Sunday, February 22, 2015

Minnesota Twins and Roster Change from Last Year

With the Gopher basketball season now essentially over and spring training getting started, I have begun starting to kind of think about baseball.  Usually when I think about baseball I think about the Twins, unfortunate as that is.  So to start, I'll take a look at the roster changes vs. last year, which you should have probably guessed because of the title of this post.


- OF Torii Hunter.  I was really pissed about this signing and although I still think it's pretty stupid I'm not nearly as hot as I once was.  In the long run it doesn't really make much difference since the team is going to be bad with or without him (Vegas over/under for season wins is 70.5), he's only on the hook for 1 year, and if they used that $10 million to sign someone like Jason Hammel that wasn't really going to make much of a dent in the win column anyway.  I'm not sure I buy that he can really help Aaron Hicks, but I suppose it's possible and Hicks can't really get any worse.  Hunter isn't much of a fielder anymore, but he's still an above average bat (well, he was last year at least) and I suppose somebody has to play outfield.  It seems I've upgraded from hating this signing to ambivalence.

- SP Ervin Santana.  Speaking of ambivalence, it's quite strange for a signing of this length and this much money but I really have no opinion on it.  It's just like a shrug.  The Twins signed a competent major league pitcher on a slight overpay for the next four years.  Ok, great.  Sure.  I suppose knowing that even if Santana is great this year it won't really mean much.  The important thing is when the Twins put themselves into contention again, assuming it happens in 2016 or 2017 like they seem to be planning, he'll likely be a part of the rotation so hopefully he doesn't fall off an age cliff.

- P Tim Stauffer.  I've always liked Stauffer because he was featured in The Last Best League, an awesome book you should read, so it's cool that the Twins signed him to 1 year, $2.2 million deal.  At one point he was thought to be a future top of the rotation type starter for San Diego, but a shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of 2008 pretty much derailed that.  He returned, and was a decent starter for the Padres for a couple of years before another injury (elbow this time) knocked him off course again.  For the past two seasons now he's been a pretty good reliever in San Diego, putting up a 3.63 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 134 innings.

Helping his effectiveness has been a solid uptick in strikeouts since the move to the bullpen, going to 8.8 per nine innings compared to 6.2 in his starting days.  Though his velocity hasn't changed, since the elbow injury he's abandoned his slider and started throwing a change up a lot more, which has proven to be his best pitch each of the last two seasons, per Fangraphs.  His overall numbers look good for a prominent place in the bullpen, but they do come with one caveat:  Petco Park.  The Padres' home stadium is well known as the most friendly pitchers' park in the league, and Stauffer's home/road splits are not pretty.  We'll find out how much that stadium really mattered soon enough.

P Stephen Pryor.  Picked up last year in the great Kendrys Morales trade, I added Pryor in here because he's on the 40-man roster which means there's at least a decent chance he ends up pitching in the bigs at some point.  I wrote up Pryor here after the trade, and to sum up he's a formerly intriguing prospect who is now a gamble after injuries wrecked him.  He was a big time strikeout pitcher (and wild, as many of those are) with a big time fastball, but post injury was only throwing in the low 90s.  If he can get the heater back up to 95+ where it used to be he could be a useful bullpen arm.

- P J.R. Graham.  The Twins picked up Graham from Atlanta in the Rule 5 draft, which means he has to stay on the major league roster or be offered back to the Braves.  Like Pryor, Graham has been derailed by injury, but at one point he was good enough to crack some Top 100 prospects lists so the potential is still there, though he was awful at AA last season.  The Twins did the same thing with Ryan Pressly two years ago, keeping him on the roster and having him pitch in mostly lower leverage situations and he seems to have worked himself into a serviceable reliever, so this kind of move has worked out before (Johan Santana, if you recall, was also a Rule 5 pick-up).  Pressly's minor league numbers were quite a bit better than Graham's so I'm not all that optimistic, but Graham's potential was much better at one time so it's probably a wash.  Hopefully he's back all the way from injury and the Twins stole a good one.


-  OF Josh Willingham.  Yeah he was traded last year but I'm including him here because he was around for a while, nobody was paying any attention to the Twins at the end of last season, and I guarantee you somebody is going to ask you this season "Hey what happened to Willingham?".  If you recall, the Twins traded him to the Royals post non-waiver trade deadline because nobody claimed him off waivers because really nobody wanted him at his salary and because he was too injured to be of any value.  That sucked because two years ago they could have gotten a ton for him when he was healthy and hitting bombs.  The Royals took a chance because they desperately needed some pop in right field but Willingham didn't hit particularly well for them and then went 0-2 with two whiffs in the World Series (the guy the Twins got pitched all of 7 innings for New Britain before their season ended.  Stay tuned).  Willingham then retired from baseball at age 36.  Why not.

-  SS Pedro Florimon.  He was actually claimed off waivers in late September by the Nationals which I either never heard or didn't remember, and then was claimed this offseason by the Pirates.  Pittsburgh already has an all glove no hit shortstop in Jordy Mercer, Mercer looks like a slugger next to Florimon.  Remember when he hit .096 last year?  That was neat.

-  RP Jared Burton.  Signed a minor league deal with the Yankees after the Twins turned down his $3.6 million option, the right call by the Twins considering he kept getting worse.  Dynamite in his first Twin season as a set-up man and pretty good in his second, last year his strikeouts fell off a cliff, he started walking too many people, and he stopped being a groundball pitcher.  Good time to part ways, and given all he got was a minor league deal it seems the league wasn't exactly clamoring for his services.

-  1B Chris Colabello.  Selected off waivers by the Blue Jays, he was then designated for assignment and has been assigned to their Triple A affiliate in Buffalo.  Always a AAA masher, Colabello never really did much with the Twins outside of his torrid start to 2014 (then crashed back to earth).  Toronto is a good spot for him, considering (if he makes the big club) he'll be backing up Justin Smoak who has pretty much struggled since he broke into the league despite his lofty prospect pedigree.  With the Twins having Kennys Vargas now, they're all set at 1B/DH.  Hopefully.

-  RP Anthony Swarzak.  Filled the long, long relief role well for the Twins the past three years after failing as a starter though last year was pretty rocky, Swarzak was released by the Twins and signed a minor league deal with the Indians.  Cleveland has a pretty solid rotation and a ton of candidates to fill in if someone goes down, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Swarzak catch on in the bullpen, likely in the same role he filled with the Twins

-  OF Chris Parmelee.  The Twins opted not to resign Parmelee, making him a free agent, and he recently signed a minor league deal with Baltimore.  Like Colabello, Parmelee has always hit well in the minors but never had that success translate when given a chance in the big leagues.  He was given every opportunity to win an outfield job win the Twins, but in three years of semi-regular play he put up a line of just .238/.304/.371.  When you combine that with some absolutely atrocious defense, well, you can see why the Twins were done with him.  He has a chance to win a role with the Orioles as a fifth outfielder.

-  SP Kevin Correia.  He was actually traded last year late to the Dodgers who wanted him for some reason, in exchange for a player to be named later or cash.  It ended up being cash because Correia was terrible.  He was awful as a Twin, getting knocked around regularly, and then somehow managed to be even worse with a move to the National League.  He lasted just three starts with the Dodgers before being pulled from the rotation, and then lost three games in extra innings as a reliever the rest of the way.  All in all, his ERA as a Dodger was 8.03 in 24 innings.  The Dodgers opted not to sign Correia.  Neither has anyone else.  I am so glad we don't have to watch him anymore.

-  SP Sam Deduno.  Nabbed off waivers by the Astros late last year, and he's the only one on this list I'd probably rather have than not have.  I realize still believing in a 30 year old pitcher with chronic control issues who has struggled to crack a rotation as terrible as the Twins the last few years is not a real good strategy, but I never said I was a smart man.  He may very well never amount to much more than an inconsistent spot starter or a middle reliever, but man you remember how good he was in the World Baseball Classic?  Remember that 7-inning, no runs, 2 hits, no walks, 9 strikeout game?  Man when he had it going he really looked like a big league pitcher.  Houston mostly used him out of the bullpen after they got him, but his final appearance of the year was his only start as an Astro and he went 4 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 walk, and no runs while striking out four.  Most of Houston's starters are pretty crappy, so he could snag a rotation spot or at least a spot start here and there.  I hope we don't regret his leaving.

-  RP Matt Guerrier.  Seems weird, since he's always on the team, but this year he's finally gone.  If you recall last year they signed him after three crappy and injury filled years in the National League (3 years? Wow).  Then they released him in Spring Training to avoid paying some kind of bonus before signing him back again the next day.  He was awful in 28 innings with the Twins before they designated him for assignment, but because of his veteran status Guerrier had the option to refuse the minor league assignment and become a free agent - which he did.  Nobody signed him and he remains unsigned to this day.

The Twins also have a new manager in Paul Molitor with an all new staff, but what the hell do I know about how Molitor or those other guys coach?  I'm just glad they moved on from Ron Gardenhire because although he did some good things here and seemed to be a good locker room type leader, his constant getting kicked out of games and his unwillingness to think outside "the book" drove me crazy.  This team needed new blood.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gophers Lose Again. Season Over.

Well it's over.  Any slim hope, any dream you may have had that the Gophers would go on a miracle run and get themselves on the NCAA bubble is now dead, and it probably was prior to this anyway.  A loss to Northwestern, RPI #147, is a killer, especially at home.  It's a bad enough loss that it may even have knocked them off the #1 seed line for the NIT, which granted barely matters but the one good thing about the NIT is the ability to see teams you normally wouldn't in person and that requires a high seed.  Sure, nobody's exactly clamoring to watch Oregon or Boise State in person, but I enjoy it so shut up.

I'm not quite really even sure what to make of it.  This year's team, though definitely flawed, had enough talent to finish the season in contention for an NCAA bid at a minimum, and clearly sail into NCAA lock status well before Selection Sunday if everything broke right.  Unfortunately everything broke wrong.  An 0-5 start to Big Ten play could easily have been a 4-1 start, however late game meltdowns put the team in a big hole.  They valiantly clawed their way back and started to appear on the fringe of the bubble, culminating in a great win at Iowa that was probably their best game this season.  Optimism abounded about their chances of knocking off Indiana in Bloomington, including Vegas who pegged the Gophers as just two point underdogs.  Eighteen three pointers later that dream was dead, and fifteen more by Northwestern last night killed everything else.

It's tempting to delve into what went wrong with this season and find someone(s) to blame, but I just don't know.  I think Richard Pitino and his staff made a lot of mistakes, but learning on the job in the Big Ten isn't going to be smooth sailing from Day 1.  I think he's trying to coach the team like he learned at Louisville and Florida as if he has the same caliber of players, and he clearly doesn't.  If he can translate his hard work recruiting into bringing in some of those same type of players his system and style will definitely work.  If he can't get to that level of player, however, he'll need to adapt or die.  Any defensive style that allows 33 made three-pointers over two straight games is clearly not working.

I don't know why, but DeAndre Mathieu took a huge step back this year, both in results and swagger.  His aggressive style was what elevated this team last season, but this year he's been far more passive and when he did try to push it ended in disaster far too often.  He's been playing better (1 turnover in the last five games) and along with Dre Hollins has really improved from early season struggles, but the team was too far behind to really make any kind of move and then came last night to shiv the rest of the season and pack up the corpse.

So I really don't know.  Just a lost season.  A horrible, terrible lost season.  Next season, two starting guards and two centers leave, and it doesn't leave me optimistic.  Though it would be awfully difficult to feel optimistic at all right now.  Different coach, different players, same kind of results.  Usually when the Gophers blow a game they should win by playing like morons I feel mostly rage.  After last night it's mostly depression.  That can't be a good sign.  We move on.  Hey, catchers and pitchers have reported!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Remember All Those Guys the Gophers Almost Signed? How they Doing?

Remember how exciting last year was recruiting wise, what with the Gophers making so many top 10 lists and top 5 lists only to pretty much not ever sign anybody?  Yeah, I was wondering how every's doing so far this year.  Keep in mind it's awfully early in most of these guys' careers.  All rankings from 247sports.

PG Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, MN)
247 Rank:  #8 overall, #2 PG
Commit:  Duke
Close?:  Not really
Bummer?:  Not really, it was known
Season Stats:  11.3 points and 5.3 assists in 31.5 minutes.
Outlook:  He's basically been everything everyone said he would be.  Maybe the only point guard the Gophers looked at last year who has a clearly brighter future than Nate Mason.  He should die.

PG Ja'Quan Newton (Philadelphia, PA)
247 Rank:  #42 overall, #7 PG
Commit:  Miami (FL)
Close?:  Maybe?
Bummer:  He jumped on a Miami offer so quickly it was hard to get too excited.  Still, kind of a bummer.
Season Stats:  3.5 points and 1.3 assists in 12 minutes.
Outlook:  Typical freshman point guard line so far, and his shooting has been pretty bad (not rare for a freshman).  Having Angel Rodriguez there (transfer from Kansas State) has really cut his potential minutes down.

PG Lourawls Nairn (Wichita, KS)
247 Rank:  #85 overall, #17 PG
Commit:  Michigan State
Close?:  Yes, until Izzo got involved.
Bummer?:  Yes.  After a whole bunch of misses he looked like he might be the big time recruit Pitino would finally sign.  Then Tom Izzo called.
Season Stats:  2.0 points and 2.5 assists in 16.7 minutes.
Outlook:  I was surprised his minutes are this high because I rarely notice him when I watch the Spartans, but that's probably pretty much what Izzo wants on a team with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Branden Dawson.  His 2.5-to-0.9 assist to turnover ratio is nice for a freshman.  Interested to see if he can add any offense next year, since he pretty much never shoots.

SG Riley LaChance (Brookfield, WI)
247 Rank:  #133 overall, #34 PG
Commit:  Vanderbilt
Close?:  At least somewhat.
Bummer?:  Not really.  Just as his buzz was starting to build he suddenly committed to Vandy.
Season Stats:  12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 33.3 minutes.
Outlook:  Basically a starter from day 1 and looking like a pretty big recruiting steal for Vandy.  He's the team's second leading scorer, has hit double figures in 17 of 23 games this year, gashed Purdue for 26 points, and is hitting 40% of his threes.  Maybe wasn't a bummer to lose out on at the time, but he sure is now.

SG Rashad Vaughn (Henderson, NV)
247 Rank:  #13 overall, #5 SG
Commit:  UNLV
Close?:  Not really
Bummer?:  Yeah, but we knew it was coming, particularly after the move to Nevada.
Season Stats:  17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 32.2 minutes.
Outlook:  Dude loves to shoot.  He takes 33% of the Rebs shots when he's on the floor and hits a respectable enough 44%.  The one and done looks like it's not going to happen (hopefully for the kid) since ranks him 65th and DraftExpress ranks him 37th (14th among freshman), but he's definitely a talented kid.  Another year in college should help polish his game and can only help.

SG Isaiah Whitehead (Brooklyn, NY)
247 Rank:  #10 overall, #3 SG
Commit:  Seton Hall
Close?:  Painfully close.  Close enough I watched his press conference hopefully until twitter broke the news.
Bummer?:  Extreme bummer.  Would have made a huge national splash, and it seemed like they were so close until the Pirates offered his high school coach an assistant coaching gig.  Sucked.
Season Stats:  11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 25.3 minutes
Outlook:  Good bet he's the Big East freshman of the year.  He's extremely polished, as advertised, and though he's shooting just 37% this year it's a good bet he's going to challenge for BE player of the year before his career his over.  Yeah, this one hurts.

SG J.P. Macura (Lakeville, MN)
247 Rank:  #136 overall, #36 SG
Commit:  Xavier
Close?:  Tough to say, it was never really clear what the interest level was from either side.
Bummer?:  Moreso now than then.  Pitino had a lot of fires going and J.P. was lower priority, so he decided Xavier was more for him.  After the whiffs on higher profile targets (so many whiffs) maybe making him a higher priority would have been the way to go.  Hindsight, and all that.
Season Stats:  6 points and 1.5 rebounds in 13.9 minutes.
Outlook:  His shooting has been pretty bad which isn't good when it's your #1 skill, but again, not unusual for a freshman.  He's been coming on lately with 21 and 25 minutes played in X's last two games, and is starting to look like a quality four year player.  I understand why Pitino didn't go hard after him early in the signing period, but man, it'd be nice to have a second young building block beyond Nate Mason right now.

SF Terry Larrier (Malvern, PA)
247 Rank:  #23 overall, #4 SF
Commit:  VCU
Close?:  Not really
Bummer?:  Not really.  It was actually pretty exciting knowing a top 25 recruit from the east coast was considering the Gophers.  Signaled a whole new recruiting world.  Of pain.  So far.
Season Stats:  7.0 points and 2.0 rebounds in 17.4 minutes
Outlook:  Pretty good freshman numbers though, stop me if you've heard this before, his shooting kind of stinks at under 40%.  Still, coming into a system like VCU's and grasping it as a freshman well enough to play 17 minutes per game speaks well of his future.  No big whoop, since I don't think he was really ever close to signing with the Gophers.

PF Reid Travis (Minneapolis, MN)
247 Rank:  #49 overall, #10 PF
Commit:  Stanford
Close?:  Agonizingly close.
Bummer?:  Hurt so bad.  Came right down to the wire and all reports the night before his press conference were that it was looking like the Gophers.  Something changed.  Still hurts, especially because I don't even think Stanford fans cared.
Season Stats:  6.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.6 minutes
Outlook:  Ugh.  Look at those rebounds.  His season got derailed a bit with a foot injury where he missed about a month and he's just now starting to get back into the swing of things, but leading a major conference team in rebounding as a freshman (pre-injury he as at 6.9 and the team leader)?  Playing those kind of minutes on a team with a pretty solid frontcourt already?  Gross.  I kind of wish I hadn't done this now, or at least skipped this one.

SF Djuan Piper (Seattle, WA)
247 Rank:  #153 overall, #36 SF
Commit:  North Idaho College
Close?:  Uh.  Yeah.  He was basically all ready to commit and then stupid academics got in the way.
Bummer?:  Yeah.  It was pretty late in the recruiting game at this point and the Gophers were hopefully about to get a decent player late.
Season Stats:  I can't find anything, but he's often mentioned in game recaps and there are pictures of him playing and stuff.
Outlook:  Tough to say when I can't find tangible stats.  The impression I got from looking for nearly five minutes is that, at a minimum, he's a rotation player, and Idaho is, believe or not, a pretty good JuCo hoops area so that's good.  I also found a reference to him being suspended for at least one game, so that's bad.  Stay tuned.

PF Abdoulaye Gueye (Birmingham, AL)
247 Rank:  #301 overall, #77 PF
Commit:  Georgia Tech
Close?:  I think this was a case of Gueye willing to commit, but the Gophers holding him off and then he went elsewhere.
Bummer?:  No.  He was always more of a back-up plan, or at least that's the vibe I got.
Season Stats:  0.3 points and 0.7 rebounds in 3 minutes per game.
Outlook:  He's only played 6 games this year and has only a total of 18 minutes played (what, no redshirts at G-Tech?).  It doesn't bode well that he couldn't get more PT than that at Georgia Tech, but who knows what the future holds?

C Anas Mahmoud (Orlando, FL)
247 Rank:  #87 overall, #9 C
Commit:  Louisville
Close?:  Maybe?  They were at least in the mix.
Bummer?:  Kind of.  Everything happened so fast there was no real build up time to the heartbreak, plus losing out on him to Louisville is kind of like supposed to happen once they're involved.
Season Stats:  1.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 9.7 minutes
Outlook:  Had a brief burst of consistent playing time in the non-conference, but he's seen that trail off to spot duty and he hasn't broken the 10 minute mark in playing time since Louisville's first ACC game in early January.  Clearly, Rick Pitino doesn't know how to properly use him and he should look to transfer somewhere he already felt comfortable when he visited and has a desperate need for post players. (TRANSFER TRANSFER TRANSFER!  FREE ANAS!)

And then there's a handful of players who were once Gophers (on some level) who left:

SG Alvin Ellis
Who?:  Gophers signee of Tubby, transferred after the coaching change, although rumor was he would have stayed if anybody had bothered to talk to him.
Where?:  Michigan State
Class?:  Sophomore
Season Stats:  1.5 points and 0.6 assists in 9.4 minutes
Summary:  His stats are actually worse than his freshman year, mainly due to his inability to make a basket (6-30 shooting this year).  I haven't noticed him when I've taken in a Spartan game so I don't know if he's overmatched, but his 2-year results don't look good.

PF Alex Foster
Who?:  Gophers signee of Tubby, transferred after the coaching change.  Seemingly made his college choice based on playing for Tubby.
Where?:  Texas Tech
Class?:  Sophomore
Season Stats:  1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds in 6.3 minutes
Summary:  He's basically completely failed to crack the rotation in two seasons in Lubbock, and this for teams that have gone 14-18 and 12-13.  Tubby's playing a deep bench this year with 10 guys averaging at least 10 minutes per game, and Foster not being one of them is not a real good sign for the future.

SF Joe Coleman
Who?:  You remember him.  Played two decent, if uneven, seasons for the Gophers before bolting when Richard Pitino got hired, even though Pitino's system probably would have been really good for him.
Where?:  St. Mary's
Class?:  Junior
Season Stats:  3.0 points and 1.0 rebounds in 14 minutes
Summary:  Played in one game for the Gaels before a leg injury caused him to shut it down.  I seriously can't find any more information on him than "leg injury."  Hopefully it's not too serious and he'll get two more years as a Gael to show the world what he can do.

SG Chip Armelin
Who?:  The hyper athletic, somewhat wild but deserved more of a chance shooting guard who played for Tubby for two years before transferring to get more playing time.  Yes he's still around.
Where?:  Southern Miss
Class?:  Senior
Season Stats:  15.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 34.3 minutes
Summary:  He's having a fantastic senior season, leading the Golden Eagles in scoring.  Southern Miss had a pretty solid year for them last year before being bested by the Gophers in the NIT quarters, and with their five top players graduating there was going to be a scoring void, which Armelin stepped into admirably.  Of course, Southern Miss is 6-16 and 1-10 in a terrible C-USA and recently self-imposed a postseason ban (lol) because of questions around former coach Donnie Tyndall's recruiting practices.  Nice to see him have some personal success though.  I always liked him.

Also Better Call Saul has been awesome so far.