Results tagged ‘ Denard Span ’

A Few Of My Favorite Things…

With the Twins set to take on the Seattle Mariners later tonight, I just wanted to share a few of the things I am looking forward to this season…

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-Denard Span working the count, fouling off pitches, then doing this… http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809253550680&c_id=min …(yeah, I know it’s like the fifth time I’ve posted that clip on this blog…but why not?!)

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-Jason Kubel striding up to the plate with strains of this blaring… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K47W0UTq_9o …then doing this… http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809233534868&c_id=min

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-Kevin Slowey tapping into the ghost of Brad Radke (http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200808203336972&c_id=min)

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-Michael Cuddyer doing this… http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w_id=516187&w=2006/open/tp/archive09/090706_detmin_cuddyer_throw_tp_350.wmv&pid=mlb_tp&gid=2006/09/07/detmlb-minmlb-1&mid=200609071651571&cid=mlb&fid=mlb_tp350&v=2

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-And finally, the Nathanator trotting in from the pen to this… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jaz-KmTid3U …and ending the game like this… http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200808123294553&c_id=min

Opening Day Preview: Felix Hernandez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (0-0, 0.00 ERA).  “King Felix” can be dominating, but so can Cisco.  However, Liriano also needs to calm himself and not walk six guys through four innings or something like that.  I can see the Twins losing this game, but anything can happen at the Dome!!

3 Up…or 3 Down?

andersoncallingbullpen-739405.jpgI will be very busy in the upcoming days leading up to the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day on April 6th, so I just wanted to post a few season-preview thoughts before the regular season campaign kicks off.

The way I see it, there are three areas in which the Twins need to excel this season in order to win the division crown.  In all honesty, these areas are pretty much the same for all other teams as well, but the Twins have their own unique challenges:

1. First, the starting pitching quintet of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins needs to continue to keep the team in games.  This is the most important cog in the machine, as if the quality starts keep pouring in the Twins will at the very least compete no matter how bad the bullpen or offense stinks.  The old baseball adage that “good pitching beats good hitting” holds as true now as it always has.  I mean, if say Johan Santana faced no one but Ichiro Suzuki all season long, the very best that Ichiro could do is get a hit four times in every ten at-bats.  Thus, the starting rotation is the anchor of every staff, and the Twins’ staff is still a bit of a question mark:

Baker: Has ace-type repertoire but struggles to pitch into the later innings.  Is usually up around 100 pitches by the fifth inning or so, putting a strain on the bullpen.

Cisco: Could dominate, could fall apart due to control issues.

Slowey: This is the guy I think is poised for a huge season.  He is essentially the second coming of Brad Radke, only with a better assortment of pitches.  Just needs to work on limiting damaging situations, as they tend to snow-ball on him pretty quick.

Blackie: As a play-to-contact, ground ball sort of pitcher, Blackburn walks the fine line between Carlos Silva and Jack Morris.  On some days he can be the most frustrating guy in the world to drive the ball off of, while on other days he gets lit up.

Perkins: The great unknown.  Was very up-and-down last season…showed flashes of both excellence and utter failure.

So, the extent to which that rotation comes together is the biggest factor in how the Twins will finish in the standings in 2009.

2. The bullpen, however, isn’t far behind.  Whereas I am confident that the starting five can find a way to hold up their end of the bargain, I’m not nearly as sold on the bullpen, which looks to include:

Joe Nathan: The only sure-bet of the bunch.  Will blow a few (who doesn’t…well, besides Brad Lidge last year), but let’s just say that a “down” year would be an ERA over 2.00.

Jesse Crain: Pretty much the root of all frustration in the world. Was overhyped even when he was good, but does have a glimmer of hope in that now is arm is finally “back” after having surgery a while back.

Matt Guerrier: Will have to prove that last year’s collapse WAS just a fluke (or due to fatigue), not because batters just figured him out.

Craig Breslow: The lefty-lefty specialist.  Will likely do a good job, and is an upgrade over Dennis “Throw One WP And Leave The Game” Reyes.

Luis Ayala: Don’t know much about his guy, only that he came from the Nats (not a good sign) and struggled mightily last year.  Has potential…but so did Mike Fetters.

The final bullpen spot, thought to be filled by Jose Mijares until he came to camp looking like Hideki Irabu, is now up for grabs between newcomer Brian Duensing, Philip Humber (obtained in the Santana trade), and R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer.

All in all, that is not a very impressive bunch.  Like I said, Nathan is solid, but getting to him will be the difficult part.  Someone is going to have to step up and become the eighth inning man that guys like LaTroy Hawkins and Juan Rincon were in the past.

3. Finally, I would like to quickly comment on the Twins’ offense.  Here is a sample lineup that the Twins could trot out on a semi-day basis:

Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Crede, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, Nick Punto.

Essentially, it would likely be the best starting lineup the Twins have had in quite some time (plus Carlos Gomez off the bench).  However, I am very wary of predicting a high offensive turnout from this bunch, as it so rarely happens up here in MN.  It seems as if the Twins are much better at developing pitchers than hitters (perhaps due to the small-ball philosophy that reins hitters in instead of turning them loose?), so even a lineup that looks rock-solid can quickly turn gooey.  Actually, I think the biggest positive this season, as opposed to ’06 or ’08, is that no old fogeys are being counted on to produce.  The days of experimenting with guys like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Mike Lamb, and (cringe) even Bret Boone seem to be behind the Twins, with the lineup now given over completely to the young veterans and just youngsters period.

So there you have it…how the Twins perform in those three areas will go very far in determining their division standings come October.  Hopefully before the season begins I will post an article about my divisional predictions for MLB (if it ever stops snowing here to allow the mail through!).

Saved From The Dark Side

Crede.jpgWell, the Minnesota Twins finally have the right-handed bat they have been so desperately looking for since Ron Coomer went from playing in the All-Star game to laughing like a goon during Twins TV broadcasts (!).  Now, as long as his back can hold out, the Twins have to be the favorite to win the division.

Joe Crede came over to the Twins (The Great White Light) from the Chicago White Sox (The Dark Side) for one year and $2.5 million guaranteed.  He could make up to $7 million in incentives revolving primarily around the number of at-bats he accumulates over the course of the season (which is exactly the kind of contract a guy with his injury status SHOULD sign).

A healthy Crede can be expected to hit in the .270-.280 range with 20-30 home runs.  He is also excellent at the hot corner (something neither Brian Buscher nor Brendan Harris have on their resumes) with the glove.

Perhaps the biggest implication of this move, though, is that it gives manager Ron Gardenhire much better depth on the bench.  In late-inning situational ball, Gardy can send up either Harris or Buscher (both decent batsmen) as well as the odd man out of the Gomez-Span-Cuddyer-Young conundrum.  In recent seasons, the Twins have lost big series (think the ’03 and ’04 ALDS rounds against the Yankees) because of their lack of depth, but this move for Crede changes all that.

The Golden Boy

GoldGlove.jpgYes, this is a bit of a late update (deer hunting opening weekend can do that to Twins fans!), but last Thursday it was announced that Twins catcher Joe Mauer received his first-ever AL Gold Glove award for his excellence at the catcher position.  Anyone who has watched Mauer catch for the Twins in recent years knows that this award is very deserving, and actually long overdue.  However, Gold Glove awards seem to run in bunches (Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez” had a lock on the award in recent seasons), so Mauer could very easily be beginning a long streak of taking home that specific gold hardware.

Next year, besides Mauer, I think Denard Span (if he sees everyday playing time) could very much be a Gold Glove candidate.  Wouldn’t it be something to see Torii Hunter and his protege (Span) win the award in the same season?!

Twins Notes:

-A few rumors have been going around that Twins RF Michael Cuddyer has been mentioned in trade talks with the Colorado Rockies for their 3B Garrett Atkins.  Don’t believe a word of it!  With the kind of contract we gave Cuddyer prior to this season, he will be a Twin for a LONG time.  Barring injury, he is a great right fielder with a cannon arm and good power…he’ll be sticking around.

-Also, the Twins have expressed interest in Dodgers 3B Casey Blake.  However, Blake will ultimately have much too high of a price tag for the Twins’ budget.  Plus, the platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris wasn’t all that bad last year, and Buscher has the potential to be an everyday player.  My guess is that this rumor started up when Twins GM Bill Smith made one simple phone call to the Dodgers inquiring about Blake (likely at a bargain-basement price) like most other teams in the MLB right now that could use a third baseman.  We had our shot at Blake earlier, but we went with Corey Koskie instead.

CF: Spick and Span? Not With Go-Go.

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When Torii Hunter (arguably the most popular Twin since their rise to prominence in 2001) left for the Anaheim Angels via free agency after the 2007 season, a gap hole was left in center field at the Metrodome.  After an intense Spring Training competition for the job between Carlos Gomez (acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade), Denard Span (the heir apparent to Hunter’s job until he struggled in the minor leagues), and Jason Pridie (a cast-off from the Rays who had a great spring).  Although Span seemed the more polished of the three come April, “Go-Go” Gomez was named the starter due to his almost unbelievable speed and the excitement he brought to the club and their fans on a daily basis.

For the first few months of the season, Go-Go was indeed the most exciting player on the team, whether it was streaking to catch balls out in the field or flying around the basepaths after driving the ball into the gap.  As the season stretched on, however, pitchers began to learn how to pitch to the rookie Gomez, and the strikeouts and terrible at-bats began piling up.  At one point, Ron Gardenhire considered benching the fiery youngster (after dropping him from 1st to 8th or 9th in the order), but Carlos likely saw his job saved when Michael Cuddyer went down with an injury, and Span (the guy who would have taken over in CF) came up to replace him instead.

Gomez did finish the season on a high note, and his stats are respectable for essentially a first-year player: 577 AB, 79 R, .258 BA, 33 SB.  However, he also struck out a near Twins-record 142 times and also was prone to defensive lapses in CF from time to time.  His blazing speed and cannon arm more often than not made up for his mistakes, but too many times would a ball roll right under his legs or he would juggle the ball at a crucial moment.

Of course, Gomez would still be penciled in as the starting CF in 2009 if not for the emergence of Span (who will be moved back to his natural position when Cuddyer returns next year).  During the 2008 season, Span manned the leadoff spot in the order like no Twin has done since Shannon Stewart, working deep into counts, drawing walks, and spraying the ball all over the field.  In 347 at-bats, Span hit .294 with 70 R, 50 BB, 102 H, and 18 SB.  Whereas Gomez struggled in the pressure of the leadoff spot, Span thrived.  Defensively, Span made some of the most athletic catches ever seen in the Metrodome, and also has a rifle arm.

So, with Cuddyer (and his shiny, long-term contract) coming back to man RF in 2009 (as he should), it should be an interesting battle for the centerfield spot.  Whereas Span seems to be ready right now, Gomez is a remarkable young talent whose potential is the teflon roof.  Knowing Gardy, each player will get their share of ABs in 2009, although a riskier move would be to deal one of them for a relief pitcher that the club so desperately needs (to be discussed later).

Playoff Notes:

-Perhaps it is time I stop doubting the Rays, as their 13-4 crushing of the Red Sox tonight leaves them one game away from the World Series.  I still think the series will need to go back to Tampa to be concluded, but now the Red Sox are up against the wall and will find it extremely difficult to beat the young Tampa club three times in a row.

SS: The Anchor

AirPuntoReview.jpgMuch like at the previous position I review, second base, the shortstop position was thought to be locked down early in the season by newcomer Adam Everett.  However, Everett’s sub-par batting average (.213) and multitude of injuries once again made it necessary to turn to old stalwart Nick Punto to become the starting shortstop.

Now, there are many of you out there you probably think that Nick Punto is not a major-league caliber player (at least offensively).  However, surprisingly enough, he added an element to the Twins’ lineup that proved crucial to them scoring runs all season: speed from the #9 hold in the lineup.  With guys like Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, and Punto batting consecutively in some fashion, their combined speed put a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing pitchers, as every batted ball needed to be played perfectly in order to record an out.

Of course, Punto WAS effective because his .284 batting average was a huge improvement from his 2007 campaign, when he flirted with the Mendoza line for a good portion of the season.  He was on-base enough times to make himself valuable, also stealing 15 bases in the process.  In years past, when the Twins were desperate to score runs, Punto would be a huge liability in the lineup, but with the better hitting the Twins could count on in 2008, Punto’s athletic play was useful.

But let’s not kid ourselves too much here…Punto is really in the lineup every day in large part because of his spectacular infield defense.  Whether at shortstop or anywhere on the diamond, Punto is a human highlight reel, turning in remarkable play after remarkable play.

Looking ahead to 2009, Nick Punto (provided he continues to produce at least average offense) should be the starting shortstop for a large portion of the season (when he’s not filling in somewhere else!).

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For a more long-term future of the shortstop position (and in case of a Punto injury, say, diving headfirst into first base), the Twins have developed another dynamic youngster in Matt Tolbert.  First called up from the minors when Everett went on the DL, Tolbert was very impressive both in the field and at the plate.  A wrist injury then sidelined him for nearly the rest of the season, but he ended up hitting .283 in 113 at-bats.  He could easily eclipse 300 at-bats next season (as Punto is often needed elsewhere).

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