Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hola from Los Angeles!

That means "The Angels" in Spanish.  You're welcome.  I've written from LA many, many, many times and I got to say, it's still a weird place.  The people all wear weird hats and everyone has sunglasses and fancy shoes and their clothes look weird.  The hotel bar has like, The Big Bang Theory on instead of the Monday Night Football game, most of the cars cost more than my house, and there's more movie billboards than you could shake a stick at and they're all bigger than my house.  Then when I first got here we went for a light breakfast and I ordered two eggs (over easy) and bacon (NOT extra crispy) and when they brought it out they brought it out with a ramekin of ketchup.  Ketchup.  Why on earth would I need ketchup for that meal?  It's probably some proto-hipster thing that is just on the coast right now and will make its way to the midwest in a year or two.  Weird place, but not in that charming way Portland is weird.

-  I'm not sure how long I'll be with you tonight, it's been a long day.  I had to get up at 5am to head to the airport, followed by a 3.5 hour flight into LAX.  Got to the hotel at 10 (12 your time) and of course my room wasn't ready, which I expected, but they said they'd rush it so I could get in the room before I had to head over to the HQ for meetings because I'm a high roller like that.  After my breakfast which should have been ketchup free I got up to the room for an entire 15 minutes.  Then came 4 hours of meetings.  We did get a 2 hour break after that but I used a good chunk of it walking to the grocery store to get booze for the room (actually grabbed a bottle of wine to go with the beer because I'm classy that way) which was about 6 blocks away in 95 degree heat (and what the fuck LA?  You're supposed to be good for three things:  making movies and tv shows, awesome sushi, and being 80 degrees everyday).

Then came dinner at Pink Taco which was fabulous.  Endless pitchers of margaritas, family style food consisting of some weird avocado salad, some kind of excellent chicken skewers, corn tamales, cheese quesadillas, pork burritos, carne asada tacos, churros, and topped off with a shot of some very good tequila.  I'm still not sure why I did that shot but whatevs.  Also pretty solid cleavage on the waitress.  All in all an A+ meal.  So anyway it's 9:18 out here which means it's 11:18 back there which means I'm sitting at about an 18 hour day right now.  I'll try to cram in a bit more, but only because I love you.

-  College basketball magazines are starting to come out, and of course I didn't wait for the good one (Athlon) or the decent one (Lindy's) but instead grabbed the first one that was available from the Sporting News.  Big mistake.  First thing I did was flip to the Gophers, and what do I find:

And it just gets worse.  Well actually not worse because that's impossible but just bad.  The team previews are terribly written and don't go into any kind of depth.  Then they have this thing where they give you the "difference maker" for each team which is a good idea, but then they name the team's best player nearly every time.  Sure, sometimes it makes sense as Andre Hollins (Austin's bro) and Branden Dawson for MSU are probably their team's best player and both probably will make a huge difference to their team's success depending on how they play.

But for Penn State they have D.J. Newbill.  For Nebraksa is Terran Petteway.  Indiana is Yogi Ferrell.  I mean, you pretty much know what you're going to get here.  The difference maker should be somebody like Ross Travis for PSU (if he can learn to give them another scorer), Tai Webster for Nebraska (they need someone to become a good point guard to make another leap forward), and basically anyone else for Indiana since Ferrell is the only known quantity.  Seriously this probably is really whiny but it just feels like they made no real effort.  And before you say anything I'm allowed to make very little effort since I'm just a poor crappy blogger living in his mom's basement.

-  Also, and I know this kills you since I've called the college basketball champ both of the last two years, but I don't have a call yet.  I was all over the SMU train, and loaded up on them at 33-1 to win the whole thing, and then that son of a bitch Emmanuel Mudiay decides to go play over seas.  What a jerk.  SMU was set up perfectly:  tons of returning talent from a good but not great team, good experience, returning starters in the front and back court, and getting a big time scorer transfer in Justin Martin.  With Mudiay they were getting that big time talent who could put them over the top and carry the team when needed.  But now he's gone and SMU is just another team hoping to make the Sweet 16.

-  I know you've all been waiting to hear what I have to say about the whole Adrian Peterson situation.  Here it is:  just kidding.  Seriously I didn't start this blog a million years ago to talk about icky things that are actually controversial and you have to have real feelings about.  I started it to talk about who sucks and who is awesome.  So that's what I'm going to do instead.

The one guy who has really popped for me this NFL season so far is Le'Veon Bell.  There is no doubt in my mind he's the next great running back in the league.  He's like a new version of LeSean McCoy.  He's got that same elusiveness and quickness with the ball, good speed, and can catch which makes him that much better.  If you're in a fantasy keeper league, go get him.  Do it now.

Also awesome is Gio Bernard (just a step below Bell), Darren Sproles (just thriving in that role), Frank Gore (does this guy ever age?), Carlos Hyde (just biding his time), Matt Ryan (he's back), Philip Rivers (just keeps humming along), Derek Carr (going to be a good one), Calvin Johnson (duh), Dez Bryant (also duh), Andrew Hawkins (haven't actually seen him since he's on the Browns but I hear good things), Brandon Marshall (still unstoppable), Steve Smith (Flacco has complete radar lock), Markus Wheaton (could be a star in a year or two), and Julian Edelman (he's boring, but he's being Wes Welker and doing it quite well).

The people who suck are Matt Cassell (duh, #freeteddy), Brian Quick (no, he's not a thing), James Jones (just no), DeAndre Hopkins (if Andre Johnson would just stop we could see what we have here), all Tennessee WRs (who knows who is good there from week to week?), Dwayne Bowe (it's over), all New York Giants (that offense is so gross), DeMarco Murray (hot start won't last), Chris Ivory (no idea how he has so many yards), Zac Stacy (going to lose that job by week 8), Bernard Pierce (what a terrible back-up plan), Bishop Sankey (when you can't beat out an old Shonn Greene oof), Steven Jackson (just waiting for one of those two donkeys to grab the reins), Tony Romo (should be better for the 20th year in a row), Ryan Tannehill (perhaps that leap isn't coming), Josh McCown (if you didn't see this coming you're stupid), and Jason Witten (is he suddenly too old?)

-  So how about that Big Ten football?  Oof.  If you're the kind of person who follows college football you already know this, but it's been a brutal year for the Big Ten football player guys.  Just this weekend alone Maryland lost to West Virginia, Indiana lost to Bowling Green, Iowa lost to Iowa State, your Gophers got rolled by TCU in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the 23-point margin, and Illinois got crushed by Washington.  The week prior Purdue got beat by Central Michigan, Northwestern was dropped by Northern Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State were non-competitive against Notre Dame and Oregon, and Ohio State got dropped by Virginia Tech.  I'm not a big college football guy, but I know the Big Ten has a terrible reputation in relation to the other major conferences lately, and this ain't helping.

-  I was going to do that fun thing where I look at the NBDL draft this year and laugh at who all got drafted, but it turns out the draft hasn't happened yet.  So instead I looked back and the 2013 draft and I think it's getting worse or something because I've barely heard of any of these guys and I pay way too much attention to college basketball.  Out of the 17 first round picks (what kind of league has 17 teams?) I could only tell you about 8 of the guys without cheating - James Johnson (wake), Quincy Douby (rutgers but hasn't he been out of school for like 5 years? What are the rules of this draft?), Pierre Jackson (baylor), C.J. Aiken (st joe), DeAndre Liggins (kentucky), William Buford (osu), Bo Spencer (nebraska), and Dario Hunt (nevada, not as good as his name sounds).  The second round is even worse.  Ryan Evans (wisconsin) got drafted (not joking), plus two guys with busted knees (Reggie Jackson, miami and Abdul Gaddy, washington who should have been the next circus ball captain), and a guy who couldn't crack the lineup at Arizona in four years (Kevin Parrom) plus a whole mess of guys I've never heard of.

I swear this thing used to be more fun and full of guys where you'd say "yeah, I could see him cracking an NBA rotation."  Now it's a bunch of guys I've barely heard of with no shot and guys like Salim Stoudamire and Ricky Davis (yes that Ricky Davis) are getting drafted and yes I'm serious.  And suddenly it goes from 17 picks per round to 8 picks in the 7th and then 4 picks in the 8th.  This draft makes as much sense as ketchup with eggs and bacon and it's making me cranky and tired.  I'm leaving.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Welcome Aboard Jarvis Johnson!

As I clairvoyantly stated in my welcome Jonathan Nwankwo post, the Gopher hoop team having just one open scholarship (in theory) for 2015 racheted up the pressure on at least one of the Minnesota boys with Jarvis Johnson committing to the Gophers today in a ceremony at De La Salle that went significantly better than the last one.

Johnson, the fourth Pitino commit for 2015, has fallen out of a favor a bit with the recruiting services post AAU season, dropping out of ESPN's top 100 and Rivals Top 150, but still ranks as the 103rd best player by 247 (17th point guard) and 168th by their industry composite number (28th PG).  Johnson is a terrific fit in Pitino's offense as a super athletic point guard who excels at getting to the rim and should be, at worst, an average defender right from the get go with significant potential to excel in that department.  He also brings the ability to get teammates involved and is the closest thing to a pure point guard who looks to be on the roster in 2015 and between Johnson, Nate Mason, and Kevin Dorsey they'll have three guys who can run an offense and handle the ball, and that doesn't address the depth when you add Daquein McNeil, Carlos Morris, Dupree McBrayer, and Zach Lofton on the wing.   Sounds pretty good.

Being a Minnesota kid, Johnson has been a target of both the fan base and the school for quite sometime, and as much as I detest the "we must have all Minnesota kids" mentality it is nice to see one, and a highly ranked one at that, actually want to play for the Gophers.  It also brings up some big ole questions about the other Minnesota kid.  I find it hard to believe the Gophers would just stop recruiting Alex Illikainen, especially if he's given them indication that he's at least considering committing (all indications are the Gophers are still on the list and I think they flew out to his prep school to visit him this week), however at this point the Gophers don't have a spot for him if everything works out with Gaston Diedhiou.  The good news is that this is big-time (relatively) college basketball, and these things have a way of working out in favor of talent.  If Illikainen decides he wants to be a Gopher, he will be, one way or another.

If not, the Gophers still have a hell of a class that ranks somewhere in the low 20s nationally.  That'll slide down some as more top kids start signing, but it should end up in the top 50 at worst and that's a major step in the right direction.  Not to mention that the Gophers are now in a situation where their roster is full in the fall period and they may have to turn down a talented kid who wants to play here (they won't, but just having that conversation says a lot) rather than staring at open roster spots in the Spring and begging anyone with a pulse to come to Minnesota.  That's pretty awesome.

I may have some minor concerns about shooting considering all four signees for 2015 have some questions about that part of their game, but it's obvious what kind of team Pitino is trying to build and all four fit the bill.  And with Jarvis Johnson on board he has his Russ Smith.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Welcome Aboard, Jonathan Nwankwo!

I sort of feel like he has one too many Ws in his name, but it doesn't matter because those are now our Ws as Jonathan Nwankwo committed to your favorite basketball team over the weekend after registering for an account on Gopher Hole during his official visit and chatting with fans all weekend, then breaking the news on the message board.  He's a 6-10, 245 lb. center with a Big Ten ready body and a 7-2 wingspan who shores up the Gophers' big man situation in case things continue to go south with Gaston Diedhiou.   Not that he's any kind of back-up plan, considering he ranks as the #17 center and #147 overall by 247sports, and #23/#214 by the industry composite and by all accounts is rising up the ranks.

His highlight videos all seem to be like "oh you don't want me to dunk this basketball?  Well I am very strong and jumpy and I am going to dunk this basketball and you can't stop me."  I watched nearly two minutes of a highlight video and I'm not seeing a lot of offensive skills, which isn't really true because being an unstoppable dunking machine is a skill, but you know what I mean.  Plus, Nwankwo fits Pitino's type.  And in this case I don't mean a super athletic dude, although he is, but I mean the late blooming type who is shooting up rankings and everyone who is supposed to be an expert says things like "great get for the Gophers" and stuff like that.  Assuming these guys all work out it's a great thing.  Of course it could also mean that Pitino is just getting over aggressive offering guys who aren't that good.  We'll find out.  Right now I feel good, and I still have trust in Pitino.  Because he's so freaking sweet.

The three signings - Nwakwo, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer - leave the Gophers with one open scholarship for 2015 (again, depending on what happens with Diedhiou) which has some people all in a tizzy because both of the top rated Minnesota kids - Jarvis Johnson and Alex Illikainen - are still out there.  Seriously though, who cares?  I mean, I would love the Gophers to get one or both because they're rated in the top 100-150 range depending on where you look, but as far as them being from Minnesota?  Big whoop.

The whole point of recruiting home town kids is that you're supposed to have an advantage in snagging them, but how's that been working out lately?  Minnesota kids have always known they can string the Gophers along and if things don't break the way they hope use them as their fall back option, partially because the fan base is so rabid in "keeping Minnesota kids home" because well, that's how this state generally thinks (why do you think Jason Kubel and Matt Guerrier were signed by the Twins this year?).  Rather than holding off on signing comparable players and holding out hoping the home town kids stay home, Pitino is signing whoever he likes who is willing to sign.  According to rankings Alex Illikainen is better than Jonathan Nwankwo, but why take a chance on losing both just to satisfy some bizarre yearning to build the team out of all Minnesota kids? (this ain't hockey)  After all, a bush in hand is worth two birds who may end up at other schools I always say.

This being (relatively) big time basketball, nothing is guaranteed so it's possible both Johnson and Illikainen end up in maroon and gold.  If they both want to be Gophers they likely will with a surprise transfer opening up a slot or something along those lines - it's a reality of big-time (relatively) college sports, and I'm ok with it.  In the meantime, however, assuming Pitino doesn't have a strong positional preference at this time this puts pressure on them both to hurry up and commit.  If things stay strong at only 4 new players for 2015 that means only one of them can get in, which means the Gophers said no to a quality Minnesota player because he took too long to make a decision.  That's a message I can get behind, so move your ass Amir Coffey.

As of right now the Gophers have the #23 class in the country according to 247sports, and the #5 class in the Big Ten.  This will likely move down as more of the high profile programs continue signing players and fill out their classes, but it's a big step the right direction for the program.  Potentially, I suppose, but I'll take it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

It's Football Time!

It's that time of the year again.  The time where oversized humanoid types put on ineffective padding and run into each other over and over again at full speed - Yes, football.  Although I generally deal with more elegant sports like baseball and basketball here, I do like to dip my tow into the football waters once in a while because hey, more clicks and also because I really like predicting things since I'm almost always right.  So why not a quick look at the Vikings and the NFL, and then a preview of this weekend's Gopher football game since I'll be in attendance.  I'm not sure who they're playing but I'll look that up later.

So the Vikings.  The state's favorite squadron.  What are the betting expectations for the Vikings this NFL season? (look for the best odds from Sportbet.com).  Sportbet has the over/under for wins at 6.5, and if I'm a betting man, and I am, I'm going for the over (cautiously).  Matt Cassell is boring, and far more boring than my guy Teddy Bridgewater, but he is a competent QB which is a major upgrade from your guy Christian Ponder.  Cordarrelle Patterson is supposed to do that thing everyone says and become good, and don't forget Greg Jennings didn't just forget how to be a major league receiver, it's just Ponder did things like throw the ball into the ground and throw the ball into the ground again.  Cassell tends to do things more like throwing the ball in the air.  That's a plus.  And of course if Bridgewater ever gets to start the Vikings will start putting up 50+ points per game, but that's a given.

A lot of people seem to be excited about an upgraded defense, which makes sense, since the team is going from a defensive minded coach to a defensive minded coach and somehow this new one is better than the old one I guess.  I don't know.  Personally, I'm more excited about the personnel changes.  I mean, these guys have some sweet names:  Captain Munnerlyn is one of the best names in the league, and Linval Joseph isn't that far behind except that he's slower now after getting shot.  Really though those guys are upgrades, Anthony Barr has looked good this preseason, Harrison Smith is healthy, and Sharrif Floyd should be better because he can't be worse.  Plus Xavier Rhodes is awesome.

What's realistic for the Vikings?  If Cassell starts all year they'll be somewhere around 8-8.  If Bridgewater starts they'll win every game he plays, up to 15-2 and a Super Bowl victory.

Other quick NFL hits:

  • The Panthers will be terrible
  • The Cardinals will be the surprise breakout team, led by Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington
  • Dallas will be a complete dumpster fire, but they'll give up so many points that Dez Bryant will have a career year and one of the best receiving years in history
  • Atlanta will be a playoff team with a bounce back year from Matt Ryan
  • The Eagles will regress badly
  • The Packers will be annoyingly good and probably make the Super Bowl
  • The Colts will win the Super Bowl
  • Cleveland will win 3 games or less
  • Derek Carr will win Rookie of the Year
  • C.J. Spiller will re-breakout.
  • Matthew Stafford will have even more weapons, put up even better stats, and still somehow screw the Lions into a 6-win season
  • Ryan Tannehill will become a top 10 type QB
All of this will come true.

Now onto the college game, which is also fun!  And the internet tells me our beloved Gopher footballers are going up against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.  Whoa that sounds scary!  And they're 1-0!  And they won 61-7 last week!  Are the Gophers doomed?  Is their run to the BCS playoffs over before it really even starts?  No.  MTSU beat Savannah State who once had something like a 60-game losing streak in basketball so they're probably terrible in football too.  Let's look at these "Blue" "Raiders" a little more carefully, but keep in mind I'm only looking at stats like some kind of nerd who lives in his mom's basement because I have to admit I have never seen MTSU play football.  Nor have I heard of anyone on their team.  Seriously if you want a "real" "preview" I'd check out Still Got Hope, who are back and cranking out some seriously awesome Gopher football love (they're the kind of nerds who go watch practice, so you know it's detailed info).  

Last season the Blue Raiders went 8-4 including 6-2 in the Sun Belt, probably, and made the Armed Forces Bowl where they lost to Navy 24-6.  They played two real teams and lost to North Carolina by 20 and BYU by 27.  So far the intimidation level is low to quite low.  Which I suppose it should since the Gophers are favored by 16.  

Last year they ranked 83rd in passing offense, 31st in rushing offense, and 62nd in total offense.  That's some good running, boys, but a bad passing attack may be worse as their QB has moved on to do something else.  They do have both of their top RBs and one of their top WRs back, but not having a thrower guy back and replacing him with a guy who completed 45% of his passes last year is not a positive.  This new guy, Austin Grammer (Kelsey's son), did play well against Savannah completing 15 of 17 for 250 yards, but I assume those DBs were basically played by folding chairs so whatevs.  The running backs are worth looking at since the two returnees (Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley) both had over 650 yards last season and they added a new guy, Tony Rowland, who split carries with those two in their first game.  Rowland and Whatley are both tiny (5-7) so they're both probably really fast, and Parker is built like a real running back so he's probably good and stuff.  I'd keep my eye on those guys.

Defensively they ranked 26th in passing yards allowed and 107th in rushing yards allowed, which is good for Minnesota because they hate passing anyway and would rather have one of their 20 running backs or their QB who is built like a grizzly bear and throws with similar accuracy to run down your face and smash into you over and over again.  Maybe their biggest strength last season was turnover margin, where they finished 12th in the country at a +12.  Their two safeties picked off 8 passes between the two of them last year and they're both back, so probably still not a good idea to throw the ball.  

Basically both teams suck at passing and are good at running.  Whoever stops the other team from running the ball well will win and that should probably be the Gophers.  Plus all this running and stuff probably means the under 52.5 is kind of money.  So let's do this.  Just as the Gopher basketball crushed the hopes and dreams of the Middle Tennessee basketball team in the NIT two years ago, so now will these Gophers crush MTSU's dream of a National Championship. 

Gophers 28, Blue Raiders 10.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fare thee Well, Gaston Diedhiou?

Gopher hoops 2014 commit Gaston Diedhiou was denied admission to the U, and as such will not be a Gopher - at least not for the first semester of this year.  Apparently he didn't speak/understand English well enough for the admissions department.  This despite the fact that he was cleared by the NCAA, received a good score on his ACT in English, and "would be admitted to 95% of the Universities in the country" according to a source.  Basically this is the higher ups at the University once again screwing over the basketball program (see:  White, Royce).

Diedhiou is apparently still coming and is enrolled in the English Language program at the school with the hope that he will be admitted for the second semester and join the team then.  Given that he's likely a bit of a project it may not really impact the team all that much since he's more important to the 2015 squad once Mo and Eliason are out of here, but it's still another reminder that the basketball team doesn't really mean jack to the powers that be.  A little thing that, as has been pointed out in the comments of my prior post, is not an endearing quality to a coach who is destined to have suitors come calling every offseason.  Let's hope this is simply a minor blip.

Of course, this also opens up a scholarship, although using it on another player if Diedhiou can get admitted for the second semester is a pretty big dick move.  The whole thing seems a bit silly considering Diedhiou already speaks multiple languages so handling English shouldn't be an issue and likely he's on the team come January.  If not, however - if he is unable to pass muster or decides to "F this shit" and enroll elsewhere another open scholarship isn't the worst thing in the world considering Pitino's hot start to the class of 2015.  So either way we win.  And we lose.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Welcome aboard, Dupree McBrayer!

Richard Pitino added another to the class of 2015 over the weekend or late last week or whatever, with the hilariously awesomely named Dupree McBrayer declaring he'll be a Golden Gopher.

McBrayer, a 6-4 wing from New York, is ranked as the 218th best player in the class according to 247sports composite ranking (and #57 shooting guard), but is considered to be rising up the ranks after an excellent summer session.   He fits in well with what Richard Pitino is trying to do here, as he's super athletic and can play multiple positions (1, 2, 3).  He needs to get stronger, but he's already a skilled scorer particularly when it comes to getting to the rim.  Along with Kevin Dorsey, the Gophers now have two attack, athletic guards who should be excellent defenders.  A damn good start.  Good enough, in fact, that according to 247sports the Gophers have the #21 recruiting class in the country at this point, and the fifth best in the Big 10.

Perhaps even better, McBrayer is from NYC, and with Dorsey from Maryland it shows Pitino and staff making significant inroads on the East Coast, especially considering both Seton Hall and St. John's were after McBrayer.  Winning recruiting battles out of the region against other high major programs is a pretty big deal, and the Gophers have won two already this year.  Next up:  Jarvis Johnson and Alex Illikainen.  Keep it rolling.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Danny Santana - Future Center Fielder?

The people are clamoring for a Danny Santana related post, and when the people talk I usually get around to it sometimes maybe.  So let's talk some CF/SS guy sometimes leadoff guy.

When Santana was first called up I put up a post looking into his background, and was strangely and uncharacteristically optimistic.  I am happy to say that at this point he's justified the hype, hitting .313/.349/.463 while playing two of the most premium defensive positions in the game.  If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, he'd be tied for sixth in the AL in batting average and would rank second among all major league shortstops (if he is a shortstop, which he is, except when he isn't) in OPS.  He's not a crazy power hitter, but his ISO would rank 4th at his position in the league, and he's a good base runner with 12 steals against 3 caught, an acceptable success rate.  All in all the Twins should be ecstatic with Santana, though we'll get into fielding later.

There is one caveat I have to point out with his hitting, and that's his crazy high .384 BABIP that would lead the entire major leagues and is simply unsustainable.  Now, the good news is he's always had a high BABIP through the minors so it's not as hugely fluky as it would be if it was somebody without some past history of this type, but it's still not going to be able to continue.  Mike Trout is a guy who has always blown buy BABIP league averages, but his career mark is just .361 and as much as I really like Santana, he's no Trout.  Still that's not much of a concern.  His walk rate is down just slightly from his minor league numbers, but his K rate is down as well while he's adding power - all fantastic signs.  He's also putting up a line drive rate of 24.6%, a top 20 mark in the league and a driver of high BABIP (suggesting less luck).  If he can cut down on infield pop-ups (12.3%, a bottom 30 mark) he could be even better.  Really, this kid can hit.

 The fact that he's doing this while learning a new position, a position he shouldn't have to learn on the fly, is all the more impressive.  Thanks to the Twins' complete and total mismanagement of the Aaron Hicks situation and center field in general, somebody needed to suddenly become a CF, and the Twins chose Santana despite his grand total of 25 games played out there in his 4 minor league seasons, just 2 of which came after 2012.  And, as you'd expect, he's been pretty brutal out there.  According to UZR he ranks 29th out of 39 center fielders with at least 350 innings played there this year, although as a testament to how unreliable defensive metrics are some of the guys who rank as worse than him are Trout, Ben Revere, and Andrew McCutchen so take it for what it's worth.  In any case, the eye test backs it up on Santana.  His footwork and the routes he takes to balls are often terrible, and his arm is weak enough that runners have no issue taking extra bases whenever possible.

That's not to say he's doomed to be a below average outfielder.  He has potential, namely speed which I'm sure is what the Twins saw, and he's not exactly a great shortstop so it's not like you're hurting yourself moving him off the infield.  Even if Santana pans out and Byron Buxton lives up to expectations you're ok moving Santana to left (or back to short) since Buxton's supposed to be a good enough hitter to help offset some power deficiency from a corner OF spot.  Which is all just a round about way of saying that with about a half season on the books, Danny Santana looks like a legit major league hitter.  He just needs to find a position.

Is there any doubt the Twins screw this up?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Happy Trails, Josh Willingham!

At one point, Josh Willingham was one of the most valuable players in baseball.  Not necessarily from a production perspective, but from a production for the money perspective.   Back in 2012 he was in the midst of a .260/.366/.524 season with 35 homers and 110 rbis, and he was in the first year of a 3 year, $21 million dollar contract.  Fangraphs.com does some fancy stuff with player value, and that season was worth $15.9 million according to their metrics.  He could have been moved for a pretty good offer at the 2012 trade deadline, most likely, but the Twins decided he was worth holding on to even though the season was kind of an outlier and he wasn't likely to still be around when they got back to contending.  Two years later, injuries and poor play torpedoed his value, though a decent second half so far was enough to trick the Royals into trading for him, though the return is dubious at best.

Kansas City has been desperate for outfield power this season, particularly as they try to make a playoff push, so Willingham is pretty perfect match consider the Royals and their aversion to costs, both monetary and prospect wise.  Though his average is poor for the second straight year (.210), he put up a very nice OBP (.345) and decent enough slugging (.402) that he represents an upgrade for the Royals.  Royal outfielders have slugged just .381 this year, and their RFers (where Willingham will most likely play with Alex Gordon entrenched in left) have OPSed just .687 (better than the Twins, actually) so RF was a good place to upgrade and KC was able to do it fairly cheaply.

The Twins received pitcher Jason Adam in return, and it's a mixed bag for certain.  Adam's numbers in his minor league starting career aren't great.  Hell they aren't even good with a career 4.38 ERA, but his peripherals suggest he's better than that (7.4 K/9 vs. 2.6 BB/9, good FIP, bad BABIP) and most prospect lists I could find going into 2014 had him ranked right around #10, with my favorite guy John Sickels from Minorleagueball.com ranked him 11th and said he's "not an ace, but could be a fourth starter."  High praise?  No.  A good return for Willingham at this point?  Absolutely.  Worst case he should end up a fairly decent middle reliever, which is where he's been slotted since being promoted to triple A midway through the year and put up a 2.35 ERA in 8 appearances.

Frankly I didn't expect to get anything of value for Willingham.  Actually, I didn't expect the Twins to trade him at all because I thought they had screwed it up twice, so getting a possibly useful arm is a pretty big win, if you ask me.  Even if his upside is just a 4th starter, if you stockpile enough of those kind of arms eventually you might end up with a few halfway decent starters.  In any case it's a good return on a player who was completely expendable and extremely unlikely to be around in the future.  Even if Adam doesn't pan out at the very least the Twins opened up their outfield playing time, which means plenty of time for Oswaldo Arcia to figure out his bat, Kennys Vargas at DH to gain experience, Chris Parmelee at first so the Twins can figure out he's not very good, and Danny Santana in center to gain time playing a new position.  And of course, Jordan Schafer who probably deserves his own post.  But I'm not going to do that.

Schafer, once regarded as a top prospect in the Braves' system, was selected off waivers by the Twins a few weeks back and has played well.  Since those top prospect days he was traded once (in the Michael Bourn deal) and waived twice, so as you might guess things haven't exactly been working out.  Schafer has been a terrible hitter in his major league career, hitting just .223/.308/.305 in just over 1,200 career plate appearances spread over 5 seasons, while striking out far too much for such little power.  This year he's been spectacularly bad, leading the Braves to finally throw in the towel.  Naturally, one team's trash is always the Twins' treasure bin, so they scooped him up to give a look.

Thus far he's played much better for the Twins than at any other point in his career, hitting .273/.333/.364 with 6 stolen bases and a very good walk rate, and he's playing pretty good defense, especially as a corner outfielder.  Don't get all excited though.  He's still striking out a ton and hitting for zero power, and nothing has drastically changed when you look deeper, so he's probably the same hitter his track record portrays.  But guess what?  He's fast, plays good defense, seems scrappy, and is under team control until 2017 so you know they're going to keep him around.  Get used to this guy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gopher Hoops Recruiting Update

As you probably know, the Gophers recently picked up an excellent commitment from Kevin Dorsey.  That is a good start.  With the Gophers still having three open scholarships for 2015 in hand, and entering the period where recruiting news can fly fast and furious, I figured I might as well look at who the Gophers are looking at and where they stand.  All ratings via 247 sports's industry composite rankings.

PG Jarvis Johnson (#128 overall, #25 PG).  Jarvis is the De La Salle kid who it seems the Gophers have been waiting on forever.  The Gophers already have Dorsey on board, but I've read that it hasn't deterred Johnson at all.  Pitino is reportedly pitching putting Dorsey and Johnson (and don't forget Nate Mason) together to create a back court with an interchangeable #1 and #2, just like what UCONN had last year and Louisville two years ago.  It would be pretty awesome.  Both like to play uptempo and run the break, and you give Dorsey the ball-handler roll and Johnson the ball-handler/scorer role and it could work, especially if Johnson's shooting comes around.  It seems like he's a pretty strong Gopher lean right now, but the longer things go without him making it official the more likely it becomes a situation where Izzo misses out on his top targets and then goes hard at Johnson or something like that.  We've seen it before.  It's crucial to get Johnson to commit soon.

PG Craig Randall (unranked).  Not a ton of information out there about Randall, and it appears the Gophers are his first high major offer, though the mid-major offers he has are from some pretty good programs (Akron, LaSalle, St. Joe's, Kent State, UTEP).  Scouting reports say he can already score from both the perimeter and on the drive, and at 6-2 he has good size already, though at just 165 lbs. he'll have to put on some weight.  Clearly a back-up plan if the Gophers fail to land Jarvis, but maybe not the worst plan I've ever seen.  Plus he shoots left-handed, which always looks cool.

PG K.J. Walton (#96 overall, #16 PG).  Getting major interest from Walton, on the other hand, would certainly force Johnson's hand and Pitino may even prefer Walton to Johnson (purely a speculative maybe here).  Walton is ranked slightly higher than Johnson, but maybe more importantly is already known as a defensive terror.  His ability to come in and immediately lead Pitino's press is a major selling point.  You'll hear this a lot, but he's a big time slasher who needs to work on this jump shot, but his general athletic ability and defense outweigh any jumper concerns.  Although there hasn't been a ton of info coming out regarding Walton to the Gophers, they're still seen as a front runner along with Xavier, who Walton says have been recruiting him the longest.  Additionally, rumors say if Indiana gets involved it's as good as over.  Which makes sense since Tom Crean is in no way a terrible coach or an even worse person so why wouldn't you want to play for him and his hair.

SG/SF Chris Clarke (#116 overall, #37 SG).  At one point the Gophers looked to be in decent shape for Mr. Clarke, but he's absolutely killed it this summer and is flying up recruiting boards (247 has him at #39 and #8, other services used to do the composite haven't been updated as recently).  And it's not just recruiting services noticing him as he's picked up offers from UCONN and Florida lately.  Seeing as how Richard Pitino is trying to turn the Gophers into a poor man's Florida, but now Clarke can just go to Florida, I think it's unfortunately time to move on.  Too bad, too.  Dude's a force.

SG Dupree McBrayer (#255, #72 SG).  Not only does McBrayer have a sweet name, but he's moving up the recruiting boards as well (albeit not like Clarke, but it's still nice to see).  The Gophers are thought to be in the lead for McBrayer, who was recently in the business of taking several unofficial visits including to the Minnesota campus.  Most of those visits were to teams on a lower tier (in my opinion) than the Minnesota program, other than Seton Hall, but he also recently picked up an offer from Pitt so schools are starting to pay attention to him.  McBrayer is from Queens and has some ties to Kimani Young (I think) which should help the Gophers, and his combo guard skills and ability to attack the rim should help him thrive if he comes to Dinkytown.  He's another slasher who needs to work on his outside shot, but his athletic ability means he'll fit in with Pitino.

SG Landry Shamet (#221, #60 SG).  Shamet is interesting because he's one of the few guys Pitino is after for 2015 who is a plus shooter.  There's not a ton of info out there on Shamet, probably because he's been mainly recruited by mid-majors and Colorado prior to last week when both the Gophers and Illini offered, but from what I've seen he's very smooth with the ball.  He comes off as a little bit slow, but I have a feeling that could be a deceptive slowness along the lines of Deron Williams or Kyle Anderson (not comparing him to those two dudes, I'm not crazy).  He's clearly starting to get noticed, and I'm getting the distinct whiff of a sleeper coming off of him.  I'm not really enamored with a guy named Landry, but I'm very interested in what happens with this guy - Gopher or not.

SF Danjel Purifoy (#54, #11 SF).  Purifoy is the top rated player the Gophers are still in on, although it sounds like it might be tough to get him out of the South East as he lists Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia as his top schools.  Minnesota seemed to mentioned in conjunction with him quite a bit a few months back, but may have dropped off his radar as they weren't mentioned in his most recent interview I found.  It's too bad if that's the case, as Purifoy sounds like an already polished slasher and finisher and a top flight defender and rebounder.  His only real weakness is lack of a jump shot, but Pitino's system needs the athletic slashers to set up the shooters so he'd be perfect.  Of course, he recently transferred to Hargrave Military Academy which was either the plan all along or what he needed to do after getting kicked off his high school team for ditching spring practices.  Since he's not likely to become a Gopher, I choose to believe this is a red flag.  I reserve the right to change my mind if things change.

SF/PF Nate Grimes (#131, #26 SF).  Grimes is a bit raw, which makes his high rating all the much more impressive, who relies mainly on raw athleticism for his buckets, and I don't necessarily mean that as a negative.  He's an amazing athlete who can get to the rim with his quickness, and a great jumper so he can score on put backs.  He can also hit a jump shot now and again, but his perimeter game needs work and he's limited in post-up situations as well.  Put it altogether, and you have an exceptional athlete with tons of room to grow - a guy you'd really, really like to have.  The Gophers primary competition is Mountain West and mid-major coast schools with New Mexico and San Diego State the top dogs, so you'd think the Gophers should at least be in the running here.  The unfortunate (for the Gophers) thing I read is that he's planning on waiting until the late signing period to pick a school, which means if his game blossoms he's going to start garnering interest from a lot more top level programs.

PF Alex Illikainen (#103, #24 PF).  As much as I said I'd love the Gophers to get Jarvis, this is the guy I really want.  He's perfect.  A stretch four who can shoot the lights out and run the floor, but has enough to work on (post game, strength) that the true power programs haven't come sniffing around, he's also from Grand Rapids and although the Gophers may struggle keeping city kids home they've always had good success with out state kids, which is a plus.  Illikainen just transferred to Brewster Academy, a basketball factory prep school on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire (NEW HAMPSHIRE! - no I'm not making the Lake Winnipesaukee thing up), although I don't think that really means much in terms of is intentions.  Potentially playing against better competition and dominating could get him on more high profile programs' radars and it's always tougher to stay home when you have top programs flirting with you, so, as usual, the sooner they can lock him up the better.  Right now Creighton, Iowa State, and Cal are the Gophers' biggest competition, and I think they can win him there.  Pay attention to the offer list on this guy.

PF Ed Morrow (#122, #26 PF).  Another Pitino style foward, Morrow has the size to play PF but the game to play SF.  Though the reports say he needs to still work on his jumper, they also say he excels at the face up game and attacking the basket and should be an excellent defender.  It's an uphill battle, however, with Nebraska holding a pretty strong lead.  Not only have they "been recruiting him the longest" according to him, but both of his parents were Cornhuskers.  Morrow recently announced he'll be visiting Nebraska and Iowa coming up (the Hawkeyes also earned his praise as being involved with him for a while), which leaves 3 more visits open so hopefully the Gophers can worm their way in there and make him realize how badly both Nebraska and Iowa suck as places to live.  Or at least that's my impression after driving through both of them.  Good enough for me.

PF/C Jonathan Nwankwo (#212, #50 PF).  Of everyone on this list, this guy feels like the most likely to be a Gopher.   He just cut his list to Minnesota, Temple, Rice, Tennessee, Fordham, and Seton Hall, and is in the process of setting up official visits to see the Gophers on September 4th and Tennessee on October 11th, and has already visited Fordham (unofficially) and Seton Hall (several times unofficially).  I get a good feeling about Nwankwo because I've seen a couple of places where his handlers have stressed academics, and although all the schools on his list are pretty good academically the Gophers are behind only Rice and Fordham, neither of which have any kind of basketball program, if we're being honest.  Temple, Tennessee, and Seton Hall all could make argument as to the best basketball program on his list, but all rank a good way behind Minnesota academically.  Nwankwo would be a pretty solid get with a Big Ten ready body with good athletic ability and a chance to be a plus rebounder and defender the minute he steps on campus.  He's got some work to do on the offensive end, but if everything goes according to plan they won't need a lot of scoring from him.

Let's hope everything goes according to plan.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Welcome Aboard, Tommy Milone!

You know what's awesome?  Getting a serviceable, if back of the rotation, starting pitcher in exchange for a completely expendable outfielder you signed off waivers for nothing.  In a complete coincidence to what I just posted, the Twins picked up Tommy Milone today in exchange for Sam Fuld in a trade with the A's, the team who waived Fuld earlier this year.  But Oakland needed another outfielder after trading Yeonis Cespedes, and had more starters than one team needs after acquiring Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzjia, and Jason Hammel in trades, so off Milone went and the Twins were the lucky recipient.

Don't get me wrong, Milone is probably not going to win a Cy Young any time soon, but he's made 78 career starts, been in Oakland's rotation for the past 3 years, and has put up an ERA of 3.84, a WHIP of 1.26, and a FIP of 4.13 - solid #4 starter numbers on a contending team.  The big knock on him is he doesn't throw very hard (average velocity 86.5mph on his fastball) and as a result doesn't strike anyone out (5.7 K/9 this season), and he's an extreme fly ball pitcher.  Those K numbers, however, fit in right with the rest of the starters, and Phil Hughes is also an extreme fly ball pitcher and playing in a pitcher's park like Target Field has worked out for him for the most part.  He's a solid pitcher, and he's under team control through 2017.  Really, a quality acquisition by the Twins, especially since they had to give up just Fuld.

Not that Fuld is worthless - he's not or Billy Beane wouldn't want him - he's just not going to be a part of the Twins future as contenders, whenever that may be (hopefully 2016) and as such was expendable.  He's a serviceable hitter with a keen batting eye who can run well and is an excellent fielder.  He should serve the A's well as a fourth outfielder/pinch runner/defensive replacement type, but the Twins really had no need for him.  Plus maybe this means Aaron Hicks gets another chance.  You guys know he's going to be a superstar, right?