Gomez gives Twins reason to be excited

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2008 - 7:57 AM

The young center fielder has room to improve, but he has been a sparkplug on a team that has seen many of its other offseason acquisitions struggle.

Ron Gardenhire was a Twins coach during Torii Hunter's rookie season of 1999, when he hit .255 with nine home runs, 35 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 135 games.

Asked to compare Carlos Gomez at this stage of his career compared to Hunter, Gardenhire said: "I think Torii was the same type of player, a very great athlete, not as much speed. He could do a lot of things but needed to learn the game too. I think Torii would tell you the same thing. He had an opportunity to grow here, and I think that's what's going to happen with this young man."

After Sunday night's 9-8 victory over Boston, Gomez is hitting .269 with two home runs, 13 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 31 games. The 22-year-old Gomez isn't a rookie, having played 58 games with the Mets last year.

While you never know how a player will develop, Gomez certainly has done some great things to start his Twins career, including hitting for the cycle on Wednesday night at Chicago. When you talk to scouts from other teams, they will tell you that he has the athletic ability to be a superstar some day.

"He's got a big heart and he gets out there pretty good and he's fun to watch and he comes here on a mission every day, and he's going to get better as we go along, we think," Gardenhire said. "You know what, he loves to play and you could see it and that's kind of why we really enjoy him."

Like Gomez, Hunter, a former first-round pick, caught the eye of a lot of baseball people in his early days with the Twins.

"Who knows, that's a great player you're talking about in Torii," Gardenhire said. "... This kid's got a chance if he continues to work hard and stays within our system, he's got a chance to be a good one."

Asked to analyze his team six weeks into the season, Gardenhire said: "We're just going out and playing. We're trying not to worry about what other people are saying and, you know what, they're just going to play, and we're going to play as hard as we can and give them everything we have and the chips are going to fall where they fall.

"There's a lot of courage out here and that's all I care about, having courage and playing. That's what we're doing."

Well said. Nobody, including me, thought this team would do as well as they have after losing Hunter, Johan Santana and Carlos Silva over the offseason and going with one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball.

Needed help

With those veteran departures, it was evident over the offseason that the Twins would need to sign some free agents and make some deals to strengthen the team.

The team has had some success this year even though many of their offseason acquisitions have not contributed much on offense. The free-agent acquisition that has contributed the most is Livan Hernandez, who has been a savior for the pitching staff, going 5-1 with a 3.83 ERA entering his start tonight.

Two of the offseason acquisitions hit home runs Sunday night in the Twins' five-run second inning, Craig Monroe and Adam Everett. Mike Lamb later added a two-run single, two days after his game-winning two-run single against the Red Sox, and Monroe later added another homer. Everett and Lamb came to the Twins as free agents from Houston, and Monroe was acquired from the Cubs.

For this team to continue to surprise, Monroe, Everett and Lamb are going to have to hit more, and the two players acquired in the trade with Tampa Bay for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett have to provide some power.

Brendan Harris was hitting .259 with two home runs, while Delmon Young, who came here with the reputation as a developing young slugger, was hitting .271 with only four of his 35 hits for extra bases, including no home runs.

Young has said he is a slow starter, and after May 11 last year he was hitting only .234 with four home runs.

The Twins' recent history with free agents hasn't been very successful, and the hope is that this won't be a repeat of the past two years. In 2006, Tony Batista and Ruben Sierra were both gone by the All-Star break, while Rondell White spent much of the year on the disabled list. In 2007, Sidney Ponson went 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA in seven starts and was released, and Ramon Ortiz got off to a hot start but then fell off and was 4-4 with a 5.14 ERA when he was traded to Colorado, and Jeff Cirillo hit .261 in 50 games before he was claimed off waivers by Arizona.

To be fair, we should give this group of newcomers more time, and more games like Sunday night will help. For sure, the Twins will need more production from these veterans if they are to remain a contender in a division that isn't as good as a lot of people thought it would be.

Jottings

After investigating the incident, the Vikings front office questions the details reported by Florida newspapers following Bryant McKinnie's arrest in February outside a Miami nightclub. People close to the left tackle have said the whole thing was blown out of proportion. And you can be sure that if the Vikings thought they would lose McKinnie to a lengthy suspension, they certainly would have been more active in the draft for an offensive lineman. McKinnie has a hearing coming up in Miami and will meet with NFL officials after that.

Former NFL MVP Rich Gannon will do color commentary with Kevin Harlan on Packers preseason games before again teaming up on CBS regular-season games. Both have local connections, with Gannon, the ex-Vikings quarterback, living here and Harlan, the son of longtime Packers executive Bob Harlan, also the play-by-play voice of the Timberwolves for their first nine seasons.

You can add Jake Kremer of Eden Prairie to the list of goalies who will play for the Gophers men's hockey team next season. Kremer played for Bismarck of the North American Hockey League this season. He joins Ken Patterson, who played at Blake before going to Cedar Rapids of the United States Hockey League, and No. 1 goalie Alex Kangas.

Henry Sibley's Phil Haig, who received a football scholarship to Illinois, gave it up and turned to baseball, is 1-2 with a 6.39 ERA in eight games this year, including five starts. ... White Bear Lake product Jim Bircher is a walk-on catcher at Michigan, who played the Gophers here this weekend.

Marc Sonnen, a 6-2 shooting guard from Tartan High School, has made a verbal commitment to Northern Iowa. ... Cameron Rundles, a 6-1 point guard who played at DeLaSalle, is transferring from Montana to Wofford, where Braham's Noah Dahlman also is playing.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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