Friday, March 11, 2005

Rounding Third

Sometimes, I Don't Know really WAS on third!

I bet you thought I was going to cover second base tonight. Hah! Tricked you. I hit a triple this outing.

Actually third base is one of the biggest controversial subjects this spring (the other being short stop). Is Mike Cuddyer the answer? What about Eric Munson? Who is Terry Tiffee?

And Why, Oh Why didn't they keep Corey Koskie.

Let's start at the beginning. Basically, it's Cuddyer's job to lose. And I don't think he's doing that. Munson's chances of making the roster are slim, in part because it's so hard to knock out an incumbant, and in part because Koskie has given Cuddy his blessing and Cuddy's seening a lot more work at 3rd than Munson is in Spring Training.

So in my endlessly optimistic state of mind, I'm going to ignore Munson's bid as a 3rd base candidate and I'm also going to believe he will choose free agency over Rochester, NY. Sorry Munson fans. Ditto for Andy Fox.

So, our next top candidate for third is in fact on the 40-man roster and will the the player most likely called up if Cuddy gets hurt or can't do his job.

That would be Terry Tiffee. A 6'3" switch hitter from Little Rock Arkansas, he is one of those guys who came in kind of low under the radar, especially after a slow start in Class A Quad Cities.

He progressed steadily, but one of the things that really helped him was an increase in his athleticism. That was part of the knock against him in High A. New Britain went better, a .315 batting average and a trip to the All Star game. But it wasn't until he hit Rochester that he became a serious prospect for the Twins. He rather redefined himself and his talent.

He hit .307 and was second on the team in RBIs to Jason Kubel.

The major question about Tiffee is his health, following first some back problems in Rochester and then a shoulder injury while playing for the Twins.

He will start the year in Rochester and have another year to refine his skills before the Twins have another look at him in the Fall when rosters expand again.

In New Britain, things become a little hairy. Stan Cliburn wanted his corners solidified, so he had Billy Munoz signed for first and Ryan Owens signed for third. Owens played 68 games for the Cats, going .204 with 33 RBIs. By June, the position was being platooned with utility infielder Tommy Watkins and and short stop Jake Mauer playing when Owens was not. This was in part due to Owens going up to cover third when Tiffee was out with a back injury. He played in 42 games up there, hitting .218. Following the end of the 2004 season, he was released.

The Twins signed both Glenn Williams and Brent Abernathy to minor league contracts. Both are AAA players and are likely to stay with the club in Rochester and both can play second or third. Whether either of these will go down to Rochester, or bump Tiffee down, remains to be seen.

Tommy Watkins is a local Fort Myers boy. What he lacks in skill he makes up for in heart. He did not want to leave Southwest Florida to go to New Britain, but once there he acquitted himself well, batting .267 with 47 RBIs. Watkins is a the ULTIMATE utility player, having played games at each position on the field except for catcher. He's even pitched a couple of games as a closer, with a 0.00 ERA and one strike out.

Watkins progress has been slow and steady. While he may never be considered a top prospect for the Twins, his work ethic may end up surprising everyone. He was stated he'd like to pursue a career in coaching, hopefully with the Twins organization, once he finishes playing professional baseball.

Jake Mauer lives in the limelight of his younger brother, Joe. A short stop by trade, he played a good deal of third as well. Jake played Divion III baseball for the University of St. Thomas. The major knock against him is his lack of batting power.

Jake hit .258 last season with two triples and 11 doubles in 283 plate appearances. He has never hit a home run in his professional career.

Still he's good on the basepaths and not bad defensively and can put the ball in play on a relatively consistent basis.

Jake will either repeat with the Rock Cats or be released and signed by the independent league St. Paul Saints who would kill to have a Mauer on their roster.

Ben Pattee: I had a dream mid-season that Pattee was called up to the Miracle. "Why Pattee?" Miracle trainer Larry Bennesse asked me. "He had a good training camp but..."

A week later, Michael Sandoval a prospect who never should have been playing third base was released by the Miracle and Pattee was called up. Another utility infielder, and primarily a second baseman, Pattee did a fairly decent job defensively for the Miracle. He will likely repeat in Fort Myers, but not as a third baseman.

(Just a side note, Sandoval signed with the independent, Brockton Rox as an outfield following his release from the Twins Organziation. I only found it interesting that he was released because of his lack of production at the plate, and not because he stunk at third.)

Omar Burgos started the year at third for Fort Myers but was sent down to Quad Cities after 32 games, in part for his .208 batting average and five errors.

His batting average did not improve with the Swing, as he only hit .206 there. But all is not bad. Baseball America did rate him as having the best infield arm in the Twins minor league system.

Matt Moses....Wait! what? I don't have a page for Moses? I though I did! Oh yeah, here we go...Matt Moses a former first round draft pick for the Minnesota Twins.

Who scouted his guy? First he shows up for the Gulf Coast League following his draft and is diagnosed with a hole in his heart. Minor surgery corrected this. Okay good. Last year, he suddenly has a bulging disk in his back, reportedly from a trampoline accident he suffered in Junior High. How do you miss these kinds of medical problems?

My understanding of scouting is your supposed to know EVERYTHING about the guy, down to how many holes he has in his socks, let alone is heart.

Hit .223 in 29 games in the Quad and is making people wonder if this is another bust first rounder.

Projected to start the season with the Snappers and should receive a promotion to Fort Myers mid-season if he can stay healthy.

David Winfree: I LOVE OPIE! I made some remark to Don about the lack of 3rd base talent on the Miracle. "You should go over to Field D someday and check out those kids," he said around his toothpick.

I replied that I had and they actually had someone who could play the position!

Batted .286 for Elizabethton in 59 games after a solid outing in extended spring training. He was a "second year" rookie, but only played 23 game for the GCL Twins in 2003.

Will likely start the season with the Snappers, spelling Moses on third.

There were no clear third baseman in the Gulf Coast League as the position was pretty much platooned between second year rookie Travis Kalin (.244, 11 RBIs, 1 HR), Jilmar Arratia (.320, 29 RBIs, 2 HR), Michael Lysaught (.186, 7 RBIs, 0 HR), and Juan Portes (.327, 31 RBIs, 8 HR).

Portes and Arratia will likely advance to Elizabethton. Lysaught will spend another year in the Gulf Coast League and as there really isn't such a thing as a "third year" rookie, I have no idea what will happen to the very likeable Kalin. Hopefully they will ship him to Elizabethton as well.

TOMORROW: Pitchers and Catchers report so we will interrupt our look at the Twins minor league system by position for news from pitchers and catchers camp.

A Show to be Named Later

If you're in the Twin Cities area, tune in to Channel 11 Saturday night at midnight following Saturday Night Live for "A Show to be Named Later".

Kind of like "A player to be named later" they tell be ("but nobody gets it"). They shot footage at Spring Training last Sunday, the day Joe Mauer pulled up lame. I know that they shot a segment which I was in, but I have no idea if it will make it to the air.

In any case, check it out, as it seemed like a fun crew and let me know how it goes.

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