Friday, January 23, 2009
Wolfson used to hang out at my house in Highland Park, asking my mom to make him sandwiches in between talking sports all day, so it always made sense to me that he landed at KFAN. In addition to being Hartman's producer Wolfson often hosted shows of his own on weeknights and weekends, and he was kind enough to invite me in for regular in-studio appearances that led to a weekly segment on The Power Trip Morning Show during baseball season.
I've always been a huge fan of talk radio, so doing frequent in-studio appearances on KFAN has been sort of a dream come true and a great learning experience. And without Wolfson there to get my foot in the door none of it would have happened (and now that he's gone, it may be done happening). Plenty of good people are out of work right now and certainly I'm focusing on Wolfson because he's a friend, but he's a great guy with tons of radio experience and it's sad to see him forced from a job he was born for.
On the way home I started picking apart plot details, which admittedly sounds absurd for a movie about aging backwards. However, it brought to mind this Aristotle quote: "With respect to the requirements of art, a probable impossibility is preferred to a thing improbable and yet possible." Or, as Sam Seaborn put it on West Wing: "It's okay to have a broomstick sing and dance, but you shouldn't turn on the radio and hear the news report you need to hear." The Curious Case of Benjamin Button felt that way a lot.
Known as much for the scolding glances he gave reporters and teammates over his 17-year career as he was for what he achieved on the field, Kent, 40, will leave the game as arguably the greatest power-hitting second baseman of all time.Surely most obituaries for Mother Teresa included her inability to hit a curveball.
Rotoworld is looking for writers to join the staff as paid, part-time contributors for the upcoming baseball season. Previous writing experience is an absolute must, as is significant knowledge of and passion for both baseball and fantasy baseball. Qualified applicants would work under baseball editors Aaron Gleeman and Matthew Pouliot, providing coverage for Rotoworld's player news page that requires the ability to report news with instant analysis and recap games in a clear, concise style.Within 24 hours of that being posted my e-mailbox was filled with more than 300 applications, so we're definitely not short on candidates. However, an amazingly high percentage of those e-mails came from people with little or no significant writing experience and unfortunately that's just not what we're looking for. In other words, if you're reading this and legitimately meet the qualifications described in the above note please feel free to contact me with your information. Non-writers need not apply.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31
Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 36-40
35. Bobby Lanigan | Starter | DOB: 5/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-3As a Division II program Adelphi University isn't exactly a baseball hotbed, but the school that produced Gary Dell'Abate and Public Enemy also provided the Twins with their 2008 third-round pick. A big righty who ranks as the school's all-time leader in strikeouts, Bobby Lanigan had a 1.94 ERA as a junior and then signed very quickly for $417,000, debuting at rookie-level Elizabethton with a 2.78 ERA and 65-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.
Lanigan wasn't dominant at Elizabethton, totaling more hits allowed (74) than strikeouts (65) over 74.1 innings, but he ranked fourth among Appalachian League pitchers in strikeout-to-walk ratio. He fits the Twins' mold as a strike-throwing machine, but is hardly a soft-tosser with a low-90s fastball and sharp slider. For now Lanigan looks like a future fourth or fifth starter, but snatching him up in the third round signals that the Twins may think his 6-foot-5 frame can eventually support more velocity.
Lanigan will make his full-season debut this year and won't be on the same type of fast track as fellow 2008 draftees Carlos Gutierrez and Shooter Hunt, but is polished enough to possibly climb two rungs on the organizational ladder if things go well. If not, Lanigan needs only to hang a big clock around his neck or mispronounce the name of his favorite cartoon character to follow the career-making footsteps of Adelphi's most successful alumni.
34. Oswaldo Sosa | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Sign: VenezuelaOswaldo Sosa was fantastic in the low minors, posting a 2.95 ERA while allowing just four homers in 301 innings at Single-A, but stumbled when he moved up to Double-A for the first time in mid-2007 and completely fell apart last year. Sosa began last season at New Britain, but was demoted back to Fort Myers after making 13 starts with a 5.81 ERA. He split time between the bullpen and rotation following the demotion, but couldn't get on track and finished 2008 with an ugly 80-to-75 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Sosa has never missed a ton of bats, so 80 strikeouts in 105 innings is nothing out of the ordinary, but the deterioration of control is concerning. His walk rate was just nine percent from 2004-2007, but that number jumped to 15 percent last season and came along with a .289 opponent's batting average. He continued to induce a high percentage of ground balls and served up just four long balls to 492 batters, so at least the basics of Sosa's success remained intact while his control faltered.
It's also worth noting that Sosa played the entire season at the age of 22, so it's not surprising that he had trouble versus Double-A hitters. In fact, Sosa and Anthony Swarzak were six months younger than anyone else on New Britain's staff and most of the pitchers were 24 or 25. That doesn't explain Sosa's continued struggles after being moved down to Fort Myers, but it does provide enough reason to show some patience in the hopes that he can get back to throwing his heavy fastball over the plate.
33. Steve Singleton | Second Base | DOB: 9/85 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2006-11Steve Singleton has had an up-and-down pro career since the Twins selected him out of the University of San Diego in the 11th round of the 2006 draft. He signed quickly and debuted by hitting .340 in 41 games at rookie-ball, but then moved up to low Single-A in 2007 and batted just .271/.294/.346 in 102 games while battling through shoulder problems. Not only did Singleton struggle offensively, his lack of arm strength led to 10 errors in 22 games at shortstop before a move to second base.
Back at Beloit to begin last season, Singleton stayed at second base defensively and bounced back in a big way at the plate, hitting .302/.348/.421 in 65 games to earn a midseason promotion to Fort Myers. Singleton then batted .295/.371/.452 in 62 games at high Single-A, finishing the year at .298/.360/.437 in 536 plate appearances overall. Within his 157-point jump in OPS compared to 2007 was significant improvement in both plate discipline and strike-zone control.
Singleton walked 39 times compared to just 53 strikeouts after coming into the season with an ugly 66-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio for his career. With just 17 homers in nearly 1,000 at-bats Singleton will have to get on base at a good clip to be valuable, so tripling his walk rate while cutting strikeouts by 20 percent is an excellent sign. Maintaining those improvements and adding a little more pop would give him a chance to be a starting-caliber second baseman, but for now he looks like a nice utility man.
32. Tyler Ladendorf | Shortstop | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2008-2Drafted by the Yankees in 2006 and the Giants in 2007, Tyler Ladendorf put off his pro career to spend two years at a junior college in Texas. During that time he emerged as the country's top junior-college hitter and then went to the Twins in the second round of June's draft. This time Ladendorf signed for a $700,000 bonus and reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he struggled mightily while hitting just .204 with little power and a strikeout in 17 percent of his plate appearances.
Ladendorf's pro debut wasn't pretty and casts some further doubt on his ability to thrive against tougher competition, but his junior-college numbers were so insanely spectacular that they can't be ignored. As a freshman Ladendorf batted .425 while stealing 65 bases without being caught a single time and as a sophomore he went 31-for-32 swiping bases while hitting .542 with 49 extra-base hits, 47 walks, and a ridiculous 1.060 slugging percentage in 53 games. Slugging percentage, not OPS.
He turns 21 years old in March and is already big for a shortstop, so Ladendorf seems unlikely to stay at the position long term. That makes his offensive development crucial, so even if it was only 175 plate appearances at rookie-ball his poor pro debut was concerning. Still, Ladendorf's junior-college exploits suggest that he'll hit for strong batting averages soon enough, he displayed solid plate discipline amid the overall GCL struggles, and the Twins are clearly believers after taking him 60th overall.
31. Jonathan Waltenbury | First Base | DOB: 4/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-7Taken out of a Canadian high school in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, Jonathan Waltenbury had a modest debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League before breaking out at Elizabethton last year. As a Canadian first baseman with a left-handed stroke and 6-foot-4 frame Waltenbury has naturally drawn comparisons to Justin Morneau and he showed that type of power potential by totaling 35 extra-base hits in 263 at-bats for an Isolated Power that was 77 percent above the Appalachian League average.
Among all the hitters in the Twins' minor-league system last year only Angel Morales, Evan Bigley, and Chris Parmelee flashed more raw power than Waltenbury. Better yet, that impressive pop also came with a reasonable strikeout rate of 16 percent and he's displayed nice patience for someone so young, drawing 45 walks in 437 trips to the plate. Bigley was his Elizabethton teammate and hit .300/.360/.587 for similar raw stats, but is a year older, struck out 15 percent more, and walked 40 percent less.
Not only did Waltenbury tear up the Appalachian League, he did so at a young age and showed some important secondary skills within that performance, which are very important distinctions to make when examining eye-popping numbers in the low minors. He's a long way from being compared to Morneau in a meaningful way despite wearing the same No. 33 to honor his fellow Canuck, but Waltenbury has gotten off to a great start and oozes offensive potential.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36
40. Charles Nolte | Reliever | DOB: 3/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-24Charles Nolte underwent Tommy John elbow surgery following his senior year of high school and then barely pitched during his college career at San Diego State, but the Twins still liked the big right-hander enough to take him in the 24th round of the 2007 draft. Not only has Nolte stayed healthy as a pro, he's emerged as an intriguing relief prospect by racking up 97 strikeouts in 94.2 innings while inducing an extreme number of ground balls.
Nolte has served up a grand total of one homer while facing 417 batters, which is what happens when 71.3 percent of your balls in play are on the ground. To put that stat into some context, consider that no MLB pitcher had a ground-ball rate of even 70 percent last season and no Twins pitcher was above 60 percent. Nolte has induced over five ground balls for every fly ball as a pro and that alone would make him someone to watch even without the low-90s fastball and strong strikeout rate.
Most relievers who dominate in the low minors eventually fail to pan out and Nolte is a long way from Minnesota, but his combination of velocity, missed bats, and ground balls is much tougher to find than just another sparkling ERA at low Single-A. His lack of college experience suggests that Nolte could be a late bloomer and also means that his arm hasn't accumulated much mileage since the surgery four years ago, so if healthy he has a chance to move pretty quickly through the Twins' system.
39. Dan Osterbrock | Starter | DOB: 1/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2008-7The all-time wins leader at the University of Cincinnati, Dan Osterbrock went 18-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 156-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 193.1 innings during his final two college seasons. Selected by the Twins in the seventh round last June, Osterbrock debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton and had a 3.00 ERA and 104-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 innings spread over 13 starts, thoroughly dominating the less experienced competition to lead the Appalachian League in strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
After taking home Appalachian League pitcher of the year honors he had 11 strikeouts in seven shutout innings to win the league title game. His fastball typically resides in the high-80s and he's anything but overpowering, so his high strikeout rate surprised everyone. "I've never really been a strikeout pitcher," Osterbrock said. "I'm not sure how it happened this year. A lot of times they just swing and miss. I've been throwing a slider down and in on righties, and that's really been working for me."
That will change now that Osterbrock is finished facing lineups filled with overmatched teenagers, but his control has been excellent with just 43 walks in his last 268 innings dating back to college and with a 3.09 ERA during that time he clearly has the offspeed stuff to get by with a modest fastball for now. His ability to get by on command and secondary stuff will be tested soon enough, but in the meantime he looks like a potential back-of-the-rotation starter and shouldn't need a ton of time in the low minors.
38. Danny Rams | Catcher | DOB: 12/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-2Danny Rams' sophomore year didn't go a whole lot better than his disappointing pro debut and he now sports an ugly .240/.305/.398 line with 93 strikeouts in 68 games two years after being a second-round pick. Rams was drafted based mostly on what Baseball America ranked as the best power in the 2007 high school class, but so far he's had trouble simply making contact, whiffing in 34 percent of his plate appearances.
Rams struck out in 71 of his 166 trips to the plate at rookie-level Elizabethton last year, which works out to an astonishing 42.8 percent. Strikeouts aren't necessarily a horrible thing and certainly many power hitters struggle to make consistent contact, but 43 percent is well beyond an acceptable amount. With that said, Rams did show considerable pop at the plate when he actually put the ball in play, batting .436 with an .808 slugging percentage when he made contact.
That's certainly grasping at straws in search of some reason for optimism, but five homers and 16 total extra-base hits in 149 at-bats from a teenager in a pitcher-friendly environment definitely qualifies as big power potential. Rams also drew a solid number of walks and saw regular action at catcher, which is key given that his future behind the plate has been questioned due to his massive frame. He's very raw and has started down the bust path, but it's early yet and Rams still has potential if things click.
37. Daniel Ortiz | Right Field | DOB: 1/90 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2008-4Drafting Angel Morales in the third round two years ago has worked out so well thus far that the Twins decided to select another toolsy high school outfielder from Puerto Rico when they made Daniel Ortiz a fourth rounder in June. Morales debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit .256/.357/.405 in 2007, so naturally Ortiz followed in his footsteps by batting .274/.328/.419 in the GCL after signing for $253,000. While his .747 OPS may not seem like much, Ortiz's debut was actually very impressive.
As a whole the GCL batted just .253/.331/.356 last year, so Ortiz was about 10 percent above average offensively as an 18-year-old. His power was particularly good, as Ortiz smacked 18 extra-base hits in 186 at-bats for an Isolated Power that was 41 percent above par for the GCL. For comparison, Justin Morneau's power was 35 percent above the MLB average last year. Ortiz struck out a lot and didn't walk much, but showed plenty of promise at the plate to go along with good speed and athleticism.
Ortiz is under six feet tall and has a very slight build, so despite the pop shown in the small sample of his debut it's tough to project a ton of power. Of course, he's young enough that adding more size and strength is inevitable. He'll probably climb only one rung on the organizational ladder this year, going from the GCL to more short-season competition in the rookie-level Appalachian League, as the Twins' suddenly outfield-rich system should let them take things slow with Ortiz.
36. Reggie Williams | Second Base | DOB: 10/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-4Reggie Williams was drafted out of a California high school in the fourth round two Junes ago, but was left off last year's version of this list because he signed too late to make a 2007 debut. His pro career began in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season and Williams looked very good in a limited number of games, hitting .286/.358/.440 while seeing most of his defensive action at second base and one appearance at third base.
It doesn't make much sense to put a whole lot of weight on 96 plate appearances versus short-season competition, but Williams showed a promising all-around offensive game for a teenager with as many extra-base hits as strikeouts and a solid walk rate. Williams was drafted as a shortstop and praised for his athleticism, so he'll try to stay a middle infielder for as long as possible before potentially moving to third base if his left-handed bat develops as planned.
He's a long way from the big leagues and probably won't even see full-season competition until 2010, but Williams was touted as a high-upside prospect when the Twins handed him a $153,000 signing bonus to lure him away from a scholarship to Cal-State Fullerton and he has already shown flashes of that potential. If he can handle second base and put together a good campaign at Elizabethton there will be room for Williams much higher on this list next year.