Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview with a Wart

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with a new addition to the world of Twitter, @cuddyerswart -- someone who has some insider knowledge of Michael Cuddyer and the travails he's gone through to get in shape this Spring Training. I thought it would be interesting to hear his side of things and get a new (albeit awfully low to the ground) perspective.

CURVE: Mr. Wart, thanks for taking the time to chat with me, I'm sure you've got a particularly busy schedule what with Spring Training winding down.

WART: Not so much my schedule, I just hang around for the most part. It's Michael doing all the work, he's the real star. I'm just along for the ride.

CURVE: Well put. Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Michael, how things got started...

WART: Wow, that's a loaded question. I honestly don't remember how things went down -- it was just after getting knocked out of the playoffs, things weren't going too well. I think Michael was in a little bit of a funk. It was just one of those things -- two people in the right place at the right time, we kind of grew attached to each other. Perhaps some sort of a post-partem depression from baseball.

CURVE: I don't think I heard about your presence in his life until sometime during the Winter Meetings? I think we were all a little caught off guard in Twins Territory?

WART: I can see how that would happen. I think Michael actually wanted to let go at that point. Looking back perhaps I was becoming too clingy, it's one of those things seen a little easier in hindsight. But things went on a little longer than they should have, no one wants to be alone for the Holidays and all. In fact, I think the longer our relationship went on, the harder it was for us both to walk ... walk away I mean.

CURVE: What was the deciding factor for parting ways?

WART: He's kind of career driven. I think that was part of it for me at least. When the Twins front office stepped in and decided it was time to sever our relationship it was a little tough to say no. They basically just told him to cut me off. Freeze me out of his life. I was a little shocked, and I think he was too. It seems like it left a hole in both of our lives and we each sought out things to fill it. For him it was bandages and gauze, for me -- drugs, alcohol, and cheap pimples.

CURVE: Have you stayed in contact with Michael at all?

WART: These things linger on, they don't die quickly. We've had infrequent contact, only recently over Twitter. That was a defining moment in our friendship, I think, the fact that we can still stay in contact and let bygones be bygones.

CURVE: Do you have any complaints about your time together?

WART: Not complaints, per se. I think there's always things you'd want to change looking back on things. I think I held him back a little bit. Personally I hated how he would always wear tennis shoes after practice. We were in Florida, it was humid, I just wanted to breathe, I felt smothered. But really, if that's all you can find to complain about -- the guy's a gem, Claudia's a lucky lady and I really hate to think I ever might have got between them.

CURVE: Why a baseball player? Do you ever ask yourself that?

WART: I've always been a baseball fan. Sometimes I look back on the greatest moments in baseball -- Curt Schilling's bloody sock comes to mind -- and I think: that ... that's my future ... that's what I want to be remembered for. Blood on a sock in a baseball game. I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

Again, I'd like to thank @cuddyerswart for taking the time to answer these questions and being such a good sport!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Rationale of Tolbert over Hughes

To be clear, I'm a big proponent of Luke Hughes being ready for the Majors. He's shown he can hit, and spending any more time in the minors isn't going to make him Gold Glove material, so you might as well throw him to wolves and give him a place on the 25-man roster. But there is no reason that Hughes should break camp with the club right now instead of Matt Tolbert.

Luke Hughes had an amazing spring, and combined with his track record both in the minors and his short stint with the big league club last year has solidified that he won't be in Rochester for long. But the way that this team is currently assembled there isn't a place for him right now. The only possibiltiy for giving him a spot on the 25-man roster right now would be by trimming our bullpen, and with the uncertainties prevalent there that isn't going to happen.

1. Strength of the starting 9
Who are you going to pinch hit for in our starting lineup? The only obvious choice is Alexi Casilla -- and we have one pinch hitter already (either Thome or Kubel, whoever is sitting that day). I wouldn't hit Hughes over anyone else in the lineup. The lineup for the Twins is one of the more formidable and talented lineups from top to bottom, and consequently, the roles on the bench this year are very defined: speed and defense. The problem with the current construction of the team, and it's only a problem in that it limits our roster space, is that both Kubel and Thome are retaining essentially the same position. Neither should see such much if any time in the field, and both are left-handed power threats. Ideally, one of those spots would be filled by Luke Hughes, but I don't think anyone in Twins Territory is advocating removing Kubel or Thome from the roster to make room for Hughes.

2. Hughes needs to get playing time
At this point in his career, Tolbert is what he is. He can handle not getting many starts and only filling a few innings here or there, but Hughes should continue to get his work in. He was injured for most of last year, and in fact, he's had a slew of injuries that have hampered him from making much of an impact at the Majors until this point. I'd rather let him continue to get back in shape by playing regularly at AAA until a spot opens up for him than by letting him waste away on the bench and see a few at bats every week. Hughes can hit, and there's a very good chance he could be a capable everyday player at a corner infield or 2B position but he's not going to enhance those chances as a limited role player.

3. This means Cuddyer and Morneau are healthy
Believe me, if Cuddyer and Morneau aren't ready to go, Hughes would be coming north with the team. At this point, Hughes could take over 1B or RF and no one else would have to slide around positions. But regardless, I would rather have Cuddyer and Morneau in the lineup and playing than Hughes. This is a good thing. It means we're healthy and that the injury bugs that plagued us all of Spring Training are finally subsiding.

4. Hughes will get his shot
On the flipside, someone is going to get injured. It's bound to happen. Even if that someone is Tolbert.
I thought only Nick Punto could go horizontal like that

Hughes is only a phone call away and unless he literally falls off the face of a cliff, he will likely be the first call from Rochester. At the very least, when rosters expand in September, Hughes will be here. We don't have many other major-league ready right-handed power threats with the upside of Hughes waiting in our system, and as soon as he gets his shot I have to believe that he's going to want to prove that he shouldn't get sent back down -- similar perhaps to Danny Valencia's quest to stay in the Majors after getting his shot last year.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Crash Course on Jeff Bailey

First off, please note the re-design of the website -- I got a little sick of the cheesy old blogspot format and the nondescript banner at the top of the page. I used to think of it as elegantly simplistic and eventually just realized it was lazily underwhelming. New banner courtesy of my awesome co-worker, Mike Moreno, who is kind enough to help me with design work in his free time. Background image is still something I'm mulling over so feel free to veto and I'll try to find something else.

Spring is winding down -- sadly -- and rosters are starting to take shape. The inimitable Seth Stohs has a great piece on who remains in camp and their likelihood of seeing any big-league action, and I encourage you all to read it although I imagine you've already done so.

Amidst his deductions of people having slim to no chance of cracking the 25-man out of camp, he spends a little time mentioning the likelihood that we will all become familiar with Jeff Bailey at some point this season, and I agree wholeheartedly.

This is Jeff Bailey

During the offseason, Bailey was one of those names that I simply glazed over during what seemed like 4 long months of signing AAA filler, but I think we were all a little remiss in dismissing him so quickly. My eyes were set on names like Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee so naturally Jeff Bailey faded quickly in mind.

To be honest, it's tough to really consider Jeff Bailey a prospect at this point, and I'm not arguing that we do so. He's bounced around enough (Marlins to Expos to Red Sox to Twins) that he hasn't really been able to latch on, but at the same time he did experience a respectable showing with the eastern powerhouse Red Sox between '08 and '09. In '08 over a miniscule sample size of around 30 games he hit a solid .280/.390/.460 with a couple homeruns in less than 60 plate appearances.

While it's tough to judge from such a small sample size in the Majors, at least he's shown that he can fill in decently when needed -- and his minor league numbers are solid. In fact, I'd find him oddly comparable to Garrett Jones, a guy who could never latch on anywhere despite being given a few chances at the majors, but who tore up the minors. Jones is about 3 years younger and spent 3 fewer years bouncing around farm systems, but Bailey has a better slash line in the minors (.276/.380/.478 as opposed to .258/.312/.450) so perhaps Bailey just needs to find his groove at the majors. He's got the pop in his bat to justify a position at 1st base or corner outfield -- in fact like our Spring Darling, Luke Hughes, Bailey hit a homerun in first MLB at bat and it was also against the Tigers.

Also Jeff Bailey again

Perhaps it's time to back off, I don't want to be known as the Bailey advocate of the Twins blogosphere -- for Bailey to crack the roster would likely mean that both Morneau and Cuddyer are not ready to go, and we don't want to imagine that scenario. Though with the fact that Cuddyer is just now about to start playing in his first real Spring games, and that it's taken Morneau this long to play in back-to-back games, we have to consider the possibility that one or both might not be ready at the get-go of the season (which THANK HEAVENS is less than two weeks away!).

Of course if Bailey sticks around the minors with us this season, puts up something similar to his career numbers, and there's room on the 40-man I can't see how he wouldn't get a September call-up. At that point, with a beat up and weary roster we could probably use an extra corner infielder/outfielder with a little veteran pop from the right side of the plate coming off the bench.

I'd say that chances are greater than not that we see Bailey getting at least a cup of coffee this year, and while I know he might not be the next big thing, he should be able to hold his own if he gets a shot and hopefully he's able to use it as his chance to stick like Garrett Jones did.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Training Part II

Instead of making our way up to Sarasota to check out the game at Baltimore, Seth and I decided to take in some morning workouts from the people who stayed behind. We made the trek up in time to hopefully see the bus leave but got there just a little bit late. We were hoping to see if Joe Mauer got on the bus in case the Twins were going to pull out a surprise like they did with Morneau and get him his first game action away from the fans, so instead we just kept an eye out for him at the complex (I saw him being carted around on one of the golf carts, so that settled it, he had stayed behind).

We wandered down to the minor league area for awhile and saw some of the younger players working out on their own on one of the fields -- we got a great view getting to wander right up to the fence behind the catchers as the caught some unofficial bullpen sessions. Eventually Tommy Watkins wandered out with a bunch of people from near the minor league batting cages and called everyone over for some live BP.

While they went to get everything ready for BP we went back to the major league area and saw some pitcher's fielding practice, which is always kind of fun to watch. Even though not much action goes on, you get to see a large variety of pitchers going through some basic drills at the same time.

I then wandered over to the batting cages under the stadium and saw Jim Thome hitting off a tee while Tony Oliva and Delmon Young watched. Meanwhile, Ben Revere was hitting next to him with Carew and Jason Repko watching him. Eventually Revere and Repko wandered away and Carew joined Oliva, Young and Thome. Thome started talking to Delmon and I could just hear pieces but he was talking about how the difference between being good and being great is consistency, and that that stems from finding consistency in your swing. It was great watching him just start pontificating and sharing his years of knowledge like that and I can only imagine how he drops little insights like that throughout the course of the year to his teammates.

Eventually everyone left the batting cages under the stadium and went for some live BP.

I will admit, most of my pictures are over people's rear ends. Ugh. I've got to work on my photography. But that's Oliva, Carew, Young, and Morneau -- pretty good collection of players leaning against the fence.

Big Jim!

I watched a few rounds of BP, and if you go over to Seth's site you can read a little bit more about some funny tidbits from there.

Eventually Tom Kelly told everyone to head to the stadium to keep working out. This is one of the moments, moving from that practice field to the stadium that all the players walk in front of a short little fence that everyone leans over and hollers for autographs. Everyone usually waves and acknowledges the fans if they get hollered at, but if they have some place to go and are in the middle of practice, it's not very likely that they can stop and sign for a long time at that fence.

Joe Nathan was one of the last people to wander over to the stadium and of course everyone was calling to him. He waved and ended up setting his stuff down and coming over to sign autographs for fans for a long time -- and actually I had seen him do the same thing the day before. He's really a great ambassador to the fans and takes lots of time out of his schedule to connect with the people who follow him, which is a great thing and will surely be missed if he doesn't come back after next year.

I hung around outside the stadium while Seth went inside to call into a radio show and watched players trickle out from the locker rooms one at a time. Ben Revere walked by and I congratulated him on the his great catch from the day before. Someone else went up and got an autograph from him and you could see the scuffs all over his hands from the diving catch. I'm definitely glad he's OK enough to play because I can't reiterate enough how amazing that catch was, he definitely could have come away more banged up than that.

Anthony Slama also walked out on his way to the parking lot and you could see some sort of a large butterly looking bandaid or bandage taped up on his right elbow -- Seth had noticed earlier how during PFP he was still going through the motions but was the only one not throwing an actual baseball. Hopefully he comes back and is able to play soon because he could be a valuable addition to an already questionable bullpen.

Finally we left the stadium and spent the rest of the day at the Sunset Beach Bar in Naples, drinking and walking along the beach, and eventually ended the night by meeting up with Steve from Gear Up For Sports and Twitter (@MNTwinsGUFS) and his friend who are both down here for Spring Training as well. We ended up eating at Michelbob's, a staple of LaVelle Neal's Spring Training dining guides and one of the best BBQ restaurants with ribs that just fall off the bone, perfectly smoked pork, and amazing peanut butter pie and key lime pie. If you come to Southwest Florida you need to make the trip there.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring Training, Part I

***Ok, it's been awhile. It's been quite awhile. In fact, every day it gets harder to figure out something to write because it has to be perfect as a re-entry into starting to write again. This is why I stopped trying to be a screenwriter ... writer's block. So easy to just put down the pen. And you know what ... this post isn't anything special. But I don't care because I just need to start writing again, and nothing gives me the urge to write more than actually watching a baseball game, which is what I got to do today...

Spring is here. I don't think I officially realized that until I stumbled out of the car and walked like a man in a dream over to Hammond Stadium on Sunday. It was raining all morning and the drive from Naples to Ft. Myers was as grey and overcast as I've ever seen it, but I had to get my fix.

Walking up to the practice fields I saw how empty it was. Fans were milling around aimlessly, waiting for some sort of action, but due to the rain (and the fact that the MLB Player's Association was having their annual meeting as I found out later...) no one was out on the fields. The biggest draws were a shuffling little Wayne Hattaway, Dick Bremer in sandals and some sort of golf visor, and Roy Smalley walking around in a salmon color shirt that screamed Florida golf courses.

I did notice the Japanese media -- wandering around with tripods and cameras -- I can only imagine how many are going to be showing up to Target Field over the course of the year. There were also a lot of fans, walking around in Ichiro jerseys namely. At one point a Japanese man in a flashy suit and a nice head of hair snuck out from the Stadium restricted access area and fans immediately started crowding around him asking for autographs -- he obliged halfheartedly -- but it was not Nishioka. He was a reporter or likely a TV anchor of some sort, and I don't think anyone realized that for awhile. At the first sign of a Japanese man in a nice suit they just reacted. Kind of funny.

Eventually though the rain cleared and the players took to the fields for some practice before their game with Baltimore. I didn't have tickets but I needed to see some sort of baseball so I stuck around to watch practices until everyone filtered back into the stadium for the game. Some of the things I noticed:
- Joe Nathan looks great. It's great to see him moving around and smiling and happy... I think he's psyched to be back playing baseball and I wish him the best
- I don't know what everyone's worried about with Mijares and his weight. I saw him doing sprints on a backfield with Nathan and he was keeping pace pretty quickly. I've seen him much heavier previous springs, he actually looks like he could've lost some weight.
- Dmitri Young was walking around and it took me until reading notes from the Star Tribune and Phil Mackey to realize it. I knew he looked familiar and he was getting a lot of love from players as he walked around but I didn't put two and two together.
- The person I did notice was Jim Kaat. I had decided to get his autograph at Twins Fest this year and he was the first face other than Hattaway and Smalley that I saw, wandering out onto the fields before the players, decked out in Twins gear and obviously in some sort of supervisory role.

While I didn't get to see any baseball on Sunday, I ended up back at the stadium on Tuesday for the tilt against the Pirates. I dropped of Nick Nelson in the morning and went to go pick up Mr. Seth Stohs from the airport. Nick got there just in time to see Morneau, which I'm sure you can read about if you go over to his site -- the "B" game definitely seemed to have an A-list feel to it with the last minute addition of Morneau and the ability to see Slowey, Delmon and Kyle Gibson all on the same practice field, they had quite the crowd there watching some free baseball by the time Seth and I arrived.

Thanks to Nick Nelson's generosity and Parker Hageman's seating hookups we had some pretty awesome seats to watch the game...

I realize this is just a nice view of some umpire rear-ends, but believe me that's not what we were focusing on...

Pavano didn't look particularly stellar -- in fact outside of Kyle Waldrop there wasn't much to speak of in terms of pitching today. Pavano wasn't shaky really, but he didn't seem to have his best stuff, still feeling out some of his pitches and teasing his velocity. But he didn't look bad either.

None of the pitchers really looked bad -- Neshek was suitable in his inning but got hit pretty hard even though some of them went for outs. Outside of the long homerun to Overbay he had a warning track flyball that looked like a sure double until Ben Revere showed his amazing range and tracked it down for what would be a Sportscenter Top 10 play for sure if only they had been televising the game. He must've been sore after that, diving for it onto the dirt track, and got a rousing standing ovation on his way back to the dugout.

Danny Rams was the other star of the game for sure -- not only did he spook the hell out of me when he caught a pop fly right at the fence (all of us were staring up to make sure the ball didn't land at us over the backstop and when I followed it down he caught the ball right in front of my face). He also had some towering doubles that could've left the fence if they'd had just a little bit more carry. He's certainly got quite the bat, I can't wait to see where he ends up in the next couple of seasons because with the grasp for Holm and Rivera we could certainly use some strong catching depth and he's the one to watch in my book.

Nishioka also played in the game today -- the fans loved him, he's certainly going to be a treat to watch. He had a nice solid single and flashed a little leather over at 2nd base -- I feel pretty confident that he'll be able to at least hold his own in the Majors this year.

Unfortunately I couldn't get a good angle on him with the ump in the way...

It was good to see some of the other players like Tosoni, Benson, and Hughes as well -- all of whom I have some strong hopes for this year.

Anyway, look for some more posts to follow soon -- Seth and I are going to make an early morning trek up to the Lee County Sports Complex to catch some workouts from the people who stay behind on the roadtrip so hopefully we have some more pictures and stories to share soon!

(Definitely check out Nick and Seth's sites tomorrow as I see them writing as I'm going to bed and I'm sure they'll have some better stories to read -- I think you can find Seth's today at the Star Tribune Twins Centric page.)