Friday, March 07, 2008
Liriano is scheduled to make his spring debut today against the Red Sox.
I'm heading to New York next week to shoot some season-preview episodes at the NBC Sports studio, so you'll be able to definitively see why my face was made for calling in over the phone.
Regular Star Tribune readers will surely recognize John Millea's name and face (he's the guy in the middle, holding the bat), because he's been covering high-school sports (among other things) for the newspaper since 1991. The two guys flanking him on either side, Brian Stensaas and David LaVaque, are familiar to me because they were both sports editors at the Minnesota Daily and both rejected me for a position on the staff.
LaVaque e-mailed me a couple years ago and suggested that it was time to "shed the enormous chip on your shoulder regarding not getting hired at the Daily." I'm of the opinion that my disappointing experience there has driven me to find success, so I'm in no hurry to remove whatever chip remains on my shoulder, but any grudge that I'm holding isn't necessarily directed at LaVaque or Stensaas, who were both perfectly friendly to me in person.
They're not alone in turning down my attempts to join the student-run Daily, because there were a total of nine rejections during my four years at the University of Minnesota. The people doing the rejecting and the circumstances involved in the rejections changed throughout the years, while the one constant in every situation was obviously me. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while my feelings about the Daily in general remain unfavorable, I'm glad to see Stensaas and LaVaque doing well.
In addition to singing this season's version of the song, Earle also plays Bubbles' sponsor Walon.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 6-10 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40
5. Anthony Swarzak | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-2Things went from bad to worse for Anthony Swarzak early last season, as an 11.12 ERA through two starts at Double-A was followed by a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a non-performance enhancing drug. The Twins punished Swarzak when he returned from suspension by demoting him back to high Single-A, but after posting a 2.30 ERA in three starts there he moved back to Double-A and thrived with a 2.67 ERA and 69-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80.2 innings.
Between the two levels Swarzak had a 3.09 ERA, 94-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .241 opponent's batting average in 102 innings, and then posted a 2.05 ERA over seven starts in an extremely difficult environment for pitchers after heading to the Arizona Fall League to get some more work in. In 2006 he led the Florida State League in strikeouts while finishing third in ERA, giving him a 3.30 ERA and 204-to-76 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 220.2 innings spread over 40 career starts at high Single-A.
Swarzak has allowed just 24 long balls in 398.1 innings above rookie-ball, but continuing to suppress homers figures to be difficult given his extreme fly-ball tendencies. That and a non-elite strikeout rate may keep him from becoming more than a No. 2 or No. 3 starter long term, but a 21-year-old shutting down Double-A hitters even after losing a half-season to suspension is very impressive and Swarzak remains on track to arrive in Minnesota at some point this season despite the lost development time.
4. Glen Perkins | Starter | DOB: 3/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2004-1A St. Paul native who went 19-5 with a 2.87 ERA in two seasons at the University of the Minnesota, Glen Perkins was selected by the Twins with the 22nd overall pick in the 2004 draft and signed for a $1.4 million bonus. He had a 1.79 ERA between rookie-ball and two levels of Single-A to begin his pro career before struggling some after making the jump up to Double-A in 2005, but remained there in 2006 while posting a 3.91 ERA and 131-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117.1 innings.
Perkins made his big-league debut that September and pitched well enough out of the bullpen to be included on the Twins' postseason roster. Despite that he began last year at Triple-A before being called up for more relief duty two weeks into the season. After a dozen appearances, a strained left shoulder sidelined Perkins for nearly four months. He came back strong in September, tossing five scoreless frames to finish the year with a 3.14 ERA and 20-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28.2 innings.
The missed time last season stunted Perkins' development and shoulder problems are concerning, but he'll have a good chance to claim a rotation spot this season and is still just 25 years old. Perkins doesn't project as an ace, but has already shown that his low-90s fastball and solid secondary stuff can get big-league hitters out, holding them to .219/.299/.311 in 34.1 innings. Keeping the ball in the ballpark may be a problem at times, but he's capable of being a nice mid-rotation starter.
3. Tyler Robertson | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3Taken by the Twins out of a California high school in the third round of the 2006 draft, Tyler Robertson signed for $405,000 and debuted with a 4.25 ERA and 54-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48.2 innings at rookie-ball. Rather than give him more rookie-level work last year, the Twins started Robertson at extended spring training and then jumped him up to low Single-A in May. He responded with a 2.29 ERA, 123-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .229 opponent's batting average in 102.1 innings.
Among minor-league pitchers who threw at least 90 innings last year, Robertson led the Twins' entire system with a 2.14 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and only Kevin Slowey (2.39) joined him below 2.90. Robertson was one of just nine teenage pitchers who threw at least 90 innings in the 14-team Midwest League, yet his 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second in the league behind only Dodgers uber-prospect Clayton Kershaw at 12.4.
A 6-foot-5 southpaw, Robertson uses an odd-looking, stiff delivery along with a heavy low-90s fastball and hard slider to rack up huge strikeout totals while inducing tons of ground balls. He coaxed two ground balls for every fly ball last year, has allowed just five homers in 635 career plate appearances, and boasts a 177-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 151 pro innings. He's a long way from the majors, but Robertson's performance thus far is nearly flawless and suggests that he's capable of stardom.
2. Deolis Guerra | Starter | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: MetsSigned out of Venezuela for a $700,000 bonus as a 16-year-old in 2005, Deolis Guerra is an example of the Mets hyper-aggressively pushing their top prospects up the organizational ladder. Guerra made his full-season debut shortly after his 17th birthday and started his first game at high Single-A last season before turning 18. He was the lone teenage pitcher in the entire Florida State League and the average hitter he faced was 23 years old, which is why simply holding his own there is very impressive.
Guerra posted a 4.01 ERA and 66-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89.2 innings at high Single-A, as the Mets limited his workload and a shoulder injury sidelined him for about a month. Combined with the numbers from his 2006 debut, Guerra now has a 3.27 ERA, 135-to-65 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .228 opponent's batting average in 178.2 pro innings, which is amazing for someone who's faced advanced competition at such a young age and why the Twins targeted him in the Johan Santana trade.
Guerra's velocity has reportedly been inconsistent, but he's been clocked in the mid-90s at times and as a stocky, 6-foot-5 right-hander who won't be old enough to drink legally until mid-2010 there's plenty of room to project a big-time fastball. Better yet, Guerra's changeup is said to be his best pitch, which is another area where he's miles ahead of other teenage hurlers. The Twins will no doubt slow down his development considerably, but Guerra has as much upside as anyone in the system.
1. Carlos Gomez | Center Field | DOB: 12/85 | Bats: Right | Trade: MetsSigned out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2002, Carlos Gomez is another prospect who was rushed through the Mets' system, making his MLB debut last season as the NL's youngest player after just 36 games at Triple-A. He predictably struggled, hitting just .232/.288/.304 in 58 games, and missed about two months with a broken left hand. A 21-year-old flailing away in the majors is nothing to get overly concerned about and there's plenty of promise within Gomez's minor-league work.
In 156 games between Double-A and Triple-A, Gomez has hit .282/.354/.421 with nine homers, 51 total extra-base hits, 58 steals, and a 120-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is much better than it initially appears given his age. He lacks plate discipline and strike-zone control, but has shown the ability to hit for a solid average and has more power potential than a typical speedster. If his bat becomes even a modest asset Gomez has a chance to make a huge impact because of his world-class speed.
Gomez is without question one of the fastest players in baseball, swiping a dozen bags in his stint with the Mets after stealing an average of 60 bases per 600 plate appearances in the minors. Along with game-changing speed on the bases, Gomez also projects as an excellent defensive center fielder who combines outstanding range with a powerful arm. He's far from a finished product and would benefit from more time at Triple-A, but Gomez oozes potential if he can simply make some strides at the plate.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6
Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40
10. Ben Revere | Center Field | DOB: 5/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-1The Twins took Kentucky high schooler Ben Revere with the 28th overall pick in June's draft and the selection was roundly criticized. Revere was viewed by many draft experts as a second- or third-round talent and the Twins were able to sign him for a $750,000 bonus that ranked as the smallest given to any first-round pick since 1997. It reeked of a cost-cutting selection and the organization already had plenty of slap-hitting speedsters, including 2002 first-round bust Denard Span.
Those criticisms may ultimately still prove valid, but Revere quickly muted them and separated himself from Span by hitting .325/.388/.461 at rookie-ball after signing. Baseball America pegged Revere as the fastest player in the 2007 draft and he showed off his elite wheels with 10 triples and 21 steals in 50 games. He failed to homer in 216 trips to the plate, but sliced enough balls into the gaps to race into 16 extra-base hits and a .136 Isolated Power that was above average in the Gulf Coast League.
Revere's ceiling is limited because he's unlikely to develop significant power, but with game-changing speed on the bases and excellent range in center field he can still make an impact without much pop. Developing more patience at the plate will be crucial, because pitchers won't be afraid to throw him strikes, and he'll need to continue making plenty of contact to take advantage of his speed. Revere's upside is light for a first-round pick and he's got a long road to the majors, but so far so good.
9. Wilson Ramos | Catcher | DOB: 8/87 | Bats: Right | Sign: VenezuelaSigned out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2004, Wilson Ramos made his pro debut at rookie-ball in 2006 and hit .286/.339/.435 with three homers, 16 total extra-base hits, and a 14-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 games. Between beginning 2007 in extended spring training and being shut down in August due to a thumb injury, Ramos played full-season ball as a 19-year-old and hit .291/.345/.438 with eight homers, 26 total extra-base hits, and a 61-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73 games at low Single-A.
Adjusting for the context of his age, level of competition, defensive position, and offensive environment, Ramos' performance was the best of any position player in the Twins' minor-league system. A .783 OPS from a teenager manning the most demanding defensive position in a pitcher-friendly full-season league is far more impressive than it appears, and when you toss in Ramos' similarly strong debut at rookie-ball and sterling defensive reputation it's easy to see that he's incredibly promising.
Teenage catchers are notoriously difficult to project and have an amazing wash-out rate, but Ramos has hit .290 through his first 119 pro games, gunned down 41 percent of would-be basestealers last season, and has shown the potential for significant power development down the road. He's likely at least three years away from even sniffing the majors, but has flashed the skills that could eventually make talk of moving Joe Mauer out from behind the plate somewhat reasonable.
8. Philip Humber | Starter | DOB: 12/82 | Throws: Right | Trade: MetsPhilip Humber went 35-8 with a 2.80 ERA and 422 strikeouts in 353 innings during three seasons at Rice University, winning national Freshman of the Year honors in 2002 and a College World Series title in 2003. Selected by the Mets with the third overall pick in the 2004 draft, Humber was just 15 starts into his pro career when he joined the long list of pitchers from his alma mater to suffer a major arm injury after racking up huge pitch counts in college, undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in mid-2005.
He returned to the mound a year later, posting a 2.83 ERA, 79-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .199 opponent's batting average in 76.1 innings between high Single-A and Double-A despite a noticeable drop in velocity, but the lost miles per hour caught up to him last season. Humber had a 4.27 ERA in 25 starts at Triple-A, striking out just 120 batters in 139 innings while serving up 21 homers, and was then knocked around in a brief late-season stint in New York.
Traded to the Twins as part of the package for Johan Santana, Humber now looks like a mid-rotation starter rather than the potential ace the Mets drafted. His curveball remains an excellent offering, but as a fly-ball pitcher whose post-surgery fastball no longer overpowers hitters Humber figures to have trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark. Already 25 years old, the 6-foot-4 right-hander will get a chance to claim a rotation spot soon, but could end up in the bullpen long term.
7. Jeff Manship | Starter | DOB: 1/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-14Considered an elite high-school recruit, Jeff Manship's career at Notre Dame was sidetracked by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2004. He missed all of that season and most of the next, but returned at full strength in 2006 with a 3.26 ERA and 111-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings. A draft-eligible sophomore that June, Manship had leverage thanks to the ability to return to school and reportedly fell out of the early rounds because of concerns about his bonus demands.
The Twins took him in the 14th round and handed him a third-round bonus worth $300,000, watching as Manship posted a 1.26 ERA and 22-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 14-inning pro debut. He began last year by dominating low Single-A with a 1.51 ERA and 77-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 77.2 innings, but struggled some after a midseason promotion to high Single-A. His 3.15 ERA there looks good, but the 59-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71.1 innings was poor and opponents hit .270 against him.
Manship threw more innings last season than he did in the previous three seasons combined, so it's possible that he ran out of gas at Fort Myers. Whatever the case, simply staying healthy while throwing 150 innings with a 2.30 ERA and 136-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio qualifies as a hugely successful first full season. Manship's lack of overpowering raw stuff likely limits his upside to mid-rotation starter, but he's missed plenty of bats, throws strikes, and does a great job keeping the ball on the ground.
6. Kevin Mulvey | Starter | DOB: 5/85 | Throws: Right | Trade: MetsKevin Mulvey sliced his ERA from 5.29 to 4.65 to 3.61 in three years at the Villanova University, posting an 88-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92.1 innings during his final season. Selected by the Mets in the second round of the 2006 draft, Mulvey headed right to Double-A after signing and had a 1.35 ERA in three starts. Back at Double-A last year, Mulvey posted a 3.32 ERA and 110-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 151.2 innings before tossing six shutout innings in a late-season start at Triple-A.
Chosen as the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in his first full season, Mulvey was sent to the Twins as part of the deal for Santana. While overlooked within the four-player haul that the Twins received, Mulvey should be MLB-ready at some point this season and projects as a mid-rotation starter despite modest strikeout totals. He's able to succeed despite relatively few missed bats because he does a tremendous job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark.
Mulvey has served up just five career homers in 718 plate appearances spread over 173 innings while inducing nearly two ground balls for every fly ball. He's been especially tough on right-handed batters, holding them to a .224/.275/.274 hitting line and zero homers in 339 at-bats last year, and allowed a Luis Castillo-like .082 Isolated Power overall. He doesn't have Humber's big name or Deolis Guerra's high ceiling, but Mulvey could easily end up as the best pitcher acquired for Santana.