I made it back out to TwinsFest for the first time since 2009 on Sunday, and it was bittersweet to be sure. Seeing the Metrodome dressed up for baseball will always give me that feeling, and probably seeing it for the last time like that will certainly bring back fond memories.
I'm a bit of an autograph hound -- not while on the job, of course -- so my strategy sheet looks like an NFL playcaller's sheet, color coded and planned out meticulously. It was another good TwinsFest for autographs, as I managed to pull all the minor leaguers I coveted -- namely, Miguel Sano and a few others -- while getting some of the big league signatures I hadn't yet pulled, such as Jamey Carroll.
The 1500 ESPN booth was also a pretty cool way for fans to get up close to players while getting to listen to radio professionals over the loudspeakers. Additionally, there were plenty of merchants selling baseball cards, memorabilia, and perhaps my favorite, the handmade wooden items.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
* Liam Hendriks' name was misspelled on the player photo sign. I'm reasonably sure that sign shows up in the pictures you take with a player, so that was odd.
* Darin Mastroianni left early due to weather, and neither Oswaldo Arcia or Delmit (the volunteer's odd way of saying Ryan Doumit's last name) were around on Sunday. As a result of Mastroianni's absence, Hendriks slotted over to autograph corner one, saving me some dough while allowing me to get autos from him, Swarzak, and Joe Benson for a much lower cost. Terry Ryan stepped in for Arcia, and I politely asked "So where will you be assigned to this season, young man?" He actually seemed to enjoy the question, suggesting he'd have an office this year at Target Field and quasi-recognizing me from our previous chats. It was pretty cool.
* I signed more autographs at TwinsFest than Pedro Florimon. I have no idea why this is. (courtesy Marty Andrade)
* I saw most everyone of 'Who's Who' among Twins bloggers, at least of those I know were there Sunday. I saw Parker Hageman, Seth Stohs, and even caught a glimpse of our own Andrew Bryz-Gornia, though I was in line and couldn't sneak over to say hi.
* The Twins minor league line is the best thing going, and people seem to realize it. Most of the time the lines stretched clear across the infield, and that line pretty much doubled for the last session of the day, which featured Sano.
* I have to agree with people who said Kevin Correia didn't seem happy to be there.
* Is anyone else wondering where the heck they'll host this event in the future?
Oddly, I think the unit I'm most excited to see for the Twins this year and going forward is the bullpen. It's sort of strange, but it seems as though the Twins have long embraced the role of strikeouts in the bullpen. In fact, in some years when the Twins were just entering their glory about a decade ago, the Twins would frequently have low-strikeout starters and one-per-inning relievers.
I think this year's bullpen has potential to be the start of something beautiful though. The strikeout potential of Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, and maybe even Rich Harden has to have fans pretty excited. But the crops coming down the pipe are possibly even more exciting with the Twins 2012 draft picks moving through the system quickly. Guys like J.T. Chargois, Mason Melotakis, Luke Bard, and Michael Tonkin dot numerous top prospect lists, and should move quickly as developed college arms, or in the case of Tonkin, a five season veteran of the Twins system. And this is nothing to say of potentially interesting arms such as Anthony Slama (depending on who you ask, I suppose), Deolis Guerra, Lester Oliveros (when healthy), Tyler Robertson, Caleb Thielbar, Bruce Pugh, and so many more.
I'm starting to come around on the ideology by which the Twins built this pitching staff. The rotation is almost completely build on groundballers, and the club is 100 percent correct in preferring balls hit at its infielders rather than outfielders. What isn't clear yet is that, despite being obviously superior to its outfield counterparts, is the infield defense good enough to prove capable of handling all these wormburners? That's the big question.
There are some late rumblings that Travis Hafner could be close to joining the Yankees. I had hoped he'd end up in Minnesota. No, not due to local ties, but because a lineup with Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier playing every day might need a late-inning thumper from time to time. I think Hafner would thrive in that role, as well as DH'ing two or three times a week.
Kelly Shoppach signed a minor league deal with the Mariners. He was another good catch-and-throw guy with some power whom I'd hoped the Twins would look at the past few seasons. He usually ropes lefties and is revered for his defense. Oh well.
Back to the bullpen front, I'll be interested to see how Brian Duensing is used this year. He's yet to face more lefties than righties in any season in his career, but he's proven over that span that he's very tough on lefties and does struggle getting righties out. This year is a big one for Duensing, because he's about to start getting too costly in arbitration to keep around without a defined role. It's not too hard to say the same thing about Anthony Swarzak, who has a career ERA over 5.00. The bullpen competition this season will be fast and furious to be sure.
Am I the only one still wondering if the Twins plan on bringing in 3B competition for Trevor Plouffe? I'm not saying they have to, but I thought it was the plan...and Darren Wolfson says the Twins have no interest in Brandon Inge.
I truly hope someday that we don't look back at the time in Twins history as a waste of Joe Mauer's prime. Can you believe this will be his age-30 season? It is sort of disappointing to think about the Twins possibly not being competitive again until Mauer is 31 or 32.