Monday, February 19, 2007

Spring Training Arrivals, Ponson, and More

The weather here in Minnesota is heating up (finally), and pitchers and catchers have reported to Ft. Myers for spring training. With full squad works out right around the corner, there are a few bits of news from the Twins and, as always, some things to discuss. Some of it gives us Twins fans reason to be optimistic, and some others not so much.

* La Velle E. Neal's blog is now up and running and he made some interesting posts over the weekend, as pitchers, catchers and some notable position players arrived in Ft. Myers. One of the interesting notes he makes is about Sidney Ponson, who has reportedly arrived at spring training in much better shape and having lost around 20 pounds or so. (He was apparently 269 lbs. during his big 2003 season and he is around 245 now according to Neal.)

If Ponson really is serious about getting better and has arrived in good shape, there is at least some reason to hope he can be a decent back-end starter. As my colleague Nick Nelson talked about in his last post, Ponson has a lot more upside then Ramon Ortiz. If he's in better shape, in the right place mentally, and gets some good help from Rick Anderson, we may see some good results.

* Another story on Ponson is on the official Twins' site. Apparently Ponson chose the Twins for clubhouse reasons. That at least makes some sense, since the Twins seem to have a fairly professional and tight clubhouse. All of these factors are once again some reasons to think about Ponson's potential for success. On the other hand, it is also more reason to hope and pray that Ponson is chosen over Ortiz. Even if they have to just fork over $3 million to get him to leave, it's better than ever letting him throw a pitch for the Twins.

* Numerous stories continue to come out suggesting a worsening situation for the Twins stadium deal. At this point, most are saying that if the site for the stadium is changed, it's unlikely that the stadium will be open by 2010. Likewise, if they continue battling with the land-owners, they may never get started. The problems are endless, coupled with the stadium's current potential location next to a garbage facility. This one is a big downer right now.

* There appears to at least be a decent chance for Glen Perkins to make the Twins rotation out of spring training. Its hard to tell just what kind of chance Perkins, or Matt Garza or Kevin Slowey for that matter, have at making the rotation. But, once again, this is only an attempt to instill some hope that Ortiz will not make the rotation.

* Lastly, in some other news, Tony Oliva will appear on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot for the third time. In 2005, Oliva got 56.3% of the votes. 75% is needed to get in. As many of you know, the Veterans Committee is basically the one other way that former players can get into the Hall of Fame if they failed to get in during the 15 years of eligibility on the writers' ballot.

Oliva is an interesting subject, since we don't talk too much baseball history on this site and it is one of my biggest passions. Oliva is one of those great Twins players from the '60s that I always hear my dad talking about. Oliva, in some ways, can be compared to Kirby Puckett. Not in stats, but in having a great career cut off by injuries. In 15 seasons from 1962-76, Oliva hit .304/.353/.476 with 220 home runs, 947 RBI, 1917 hits, 870 runs scored, and 86 SB. He finished his career with a 131 OPS+ in 6,301 career at-bats. (As a comp, Puckett hit .318/.360/.477 in 7,244 career at-bats in 12 seasons, with 207 home runs, 1085 RBI, 2,304 hits, 1071 runs scored, and 134 SB. He had a career 124 OPS+.)

Oliva was the Rookie of the Year in 1964, hitting .323/.359/.557 with 217 hits, 32 home runs, 109 runs scored, 94 RBI, 43 doubles, and 374 total bases. I don't need to tell you how great those numbers are alone, especially for a rookie, but they are even more impressive considering how difficult it was to hit in the 1960s. It was one of three years that Oliva would lead the league in hitting, as he also did in 1965 (.321) and 1971 (.339).

Oliva hit .300 six times in his career. After a huge year in 1971, he was slowed by numerous injuries and never hit .300 again. He retired after the 1976 season. Since then, he has been an adored public figure and has long been known as one of the greatest Twin players ever. Like Puckett, he was one of the great hitters of his era, a great fielder (he won a Gold Glove in 1966), and a class act.

It's hard to know if that makes him a Hall of Famer, but I'd love to see a guy like Oliva get in. He doesn't have the raw stats most Hall of Famers do, but then again, a lot of great players don't. (Puckett is an example, but fellow 2001 Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Doerr, and other Veterans Committee choices don't have great numbers either.) With that, I'd give Oliva my support.