The Minnesota Twins, like their spiritual counterparts Faith and Hope, opened training camp today as pitchers and catchers reported. Of course it is all just so much wasted effort according to the team’s own Cassandra, Strib columnist Patrick Ruesse, has read the augers and pronounced doom for the lads this season.
This is not unusual for Reusse except that the prophecy comes so early. Usually his storm crow warnings don’t begin until around Memorial Day and then hit full-caw around the All-Star break. It seems that the earlier he can make his pronouncement, though, the better he likes it. Last year there was a note of pent-up triumph in his mid-summer requiem, stemming from his failed predictions of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Fortune-telling is a difficult business, however, and typically an unwelcome one so I won’t heap further coals on Patrick’s head, especially since he typically produces a good column as often as Nick Coleman produces a bad one.
There is something about baseball however that often leads writers toward the mystical. It’s a game of innumerable numbers that somehow still defies statistical prediction, opening the door to divination and talk of curses, hexes and can’t miss phenoms. The facts, however, do appear grim for the Twins at this stage.
Their division has gotten better, at least on paper (but we know what happens when that paper gets wet with tears). They had definite, well-known needs coming out of last season and seemingly little to show for the off-season machinations. Where is the power-hitter the team has needed since Kent Hrbek traded his cleats for bowling shoes and fly balls for fly rods? Where is the reliable, cool-headed hand for the hot corner who can both make plays at third and get runners home from there as well? How can the offense strike fear in the hearts of pitchers not already on its own team?
Ah, but faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (see Hebrews 11:1), and we’re certainly hoping for a lot and seeing little at this stage so maybe that’s a good sign. Rondell White should replaced Jacque Jones’ numbers for less than half the price and may act as if he’s actually seen a strike zone and not just heard about it. Tony Batista might have the range of a fireplug at third base, but the durability of one as well – something missing from Corey Koskie’s resume. A Kyle Lohse for Hank Blaylock trade was very intriguing to me, but Lohse, for all his maddening inconsistency, is still young and has both experience and upside. With this presumably being Radke’s last year the Twins had to think long and hard about parting with such a commodity even with guys like Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano breathing fire and throwing smoke in the wings.
As others have said, the key to the Twins improvement this year will be the improvement of it’s existing young core. Guys like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Bartlett have to improve but part of baseball’s allure for me is that it is a game where you can see steady improvement. This might be the year that power springs from Mauer’s bat the way it suddenly burst from Kirby Puckett’s after his first couple of slap-hitting years. As for Morneau, baseball has definitely become a year-round game and a healthy and active off-season should serve him better than his ill-fated and illness-plagued 05 off-season. Bartlett is still an unknown quantity but he reminds me a little of the way Greg Gagne played when he got his first opportunities with the team and perhaps he’ll emerge as a confident and capable player. Jason Kubel is intriguing but I don’t expect much from him this year. He may have recovered from the knee surgery but he can’t get back the at-bats he missed last year and with few exceptions you have to have hundreds of these to become a factor.
But, as the poem says, “somewhere the sun is shining…” and right now that is Florida. Baseball season is coming, and I can’t wait.