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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Posts about Professional baseball

Saturday morning musings

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: March 16, 2013 - 11:08 AM

A few observations now that I've been in Twins' camp for about a week:

-Don't believe anybody who tells you Aaron Hicks won't be the Twins' centerfielder on opening day. He's taking excellent at-bats and playing centerfield better than Denard Span ever did. He's a lock, if healthy. Joe Benson remains raw and needs to prove himself for a long stretch in the minors before he'll be considered a big-leaguer, and Darin Mastroianni is, was and ever shall be an extra outfielder.

-The pitching staff is in big trouble. Mike Pelfrey is coming back from Tommy John surgery and may struggle with command, at least early in the season. Vance Worley should be a solid starter but isn't going to improve the rotation all by himself. Scott Diamond is a fine pitcher but might not be ready until mid-April. Liam Hendriks has not impressed. Sam Deduno is talented but inefficient. Cole De Vries will open the season as the team's fourth starter simply because he has guts and knows how to execute a game plan.

The bullpen has two guys you want to see with the ball in their hands: Glen Perkins and Jared Burton. Everyone else is either unproven or having a lousy spring.

-The middle of the order could be outstanding. Joe Mauer looks as locked in as I've ever seen him at this juncture of spring training. Justin Morneau is as healthy and optimistic as I've seen him since mid-2010. Josh Willingham is an excellent slugger in his prime. If Hicks and the to-be-determined No. 2 hitter can get on base, this team could score plenty of runs.

-The team's fielding has a chance to be better than last year. Pedro Florimon has excellent range and plenty of arm, and he looks more composed than he did last year, when he made some careless errors. Brian Dozier is playing second base like he has something to prove. Eduardo Escobar is a very good fielder at several positions. Hicks is better than Span in center. He may not quite have Ben Revere's range, but he has 10 times the arm.

Having Morneau's glove at first base should help, too.

-Great to see Doug Mientkiewicz on the back fields, managing Class A Fort Myers. One of the best people I ever covered. I'll have a feature on Doug in the Sunday paper.

-Miguel Sano could be the Twins' starting third baseman on Opening Day, 2014. His bat is already big-league ready. He just needs to work on his footwork at third so he can be serviceable there.

Sano seems like a very affable kid, and he knows how to hit. Mientkiewicz said he already has a big-leaguer's approach and mentality when he steps in the box.

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I'll be on Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon on Sunday. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib

More Morneau

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: March 15, 2013 - 5:53 PM
Had a good talk with Justin Morneau this week for a column that ran in Friday's paper. While the headline mentioned the possibility that he'll be traded, I don't think that's the probability.
I think the Twins value him. He's been a leader, when healthy. He's been an MVP. He's played for reasonable salaries given his status in the game.
If he struggles statistically or physically, then they probably wouldn't be able to trade him for value. If he plays well, I think they'll either offer him a contract extension, or tender an offer that would allow them either to keep him for one more year, or set them up to get a draft pick as compensation if he leaves as a free agent.
Here are the topics of interest that didn't make it into the column:
-How different does he feel this year than last spring, when he was worried about the affects of his concussion? ``There were a lot more question marks last year coming into spring training. Everything this spring has been good. Keep it going for another 7 months and everything will be all right,'' he said with a smile.
-Has it been tougher overcoming the physical or mental hurdles associated with his concussion? ``It’s probably a combination of both. It's one thing to be prepared and feel like you've put the work in, and it's another thing to be confident and know that it's going to last. It's a combination of both, which has been good. Really, everything has been good.''
-How different were his workouts this winter? ``It was huge. I started swinging when I normally would have, just doing everything I needed to do. It was fun. I was actually able to work out during the day and able to function in the afternoon. Before I would do rehab in the morning and sleep three hours in the afternoon. I was able to have a normal winter working out and still able to spend time with the kids and do stuff. It was nice.
``If I wanted to go out on the field and take 100 extra swings, I could. I still have to force myself to limit myself, just because I know the long-term benefits. You want to do well for the first game and sometimes you try and rush that process. No matter how many swings you take there’s nothing that makes up for live pitching, seeing live pitching from other teams. I think I’ve learned that through the years. If it’s not there right away eventually, it will get there if you do the right amount of work.''
-When was the last time you and Joe Mauer both felt completely healthy in the same spring? ``I’ve thought about that. Where I’ve been the last few springs, I've been limited. Gardy hasn't been able to just write down my name in the lineup and go out and play without asking, `How does everything feel today?'
``I think it's the same for Joe. I think that's a good sign. I hope that’s a good sign for our team.''
-Can you believe Joe Mauer is going to have twins? ``It’s good. He’s excited. Both his brothers have kids and I think he enjoys being around families. He’ll find out real soon the difference between being an uncle and a father, especially with twins. He seems like he’s ready.''
Sunday Sports Talk will be quite the operation on Sunday. We're on 10-noon on 1500ESPN. I'm in Fort Myers, Tom Pelissero is in Arizona doing NFL work, and Joe Schmit will host from the studio. Terry Ryan will join from Sarasota.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
 

Souhan: First day at Twins camp

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: March 11, 2013 - 8:50 PM

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?

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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.

Prepping at the Dome

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: October 25, 2012 - 5:10 PM

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.

 

More on Vikings win

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 24, 2012 - 10:34 AM
 
I wrote about the obvious trust between Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph in today’s paper.
This might sound trite, but trust matters in the NFL. It matters a lot.
NFL teams ask their players to risk their health during short careers for the good of the franchise. For players to be eager to do so, it helps if they have reason to believe in the key people in the organization. And, during the season, the two people they have to trust the most are their head coach and quarterback.
Who knows whether beating the 49ers will mean anything in a few weeks? If the Vikings get whipped in Detroit, and that is a very real possibility, with Calvin Johnson facing a still-suspect secondary, then we may wind up viewing this victory as an aberration.
But it could matter no matter what happens this week, because Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder gave their team reason to trust them on Sunday. Frazier’s vision of a physical team that wins with a running game and a stout defense materialized against the NFL’s gold standard in those departments. And Ponder displayed the ability to make clutch plays and beat a good team in his 13th start in the NFL.
His peers on the roster – young teammates like Kyle Rudolph and John Sullivan – rave about Ponder’s leadership abilities. But if you don’t win, the whole team won’t buy in. Ponder and Frazier moved closer to instilling faith in the roster on Sunday.
-One of the reasons I wrote about Ponder's three touchdown plays today is because so many NFL games turn on one, or two, or three big plays. Had Ponder executed poorly, or made poor decisions, on his three touchdown plays, the Vikings could have wound up with three or six points. Instead, Ponder produced 21 points. That's how upsets happen.
And had Ponder's worst pass of the day turned into a 49ers' touchdown, we might be talking about a loss today.
That's why the NFL is so unpredictable. And that's why I don't bet on sports.
-I can't remember being less interested in a Yankee-Twins series since 2000.
-Stat geeks favor Mike Trout as the AL MVP. Players and old-school writers favor Miguel Cabrera.
I think Trout is the more valuable player in theory, because he does everything well while playing exceptionally well in the field at a pivotal position. But within the context of this season, Cabrera's more valuable, simply because Cabrera has been exceptional while playing in more games. He's simply produced more for his team.
It's not Trout's fault that he wasn't with the Angels from Opening Day on. But the time he missed made him a less-valuable commodity over the course of a six-month season. And while Trout is far superior in the field, Cabrera's willingness and ability to play third base, however poorly, opened up first base and DH for the Tigers, making them a stronger team. That mitigates his fielding woes.
Cabrera has produced far more runs that Trout this season. He has a higher slugging percentage. Their on-base percentage is a virtual tie. And while stat geeks are correct when they say that RBI is not a good statistic for evaluating offensive efficiency, it is a very important stat within the context of a season, and an MVP race.
Games are won and lost based on whether a hitter can produce runs. Cabrera has excelled in that category over six months. He's the MVP.
-I’ll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
 

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