By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
The scary and exhilarating thing is that there is apparently a busload of players laboring in the minor leagues at the moment who could make this team even better down the road. Remember all that talk in spring training about Michael Cuddyer in right field? Gardenhire's decision to send the prospect back to Edmonton was the big news coming out of camp, and now Brian Buchanan--the guy who supposedly won the right-field job over Cuddyer--is sitting on the bench while afterthoughts Mohr and Kielty are hitting over .300. The two guys with the best current batting averages on the team, Kielty and Matthew LeCroy, are battling for at bats, and LeCroy, who is hitting .338 and slugging .568, has spent the season shuttling back and forth from the AAA club in Edmonton.
As dominant as the Twins bullpen has been, the numbers are actually skewed by the performance of the mop-up guys. Toss out the unsightly data compiled by Jack Cressend, Bob Wells, Mike Trombley, Matt Kinney, and Johan Santana (63 earned runs in 76 and two-thirds innings pitched, for a 7.40 ERA), and the stats are even more astonishing: Guardado, Romero, Jackson, Hawkins, and Fiore have given up only 38 earned runs in 174 and one-third innings, for an ERA of 1.96. The bullpen's 3.23 ERA is still more than two runs lower than the starters' 5.32.
In only his second full season, A.J. Pierzynski is making a claim as one of the best catchers in Twins history. Granted, it's a thin list--historically catcher is probably the Twins' weakest position; you've got Earl Battey and then who? Brian Harper? Tim Laudner? Battey spent seven years with the Twins and was a four-time All Star, but his career offensive numbers are hardly eye-popping (.270 batting average, 104 home runs). Pierzynski's defensive improvement is nearly as impressive as his .325 average.
With the Twins continuing to struggle against lefthanders (their .249 average is 12th in the AL), they're starting to see a steady parade of lefties with the game on the line. Of the Twins' regulars, only Koskie--a lefthanded hitter--has had any real success against southpaws, batting .309. Look for Kielty, LeCroy, and Hocking, all of whom have hit lefties well to date, to get additional pinch-hitting opportunities.
Looking back over Terry Ryan's track record, there are only a couple of deals that now look like complete busts: the 1995 trade that sent oddball righthander Scott Erickson to the Orioles for Kimera Bartee and Scott Klingenbeck, and last year's swap of Mark Redman for Detroit's Todd Jones.
Brad Zellar goes Yard every Tuesday morning--and perhaps more often--for as long as he (and the Twins) are up to it.