Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A one-day pitching callup

Kris Johnson was acquired
from the Pirates for Duke
Welker, who was himself
acquired from the Pirates
in the Justin Morneau trade.
Another day, another rain out.

The bizarre decision by the schedule makers to send a southern California team for a one-shot series Minnesota in the month most likely to be disrupted by weather is apparently magnified by the fact that the Twins and Dodgers share just three mutual days off the rest of the way.

So there should be no doubt that the two teams really, really want to get these games in today and Thursday.

The Twins intend to call up Kris Johnson, left-handed pitcher, to start one of the Thursday games. Johnson would be the first lefty to start for the Twins this year.

Since I posted this piece almost a week ago about potential rotation replacements, two notable things have happened to the Triple A starters:

  • Trevor May lost the strike zone in him most recent start and
  • Alex Meyer appears to have found a VIP -- Very Important Pitch. Specifically, a change up.

Meyer apparently learned a different changeup grip from colleagues Yohan Pino and Deolis Guerra. He had been unable to master the circle change, a pitch beloved in the Twins organization; Pino and Guerra suggested that he try their three-fingered grip. The result: 22 strikeouts in his two most recent starts, a total of 12.1 innings, the last coming with assistant general manager Rob Antony in attendance.

Two starts are two starts, and normally nothing to get revved up about, but if Meyer really has a quality change now to go with his imposing fastball and slider, he's coming up soon. He's not on the 40-man roster yet (Johnson is, as are May and Logan Darnell), and the Twins will want to be sure he's got it before they lop somebody, but it will happen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Radio, radio Vol. 2

It's up a day later than I expected, but here's a link to my KMSU stint Monday on "Southern Minnesota Midday" with Jim Gullickson.


Notes, quotes and comments

Tough times for those of us needing our Twins fix: Rained out on Sunday, scheduled day off Monday, and a weather forecast that suggests it will be difficult to get the Dodgers series played.

(They probably will play the games anyway, because it's darn difficult to reschedule these interleague series — and why do the schedulemakers give the Twins home interleague series in April against teams like Miami and Los Angeles anyway?)

Let's poke around for stuff for today's post:

* The Twins' TV broadcast crew came in seventh in the Awful Announcing website's fan poll. That's considerably higher than I would have expected, and indeed, the writer found it odd:

This rating is a little puzzling, because many of the negative comments were directed towards the regular crew of (Dick) Bremer and (Bert) Blyleven, and most of the praise was devoted toward part-time analyst Tom Kelly.

I'm always disappointed when I'm working during a game for which TK's in the booth.  I don't know that a dozen games or so of Kelly's work balances out the dreck from Blyleven.

I find myself muting the TV more often than I used to — such as when Blyleven launches into his daily pitch count rant — and the overall lack of comprehension among the broadcasters (radio and TV) of where analytics are taking the game does the audience a disservice. Blyleven (and Dan Gladden on the radio side) really need to modernize their thinking, or at least understand what they're railing against.

* Peter Gammons wrote this piece on Chris Colabello. I recommend it not only because it's about a Twins player, but because it is so Gammons-esque: Overwritten and sentimental, with a lengthy extraneous Dylan quote stuck in the middle. Gammons has been a great baseball writer for decades, but he needs an editor.

* This chart has Trevor Plouffe seventh in the majors at hard-hit ball rate so far this year, a very good sign for the Twins third baseman.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A change at shortstop?

Eduardo Escobar:
Is he about to claim
the shortstop job?
The Twins lineup for Sunday's game was posted before the postponement was announced, and I noticed that Eduardo Escobar was at shortstop for the second straight game.

Escobar for one game — especially a day game after a night game, as Saturday's start was — would be nothing out of the ordinary. Two games in a row suggests something else in play.

Ron Gardenhire has made his discontent with Pedro Florimon's anemic offense known the past few weeks, but most of the speculation about who would take over the position seems to have centered on Eduardo Nunez, picked up on waivers from the Yankees.

The problem with that notion: Nunez hasn't played a lot of shortstop at Triple A Rochester since the Twins picked him up. Danny Santana is there, and the Twins imagine a future with him securing the shortstop position for several years at least. I'm not as optimistic, but the point is: Developing Santana is a priority.

Plus, Nunez has pretty well established in New York that he's not a quality defensive shortstop, and the Minnesota pitching staff needs all the help it can get from its infield, especially considering the limited range of the outfielders.

Escobar is a more logical alternative if the Twins are about to pull the plug on Florimon as the regular. For one thing, while nobody should expect Escobar to be an offensive force, he has done some hitting in the minors — including a .307/.380/.500 slash line last year in Rochester (just 188 plate appearances).

Unlike Nunez, he is regarded as a capable defensive shortstop (he won the Gold Glove in the Venezulean Winter League during the offseason). I don't know how he compares to Florimon, but presumably the Twins think more highly of Florimon's defense. But no shortstop fields well enough to get away with hitting .115 for April.

I can foresee the Twins bringing Nunez up to take Escobar's utility role, with Escobar taking the regular shortstop job from Florimon. I can't see Nunez getting the shortstop job straight up.


Today is the fourth Monday of the month, so it's time for my scheduled stint on KMSU's Southern Minnesota Midday show with Jim "Gully" Gullickson, talking baseball and the Twins at 1 p.m. For those of you within range, KMSU is 89.7 FM (91.3 out of Austin); for those out of range, we'll put a link to a recording on the Free Press website later in the afternoon.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pic of the Week

The crowd waits to enter Wrigley Field in Chicago Wednesday.

The Cubs celebrated the centennial of their home field last week.

Wrigley has a different name, a different look, even a different team from when it opened in 1914 to house the Chicago Chi-Feds, a team in the Federal League.

The Federal League lasted just two seasons, 1914 and 1915, but its brief life reverberated in baseball history for years. Two obvious legacies remain: major league baseball's federal anti-trust exemption, established in a Supreme Court ruling in a case rooted in the failure of the Federal League; and Wrigley Field, which was then called Weeghman Park, for the owner of the upstart team.

The park's iconic scoreboard, its even-more iconic ivy, the bleachers — all those came decades later.

And, of course, the park is still waiting for its first World Series championship.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Campaign reform

Chris Colabello, write-in
Voting (or ballot-box stuffing) for the All-Star Game formally opened Friday, and with the game being held in Target Field this year, the Twins were heavily involved in the promotion of this non-event.

One of the more newsier items tweeted out of the Target Field press conference was the unsurprising news that neither Josmil Pinto nor Chris Colabello are on the ballot. This is unsurprising because the ballot's nominees are decided before the season began, and neither was expected to get this much playing time. It took injuries to Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham to get Pinto and Colabello into the lineup.

Right now, Colabello leads the American League in RBIs (27) while bopping .318/.355/.523, and Pinto's .224 batting average is spiked with 16 walks for a .400 on-base percentage. But a month ago, it wasn't clear either would be on the major league roster, much less playing regularly.

I imagine that a write-in push for Colabello is coming. I'm not sure if it will be as an outfielder or as a DH. I do know the Twins aren't going to have their broadcasters urge us to write him in as a first baseman.

And a lot depends, too, on how Ron Gardenhire handles the lineup as Arcia and Willingham return. (Arcia is to begin a rehab assignment this weekend; Willingham is further away from playing.) There's no obvious candidate in the left field-right field-first base-designated hitter-catcher nexus to sit, but Arcia is a more important piece of the future than most of the current regulars.

Such problems have a way of working themselves out, and I don't imagine Gardenhire's losing any sleep over it yet.

Friday, April 25, 2014

DFA'd outfielder musical chairs

It started when the Oakland Athletics designated Sam Fuld for assignment. The Twins put in a waiver claim and landed the 32-year-old outfielder.

To make room on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, the Twins designated Darin Mastroianni for assignment. Toronto — the organization from which the Twins landed Mastroianni to begin with — claimed him on waivers. To make room on their 40-man roster, the Blue Jays waived Kenny Wilson.

And the Twins claimed him on Thursday. Wilson, 24, takes the 40-man roster spot opened by the official retirement of Jason Bartlett; that paperwork hadn't gone through in time for the spot to be used to add Fuld.

Wilson's been assigned to Double A New Britain, where he'll play center field until Byron Buxton gets there. The RockCats have apparently been limping along with Mike Kvasnicka and Corey Wimberly in center. Kvasnicka is a part-time catcher and Wimberly is a 30-year-old who has played mostly second base in a decade of minor league ball, so odds are neither belonged in center defensively.

Wilson does. The problem is, he hasn't hit on any level. He was at .210/.239/.306 in 15 games for the New Hampshire FisherCats when the Jays waived him.

This year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook voices some optimism about Wilson. It has him as the Jays' 22nd prospect:

Wilson has developed at a slow pace but began to turn his tools into baseball skills in his fifth pro season ... an electric athlete who is a plus center-field defender ... Wilson, who switch hit earlier in his career, is now hitting only righthanded, his natural side, and his bat has improved enough that he could be a fringe-average hitter with continued development ...

BA gave him a grade of 45 High, which would put him in a clump of Twins prospects from 21 through 30 or deeper. I don't know that he'd rate that high in the Twins system; frankly, the fact that Toronto waived him this early in the season suggests that they weren't sold on the 2013 "improvement" as a hitter.

If Wilson has a major league future with the Twins, it will be as a reserve outfielder. (Like Sam Fuld, who started this whole sequence.) I wouldn't bet on that happening either, but for a couple weeks he'll shore up center for the RockCats — who are, like everybody else in Twins Territory, waiting for Buxton.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

If not Pelfrey, who?

Logan Darnell has been
sharp so far at Triple A
Mike Pelfrey had another low-grade start Wednesday evening: Five innings, four runs allowed (three earned) with three walks and one strikeout. Even with a two-year contract, one senses that his chances are dwindling.

Imagine that the Twins decide to, as they say, go in a different direction. What are the options?

Perhaps the most obvious is to flip-flip him with Sam Deduno. Deduno has racked up an ERA of 1.80 in 14.2 innings out of the bullpen, and he was the most effective starter in the rotation for most of last season.

But ... I suspect the Twins have concluded that Deduno isn't a good fit for a starting rotation. He had shoulder surgery last year, he had Tommy John surgery before coming to the Twins, and he has had difficulty going deep into games. They're not looking for "five-and-fly."

If not Deduno, then reaching into the minors yields...

Trevor May came to
the Twins in the
Ben Revere deal.
Well, the word at the end of training camp had Scott Diamond and Kris Johnson, a pair of lefties, as the most likely early callups should rotation reinforcements be required.

Neither has overwhelmed in the early going in Rochester, however. Johnson — indirectly part of the return on last August's Justin Morneau trade — hasn't been bad: 1-2 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts, but with 14 strikeouts and no homers allowed in 16 innings. Diamond, a personal favorite, has been brutal: 1-2, 10.20 and with nine walks in 15 innings. He walked a lot of hitters in exhibition play too; this is a seriously bad sign.

Top pitching prospect Alex Meyer has been inconsistent, and while I think he's likely to get the call at some point, it's unlikely to come in May.

The two guys whose Rochester stats raise my eyebrows are Trevor May and Logan Darnell.

Darnell, a lefty who is on the 40-man roster, has a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings. More striking: 15 strikeouts as well.  May, a hard-thrower whose record indicates issues with control, has a worse ERA (2.93) than Darnell, but a sterling walk-to-strikeout ratio, three walks and 16 Ks in 15.1 innings.

If May — who issued the third most walks in the Double A Eastern League last year — has found the strike zone, he'll be in Minnesota real soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The 'respect' police

Carlos Gomez tries to get around umpire Fieldin Culbreth
and Pittsburgh third baseman Josh Harrison to get at
Pittsburgh pitcher Gerrit Cole.
On Tuesday, MLB issued a series of suspensions for Sunday's Brewers-Pirates brawl

Carlos Gomez got three games, which wasn't the stiffest penalty, and while he had said Monday he would appeal any suspension, I don't quarrel with it. Gomez did escalate matters by stepping off third base to respond to Pittsburgh pitcher Gerrit Cole, and he did swing his helmet at least once during the fracas.

But I will say this: Cole, who got off scot free, should be suspended too. He instigated the brawl just as much as Gomez did.

In case you don't know what happened: Gomez hit a deep fly to center off Cole, flipped his bat, admired the blast, started trotting to first — and only got going when the ball didn't leave the park. Then Gomez started running, and still got a triple out of it.

Cole took umbrage at Gomez' lack of hustle and said something to the former Twin, who said something back and started toward Cole, and then all heck broke out.

Here's my point: How did Gomez' lollygagging hurt the Pirates? It didn't. If anything, he helped the Pirates. Maybe, had he gone all out early, it would have been an inside-the-park home run.

If Cole's embarrassed that Gomez tripled off him without really trying, he ought to be mad at either himself for making a pitch Gomez can hit that well or his outfielders for not limiting the damage.

Too many incidents -- fights, brushback wars, whatever -- begin with one team deciding, for whatever reason, that it is their responsibility to police the other team's "respect for the game." It's none of their business. 

If Brewers manager Ron Roenicke or one of Gomez' teammates calls him out for the mistake, well and good. But its up to the Brewers to police their own dugout. The Pirates (and everybody else) should just let Go-Go go; if he doesn't run a ball out, it's bad for the Brewers and good for the opponent.

Cole shouldn't have baited Gomez. Gomez shouldn't have taken the bait. They were both wrong.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ex-Twins Watch: Justin Morneau

Justin Morneau hits a double on Monday in Coors Field.
Justin Morneau's post-Twins career didn't start so well last year, when he struggled to produce any power for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last month of the season. This year, it's another story.

Entering Monday's games, the Colorado Rockies first baseman had put up a slash line of .344/.371/.609 — and he popped a double in his first at-bat Monday night, his sixth two-bagger of the young season.

It's early, of course. And Coors Field, even with the humidor, remains a boost to hitting numbers.

But Morneau's been productive so far in the Rockies' road games, with a slash line of .324/.314/. 559 outside of Coors. (His home numbers entering Monday: .367/.429.667.) It's interesting, but not necessarily significant, that he has yet to draw a walk on the road, which leads to the rarity of an on-base percentage that is lower than the batting average.

I'm happy to see things going well for Morneau. Once it became obvious that Joe Mauer's catching days were over, there was no reasonable path to Morneau's return to Minnesota, but that's no knock on him or the Twins.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Adding Sam Fuld

Sam Fuld: Former Cub, former Ray,
former A and now current Twin.
The Twins on Sunday picked up outfielder Sam Fuld on waivers and designated outfielder Darin Mastroianni for assignment.

This is swapping out marginal outfielders. Mastroianni had gone 0-for-11 (with one walk and five strikeouts) since his recall and has a major league career average of .220 in 241 at-bats; Fuld was hitting an even .200 when Oakland designated him for assignment and has a major league career average of .233.

The move raised immediate speculation about the implications for Aaron Hicks, the Twins regular center fielder. Hicks, a switch hitter, is much better from the right side. Fuld, a lefty, makes a natural platoon partner should the Twins be so inclined. (Mastroianni, a righty, didn't fit that role.)

But as I've noted repeatedly, Ron Gardenhire is not a platoon-oriented manager. And even beyond managerial aversion to platooning, I doubt that Hicks' development will be enhanced if he's dropped into a platoon role at age 24.

The next good Twins team will have Byron Buxton in center, not Hicks. If Hicks is a regular on that team, it will be as a corner outfielder, and he'll need to hit a lot more than he has to hold that kind of role. Sitting him against righties isn't going to help that cause.

For what it's worth -- and it's not much -- Fuld in his major league career has actually hit better against lefties than against righties.

Meanwhile, we are treated to more evidence that Gardenhire's managerial skills don't necessarily include talent evaluation. Fuld, he said after Sunday's game, is "a leadoff type." No, he isn't. He can steal a base, yes, but he has a well-below average career on-base percentage (.312). He's a bottom-of-the-order type. He may wind up hitting leadoff for lack of a real leadoff hitter, but he is NOT a leadoff type. Neither is Brian Dozier, for that matter.

Another interesting aspect (at least to me) in this move is the sequence that began late in spring training, when the Twins lost Alex Presley on waivers in order to keep Jason Bartlett. Now Bartlett is unofficially retired (he remained on the 40-man roster as of Sunday) and the Twins have scooped up another left-handed reserve outfielder, which is what Presley is.

I'm confident that Presley is a better hitter than Fuld, but Fuld is a superior defensive player and baserunner. Which is the better player? I'd say it depends on what the team needs from the bench. Considering the defensive deficiencies of the Minnesota outfield (particularly in the corners), Fuld may indeed be a more useful piece for this team.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pic of the Week

Milwaukee infielder Scooter Gennett appears to
levitate as he turns a double play against Pittsburgh.
Josh Harrison is the Pirate forced out at second base.

I picked this photo for two reasons: One, the way Scooter Gennett seems to float in the air, independent of gravity.

Second, the name "Scooter Gennett." This may be the most utility infielder name in the history of utility infielders. Were you to be introduced to a fellow named "Scooter Gennett," you would immediately assume he plays middle infield. And doesn't hit.

In reality, Gennett hit .324 in more than 230 plate appearances with the Brewers last year and is above .300 again this season. He appears to be what the Brewers expected Rickie Weeks to become but never did: A second baseman who deserves a key spot in the lineup. Utility man? No, Gennett is a regular, and a good one.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bartlett pulls the plug

Jason Bartlett's 2014 line:
three official at-bats, three
strikeouts, three runs scored.

Jason Bartlett abandoned his comeback attempt this week.

It doesn't often happen that a player has a more realistic view of his abilities than management does, but he apparently could tell what Ron Gardenhire couldn't: He's just not good enough to play major league ball at age 34.

I have been critical, perhaps bitterly so, of the Twins decision to keep Bartlett on the roster. Now that Bartlett had decided to hang 'em up, allow me to note that my displeasure was not aimed at Bartlett himself. I will never criticize a player for trying to squeeze one more year (or two, or three) out of his body. I have a certain admiration for the guys like Jacque Jones, who spent the 2010 season in Triple A trying to get back to the majors.

No, my displeasure was over the Twins' flawed evaluation of Bartlett's current skills. That he emerged from spring training with a major league job was a triumph of wishful thinking and managerial favoritism.

Bartlett this week saved Gardenhire from himself.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Walks and runs

Beleaguered Blue Jays catcher Dioner
Navarro to J.A. Happ, the third
reliever of the eighth inning: Do you
suppose you could, you know, throw
some strikes?
Even for a team whose offense seems based on the base on balls, the Twins' eighth-inning rally in Thursday's nightcap was excessive: Eight walks in the inning, plus three wild pitches and two stolen bases. Five runs on one hit.

The Twins as of this morning (15 games) have scored 86 runs, second most in the American League and just one behind the first place White Sox (another unlikely offensive juggernaut, who have the advantage of having played an extra game).  The Twins have drawn 82 walks, which is by far the most in baseball (Oakland is second with 68, 14 fewer than the Twins — the Twins are drawing almost a walk a game more than anybody else in baseball.)

The Twins' team batting average (.245) is just a bit above average (the AL is hitting .243); their team slugging percentage (.380) is just a bit below average (.382). But the on-base percentage is .353, and that leads the AL by 15 percentage points.

All those walks are adding up this month.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Revisiting the Montreal Expos

It's a long subtitle, to be sure.
Jonah Keri borrowed the home run call of a long time Montreal Expos announcer for his history/reminisce of the Expos, "Up, Up, and Away."

It's also the title of chirpy pop song from the 1960s, and that fits Keri's recounting of the on-field action of the team he grew up rooting for. But the final section could have taken the name of a much darker rocker from the same era, "Sympathy for the Devil"; it is probably the kindest examination of Jeffery Loria as a baseball owner I can imagine.

I've always had a soft spot for the Expos, probably in part because they came into being the same year that I discovered baseball (1969). Of course, three other teams were created at the same time, and I never regarded the Padres, Royals or Pilots/Brewers in quite the same way. I suspect the blatant garishness of the Expos' original tri-color caps appealed to the pre-adolescent me, or maybe it was the idea of a baseball team that wasn't based in the United States -- or maybe it was the rash of Expos in my first batches of baseball cards in 1970: Mack Jones. Ty Cline. Coco Laboy. (What a wonderful name: Coco Laboy.)

Keri loved his Expos, win or lose, mostly lose. The Expos, partly through bad luck, partly through some questionable decisions, never won even a full division title, even though they at least twice in their history accumulated an impressive amount of talent. The team of the early 1980s of Gary Carter, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson had marvelous front-line talent but failed to patch its holes. Indeed, management often failed to recognize that they had holes. And the brilliance of the 1994 team was lost to the players strike, which was provoked by a faction of team owners that included that of the Expos.

There are two running themes to Keri's book: the games on the field, and the struggle of the business. Keri is vivid and enjoyable with the athletes (if sometimes unapologetically high-brow in citing modern analytical stats unimagined by the players of the time). And -- this is rare in sports writing -- he is largely believable and realistic in his examination of the finances.

Keri has a journalistic background in business reporting, and his description of the franchise's chronic lack of capital (particularly after the original owner, Seagram's heir Charles Bronfman, decided he'd had enough of baseball) puts the onus for the franchise's ultimate failure not on the men who followed Bronfman as the lead owner of the team but on the minority partners, who as a group essentially regarded their stakes in the Expos as a one-time charitable contribution.

It was, as Keri describes it, their tight-fistedness that forced the dismantling of the 1994 powerhouse and enabled Loria to gain control of the franchise a half-decade later. In truth, the Expos were born largely on the whim of the city's over-ambitious mayor of the 1960s; a major league team in that city never really had the backing of the economic powers or, as the city and province's politics became dominated by a separatist part, the political powers either.

Keri would like to see MLB return to Montreal, but he realistically doubts the practicality of its rebirth there. His ultimate conclusion: Montreal failed baseball, and baseball failed Montreal.

His book does not fail the memory of his Expos.

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The misunderstood Oakland A's

It's long been amusing to listen to the Twins broadcasters talk about the Oakland Athletics. Dan Gladden has been known to foam at the mouth at the thought of Billy Beane and "Moneyball" -- it's pretty clear from listening to him on the subject that he hasn't read the book, not that a lack of knowledge has ever stopped Gladden.

(Near the end of the movie, after the A's have been defeated in the 2002 playoffs by the Minnesota Twins, there is a vocal montage of criticism of Beane. I'm pretty sure that one of the voices is Gladden.)

Gladden has stopped ripping Beane the last couple of years, no doubt because the A's are a 90-plus win team once again and even Gladden recognizes that he'd look silly continuing to insist that Beane doesn't know what he's doing.

On Wednesday I was watching the game before heading to work and Dick Bremer started babbling about how the A's win with "starting pitching." Then he started claiming that they had no MVP-type player, caught himself by noting that Josh Donaldson came in fourth in the MVP vote last year (.301/.389/.499) and trailed off.

No, the A's are not really built around their rotation. Their three top starters last year are either injured (Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin) or pitching elsewhere (Bartolo Colon). They've remade the rotation and moved on.

Their real strength is the depth of their position players. The A's were third in the American League in runs scored last season, this despite playing their home games in a park noted for suppressing batting average. And indeed, their team batting average (.254) was below league average (.256). But they were third in home runs, third in walks, second in doubles and resolutely refused to give away outs (21 sac bunts, second lowest in the league).

No, there aren't a lot of big name stars in their lineup. Donaldson was a second-year regular, and he hit only .241 in 2012. Brandon Moss, who clubbed 30 homers, had bounced around (Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia) without making an impact before landing in Oakland.

It's a lineup of platoons and castoffs, and Bob Melvin (and no doubt Beane in the background) mixes and matches to get more out of his no-names than most of us knew they had.

I enjoy this kind of thing; I discovered baseball in an era when such managers as Earl Weaver, Gil Hodges and Gene Mauch platooned as readily as they breathed. The A's built their roster (this is Moneyball at its essence again, looking for what everybody else undervalues) with the intent of platooning in an era when almost nobody platoons.

The A's are a strong team once again, strong in ways that most fans (and at least some broadcasters) don't recognize. They had the highest defensive efficiency in the AL last year (percentage of balls in play they turned into outs); they allowed the third fewest runs in the league; the scored the third most runs.

There's a lot there. And it does everyone a disservice to fall back on the "starting pitching wins" cliche in describing a team of such broad ability.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shameless self promotion

I'm fond of claiming that my journalism career had to go to print because I have a face made for radio and a voice made for newspapers.

We're about to test that latter piece of self-deprecation.

On Monday I begin a twice-a-month segment on KMSU's Southern Minnesota Midday show with Jim Gullickson, talking baseball and the Twins at 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. And the plan is to put the result on the Free Press website, giving those of you out of the reach of 89.7 FM (91.3 out of Austin) a chance to hear my discomfiture. (As critical as I can be of the Twins broadcasters, I am quite certain that I would embarrass myself on a regular basis were I to attempt play-by-play.)

On Tuesday I taped a promo for these segments. We got it in one take, largely because Gully handled most of the talking. I don't think that's going to be the case when we go live Monday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Home opener: Short-handed, long review, bad trade

I went to the Twins home opener Monday. The weather was good, and the Kramarczuk's bratwurst was even better than I remembered.

But Kevin Correia pitched like Kevin Correia, and Sam Deduno committed another balk (that's two for him already), and the Twins were outmatched by the Oakland A's.

That's not surprising -- the A's have legitimate World Series aspirations this season, and the Twins do not. But there were a number of aspects beyond the score that soured my outlook on this team.


As it turns out, the Twins didn't put either Oswaldo Arcia or Josh Willingham on the disabled list when they brought up Chris Herrmann. They put Jason Bartlett on the DL instead.

And in the ninth inning, down five runs, Pedro Florimon was allowed to hit for himself to lead off the inning. That's the way to wave the white flag. (He struck out.) Since the A's were using a righty at the moment, why not at least send Herrmann up?

Ron Gardenhire can say the Twins aren't going to play shorthanded this year. What they do, or at least what they're doing, is completely different. Watch -- they'll wait a week or more before DLing at least one of the ailing outfielders.


The official review time on the non-home run by Jed Lowrie was 4:11. I had it exceeding five minutes.

This was the second marathon replay review involving the Twins this week, and I doubt they've been the only overly-long ones.

I not-so-humbly suggest that if the replay crew in New York can't make up its mind in 90 seconds or less, it's inconclusive and let's get on with the game.

Eduardo Nunez plays third base during a spring
training game for the Yankees.

The Twins traded Class A lefty Miguel Sulbaran to the Yankees for infielder Eduardo Nunez, who had been designated for assignment last week. Nunez, 26, goes on the 40-man roster and will play at Rochester.

Nunez is a mediocre shortstop (that might be a generous evaluation) and not much of a hitter, and personally I wouldn't trade a lefty who had a 2.96 ERA in more than 100 innings in the Midwest League at age 19 for him. I'm not even sure I'd trade Bartlett for him, and I regard Bartlett's presence on the major league roster as an unamusing joke.

Here's something to chew on: The Yankees cut Nunez loose because he got beat out by Yangervis Solarte for their utility infielder job. Solarte spent six years in the Twins system and was jettisoned after hitting .329/.367/.466 in Double A, presumably because the Twins couldn't stand watching him try to field ground balls.

So the Twins dump Solarte, and the Yankees pick him up to dump Nunez, and the Twins pick up Nunez. Somebody's wrong on this series of moves.

That the Twins made this deal either tells us how dissatisfied they are with their current infield depth and/or starters or how unhappy they were that Sulbaran reported to camp in poor condition. Or both.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Adventures with a misshapen roster

Jason Bartlett: Not
an outfielder.
Strictly speaking, the Minnesota Twins didn't need a legitimate bench outfielder Sunday.

It only looked that way.

The Twins were without Oswaldo Arcia from the get-go. Arcia missed Saturday's game with his sore wrist, which was checked by a doctor in Cleveland and pronounced nothing serious. He sat out Sunday and supposedly is to test it with some swings today but not play then either. (I groaned when I read Ron Gardenhire's statement that if Arcia can't play by Wednesday he'll go on the disabled list because "we're not going to play shorthanded this year." Listen, Gardy: You already are.)

Then Josh Willingham took a Justin Masterson pitch off his wrist and came out of the game an inning later.

Cue the Jason Bartlett experiment. Cue the Jason Bartlett embarrassment: Two badly overmatched at-bats with men on base (both strikeouts) and a third plate appearance for which Cleveland walked Joe Mauer in order to get to Bartlett only to plunk him. And a horrid inning in which he kept diving for balls he couldn't catch and risking further damage.

To be fair, I don't know that he's a worse defensive outfielder than Willingham, who is essentially immobile. Bartlett can run. But he's a career shortstop almost completely lacking in outfield experience, and he clearly doesn't know where his capabilities end and the risk begins. Willingham wouldn't have gotten close to either of the balls Bartlett dove for, but he also wouldn't have left his feet.

Bartlett didn't finish the game; Eduardo Escobar pinch-hit for him (and struck out) and stood in left field for a couple of innings without incident.

The word Sunday evening was that Chris Herrmann, catcher-outfielder, was on his way to the Twin Cities for the home opener. Presumably he'll be activated today for one of the Arcia-Willingham duo. Which would still leave the bench shorthanded, but not as shorthanded as it would have been. And there'll be a reserve who has played a full professional game in the outfield.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pic of the Week

Avisail Garcia demonstates how difficult it is to play
outfield with one's eyes shut.

This play, in a roundabout way, helps demonstrate the silliness of using runs-batted-in as a projective stat.

This outfield blunder by Garcia, the White Sox right fielder, came in the third inning of Thursday's Twins game and turned a well-hit but eminently catchable ball hit by Chris Colabello into a three-run "double."

Colabello ended the game with six RBIs, but these three were a gift from the White Sox. Yet the next day, Ron Gardenhire justified keeping Colabello in the lineup on the basis of those six ribbies.

Colabello may, in fact, be one of the Twins' better options in the middle of the lineup. I don't have a lot of faith right now in Josh Willingham or Jason Kuebel. But the RBI stat is more an indication of who does hit in the middle of the lineup than an indication of who should.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Four games, one start for Kubel

Chris Colabello watches his home run fly Friday.
When Ron Gardenhire sat veteran Jason Kubel for the opener against Chris Sale, the Twins manager took pain to say he's not platooning the left handed hitter with Chris Colabello.

Kubel, Gardenhire insisted, "hangs in there" well against lefties. Kubel sat Monday's game out , Gardy said, because Sale is just an exceptionally tough lefty.

Well, yes, Sale is exceptional. But Kubel has 949 career plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, not all of them exceptional, in his major league career, and he has a slash line of .234/.304/.374 in those trips to the plate. That's not good enough to justify using him as a DH or (considering his defensive limitations) corner outfielder against southpaws.

Colabello started against Sale. Kubel started the second game, against a right-handed starter.

The White Sox used a lefty again on Thursday -- and Colabello played, and Kubel sat. Colabello had a big game (6 RBIs), and on Friday -- against a righty -- he started again (and hit a home run).

I do not expect Colabello to become the full-time DH, at least not this quickly. And given Gardenhire's well-established distaste for platoons, I still expect that Kubel will get far too many chances to flail and fail against the southpaws.

But even if Gardenhire does limit Kubel's exposure to left-handed pitching, we should not expect the manager to acknowledge that he's platooning. That would be OK; I'd rather have the manager platoon and pretend he isn't, than pretend he doesn't need to platoon at all.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What's on second

Jorge Polanco hit .308
last year in Low A ball.
The Twins have accumulated an intriguing collection of second basemen in their organization. Or, more accurately, a collection of possible second basemen.

Start at the big league level, where Brian Dozier has the job. If his 2013 production is sustained, he's capable of being the regular second baseman for a good team -- hitting at the bottom of the order. The Twins don't now have a deep enough lineup to avoid having him in the top half. But he's a good defensive second baseman, and he has shown some pop, just not a very good batting average or on-base percentage.

Then there's Eddie Rosario, currently serving a 50-game suspension for a repeat recreational drug violation. Rosario projects to be something of the opposite to Dozier: At best an average defender at the keystone, but a line-drive machine capable of filling a top-of-the-order role.

Rosario finished 2013 at Double A, but where he'll pick up after serving his suspension is uncertain. (He was excused from spring training for unspecified "personal reasons," and as far as I know has yet to report to the Twins complex in Fort Myers.) Had he not been suspended, I thought it likely that he'd have moved up to Triple A; as it is, he might have to re-serve some High A time.

High A is where Jorge Polanco is. Polanco is a 20-year-old Dominican who was signed in the same summer as Miguel Sano and Max Kepler, who got more attention. While Polanco's at a lower level of play, he might offer a combination of Dozier's defense and Rosario's batting average.

Also at Fort Myers with Polanco: his DP partner at Cedar Rapids last year, Niko Goodrum, a second-round pick in 2010; and Levi Michael, the Twins' first round pick in 2011 as a shortstop.

This is Michael's third season at High A, and he's been largely relegated to second base. The Twins probably hoped when they drafted him that by now he'd be ready to challenge for the shortstop job, if not have already pushed Pedro Florimon aside. It hasn't happened, and probably won't. Goodrum, a tall, lean bundle of fast-twitch fibers, might not be destined to be a shortstop either; there's been chatter practically since he was drafted about a possible position switch for him.

Still, the Twins have sizable financial investments in all three middle infielders. And all three are on the same team.

Every time I saw Polanco working on defense during my time wandering the minor league fields last month, it was as a shortstop. And when the Miracle opened their season Thursday night, Polanco was at short, Michael at second and Goodrum at third base.

I suspect that Polanco's arm, like Dozier's, is a bit light for shortstop. If there's a major-league shortstop in that bunch, my money's on Goodrum. But it makes sense for the Twins to take a serious look at Polanco at short. Second base is getting a bit crowded, and his bat would certainly play at shortstop.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Deduno in the bullpen

It was an ugly way for the Twins to lose Wednesday: the stoppers at the back end of the bullpen combined to surrender a three-run lead, and the long reliever threw two wild pitches and committed a balk in the bottom of the 11th.

Ron Gardenhire grumped some after the game about the lengthy review in the top of the seventh, but I'm not buying the notion that had the game flowed at its usual pace that Kevin Correia was going to pitch into the eighth. Gardy would probably have gone to Jared Burton in the eighth, and certainly would have brought Glen Perkins in for the save in the ninth. It's what Gardy does. It didn't work Wednesday.

(MLB blamed the delay on two simultaneous challenges, but I sat through a couple of way-too-long replay review delays at Fort Myers last month. When the second one began, the fans started booing. I expect longer delays when an out call is overturned and the umps have to figure out where to put the baserunners.)

And then there was slingin' Sam Deduno unloading a couple of wild pitches in the bottom of the 11th. Deduno is wild. He's difficult to catch. That's who he is and what he does. Letting him pitch with the winning run on third base is a baseball version of Russian roulette; sooner or later the gun's going to fire.

In retrospect, I don't think the Twins were ever particularly serious about Deduno as a contender for the rotation this spring. As far as the public knew, Deduno was competing with Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Kyle Gibson for the fifth starter job. Gibson won, as he should have -- he has the highest ceiling of the four -- but while Deduno pitched quite well during exhibition play, he never actually started, and frequently got his innings after the established hitters in the opposing lineup had been removed. The others all got multiple starts.

I now think the Twins -- quite aware that Deduno had had shoulder surgery at the end of the 2013 season and Tommy John surgery years before he came to the organization, and also mindful of the difficulty he has had going even six innings -- wanted him in the bullpen more than as a starter. Perhaps Deduno would have gotten the job had Gibson struggled as much as Diamond and Worley did, but it was only going to happen as a last resort.

The problem is that a reliever with his lack of command is likely to have trouble pitching out of other people's jams. I kept hearing the announcers this spring talking about Deduno being the guy brought in to get a strikeout, but the truth is (a) he doesn't have a good strikeout rate despite his movement and (b) he's a real risk for a wild pitch.

He wasn't asked to clean up somebody else's mess Wednesday. He created his own, and didn't get out of it cleanly. That's something a starter can get away with. A reliever, not so much.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ryan Braun's standing ovation

The fans in Milwaukee cheer Ryan Braun in his first
game back after a steroids suspension.
We all know the Ryan Braun saga: Winner of the National League MVP award, flunked a drug test, convinced the arbitrator to toss his suspension on the basis that his sample was mishandled, snagged anyway in the Biogenesis investigation, suspended for the final 65 games of the 2013 season.

Ryan Braun returned to action Monday in Milwaukee to a standing ovation.

My Twitter feed erupted with outrage from the press box types. How dare the fans of Milwaukee greet him like a conquering hero when he's a liar and a cheat?

Me, I expected it:

It's not just the fans, either. The players are at best passive aggressive in their opposition to performance enhancing drugs.

It's an interesting clubhouse dance they wind up performing. The union and MLB just completed a reworking of the drug policy that steps up the suspension for first and second violations -- 80 games for a first violation, 162 (full season) for a second -- but allows a softening of punishment for an inadvertent violation.

And it includes what we might call the Peralta rule: Violators are ineligible for postseason play.

That provision follows the return last fall of Detroit's Jhonny Peralta from his 50 game suspension in time for the playoffs; he hit a crucial home run that helped advance the Tigers past Oakland to the ALCS.

The players, as a whole, were unhappy with the fact that Peralta was permitted to play. But I doubt any of his Detroit teammates wanted to give that game back, or didn't want him on their side last October. Peralta has since signed with the Cardinals as a free agent. I'm sure the St. Louis players also supported the Peralta ban now in effect, but I'll wager they have not given him as frosty a reception as, say, the replacement players who partook in spring training during the 1994-95 strike.

The players are conflicted. They want the sport cleaned of the drugs, but they want to win more.

If a cheater can help them win, great. Just as long as he doesn't get caught. That is the greater sin.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kurt Suzuki and other catchers

Kurt Suzuki strokes a two-run double Monday.
Kurt Suzuki hit second in the Twins lineup on Opening Day, and for one day, at least, it worked. The veteran catcher singled and doubled and had all three of the Twins's RBIs.

Good for him. The fact remains that he has complied more than 3,200 major league plate appearances and has a career OPS-plus that is 14 percent below league average. He doesn't belong in the upper half of a major league lineup.

My fear is that Ron Gardenhire will remember this one game of production and base the lineups for the next month on it.


The Twins had a chance late in the game to get back in it. They were down three going into the eighth, and Aaron Hicks led off with a double. With Pedro Florimon due up against the lefty Chris Sale, Gardenhire sent up a pinch-hitter — not hard-hitting catcher Josmil Pinto, but light-hitting Eduardo Escobar.


Escobar struck out (I'm tempted to say of course), and while Suzuki later drove in Hicks, the potential rally went no further. Pinto never got into the game.

Keeping Jason Bartlett over Chris Herrmann is a curious decision on the face of it. If this kind of player use is the result, the roster decision looks even worse.


Remember 2011, when Joe Mauer missed about half the season and the catching load in his absence was carried by the duo of Drew Butera and Rene Rivera? Yeah, you were trying to forget that; those two make Suzuki's numbers look good.

Well, Butera made the Dodgers roster; he's the backup to A.J. Ellis. And Rivera not only made the Padres roster, he started their opener Sunday night.

Never underestimate how much teams value defensive skills at catcher.


The Washington Nationals were (are) not only counting on Wilson Ramos (once the Twins' top prospect) as their regular catcher, but as their cleanup hitter as well.

The oft-injured backstop didn't make it through Monday's opener, however. He left in the seventh inning with a hand injury, and the Washington Post reported he fractured a bone. The Nats announced, however, that a preliminary X-ray showed no fracture. More exams are expected.