February 25, 2009
Twins Notes: Baseball!
Thanks to MLB Network showing the Twins' spring training opener against the Red Sox last night I've got some thoughts on watching nine glorious innings of baseball in February, but first a few notes ...
Exploratory surgery on Boof Bonser's sore right shoulder yesterday revealed labrum and rotator cuff tears, so his 2009 season is done before it even started. Bonser pitched his way out of the rotation last season and wasn't much better following a demotion to the bullpen, finishing with a 5.93 ERA in 118.1 innings. However, his peripheral numbers were much better than the ugly ERA and the Twins were set to give Bonser another chance to claim a bullpen spot this spring.
His 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings as a reliever had me optimistic about Bonser's odds of bouncing back in the bullpen and perhaps even emerging with a prominent late-inning role at some point, but now his days with the Twins may be over and his career is in jeopardy. Bonser's injury along with Bobby Korecky being lost on waivers to the Diamondbacks last week will make it much easier for Philip Humber to claim an Opening Day roster spot.
As discussed in this space last week, there are seemingly 10 locks for the Twins' pitching staff, which leaves Humber battling Jose Mijares, Jason Jones, and assorted other arms for one or two bullpen spots. Humber is out of minor-league options and Jones is a Rule 5 pick, so unlike Mijares they can't be sent to Triple-A. My preference has always been for an 11-man pitching staff and it sounds like the Twins may be leaning that way, which would make Humber the heavy favorite to serve as long reliever.
At one point last week the Arizona Republic claimed that the Twins were on the verge of pulling off a sign-and-trade deal with the Diamondbacks for Juan Cruz, but that report has mysteriously vanished from the newspaper's website and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune now notes that "the Twins will look elsewhere for bullpen help." According to LEN3, trade talks with the Diamondbacks never actually took place because Cruz turned down the Twins' contract offer.
Cruz is an elite setup man and would have upgraded the Twins' bullpen tremendously, but aside from that rogue Arizona newspaper report there was never much indication that a deal was close. In order for a sign-and-trade involving Cruz to work he'd have to accept the Twins' contract offer and then the Diamondbacks would have to accept the Twins' trade offer, thus working around his status as a Type A free agent. Cruz would have been a perfect fit, but it was probably wishful thinking from the start.
Once an outstanding catcher prospect who became a slightly less outstanding first-base prospect, Justin Huber inexplicably never got much of a chance with the Royals despite seven straight seasons with an OPS above .800 in the minors. He finally stopped hitting last season, batting .246/.318/.352 in 61 games at Triple-A and .246/.303/.393 in 33 games with the Padres, but Huber is still just 26 years old and will try to get back on track at Rochester after signing a minor-league contract with the Twins.
Longtime readers of this blog will be amused to note that Luis Rivas is competing for a bench spot with the Cubs. Rivas played last year with the Pirates, hitting .218/.267/.311 in 223 plate appearances, and the former AG.com whipping boy sports a .257/.303/.377 career line in 2,290 trips to the plate. I've been wrong about plenty of players in six-plus years of blogging, but constantly opining that Rivas was more hype than upside appears to have been right on the money.
MLB Network broadcast the game via the Red Sox's television network and usual color commentator Jerry Remy was home sick, so several fill-ins joined play-by-play man Don Orsillo in the booth. Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald was excellent for two innings of commentary and former Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach was also pretty enjoyable on the air. In other words, I'm already sick of Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, and they haven't even started yet.
There was some talk last week about Delmon Young reporting to camp in significantly better shape and it looked last night like he may have dropped a few pounds during the winter, but he certainly didn't appear to have gone through any major changes. Whatever the case, just like last season he hit a pair of ground balls in two at-bats and tip-toed his way around the outfield.
Michael Cuddyer can still chuck it from right field and Justin Morneau can still hit the ball really far. Cuddyer drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd in Fort Myers after unleashing a throw to third base and Morneau lined a Tim Wakefield knuckleball deep into the left-center field gap despite being way out in front on the pitch. Aside from Morneau's double, the Twins mostly dinked and dunked Wakefield and the Red Sox to death in a 5-2 victory that saw a total of 53 players used.
Matt Tolbert solidified his status as a poor man's Nick Punto by attempting to bunt for a base hit in his first at-bat of spring training after coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. You can be certain Ron Gardenhire was dreaming about the fouled-off bunt as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Luis Matos graded out reasonably well as a center fielder earlier in his career, but the 30-year-old non-roster invitee didn't show much range on a couple balls hit over his head. Alejandro Machado has battled serious arm problems during the past couple seasons and came up with a pretty weak throw to first base on a potential double play in the seventh inning. Machado batted .338/.376/.472 in 54 games at Triple-A last year, but may not be capable of playing shortstop any longer.
Dustin Martin had an ugly swinging strikeout against side-arming left-hander Javier Lopez, but my No. 27 prospect later lined a sharp single off another left-hander, Billy Traber. Back-to-back matchups against veteran lefties would normally be a tough assignment for a young left-handed hitter like Martin, but he actually batted .343 versus southpaws at Double-A last season and is at .298/.361/.386 against them for his three-year pro career.
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