Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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I started covering the Twins as a beat writer in 1993. As a reporter covering spring training, you crave news.
When someone pressed Paul Molitor this spring over what his Week 1 rotation would be, he looked up, blinked and said, ``That's news?''
Well, it's spring training news. People are interested, and there isn't much else going on.
One thing I learned over the years was that most spring training ``news'' is aimed at what will happen on Opening Day. Who will be in the lineup? Who will be on the big-league roster? Who will be sent down? Who will take the mound?
It's all interesting stuff. A lot of it has little to do with what the roster will look like by April 15, or May 1, or June 1.
This week, the Twins sent Alex Meyer and Michael Tonkin to the minors. I think Meyer and Tonkin will be important players for the big-league team this season. They just won't be with the team on Opening Day (barring other injuries between now and then.)
Meyer. Tonkin. Miguel Sano. Eddie Rosario. Josmil Pinto. Maybe even Byron Buxton.
All could play key roles for the Twins this season, and all have been or probably will be optioned to the minors during camp.
The Opening Day roster is a function of the front office's hope. It hopes Aaron Hicks will prove he deserves to be an every day player. It hopes that Mike Pelfrey, or Tommy Millone, or Trevor May can hold down the fifth spot in the rotation. It hopes the team will stay relatively healthy.
By May 1, or June 1, you will have a much better idea of the best big-league roster the Twins can muster than you will on Opening Day.
Latest podcast (think radio on demand) at SouhanUnfiltered.com: Gophers senior associate athletic director Dan O'Brien, on Jerry Kill, what Kill thinks of me, his son's battle with cancer, and the future of Gophers athletics. Great stuff from a really good guy.
Other recent podcasts: Quincy Lewis and Michael Russo.
Next podcast: 5 p.m. Monday with old friend Tom Linnemann, the former St. John's quarteraback and world traveler.
Fort Myers, Fla.
Gophers baseball coach John Anderson said he got ``emotional'' on Wednesday afternoon, when talking with old Gopher teammate Paul Molitor about managing each other in the Twins' first game of spring training.
Molitor said, ``It was fun, especially once I got into the flow of the game.''
It was Molitor's first game as a manager. ``I was out there flashing signs the whole game, which is different,'' he said. ``Once I settled in, it was really enjoyable.''
The Twins used to open play against local Edison College. Then, because of the relationship between Ron Gardenhire and the Concordia staff, Concordia visited, even it for a scrimmage on the back fields.
Playing the Gophers is an upgrade in all sorts of ways. It gives more Minnesotans reason to visit Fort Myers. It pairs two famous Gophers - Molitor and Twins closer Glen Perkins - against their old school and their friend Anderson. It gives them a college opponent with high-end talent.
Some observations on the game, a 3-1 Twins victory:
-Perkins was fired up, saying he had more adrenaline than he's ever had in early March before. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning.
-MIguel Sano has tremendous bat speed. But we knew that. What was impressive was his foot speed. He stole a base and looked a little like a defensive end running a stunt when he steamed around second base.
-Byron Buxton hit doubles in his first two at-bats. The first was a hustle double on sinking liner to right-center. The left was a pulled shot down the leftfield line.
Molitor did address a mistake Buxton made, pulling Buxton aside after he scored on Kennys Vargas' two-out double in the first. Buxton coasted home, creating the possibility that if Vargas had been thrown out at second, Buxton may have crossed the plate too late for the run to count. ``He broke down a little early,'' Molitor said. ``You can't do that in that situation.''
-I felt sorry for the kids who had to face Michael Tonkin in the ninth. Tonkin has very good stuff, and it's time for him to be on the big-league staff.
-Watching Vargas take batting practice before the game, he responded well when asked to react to situations. Asked to foil an imaginary shift, he hit line drives the other way. Asked to advance runners, he produced ground balls to the right side.
-The Twins wil run something close to their ``A'' lineup out tomorrow in the true home opener against Boston at Hammond Stadium.
-My last 3 podcasts from spring training: Dave St. Peter, Eddie Guardado, Torii Hunter, all at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
Time for the too-early-to-possibly-be-right-but-predictions-are-silly-anyway Twins predictions for the near future:
I’m seeing so much young talent in Twins’ camp, and so much pitching depth, that I’m ready to be overly optimistic.
I see the 2015 Twins winning 84 games.
I see the 2016 Twins winning 90.
I see the 2017 Twins winning 93 and having a chance to make a postseason run.
Look at it this way: When the Twins traded Denard Span for Alex Meyer, they did so because they desperately needed to rebuilding their farm system and organizational pitching depth.
This spring, Meyer might have the best stuff in camp (with the possible exception of Jose Berrios). And he might not even win the fifth starter’s job. He may wind up in the bullpen.
Throughout history, the Twins have won when their starting staff has given them nothing more than quality starts. The team finished seventh in the big leagues in run scored last year even with Joe Mauer having one of his worst seasons. Danny Santana is already a polished big-leaguer. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton should debut later this season.
I never blamed the Twins’ losing on Ron Gardenhire or his coaches, but I do believe the clubhouse atmosphere had grown stale and unproductive.
It’s unpopular to say this given the Twins’ horrific four-year stretch, but this is a team on the rise. While so many people focus on payroll, farm systems are usually what win championships. Within the next five years, I believe you’ll see the Twins, Astros and Cubs vying for places in the World Series.
So, I had Torii Hunter on my podcast at SouhanUnfiltered.com.
He told me about the time Corey Koskie hid in his car after a game, and Hunter almost stabbed him.
And what Eddie Guardado used to wear while pitching. (Think Victoria’s Secret.)
And how he became friends with Magic Johnson.
That and more available at SouhanUnfiltered.com (or subscribe for free on Itunes ,or listen at Souhan-Unfiltered through IHeartRadio).
I’ll have Eddie Guardado on later today to let him fire back at Hunter.
Fort Myers, Fla.
I use my column to delve into meaty topics. Here, I'll hit you with quick observations after a few days in Fort Myers:
1. Torii Hunter, as I wrote this morning, loves being a leader. He spends lots of time talking to Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks at their adjacent lockers, and pulls hitters out of the cage on the back field to offer tips. One thing he emphasizes is ``loading'' weight onto the back leg to generate power.
2. With Hunter and Guardado back as full-time employees, the clubhouse, deathly quiet for most of the last four springs, is suddenly loud. You hear lots of laughter. Both go out of their way to engage young players.
3. Twins manager Paul Molitor said of pitching prospect Jose Berrios, ``He's 20 going on 35.'' Berrios is remarkably fit and polished. He has great stuff. He could rise quickly in the organization.
4. This might mean nothing, but Mike Pelfrey looks like he's throwing hard in bullpen sessions. He could fit into the staff as a fifth starter, long man or short reliever. Twins general manager Terry Ryan calls him ``a wonderful guy,'' and appreciates that Pelfrey wants to make good on his contract.
5. When Ricky Nolasco arrived as the Twins' primary free-agent signing last year, he quickly gave the impression that he didn't want to do a lot of extracurricalars. He didn't like giving interviews. He didn't seem to work out hard. He didn't seem to connect with teammates.
Ervin Santana is the opposite. He gets to the clubhouse early, stays late, is friendly to all. His reputation as a likeable professional is holding true so far.
6. In the old days (when I was a beat writer), Latin American players were known for either having visa difficulty or inventing visa difficulty, and often weren't around at the beginning of spring training.
The Twins' Latin American players blow apart that stereotype. They're all in camp, and they're among the most avid and enthusiastic workers. Danny Santana in particular has impressed the Twins with his professionalism and attitude.
7. Torii Hunter spent part of the morning laying flat on his back in the clubhouse, trying to catch his breath. He took Buxton to the Twins' training hill by the minor-league fields for sprint-hill work. Buxton, an exceptional athlete, said the workout was draining.
8. I thought I was being clever, asking second baseman Brian Dozier about Paul Molitor's attention to detail. Turns out he's been asked that ``a dozen times.'' But he still gave me a great answer, which I'll use in an upcoming column.
Today at 2:30 I'm doing a live podcast with Star Tribune hockey writer Michael Russo at SouhanUnfiltered.com (or Souhan-Unfiltered on IHeartradio). You can listen live or later.
On Friday, I'll begin a series of podcasts with key Twins figures.
Thanks for reading, and listening.
The NFL held its Pro Bowl and the NHL held its All-Star game on Sunday.
Part of my job is to consume as much of newsworthy, noteworthy sports on television as I can. I didn't watch a minute of either.
Judging from today's reports, I didn't miss anything.
Here's how I would ``fix'' the All-Star events, or at least make them more watchable:
NHL: Hockey without defense is a bad idea. Goals in and of themselves are rarely pretty. They're exciting because they occured against a bunch of defensive players trying to stop the puck, or crush the shooter. Hockey requires intensity to be entertaining. So instead of paying each player a nice fee for making the All-Star game, throw all of that money into a pot, add a few million to make it enticing, and give all of the money to the participating players on the winning team.
Wouldn't you love to see the best players in the game playing hard for that last goal?
Basketball: Again, make it a winner-takes-all game, and tweak the rules. Install a four-point line to reward extra-long shots. And make dunks worth four points. Nobody wants to see mid-range jump shots in an All-Sar game, Reward the spectacular.
Baseball: This remains the best of the All-Star games, because it is the only one in which the defense is performing to the best of its abilities. One tweak: Allow players to reenter the game. The flaw of the baseball All-Star game is that the subs are in the game for the deciding innings, and it's possible for both teams to run out of players. If the bases are loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with the home team trailing by one, would you rather see the manager forced to use the player scheduled to bat...or would you like to see him call Miguel Cabrera off the bench, even though Cabrera left the game in the third inning?
NFL: Football without fully-engaged defenses might be even less entertaining than hockey without defense. My longstanding suggestion: Scrap the Pro Bowl and make the NFC and AFC battle in an old Superstars-style competition.
For the younger generation, Superstars would take star athletes and have them compete in events like sprinting, tug of war and the obstacle course. With the winners taking home loot
This format created one of the great moments in non-tradiational sports history. Here's a recap of it by ESPN and former St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Jim Caple:
``The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings met in Super Bowl IX in New Orleans in January 1975, a game that included 16 future Hall of Famers (counting coaches Bud Grant and Chuck Noll), Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense, Minnesota's Purple People Eaters and legendary quarterbacks Fran Tarkenton and Terry Bradshaw. That game, which the Steelers won 16-6, was not the most dramatic or memorable showdown between the two teams, however. That distinction goes to an epic, 16-minute tug-of-war on the sands of Waikiki held two weeks later as part of ABC's "Superteams" competition. After it was all over and the two teams lay moaning and exhausted in the sand, Dick Button -- yes, that Dick Button, the figure skating guy -- told a Sports Illustrated writer, "Nothing -- nothing, not even my own Olympic victories -- has ever moved me like that."
JEFF SIEMON, former Vikings linebacker: "It was the worst physical strain I've ever been under. It was the most intense, brutal abuse I've ever gone through -- and maybe by far."
DAVE OSBORN, former Vikings running back: "The tug-of-war was the toughest, most physical thing I've ever done, bar none. As far as being tired, I have never been more fatigued. I was always in great shape as a player. Practice was always a breeze. But when you have got to do something for a length of time and don't dare let up, it drains you. It was 16 minutes, but it seemed like 16 hours."
BEV OSBORN, Dave's wife: "You just wanted them to win the Super Bowl, but this was wondering if everyone was going to still be alive when it was over."
I love that incoming baseball commissioner Rob Manfred had the guts to suggest that baseball's defensive shift might be outlawed.
I liked the shift when it was a novelty that rewarded progressive thinking. Now it's a common stratagem that takes away hits. I no longer like it. Make fielders stay in a rough semblance of order. Let's see good hitting rewarded.
Latest podcasts at SouhanUnfiltered.com: 105.1 The Ticket's Bob Sansevere and I telling stories about the best characters in Vikings history; Strib hockey writer Michael Russo on the Wild; Twins GM Terry Ryan on his health, past and future; USA Today football writer Tom Pelissero on the Patriots, Seahawks, and the reaction he's received from scientists about the Deflatriots.
Next podcast: Today, 5 p.m. at The Local with Twins president Dave St. Peter.
My podcast network, The Alive&Social Network, now has a house containing a studio, and we're going to start doing live music shows as well as talking about music and sports. Follow @Aliveandsocial on Twitter to keep up to date.
Also, I'll be appearing on 105.1 The Ticket with Bob Sansevere every afternoon at 3:30.
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