As I look outside at the palm trees and green golf course, it reminds me that spring training is only about a month away. There are a lot of decisions that Bill Smith and his staff will be making these next few weeks. In addition to potential trades, he will need to address the opening day third base position and perhaps a veteran right handed bat for Gardy's bench?
The Twins have eight players facing arbitration, the most of any team in baseball. With hearings scheduled to begin after the first of the month, look for lots of press releases the next few weeks regarding contracts for Francisco Liriano, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, Carl Pavano, Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris. The Twins normally settle before arbitration, will this year break that trend?
LaVelle E Neal III reported this week that Jose Morales will be undergoing wrist surgery that should keep him out of spring training until mid-March. Morales had been the leading candidate to be Joe Mauer's back up. If he isn't going to be ready on opening day, that opens the door for either Drew Butera or Wilson Ramos.
Escogido, the team that Francisco Liriano is on, won the Dominican Winter League and is now battling Gigantes in the playoffs. Without question, the biggest story for Twins fans has been the performance of Liriano this winter. Liriano made what LaVelle E Neal reported will be his second last start on Wednesday, again pitching 6.0 innings with 4 hits, 1 unearned run and 6K/0BB. This was the first run Liriano allowed since his first start in early December. With a lot of strikeouts, very few walks and no runs, Liriano appears more like the pitcher we came to in know before his injury. Can he continue pitching like this in spring training and beyond?
Alexi Casilla has seen more playing time this week for Gigantes, going 2-11 with a walk and run scored. Estarlin De Los Santos saw his first action since November 23rd, getting one hit in four at bats. Although Gigantes is leading Escogido in the playoffs, Escogido won a big game last night with former Twin Julio DePaula allowing 6 hits and 4 runs in 2.1 innings as the starter for Gigantes.
After being one of the top hitters in this winter's Venezuelan League, Wilson Ramos was picked up for the playoffs by league champion Caracus. Last winter's Caribbean Series MVP hasn't hit as well during this winter's playoffs, going 1-13 in four games this week before a 2-2 game with a double and walk last night. I don't know what is involved with the shift from his home team (Aragua Tigres) to Caracus and whether the logistics could affect his play or if he is in a slump?
Over in Puerto Rico, Danny Valencia was 4-13 this week with a double, his second home run, 2 walks and 4 RBI. Recent Twin signee Mike Maroth pitched 6.2 innings with 7 hits, 4 runs (2 earned) and 5K/0BB on Monday as he picked up his third win in three decisions. Twins lefty Nelvin Fuentes made two appearances this week, pitching 1.0 shutout inning with 1 hit and a walk on Sunday before allowing 4 hits and runs in an inning on Wednesday.
The biggest story out of Puerto Rico this winter has been the development of Angel Morales. Morales saw very limited action early in the winter season with an occassional pinch hitting or pinch running appearance as he went hitless in his first ten at bats. He then saw no action during much of December until he began playing everyday after Christmas. Morales was hitless on Monday, breaking his five game hitting streak. He came back with a vengeance on Tuesday when he was 4-5 with a run scored, 3 RBI and stolen base. Wednesday, Morales was 2-5 with a run scored to raise his average to .295 for the season. Although we haven't seen a lot of power from Morales, in his last ten games he is hitting .350/.395/.350 in 40 at bats with 3 walks and only 7 strikeouts. More important, Morales is doing this against pitchers with vastly more experience than he, pitchers such as Jerome Williams who he faced on Wednesday. Morales, who recently turned 20, is performing like the prospect who some believe has a higher ceiling than anyone on the organization.....a prospect who could become a super star two or three years in the future!