September 2009


With Sano on board (hopefully) Twins summer signings are promising

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Now includes a few quotes from Sano. 

The Gulf Coast League might be the place the hang out for awhile next year – if you like to follow prospects. The Twins intend to have three of their international bonus babies on their rookie league team there.

Shortstop Jorge Polanco, from the Dominican Republic, will be there after signing a $750,000 bonus in July. German outfielder Max Kepler, who signed for $775,000, is already attending South Fort Myers High School and is in line to play for the GCL team, too.

Joining them will be infielder Miguel Angel Sano, a 16-year old (0r 17…or 18?) who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and has pleny of raw power. Sano (photo on right) is considered the jewel of the international crop and, on Wednesday, signed with the Twins for a bonus of $3.15 million, the second-largest bonus given to a Latin American prospect and most to a position player. (not counting Cubans).

“It was not so much about the money,” Sano said through an interpreter. “I’m just glad I signed with the Twins.”

Add these three players to a Twins’ draft class that’s led by University of Missouri righthander Kyle Gibson (who is scheduled to pitch two innings on Friday in his first time on the mound as a pro) and the Twins feel they had a pretty good year on the amateur front. 

The Twins, looking at their minor league system, realized that they had a lot of players who, on the 2-through-8 scouting scale, would end up as threes or fours.

“In order to be a contender, you have to have guys who are sixes, sevens and eights, the top of the scale,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ senior vice president in charge of player personnel. You have to try to get the guys you think have a chance to be good.

“Sano. Kepler, Polanco, Gibson, all those guys, in our mind, have a chance.”

In order to get good prospects, the Twins had pony up the dough. And they have. After spending $7.1 million on the draft, they’re handing out $5.6 million in bonuses to international prospects.

Rob Plummer, Sano’s agent, said the Twins have been in contact with him and the family for about a year. Signing him was a matter of timing. Several teams were in on Sano, and Pittsburgh seemed to be his likely destination. But, based on this and this, things broke down between the family, the team and the agent.

Radcliff and the Twins Latin American scout, Fred Guerrero. kept in contact with the Sano camp, and it paid off when the Twins made their offer – along with the understanding that Plummer, could not shop it around. The Pirates likely would have topped the offer if they had been given the chance. Plummer gave the Twins a lot of credit, saying two days didn’t go by without someone checking in with him or the family. Guerrero, by the way, has known Sano since he was 13. “He gets along great with the whole family.

“People were expecting the amount to be over $4 million, and people assumed that I was just going to sign with Pittsburgh,” Sano said. “My dream was to play baseball. It wasn’t about a business.”

Another key: Twins ownership stepped up. Jim Pohlad was said to be as excited as anyone with the organization when told about Sano. “Let’s go get him,” Pohald said.

The deal is contingent on Sano getting a Visa. That process will begin next week when Sano goes to obtain a tourist Visa so he can come over next month for a physical. That’s not expected to be a problem. He’ll need a P-1 Visa to play in the U.S., which will be the big test for him, and the Twins, in the coming weeks.

The Twins are confident Sano will avoid any red flags. The Twins asked MLB to help verify his identity earlier this summer, and they feel they’ve done their due diligence. They hope the worst thing that could happen is that he’s 17 or 18 years old, and that won’t scare them off. “We are not concerned,” Radcliff said.

When you’re dealing with kids, you never know how a prospect will develop. But it’s better to spend the money now that to try to sign mediocre players for $6 million to fill holes on the major league team that the farm system couldn’t. The Twins deserve credit for being diligent, setting high goals and, finally, spending the cash to finish off what the scouts start.

“You can’t get in the game,” assistant GM Rob Antony said, “if you stay on the sidelines.”

They’ll be able to see some of their work pay off next spring training when the Gulf Coast League team reports for duty.

Some thoughts on Game 1

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Based on how the pitch counts soared in the early innings, I expected to see a reliever enter the game by the sixth. But both starting pitchers manged to get to the seventh. Nick Blackburn allowed five baserunners over the first two innings but pulled himself together and retired the last 12 Tigers hitters he faced.

Blackburn has struggled to make in-game adjustments at times this year, but not on Tuesday. His breaking ball was a big weapon for him as the game went on and his sinker helped him get 11 ground ball outs. He hasn’t had that many in a game since July 10.

He threw 111 pitches, tying a season high – but he hadn’t thrown that many since May.

The Twins expected Blackburn to take a step forward this season. That step took awhile to come. He’s 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his last three outings, all coming when the Twins need them the most.

FLASHING LEATHER

Boy, can Denard Span and Carlos Gomez cover some ground when they are on the field together. Both made excellent running catches late in the game.

Michael Cuddyer made a nice play in the third to throw Clete Thomas out at home on a play that’s a little more than routine.

SMALL BALL

I’m not opposed to using the bunt as a weapon. I’m not big on doing it early in games. And I’m not a fan of bunting people from second to third, either. Managers have their own style, and Ron Gardenhire elected to bunt five times in Game 1.

It’s a good debate. Should Gardy not give away so many outs? My read: Gardy looked at how the game was going and decided to move the runners over. You also have to remember all the times he lets these guys swing away or move runners over on their own and watched it backfire.

He decided to be more hands on today.

Everyone is/will be talking about the failed suicide squeeze in the ninth. It’s the hitter’s job there to get the bunt down no matter what. But the toughest pitch to bunt is that one that’s up and in. Punto was put in a tough spot with Alexi Casilla tearing down the line.

I’m curious to know if Detroit expected that play, leading to the pitch selection. 

“That’s where you want to throw it if you smell something,” Gardy said during the part of the post game presser that FSN showed

(Note to FSN: They were just starting to break down the squeeze play when you cut to the dueling hair stylists in the studio. Shame on you!).

I can see why Gardy took a shot. If the Twins get a clutch hit or two earlier in the game, he might not have to make that decision later.

Anyway, let’s get ready for Game 2. I’m appearing on Dan Barreiro’s show on KFAN around 3:20 to break down the game some more, if you want to tune in….

Twins try to sweep White Sox

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Sorry this is late. Had a minor emergency.

Signs continue to point toward Francisco Liriano starting on Sunday in Kansas City. My guess is that it will be official on Friday.

Denard Span looked and sounded like his old self today. He told manager Ron Gardenhire he’s available to pinch hit or be a late defensive substitute. Signs point to him returning to the starting lineup on Friday.

Funny stuff before the game. White Sox GM Kenny Williams met with the media and told them that his team will go back to taking infield before games, which very few teams do these days. I don’t know if more  infield solves all the problems in the Windy City. But Williams is a very determined man….

There are some indications that one trait the Sox would like to have from the Twins is mental toughness. Is mental toughness a big edge for the Twins? At least they still have a shot at the postseason while the Sox played themselves out of the race. The Twins deserve some credit for not giving up.

Lineups

Twins (78-73)

1. Carlos Gomez, CF
2. Orlando Cabrera, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Jason Kubel, RF
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Brendan Harris, DH
8. Matt Tolbert, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Pitching: Brian Duensing, LHP

White Sox (73-79)

1. Jayson Nix, 2B
2. Gordon Beckham, 3B
3. A.J., C
4. P.K., 1B
5. Alexei Ramirez, SS
6. Jermaine Dye, RF
7. Carlos Quentin, LF
8. Alex Rios, CF
9. Tyler Flowers, DH

Pitching: Mark Buehrle, LHP

Midday update

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

I checked in with Denard Span after last night’s game. He was able to get some running in before the game and felt he was slowly coming around after being beaned on Monday.

Span said there were times during Tuesday’s game when he felt like he was close to normal. Then he would feel foggy again. He said he was up and down like that throughout the game. So it will be interesting to see how he feels when the clubhouse opens this afternoon.

The Twins could use Span tonight. He’s 10-for-20 against Buehrle, including four hits in his last four plate appearances against him.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s out again tonight. Two games off, then an off day. Then fire him out against the Royals.

Cuddyer sizzling

Michael Cuddyer is batting .347 with 5 homers and 17 RBI over his past 13 games.  But his numbers against White Sox lefty John Danks are – to steal a phrase from a bad movie – mind-bottling.

He’s batting .533 with 5 homers and 11 RBI against Danks with a 1.730 on base-plus-slugging percentage. In 30 at-bats!

Danks threw up his arms Tuesday after Cuddyer homered off of him again.

“Cuddyer owns me,” Danks said. “I should just walk him every time he comes up. I’m at a loss for words. He’s a heck of a player. For whatever reason, those guys got something on me or I just serve up cookies.”

Zack Greinke watch

In addition to facing the Twins on Sunday, KC ace Zack Greinke is expected to start for the Royals on Oct. 3, the final regular season game at the Dome. There might be a couple things on the line in that game.

This and that

Matt Tolbert has two career homers, both at U.S. Cellular Field. “Both in the same spot,” he said.

Joe Mauer is a .212 hitter against Mark Buehrle, tonight’s starter.

Gardy’s quote about Francisco Liriano’s relief outing: “Joe Mauer said it was the best the ball has come out of his hand in a long time.” That suggests that Liriano could start Sunday against the Royals. I made fun of it on my Twitter page when I tweeted that Liriano was trying to make a Vincent Chase-like comeback. But he just might get a chance to emerge from the Medellin stage of his career.

The White Sox are falling apart. Closer Bobby Jenks said yesterday that he popped a calf muscle during pre-game work and is done for the year.

Watching Libya leader Mohmmar Gadhafi’s address to the United Nations as I write this. If he didn’t have any power, his revisionist history and conspiracy theories would be pretty funny. He talked about the JFK assassination and swine flu, called President Obama his son and tossed the UN charter at someone. You can’t make this stuff up….

Span not in lineup

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Denard Span is not in today’s lineup as he recovers from being hit in the head on Monday. He had appeared in every game since June 25 after coming off the disabled list. He had started every game since July 21.

Carlos Gomez will see if he has another cycle against the White Sox in him, as he’s leading off and playing in center. Stayed tuned for updates later.

Update:  Here are a bunch of pitching matchups:

at Kansas City

Friday: Carl Pavano vs Robinson Tejada
Saturday; Scott Baker vs Lenny DiNardo
Sunday: Jeff Manship vs Zack Greinke (first meeting of 2009)

at Detroit

Monday: Nick Blackburn vs Rick Porcello
Tuesday: Brian Duensing vs Justin Verlander
Wednesday: Carl Pavano vs Nate Robertson
Thursday: Scott Baker vs Eddie  Bonine

 Lineup

Twins (77-73)

1. Carlos Gomez, CF
2. Orlando Cabrera, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Jason Kubel, RF
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Brendan Harris, DH
8. Matt Tolbert, 3B
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Pitching: Jeff Manship

White Sox (73-78)

1. Scott Podsednik, CF
2. Gordon Beckham, 3B
3. A.J. Pierzynski, C
4. Paul Konerko, 1B
5. Mark Kotsay, DH
6. Alexei Ramirez, SS
7. Carlos Quentin, LF
8. Chris Getz, 2B
9. Alex Rios, RF

John Danks, LHP