Thursday, May 31, 2007

Left Behind

Things are starting to look marginally better for the Twins; their recent stretch of quality play has kept them within shouting distance of the division lead. I still firmly believe that they are the third-best team in the AL Central, but I’m always open to being proven wrong.

Terry Ryan and the Twins brass have finally rectified their other major pitching blunder, banishing Ramon Ortiz to the bullpen. (Now, if we can get them to start realizing their errors before they make stupid off-season moves, we’ll really be in business.) Kevin Slowey takes Ortiz’s spot in the rotation, going Friday in Oakland. We’ll get to Slowey in a moment; first, let’s take a look at what this means for the Twins’ other big-time pitching prospect.

Matt Garza is not a happy camper. That PiPress article from last week is surprisingly candid, with more honesty from both sides than I’m generally used to seeing in the press. Especially interesting is the section about Garza’s dead arm. Garza is adamant in saying that he pitched the end of last year with the dead arm; minor league director Jim Rantz is equally clear in his denial. I’m not even sure how to take that; it kind of feels like Rantz and the Twins are openly calling out Garza and telling him to shut his hole.

The same goes with the talk about Garza’s changeup. The staff wants Garza to further develop the pitch (understandably), but their methods used to do so may have been counter-productive. But again, pitcher and coach totally contradict each other: Garza claims he was on a strict changeup quota “whether or not the situation called for them.” Rantz, again, directly disputes Garza’s claim.

According to Garza himself, all of this stems from the fact that he did not land on the Twins roster in April. Garza refers to the “funk” he was in because of his disappointment. This is more surprising candor from the player; I don’t see players often openly discussing their feelings in the media beyond the standard “I’ll just keep working to get better” line that everyone seems to use. I’m wondering if it is that honesty that vaulted Slowey ahead of Garza in the race for Ortiz’s spot.

The Twins have always preferred experience to youth whenever possible. While Slowey has better AAA numbers so far this year, performance seems to be trumped by experience when the Twins make roster moves (after all, that’s how we got Ortiz in the first place). So Garza (who started nine games for the Twins last fall) would seem to be the more likely candidate for the promotion; he’s also a generally-higher-regarded prospect around baseball.

That’s why Slowey’s promotion seems like a message to Garza, as much as (or more than) it feels like a reward for Slowey’s performance so far. (And his performance has been outstanding: 6-2 with a 1.54 ERA and a WHIP of .81, along with only 5 walks to 57 strikeouts.) The Twins are not big fans of insubordination (perceived or otherwise). They’re pretty old-school in most respects. How Garza responds to what I’m sure he will take as a clear message will go a long way towards deciding his future in the organization. The end of the PiPress article has Garza claiming to feel “normal again.” If that’s the case, then Carlos Silva should start looking over his shoulder.


Anonymous said...

I like the whole article except for the last line... Carlos Silva? Umm... when Garza comes up, it's Scott Baker who's heading back to the Rochester rotation.

John said...

The only thing I would disagree with is that this played a role in the Twins decision to call up Slowey. I think Slowey's performance is what forced that.

But the Twins need to sit down with Garza and work on their communication. When a coach says he would like to see the player work on his change up and maybe "throw 10-15 of them", a player who is desperate to get to the big leagues can see that as an ultimatum. And it is, but it isn't in the number of pitches thrown. The ultimatum is "We aren't promoting you until your change up is good enough that you show some real confidence in it, so figure out how the hell to practice that in a game."

Anonymous said...

Garza doesn't want to use his change-up when he doesn't need it, but that AAA hitter can hit his change-up but can't handle his fastball. When he comes up, the big leaguers hill crush his fastball if they know it's coming, so he'd better start doing what the Twins want or he'll end up languishing in Rochester and possibly several other teams' AAA affiliates.