Saturday, February 28, 2015

Molitor's cell phone restrictions

Paul Molitor has instituted a clubhouse ban on the use of smartphones and tablets starting a half-hour before gametime. While this may seem commonsensical to those of us of Molitor's age. it's drawing a rather different reaction from some younger observers:

Molitor's rule echoes something I saw in the immediate wake of the Kevin Garnett trade, before the prodigal forward reported to the Timberwolves. Supposedly one of the veterans was warning the younger players: If KG sees you on a smartphone in the locker room, he'll flush it down the toilet.

There are other workplaces that limit Internet access to what is necessary for the job. I would think that a player with a problem with being cut off from social media immediately before or during the game is also a player with an attention problem.

That said, there has been many a manager who set out at the start of his tenure to establish stricter rules who ran aground on player resistance to those rules. I don't expect Molitor to be one such, but it's hardly impossible. These players, after all, are from a generation much more Internet attuned.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Another try for Johan Santana

The Minnesota Twins have two Santanas -- Danny and Ervin -- on their roster and in training camp. They won't have a third, despite some speculation about five weeks ago,

Johan Santana signed a minor-league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays this week. For the Jays, it's a lottery ticket; for Santana, it's yet another attempt to resurrect his once-brilliant career.

I will always want Santana to succeed. I don't think it's particularly likely, and as I said last month, Minnesota in 2015 doesn't seem like a good fit for him. No team is a good fit if he can't keep his shoulder attached, of course, but the Twins already have too many veteran starters clogging the way for the prospects.


In another bit of ex-Twins news, Nick Punto decided last week he'll sit out the 2015 season. He had signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he opted against reporting to major league camp.

Supposedly Punto is leaving the door open to a return in 2016, but really: He's 37 now, and this was the first offseason since he left the Twins in which he wasn't getting offers from contenders. Taking a year off will neither make him younger nor sharpen his skill.

So I assume he's done. Which is a bit surprising. I always figured Punto would be one of those guys who would play until absolutely nobody wanted him. Instead, he pulled his plug before the D-backs could.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

TK, back and gone

Tom Kelly, some five months after a stroke, showed up at training camp this morning ready to go.

That's the good news. The bad news is that he's giving up the part-time Fox Sports North gig.

Maybe so. But at least he has a point, not vague, out-of-date cliches.

It's his life and his health, and I'm in no position to tell him what to do with either. But I'll miss his occasional turn as analyst next to "Richard."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two days of bullpens ...

J.R Graham is wearing No. 62 in camp.
... and no reported injuries. That's a plus. All 29 pitchers in camp have thrown now, and we'll see if any have issues coming back.

It's silly to try to glean any meaning beyond that from the first mound work of the spring. But people try to extract something anyway.

So we get stuff like Phil Hughes (who threw his bullpen on an adjacent mound) talking about how much more Ricky Nolasco's sinker was moving than he remembers it from last year. Maybe that's a good sign; maybe it's meaningless. The Twins certainly expected more from Nolasco last season than they got.

Mike Berardino, in one of those pieces bursting with spring training optimism, suggests that the Twins' revamped rotation could provide 1,000 innings. I'll be surprised if that happens. If it does, this team will be pretty good.

There was chatter about J.R. Graham. the Rule 5 draftee. He comes with a reputation as a high-velocity arm with injury problems. As a Rule 5 pick, he has to spend the year on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Atlanta Braves. The Twins see him as a bullpen option, but he's unfamiliar to the organization and the window to decide is small. His first bullpen probably got a bit more attention because of that, but when the time comes to say yea or nay to him, nobody in the room is going to cite what he did in his first bullpen session.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Neil Allen and the changeup

If we're looking for something specific that new pitching coach Neil Allen brings to the Twins, it might be this: a commitment to the changeup.

Mark Simon of ESPN back in November tweeted a ranking of MLB teams by percentage of changes thrown during the past three seasons (2012-14). Tampa Bay led the way by a wide margin -- 18.1 percent of  their pitches were changeups, and the next highest figure was 14.2 percent. The Twins were 17th, at 9.3 percent, a bit more than half the Rays' rate.

Allen, of course, wasn't the Tampa Bay pitching coach during that period, But he was their Triple A pitching coach and had a hand in the development of almost every every pitcher the Rays developed -- and the Rays developed almost every pitcher on their roster.

It seems odd to think of the Twins as a below-average change-up team. It wasn't that long ago that the Minnesota staff boasted some of the best changeup artists in the game -- Johan Santana and Brad Radke, for certain, and Francisco Liriano's change was often touted even through he seldom tried to actually get outs with it with the Twins.

But this stat fits with the current reality of the Twins. We tend to associate strikeouts with velocity -- the overwhelming fastball overpowering hitters. The reality, at least in the majors, is that the fast ball can get you to two strikes, but strike three most often comes on something else -- a breaking ball or the change. The Twins staffs with the outstanding changeups ranked high in strikeouts; the Twins staff without did not.

If in fact Allen is a stronger advocate of the changeup than Rick Anderson was, let us hope he's not going to force the issue on Phil Hughes. Part of Hughes' turnaround last year came from discarding his changeup almost completely. If Kyle Gibson and Hughes don't have effective changeups -- and I believe they don't -- it's not a good idea to make them throw it.

Anderson does leave behind a couple of starting candidates who rely heavily on their changeups. Tommy Milone ranked 13th in MLB in 2014 in percentage of changeups thrown (100 LP minimum), according to Simon. And the change is regarded as Trevor May's most effective offering.

Of course, right now it's difficult to imagine the Twins rotation with both Milone and May in it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Throwing and watching bullpens

Time to get back on the hill for Glen Perkins and the
rest of the Twins pitchers.
The first official workout of Twins camp is today. The full squad stuff is still a week away, but the pitchers get to start throwing now. (There are, certainly, plenty of hitters in camp as well, but they don't have to be and the formal workouts for them come later.)

In a very real sense, some of the most important developments of the spring will occur this week as pitchers find out what their arms are capable of -- especially the guys who are either coming off surgery or who put off surgery in hopes that rehab would suffice.

Pitchers are pitchers. They are all injury risks by definition. But here are four names to monitor in the early bullpens:

Glen Perkins, the All-Star closer who was shut down last September. The expectation is that rest and rehab will "fix" his shoulder problems. If he's hurting, the bullpen plans will require a major makeover.

Mike Pelfrey, who had elbow surgery in June and was throwing bullpens late in the season without any chance of getting back onto the roster. He figures to be on the outside looking in for a rotation berth, but the Twins have a much larger financial commitment to him than to the other candidates and Terry Ryan has repeatedly deflected questions about Pelfrey as a reliever.

Ricky Nolasco had a miserable season to debut his four-year contract, and he spent about a month on the DL in midsummer. He avoided surgery and actually pitched well in September (one true clunker of a start in five outings that month), The Twins have a sizable investment in the 32-year-old, and the only way he won't open the season in the rotation is if he is injured.

Tommy Milone, the lefty acquired in midseason from Oakland who had a benign tumor removed from his neck. Milone's record with the A's is much better than he showed in his handful of starts with Minnesota, and he is probably the favorite to come out of camp with the fifth starter's job.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Sunday Funnies

As pitchers and catchers report this weekend, let's close up this winter's Sunday Funnies with a spring training quip.

Dick Schofield Sr. had a lengthy (19 year) but undistinguished (.227 lifetime batting average) career as a utility infielder.

He appeared in games with seven teams, but this story concerns a team he didn't make, at the tail end of his career. He was in camp in 1972 with the then-California Angels, wearing number 58 -- a high number for a position player even today, and a rarity at the time.

Veteran pitcher Eddie Fisher the infielder's uniform number and inquired: "Is that your age, or the number of teams you've been with?"