Monday, February 22, 2010

OtB Twins Notes (02.22.10)

I’ll admit it, even with all of my trepidation surrounding Jim Thome’s one-dimensional abilities and power decline potential, I’ve gone on record as saying this is a good move for the team. For a low-risk contract, the roster will have a powerful pinch hitting option late in the ballgames against a large corps of right-handed closers in the American League. Remember, they lost 20 one-run games in ’09. At the time it seemed curious. After all, the Twins had a plethora of left-handed hitters including a burgeoning righty-killer in Jason Kubel entrenched at DH, Thome’s only realistic everyday playing option. It turns out, according to Kelly Thesier, the Twins front office was not necessarily targeting Thome at the time: Smith admits Thome wasn't the ideal fit for the club, as they were seeking a right-handed bat who could play the outfield -- far from what Thome will give them.” In truth, the market wasn’t very friendly to find a player that fits that profile which led the team to Thome. Nevertheless, there remain several options available in potential minor league deals including the often injured Rocco Baldelli and the hacktastic but potent Johnny Gomes.

Without an obvious right-handed bat to assume the designated hitting duties against tougher lefties (read Sabathia comma CC), Ron Gardenhire’s lineup might be a bit more creative. Neither Jim Thome or Jason Kubel have had much success in recent years facing southpaws. Kubel had shown a brief stretch in 2009 were he hit same-sided pitching well but still wound up hitting .243/.299/.345 in 164 plate appearances. Thome demonstrated a bit more pop last year (.409 slugging) so he might be the de facto candidate to DH unless the Twins acquire a right-handed platoon option in spring training.

Now that camp has officially starter, LaVelle E Neal has nine questions facing this year’s Twins team.

Twins opening day starter, Scott Baker, told the Shreveport Times that he was feeling strong heading into spring training. A year ago, Baker experienced some tweaks in his shoulder which resulted in him missing some time towards the end of spring training and the start of the regular season. This season is different. Said the Twins veteran pitcher: "I feel like I'm right where I need to be. The more years you have under your belt, the better you know what it takes to get prepared for spring training and the upcoming season. I don't necessarily think you work any harder than in previous offseasons. You just become smarter about it."

This time last year the Twins were concerned over the shape that Jose Mijares was in. After an early outing in spring training in which Mijares appeared fatigued and winded following an inning of work, manager Ron Gardenhire quipped “He came back in a shape” suggesting that that shape might be oval. This year, things haven’t changed much. Unable to get a visa to report to TwinsFest and skipping winter ball as well, the Twins are very interested to see what kind of condition their primary lefty out of the pen is in. Even with the off-season visa delays, LaValle E Neal was told by GM Bill Smith that the organization fully expects Mijares to be in camp on-time.

Over at Twinkie Town, Jesse Lund has a great Q&A with the Twins’ assistant GM, Rob Antony. Lund covers a little bit of everything with Antony but one topic that is particularly interesting is Anthony shedding light on the Jacque Jones/Charlton Jimerson acquisitions and what it could mean for the Minnesota and Rochester outfields.

The excitement over Francisco Liriano’s winter league performance has officially reached the mainland. Not that Ron Gardenhire is believing too much of the hype just yet. According to a story in USA Today, Gardenhire told reporters that "You just have to wait and see how he carries it up to here. It's one thing pitching down there and it's another thing pitching up here. But the reports are that he's really throwing the ball well. He could be one of those ace in the holes if he can come back and bounce back, keep his arm up and the ball down." His choice of using “arm up” is interested phrase because what this suggests is that it could mean that the manager (or more likely Rick Anderson) potentially endorses scap loading that Liriano practiced in ’06. Reviewing his dominating outing on, you’ll notice that his throwing elbow is below his shoulder in the cocked position (as opposed to above it like he did in ’06). Andrew Kneeland of put together a nice video compilation of his form and I left a fairly exhaustive explanation behind this phenomenon in his comment section, but in short, Liriano keeping his arm below his shoulder is far more beneficial towards his health but it seems that he has adapted to throwing with this new motion – one that may have struggled with in ‘09.    

Now that the regular season is just around the corner, Joe Christensen documents some of Target Field’s obstructed views however, this was covered extensively by back in November of this past year. As a matter of personal experience, the first year the Twins played the Brewers at their then-brand spankin’ new Miller Park, I grabbed tickets off of the Brewers website that were advertised as “obstructed view” in left field. How obstructed could the seats be, I thought? After all, it’s a brand-new stadium.  The correct answer was “very obstructed”. I got to my seat only to find that a foul pole – one that spanned shoulder-to-shoulder on me -- was positioned less than six inches from my face and the edge of the bleacher seat. Forced to relocate to standing room only if I wanted to actually watch any of the game, I was furious about paying full retail for the ticket that was the equivalent to slapping a burlaps sack on my head as I entered the gate. Hopefully the Twins do not have anything this extreme but if they do, here’s to hoping they have the common decency to not charge full price.

Finally: Welcome pitchers and catchers.