Hey all. I'm just going to try and get caught up with some quick thoughts today. I've been insanely busy lately, for reasons I will explain soon.
* The All-Star rosters were announced this weekend, and the Twins' representatives came as no surprise. Joe Mauer, who was voted in overwhelmingly by the fans, will serve as the AL's starting catcher. Meanwhile, Justin Morneau was selected as a backup at first base and Joe Nathan as a member of the bullpen. These three players are all having All-Star caliber years and are basically the only players on the Twins roster who are (with the possible exception of Nick Blackburn), so I've got no grudges with the All-Star selecting process as far as Twins players are concerned.
* Speaking of Blackburn, he tossed his third complete game of the season on Sunday in the Twins' finale against Detroit, and is now sitting with a phenomenal 2.94 ERA (sixth in the AL) over 116 1/3 innings of work (fifth in the AL). With his low strikeout rates and non-elite ground ball rates, Blackburn seemed like a candidate to regress this season, but he continues to confound statisticians and is soundly outperforming his 4.92 xFIP.
I'm not a diehard Sabermetric guy and I'm certainly willing to accept that there are certain things about Blackburn's game that could consistently allow him to get better results than some normally accurate statistics would predict. He has demonstrated quite clearly that when he's on he can hit his spots at will and I think he has a fantastic ability to keep hitters off balance by changing speeds and keeping the ball away from the center of the plate. He won't continue to hold opposing batters to a .192/.257/.283 line with runners in scoring position and I don't think he'll maintain a sub-3 ERA from here on out, but obviously he's been a tremendously pleasant surprise this season and certainly don't think his success is a giant mirage.
* The Twins have been quite active in the international signing arena this year, and I couldn't be more pleased. Jorge Arangure, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine who tracks international players and signings, reported via his Twitter account the Twins have signed switch-hitting Dominican shortstop Jorge Polanco with a sizable $700K bonus, and Ben Badler of Baseball America reported that the Twins have tabbed 16-year-old German outfielder Max Kepler, who has been touted as the best prospect to come out of Europe this year. One scout (quoted in the linked article) stated definitely that Kepler is "the toolsiest kid we've ever had in Europe." Sounds like a good find.
The Twins were also reportedly one of a handful of teams in on Miguel Angel Sano, a (purportedly) 16-year-old shortstop who is widely considered the top international prospect available this season and who is likely to sign for up to $4 million. It sounds now like they've fallen out of the race -- likely in no small part because of the two signings mentioned above -- but their pursuit of him in conjunction with those two relatively big-money signings is extremely encouraging. Given their disadvantage in the domestic free agent market, I've always felt the Twins should try to be a bit more aggressive in signing top foreign talent.
* How was Joe Mauer not the unanimous winner of the catcher spot in the All-Star balloting recently conducted among ESPN's "top baseball minds"? Did Keith Law get five votes?