Some afternoon links

A few of the interesting reads I came across today:

  • Dave Cameron of FanGraphs disputes the poor Vegas odds the Twins are opening with. I have to agree with him. How can the Twins be projected to do worse than last year? Not saying it couldn’t happen. Obviously, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer could regress, but what about the awful pitching and infield play from Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto last year? There’s just as good of chance the Twins get production from those spots.
  • Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire isn’t going anywhere. Not a big surprise.
  • KARE 11 TV in the Twin Cities has a story on Twins mega-prospect Miguel Angel Sano and his life in the Dominican Republic. Pretty interesting piece.

Twins’ minor leagues getting much-needed attention

The Minnesota Twins’ run to the 2009 AL Central division title was as improbable as it gets when you consider where the team was with three weeks left in the regular season.

Justin Morneau was out for the season. Joe Crede was out for the season. The starting rotation was in shambles. But the Twins caught the Detroit Tigers.

What made the run so remarkable was the Twins once again – like they did in 2008 with Alexi Casilla and Brian Buscher – found guys in the minor leagues to help out. Guys like Jose Morales and Brian Duensing played big roles for the team down the stretch.

When Torii Hunter left the Twins via free agency after the 2007 season, and then Johan Santana was traded to the New York Mets, I said one of my great concerns with this team wasn’t stars leaning. I was much more concerned about a minor league system that, as a small-market team is relied on a lot, had seemingly dried up.

The Twins continue to produce major league ready players in the minors, but it’s not exactly star power talent.

Clearly, the front office has taken notice, and just in the last year we’ve seen the Twins sign the top available prospect in Europe, then the top prospect in Latin America.

Whether or not Max Kepler or Miguel Angel Sano amount to anything is hard to say. It really is gambling, but I’d rather see the Twins spend $3 million on a potential superstar in Sano then see them drop $4 million on the Mike Lambs of the world. God knows there’s plenty of them.

I’ve expressed concerns in the past about the Twins’ lack of prospects from overseas (those signed by the Twins, not acquired in trades like Casilla). The organization is at the very least addressing this.

For more Twins’ minor league reading, check out this link from FanGraphs. The site reviews some of the risers and fallers within the Twins’ minor league system.

If you check out the comments, I saw somebody talk about a guy in the Twins’ farm system named Adrian Salcedo. I had never heard of him before, so I checked out his stats. He’s in the low minors, but his stats are pretty sick. I must emphasize the kid’s 18 years old so much can change, but here’s another overseas guy that’s turning heads in the low minors.

What a surprise? Nathan has surgery

A couple of pieces of news regarding the Minnesota Twins that might be of interest.

Twins closer Joe Nathan underwernt surgery Tuesday to remove two bone chips from his right elbow. He acknowledged that he’s pitched much of the season not feeling right.

I didn’t exactly go out on a limb when I suggested some sort of injury would probably pop up after the season. It was the only logical explanation as to why a shut-down closer is suddenly giving up more homers and walks than he normally does.

Nathan is expected to be ready for spring training.

Also this week, Twins mega-prospect Miguel Angel Sano received his work visa. The top Dominican prospect, who is believed to be 16 years old, can now work in the United States.

Other than determining his actual age, this was the biggest hurdle for the Twins and Sano to overcome. He will head to Fort Myers to play in the Gulf Coast League next season.

Doubleheader thoughts

Here’s my take on the Minnesota Twins’ splitting a doubleheader Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers, leaving the Twins still two games back in the AL Central race:

  • Nick Blackburn did a nice job in Game 1, ducking trouble in the early innings before settling into a nice groove. This was a big game for him, probably the second-biggest start of his young career, ranking right after the one-game playoff start he got against the Chicago White Sox last year. On both occassions, he held the opponent in check.
  • The Nick Punto suicide squeeze in the ninth inning of Game 1 is inexcusable. I hated the play. And of course, if it works, it’s applauded. But with a runner on third and one out in a tie game in the ninth inning, if you can’t find a way to drive that run in there’s something wrong with you. Punto did what he could; I certainly don’t blame him.
  • Jon Rauch did a nice job of pitching around the leadoff walk in the ninth, giving the Twins a chance to win the game in the 10th inning. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I like the way this bullpen is going to shape up for 2010. The Twins got Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Rauch. Not a bad four to start with.
  • Expected a better outing from Brian Duensing in Game 2 after he shut the Tigers down just a week or two ago. He’s done a nice job this season as a starter, but he’s starting to show some chinks in his armor.
  • Nice to see the Twins battle back against Justin Verlander, who thoroughly dominated them through the first five innings. Watching him make Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez look silly on high fastball after high fastball continues to leave me wondering how the Twins could have gotten so little for Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.
  • I really didn’t understand Guerrier facing Curtis Granderson to open the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2 with Mijares still available, and I did say as much before he homered. Yeah, Mijares pitched in Game 1, but just to a couple of batters. Guerrier has been one of the best middle relievers in baseball this season, but Granderson is hitting under .200 against lefties this year, and he’s a full 100 points better against righties. It seemed like a no-brainer spot to put Mijares in. Unfortuately, Granderson’s homer put the Tigers up by 2, and with the Twins managing just a run in the ninth, the Guerrier decision proved costly.

One other Twins story that caught my eye was the Twins reportedly agreeing to terms with free-agent Dominican teenage shortstop Miguel Angel Sano to a rich signing bonus.

"I’m very thankful to get this chance to sign with the Twins," Sano told the Associated Press. "I’m going to work very hard to try to get to the majors in two years."

There’s much being done to confirm Sano’s age. He claims to be 16 years old, but according to the story is much more physically developed than the typical 16-year-old.

The story does mention if the Twins do get this guy and he is 16 or near that, he will easily be the biggest prospect the Twins have ever had from Latin America.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I was concerned that the Twins seemingly don’t develop any prospects through the minor leagues from outside the draft, other than those they trade for. It’s nice to see them make a commitment to someone that wasn’t acquired through the draft. Sounds like he has first-round talent, so why not pay him first-round money?