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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First impressions after an afternoon spent watching Twins prospects in minor-league camp and the big-league team in Port Charlotte against the Rays:
-Wrote about the high-end talent in camp, much of it in minor-league camp. Saw Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton hit homers and Michael Tonkin throw gas.
-Hearing Eduardo Escobar is having an excellent camp and could win the second-base job from Brian Dozier. Ron Gardenhire praised Escobar on Monday, but Escobar is a superior fielder, and Dozier's swing was such a mess last year he's going to have to prove he's the better offensive option, as well as a reliable defender.
-Trevor Plouffe's calf strain is a reminder of how little depth the Twins have at third base. Terry Ryan says Plouffe will be fine, but if he aggravated the injury, what would the Twins do? Play Jamey Carroll there? Move Dozier? Play Escobar? The options are not good.
Funny that the Twins have always had qualms about Plouffe's approach but didn't bring quality compeittion to big league camp to push him.
-Different vibe in camp with the coaching changes. Tom Brunansky has a lot of charisma. Bobby Cuellar gives the Latin players someone to speak to in their own language. Terry Steinbach should be a calming influence for Gardenhire on the bench.
-Usually when I speak with pitching coach Rick Anderson about prospects, I see a lot of shrugging. Monday, he was gushing. He's thrilled by the young arms he's seen and is very high on Mike Pelfrey.
-Not long ago, Liam Hendriks was winning organization minor-league pitcher of the year awards. Now he may be about 8th in line for a rotation spot.
Pelfrey, Vance Worley and Kevin Correia will be in the rotation to start the season. Scott Diamond will probably join the rotation in the first couple of weeks of the season. Kyle Gibson may be sent down with the hope of him being called up later in the season. So the Twins will have either one or two spots open for the opening-week rotation, depending on whether they start with a five-man or four-man rotation. (They won't necessarily need a fifth start until April 10), and Diamond could be close by then.
Cole De Vries might have the lead among the ``others'' for a rotation spot. The Twins love the way he competes and throws strikes, and his stuff is probably a little better than it has been portrayed. Hendriks will have to impress the rest of the way to be considered.
-Joe Benson can really run. He tripled to center in the ninth on Monday night and made it standing up, easy. Don't think he's ready for the majors but don't give up on this kid's talent. He reminds me of a young Marty Cordova: Compact, athletic, can run, great bat speed.
-If you make the assumption that the rotation will be better, the Twins' biggest concern has to be the bullpen. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton should be very good. Brian Duensing has to prove he can get righthanders out. Who else is a sure thing?
Programming update: I'll be on at noon on 1500ESPN on all weekdays, and will be live from Fort Myers for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on Sunday, with Tom Pelissero.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Time for the latest edition of the Local Power Rankings, my highly irrelevant look at the key revenue Twin Cities sports teams. Things are looking up:
1. Minnesota Vikings
Overachieving at 8-6, they have a chance to make the playoffs at least one year ahead of a realistic rebuilding schedule.
2. Gopher basketball
This is not only a good team, it's a team that quite obviously likes to play together. Andre and Austin Hollins play together like twins, even though they're not.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
What's one common thread between the two local basketball teams? Both rid themselves of a big man who contributed next to nothing. The Wolves got rid of Darko, to their benefit, and the Gophers got rid of Ralph Sampson, to the same effect.
The Wolves are struggling to score at the rim and from the three-point line. While that's troubling, it's also somewhat due to Kevin Love's struggles to regain his shooting touch. That will come in time.
4. Gopher hockey
The boys are talented but slightly underachieving. They can be better than this.
5. Minnesota Twins
I know, I know, you want them to spend more money. But that's not the issue. Over-spending on a pitcher just to prove you're willing to spend money will not fix what's wrong with this team. Terry Ryan's plan is obvious and logical: Try to get through the 2013 season with a rotation that gives the team a chance to compete, and then be set up to win in the following years as the best players in the farm system reach the majors.
That plsn isn't guaranteed to work, but neither would have over-paying Anibal Sanchez have guaranteed success.
6. Gopher football
Jerry Kill might have caught quite the break, with Wisconsin changing coaches. Then again, Barry Alvarez seems to know what he's doing.
7. MInnesota Wild
It's a terrible negotiation when someone who is terrible at his job (Gary Bettman) sits down across from someone who is very good at his job but cares more about his legacy than the sport (Donald Fehr.) I feel for all the businesses and working-class people who are taking a financial hit because these fools can't cut a deal.
I'll be at Winter Park today for Vikings interviews, then will join Reusse&Mackey on 1500espn at 2:05. I'm also on WJON in St. Cloud every morning at 7:15 with Jay Caldwell. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
As a longstanding member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, I have a Hall of Fame vote. I often wish I didn't. I'm not sure any of us are qualified to judge who belongs in the Hall. I don't really want the responsibility, and I frequently disagree with my brethren about judging athletes linked to steroids or rumored to have used steroids, and about our fitness to judge the ``character'' of a candidate.
But I vote because I feel it is my responsibility. In recent years, I've been voting for Jack Morris. I felt that even though his statistics make him a borderline candidate, I recognize him as a dominant pitcher who performed his best in big games and ate up an incredible number of innings. I greatly value innings, because having your ace on the mound is a great advantage to your team. Call it VORP: Value over Relief Pitcher.
While I've voted for Morris, I have not campaigned for him, because I understand the arguments against him: He did not dominate in vital categories like ERA and strikeouts, and he pitched for mostly good teams, which elevated him in the dubious category of pitcher victories.
In a piece writte by Stuart Miller for the New York Times baseball blog, Miller notes that Morris may be about to get his lucky break. He's on the same ballot as a number of players tainted by steroid use or rumors. Morris, who received 66.7 percent of the votes last year, may make it because he is viewed as a clean player.
I disagree with that approach. I will vote for players regardless of their reputations because I don't believe I, or any of my peers, are qualified to discern who used performance enhancing drugs and who didn't. We just don't know and we shouldn't pretend that we do.
More interesting about Miller's piece is that he writes something that contradicts what I've heard from many sabermatricians.
The longstanding argument in favor of Morris has been that he pitched just well enough to win, meaning he would pitch to the situation, giving up more runs and hits when he was far ahead, which could damage his stats without hurting his team.
The longstanding argument from stat-heads has been that pitchers do not pitch to the situation, and that there was no proof of Morris doing so.
Here's the key portion of Miller's piece:
``(Morris) has fallen short for 13 years because he is a classic borderline case, with plenty of arguments both for and against him. He never was dominant in terms of E.R.A., WHIP or strikeouts — in the American League, he finished in the top 5 in E.R.A., WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings just twice each — but he knew how to win. That sounds a bit like an intangible, and it is, but Morris won 254 games by pitching to the situation — when his team gave him more run support he pitched to contact, striking out and walking fewer batters, allowing more hits and more runs.
The closer the game, the lower the opposing team’s batting average against him. And most significant, he rarely missed a turn and almost always went deep into games, averaging 33 starts and nearly 7 1/3 innings per start from 1979 through 1992.
That also was invaluable to his teams, since he kept lesser starters off the hill and allowed the bullpen to rest. (This was a guy who rang up 64 complete game losses.) He also led the 1984 Detroit Tigers and the 1991 Minnesota Twins to World Series, turning in one of baseball’s greatest performances with his 10-inning Game 7 shutout in 1991.''
That is the best summation of Morris' career I've ever seen, and it bolsters my reasons for voting for Morris for the Hall of Fame.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey, and on with Tom Pelissero at 6:40. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib
Catching up on the local sports scene:
-Vikings. I'm at the Dome, where I'm picking a typical grind-it-out victory for the Vikings. Tampa Bay has scary weapons in Doug Martin and Victor Jackson, but the Vikings have a number of advantages in this game.
Their defense has excelled at taking away the best skill-position player or players on the other team, with Larry Fitzgerald being the most recent example. The Vikings have been able to run the ball on pretty much everyone, and are smart enough not to veer away from their strengths, even though Tampa Bay is much better against the run than the pass.
Most of all, though, the Vikings appear to be the superior team at this juncture, and they're getting to play at home, presumably in front of a loud crowd, against a team that doesn't play often on turf. And the Bucs had to play on Sunday and spend Wednesday traveling. NFL players just don't bounce back that easily and quickly, not most of them.
My sure-to-be-wrong prediction: Vikings 23, Bucs 16.
-Twins: In September, I heard that the Twins would make major changes to their coaching staff. The only surprise, among the recently-announced changes, is that Terry Steinbach will be the bench coach. I hadn't heard Terry's name previously, and he wound up taking the position I had heard was reserved for Triple-A manager Gene Glynn.
This lineup makes sense. Glynn is very valuable where he right now, and Steinbach should be a good foil for Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire is hyperactive on the bench. He needs someone to slow him down and offer all of his options. Gardenhire's first instinct is to act. Steinbach's job will be to make sure Gardenhire has thought every move through thoroughly as possible.
Whatever the changes to the coaching staff, the success of the franchise will depend on finding pitching. With word that Scott Boras client Kyle Lohse may be looking for a $75-million contract, it's more apparent than ever to me that Terry Ryan is going to have to try to get lucky with trades or low-level free-agent signings that will not impress anyone initially.
-Wild: Remember when we had an NHL team in our town? Me, neither.
-Gopher football: I want to like Jerry Kill. I really do. He's making it difficult, though. I've already ripped the removal of North Carolina from future schedules. I'm also disturbed by the removal of redshirts from several key young players.
The last time I went to one of Kill's press conferences, he emphasized the importance of patience. Removing the redshirt from your freshman quarterback at midseason and telling him on Friday that he would be starting on Saturday is not patient. It's an act of desperation.
Jerry: Recruits can smell desperation.
-Gopher basketball: As tough as I've been on Tubby Smith on many fronts, I won't bash him because his son got a DUI. While I believe driving while intoxicated is absolutely wrong and reckless, I also know a million people who have done it at some point in their lives. Saul Smith made a terrible mistake, but let's not play the ``leader-of-young-men card.'' He's an assistant coach. Let's not pretend that an assistant coach getting a DUI is going to alter the lives of a dozen college basketball players.
-Here are a few notes on tonight's game, courtesy of Vikings media relations:
-Matt Blair will enter the Vikings' ring of honor tonight.
-Percy Harvin ranks second in the NFL in receptions, with 53. His 271 receptions rank second in franchise history for a player in his first four seasons. He's caught a pass in every NFL game in which he's played.
-Kicker Blair Walsh leads the league with 27 touchbacks. He's tied for third in the NFL with 16 field goals.
-The Vikings' 72 sacks and 25 forced fumbles since the start of the 2011 season are the most in the NFL.
-Jared Allen has a sack in five straight games.
-Kyle Rudolph is tied for the lead league among tight ends with 5 touchdown catches.
-Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib. I'll be on WJON at 7:15 a.m and 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow to talk about the game.
A smattering of notes from various sources before the Vikings-Redskins game:
-Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson won't play, according to Pete Bercich of the Vikings radio network. The Redskins are vulnerable to the pass. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings can make plays down the field without Simpson. They've thrived with power running and the short pass so far this season.
-There's no doubt that Robert Griffin III will start. Skins coach Mike Shanahan said as much last night on his TV show. Griffin, according to Jay Glazer, gathered the team together on Wednesday and apologized for being reckless with his body. So the Vikings will probably have to get their shots in while he's in the pocket today. Sounds like Griffin will be sliding when he runs today.
-Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is 4-14 at home since he arrived in Washington, and the Skins haven't won a game at home in 13 months.
-Skins running back Alfred Morris has gained more yards rushing in his first five games with the Redskins than any back since 1960.
-Beautiful day here. Enjoy the game.
-Had Terry Ryan on the radio show this morning. He said the team will be cautious with Kyle Gibson, following his Tommy John surgery, and probably will limit him to 140 innings or fewer. Ryan sounded like he wanted Gibson to spread out his innings so he could pitch into September.
-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday to recap the game. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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