Monday, May 11, 2009

OtB Twins Notes (5.11.09)

There will be plenty of second-guessing on the removal of starter Nick Blackburn after the seventh inning in the Twins 5-3 loss on Sunday.  Former Twins pitcher and radio analyst Jack Morris questioned lifting Blackburn after 99-pitches, assuming there should have been plenty left in the tank.  This exact formula worked well for the Twins on April 24th against the Cleveland Indians when Blackburn threw seven innings of one-run ball on 99-pitches and gave the ball to left-handed set-up man, Jose Mijares.  Mijares pitched a scoreless eighth inning and relayed the ball to Joe Nathan who would secure the save. 
Carlos Gomez, who went 1-for-4 with a highlight reel catch in center to rob Seattle's Endy Chavez of an extra base hit on Sunday, has been the subject of a heated debate among Twins analysts regarding where he is best served playing: Majors or minors.  One camp votes Minnesota - where his defense provides immeasurable value and receives on the job training.  The other says Rochester - where his approach at the plate can be refined and he can return as the complete package.  Both views are not without their merits.  La Velle E Neal notes however that Ron Gardenhire's vote is that Gomez should be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future where he can work with hitting coach Joe Vavra.  "I think this is an opportunity for him to get with Vavra a lot, work on his swing in the cage and do the cage stuff and work on his swing plane and [hitting] breaking balls," Gardenhire said.  This is an interesting comment considering the timing of's Jerry Cransick's latest article on the development of plate discipline.  Cransick notes that "technological advances in scouting allow teams to readily identify and exploit hitters' weaknesses" making it extremely difficult for someone struggling to adjust at that major league level. 
Gomez is swinging at a lot of bad pitches.  He is also failing to make contact with them.  The disciplined-challenged Gomez has made contact with just 38.5 percent of pitches he has swung at out of the strike zone (league average for contact is 62.3 percent).  Vavra might want to consider taking a drill out of Cransick's article:  When Nick Swisher was working his way through the Oakland A's system, he worked with hitting instructor Joe Sparks who devised a drill in which Sparks would throw Swisher pitches and Swisher would have to shout "yes" or "no" before the ball reached the plate to improve his pitch recognition. 
USA Today reports that manager Ron Gardenhire left the game in the third or fourth inning.  Gardenhire, not feeling well, retreated to his office in the clubhouse where he watched the rest of the 9-6 Twins victory over the Mariners on Saturday night.  The Twins skipper cites a new exercise routine and diet that he has been practicing lately as the cause of the passing illness. 
Joe Mauer wants to catch everyday says Sid Hartman.  Undoubtedly, the Twins agree with the sentiment, however it is still a little premature to trot Mauer out there as a catcher six out of seven days.  The Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal suffered from a sacroiliac joint sprain (similar to Mauer) that sidelined him in 2007 but reoccurred in 2008.  Furcal exploded out of the gates last season, hitting .366/.448/.597 with five home runs in 32 games before surgery was required that kept him out of the lineup until September.  The Twins should continue to exercise restraint with Mauer catching to avoid a similar fate. 
With Alexi Casilla now in rehab-mode in Rochester, Phil Miller informs us that General Manager Bill Smith has no intentions of shopping for a replacement second baseman.  Smith believes that Casilla will have to opportunity to work with Red Wings manager Stan Clinburn who had helped former Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett regain his confidence and composure following a 2006 demotion.  Bartlett would return to the Twins in 2006 and would hit .281/.347/.381 - above-average production from the shortstop position - after his minor league stint.  In three games since being sent to Rochester, Casilla is 6-for-14 (.429) with one triple. 
In the same article Miller also raises the point that the Twins' middle infield depth in the minors is shallow - so much so that there is chatter about re-positioning center fielder Ben Revere, currently in Ft Myers (High-A).  Revere has two things that make this transition seem plausible: the first of which is sheer athleticism and the second is an overwhelming amount of high-quality center fielder candidates in Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Aaron Hicks.  One year removed from flirting with .400 and being awarded the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year, Revere's power has been drained at a more advanced level.  Through 29 games, Revere is batting .308 but is slugging just .350.  His high contact rate and disconcerning eye at the plate makes him an excellent candidate for a move in the Twins' system - if his glove accepts the conversion.   
Jim Mandelaro writes that the Twins had released left-handed reliever Ben Julianel to make room for Alexi Casilla.  The 29-year-old Julianel fared well in his stint at New Britain last year when he dismantled opponents half his age, accumulating 26 saves while striking out 78 in 68 1/3 innings with a 2.37 ERA.  Moved up with Rochester for 2009 the lefty struggled posting a 8.18 ERA in 11 innings of work and striking out just 8.  Julianel's future in Minnesota appeared bleak because of his accelerated age but with the recent struggles of Craig Breslow and now Jose Mijares, the Twins may consider pulling up all the left-handed relief help they can getting, including Julianel's former bullpen mates at Rochester Sean Henn (20 innings, 24 Ks) and Mike Gosling (18 1/3 innings, 24 Ks).
New Britain Herald's Ken Lipshez talks with general manager Bill Smith regarding his organization after his recent trip to Connecticut.  Smith has taken heat over some of his dealings from both bloggers and mainstream media since his promotion to his current position.  Questions have been raised regarding the Santana and the Garza-Young trade that have not been favorable of the GM.  "I never mind questions and never mind when somebody evaluates a deal," Smith said. "That’s part of baseball. That’s why the media is there to interchange between the ballclub and the fans. Ask questions and provide responses – that doesn’t bother me."
Nick Nelson presents a theory that the Twins are playing Delmon Young over Carlos Gomez because they need to inflate his value in order to trade him.  With that in mind, Aaron Gleeman initiates the Free Carlos Gomez movement.'s Tim Kurkjian's latest column provides context of the Twins' general professionalism on the roster.  Kurkjian revisits Michael Cuddyer's humble reaction to being selected 9th overall in the 1997 draft and illuminates how the outfield mainstay has provided leadership within the clubhouse.