Thursday, April 7, 2005

Nothing could be Feiner...

The Twins Minor League Season opens on the road and is kicked off with win, a home grown yarder and a GREAT BIG THUNDERSTORM!

The Minor League season kicks off today and all of the teams in the Twins organization are opening on the road.

The Red Wings were in Syracuse for an early game today. Josh Rabe, who did not have an outstanding season in 2004, provided some pop for the Wings as he hit a grand slam to take a 9-7 victory over the SkyChiefs. Wings Ace Scott Baker took the start, but yeilded two yarders in the game. Reliever Brent Shoening took the win for the Wings, while closer Beau Kemp picked up the save.

"Pop" may be the Wings biggest problem this year, although the return of Terry Tiffee to the organization, if only for part of the year, will certainly be a god-send for the team. Garrett Jones is one of the players who will be looked at to provide power for the team as well as Kevin West and Michael Ryan. Players like Rabe and Rob Bowen are going to be expected to step up this year, especially if they hope to earn a chance to play full time in the bigs. Tiffee did it (although he's not quite there yet). Bartlett did it. Kubel did well, if he hadn't been injured.

While the Red Wings may not be looking at another batting title this season, their pitching staff may well make up for it. Baker is certainly a top prospect. J.D. Durbin has not performed as well as expected, but might rejoin the race.

Boof Bonser, slow throwing southpaw Dave Gassner, and Henry Bonilla are the other starters in the Wings ranks. Bonsor gets the start tomorrow, hoping to gun down the same SkyChiefs. Saturday, Gassner will take the start for the Wings home opener at Frontier field.

Stan Cliburn is looking for a big win tonight from his Rock Cats as they open against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Fisher Cat's new stadium. He's hoping to spoil the fun for the Manchester fans, but that might be a difficult task. Ismael Ramirez, who pitched FSL's Dunedin into a half-championship last season will be the Ace for the Fisher Cats.

The Rock Cats also have the toughest early schedule of the Twins minors, spending a week on the road before opening at home.

If that isn't tough enough, the new Cats are having a hard time getting settled into New Britain. Check out Pat Neshek's blog for run down of some of the problems they're facing.

While the Rock Cats may seem to have the most questionable of all the line ups right now, bat wise, I'm expecting the most out of them. Look for Danny Matienzo to be the next prosect that "came out of nowhere" in the Eastern League this year.

The 2005 version of the Miracle may be one of the most talent laden Twins teams to to have played in Fort Myers.

The Miracle were to open tonight on the road in Sarasota against the Reds, but local thunderstroms have postponed the game until tomorrow, when they will play a double header. In the past it has always been opening night against the Red Sox, but the Bosox were unhappy as they could not secure their home park in the City of Palms and have moved off to other pastures. Much like the Wings, Fort Myers will open at home on Saturday.

Dan Wolfert was named as the new GM for the Sarasota version of the Reds. Talk about promoting from within! Wolfert once worked as a spring training batboy for the Reds! This should give "Ball Troll" (a.k.a. Rapid Robert) hope furthering his career with the Twins when his days of Ball Trolling at Hammond Stadium are over.

Meanwhile, the Miracle are serving up three first round draft picks to their newest, closest rivals. Glen Perkins will be a big part of the Miracle starting rotation. On the fast track to the majors, you might want to come out to the ball park early in the season if you hope to catch him. Perkins main stay is his control. He can spot the ball there he wants it. He is not however a power pitcher, so Fort Myers fans are warned -- the heat will all be in the weather with this guy, not in the balls.

It should also be noted that Perkins as never had to deal with the hot summer sun of Southwest Florida, the heavy humid air, and the sheer exhaustion that can overtake someone from working under the sub-tropic sun. Perkins best bet will be to get out of Fort Myers by June 1st. If he stays longer, he may find himself falling victim to "GCL Syndrome" which is well known, but little understood.

Matt Moses, who earned local press some years ago in the Gulf Coast League, will be working third base. Moses is good with the bat, his defense is a bit supect however, so he will looking to prove three things this year. The first will be that he can remain healthy for a whole season. The second will be that he can play third base. And the third will be that he can continue to swing his bat in a park notorious for eating yarders.

The third big time bonus baby is Denard Span, who was drafted a year earlier then his cohorts, but took his time signing. Span is noted for his speed, but Span is another player who was injured with the Swing, and underwent surgery. He will have to prove that he's healthy and that he can stay that way.

Add into this mix Scott Tyler, a second rounder, and you can see why so many people are high on this year's Miracle team. Tyler was hoping to skip the Miracle -- he knows what summers down here on the Gulf Coast can be like -- but the 6'5" righty will be staring with Fort Myers.

Finally, there are a couple of guys that were not drafted high, but have proved they could play.

The first is righty Adam Harben, who was selected in the 15th round, more for his power than for his control. However, Harben overpowered much of his opposition in the Midwest League last season. He'll be working on his off speed pitchs in Fort Myers, but don't worry, the heat will be on when it's needed.

The other is Errol Simonitsch. Taken in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, speed is not the word for this lefty. He does have a below average fastball -- around 89 MPH -- that he finds useful in taking down batters, and good curveball and change up. Simonitsch did well in the Midwest league last year and may actually stick in Fort Myers for the season.

Probably the big question mark for the Miracle is field manager Ricardo Ingraham. A prior batting coach for the Miracle, Ingraham managed the Gulf Coast League Twins to a 31-26 record last year. While his experience is somewhat questionable, the Twins shored up his supporting staff by moving veteran Jeff Carter down from New Britain to lend his wisdom in the hitting coach roll. This will be Carter's second stint in the City of Palms, and the fans already extended a warm welcome to him during the Miracle season ticket holder party Wednesday night.

Beloit joins the Twins family this year, replacing Quad Cities as the Low A affiliate to the Twins. Kevin Boles, who lead Quad City into the playoff chase with a 68-68 record, will be taking up the reins for the Snappers, and he won't be without talent.

First round draft pick Trevor Plouffe is the big name here. Plouffe was drafted as shortstop but did spend some time pitching in prep sports. He's now focusing on his infielding. While not as flashy as the BoSox highly touted Hanley Ramirez, Plouffe's offense is not in question. He will need to solidify his defense if he hopes to be a mid-season call up to Fort Myers.

Also staring for the Snappers is pitching prospect Kyle Waldrop. I would love to say something totally wonderful about him, but I've yet to see him pitch. Still, he started off in the Gulf Coast League and earned a promotion mid season to Elizabethton, so his ongoing promotion is not unexpected.

Beloit also sports second round draft pick Anthony Swarzak and several players who are personal favorites of mine: 3B David Winfree, 1B Johnny Woodard and OF Tarrence Patterson. I'm expecting a lot of good things from these guys in 2005.

Perhaps the most vexing thing about the Snappers is catcher Korey Feiner's promotion. Don't get me wrong, I love Feiner. But...

He was signed as a free agent Divison III NCAA player into the Gulf Coast League last season. He played only 22 games for the GCL Twins, in part because of an injury but even more troubling, he hit a team low of .170.

Oh sure...he was good enough defensively behind the plate but was he "great"? Did he really warrant a jump to Single A?

Nothing personal Korey, but I have to go back to Jim Rantz quote on this VERY Blogsite: "We try to put a player in a league where he’s going to be able to compete with players that are basically in that same age group."

And Feiner, who struggled at the plate last year in the GCL is going to be able do this?

In order to get him ready for this assignment, he played "up" through most of spring training.

Feiner said the following in a Beloit interview yesterday about the Gulf Coast League: "Coming from a Division III college is a big step up. The velocity is a big change and you see a lot more breaking pitches. You have to be pretty close to perfect in your swing."

But I have to question what -- besides the fact that he is local to Beloit -- intrigued the Twins so much that they promoted him over other catchers who have been in the system longer.

"We would rather put a player in where he can compete, coming into the game, and have some success, since it’s going to be new to him."

Okay Jim, your call, but I've got my doubts about this one. As far as I'm concerned, it's a marketing issue.

· Miscellany: Jan has not been feeling well of late and has left the Minor League Forum at DTFC to my tender mercies. I can think of at least one person this will gaul. Not that I care.

I only hope that I have not bitten off too much, given my other projects.

· Sports Network appears to be limiting their minor league feeds this season to the AAA and AA. We are back to depending upon the somewhat undependable ESPN/USA Today for Single-A and Rookie scores.

· Remember what I said about Ismael Ramirez earlier? Well, local Fort Myers prosect Tommy Watkins hit a homer off of him tonight for the Rock Cats. Way to go Watkins! Meanwhile, Cats' ace Francisco Liriano is looking good on the mound!

Sunday, April 3, 2005

One More Time...

Spring Training tails off

There's no crying in baseball. Except on the days when the guys get cut. Or on the last days of spring training. Or on the last days of the season. Because then everyone is getting ready to ship off. Or nearly everyone. And so, I'm ready to cry. I'm a girl. I'm going to miss these guys. Yeah, I'll get over it.

The Rock Cats, Red Wings and Snappers are pretty much packed up and ready to go. A few more adjustments to the roster and then...before you know it, it will be opening day.

I had hoped to watch the Rock Cats yesterday and the Snappers today but the rain out yesterday ended that plan. To further complicate matters, the Red Sox cancelled out on today's games - except for the Rookie League - because they didn't have enough players. So I have to wonder, what ever happened to all the players they had?

So this led me to bouncing around from field to field to field watching Red Wings, Rock Cats, Snappers and Miracle. And getting waylaid by quite a few quys.

Mostly the Miller/Miller/Durbin contingent who where scoring the game between the Rock Cats and Red Wings.

"Hey, you said the Rock Cats are going to suck." I assured Jason Miller I'd never said that. I did point out that someone mentioned they looked like the weakest of the teams this season, and that I did agree with that remark. However, they have shored up the fielding a bit with the additions of Luis Jimeniz and Gil Velazquez, plus they have Bryan Kennedy and Gabby Torres which will help journeyman catcher Jose Morales work on his weak spots.

I mean, I just got done writing a very upbeat article for the Dugout. So see Jason, I never said they were sucking.

I named Matt Yeatman my favorite Rock Cat. He was my favorite Miracle.

"Who's going to be your favorite Miracle this year?" Probably Kyle. "Kyle?"

"Yeah, you know Kyle and Kyle and the two catchers."

"Oh yeah, Phillips. Who's the other one?


"What I want to know," J.D. Durbin says, "Is who was your favorite player when we were here?"

"We" being him and Colby Miller.

"Tommy Watkins," Jason Miller volunteers. "He's a local boy."

I point out that Jason is a local boy too. "I am not."

"Okay, you're one hour away from being a local boy." Sarasotians think they are from the big city, as opposed to us small town Fort Myers folks.

One of them, Colby maybe, volunteers that he's 33 hours away from being a local boy. That's pushing it.

I finally offered that the 2003 squad was too hard to pick a favorite from and escape.

(Just for the record, in 2002 it was Josh Rabe and Terry Tiffee and in 2001 it was Gabby Torres.) But honestly, in 2003, is was super Joe Mauer.

I discover that Travis Bowyer will be pitching one inning of relief for the Red Wings. They need some relief as the score was 9-2 Rock Cats at that point. Dave Gassner did not have it going on.

Find Trey Hodges warming up in the bullpen for the Red wings. Head back to the Rock Cats side of the things and find Josh Gray has joined the group being home plate.

"Then again, Josh here could be my new favorite Miracle." Get looks flashed at me over shoulders. Skeddatle over to the Miracle side of the park.

Discover that there were more roster changes but that there is not a new roster so I don't know the extent. But Ben Pattee is now on the Miracle roster.

Chat with Ben for a bit who is in the on deck circle while Geiger is batting. "Great," he says dejectedly. "I'm not even going to get to bat." Turns out that Gieger was the last batter and they were rolling the inning. Poor baby.

Got pictures of Angel Garcia pitching, he actually looked pretty good on the mound. He was giving Geiger some difficulties.

Angel Garcia

There is a pictorial side to this narative, but I dropped the film off, went over the B.O.A. to use the ATM, and there my car sits. Dead. I'm not happy, especially as the windows are down and I can't get them up again without power. Jumping didn't work. Maybe a dead cell in the battery. Won't know until tomorrow when I can get it towed to the dealership. Frag it all.

That would be the cheap repair. We won't talk about the rest of the problems it's been having.

Much thanks to my neighbor, Angie, for taking me to the lab to pick up the pictures. (And she doesn't even like baseball!)

In any case back to the games. I have no idea what the score on the Snappers' game was, but I head around the corner to see what's going on the Snappers' side of the field.

"Hey, you're not leaving," Gray says.

"Um, no, I'm just going to check out the Snappers."

"You're supposed to be watching the Miracle." I explain that I'm going to have them all season and I have friends on the Snappers who I won't be seeing for a while again and that the Miracle can wait.

He's not happy with this. What kind of fan am I?

Evidently, the Ultimate Twins Fan as I now have another endorsement from Jim Abbott's Mother-in-Law on that one. I don't know if she reads this column or not. Some of the boys are, that's for sure.

Anyway, I tell him he'll have to introduce me to his new teammates on Wednesday. Wednesday? Season ticket holder party. I suggest he could start with the guy he's standing next to.

"I'm J.P. Martinez," the fellow tells me. "I"m with the Snappers." Yes he is. Too bad, he pitched really quite well when I watched the Miracle thump the Snappers last weekend. I tell him this.

Josh tells him that I really know baseball. I say well, yeah, ya'll will get used to me. Go bounding off to check on the Snappers. I FINALLY get to watch Trevor Plouffe play short stop! However, most of the plays were mundane and he handled them easily. I wanted to see... well...

Go bounding back to the Rock Cats side of the field and watch J.T. Thomas warming up in the bullpen. I must have made him nervous, as he suddenly throws clear out of the pen and onto the field where the Single A game is going on. This sends J.T. into a fit of giggles and I wonder if he'll be able to get it together again to throw.

John Thomas

Check back briefly with Tommy Watkins' mom and the Abbott-in-laws. Notice Travis warming up in the pen and manage to get past the Millers while the are otherwise occupied.

This was about the only time I set my butt down for more than oh...five seconds. Settled in to watch Trav pitch.

Trevor Bowyer

He struck out Luis Maza as the first batter. Allowed a double, and got the third Cat out on an outfield fly. Struck out the fouth batter to end the inning. Good work Trav.

Go bounding off again to harrass Colby and J.D....

· The most recent version of the training camp roster is available Here. Like I said, Pattee has been moved down to the Miracle.

· Abby's wife asked me if I was coming to New Britain this year, which makes me wonder if he was sent down to the Rock Cats. We might go. It depends. Now it really depends with the car dead.

· Cuts this week: Pitchers Manny Tajada, Eric Brandon, Hiroyuki Iida, Chris Marini, Alex Garcia; Catchers Andy Daigler, Heath Anderson, and Josh Johnson; 1st Baseman Dusty Goman; 3rd Baseman Brett Tamburrino and outfielder Ryan Sparto. Pitcher J.C. Contraras was released prior to the start of camp.

Goman was reportedly released because he was a slugger who never made contact enough for his power to emerge. Tamburrino I covered in another post. Hampered by injuries, his power has fallen off of late and so has his value to the Twins. Although he still has something most of us will never have: a silver medal.

· Injury report: Gray is on the DL, but says he's ready to go. I had a look at Trent Oeltgen's eye. He looks okay except for some blood in eye on the side of his face where he took the bat. He said he will probably play a week or so on extended-spring training before being added to the Miracle roster.

· Has the whole system gone catcher crazy?

While I still question the inclusion of Corky Miller on the Twins bench, to make matters worse, Gabby Torres has been retained as the "floater" for the AAA/AA teams. He's nominally on the Rock Cats roster.

Meanwhile the Snappers had FOUR guys on their catching roster. I only saw Korry Feiner and Javier Sanchez today, which may or may not be important.

It will be interesting to see how the opening night rosters work out.