Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Friday Flotsam

  • The Twins named Fort Myers Miracle pitching coach, Eric Rasmussen, the new Minor League Pitching Coordinator after the Detroit Tigers wooed Rick Knapp away from the organization to be the Tigers' pitching coach.  For the past ten years Rasmussen has been the Miracles' pitching coach helping groom the likes of Pat Neshek, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Anthony Swarzak and so on.  In 2008, the Miracle pitching staff led the league in ERA and strikeouts.   Back in 2004 Rasmussen was asked to evaluate the progress of Scott Baker, now a potential ace for the Twins.  Rasmussen told the Naples News that "(Baker) is on track.  He mixes his pitches really well and he's got a good competitive spirit. His fastball is above average and he's got a slider like all these guys, that when it's on, it's an average big league pitch.  Most of these guys, when they were in high school, they threw hard enough to where it didn't matter, there's not much need for a changeup. That's the pitch, the one that needs to be developed in pro ball here."  Now, as the pitching coordinator for the entire farm system, Rasmussen will be able to keep sending that message. Indeed, the emphasis of the Twins organization had been to drive home not only the ability to throw a changeup but to throw it often.  This policy had bode well for the team's staff. It worked for Johan Santana* (who throws it 28.7% of the time in 2008), Francisco Liriano's is harnessing his more often (20.0% of the time) and Glen Perkins is starting to spot his more frequently (15.7%).   

*Santana's changeup development has been attributed to Bobby Cueller who was the AAA Edmonton pitching coach in 2002 when he instructed Santana to throw his changeup in every count.  "He always had the pitch," said Cuellar, "Johan had to learn to trust it. I told him, 'Don't be afraid to throw it at any time. Trust it, and it will do what it is supposed to do.' It's the hardest thing for a young pitcher to do."  Throwing a change nearly 30% of the time is certain to make an appearance in every plate appearance.   

  • Rick Knapp was very instrumental in working with the pitchers in the Twins' system.  Matt Garza recently told the Detroit Free Press that "[Knapp's] big thing is throwing strikes.  He wants you to be able to throw any pitch in any count for a strike. That's his philosophy."  Another Free Press, this time Mankato's Ed Thoma, penned another tribute to the departed pitching instructor.  Knapp's indoctrination of strike zone command within the minor league system has paid dividends since 2001 for big club.  Since 2001, the Twins have been either first or second in AL in walks allowed per game:
    2001 - 1st (tied) - 2.7
    2002 - 2nd (tied) - 2.7
    2003 - 2nd - 2.5
    2004 - 1st (tied) - 2.7
    2005 - 1st - 2.1
    2006 - 1st - 2.2
    2007 - 2nd - 2.6
    2008 - 1st - 2.5 
  • More minor manuvers: former Twins catcher Tom Nieto has been named the manager of the AA New Britain Rock Cats, succeeding Bobby Cuellar who will be assuming Stu Cliburn's position as pitching coach of the AAA Rochester Red Wings.  Nieto was brought into the Twins organization in Feburary of 1987 when the team packaged Neal Heaton, Jeff Reed, Yorkis Perez and Al Cardwood to the Montreal Expos for closer Jeff Reardon and played in 1987 and 1988 at which point he was traded to Philadelphia along with Eric Bullock and Tommy Herr for pitcher Shane Rawley.  



  • In September's GameDay Magazine, I penned an article outlining how a good number of Major League teams are relocating their minor league teams to cities closer to the fan base.  Atlanta, Philadelphia and Seattle were all examples of how a system within close proximity could help kindle the local interest in prospects developing in the minors.  Add Milwaukee to that mix.  The Brewers have signed a four-year Player Development Contact with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, WI) in the Midwest League.  Brewers fans have the opportunity to drive two hours north instead of to West Virginia when they were playing in the South Atlantic League as the West Virginia Power.  


  • For years I have believed that the image in Major League Baseball's now ubiquitous logo was the image of Harmon Killebrew.  Turns out I have been living a lie.  A recent Wall Street Journal article profiled the creator of the marketing device who said that it is not based on any one player said Jerry Dior, the New Jersey native who worked on the graphic while employed at Sandgren & Murtha, the advertising firm that created the image.  His son once heard the reference on a radio broadcast where the commentator made mentioned of the Killebrew connection.  "That's completely untrue. It's not Harmon Killebrew. It's not anyone in particular," was Dior's response.   
  • The Denver Business Journal reported that the Colorado Rockies had a substantial decrease in their viewership on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain, a 4% decrease.  Naturally, when your team goes from a World Series contender to an NL West pretender, the local interest wanes.  Not surprisingly, the Twins were among the biggest gainers in viewership (+10.4%) as the team transformed from a 79-83 team that was 17.5 games out of first in 2007 to a 88-75 team that finished one game out of first in 2008.  Likewise, the White Sox saw a 68.9% increase in people tuning in as they went from 24 games out of first in '07 to winning the AL Central via Game 163.    
  • Speaking of the Rockies, Bill Elliot from the Edmonton Sun noted that in 2002 - the infamous Moneyball draft profiled in Michael Lewis book - Colorado's front office desired Denard Span in their ninth overall pick.  A deal with Span could not be reached so the Rockies selected left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis instead.  Span fell to the Twins at the 20th overall pick but not before Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher and Cole Hamels were selected by the Mets, A's and Phillies. 
  • When Hollywood and Major League Baseball come together it is often to mixed results.  The examples of "The Natural", "Field of Dreams", "Pride of the Yankees" and "Bang the Drum Slowly" are just some of the movies produced about the game that spin a worthy tale about the diamond and have been viewed as classic works of cinema.  To a lesser extent "Bull Durham", "League of the Own" and "Major League" are as well but probably not as highly regarded to film buffs as they are to baseball fans.  However, the questionable decisions to greenlight the likes of "Ed", "The Scout", "Summer Catch" and "From Left Field" certainly lends credence to the notion that there should be people fired for even suggesting to waste film on these disasters.  So when rumors began swirling that Lewis's Moneyball will be adapted into a screenplay to star Brad Pitt as the A's general manager Billy Beane, the book's main character, has been met with plenty of raised eyebrows.  For starters, while the book is insightful and informative, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of action - at least any that could seemingly keep audiences transfixed to the big screen for 120 minutes.  A scene in which Pitt's Beane would spend 15 minutes filibustering about the merits of drafting college-level Nick Swisher over the high school arm of Cole Hamels in a draft room would probably be meet with anything but yawns from the general public.  Regardless of how the reviews read, I still will be interested to see how this story is laid out.  For those familiar with the central characters of the book, here is what Dirty Laundry envisions playing those roles. Supposedly this will be ready in 2011.