Monday, April 25, 2005

Is Defense important?

Matt Moses: a rebuttle

I find myself endlessly perplexed by this question. First we had Michael Sandoval at third base. He could not play this position. He showed no apparent aptitude at ever learning to play the position. So Miracle fans got treated to a guy for a year and half who would stand around at third, wave his glove at a passing ball and hope that it would somehow magically jump in there.

So why did we keep him around that long? Well, he could hit, of course. .294 in 2003 with an OBP of .385. And yes, this is the Florida State League so those are big numbers. It's all relative.

They finally released Sandoval, not because he couldn't learn to play third base, but because well...he stopped hitting. But that was okay, we had other problems in 2004. This time at first.

His name was Danny Matienzo. Matienzo had been a catcher, and then got moved to first base. I'm not sure anyone really explained to him that you have to more around a bit more at first base than you do behind the plate. So Danny stood around at first base and waited for balls to be thrown to him -- not to the right, not to the left, not a little over his head -- but exactly to him. Hit him on the numbers and he could catch it.

Not a good first baseman. But he had one great talent. He could swing the bat. Finished up 2004 with a .305 average. So he gets promoted to New Britain...not because of his stellar defensive skills at first, but he because he could hit the ball.

The Twins took three of the top four batters from last season's underachieving Miracle squad and moved them up to New Britain.

Now remember, the AA Eastern League is a batter's league. Smaller ballparks mean that the ball should be launching itself, right?

Yet just over two weeks into the season, the Rock Cats are hitting sixth in the 12-team league with a .239 average. Matienzo is only hitting .230. And former FSL All-Star Jose Morales has only hit twice, as he's been injured.

Now the other guys they got from the Miracle, Doug Deeds and Alex Romero have been hitting; Deeds especially with a not really surprising .302 average. But some of the guys brought in to replace the slackers on the Fort Myers squad -- Luis Jimenez for example -- are not producing.

Jimenez is only hitting .067. But maybe that's not surprising for a guy that, in his statement on his substance suspension said "I've weighed 270 pounds for three years and I don't have muscles."

Gil Velazques who was brought into play short, is only hitting .195. Makes you wonder if Cliburn is regretting not taking Jesus Merchan up. After all, he was hitting .200 through Saturday's game.

So needless to say, its not surprising that suddenly everyone is pushing for Matt Moses to be moved up to Double A. My handy Miracle program tells me the guy has played a grand total of 48 games in his two professional years. That's not a whole lot of experience. And I can't help but think that eventually, that inexperience is going to show up in more than just his baserunning and defensive skills.

Moving him to AA isn't going to guarantee that he's going to feast on AA pitching either. After all, James Tomlin hit .303 in 2003 in the FSL. He ended up hitting .216 in New Britain last year, and is only hitting .179 in the early going this season. Maybe they should get rid of Tomlin, who does bring some brilliant fielding work to the team, and some excellent baserunning skills. After all, those skills seem to be meaningless in a game where you need to be successful at the plate only one-third of the time to excel.

But I have to question if a promotion for Moses is really warranted. Then again, I need only look at the examples over the past couple of years to know that the Twins could really give a rats ass about his fielding. As long as he hits the ball.

Baseball America writes in today's Daily Dish that "Moses, a first-round pick out of Mills Godwin High in Richmond, Va., in 2003, appears to have fully recovered from the bulged disc in his back that limited him to 29 games last year, and he is impressing the Miracle coaching staff."

I'm not sure that statement is true. Moses was scratched from the April 14th game because his "back was acting up". I'm not saying that's not the case. But I found it odd considering he was out on the field prior to the game playing catch. Ricardo Ingraham saw him and said "I don't want you throwing the ball if you're too hurt to throw the ball," and chased him off the field.

So was Moses really hurting? Or did he just want a day off?

I suppose if his back is going to act up, I'd rather it did it up in AA. But then I also have to wonder why, when the bats aren't working in Double A the first thing everyone wants is to pluck a big, juicy hitter out of the FSL.

Stan Cliburn made the following comment in the New Britain paper "Based on the guys who are new here, they didn't learn how to win last year. They had a terrible year down in the Florida State League. It was not a good situation down there. I heard a lot of negative things."

Hey Stan? What about the winning situation with the Rock Cats this year? Maybe you should try teaching them instead of raiding the cupboard ever time something isn't working for you?

New Britain is now 7 and 10 on the season. Even with Moses, the Miracle dropped two game to the Lakeland Tigers this week and struggled against the Dunedin Blue Jays. What Baseball America failed to report is that Moses' 3-for-4 plate performance Sunday came against the Clearwater Threshers, who are the bottom feeders in the FSL in terms of pitching right now.

Against Lakeland he was 1-for-4 and 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Still not bad, but not quite as stellar as his performance on Sunday. Against the Jays, who took a 16-2 win over Lakeland yesterday, he was 0-for-7 (and laid off with bad back).

Considering all of that, does he still look like a prime candidate for promotion? All of Moses' success has come against Sarasota, Tampa and Clearwater and guess which three teams are on the bottom of the FSL in terms of pitching? You got it! Sarasota, Tampa and Clearwater.

Maybe we should just stop jumping the gun when it comes to promotions and look at the overall picture. I'd like to think the Twins do. But then, I know better.

· Injury updates:

Jason Kubel was out on field four Sunday afternoon, playing catch. No, don't get your hopes up. He still had a knee brace on and it was part of a therapy work out.

Yes it bends, but he still has a very long way to go before he'll be ready to start patrolling the outfield again.

First round draft pick Glen Perkins made his debut with the Miracle Friday allowing two hits and striking out four in three innings worth of work. Josh Gray took the loss, allowing one run on four hits while striking out five in the last three innings. Julio DePaula also gave up a run in two innings, while the Miracle bats were relatively silent, managing only one run on seven hits.

Another first rounder, Matt Fox reports that he is about a week and half away from pitching extended spring training games. A college pitcher for the University of Central Florida, Fox pitched 8 game -- 26.2 innings -- with a 5.40 ERA so far in his professional career.

Also close to returning is Tim Henkenjohann who pitched in 2003 in Elizabethton and who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. The 6'5" 215 German import came up through the beer leagues in Germany and said the closest baseball field to his house was 80 miles away!

Trent Oeltjen has also come off the IR and returned to the Fort Myers squad. "Dingo" is hitting .385 through 13 at bats following his very scary eye injury during spring training.

· Movements:

The Twins have released lefty Jeff Randazzo. The 6'7" Pennsylvania native suffered a major accident in 2003 while playing in the Appalachian league. Once considered a top pitching prospect, he never regained his earlier form and was struggling in the New Britain bullpen. Brian Wolfe was demoted from Triple A Rochester to take his spot.

Both Terry Tiffee and Dave Gassner were reassigned to New Britain by the Twins. The Twins also signed southpaw Jimmy Anderson for Rochester following his release from the Pirates organization.

· Extended Spring Training:

The rookie Twins dropped their Sunday game 2-1 in front of some strong Reds pitching a the Lee County Sports Complex. Armando Gambino took the loss, allowing two runs on nine hits, while walking two and striking out three. Jeff Schoenbachler allowed only a single in two innings of relief, but managed to run his pitch count up to 95! Kyle Edlich was competent for three more, before Jose Mijares was brought in to close out the game. I've been seeing a good deal of Edlich so far and have not had a problem with him.

Of note was William Luque who hit a double and single in the game and made a couple highlight reel catches at short. Mijares also made a stellar play on the mound, snagging a hit ball midair and riffling it to first. Mark Robinson batted in Odannys Valdez for the lone Twins run.

Rick Knapp was in town, "teaching" he said. I caught him giving helpful suggestions to Kris Langford behind the plate, but from what I could get from the rest of the pitching staff who joined me for the game, he was not teaching, but terrorizing.

"Oh," I said. "Knappy's a really nice guy."

The boys scoffed at this suggestion, saying "Oh yeah, he's nice to YOU." Well, he is. However, I decided again having them "practice" signing my GCL ball since Knappy had already signed it and decided a get a new TC ball for them to practice on.

The Extended Spring Training roster is now available online for those that are interested.

· The Skunk Story:

This is Brock Peterson's to tell, but he was driving in Tennessee while playing for the Elizabethton Twins when the vehicle in front of him hit a skunk and the carcass was flipped up onto the windshield of his truck. He tried to get rid of it by turning on the windshield wipers, but the skunk got stuck in the blades.

Now...logic defies me a bit on this because I can't really figure out how a skunk, even flattened by a previous vehicle, could manage to get trapped under the windshield wipers. In any case, I'm sure it was not only smelly, but a bit gruesome as well.

Finally he had to get paper towels and pull the critter off his truck that way. (I also have this really strange mental picture of him standing out on a dark road, on his cell phone going "Mom? How do I get rid of skunk stink?" I wonder if he had to wash the truck in tomato juice?)

I understand that some of the Betsy fans, when treated to the odor of skunk these days say "I smell a Brockie!"

· And Finally...

The Miracle are on the road and will not play at home until Saturday when the first 750 fans through the gate will receive free Miracle tote bags. This will make some of the rookies happy who have been harassing me about having a Marlin's tote bag. "But you do like the Marlins," Fox says, noting that I'd lived in Fort Lauderdale.

I assured him I did and also added that we know a guy that pitches in the Marlins Farm System. Chris Resop is a Baron-Collier High School grad who is currently with their AA squad in the Southern League. A converted fielder, Resop has a six saves on seven games, with a great big .000 ERA, no walks and 8 strike outs in 7 innings pitched. (Yes, I promised his dad I'd work him into at least one Twins report his season.)

However, aside from the fact that they'd eat me out of house and home, memorabilia is another good reason not to bring the rookies home. I'm sure they'd take one look at my autographed Derek Jeter jersey and I'd never hear the end of it...

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