La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
Here are some notes from around the minors:
Berrios promoted: Righthander Jose Berrios, one of the Twins top pitching prospects, made his debut today for Class AA New Britain.
It wasn't pretty, as he gave up five earned runs over five innings on three hits, three walks and two home runs. New Britain had a doubleheader the day before and the Rock Cats needed a starter, but Berrios is up for good. At age 20, he'll be in a league with more players in their mid-to-upper 20's (the Rock Cats have players 27, 28, 29 and 30).
It will be a good challenge for him after going 9-3, 1.96 in 16 starts for Fort Myers. He walked 23 and struck out 109 there. I saw once of his starts there. He hit 95 consistently and threw one pitch at 96 and had a damn good change up to go with it. Jim Souhan saw him a month later, when he touched 98. On Wednesday, a fan posted on twitter that Berrios was 93-96 for the Rock Cats and touched 97.
Pinto activated: Josmil Pinto, currently the future of catching in the organization, was activated on Tuesday after recovering from a strained hip flexor muscle. ``He was playing well before the injury,'' said Brad Steil, the Twins' director of minor league operations.
Vargas in Puerto Rico: Class AA New Britain: Kennys Vargas was allowed to fly home to Puerto Rico this week to be present for the birth of his first child. He should return by Thursday.
Steil wasn't told the name of the baby, but Vargas did send him a photo of a newborn in a pink blanket, so he's pretty sure it's a girl.
Vargas is in a 0-for-17 skid with the Rock Cats. Perhaps approaching fatherhood had a hand in his slump. He's expected to re-join the Rock Cats on Thursday.
Burdi hits 100: Nick Burdi, the Twins' second round pick this year, had a pro debut to forget on June 29. He walked all four batters he faced, and all four scored.
His next two outings were idenitical: One inning, one hit, three strikeouts. That includes Tuesday, when he hit 100 on the radar gun, Steil said. ``He threw the ball pretty good last night,'' Steil added.
Mad Max: Robbinsdale's Max Murphy, the Twins' ninth round pick this year, is off to a massive start to his pro career at rookie league Elizabethton.
While playing all three outfield positions. Murphy is batting .424 with 5 home runs and 17 RBI in 17 games. Of his 25 hits, 12 have gone for extra bases. He's walked 11 times for a .519 on base percentage and a OPS of 1.350.
``You can't swing the bat much better than he has,'' Steil said.
Murphy played college ball at Bradley, where some other Twins outfielder once played.
Class A Cedar Rapids infieder Engelb Vielma is on the 7-day DL with a concussion suffered on Sunday. He made a sliding catch in sort left but was kicked in the head by teammate J.D. Williams as he tried to jump out of the way.
Trevor May (right calf strain) was scheduled to face hitters today and could pitch on Sunday. But the Twins might hold him back until after the All-Star break, which runs the same time as the MLB break.
One reason the Twins sold Vance Worley to Pittsburgh - other than performance - was that they had no room for him in the Rochester rotation.
I thought that was interesting. Then, when Scott Diamond accepted his assignment to Rochester, Sean Gilmartin had to be sent to Class AA New Britain so he could start. Brad Steil, the Twins director of minor league operations, said that Gilmartin was not happy with the move but understood the situation and handled it like a pro.
So just who is starting in the minors this season? Here's a look at the rotations at each level
Scott Diamond - LHP
Kris Johnson - LHP
Logan Darnell - LHP
Pat Dean - LHP
Taylor Rogers - LHP
Sean Gilmartin - LHP
Jason Wheeler - LHP
Brett Lee - LHP
Mason Melotakis - LHP
Miguel Sulbaran - LHP
The Twins use six-man rotations on the A-Ball level for a few reasons. More pitchers get a chance to start. it's easier to monitor innings and it's an easier transition for kids who pitched once a week in high school or college.
Meyer and May are in position to debut this season. Diamond is in position to redeem himself this season.
It's a big year for Wimmers, who's trying to get is career back on track after injuries and a bout of wildness.
Berrios and Melotakis should move up during the season.
Jorge and Stewart ones to watch at Cedar Rapids.
Noticed that Lewis Thorpe couldn't crack the Cedar Rapids rotation. Thorpe has a live arm and has gained five mph in his fastball, which now sits at 92-93 but can get to 95. He's one to watch down the road.
Remember Sulbaran? He's the pitcher the Twins received from the Dodgers for Drew Butera.
One more thing. GET YOUR PICKS TO CLICK IN! The polls close tomorrow at noon.
Twins megaprospect Miguel Sano will shut down for the rest of the winter ball season because of a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Sano flew to the Twin Cities last week to be examined by team physicians Dr. John Steubs and Dr. Diane Dahm. But Sano's agent, Rob Plummer, said they decided to seek a second opinion. So on Tuesday, the third baseman flew to Birmingham, Ala., to be examined by famed specialist Dr. James Andrews.
Andrews concurred with the Twins' diagnosis that there is a strain but nothing more serious.
Sano will rest for five weeks, then begin a rehab program in the Dominican Republic. He will travel to Fort Myers, Fla., in January to continue rehab. He's expected to be ready in time for spring training, where he has a chance to be invited to major league camp.
Sano, 20, played in just two games for Estrellas of the Dominican winter league before sitting out the past two weeks because of the elbow, It didn't respond as well as everyone hoped, leading to more examinations.
In 123 games between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain, Sano batted .280 this season with 35 home runs and 103 RBI. He batted just .236 at New Britain but hit 19 of his homers there. Sano is considered one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball and second in the Twins system to outfielder Byron Buxton.
We reported yesterday about the players the Twins signed to minor league contracts. Here's the list the Twins sent us Monday afternoon:
Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, catcher Dan Rohlfing, lefthander Aaron Thompson, outfielder Jermaine Mitchell, righthander Lester Oliveros, infielder Doug Bernier and second baseman James Beresford to Class AAA contracts with invites to spring training.
Righthander Virgil Vazquez signed a Triple-A contract but will not be invited to spring training.
Catcher Jairo Rodriguez and outfielder Reynaldo Rodriguez were signed to minor league contracts.
Thanks to Baseball America, here's the list of minor league players the Twins did not sign and now can sign with any organization:
RHP: Nick Blackburn (AAA), Kyle Davies (AA), Cole DeVries (AAA), Deolis Guerra (AAA), Miguel Munoz (Hi A), Dan Sattler (AA), Manuel Soliman (Hi A), Tom Stuifbergen (AA), Dan Turpen (AA)
LHP: Nelvin Fuentes (Hi A), Pedro Hernandez (AAA)
1B: Jeff Clement (AAA)
2B: Eric Farris (AAA)
SS: Ray Olmedo (AAA)
OF: Brian Dinkelman (AAA), Jhonathan Goncalves (Hi A), Angel Morales (AA), Jordan Parraz (AA), Antoan Richardson (AAA)
It's the end of the road, with the Twins, for several.
Blackburn: Showed promise as a ground ball pitcher, but injuries set him back. Thought he had things figured out with his arm this season but his knee flared up during his comeback attempt.
De Vries: Local product couldn't get over the hump, battled injuries and probably fell into a numbers situation with the Twins having so many back-end rotation guys.
Guerra: This closes the book on the Johan Santana trade with the Mets. Guerra hit 95 miles an hour on the radar gun as an 18-year old but the Twins rarely saw that after they got him. Battled injuries and missed all of last season because of a circulation problem in his shoulder.
Hernandez: Had a few stints with the Twins after coming over in the Francisco Liriano trade but failed to prove he belongs in the majors.
Dinkelman: Well-liked. Hard worker. Couldn't crack the next level.
Morales: Third round pick in 2007. Showed a lot of promise as a teenager - some believing he had five-tool talent. Injuries hampered him in 2011. Did OK at Fort Myers this season but batted .197 in 55 games at New Britain when promoted.
Justin Morneau turns 32 years old today, and he has a history of celebrating in style.
He's a career .360 hitter on his birthday with two doubles and four home runs. Those homers came in twos - at Cleveland in 2007 and at New York in 2009.
His birthday comes during a 10-game hitting streak during which he's batting .425. And his 17 RBI this month are the most in baseball.
BTW, it's also Brian Dozier's birthday. He's not in the lineup today.
Josh Willingham doubled off of Jake Peavy on Tuesday, and the Twins hope it's the start of a hot streak for the struggling slugger. Willingham went the other way with the pitch and drove it to right-center.
``That's what he's got to do right now,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Mike Pelfrey is on the mound today as he tries to take another step forward in his comeback season following Tommy John surgery. One thing the coaching staff has asked him to do is work faster, which might help him get in a good rhythm. Pelfrey, Gardy, said has a little Scott Baker in him in that he will get off the rubber, walk around the mound and scratch his head between pitches as he thinks about his next pitch.
The Twins want him to stay on the rubber more, trust his catcher, get the sign and execute.
One minor league note: Class A Cedar Rapids outfielder Adam Brett Walker II hit his third grand slam of the season last night, the ball clearing the batter's eye in center and traveling an estimated 450 feet. Walker, a third-round pick last season, is batting .309 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI in 35 games.
1. Dewayne Wise, CF
2. Alexi Ramirez, SS
3. Alex Rios, RF
4. Adam Dunn, 1B
5. Paul Konerko, DH
6. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
7. Dayan Viciedo, LF
8. Jeff Keppinger, 2B
9. Hector Gimenez, C
Pitching: Dylan Axelrod, RHP
1. Jamey Carroll, 2B
2. Joe Mauer, DH
3. Josh Willingham, LF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Ryan Doumit, C
6. Oswaldo Arcia, RF
7. Aaron Hicks, CF
8. Eduardo Escobar, 3B
9. Pedro Florimon, SS
Pitching: Mike Pelfrey, RHP
Righthander Trevor May on Friday had his best outing of the year, pitching seven shutout innings for Class AA New Britain in a 2-0 win over Portland.
May, who came over with Vance Worley in the Ben Revere trade, held Portland to two singles and one walk while striking out 10. He's allowed one earn run over his last 14 innings. He's the first Rock Cats pitcher to strike out ten in a game since Kyle Gibson in 2010.
And he had some good stuff to say to milb.com about the groove he's in:
Besides a rough outing against Harrisburg at the end of April, he's hallowed two runs or fewer in each of his other six starts. He's struck out 37 and walked 19 over 39 1/3 innings in his first season with the Twins.
``The biggest thing was finding out what was keeping me struggling. As a whole, I was not happy [with last season], it was a step back," May said. "It's very similar [in New Britain], pretty much pitching is the same anywhere, and for me it was finding out what worked for me mentally and keeping on a routine and a program and making sure my focus is where it needs to be.
``I've done a lot of work. Last year, I was throwing well at the end, and with the program I have, I've evolved from Spring Training and into this season and it's paying off. I'm able to kind of get myself where I need to be mentally. It's all come along, so I'm definitely happy with the progress.''
Thomas still out
Outfielder Clete Thomas' return from a sore quad has been pushed back to Monday. The Twins have been consistent in saying that Aaron Hicks will be given chances to get his game going with the big league club. Thomas got off to a fine start at Rochester, hitting .346 in 25 games. He loomed as the best option if the Twins changed their minds about Hicks, but now he's banged up.
Check out the latest installment of the minor league report. Wrote a litte about Jorge Polanco, who was part of the international signing class with Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Polanco signed or $750,000 out of the Dominican Republic. After a couple of years, he's starting to come on.
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