't do anything particularly unique. I started this blog in August of 2002 and basically just did my best to pump out new content that was worth reading on a daily basis. At some point a few other blogs gave me some links and the ball started rolling. Unfortunately, it's a lot tougher to gain readership by word of mouth when you start from scratch at this stage.

Back then there were only a handful of prominent baseball blogs, but now most teams have at least a dozen devoted to them. My advice would be to write as much as possible as often as possible and to become involved in the blogosphere by liberally linking to other sites. That makes other bloggers likely to return the favor and once they do you want as much good content as possible to get those new readers hooked. If you write good stuff, people will hopefully stumble across it eventually.

Is there one male in the world who wouldn't go to Cabo San Lucas with Jessica Simpson on their weekend off?

You may have had a hard time finding someone to pass that up a month ago, but my guess is that right now the one guy who could probably be counted on to turn it down is Tony Romo.

What non-baseball-related vacation would you most like to take?

I'm not sure, but for some reason going to Cabo San Lucas with Jessica Simpson on my weekend off comes to mind.

Are you going to Cleveland this summer for the annual Society for American Baseball Research convention?

Absolutely. In fact, my hotel room is already booked and the convention isn't until June. Barring the whole Simpson-in-Cabo thing coming true--and really, there's probably not much more than a 40-45 percent chance of that happening--going to the SABR convention is my lone vacation each year.

How do you feel about MLB.com Twins beat writer Kelly Thesier? Personally, I can't stand her parroting of the front office and her ever-present optimism about the Twins and their sometimes questionable decisions.

On a personal level, I think Kelly Thesier is great. We met face-to-face at the winter meetings in Florida last offseason and she was very friendly to me despite us both knowing that I'd written plenty of critical things about her work. On a professional level, I'm not a big fan. To be fair she's in a somewhat difficult position, essentially being paid by the team that she reports on, but I've intentionally avoided reading much of her recent work after initially finding it lacking on a number of levels.

How many words per minute can you type?

I'm not sure, but it's definitely a lot. For some reason I actually took a "keyboarding" class while in high school and remember doing pretty well on the speed tests, but can't recall any specific numbers. That may have been my all-time favorite class, because the teacher was so disinterested and the workload was so minimal that I spent each hour listening to Howard Stern's radio show on my Walkman. That may help explain why Highland Park Senior High isn't considered the world's greatest school.

Will you be making an appearance at TwinsFest this year?

I haven't been to TwinsFest in at least a decade and almost surely won't be going this year unless there's some sort of blogger get-together being planned. Autographs don't interest me one bit and I've been to enough baseball card shows to last a dozen lifetimes.

How much e-mail do you get that you would consider rude and offensive, and how do you handle it?

The number of "rude and offensive" e-mails that I receive has significantly decreased since installing a comments section here a couple years ago. On the other hand, the number of nasty comments are far more plentiful than the number of nasty e-mails ever were. It makes sense, because commenting can be done more anonymously than e-mailing and there's a built-in audience for the nastiness, which seemingly appeals to the people who might say something "rude and offensive" in the first place.

What do you like on your pizza?

I'm a big believer in the combination of pepperoni and sausage.

Why do you dislike Joe Buck so much? I've read some of your reasons over the past year or so, such as his outrage over Randy Moss' touchdown mooning celebration in Green Bay and his Shecky-like persona, but is there something deeper there?

He strikes me as a world-class blowhard who thinks that he's much funnier than he actually is, often ignores doing his job in favor of pushing some agenda, and has gotten to the top of his profession in large part because of nepotism. Toss in some specific events, such as his laughable overreaction to Randy Moss pretending to moon a hostile crowd in Green Bay, and you can see why he causes me to hit the mute button. His dad was great, though.

Do you think that the force-out rule is the stupidest one in the NFL? It's not flag football, right?

As someone who was once involved in a brawl at a youth league flag-football game, I'm not sure how to answer this.

Would you have pulled the plug on Shana Hiatt as host of Poker After Dark on NBC? What do you think of her replacement and your new NBC co-worker, Marianela Pereyra?

I'm a Shana Hiatt fan, but her job on Poker After Dark seemingly involved being attractive and speaking for approximately 30 seconds per episode, and my sense is that she was getting paid an awful lot to do that. Marianela Pereyra doesn't appear to be any more or less capable than Hiatt and is likely paid a fraction of the salary, so it's a bit like the Twins calling up a prospect to replace a high-priced veteran. I've watched nearly every episode and the show would be just as good without any female host.

How drunk was Gavin Smith on the show last week and will they ever invite him back?

I'm sure that Gavin Smith was somewhat drunk, because he was drinking at the table, but it seemed like he was playing it up a bit. He's a big guy and has a reputation for drinking a lot, so sipping a couple glasses while playing poker seemingly shouldn't do that much damage. They should definitely invite him back, because he's both a good player and extremely entertaining. I'd highly suggest checking out the podcast that Smith co-hosts with Joe Sebok and Bart Hanson over at Poker Road.

What's your favorite power tool?

I'm pretty sure that this means we've officially run out of decent questions.

January 18, 2008


  • Perhaps some day in the future, when it's time to quit blogging, I'll simply copy Jenna Jameson's recent retirement speech and inform my readers that "I will never, ever, ever spread my legs again in this industry. Ever!"
  • From the man who brought the world "straight cash homey" comes the early leader in the clubhouse for Best New Phrase of 2008: "Consensual horseplay."
  • Apparently life sometimes imitates John Pinette's comedy bits, although 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds isn't what I'd normally associate with "banned from a buffet for eating too much." Here's my favorite part of the story:

    "She says, 'Y'all fat, and y'all eat too much,'" Labit said.

    Labit and Borrelli said they felt discriminated against because of their size. "I was stunned, that somebody would say something like that. I ain't that fat, I only weigh 277," Borrelli said, adding that a waitress told him he looked like he a had a "baby in the belly."

    I'm guessing that she didn't get the full 15 percent.

  • Seth Stohs added to his ever-expanding collection of outstanding interviews by posting a lengthy chat with Kevin Slowey about what life was like as a big-league rookie and what he's expecting this season as a full-time member of the Twins' rotation. Slowey is very well spoken and his insanely good strikeout-to-walk ratios suggest that he's a pretty smart pitcher, but using "grievous" correctly in an interview with a blogger probably makes it official.
  • Quote of the Week, from former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Jessica Alba:

    Contrary to how people may feel, I've never used my sexuality. That's not part of it for me.

    Sure, but it's "part of it" for everyone else. Or maybe I've watched Honey a dozen times because of the fantastic acting.

  • New York Magazine points out that there's little reason to pay attention to what Hank Steinbrenner says when it comes to the Yankees potentially trading for Johan Santana (or anything, really).
  • For my fellow hardcore fans of The Wire, check out Nick Hornby's interview with series creator David Simon, Atlantic Monthly's profile of "the angriest man in television" (Simon), and Freakonomics' look at what "real thugs" think of the show. And for those of you who're unfamiliar with one of the best shows on television, you can get caught up on the series' first four seasons in just four minutes:

    "McNulty has a drink."
  • As a member of the tribe, for some reason it amuses me that Christina Aguilera is now the mother of a boy named Max Bratman. In related news, there's a too-tall goy dominating the six-foot-and-under basketball league at the Minneapolis JCC.
  • As a wise man once said, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
  • Not only has LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune long been the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, he's been named "Rumor Royalty" by Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors.
  • LEN3's partner in reporting over at the Star Tribune, Joe Christensen, recently wrote a good article about the Twins' history of trading star players for prospects. Christensen correctly points out that many veteran-for-prospect trades have turned out well for the Twins despite being ripped initially by fans and media members who were simply unfamiliar with the young players involved. With that said, the article contained one assertion that seemed like a stretch:

    In 2003, some thought the Twins were fleeced when they sent A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano.

    That day, Giants GM Brian Sabean said, "It's not often that you can send a reliever and two unproven prospects for a front-line, lefthanded-hitting All-Star catcher."

    Yeah, silly Twins.

    While it's technically true that "some" thought the Twins were fleeced in the sense that "some" could very well just mean Brian Sabean and A.J. Pierzynski's grandmother, my recollection is that the typical reaction to the deal was pretty favorable at the time. I'm not sure what the local newspapers printed on the deal, but on November 17, 2003 my analysis was that "trading Pierzynski now seems like a very reasonable thing to do" because "his value has probably never been higher."

    My conclusion: "Ultimately I don't think there's really any way for the Pierzynski trade to be viewed as a bad one." And that came despite my dramatically underrating the potential of Francisco Liriano ("a shot at becoming a dominant left-handed reliever") and also selling Joe Nathan's upside a little bit short. Pierzynski was a fan favorite and a good player, but the Twins had Joe Mauer ready to replace him and needed bullpen help with both LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado set to leave as free agents.

  • On their way to the World Series, the 1991 Twins apparently often had a pair of spousal abusers batting back-to-back in the middle of their lineup.
  • My very first "favorite basketball player" and the man whose odd free throw-shooting routine I copied during my playing career continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons even in retirement.
  • The old-school, print version of The Sporting News has become increasingly irrelevant over the past couple years, but TSN has smartly decided to change directions by snatching up some of the best bloggers in the business to join their staff.
  • In a quote that has to be true because it's too over the top to be effective parody, long-time Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote the following about Jim Rice's Hall of Fame candidacy:

    Memo to 30-year-old stat geeks combing through Jim Rice's numbers: Get out of the house and look at the sky one time. I know personal contact frightens you, but let go of OPS for a moment and try talking to someone who saw Rice play, or better yet, played against him.

    The man who many Bostonians mockingly refer to as "Curly Haired Boyfriend" is apparently under the impression that "30-year-old stat geeks" have some sort of say in who becomes a Hall of Famer, but in reality that couldn't be further from the truth. Only Shaughnessy's fellow newspaper writers--the guys who presumably "saw Rice play" when they "get out of the house and look at the sky"--have Hall of Fame ballots and they've failed to give Rice enough votes for 14 straight years.

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine senior editor Jayne Haugen Olson recently appeared on the Cities 97 morning show (scroll down a bit) to discuss the magazine's recent article on local websites that prominently featured AG.com and my ugly mug. I'm certainly not against self-promotion, but it's also nice when someone else does it for you (plus, Cities 97 is one of the few local radio stations that I can stand listening to).
  • The jury is still out on Matt Leinart's quarterbacking ability, but a season-ending broken collarbone hasn't had a negative impact on his off-field exploits and I'm a big fan of his taste.
  • Like the opposite of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere and Jack Morris' Hall of Fame case are two bad tastes that taste horribly together.
  • AG.com favorite Artie Lange, living large in Las Vegas. "Fiyah!"
  • Deadspin's Will Leitch is featured in the February edition of Penthouse (seriously), which has led to some amusing adventures in pornography purchasing.
  • The first installment of my annual series on the Twins' top 40 prospects kicked off yesterday with a familiar, disappointing name in the No. 40 spot.
  • If you missed it on Monday, there's still time to submit questions for me to answer next week in this space. For details, click here.
  • Otis Redding was my pick for this week's AG.com-approved music video, but it was tough deciding between a black-and-white version of "My Girl" or a live version of "Shake." On one hand, "My Girl" is a classic song and Redding covered it well in the version that I stumbled across. On the other hand, "Shake" includes Redding encouraging everyone to "shake it like a bowl of soup," which is one of my all-time favorite lyrics. I'm pretty sure that no one will mind, so I'll just pick both. First up, here's "My Girl":

    And to close out the week, here's "Shake":

  • January 17, 2008

    Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

    40. Denard Span | Center Field | DOB: 2/84 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2002-1

    2005 A+ 212 .339 .410 .403 1 7 22 25
    AA 304 .285 .355 .345 0 11 22 41
    2006 AA 597 .285 .340 .349 2 24 40 78
    2007 AAA 548 .267 .323 .355 3 30 40 90

    Pegged as the eventual replacement for Torii Hunter from the moment that the Twins took him in the first round of the 2002 draft, Denard Span is still nowhere near being ready to step into the center-field vacancy created by Hunter's departure and probably never will be. Aside from a strong half-season at high Single-A three years ago there's little in Span's minor-league resume to suggest future big-league success and he now sports a .283/.348/.348 hitting line in 2,184 career plate appearances.

    Span has long been billed as a leadoff-hitting speedster, but struck out 90 times in just 487 at-bats last season despite having zero power and has yet to get on base at a good clip or convert his raw speed into actual value. He's drawn a walk in just 8.3 percent of his career trips to the plate, which works out to 40-50 walks over the course of a full season, and has been gunned down on one-third of his steal attempts despite never swiping more than 25 bases in a season.

    Span narrowly clings to a spot on this list because at 24 years old he's still young enough to develop further and did put together a strong second half at Triple-A last season, hitting .306/.371/.393 with improved strike-zone control. At this point only the most out of touch fans still consider Span a big part of the Twins' long-term plans, but the team will be slow to give up on a former first-round pick and even modest improvements could make him an option as a reserve outfielder.

    39. Brandon Roberts | Center Field | DOB: 11/84 | Bats: Left | Trade: Reds

    2005 RK 311 .318 .386 .438 4 19 24 44
    2006 A+ 586 .293 .349 .355 4 23 36 82
    2007 AA 420 .293 .355 .374 3 20 32 56

    Originally taken by the Reds in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, Brandon Roberts hit .318/.386/.438 with 32 steals in 68 games at rookie-ball after signing, got off to a slow start after being pushed up to high Single-A in his first full season, and was traded to the Twins for Juan Castro in July of 2006. Simply getting rid of Castro made the trade a good one, but Roberts has provided an added bonus by becoming a decent mid-level prospect who might have a big-league future.

    Combined between the slow start as property of the Reds and a strong finish after being dealt to the Twins, Roberts batted .293/.349/.355 with 50 steals in 131 total games at high Single-A in 2006. He continued to look like a reasonable facsimile of Jason Tyner last season, moving up to Double-A as a 22-year-old and batting .293/.355/.373 with three homers, 20 total extra-base hits, and a 56-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 110 games, although he surprisingly went just 14-of-21 swiping bases.

    Roberts only has power when compared to Tyner or Span and suffers from the same lack of plate discipline, so he's never going to be anyone's idea of a quality starter. However, Roberts is considered a strong defender in center field and should be able to post solid batting averages thanks to a good contact rate and top-notch speed. While a poor man's Tyner doesn't sound appealing, the organization lacks MLB-ready center fielders and like Span he could become a useful bench player.

    38. Steven Tolleson | Shortstop | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-5

    2005 RK 73 .321 .457 .571 2 9 11 4
    A- 125 .176 .311 .284 3 5 17 23
    2006 A- 204 .287 .390 .392 2 12 27 34
    A+ 186 .268 .353 .408 4 13 22 24
    2007 A+ 571 .285 .388 .382 5 33 79 97

    The son of former big leaguer Wayne Tolleson, Steven Tolleson played three years at the University of South Carolina and was taken by the Twins in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. He signed quickly and batted .321/.457/.571 in 16 games at rookie-ball, but then hit just .176 after moving up to low Single-A to end his debut season. Tolleson went back to Beloit to begin 2006 and batted .287/.390/.392 in 42 games to earn a midseason promotion to high Single-A.

    He held his own in 49 games at Fort Myers, hitting .268/.353/.408 for a .277/.369/.396 overall hitting line in his first full season. Despite that solid showing and the fact that he was already 23 years old, the Twins sent Tolleson back to high Single-A and kept him there for the entire 2007 season. He batted .285/.388/.382 with 27 steals in 132 games while leading the entire organization with 79 walks, giving Tolleson a .273/.377/.387 hitting line with a 182-to-156 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 277 career games.

    Tolleson has just 16 homers and a measly .114 Isolated Power in 1,168 career plate appearances, but has played all over the infield defensively and could have a future as a solid utility man if the Twins actually give him a chance to move up the organizational ladder. If he can maintain the combination of sound middle-infield defense and excellent plate discipline while making the jump up to Double-A this season, Tolleson could force his way into the Twins' plans.

    37. Jose Morales | Catcher | DOB: 2/83 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2001-3

    2006 AA 282 .211 .276 .311 3 18 19 56
    2007 AAA 411 .311 .366 .399 2 28 30 44

    When the Twins selected Jose Morales out of Puerto Rico in the third round of the 2001 draft, he was an 18-year-old middle infielder. While spending his first two seasons in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he hit .284/.315/.356 with zero homers and a 54-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 games. In 2003 the Twins made Morales a catcher and he spent the next two years hitting .287/.330/.390 with six homers, 38 total extra-base hits, and a 115-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 151 games at Single-A.

    Morales moved up to Double-A in 2005, but knee and back injuries limited him to seven games. He returned to New Britain in 2006 and hit just .209/.273/.306 in 82 games, but bounced back last season by having the best year of his career at Rochester. Morales hit .311/.366/.399 with two homers, 28 total extra-base hits, and a 44-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 108 games to earn a September call-up, going 3-for-3 in his big-league debut before suffering a gruesome-looking ankle injury running the bases.

    The injury isn't a long-term concern, but Morales is 25 years old, was likely playing over his head a bit in 2007, and has zero power. With that said, he's a switch-hitting, high-contact catcher with solid defensive skills and has shown some semblance of plate discipline recently after hacking at anything early in his career. He figures to take over for Chris Heintz as the Twins' catcher-in-waiting should anything happen to Joe Mauer or Mike Redmond, and could emerge as Mauer's long-term backup.

    36. Matt Tolbert | Second Base | DOB: 5/82 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2004-16

    2005 A+ 472 .266 .326 .365 3 29 35 80
    2006 A+ 173 .303 .360 .458 4 13 14 17
    AA 292 .258 .341 .363 3 19 30 43
    2007 AAA 477 .293 .353 .427 6 37 37 56

    A four-year starter at the University of Mississippi, the Twins selected Matt Tolbert in the 16th round of the 2004 draft despite a modest .288/.365/.394 career hitting line. He signed quickly and made his pro debut at rookie-level Elizabethton, batting .308/.376/.500 in 33 games, and then skipped low Single-A while making the jump to high Single-A during his first full season. Tolbert struggled at Fort Myers, batting just .266/.326/.365 in 111 games, but was promoted to Double-A in 2006.

    Tolbert again struggled and was demoted back to Fort Myers, but hit .303/.360/.458 in 40 games there to earn a trip back up to New Britain. He hit just .255/.339/.360 in 72 total games at Double-A, but rather than ask a 25-year-old to take another crack at the level the Twins pushed Tolbert up to Triple-A last season. He hit .340 in April and .370 in May before eventually crashing back down to earth, hitting just .267/.323/.396 in the second half to finish the season at .293/.353/.427 in 121 games overall.

    Despite an amazing start that got fans who didn't know better way too excited, Tolbert's "breakout" season actually blends in with the rest of his career. He's hit just .280/.345/.405 in 377 minor-league games and turns 26 years old in May, which adds up to a low ceiling. However, as a switch-hitter who controls the strike zone reasonably well, has solid speed, and can handle second base or third base defensively, Tolbert could carve out a decent major-league career as a utility man.

    January 15, 2008

    Twins Notes: Money, Money, Money, and Money

  • Over at MLB.com, Kelly Thesier reports that "so far it appears no progress has been made" in the Twins' attempt to lock Justin Morneau up to a long-term contract extension. Morneau told Thesier that he's "looking for a long-term deal if it makes sense for me" before adding that "no discussions have been had." Morneau figures to make around $7 million via arbitration this season, but is under the Twins' control through 2010.

    At one point last season Morneau said that he'd be willing to sign a five- or six-year extension to remain in Minnesota, but reportedly turned down an offer from the Twins that was similar to the four-year, $33 million extension that Joe Mauer agreed to last winter. As good as Morneau has been and can be, his .276/.340/.498 career hitting line is just slightly above average for an MLB first baseman and paying that type of player something like $12 million per season would be risky for a team like the Twins.

  • On a somewhat related note, a little birdie informed me that a long-time AG.com reader will soon be joining the staff at MLB.com and covering the Twins alongside Thesier.
  • When the Twins traded for Craig Monroe in November and then signed him to a one-year deal worth $3.82 million last month, I suggested that there were several other right-handed hitters on the market who're better than Monroe and figured to be available for significantly less money. Among the players mentioned specifically by name was Emil Brown, who sure enough is now property of the A's after inking a one-year deal worth just $1.45 million earlier this week.

    Monroe and Brown were equally awful last season and neither player is an especially good bet at this point, but Brown's recent track record is clearly superior. Combined over the past three seasons Brown hit .279/.340/.428, including .289/.353/.488 against lefties. During that same stretch Monroe batted .254/.300/.439, including .281/.332/.481 against southpaws. Brown was seven percent more effective overall and five percent more effective against lefties, yet Monroe is set to make 2.5 times as much.

  • In laying out various potential replacements for Torii Hunter earlier this offseason, I noted that Mike Cameron was one of the more appealing options because he "figures to be far less expensive than Andruw Jones or Aaron Rowand" despite being a relatively comparable player. While Hunter got $90 million from the Angels, Rowand got $60 million from the Giants, and Jones got $36 million from the Dodgers, Cameron signed a one-year deal with the Brewers that's worth just $7 million.

    Cameron is 35 years old and has been suspended for the first 25 games of the season, but for a total commitment of $7 million he's a fine short-term investment. Cameron was once among the truly elite defensive players in all of baseball and remains a good center fielder, and he's hit .255/.341/.456 over the past two seasons despite playing in the majors' most extreme pitcher's ballpark. Take a look at how his numbers compare to Hunter's over the past three years and for their respective careers:

    2005-2007        PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
    Hunter 1677 .279 .335 .487 .822 114
    Cameron 1628 .259 .342 .461 .803 112

    Hunter 4894 .271 .324 .469 .793 104
    Cameron 6299 .251 .341 .445 .786 106

    That the Twins were never even rumored to be in the mix for Cameron seemingly suggests that they're confident about acquiring a new center fielder via trade, in which case signing a 35-year-old makes little sense. However, if dealing Johan Santana or Joe Nathan doesn't net a good, young center fielder who can immediately fill Hunter's shoes then the fact that Monroe is making almost $4 million and Cameron is making just $7 million means that the Twins made a mistake somewhere.

  • In an effort to add some organizational pitching depth, the Twins signed Randy Keisler and Zach Day to minor-league contracts. Keisler should be little more than Triple-A rotation filler at Rochester, but Day is more intriguing. He debuted for the Expos as a 24-year-old in 2002 and posted a 4.01 ERA through his first 285.1 big-league innings, but hasn't been healthy since 2004 and didn't throw a single pitch in the majors last season following rotator-cuff surgery in June of 2006.

    Day is closing in on his 30th birthday and has thrown a grand total of 87.1 innings with an ugly 6.80 ERA since 2004 (with minor-league numbers that aren't much better), but was a ground-ball machine prior to his arm problems and possesses at least some semblance of upside. If signing Day keeps the Twins from bringing in this season's version of no-upside veterans like Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson it's a plus whether or not he ever throws a pitch in Minnesota.

  • As a follow-up to my suggestion last week that the Twins' bonus-related stinginess may keep them from taking full advantage of having three of the first 31 picks in June's draft, Baseball America notes that only two teams spent less on their 2007 draft picks than the Twins. First rounder Ben Revere was widely considered a second- or third-round talent and thus cost just $750,000, which is the smallest bonus any first-round pick has received since 1998, and the Twins spent a grand total of $1.8 million.

    To put that in some context, 14 players received at least $1.8 million on their own and the average team forked over $4.5 million, including a half-dozen teams that spent over $7 million. Having two "extra" first-round picks also means having to give out two "extra" first-round bonuses, so the Twins may be even less likely than usual to select an elite player who has large bonus demands. MLB payrolls get most of the attention, but the draft is another area where money gives some teams a huge advantage.

  • General manager Dan O'Dowd revealed recently that the Rockies "stuck our nose in on the Santana thing," but didn't get very far in talks with the Twins because "Santana has a no-trade clause and has a desire to stay more on the East Coast." That may explain why high-payroll, prospect-rich teams like the Dodgers, Angels, and Mariners haven't been linked much to Santana, and may keep the Twins from getting the best possible return for him.
  • Last but definitely not least, Mike Fast over at Statistically Speaking recently posted a fascinatingly unique breakdown of Santana's pitching that mixes scouting and stats in amazing detail.

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