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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Still reeling with a hockey hangover, I'm at the Twins' game today at Target Field.
The season will be close to one-quarter finished by the end of the day, so it's getting to the time of year where statistical standards are more than just flukish.
The Twins rank fifth in the American League in runs scored. That's pretty good for a rebuilding team with a patchwork lineup. The concern is that the Twins may have already gotten the best offensive performances they're going to get from Chris Colabello, Jason Kubel, Kurt Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe.
The bullpen ERA of 3.59 ranks sixth in the American League, consistent with the belief that this is a strong bullpen when given a reasonable workload.
Here's what's worrisome: After spending all that money on two free-agent pitchers, and getting a few dominant outings out of Kyle Gibson, the best young pitcher in the current rotation, the Twins still entered Thursday's game with a league-worst 5.45 starting pitching ERA.
So in the Twins' pursuit of competence, they need to find a way to sustain their offensive performance (not likely) while improving the performance of their starting pitching. The latter is a necessity if the Twins are going to avoid losing 90 games again this year.
So my previous post addressed the importance of Aaron Hicks getting on base in the leadoff role. I still think that will be the key to the Twins' lineup for the bulk of the season, but Ron Gardenhire's first lineup is this:
I already hate this lineup.
For this team to be good, Hicks will have to be an offensive contributor. Suzuki is not a No. 2 hitter on any major-league club, not even the Twins. The rest of the lineup is essentially Gardenhire making the best of a bad situation, but there is no reason to bat one of your worst offensive players second in the order. You'd be better off batting Mauer leadoff, Dozier second, Willingham third, etc. This is a terrible sign.
He has a career .309 on-base percentage. He's an automatic out with no power. This is not a good decision.
I'll be on @1500ESPN at 12:15 to rip this lineup.
Chicago -- For some reason, I got to the ballpark about five hours before game time. Even though MLB has done all it can to ruin Opening Day by playing regular season games on the other side of the world to pretend the season has officially started, I can't stay away from the ballpark.
Paul Molitor is already testing the basepaths, and Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey are walking toward the bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field.
Wrote in today's paper about all the ways in which this Twins team needs to improve, but this can't be overstated or repeated enough: Aaron Hicks is a key to this team playing respectable baseball in so many ways.
If Hicks plays to his capabilities, the Twins will have a leadoff hitter who can get on base, run and drive the ball, and a centerfielder who can hold down the position capably all season.
If Hicks fails again, the top of the lineup will be in shambles, in a lineup that will already have automatic outs at the bottom of the order when Pedro Florimon and Kurt Suzuki start.
If Hicks succeeds, the Twins will finally have one of the top prospects they're counting on for the long-term up and running. If he fails, the future will be a lot harder to see, and a lot harder to care about.
In 2012, Hicks had a .384 on-base percentage at Class AA. Last year, he had a .259 on-base percentage in the majors and a .317 on-base percentage in the minors. He's still a five-tool talent who should be a big-league regular, if not a standout, for years. If he turns into a bust, this season will be hard to watch and the Twins' outfield of the future will be in flux.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with Mackey & Judd, and on WJON in St. Cloud tomorrow at 7:15. Those times are good for every weekday.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Speaking with some Twins employees today, they noted that I could have expanded my list of Twins curses in today's column.
In 1996, the same spring that Kirby Puckett woke up with impaired vision that would lead to the end of his career, Rick Aguilera had come back to the Twins in an attempt to be a starting pitcher. He picked up a suitcase late in camp and was unable to start the season with the club.
Remember, while the late-'90s Twins were pretty consistently lousy, that '96 team had a chance to win. If Aguilera had been able to lead the rotation and Puckett had been healthy, that would have been a pretty good team. Chuck Knoblauch and Paul Molitor hit .341 each. Rich Becker and Scott Stahoviak had their best seasons. Marty Cordova was a force in the middle of the lineup. Aguilera could have given the Twins a competitive rotation.
Also, top prospect Miguel Sano, maybe the most intriguing player in this year's camp in February, suddenly needed Tommy John surgery.
You can't make it up. Nor would you want to.
Coupla sights and sounds from the minor-league side:
Kennys Vargas, the prospect who reminds everyone of David Ortiz, hit a mammoth home run on Sunday from the right side. When I was there today, he hit a line drive double to right-center from the left side. He's got a chance to become a real prospect.
Byron Buxton has a sore left arm after diving for a ball on Sunday and was given the day off.
Former first-round Alex Wimmers, who has struggled mightily, looks much better now. He has a good changeup and needs to increase velocity on his fastball to make the changeup a better weapon.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 every weekday, and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities every weekday at about 12:15.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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.
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