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.
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.
Twins lose, 9-1, tonight. The Twins announced 28,993, which might have been within 10,000 or so of being correct.
It was ugly. Josh Willingham says he lost a fly ball in the twilight. That led to a three-run inning that goes on Scott Diamond's record. And that was about all that happened.
A few tidbits-
-Ben Revere continues to play with a lot of life. He went 3-for-5, his 38th mutli-hit game. Joe Mauer leads the team with 43. Revere also made a fine running catch in left-center.
Revere got a handshake and a few sentences of praise from Tom Kelly in the dugout before the game. Kelly doesn't offer false praise.
I think Revere should be this team's centerfielder next year. But I've been saying that for a while.
-Justin Morneau went 2-for-3 and is hitting .326 in his last 62 games and .357 in his last 17 games. Some of my insiders say he still struggles to cover the whole plate, but I see him getting hits to leftfield, which is always the sign that he's staying back and swinging well.
-The Twins have scored one run or fewer 24 times this year. While their rotation is the most important area of concern, that's a pathetic statistic for what should be a professional lineup.
-Scott Diamond allowed four runs in six innings, but I thought he battled pretty well despite Willingham's mistake and without his best stuff.
-Pedro Florimon continues to dazzle on some plays, but I see him being a little too lax on relays. He could have thrown one or two runners out at third tonight had he been alert on one play and had he thrown accurately on another.
To chime in on a popular national debate, I think the aspect of the Stephen Strasburg debate that is too often missing is that the Nationals aren't shutting down someone who would likely have dominated in the postseason. They're shutting down a young pitching coming off Tommy John surgery who likely would have been hitting a wall in October, even if the Nationals had rested him to stretch his workload into the postseason.
In my view, it's unlikely he would have pitched well against top competition while fatigued. The Nationals have a deep rotation without him. Whether or not the Nationals handled Strasburg correctly, they'll be better off with starting pitchers in the postseason who aren't reaching their physical limits.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Colleague Patrick Reusse figured it out before I got back up from the Twins' clubhouse:
Since July 18, 2011, the Twins are 71-127, for a winning percentage of .357.
For the Wednesday paper, I conducted a lengthy interview with Twins GM Terry Ryan. He was not happy. The column is about future plans, but he's stumped as to why what should be a pretty good lineup has fallen apart.
The Twins have failed to homer in 10 of their last 11 games. They went through a 14-inning scoreless streak before finally scoring in the third inning on Tuesday, and then they went to sleep until a token rally in the ninth.
They've been outscored 47-19 in their last eight games.
A lack of pitching is the reason they're not in contention. There's no sound explanation for why they've stopped hitting.
-The Mariners have beaten the Twins in seven straight games.
-The Twins are 10-26 against the AL West.
Enough about this team. Again, my interview with Terry Ryan will be in the Wednesday paper and at Startribune.com.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
``It's a bit of both,'' he said. ``It starts off as the result of pitching well early in the game, and then as soon as you get into a groove, it definitely helps you. It keeps you going.''
One way to get into a groove is to be on the same page as the catcher. How many times did he shake off a Joe Mauer sign on Monday? ``I didn't shake him off once,''' Hendriks said. ``We were on the same page all night. He called an absolute fantastic game.''
-Hendriks on how long he's been waiting to pitch this way in the big leagues: ``Well, this is my 14th start, so about 14 starts.''
Hendriks has yet to win a major league game.
-Joe Mauer caught his 832nd career game, passing Earl Battey for first place on the Twins' all-time list. He made one throwing error. He also made a fine, sliding catch against the backstop.
-The game lasted 2:10, tied for the shortest of the Twins' season, with a May 1 game at the Angels.
-The Twins have turned 133 ground-ball double plays this season, most in the majors. Pedro Florimon started one masterfully, getting screened by the second-base ump before handling a bad hop and pitching it to Jamey Carroll.
-Before the game, Twins' general manager Terry Ryan said it's time for Trevor Plouffe to prove he's the third baseman of the future. Plouffe had one shot to the centerfield fence caught, robbing him of a double, and hit a single. He also worked on fielding grounders early in the afternoon.
-The Twins are 52-76. If their lineup continues to slump, their 63-99 finish of a year ago is within reach.
-Asked about Scott Baker and Carl Pavano being in the Twins' future plans, even though they're injured and will become free agents at the end of the season, Ryan did not rule out the Twins being interested in one or both.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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