Friday, December 01, 2006
I have to clean out my bookmarks before heading to Orlando for the Winter Meetings this weekend, so this one might bring back some memories ...
However, someone arrived here earlier this week through what may be the single most mind-blowing Google search in the long and storied history of Google searches: "Joe Mauer dating Jessica Alba." Without even knowing the sex of their purely hypothetical baby, I'm prepared to marry it and pencil it into the third spot in the Twins' 2030 lineup. Aniston's butt can bat cleanup.
New celebrity couple Jessica Biel and Derek Jeter sparked outrage when their public display of affection at an exhibition left art fans upset. The actress and the New York Yankees star were checking out the Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons From Sinai exhibition at Los Angeles' Getty Museum when things started getting hot and heavy.There are those who would probably argue that Jeter and Jessica Biel were the two most important religious artifacts in the room. Of course, we've been through this before. Also, Batgirl is funny.
During my senior year of high school, I attended a sports journalism seminar at the University of Minnesota, which featured a number of well-known columnists from around the country. Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe stole the show, as the man Tony Kornheiser calls "The Quintessential American Sportswriter" told great stories and came across as someone who simply loved his job. He was exactly who I always wanted to be.
In a recent interview with Sports Media Guide, Ryan had this to say about the growth of online media:
Our business is under siege. Somebody starting out today should get to a dot.com immediately if not sooner--why spend your time in a dying industry? I'm grateful I'm much closer to the end of my career than the beginning. ... I can't imagine starting out today.Had I successfully taken the traditional path to becoming a sportswriter, I'd probably be writing about high-school football at a small newspaper in the middle of nowhere right now or, if I was lucky, penning obituaries and random feature pieces while working the weekend shift at the Minneapolis Star Tribune or St. Paul Pioneer Press. There's no shame in that, of course, and just a few years ago I would have given anything for that path to open up to me.
However, it's now clear to me--as I pack for my trip to the Winter Meetings, shoot videos for NBC, and cash paychecks that are bigger than I ever dreamed of getting--that I skipped the middle man without even realizing it. For the first 20 years of my life, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a newspaper columnist, yet now the owners of those dream jobs are starting to realize they'd be better off doing what I'm doing. As the old saying goes, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
In fact, almost exactly two years ago today I wrote a column titled "A Program in Disarray" in which I laid out my thoughts on how Monson was taking the team in the wrong direction, both in terms of who he recruited and how he coached them once they arrived on campus. I concluded the piece with the following prediction:
I don't see any conceivable way for Monson to successfully rebuild the program at this point. That's not to say he's not capable of doing so, because I think clearly he showed he can win while he was at Gonzaga. But rather, he is no longer capable of doing so here, if he ever was. As the old cliche goes, things usually get worse before they get better, and it seems to me we're at that "getting worse" stage right about now.Monson rode Vincent Grier to a surprise NCAA tournament trip since then, but things certainly "got worse" before completely falling apart this season. Monson had a difficult job on his hands when he came here from Gonzaga and while he was far from a total disaster, the team never improved its long-term chances of winning, which is essentially the focus of any rebuilding effort. My fear now is that the program has fallen so far that it'll be difficult to lure a desirable coach to rebuild again.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31
Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 36-40
35. Doug Deeds | Left Field | DOB: 6/82 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2002-9In a system full of good pitchers and toolsy position players, guys like Doug Deeds tend to get lost in the shuffle. A ninth-round pick out of Ohio State University in 2002, Deeds batted .294/.364/.448 at high Single-A in 2004 and .304/.382/.479 after moving up to Double-A in 2005. At 23 years old with full seasons at both Fort Myers and New Britain, it seemed natural that the Twins would promote Deeds to Triple-A last year. Instead, Deeds actually spent the entire 2006 season back at Double-A.
He batted .282/.383/.470 in 133 games, ranking third among Eastern League hitters in OPS, yet failed to receive even a late-season promotion to Triple-A despite Rochester's need for bats after much of their lineup was promoted to Minnesota. Given Deeds' track record, it's telling that the Twins let Deeds essentially waste a year of development by repeating a level he had already conquered. I suspect the front office doesn't think much of him as an eventual big-league option, which is a shame.
Deeds doesn't have big-time home-run power and he's not an athletic speedster, but does have good plate discipline with enough pop to be dangerous, and is thought to be a capable defender at first base or either corner-outfield spot. That doesn't make him a future star, but in an organization lacking quality hitting prospects he's a guy who could be a solid left-handed bench bat or even platoon starter if given the opportunity.
34. Brandon Roberts | Center Field | DOB: 11/84 | Bats: Left | Trade: RedsOriginally taken by the Reds in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, Brandon Roberts hit .318/.386/.438 in rookie-ball after signing, got off to a slow start at high Single-A in 2006, and was traded to the Twins for Juan Castro in mid-July. I called the trade a perfect "example of addition by subtraction" at the time, but it has a chance to be more than that after Roberts remained in the Florida State League and hit .316/.370/.396 in 71 games with Fort Myers.
Roberts' overall hitting line of .293/.349/.355 in 131 games is nothing to get excited about even in the pitcher-friendly FSL and a complete lack of power means he'll never be an impact hitter, but his world-class speed makes him an intriguing prospect anyway. Roberts has 82 stolen bases in 199 pro games, including 50 steals in 2006, and has reportedly learned to take advantage of his speed enough defensively to be above average in center field long term.
Roberts is no higher than the No. 3 speedy, slap-hitting center-field prospect on the organizational depth chart and it's difficult to get overly excited about someone who could somewhat accurately be described as the next Jason Tyner, but at 22 years old he has a chance to be a decent major leaguer. Roberts is no more of a clear replacement for Torii Hunter than anyone else in the system, but he at least might be a rich man's Tyner after hitting lefties (.315) better than righties (.289) last season.
33. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19Danny Valencia didn't put up any huge numbers at the University of Miami, hitting .300/.355/.471 as a sophomore and .324/.382/.475 as a junior, but the Twins saw something they liked and grabbed him in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. Valencia signed quickly rather than return to school for his senior season and reported to rookie-level Elizabethton, where he played primarily first base with some third base mixed it.
It remains to be seen where Valencia's long-term home is defensively, but it's clear that the Twins drafted him for his bat. Valencia hit .311/.365/.505 with eight homers and 13 doubles in his first 48 pro games, ranking among the pitcher-friendly Appalachian League's top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. An experienced college hitter beating up on rookie-league competition isn't particularly rare or impressive, so it'll be interesting to see how Valencia does in his first full season.
Typically a tools-oriented organization that leans toward pitching and high schoolers, the Twins have done relatively well grabbing a few college hitters like Valencia, Whit Robbins, and Erik Lis in the middle rounds over the past couple years. Valencia gives a nice boost to a system lacking impact bats, although he's considerably less valuable if playing third base passably is ruled out. At 22 years old and with big-conference college experience, he could move quickly.
32. Brian Duensing | Starter | DOB: 2/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3While at the University of Nebraska, Brian Duensing missed most of 2003 and all of 2004 because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He bounced back to go 8-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 2005 and the Twins selected him in the third round that June. Duensing debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton and posted a 2.32 ERA and 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.1 innings, although those numbers are less impressive than they initially appear given his younger, less experienced competition.
As most teams do with a polished college hurler, the Twins promoted Duensing aggressively in his first full season, with stops at low Single-A and high Single-A before two months at Double-A to finish the year. Duensing certainly held his own, posting a 3.49 ERA in 160 total innings, but his secondary numbers show a pitcher who was far from spectacular. Duensing tallied just 118 strikeouts, failing to whiff as many as 7.5 batters per nine innings at any level, and gave up more hits than innings pitched.
In particular his numbers after moving beyond Beloit were well below par, as Duensing allowed 98 hits, including 10 homers, while handing out 26 walks in 89.2 innings between Fort Myers and New Britain. The Twins were smart for being aggressive with Duensing and he deserves credit for holding his own post injury, but soon he needs to show that he's more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. As a soon-to-be 24-year-old with an iffy strikeout rate and .273 opponent's batting average, I'm skeptical.
31. Trevor Plouffe | Shortstop | DOB: 6/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2004-1Free-agent compensation left the Twins with seven of the first 100 picks in the 2004 draft and they used all but the first of them (20th overall) on pitchers. Interestingly, some felt that the lone position player they grabbed, high schooler Trevor Plouffe, had more of a long-term future on the mound. The Twins liked him as a shortstop, handing him a $1.5 million bonus and starting him at rookie-level Elizabethton, where Plouffe batted a solid .283/.340/.380 in 60 games.
Unfortunately, it's been all downhill since. Plouffe batted just .223/.300/.345 at low Single-A in 2005, received a promotion to high Single-A that he didn't deserve, and hit .246/.333/.347 there last season. Being moved so aggressively out of high school means Plouffe is still just 20 years old, which is the main thing on his side at this point. He's also considered a quality defender at shortstop, which is why back-to-back sub par seasons at the plate haven't wiped him completely off the prospect map.
Along with that, another thing in Plouffe's favor is that he has good plate discipline for such a young hitter, walking in nearly 11 percent of his plate appearances over the past two seasons. His power isn't horrible for a middle infielder and he doesn't strike out an insane amount, which means if Plouffe can simply find a way to boost his batting average into the realm of respectability he still has plenty of time to salvage a career that's at a crossroads. I'm not overly optimistic or willing to write him off just yet.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Winter Meetings Preview
In an effort to whet everyone's appetite in preparation for my trip to the Winter Meetings next week, my NBCSports.com column today focuses on the needs of each American League team and who they might target when the general managers get together in Orlando Monday.
What's Cooking: American League Winter Meetings Preview (NBCSports.com)
Regular readers of this blog won't find anything particularly noteworthy in the Twins write-up, but here it is anyway:
Minnesota TwinsI go through a similar run-down for the other 13 AL teams as well, so check it out. On a personal note, I'm proud to say that not only is today's column featured prominently in the NBCSports.com baseball section, it's actually the featured front-page story (as of 11 this morning, at least). For a site that has been almost entirely football since it launched, that's welcomed progress (plus, it's pretty cool).
Monday, November 27, 2006
I'm Going to Disney World
For the first four years of this site's existence I rarely went anywhere, save for a random long weekend somewhere or my annual trek to the SABR convention, so it's a bit of shock to my system that I'll soon be packing for my second trip in a month's time. A few weeks ago I headed to New York on business and, stemming directly from that, Sunday afternoon I'll be flying to Orlando to cover baseball's annual Winter Meetings for NBCSports.com.
The week-long event features thousands of representatives from every major-league and minor-league organization, as well as agents, media members, job-seekers, and assorted "baseball men." I'm not entirely sure what to expect, although Alex Belth's wonderful essay about attending the Winter Meetings in New Orleans back in 2003 gives me at least some idea of what I'm getting myself into. Belth began his piece by calling it "one of the oddest experiences Iíve ever had" and went on to write:
Smack dab in the middle of the hotel lobby is a squared-off bar area that is raised up off the floor by a couple of feet, carpeted and outfitted with tables. The room is populated with up to several hundred men--agents, scouts, front office assistants, kids looking for jobs, and of course, the members of the media. Essentially, it is a big cocktail party. Groups of guys cluster together and chat. It's the kind of scene where you see a guy pull another guy aside and say, "Step into my office." The rest of the men stand around nervously, as if they were limo drivers at the airport waiting to pick someone up.As someone who was awkward at many seventh-grade dances, it should be right up my alley. Belth goes on to describe the "objects of desire" as "more famous men" who basically get gawked at constantly like they're supermodels. He also talks of "reporters doing laps around the bar, looking for their next lead" and "agents on their cell phones arranging meetings." My plan, for now at least, is to be somewhere in between.
In fact, my primary goal is to simply take in the atmosphere, much like Belth did a few years ago, and report back about what exactly goes on at these things. To flip around the old saying, this is my first rodeo, so I have no delusions of breaking big stories or getting scoops. Instead, I'll try to be the ultimate fly on the wall (or limo driver waiting to pick someone up at the airport) and take good notes as it all goes down in front (or at least within ear-shot) of me.
Of course, with so many big names around, I'll also be trying to secure a few interviews for NBCSports.com, which is why I'll be equipped with a video camera in addition to pen and pad. Terry Ryan will be there, as will Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, John Schuerholz, Ken Williams, Walt Jocketty, Brian Cashman, Omar Minaya, Kevin Towers, Dave Dombrowski, and the rest of his 29 counterparts. I'll be pestering them all to come on camera with me, so we'll see if it's possible to go 0-for-30.
While GMs are undoubtedly the headliners, I'm looking forward more to meeting some of my favorite writers. ESPN.com figures to send guys like Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Keith Law, while FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal will surely be pumping out his usual dozen columns per day with all the latest rumors. Beyond that, this will be my first chance to actually meet the Minneapolis Star Tribune's LaVelle E. Neal III, whom I've called the "Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com" for years.
I'm hopeful that being "online friends" with LEN3 will compel him to shield me from Jason Williams of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (and Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune, if he's there), but if not there should be some good footage of me being beaten to death by a rolled up newspaper in the hotel bar. I also hope to meet some of the Baseball Prospectus gang, who are now veterans of the Winter Meetings after once upon a time coming into the experience with the same deer-in-the-headlights look I'll surely have.
For anyone else reading this who's planning to be there--whether you're a big-time mainstream media member, lowly blogger, faceless front-office slave or none of the above--please drop me an e-mail. Not only would I enjoy meeting up with you in Orlando--I hear there might be some late-night drinking involved, in which case the first one is on me--I might be able to get you some camera time. You know, assuming all the GMs aren't lining up to talk to me.