* ESPN.com's Buster Olney opined in the Wednesday edition of his daily blog that the best option for Bill Smith and the Twins would be to hang onto Johan Santana, even if extending him is not a possibility. Says Olney:
If I was in Smith's shoes, I'd keep Santana. Because to trade him would be to forgo the opportunity to contend in 2008, when the Twins have a chance to be a good team, with Francisco Liriano returning, with Joe Nathan closing, with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young hitting in the middle of their lineup.This is a good and -- I think -- often overlooked point. The Twins could potentially have one of the strongest groups of hitters in the middle of their lineup of any team in the American League this year. Olney doesn't even mention Jason Kubel, who in my mind could be the best hitter among the aforementioned group in 2008. Many people look at the big acquisitions by Detroit this winter and a Cleveland team that is mostly intact from its playoff run in 2007, and write off the Twins as a third-place team at best. While that may be where I'd pick the Twins to finish if I were ranking the AL Central teams right now, I think the Twins are are a lot closer to competing for a playoff spot than many people think as long as Santana is leading their rotation.
* Twins minor-league guru Dianna of the blog Rookie Whites noted yesterday that Twins' prospect Jose Mijares was in a traffic accident early Sunday in which he suffered a fracture in his left elbow that required surgery. Dianna relays that while "the operation was deemed a success," it will be two or three months before Mijares is able to throw again. Later in the day, Joe Christensen confirmed the report with Bill Smith, who stated that Mijares could be out of action four to six months.
* File this headline under "Obvious."
* Earlier this week, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus put together a list of nine young players who are "breakout candidates" in 2008. Fifth on the list is Kubel, about whom Sheehan has this to say:
- Jason Kubel: While playing in the Arizona Fall League in 2004, Kubel, then 22 and considered one of the best hitting prospects in the game, suffered a devastating knee injury that cost him the entire 2005 season. Although he came back and played in ’06, he wasn’t remotely the same hitter. Most notably, Kubel’s post-injury strikeout rate has been much higher—147 in 835 PA, versus 193 in 1770 PA prior to the injury. That’s not just a result of playing at higher levels: that’s evidence of damage to the engine.
What we saw in ’07 was Kubel finally get back to the hitter he was before the injury. In the season’s first two months, Kubel struck out 33 times and walked 11 in 165 PA. In the next two months, those numbers were 21/10 in 148 PA: a big drop in strikeout rate and K/BB. Over the last two months: 25/18 in 153 PA. Kubel, a disciplined hitter coming through the minors, regained that discipline in ’07. His batting average and power followed. He’s 26 this season, and may actually be the Twins’ best hitter during it; better than Morneau, better than Mauer.
What's depressing? The only 2007 Twin that actually ranked in the Top 25 in the AL in LD% was the now-departed Jason Bartlett, who ranked 19th at 20.1 percent. What makes that less depressing? Brendan Harris and Delmon Young ranked 10th and 11th, respectively.
* Sticking with Sheehan's article, as interesting as it was to see Kubel's name halfway down the list of breakout candidates, I was perhaps even more intrigued by the player listed below him:
- Melky Cabrera. Cabrera went backwards in ’07, but not by enough for concern. Remember that he is just 23 years old and has more than 1100 plate appearances in the majors, with average to average-plus defense (good physical tools, but very raw, takes bad routes) and a very good 129/96 K/BB. He is a mature player offensively, patient at the plate and fair on the bases (25-for-35 stealing in his career). One interesting quirk is his G/F ratio, which is 1.63 for his career and was a whopping 1.81 last season. Cabrera is listed at 5’11” and 200 pounds. He’s not Willy Taveras, but rather a player who should be developing power and learning how to drive the ball, rather than hitting the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time.
I’m reminded of Alex Rios, who doesn’t look a thing like Cabrera. Rios was largely disappointing in 2004 and 2005, hitting just 11 homers in more than 900 at-bats, with an isolated power of 117. The problem: Rios was hitting the ball on the ground too much, a 1.82 G/F in those two seasons. Starting in ’06, Rios put the ball in the air more than half the time, and became a star. When you look at Cabrera’s body, his established control of the strike zone, and his ability to hold his own at a young age, you recognize that all it’s going to take is for him to start elevating the ball. Cabrera may not get there in 2008, but he’s going to pop 80 extra-base hits and slug .500 in a season very, very soon.
I'm a fan of Cabrera, and while he doesn't profile as a superstar, I certainly think he can be an above-average outfielder in the major leagues for many years. That's a big part of the reason that, in my mind, the reported Yankees' offer of Phil Hughes+Cabrera+prospect is by far the best one on the table for Santana at this point.