Friday, January 13, 2006

Gulf Coast League – Game On!

Last year in August, Minor League Baseball, as well as several newspapers reported the “potential” end of the Gulf Coast League and the Arizona League (not to be confused with the Arizona Fall League). Both leagues are low Rookie A-ball; do not charge admission to the games and good information on both is pretty difficult to get. Twelve MLB teams, including the Twins, use the GCL, while nine use the AzL. The teams that use neither league, such as the Cleveland Indians, use two short-season clubs and they too, would have lost an affiliate to replace the teams for clubs that would be losing affiliates under the new system. Additionally, the short-season Appalachian League would have become a co-op league, similar to the way the Arizona Fall League (not to be confused with the Arizona League) is currently run – all of the clubs place a set number of players, say six or eight, to play on teams that are not owned by any one club.

The idea was to cut out – or at least cut down – on the prospects drafted out of high school and have the teams focus on college prospects.

I had a lot of problems with the proposed system, not the least of which is my concerns for health problems in college players – especially pitchers. Former first round draft pick Matt Fox is currently our Twins poster child for said injuries. (Fox had arthroscopy on his shoulder before the start of the GCL and was shut down after pitching only several innings in extended spring training. He will have to prove that he is healthy, and that he can remain that way in Spring Training this year, or you can write him off as a wasted first-rounder.)

Evidently I was not the only one with concerns as many GM’s had issues with the Instructional Leagues being made mandatory, what do to with their existing training complex and where to put Latin-American, Australian or Euro-Asian players that were signed as free agents, and probably not quite good enough to keep up with the college kids.

The issues regarding the closing of these leagues were tabled until the Winter Meetings. Currently there has been little or no resolution on the issues and the proposed shut down of the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues is not going to happen, at least not this year.

So yes, the Gulf Coast League Twins will play a 2006 season. Nelson Prada returns as field manager for the 2006 season and Milt Cuyler returns as batting coach. Eric Rasmussen was originally announced as pitching coach for the Gulf Coast League Twins. This was not a demotion; Rasmussen wanted to stay closer to Fort Myers (GCL is less travel than FSL) where he also conducts a private pitching school. However, Bobby Cuellar fled the organization for a major league pitching job and Ras again found himself as pitching coach for the Fort Myers Miracle. Ivan Arteaga, a veteran of the Mets organization, has been hired to replace him as the pitching coach for the Gulf Coast League.

No, I do not have a GCL or even an extended spring training schedule available yet. However, I have posted the Twins Minor League Spring Training Schedule which is available at the Gulf Coast League Twins website. Please remember that this is baseball and the schedule is subject to change without notice.

A couple of other notes, Joel Lepel becomes the Twins minor league field coordinator replacing Joe Vavra, who has been promoted to hitting coach for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins also announced that minor league pitchers Omar Burgos, Tim Henkenjohann, Peter Tautor, and Joe Gault were released. Henkenjohann, who hails from Germany and Tautor, from Australia were both Southpaws. Outfielder Ron Perodin and infielder Odannys Valdez were also released. Nothing here was really a surprise, although I am a little disappointed to see Gault go, I felt he had potential.

Meanwhile, I just can’t wait until March 10th! Being a former catcher (yeah, okay, even if it was softball), I LOVE pitchers and catchers camp!