Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. It is important for the players and the fans to abide by the whole "One Day at a Time" approach to the season. There are so many games. So many hits. So many runs. So many transactions. So many errors. They are called the Dog Days of August because this is the time when a team out of contention, like the Twins, and their fans, can find the season long.
But August 15th, 2011, was a big day for the Twins and their fans. It was one bit of news after the next. It was a day that signified change and turnover. It was a day to celebrate an historical event. It was a day to look ahead to a bright future. For a Twins fan, August 15th was pretty exciting.
It actually started very early in the morning, when I tweeted that the Twins had signed their 16th round pick, Austin Malinowski, a LHP from Centennial High School in Lino Lakes. He was the top player in the high school ranks in Minnesota in 2011, and he gave up a scholarship to the University of Arizona to sign with his hometown team.
Around 1:30 p.m. central time, we learned that the Twins had just traded Delmon Young to the Tigers. He had been claimed by the Tigers last week, and with their 48 hour window closing, they agreed to a deal that sent Edina native Cole Nelson to the Twins along with a Player To Be Named Later. The deal marked the end of a nearly four season relationship with the talented outfielder who just never met expectations and often rubbed fans and media the wrong way. After a 2010 season in which he hit .298 with 46 doubles, 21 homers and 112 RBI, Young was very disappointing in 2011 when he had just four home runs for the Twins.
Ironically, Young learned he was being traded when Bill Smith called his cell phone. Young was on the Twins team bus to Comerica Park, home of the Tigers. When he got off the bus, he said good bye to his teammates and instead of joining them in the visitor's clubhouse, he went to the home clubhouse and put on the Tigers' uniform.
In his first at bat against Francisco Liriano, batting third for the Tigers, Young took a 3-1 fastball and deposited it into the left field bleachers for a home run. He later made a terrific running catch in left field and singled solidly up the middle.
The Young trade signaled that the Twins are no longer competing for the 2011 AL Central title (something we've known for two weeks, or more). It shows they are looking to the future. Nelson, the Tigers 10th round pick in 2010 is a 22-year-old left-handed pitcher who went to Auburn for college. he has really struggled in the Florida State League and will report to the Ft. Myers Miracle for the remainder of the season. It will be very interesting to see who the Player To Be Named Later is. The assumption is the the player will be insignificant as is usually the case, but the more that the Twins could get for Young, the better.
The game was back and forth. In the 6th inning, Jim Thome came to the plate with a runner on base. He has been sitting on 598 home runs for since August 4th. The hope was he could hit his 600th home run in their six-game home stand last week. Then the goal became to hit two home runs in Cleveland where 55% of his career home runs have been hit. That didn't happen.
In his first two at bats on Monday night, Thome drilled a line drive right at the shortstop (actually caught by the 3B who was essentially playing SS with the shift) and he drilled a line drive single to center. When he came up in the 6th inning, Bert Blyleven called a home run. A couple of pitches later, Thome hit an opposite field homer into the Twins bullpen in left center field. 599 home runs. He was close now! It took nearly two weeks to hit 599, how long would it take to hit 600?
One inning. That is all. In the top of the 7th, Thome came to the plate with two runners on to face southpaw Daniel Schlereth. A couple of hanging sliders later, and Thome deposited another home run into the Twins bullpen, caught by closer Joe Nathan. His teammates and coaches rushed to greet him at home plate. Michael Cuddyer was the first to hug him. Then Justin Morneau. Valencia. Mauer, and so on. Each of his teammates excitedly hugged the legendary slugger. Then his family was brought onto the field. His father, wife, and a couple of his kids. The Tigers fans stood and cheered the accomplishment. It was an incredible moment. I felt like it hasn’t been talked about enough in baseball circles, even in Twins circles. But when it happened, it was incredibly exciting and memorable, and Thome again showed over and over, in interview after interview, just how classy he is.
He became just the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600 home runs in this career. Think about that for just a few minutes! Jim Thome is a legend. His place in history has been set for a long time. His place in the hearts and minds of Twins fans continues to deepen.
As the game and the post-game interviews, which maybe Gardy forgot was live, the focus jumped to the MLB Draft. The deadline to sign players drafted in June was 11:00 central time. With 90 minutes before the deadline, the Twins had not yet signed any of their three first-round picks.
Just before 10:00, we learned that the Twins had signed the 55th overall pick, RHP from Biship Verot high school in Ft. Myers, Hudson Boyd, to a $1 million signing bonus, about $350,000 over slot. One down. Boyd is a big guy who already throws 92-95 mph and even touched 97.
At about 10:25, Josh Johnson tweeted that the Twins had come to terms with the 50th overall pick, high school 3B, Travis Harrison. He fell, in part, due to the fact that many teams heard he was very much committed to his scholarship to USC. Although the Twins wouldn’t likely draft him unless they felt strongly that they could sign him, there was a lot of concern that he would cause the Twins to go well over slot. And because of his power potential, I thought it was well worth doing just that. When it came out that the Twins had inked Harrison for “just” $1.05 million, I was shocked. When Baseball America’s Jim Callis tweeted that he signed for $1.5 million, that sounded much more likely. But minutes later, he retracted that comment and said that it was a $1.05 million signing bonus. Again, that is about $350,000 over MLB’s slot recommendation.
The only selection yet to sign was the team’s first round pick, 30th overall, infielder Levi Michael. At one point in the afternoon, it was reported that the two sides had reached a ‘snag.’ There were reports that he would sign as early as 45 minutes prior to the deadline, but it was finally announced, almost right at the deadline, that the Twins had signed Michael to a $1.175 million bonus, just $86,000 over slot. (was that really worth sitting out six weeks of development time? Maybe!)
So, the Twins signed all three of their first-round and compensation picks for $3.225 million. Of course, if the Twins draft in the Top 5 to 8 picks in 2012, that will be about half of what their first round pick next year will cost.
The draft is so important to a team’s minor league system. The fact that most of the first-round picks didn’t sign until minutes before the deadline is more than annoying, but you can’t fully blame a player for getting what he can because until they reach their arbitration years (3 years into a big league career), they make very little money. So I understand that they should get what they can. At the same time, many teams spend a ton of money on free agency. But spending a little extra on draft picks makes a ton of picks. Why? Because the Twins will now have control of those players for four more years before they would need to be added to the 40 man roster, six years of minor league time, and up to six years of big league time before they would become free agents. Draft picks are great investments.
The Twins did very well in the draft this year. They got a college hitter at a position of need. They took two compensatory picks and used them on high ceiling high school talents. They were able to sign their first fifteen draft picks and 33 of the 52 players they drafted. The lowest draft choice not to sign was 14th rounder Adam McCreery. I would say that is a terrific draft. In addition to the three first round picks, and Malinowski, the Twins also announced the signings of Jason Wheeler (8th round – LHP), Brett Lee (10th round – LHP), Tyler Jones (11th round – RHP… actually reported to Elizabethton ten days ago), Matthew Koch (12th round – Catcher – has played for Elizabethton the last week), Josh Burris (17th round – RHP), Trenton Higginbotham (26th round – RHP), and Chris Mazza (27th round – RHP). They got some strong arms such as Eden Prairie’s Madison Boer (2nd), LHP Corey Williams (3rd) and Matthew Summers (4th). They got two other shortstops in the top ten rounds in Tyler Grimes (5th) and Adam Bryant (9th).
It is a bright day for the future of the Twins… although we can’t really judge any draft for at least ten eight years after the draft, so we will find out in about 2018 or 2019 just how good this draft was.
We saw historical with Jim Thome’s 599th and 600th home runs. We saw his class. We saw an acknowledgement of looking to the future with the trade of Delmon Young, and we have to assume that Young could be the first of a few to be traded during this waiver period. And we got to see the Twins planning for the future with the signings of so many of their draft picks including high ceiling talents like Boyd and Harrison.
We, as Twins fans, have to look for the positives. With the season more that ¾ complete, this is kind of like the Twins are being blown out in the 7th inning of a game. The team isn’t going to come back and win. Those games are easy to get over, much easier to get over than a one-run loss most of the time. You have to find things that are positive. You have to look to the next game and start planning for it. Likewise, we are now in the 7th inning of a really long, ugly season for the Minnesota Twins. It’s been frustrating, and yet the Twins are out of contention. It’s at this point that it’s not hard to be a Twins fan. All we can do is enjoy the rest of the games, be positive and look ahead to better thing. In doing so, there will be some good days and some bad days.
August 15th was a good day. The Twins started looking to the future, Jim Thome let Twins fans be part of something pretty special, and the Twins completed a very excited draft by signing so many of their picks, and specifically all three first round picks. Oh, and the Twins also got a nice 9-6 win over the Tigers tonight. Just a little frosting on the cake of a good day!