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. 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 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.