Not only does Michael Silver's column about the NFL scouting combine over at Yahoo! Sports open with an amusing story about public urination, it also includes this quote: "If you saw him in a pair of underwear, it was just disgusting. He was so soft."
(Warning: Do not--seriously, DO NOT--read the rest of this note if you haven't seen the latest episode of The Wire yet. If you continue reading, I don't want to hear any complaints. It's your own damn fault.)
"A pioneer for black homosexual stickup men" was actually what I was hoping to have etched on my tombstone, but perhaps it's slightly more fitting for someone else.
You wouldn't know it by looking at the video artwork shown below, but this week's NBCSports.com "Fantasy Fix" show features me talking with Tiffany Simons about what sort of impact some of the top prospects figure to make as rookies this season:
Eva Longoria is unfortunately only tangentially involved because we briefly discussed the fact that her name is so close to top third-base prospect Evan Longoria, but producer Matt Casey smartly realized that focusing on her is a clever way to generate viewers for a video that features a) my ugly mug flashing across the screen, and b) Simons hosting instead of Gregg "Eye Candy" Rosenthal.
Speaking of Gregg, in discussing the recently completed and hugely disappointing Troy Williamson era, he notes that Williamson "never caught more than three passes in a game" during three seasons in Minnesota. Unfortunately for the cement-handed wide receiver who the Vikings selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft that they received from the Raiders in exchange for Randy Moss, he probably dropped three passes in a game on several occasions.
Speaking of MinnPost.com, they recently ran an article about Minnesota's lack of pre-caucus polling from one of my idols, Chris Ison. In addition to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and all-around great guy, Ison is usually a good guess as the source whenever I begin a sentence with "one of my journalism-school professors used to say." Actually, seeing how passionate Ison was about news and reporting helped convince me that I'd be better off writing about Nick Punto and Jessica Alba from bed.
If you're looking for some baseball-related material for use in your next nightmare, click here.
I uncharacteristically forgot to mention this prior to my debut appearance last weekend, but I'll be on WPGB radio in Pittsburgh to talk baseball with Rocco DeMaro each Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure how many AG.com readers there are in the Pittsburgh area, but you can also listen to the show on the station's website. I'm gradually attempting to get past my phobia of call-in radio interviews and may soon have some relatively big news to report regarding more in-studio appearances locally.
Over at ESPN.com, Jonah Keri's interview with Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes is a perfect mix of smart, in-depth questions and thoughtful, interesting answers. Byrnes is still flying under the radar while GMs like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein deservedly get tons of hype, but fans in Arizona should feel extremely confident about the guy running things.
Earlier this week I picked on the local media for their non-stop coverage of Denard Span's quest to become the Twins' center fielder, noting that everyone is willing to quote his proclamations about being "ready for the job" and no one is willing to point out how ill-equipped he'd be to handle it. Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal IIIproved my point further yesterday by wasting even more ink on Span being "as confident as anyone in his desire to win the job," as if that's at all meaningful.
Johan Santana joining the Mets will make it tough for the Phillies to repeat as NL East champions, but at the very least they figure to lead the league in wife nudity.
Now that baseball has officially started up again, I just wanted to thank everyone for continuing to stop by here throughout the too-long offseason. This blog's traffic is amazingly at an all-time high, as AG.com topped 100,000 visitors in each of the past four months despite zero actual baseball games to discuss, and depending on how many people show up here today the site's readership in February will be up nearly 50 percent compared to the same month last year.
Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Nas and Will.i.am getting together for a live version of "Hip Hop Is Dead":
Twins Notes: Liriano, Fogg, Gomez, Span, and Tyner
Francisco Liriano's visa issues are finally settled and it sounds like he'll be ready to hit the ground running once he arrives at Twins camp. Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal IIIreports that "Liriano twice hit 97 miles per hour during a recent bullpen session and pitched consistently at 92-95." There's obviously a lot more to his comeback from Tommy John surgery than fastball velocity, but so far at least every bit of news regarding Liriano's recovery has been positive and setback free.
Shortly after the Twins signed Livan Hernandez to a one-year contract that guarantees him at least $5 million with another $2 million in reachable incentives, the Reds agreed to terms with a similarly mediocre veteran starting pitcher for a fraction of the price. Josh Fogg certainly hasn't been as durable as Hernandez, but averaged 170 innings over the past two seasons while posting a 5.22 ERA and 5.20 xFIP. Over that same two-year span Hernandez averaged 210 innings with a 4.88 ERA and 5.50 xFIP.
Fogg will make just $1 million this season, which means that the Twins paid an extra $5 million or so for another 40 innings of what figures to be the same five-something ERA, all from a pitcher who's (at least) two years older and has shown major signs of decline. Like Craig Monroeearlier this winter and any number of washed-up, declining players before him, the Twins always find a way to overpay for veteran mediocrity while scrimping just about everywhere else.
The Twins' motivation for signing Hernandez clearly had a lot to do with avoiding a starting rotation comprised entirely of 26-and-under pitchers. There's some merit to that when it comes to the service times of young players and to a lesser extent wins and losses, but if finding a veteran to compliment an inexperienced rotation was important enough to overpay Hernandez it seems odd that the Twins aren't interested in bringing in a veteran to counteract an even greener group of center fielders.
By signing Hernandez the Twins have pushed back guys like Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, and Philip Humber, giving them additional time to develop and extending their days as low-salaried players. If it was important to do that with a collection of pitchers who at the very least look capable of posting ERAs within shouting distance of Hernandez, why not do the same for the current center-field trio of Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie, and Denard Span?
None of them look especially ready to make a significantly positive impact in the majors yet and each of them could benefit from some additional time at Triple-A at least as much as Perkins, Blackburn, and Humber can. If you're going to pay $6 million for Hernandez to post a 5.00 ERA in 200 innings, why not pay $1 million for Kenny Lofton to post a .360 on-base percentage or perhaps even Corey Patterson to steal 40 bases while shoring up the outfield defense?
Instead, the Twins seem committed to letting Gomez or Pridie (or perhaps both) most likely struggle for a team that may not even contend in a tough division while burning through a valuable year of service time. The odds are against Gomez being a major asset offensively right now, so why not push his free agency back while giving him some additional time to develop by letting Lofton or Patterson keep the position warm at a minimal cost?
Lofton or Patterson have a good shot at out-producing Gomez and Pridie, or at least as good a shot as Hernandez has at out-pitching Perkins, Blackburn, and Humber. Beyond that, everyone in that trio of pitchers is at least 25 years old, whereas Gomez is just 22. Another few months at Triple-A certainly won't hurt his development given how he was rushed through the Mets' system, and having Gomez in Minnesota for his age-22 season is far less important than having him around at 27 or 28.
Speaking of the vacancy in center field, both localnewspapers and MLB.com (twice!) have recently devoted articles to Span publicly stating his desire to win the starting job. That bit of information is something that a journalism-school professor of mine used to call "implied and meaningless." In other words, Pridie and Gomez (and every other player) surely have similar desires, with the difference being that all the local reporters already know Span and clearly haven open lines of communication with him.
Span batted .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A last season and sports a .283/.348/.348 career hitting line in the minors, so him telling the Twins that he "wants a shot at the job" in center field is like me informing the world that I'd really like "a shot" at dating Elisha Cuthbert. Acting as if Span's plans are meaningful by giving them extended media coverage makes about as much sense as reporting on losers who want to date women who're completely out of their league in every possible way.
From beat writers to bloggers Span has been telling everyone who'll listen that he's ready to be the Twins' starting center fielder, yet despite the thousands of words being devoted to his proclamations no one in the media seems interested in pointing out his entirely forgettable minor-league track record or willing to note how overmatched he'd likely be in the role. Here's a quote from a recent interview with Span over at Twins Territory:
I'm definitely ready; I thought I was ready after spring training last year. I felt like I had proven to others and especially to the Twins organization that I was ready for the next level and now one year later everyone is writing me off because of one bad half of baseball in Rochester.
First, after thinking that he "was ready after spring training last year" Span hit .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A, so perhaps he's not particularly well-equipped to make such judgments about himself. Beyond that, suggesting that "everyone is writing me off because of one bad half of baseball in Rochester" is silly given that Span's .678 OPS at Triple-A last season was nearly identical to his .689 OPS at Double-A in 2006 and his .696 OPS in 2,184 career minor-league plate appearances overall.
People are writing Span off because he simply hasn't been a very good baseball player and has done little to suggest that he's capable of becoming one since the Twins took him in the first round of the 2002 draft. Span predictably seems unable to grasp that concept, which is why he's amped up enough about the center-field competition to get his quotes in the newspaper on a regular basis and why he's taken exception to meanies like me suggesting that he's not very good:
I'm ready to compete with whomever, whether it be Pridie or Gomez. I expect it to be a war in spring training because I gotta believe that they are just as hungry as I am. I know for a fact that I have a bigger chip on my shoulder because neither of those guys have been disrespected or slapped in the face like I've been by others and the Twins this off season.
Again, all of that is coming from someone who owns a .283/.348/.348 career mark in five minor-league seasons and couldn't crack a .700 OPS at Triple-A last year. There's also plenty more where that came from, including Span saying that the Twins "turned their backs" on him, and this isn't the first time that he's complained about being disrespected and unfairly criticized. Another blog interview with Span over as Josh's Thoughts earlier this offseason included this quote:
I read Twins blogs. I read about people saying I'm not ready and that I suck, etc. But I read it to get motivated.
If he wasn't referring to this blog then, my guess is that AG.com is probably on his bad side now. The funny thing is that good or bad Span hasn't actually been discussed much in this space over the past couple years, simply because his stock has fallen to the point that he's not (or at least shouldn't be) a big part of the team's plans. It's tempting to criticize him now given the stance that he's taken recently, but I've certainly never written that he "sucks." Of course, perhaps he's been able to connect the dots.
Jason Tynerseemingly resurrected his career in Minnesota after hitting just .257/.294/.299 through his first 844 plate appearances in the majors, finding a team that appreciated his modest talents and batting .299/.340/.356 in 620 plate appearances spread over parts of three seasons with the Twins. Instead, new general manager Bill Smith surprisingly cut Tyner loose in December rather than pay him what figured to be around $1 million via arbitration.
Hurt by the fact that Ron Gardenhire can manage just one team, Tyner apparently drew little interest on the open market and had to settle for a minor-league contract with the Indians. Cleveland was home to Tyner's lone major-league homer, which came last July in his 1,221st career at-bat, but between Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez, David Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Ben Francisco, and Shin-Shoo Choo the Indians' outfield has even less need than most for a 31-year-old singles hitter.
In other words, if a speedy, 170-pound veteran outfielder with a .324 career slugging percentage can't stick with a Gardenhire-managed team, it might be the end of the line. Not only did Tyner start 93 times as a corner outfielder during what was essentially two full seasons in Minnesota, he was the Twins' starting designated hitter another 27 times. Seriously. Like Luis Rivas before him, Tyner's chances of securing another prominent role in the majors vanished the moment that he left Minnesota.
Last and definitely least, if you've wondered what it would be like for the state's hackiest newspaper columnist to spend 1,000 words extolling the virtues of a player who was the single worst hitter in all of baseball last season ... well, it's your lucky day.
YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2005 A- 532 .223 .300 .345 13 31 50 78 2006 A+ 524 .246 .333 .347 4 34 58 93 2007 AA 555 .274 .326 .410 9 48 38 89
Armed with seven of the first 100 picks in the 2004 draft thanks to compensation for Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins leaving as free agents, the Twins grabbed six pitchers and California high-school shortstop Trevor Plouffe, who went No. 20 overall and signed for a $1.5 million bonus. Plouffe debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton, hitting .283/.340/.380 in 60 games, but then struggled at low Single-A and high Single-A over the next two seasons, batting a combined .235/.316/.346 in 252 games.
Despite those struggles and the fact that he wouldn't be turning 21 years old until mid-June, the Twins pushed Plouffe up to Double-A last season. He responded by having the best year of his career, batting .274/.326/.410 with nine homers, 48 total extra-base hits, and an 89-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 126 games. Those numbers aren't eye-popping, but a 21-year-old shortstop simply holding his own at Double-A is plenty impressive and Plouffe's 37 doubles ranked third among Eastern League hitters.
Interestingly, throughout Plouffe's struggles at Single-A he showed good plate discipline, but his walk rate declined last season when he finally began hitting. He kept his strikeouts in check and showed the aforementioned gap power, which along with what are considered a solid glove and strong arm at shortstop makes his low batting averages easier to swallow. It's tough to get a great read on Plouffe's true ceiling because he's been pushed aggressively, but 2007 was a big step in the right direction.
14. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2
YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2006 RK 221 .260 .335 .444 5 21 21 41 2007 A- 507 .255 .347 .368 5 31 49 124
A two-sport star in high school who was lured away from college by a $575,000 bonus after the Twins took him in the second round of the 2006 draft, Joe Benson ranked 11th on this list last year and was the organization's lone center-field prospect who possessed anything resembling star potential. A year later he's been joined by Carlos Gomez and Ben Revere, and is coming off a somewhat disappointing first full season that likely puts him behind both players on the position's long-term depth chart.
After hitting .260/.335/.444 during his 52-game pro debut at rookie-ball after signing in 2006, Benson jumped to low Single-A last season and batted .255/.347/.368 with five homers, 31 total extra-base hits, and a 124-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122 games. Lots of strikeouts and little power is a bad combination, but Benson's modest-looking .715 OPS was actually above the pitcher-friendly Midwest League's average, which is notable from a teenager playing an up-the-middle position.
Benson's game is still very raw, from a .257 career batting average and strikeouts in 23 percent of his plate appearances to being thrown out on half of his steal attempts and showing limited pop. However, faults and all his overall production offensively has been solidly above average for the environments that he's played in and includes solid plate discipline, which along with what's considered strong defense in center field gives him a chance to develop into a very good all-around player.
13. Deibinson Romero | Third Base | DOB: 9/86 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican
YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2006 RK 197 .313 .365 .460 4 16 13 37 2007 RK 293 .316 .406 .506 9 27 34 47
Signed by the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 2004, Deibinson Romero first appeared on the prospect radar by ranking ninth in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in OPS with a .313/.365/.460 hitting line over 50 games in 2006. He took one step up the organizational ladder to Elizabethton in 2007, hitting .316/.406/.506 in 66 games to rank fourth among Appalachian League hitters in OPS as a 20-year-old. He then went 3-for-10 after a late-season promotion to low Single-A.
Romero's 2007 numbers are plenty good on their own, but look even better once you account for the fact that he was playing in an extremely pitcher-friendly environment. Adjusted for context, his hitting line goes from .316/.406/.506 to .328/.409/.560, which was the best year that any prospect in the Twins' entire minor-league system had at the plate in 2007. Rookie-ball numbers are only worth so much, but hitting .314/.389/.485 through 118 games is an awfully good way to begin a career.
Romero will play the entire 2008 season as a 21-year-old and has been hurt by environments that don't lend themselves to big numbers offensively, yet has already shown excellent power and good plate discipline while posting big batting averages and a reasonable strikeout rate. He's obviously a long way from the majors, but Romero has one of the highest offensive ceilings of any position-player prospect in the organization and should stick at third base long term defensively.
YEAR LV G GS ERA IP H HR SO BB 2005 RK 12 11 4.95 56.1 59 4 40 21 2006 A- 20 20 2.75 117.2 102 1 95 36 A+ 6 6 2.08 34.2 23 1 27 18 2007 A+ 19 19 2.23 105.0 94 2 82 36 AA 9 9 4.50 48.0 45 4 35 22
Signed by the Twins out Johan Santana's hometown in Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2002, Oswaldo Sosa didn't make his full-season debut until 2006, when he started out at low Single-A and received a promotion to high Single-A late in the year. Making 26 combined starts between the two levels, Sosa posted a 2.60 ERA, 122-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .224 opponent's batting average in 152.1 innings while serving up a grand total of just two homers in 628 plate appearances.
Sosa remained at high Single-A last year, posting a 2.23 ERA and 82-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just two homers in 105 innings before finishing the season by holding his own in six starts at Double-A. Even after uncharacteristically serving up four homers in 48 innings at Double-A, Sosa has allowed a total of eight homers in 305.1 innings since advancing past rookie-ball, which is an amazing ability to suppress power that works out to one long ball every 160 plate appearances.
His home-run rate figures to rise going forward because Sosa's 1.8 ground balls for every fly ball over the past two seasons doesn't quite qualify as extreme, although at 22 years old there's still time for his fastball-slider combo to produce more grounders. Perhaps because of modest strikeout totals Sosa tends to get overlooked in a system full of good pitching prospects, but keeping the ball on the ground can make up for a lack of missed bats and he's on the path to becoming a solid mid-rotation starter.
11. Chris Parmelee | Right Field | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1
YEAR LV PA AVG OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO 2006 RK 179 .279 .369 .532 8 19 23 47 2007 A- 501 .239 .313 .414 15 43 46 137
Taken by the Twins with the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft out of a California high school, Chris Parmelee agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and spent his first pro season hitting .279/.369/.532 in 56 games between the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and low Single-A. He then spent all of last season at low Single-A, but hit just .239/.313/.414 with 15 homers, 43 total extra-base hits, and a 137-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 games for a hugely disappointing full-season debut.
Parmelee hitting .239 and striking out in 27 percent of his plate appearances are major concerns, but the ugly raw numbers also overstate his struggles. His .727 OPS was safely above the league average despite the fact that he was just 19 years old and in particular his power was far more impressive than it initially appears. He ranked among the Midwest League's top 10 in homers and Isolated Power, and his slugging percentage jumps from .414 to .471 once you adjust for the pitcher-friendly environment.
Parmelee looks capable of developing into a major power threat, but the rest of his offensive game needs a lot of work and his defensive value figures to be minimal. A teenager producing 23 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, and a .189 Isolated Power through 184 career games despite playing in extremely pitcher-friendly environments is impressive, but less so when combined with a .249 batting average and 193 strikeouts. Some of the bloom is off Parmelee's rose, but he remains a potential impact bat.