March 26, 2008
Twins Notes: Cuts and Kicks
Gardenhire has already taken to referring to Harris' defense as "hit-or-miss," which while accurate isn't a good sign for his chances of holding off one of the manager's favorite players while hanging onto the job all year. Meanwhile, Gardenhire has predictably been brainstorming ways to get Punto into games, saying: "Believe me, he'll get used quite a bit. I like to see him out there on the field." Unless Harris hits .350 in April and never looks back, I'll be shocked if Punto isn't playing regularly before midseason.
As usual Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III wrote plenty about Span's point of view, reporting that he "took the news hard" and "choked up a few times while he spoke with reporters." I've poked fun at Span for over-confidence and at the local reporters for chronicling his every thought while failing to note that he's simply not a very good player, but he deserves credit for playing well this spring and will no doubt be first in line for a call-up should Gomez struggle.
I'm as excited as anyone about Gomez's future, ranking him as the Twins' top prospect, but it's likely a mistake to put him in a position to receive the most plate appearances of anyone on the team while batting directly in front of the lineup's most dangerous hitters. There'll no doubt be flashes of brilliance while Gomez shows off his amazing speed on the bases and in center field, but leading off should primarily be about getting on base and at 22 years old he doesn't figure to do that especially well.
Everett is a prime candidate to be pinch-hit for in key spots, it seems obvious that Gardenhire plans to remove Harris' glove from the equation late in games, and he may eventually want to do the same with Mike Lamb at third base, so Tolbert should get some work as a late-inning sub even if Punto is the first choice off the bench in such situations. While Gomez headlined my aforementioned annual list of the Twins' top prospects, Buscher ranked 38th and Tolbert ranked 40th.
Assuming that Bass sticks as a long reliever, that leaves Nick Blackburn waiting to see whether Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano begin the season in the rotation. If Baker needs a stint on the disabled list or Liriano heads to Triple-A, Blackburn will slide into the rotation along with Livan Hernandez, Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, and either Baker or Liriano. If both Baker and Liriano are ready, Blackburn will join Humber, Glen Perkins, Kevin Mulvey, and Brian Duensing in an amazing Rochester rotation.
Interestingly, Ford was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 12th round of the 1999 draft out of Dallas Baptist University and hit .315/.378/.479 with 52 steals for their low Single-A affiliate in 2000 before being traded to the Twins for Hector Carrasco that September. Carrasco appeared in just eight games for the Red Sox, allowing eight runs on 15 hits in 6.2 innings, and then re-signed with the Twins that offseason. Ford hit .272/.349/.402 in 1,716 plate appearances with the Twins.
Now on the Rays, former Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett had plenty to say about "The Kick":
Elliot Johnson led off the third by trying to bunt down the first-base line. He kept it close to the line and it rolled down close to the bag. Morneau went to cover the bag and Hernandez moved his considerable bulk over toward the ball. Seeing that he wouldn't be able to scoop it up in time to get Johnson, Hernandez instead kicked the ball, right on the toe, and it went straight into Morneau's glove.
Your average, everyday 1-3 putout. Unbelievable.
Sure enough, Justin Morneau also brought up the hockey angle, adding: "Usually that's no goal in hockey, kicking it in."
That was awesome. Usually you'd see that and you'd get mad about it, but it was so amazing that everybody in our dugout was taking their hat off and just bowing to him. To kick it and to hit it in the air right at Morneau's glove is impossible, but he did it. Any other first baseman, it probably would have hit off their knee or something, but Morneau, with that hockey instinct, kick save and he got it in the glove.