I see so few films in theaters that my reviews here are usually of the pay-per-view variety, but taking a few days off from work last week allowed me to check three new(ish) movies off my list ...
Avatar featured mediocre acting, cheesy dialogue, and a derivative, predictable plot, but that mattered little because the damn thing was so amazing to look at. The special effects are miles beyond anything I've ever seen before and the 3-D viewing experience was much more worthwhile than I expected, even if you feel silly wearing glasses like this for three hours. The movie is a C-minus, but the movie-going experience was an A-plus, so ... Grade: B-plus.
I was so intrigued by the preview for Shutter Island that I bought the book and read all 360 pages in one sitting a few weeks before it came out, but ultimately that probably kept me from liking the movie more. Dennis Lehane's novel is excellent and for the most part the film follows it closely, but not going in with a clean slate takes something away from the intrigue and a few places where Martin Scorsese veered from the book bothered me. Grade: B-minus.
As a showcase for the always awesome Jeff Bridges and a spotlight onto his highly underrated career Crazy Heart succeeds and then some, but he can only carry an otherwise mediocre film so far. He was great and the music was actually pretty good considering I'm not a country fan, but the basic plot was done better by The Wrestler, which was less predictable with fewer film cliches and doesn't suffer from having Maggie Gyllenhaal in every other scene. Grade: B-minus.
Speaking of reviewing movies, among other things Will Leitch's story about the great Roger Ebert makes me think I should probably do a better job replying to e-mails.
Eric Hinske spent $5,000 and 45 hours getting his entire back tattooed, but he then canceled out the whole badass effect by wearing Banana Republic boxers in a photo showing off the ink.
Unfortunately for Ric Flair, his wife knows that "to be the man, you've got to beat the man." Wooo!
Next time you're reading a LaVelle E. Neal III article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, consider that he likely wrote it while sitting on the toilet.
Friend of AG.com and new ESPN play-by-play man Jon Sciambioffered some reasonable advice for how his fellow baseball announcers can incorporate new-school stats and analysis into broadcasts. In related news, Dick Bremer just asked someone what OPS stands for.
Without fail, this cracks me up every year: Rich Eisen from NFL Network running the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine:
There are several new developments on the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com front. First and foremost, after 20 months with the title Keeley Hazell has been bumped from the throne in favor of ... Mila Kunis. Kunis is a longtime OFGoAG.com candidate, finishing fourth in the balloting that gave Hazell the crown in mid-2008, and has really stepped her game up of late by both continuing to look fantastic and doing nice work in The Book of Eli. She's also the first Jewish titleholder, which should make my mom happy.
Despite losing the crown Hazell will remain an OFGofAG.com candidate, because while her production has slipped she continues to play at an All-Star level and seems like a solid bounceback candidate in 2010. Unfortunately the same can't be said of former OFGoAG.com Elisha Cuthbert, who lost the title in late 2006 and has now been removed from the candidates list. It was one helluva run, but Cuthbert just isn't getting the job done any longer and it's time to move on.
Cuthbert's spot on the candidates list has been filled by actress/model Diora Baird, who you may have seen in Wedding Crashers and Two and a Half Men. She's also had smallish roles in a whole bunch of other movies and television shows, but her candidacy is primarily due to a) looking spectacular, and b) showing a good, quirky sense of humor on Twitter. Baird beat out Aubrey Plaza in part because having two candidates from NBC's block of Thursday night comedy seems like overkill even if they employ me.
On a related note the Star Tribunehas added the TwinsCentric quartet of John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hagemanto their blogging lineup, which is pretty great in addition to making me kind of jealous. Congrats, guys.
Over at NBCSports.com, Circling the Bases has switched its name to Hardball Talk in a synergistic effort to better fit with Pro Football Talk and Pro Basketball Talk in the branding department. The actual content of the site hasn't changed any, so you can still find me, Craig Calcaterra, and Matthew Pouliot blogging all day, every day. Hardball Talk has a new Twitter feed too, so check that out for all the links to our stuff. And thanks for supporting CTB/HBT in our soon-to-be-completed first year of existence.
Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicledid a nice job describing why Men of a Certain Age on TNT was so good (and so underrated) in its recently completed debut season. Good acting with a solid mix of laughs and drama despite small-scale storylines, which is why it ranked second to only Modern Family as my favorite new show.
I'm amused by the notion of Christina Hendricks being something other than extraordinary looking at any point in world history. However, she's been declared ineligible for Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com status on account of being too much woman for anything with "girl" in the title.
Twins Notes: Slowey, Casilla, Jimerson, and Man Strength
Kevin Slowey missed the final three months of last season after wrist surgery to, as he describes it, "cut down some tendons and pull out some tissue and bones that were no longer necessary and just kind of floating around in there." His recovery process included around four months of rehab, but even now Slowey toldDavid Dorsey of the Fort Myers News Press that the two screws surgically inserted into his wrist may keep him from ever feeling the same:
I don't know that I'm going to ever feel the same like I did before. But that's OK. You know, I've got two screws in my wrist. So I shouldn't expect to feel like I felt before. ... I hope that things go well. I expect to go out and compete. If things don't go the way I want them to, it won't be because of any lack of preparation or lack of effort.
Prior to the wrist injury Slowey went 26-15 with a 4.36 ERA and 239-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 312 innings spread over 54 career starts to emerge as a crucial long-term part of the Twins' rotation at age 25, so obviously that quote is kind of a buzz kill. Slowey tends to be relatively blunt when interviewed, so hopefully he was painting an overly pessimistic picture of his status, but even late last season there were rumblings about the screws hurting his range of motion. For a control pitcher, that sounds scary.
Aaron Hicks is 19th on Baseball America's annual top 100 prospects list, with Wilson Ramos (58), Kyle Gibson (61), and Miguel Angel Sano (94) also cracking the list. That sounds about right to me, as they were the first four names on my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects and in reviewing the system as a whole on Monday I called them "four of the top 75 or so prospects in all of baseball." If you're curious, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward and Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg topped BA's list.
David Brown of Yahoo! Sports spent some time at Twins camp last week and as always came away from it with some amusing stories, including Ron GardenhirehecklingJustin Morneau about Olympic hockey, Delmon Youngjoking that he shed 30 pounds this offseason "to be able to catch the balls hit to the warning track" off Carl Pavano, and standing 6-foot-11 making Jon Rauch just the second-tallest right-handed relief pitcher in the clubhouse. Too much good stuff for me to quote it all, so check it out.
John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Pressnotes that Alexi Casilla surrendered his jersey No. 25 to Jim Thome in exchange for "a very nice" Rolex watch. Thome may have been better off just waiting out Casilla, because he's out of minor-league options and seemingly doesn't have a place on the Opening Day roster. Casilla will try to increase his versatility by getting some spring reps in the outfield, but Nick Punto will be around as the backup infielder and actually has a little MLB experience in center field too.
After losing Jason Pridievia waivers the Twins inkedJacque Jonesand nowCharlton Jimerson to minor-league deals, presumably as outfield options for Rochester. Two years ago I talked to a Triple-A pitcher who called Jimerson "the best player I've ever played with" and then repeated it after I stopped laughing long enough to realize he was being serious. I can sort of see how someone could form that opinion just by watching Jimerson, who looks good and has tons of athleticism, speed, and power.
Jimerson is a good center fielder and has averaged 25 homers and 40 steals per 150 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Unfortunately he also has perhaps the worst approach at the plate in all of pro baseball, averaging 203 strikeouts versus 29 non-intentional walks per 150 games. In his last stint at Triple-A, two years ago, Jimerson had an absurd 80-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games. Seriously, in 219 plate appearances for Seattle's affiliate in Tacoma he whiffed 80 times and drew three walks.
Not surprisingly Jimerson also batted just .233 with a ghastly .250 on-base percentage and .688 OPS, although if you're not into sweating that small stuff he did go deep 11 times and swipe 14 bases. All of which is a long way of saying that Jimerson is a 30-year-old with a .258/.312/.456 career mark in the minors who swings at everything and would be laughably overmatched in the majors. However, as Bob Matthews of the Rochester Democrat and Chroniclepoints out, Jimerson is also worth rooting for.
Perhaps joining Jimerson in Rochester is Mike Maroth, who got an invite to spring training as part of his minor-league deal. Maroth was once a decent back-of-the-rotation starter for the Tigers, but is most famous for being MLB's last 20-game loser and hasn't pitched in the majors since posting a 6.89 ERA in 2007. He caught the Twins' eye by going 3-0 with a 2.60 ERA in the Puerto Rican winter league, but even that included a poor 15-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 innings. He's just filler at age 32.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chroniclereports that the Twins were also close to inking Brett Tomko to a minor-league contract, but he opted to re-sign with the A's. Tomko put together a half-dozen good second-half starts for the A's last season, but then suffered an arm injury that he's still recovering from and was 6-19 with a 5.81 ERA over the previous two seasons. He's also 37 years old, so it wasn't much of a loss.
Last but definitely not least, John Sickels' lengthy interview with Howard Norsetter is a must-read, if only because the Twins' international scouting coordinator uses the phrase "man strength" in referring to skinny shortstop prospect James Beresford. They not only covered a wide range of topics, Norsetter gave really interesting, thoughtful responses. Whether you want to learn more about specific prospects or the international scouting process as a whole, the interview is a fantastic read.
Most years at least a handful of significant prospects from my top-40 list exhaust their rookie eligibility or leave the organization via trade, but last season only Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and Jose Mijares graduated to the majors and only Kevin Mulvey was dealt away. That atypical lack of turnover combined with the addition of high-end talent like Kyle Gibson, Miguel Angel Sano, Matthew Bashore, Billy Bullock, and Max Kepler makes the 2010 list much stronger than the 2009 version. And different.
For the past few years the Twins' minor-league system was long on depth and short on star potential, but the opposite may now be true. While the system still lacks elite MLB-ready talent--Danny Valencia is the only top-10 guy who seems likely to play a big role in the majors this season--the Twins boast four of the top 75 or so prospects in all of baseball thanks to using their past two first-round picks on Aaron Hicks and Gibson, dropping a record bonus on Sano, and Wilson Ramos' continued progress.
On the other hand the second half of this year's top 40 seems weaker than previous versions, although certainly that's a tough thing to accurately gauge. Of course, if given the choice strong in top-end talent and weak in mid-level depth is clearly preferable to the opposite and the potential shift in organizational strategy is a positive one. Taking more chances and spending more money on high-upside prospects is absolutely the way to go for a team that may never out-spend the big boys for major-league talent.
As an organization the Twins have long thrived at churning out potential mid-rotation starters, but it now appears to be a relative weakness within the system and instead their minors are flush with outfielders (Hicks, Ben Revere, Angel Morales, Rene Tosoni, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, Kepler) and relievers (Bullock, Carlos Gutierrez, Anthony Slama, Alex Burnett, Rob Delaney). However, some things never change and they still haven't figured out how to develop middle infielders who can field and hit.
Sano was officially signed as a shortstop, but has about as much chance of reaching the majors at the position as I do and may not even stick in the infield once his 6-foot-3 frame fills out (sadly my 6-foot-2 frame has already filled out too much). And after that the best SS/2B prospects are Trevor Plouffe (27), Reggie Williams (29), Estarlin De Los Santos (30), and Derek McCallum (31). I've blogged about the Twins and their prospects since 2002, and young infielders have been a weakness the entire time.
Last year at this time I described the Twins' system as "right in the middle of the pack" amongst all 30 teams, but they're now safely in the upper half and probably in the 10-12 range. With that said, the main problem with making those team-to-team comparisons is that young non-prospects get totally ignored. In other words, prospects are technically only "prospects" until they play regularly in the big leagues, at which point they simply become "young major leaguers."
There aren't as many lists ranking those guys, but the future of a team is clearly about more than which youngsters retain prospect status by not using up their MLB-defined rookie eligibility. For instance, had Swarzak thrown just nine fewer innings last year he'd be eligible for this list, but his long-term potential doesn't change because he's absent from the top 40. With all that in mind, here's an organization-wide view of key Twins who're 29 years old or younger, including both prospects and non-prospects:
CATCHER: FIRST BASE/CORNER OF: CENTER FIELD: Joe Mauer, 27 Justin Morneau, 29 Denard Span, 26 Wilson Ramos, 22 Jason Kubel, 28 Aaron Hicks, 20 Jose Morales, 27 Delmon Young, 24 Ben Revere, 22 Danny Rams, 21 Rene Tosoni, 23 Angel Morales, 20 Josmil Pinto, 21 Chris Parmelee, 22 Joe Benson, 22 Chris Herrmann, 22 Max Kepler, 17
SECOND BASE: SHORTSTOP: THIRD BASE: Alexi Casilla, 26 J.J. Hardy, 27 Brendan Harris, 29 Matt Tolbert, 28 Miguel Angel Sano, 17 Danny Valencia, 25 Reggie Williams, 22 Trevor Plouffe, 24 Luke Hughes, 25 Derek McCallum, 22 E. De Los Santos, 23 Anderson Hidalgo, 21
RH STARTER: LH STARTER: RELIEVER: Scott Baker, 28 Francisco Liriano, 26 Pat Neshek, 29 Kevin Slowey, 26 Glen Perkins, 27 Jose Mijares, 25 Nick Blackburn, 28 Brian Duensing, 27 Jesse Crain, 28 Anthony Swarzak, 24 Matthew Bashore, 22 Billy Bullock, 22 Kyle Gibson, 22 Tyler Robertson, 22 Carlos Gutierrez, 23 David Bromberg, 22 Anthony Slama, 26 Adrian Salcedo, 19 Alex Burnett, 22 Jeff Manship, 25 Robert Delaney, 25 B.J. Hermsen, 20 Ben Tootle, 22 Deolis Guerra, 21 Loek Van Mil, 25 Shooter Hunt, 23 Joe Testa, 24
Plenty of players aren't listed above, but that should provide an outline of the Twins' depth at each spot.