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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On my way to Detroit for the Twins opener, and feeling like this team has gone from mildly promising to ominous since Ervin Santana's suspension was announced.
The suspension means that Terry Ryan's new plan to improve the Twins rotation has failed.
Time to go back to Plan A.
The pieces to Plan A are still in place. It's just that one of them isn't very impressive, and the other two are at best delayed.
Ryan's original plan to upgrade the Twins rotation was to trade cente rfielders for young pitching. He sent Ben Revere and Denard Span to the East Coast for Vance Worley, Trevor May and Alex Meyer. When Worley failed, he found himself signing Ricky Nolasco.
Worley was awful. Nolasco was awful. Now that Santana has been revealed as a cheat, Ryan needs the remaining two pieces in his original plan to succeed.
Meyer and May could be the key to the season.
A rotation featuring Tommy MIllone and Mike Pelfrey is not optimal. Given the unliklihood that both will be competent, Phil Hughes will repeat his breakout performance of last year, and Nolasco will be more than a fourth starter, eventually the Twins will probably have to turn to Meyer and May eventually to save their rotation.
That's fitting, in a way. Ryan correctly finds free agency to be a high-risk approach to team building. He built his reputation and the Twins roster from 1998-2007 with excellent trades. If Meyer and May produce, he will again have helped a bad team improve with astute trades.
If Meyer and May don't deliver, then this will be another lost season, and the Twins' wave of excellent position-playing prospects may arrive in the big leagues to find that the pitching isn't good enough to win, no matter how well they play.
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.
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