Nothing really beats talking baseball on a cold January night like we endured in Fargo-Moorhead last night. The Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan stop at The Hub couldn’t have come at a better time.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, reliever Anthony Swarzak, Twins broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, bench coach Terry Steinbach and Twins President Dave St. Peter were in attendance Monday.
I wrote a couple of stories that ran in today’s Forum, with one focusing on the team’s pitching upgrades and the other a notebook that touched on the team’s prospects, payroll and Metrodome memories.
I had plenty more that just didn’t make the print edition. A few more notes for you diehard baseball fans out there:
I mentioned in the main story that Swarzak led MLB relievers last season with 96 innings out of the bullpen. In fact, his relief innings total last season was the most for any major league pitcher since Scott Proctor tossed 102 1/3 innings out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2006.
On a team that won only 66 games and had the worst starting pitching in baseball, Swarzak was a true unsung hero last season, posting a 2.91 ERA.
If you’re a sabermetric type, his bWAR (Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement) of 1.7 was second on the team’s entire staff behind closer Glen Perkins’ 2.1.
But Swarzak – as good as he was in the bullpen – said he still “wants to be a starter one day again” and hoped that he would get that opportunity again someday.
Next in line behind Gardy
Steinbach talked at length with me about last night regarding last season, which was his first as a major league coach of any kind.
One thing to keep in mind with the role of bench coach is that Steinbach is the quote-unquote manager when manager Ron Gardenhire gets ejected from games. And we all know Gardy doesn’t shy away from that.
Steinbach was very quick to point out that while he might be manager under that scenario, he relies more on the rest of the coaching staff than someone in that position normally would. He pointed out the extensive coaching experience of guys like Scott Ullger and Rick Anderson.
Steinbach added that he is looking forward to Year 2 on the bench and hopes last season’s time proves invaluable to him.
Offense needs plenty of help too
It slips through the cracks because of the immense ineptitude of the starting rotation, but the Twins lineup has really struggled each of the last couple of seasons. And having an entire year without a guy like Justin Morneau puts this group in a bigger hole of other players don’t emerge.
Minnesota has ranked in the bottom five in the AL in runs scored each of the last three seasons.
“Last year we had a lot of guys come up and get that experience,” Plouffe said. “It’s not easy to come up and have success right away.”
Joe Mauer is moving to first base, which fills the void left by Morneau last season. But that also opens up the catcher position, which – no offense to Kurt Suzuki, Josmil Pinto, etc. – has no chance of getting anywhere near the production that Mauer provided from that position.
But Plouffe said he thinks having Mauer at first base is a good thing.
“We want his bat in the lineup as much as possible,” Plouffe said. “If that’s what it takes to get his bat in the lineup, then we are all for it.”
Looking for outfield help
Touched on it in the notebook briefly, but St. Peter did say he would like to see the team add a little more offense still. He pointed out that players become available in spring training, which left me thinking that any upgrades there would probably just be platoon-type or bench players and likely won’t come until March when rosters start getting squeezed.
When pressed regarding what type of position he’d like to see improved, he mentioned the outfield.
The Twins have outfield options, but it’s anyone’s guess how that group will sort itself out. Josh Willingham – in the final year of his contract – is locked in at left.
No doubt the Twins would love to see Aaron Hicks emerge in center field after a dreadful rookie campaign. Alex Presley, who came over from Pittsburgh in the Morneau deal, should get a good look as well.
I thought Oswaldo Arcia, 22, had an encouraging rookie season, belting 14 homers in 351 at-bats. He was at times overmatched, as his 117 strikeouts will attest to. He should get plenty of at-bats in either right field or as the designated hitter. Jason Kubel is also on the team with a minor league deal.