Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Feelin' a draft (April edition)

Carlos Rodon's draft stock
has apparently slipped in the
past few months, but he's still
expected to be a high pick in June.
Baseball's amateur draft is a bit less than two months away. The Twins have the fifth overall pick. What's the outlook?

The issue of Baseball America that showed up in my mailbox Tuesday has BA's "midseason update" on draft prospects. As was the case when the college season began in February, this year's crop appears heavier on pitchers than on position players.

But the guy who was expected to top everybody's draft list has apparently sagged.

The word last summer was that if Carlos Rodon, a left-handed pitcher for North Carolina State, had been eligible, he would have been the first overall selection. He was the preseason consensus as the top prospect for this year.

But his fastball velocity has dropped off — 89-92 now, compared to 92-96 as a freshman and sophomore for the Wolfpack, according to BA. His command has diminished as well. He's throwing his slider more, and scouts probably weren't pleased when he threw more than 130 pitches on shorter-than-usual rest last weekend.

BA's current ranking of the top 50 prospects has Rodon third, behind a pair of high school pitchers, Brady Aiken (lefty from San Diego) and Tyler Kolek (righty from Shepherd, Texas).

No high school right-hander has ever gone 1-1, but Kolek is said to have hit 100 mph on the radar guns repeatedly. (This is not necessarily a good thing; an 18-year-old's arm is probably not capable of handling that kind of exertion, Bob Feller being the exception.)

There is only one position player in BA's top eight. Odds are that the Twins will be taking a pitcher with that fifth pick. Which one? Well, there are four teams that have something to say about that before the Twins get to speak their piece, and a lot of baseball to be played (and pitches to be thrown) before that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Which is more difficult, left field or right field?

The Twins have taken, in the absence of expected regular outfielders Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham, to playing Jason Kubel in left field and Chris Colabello in right.

Neither is a Gold Glove candidate, but Kubel at least has the advantage of being an experienced outfielder. Colabello is a transplanted first baseman who's only purpose to being in the outfield is to fit another bat in the lineup.

The rule of thumb — which has plenty of exceptions — goes like this:

  • If you can run and throw, you're a center fielder.
  • If you can run but not throw, you're a left fielder.
  • If you can throw but not run, you're a right fielder.
  • If you can't do either, you're a first baseman.

Colabello is the latter. Kubel is number three. He throws well, but he lost whatever speed was in his tool kit about a decade ago when he wrecked his knee.

Left and right fields, at least at Target Field, pose unique challenges.

The right field wall is not only tall, it has three or four different surfaces that play differently. The right fielder's challenge is to accurately judge the carom and avoid yielding unnecessary bases.

Left field is the sun field. The April home schedule has been packed with afternoon games, and on the sunny days the ball is easily lost.

Ron Gardenhire is playing Kubel in left, Colabello in right. Since Kubel is the better defensive outfielder of the two, that implies that Gardenhire sees left as the greater challenge, at least in Target Field.

But on Sunday, when he subbed in Chris Herrmann and Darin Mastroianni to tighten the outfield defense, he put Mastroianni (the better defensive outfielder) in right and Herrmann in left.

Contradictory? Not necessarily. Perhaps the thinking was that the sun wasn't a factor on an overcast day.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Radio, radio, Vol. 1

Here's a link to my debut appearance on KMSU earlier this afternoon. I'm scheduled for the second and fourth Mondays of each month this season.

Come for the baseball, stay for the babble.

Why pitchers can't field

Brian Dozier beats Wade Davis to the plate in the eighth
inning Sunday with the winning run.
The Twins plated the tying and winning runs Sunday when Kansas City reliever Wade Davis picked up a bases-loaded comebacker and threw it to the backstop, then stood around pouting rather than hustling to cover the plate while the catcher retrieved the ball. Two runs scored, and that was enough for the Twins to win.

There have always been lousy fielding pitchers, and always will be, but I have a pet theory that (a) many, perhaps most, major league pitchers today are essentially unable to handle anything beyond their basic task of throwing from the mound and (b) that the designated hitter rule has a significant role to play in that.

The DH prevails almost on almost every level of baseball, except the National League. With hitting chores essentially taken from them, pitchers are — you can chose your verbal slant — either liberated to focus on the act of pitching or constrained to focus on the act of pitching.

They aren't baseball players. And when they are asked to do other, basic, things relevant to baseball games — be it run the bases, or field a ground ball and throw to a base — those things are out of their skill set, or at least out of their comfort level.

That's my theory, and I know quite well there are pitchers who can make plays in the field and go first-to-third on a single to right. But I do think there has been a general decline in overall athletic ability among pitchers since the DH rule came into play, and I don't think it's coincidental.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pic of the Week

San Francisco's "Batkid," who captivated the city
last November with a day-long fantasy romp in which
he "foiled" various crimes, threw out the first pitch
April 8, the Giants home opener.

I suppose I should have seen this one coming, since the Giants' costumed mascot, "Lou Seal," was part of the original Miles Scott as Batkid adventure in November.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Living the minor league life, 2014 edition

One of the most clicked-on posts in this blog's history was this 2012 entry listing former Twins (and some former stars of note) working in farm systems around baseball.

Baseball America recently published another page of minor league managers and coaches, and I went over it with a highlighter marking former Twins.

There's been quite a bit of turnover in two years, as one might expect. At least two of those in the 2012 post moved all the way up to the majors — Mike Redmond is, of course, the manager of the Miami Marlins, and Matthew LeCroy is now the bullpen coach in Washington. Some have shifted organizations and levels. Others are out of baseball completely.

Here's the current list:

Former Twins managing Twins farm teams: Doug Mientkiewicz, High A (Fort Myers); Ray Smith, Rookie (Elizabethton).

Former Twins coaching for Twins farm teams: Chad Allen, Double A (New Britain); Jim Dwyer, High A (Fort Myers); Tommy Watkins, Low A (Cedar Rapids)

Former Twins managing in other systems: Phil Nevin (Triple A, Arizona); Matt Merullo (Short-season A, Baltimore); Brian Buchanan (Low A, Kansas City); Denny Hocking (High A, Angels); Wally Backman (Triple A, Mets); Tom Prince (High A, Pittsburgh)

Former Twins coaching positions in other systems: John Moses (High A, Atlanta); Brian Harper (Triple A, Cubs); Gary Ward (High A, White Sox); Andre David (Double A, Kansas City); Nelson Liriano (Rookie, Kansas City); Butch Wynegar (Triple A, Yankees); Mike Pagliarulo (Triple A, Pittsburgh); Orlando Merced (Short-season A, Pittsburgh); Jacque Jones (Triple A, San Diego)

Former Twins coaching pitchers in other systems: Paul Abbott (Low A, Boston); Steve Luebber (High A, Kansas City); Scott Aldred (Triple A, Yankees); Aaron Fultz (Short-season A, Philadelphia)

Former Twin listed but not actually working: Frank Viola was supposed to be the pitching coach for the Mets' Triple A affiliate in Las Vegas, working with former teammate Wally Backman, but he had open heart surgery earlier this month and won't be working this season.

Former Twins pitching coach working in the minors: Dick Such, who was Tom Kelly's pitching coach for TK's entire managerial career, is the pitching coach for the Red Sox's Gulf Coast League affiliate (Rookie level) in Fort Myers.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nine games to test patience

Mike Pelfrey and the Twins broke out their
ugly blue jerseys Thursday. They didn't help.
Nine games is a pittance of a baseball season, 5.5 percent of the schedule. In terms of the NFL schedule, the Twins are late in the fourth quarter of the first game.

The Twins have a 3-6 record entering today. They lost a couple games they could have won, won a couple of games they could have lost, got blown out in others ... they have a 3-6 record, and a 3-6 record is what they deserve.

And one can feel the fan interest slipping away. Thursday afternoon's game — a sunny, 60-degree day game — had an announced attendance of less than 21,000, the smallest crowd in Target Field history. Midweek day games on school days aren't attendance magnets, but certainly the Twins business side wants/expects better than that.

The fans want/expect better than they've seen. Nine game is a pittance, and even good teams will have 3-6 stretches, but this is more than three years of lousy play, and patience is thin.

The organization knows that. Terry Ryan and Co. committed $83 million over the winter to Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey, to fix the broken rotation, and that trio has (two starts apiece) combined for exactly 30 innings and 27 earned runs allowed, ERA 8.10. Kevin Correia, the fourth veteran in the rotation, hasn't been much better.

The Twins have established a pattern over the years of giving their suspect veteran starters about six weeks of rope. Guys like Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz got until mid-May before the chain was pulled and they lost their rotation spots.

Nolasco and Hughes will have longer leashes than that. The Twins made too large a set of investments in them to give up that quickly. Pelfrey and Correia aren't making the minimum, but in the current baseball economy, their $5.5 million salaries are relatively disposable. I don't imagine that either is going to get the ax this early in the season, but I can imagine that the discontent is serious enough that something might happen before that usual mid-May let's-make-a-change period.

People want something from this team. If the veterans are going to give incompetent pitching performances, let us have the incompetence of inexperience. Alex Meyer and Trevor May may not be truly ready, but the process of finding out might be more interesting to watch than more flat sinkers from Pelfrey.