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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Fort Myers, Fla.
First impressions of some key people in the Twins' spring training camp:
-Byron Buxton: It might be the strangest thing I've ever seen in early spring training, when pitchers throw live batting practice to hitters. Buxton takes every pitch. He told me he wants to improve his pitch selection, and he's working on that by tracking pitches and not swinging.
Most young hitters want to show off, to hit tape-measure home runs. And that's what Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas do every day. Buxton is so supremely confident in his swing and ability to hit that he would rather spend live BP getting used to the movement of pitches. Remarkable.
-Miguel Sano: Yes, he's about 260 pounds. (Last I heard he weighed in at 255, and that was before dinner.) But he's not fat. He has massive legs and shoulders. He is a powerhouse. I think he'll be a better defensive third baseman than Trevor Plouffe and has a chance to hit 40 home runs in the big leagues whenever he settles in as an everyday player.
-Kennys Vargas: Excellent power from both sides of the plate. Needs to work on pitch selection, taking good at-bats, fielding, but he's come a long way. He, Buxton and Sano could play together at Class AA New Britain this season. They could put on a show.
-MIke Pelfrey: Looks to me like he's throwing easier and with more zip than last spring.
-Alex Meyer: Eddie Guardado pulled me aside and mimicked Meyer's motion. He said when Meyer leads toward home plate with a firm left (non-throwing) arm, his mechanics fall into place and he pitches with a downward angle that makes his fastball sizzle and his breaking pitches dive. When he gets lazy with his front arm, he tends to sling the ball three-quarters, losing velocity and downward movement.
Guardado, who is not always easy to please, says he ``loves'' Meyer, meaning Meyer can listen and implement advice. Meyer has by far the best arm in camp.
-Vance Worley: When he succeeded as a rookie in Philadelphia, he threw 93-94. Last year, he sometimes began games throwing in the high-80s, and sometimes it didn't get much better than that. He doesn't have the kind of pitch command to be able to throw 89. He tends to pitch up in the strike zone. He needs to recapture velocity to have a chance to make it back to the big leagues.
-Trevor May: Needs to work on control, but the Twins hope/believe he can develop into a member of their future rotation, which could look like this: Meyer, Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey, Kyle Gibson, May. (I listed six because someone always gets hurt.) Then the Twins have good young arms like Jose Berrios and Kohl Stewart on the way.
-Trevor Plouffe: Came into camp looking stronger, but he already had good power. If he wants to have a big-league career, he needs to become quicker and more alert at third base. He doesn't anticipate well and he lacks initial quickness, which is why so many seemingly catchable balls fly by him.
-Aaron Hicks: Let's face it. He's a mystery. I still believe he'll be a good everyday outfielder, with a high on-base percentage and excellent fielding range. But who knows when he'll figure it out? And if he succeeds this spring, that won't prove anything, because he succeeded last spring.
-Michael Tonkin: Excellent stuff, good attitude, could be a big part of the bullpen for years to come.
-Caleb Thielbar: Even in live batting practice, impresses with his stuff and aggression.
I'm not saying any positive developments in camp could make the Twins contenders. But I don't think they'll embarrass themselves this year the way they have the last three years.
I"ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 every weekday ,and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities (that's 1500 AM) at 12:15 or so with Mackey & Judd every weekday. I'll be back in studio with Scott Korzenowski 10-noon on Sunday on 1500ESPN.
You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Greetings from Fort Myers, Fla. Yes, it's beautiful here.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has hinted at a willingness to take 13 pitchers north when spring training camp breaks. Here's an early look at the possibilities, if all of the key figures remain healthy:
Starting rotation: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are locks. Sam Deduno and Kyle Gibson are the leading candidates for the fifth spot. Deduno may have the edge because of his raw stuff and occasional games in which he looks unhittable, and because Gibson may benefit from another stint at Triple A. If both fail to earn the job, the next contenders would be Vance Worley and Scott Diamond. Worley is pitching to keep his career alive. Diamond would give the Twins a lefthander in the rotation. The most interesting aspect of this competition is that Diamond, Worley and Deduno are out of options. What happens if Worley fails to impress but the front office doesn't want to cut him for fear he'll resurface later as a success elsehwere, or for fear that cutting him will make the Ben Revere-for-Worley and Trevor May trade look bad? The easy way out might be to keep Deduno as the fifth starter, send Gibson to Triple A temporarily, and keep Diamond and Worley in the bullpen.
Bullpen: Glen Perkins will close. Casey Fien, Jared Burton, Caleb Thielbar and Brian Duensing are close to being locks. Anthony Swarzak has been a bullpen-saver the last two years and deserves to stick, but may face competition for the long role from starters without options who fail to make the rotation.
Kris Johnson is a lefty with good stuff. Michael Tonkin has the stuff to handle late-game roles once he cracks the big-league roster, and the field staff will likely want him on the team. There are a handful of other invitees with good stuff, but the last couple of bullpen spots could be used to protect pitchers who are out of options.
For all of their struggles the last three years, the bullpen is a point of strength. The Twins may be in a position to trade someone - Swarzak? - for a bat or young starting pitching if their key pitchers remain healthy.
This is a much stronger group than last year's, thanks to the addition of Nolasco and Hughes. And I didn't even mention top prospect Alex Meyer, who should be pushing for a spot in the rotation by midseason, if not sooner.
I'll be on the air weekdays in St. Cloud on WJON at 7:15 am, and on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with Mackey & Judd. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Justin Morneau, a former hockey player, wore what looked like a hockey number and almost got into a brawl on Wednesday night.
Morneau donned No. 66 because the Pirates have retired his traditional No. 33, which belonged to the great Honus Wagner. He came to the plate after Andrew McCutchen hit a home run to left field and didn't run hard to first base.
Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta thought McCutchen was showing hhim up. McCutchen said he lost track of the ball. Morneau seemed to pay for the difference of opinion.
Peralta's next pitch almost hit Morneau in the head. Morneau took the pitch off his shoulder or forearm. Morneau motioned in anger and bewilderment, and the benches and dugouts emptied, although there were no punches thrown.
I asked Morneau if he took offense to that pitch. ``That's an interesting way to phrase it,'' Morneau said. ``It's one of those things where you're not sure. Is it a coincidence that it happened after a home run, or not? It's hard to say. If I hadn't hit the ball hard the other way the first two times I really would have been mad. I believe in pitching inside. The only thing that really gets you is when you get up around that head area, and that's what I took exception to.
``Getting hit is part of the game. When you get up in that danger zone, that's when I think tempers will get a little flared. They said they didn't do it on purpose, so...''
Morneau took note of his teammates rushing to his defense. ``That's a lose-lose situation for us,'' he said. ``I go out there (to the mound) and we get someone hurt or get someone suspended and we're missing guys in a playoff race. You don't go, then you have to let them know that that's not all right, but what do you do? I think it's kind of selfish if you charge the mound in that situation, where you can hurt the team.
``It's strange to say sometimes, but sometimes when crazy things happen that really brings a team together.''
I spent three days in Milwaukee following former Twins Morneau and Francisco Liriano. Liriano pitched poorly Wednesday but has salvaged his career. Morneau, while saddened by the way his tenure with the Twins ended, looks thrilled to be playing meaningful games in September again.
Remember, because of injuries, Morneau has played in only two playoff series, and in seven games - in '04 and '06.
I now have a team to watch in September and October. Morneau is one of the best people I've covered in baseball, and I love the Pirates' story. The lifelong baseball fan in me would love to see him fully recovered from the concussion symptoms that threatened his career, and leading the Pirates to their first World Series title since 1979.
Maybe it's me. I show I show up in Milwaukee, have a nice talk with Francisco Liriano, and tonight he allows seven runs on seven hits and two walks in three innings and leaves with the Pirates down 7-2 to the Brewers.
The good news is, that only raises his season ERA to 2.98. The bad news is, it was 2.57 before the game started.
I caught up with another former Twin in Milwaukee. Carlos Gomez isn't performing like a superstar, the way he was when the Twins visited earlier this season. He's willing to run into walls, which has taken a toll on his knees. He's hitting .284 with 19 homers and 57 RBI and has made a number of spectacular catches.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Gomez has been less than consistent, has made mistakes in the outfield and on the bases. Those who cover the Brewers daily tell me Gomez is fearless in the outfield and on the bases, which can lead to the spectacular and the occasional puzzling play.
It is strange to look onto the field and see Liriano on the mound, with Justin Morneau holding Gomez on base. Kyle Lohse is currently the Brewers' ace, too.
Had a long talk with Justin Morneau that provided the basis for today's column. I couldn't fit all the good stuff into the newspaper, so here are Morneua's responses on a few other topics of interest:
Do you leave the Twins bearing a few regrets?
Morneau: ``Yeah. A World Series would have been the No. 1 thing. We got to theplayoffs and couldn’t find a way to get it done. It seemed like a key player was injured every time we got there, and when you’re matching up with a team like the Yankees that has so much depth, you need every guy that you have. In '06 we’re missing Frankie (Liriano), who was the best pitcher in the game at the time. And then in '09 and '10 I was hurt, and who knows what happens? I couldn't control the injuries. It’s part of playing the game. That’s something you wish didn’t happen but that’s part of the game.''
What was it like to be traded and wind up walking into the Pirates' dugout during a game?
Morneau: Crazy. Crazy. Really weird. For a few innings I looked out there, being on a different team, it took a little while to settle in. Once I made a few plays and atook a couple of at-bats, it started to sink in, and I started to realize it’s still baseball. Different team, but still baseball. It’s odd. At the same time, it was exciting.
Can you see yourself playing for the Twins again?
Morneau: I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. That’s too hard to answer that right now.
What was your favorite moment as a Twin? Maybe the game-winning home run off Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya in 2006?
Morneau: That one went through my head. The favorite one for me would probably be sitting in the dome the last day of the season in 2006, watching the game in Kansas City up on the screen, when nobody left the stadium. That’s not something you could ever script or plan. That just kind of happened. That was something we all shared with the fans and our teammates. That was insanity. That was probably my favorite thing I can think of.
Did you consider retiring when you were dealing with concussion symptoms?
Morneau: I had to think about it, but to say it was considered, no. To say it was close, no. But was it a realistic possibility? Maybe. It’s hard to say. Going through it, it felt like I wasn’t getting better. If I physically wasn’t able to go out there, to be cleared by a doctor to play…
Will you still live in the Twin Cities?
Morneau: Well, we live in Arizona during the winter. Corey Koskie came back. It might turn out to be a good thing. You go somewhere else and see what it's like, and you realize how great the Twin Cities are.
You've started hitting homers like your old self in the last month. Have you found your swing?
Morneau: My swing felt more like my swing. It's hard to put a finger on it. Those pitches I was missing or popping up early in the year, I felt like I was squaring up. I hit them in some of the right ballparks to hit them in, too. I just hope it continues for this month and next month and we have some fun.
Do you have any reassessed career goals?
Morneau: Winning. Just winning. Hopefully I get to play a few more years and enjoy wherever I'm at. Right now this is a good place to be.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon tomorrow from Milwaukee. Sunday on the station we'll have the Gardenhire show from 9:30-10, then Sunday Sports Talk with me, Scott Korzenowski and Tom Linnemann from 10-noon. I'll be calling in from the Vikings game in Detroit.
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