Twins general manager Bill Smith participated in an exclusive Web chat with Twins Territory Team members on Thursday. During the chat, Smith discussed topics such as his initial reaction to the 2008 team, the progress of Francisco Liriano, and the state of the Twins bullpen.
Bill Smith: Hello and welcome to today's chat. Please send your questions for GM Bill Smith!
kilsey: Are you pleased with the changes made during the offseason?
Smith: In general, yes. We think they are going to provide immediate benefits this year and also long term benefits for the franchise.
Smith: Delmon Young is going to be one of the premiere hitters in the American League.
scout01: After two-and-a-half weeks, is your initial reaction to the 2008 team?
Smith: Carlos Gomez has been exciting in the first few weeks of the season and is only going to get better as he matures.
jaiskies: What kind of numbers do you envision Francisco Liriano ending up with by season?s end?
Smith: My initial reaction to the 2008 team - the most reassuring aspect is that our young starting pitchers have all done well. coming into the season, we had confidence in our offsense. we will be fine. our defense will be good and our bullpen will be fine.
Smith: Francisco Liriano - hard to predict. The best news is he is healthy and strong. he is rusty but we expect him to improve with each outing. We look forward to the day when he can regain the level he was at in 2006.
Smith: it's tough to predict what he is going to do this year, though
scout01: Do you see any holes that still need to be filled?
Smith: We need the left side of the infield to be productive. Lamb is still getting settled at third base and Adam Everett has had some problems with his right shoulder in the last few days, so we need the left side of the infield to get settled...
kilsey: What are the plans for Denard Span once Cuddyer returns?
Smith: Denard has been very impressive in his first week in the Big Leagues. He's taken good at bats and played well in right field. Michael Cuddyer has a ways to go before he's ready. He got the stitches out of his right index finger on Monday and he has started to hit off a tee and play light catch. He still has a little ways to go and when Michael is ready to resume playing we will look at the rest of the club and make that decision.
chiungod: Are you pleased with the progress of Francisco Liriano, and do you think he will ever be the greatest pitcher ever again?
Smith: Francisco has worked very hard to come back from Tommy John surgery. There is an adjustment period where he has to shake off the rust from not pitching for a year and a half. But his arm strength is there and his secondary pitches are getting better with each outing.
Smith: It will be good for all of us if he can regain the high level that he was at in 2006.
jaiskies: 2) What will happen to Nick Blackburn?s rotation spot once Kevin Slowey returns from the disabled list?
Smith: Right now, Nick is pitching as well as anyone on our staff. He had a great spring and it will be a good problem to have. usually these things work themselves out and let's hope that everybody stays healthy and continues to pitch well.
jaiskies: 3) What do you project Delmon Young doing in the next couple of seasons?
Smith: Last year, Delmon had 13 home runs and 93 RBI in Tampa Bay. As a 21 year old.
Smith: We expect him to continue to improve as a hitter and start to show more power. He has the ability to hit 30 plus home runs and drive in 100 plus runs for a long time.
jaiskies: Do catcher Joe Mauer's injuries concern you to the point that you would consider moving him to another position?
Smith: No. As a catcher, Joe is an impact player. last night, he threw out two base runners with perfect throws. He can impact a game much more as a catcher than at any other position.
jaiskies: How do you see the rotation shaping up with prospects Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra on their way to Minnesota?
Smith: Again, it's a good problem to have. Guerra is only in Class A so he is several years away from pitching in the Majors. But Humber and Mulvey along with Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak give us immediate help if we need it this year and next and there is another wave of younger pitchers in Class A and below that give us some depth for the future.
etartin: How did you become interested in making the game of baseball your career? Does your background include being a player or was someone in your family already involved with baseball in some capacity?
Smith: My father was a Coast Guard officer and I was a French major in college, so that combination is not a likely entry into professional baseball. My senior year in college in Upstate NY, I took a bus up to Toronto for the winter baseball meetings and found out about an internship in the commissioner's office.
Smith: I applied and was accepted for a year in New York and MLB and fell in love with the game.
chiungod: Do you have any answers for Delmon Young's questionable plate discipline (0.18 career BB/K ratio)?
Smith: The answer is experience at the Major League level. We are excited to get a 22 year old who played 162 games in the Majors last year and drove in 93 runs. the rest will come with experience.
scout01: What are your plans for Nick Punto? He continues to be effective defensively, but is still struggling at the plate?
Smith: he is one of the best defensive players in the game and while he struggled at the plate last year, it never affected his defense. Monday night in Detroit he drove a ball into left centerfield that almost tied the game in the 9th inning. he continues to be a plus on this club and we still hope his offense will improve.
luckydog7: What's your team-building philosophy? How are you planning to build up your minor league prospects?
Smith: Our Minor League system is very strong and we have been fortunate to be named Organization of the Year twice in recent years. Our Minor League system has provided ready players for the Major League team in recent years (Cuddyer, Kubel, Mauer, Morneau, Span, Baker, Blackburn, Crain, Neshek, Rincon, Slowey) and players to help acquire Delmon Young, Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Liriano.
Smith: As for team-building philosophy... it is important for us to add core players to our lineup. We were fortunate to be able to add Young and Gomez to our line up this year and we hope to focus on adding key young players that can help this club be successful for years to come.
luckydog7: Who do you look to for inspiration as a GM?
Smith: I've been very fortunate in 27 seasons to work for three great general managers. Roland Hemond with the White Sox from 1981 to 1985, Andy MacPhail from 86 through 94 and Terry Ryan 95 - 07. These three are among the most respected in the game and they are all very different. Roland brought energy every day. Every day was a great day with Roland hemond. Andy brought professionalism and class to the baseball department...
Smith: and made some great hires. He hired Terry Ryan has scouting director and left him alone. he promoted Jim Rantz and left him alone. Terry Ryan has the greatest work ethic I've ever been around and is one of the top evaluators in the game.
Smith: In addition, Wayne Krivsky who worked for us for 10 years before becoming the GM of the Reds taught me more about contracts and rules than anyone else I've been around.
jaiskies: How do you think the Johan Santana trade will be viewed three years down the line?
Smith: I'll let you know in 5 years how the trade should be viewed. Johan is going to be a great pitcher for the Mets. However, Carlos Gomez has a chance to be one of the most exciting players in the American League for the Twins. And Humber, Mulvey and Guerra should provide significant pitching depth to the organization. The success of the pitchers will determine the success of the trade.
boonga: What's been the most difficult thing about moving up from assistant to taking over the GM job?
Smith: Dealing with the media every day. I had perfected the art of behind the scenes and under the radar for 20 years and dealing with the media is a daily occurrence that takes more time than most people realize.
luckydog7: What do you look for in prospects?
Smith: With younger players you look more for raw skills and less at statistics. The older the player gets and the farther he advances up the Minor League ladder, statistics become more important. But with young position players, we look at projected hitting, power, running, throwing, and fielding skills.
Smith: With pitchers, you look at each individual pitch, plus command and control, and poise and aggressiveness.
jaiskies: What's the plan for Alexi Casilla? When do you envision him taking on a full-time job up the middle for Minnesota?
Smith: Alexi Casilla is a very talented young player. As I mentioned, evaluating young players - he has skills. He can run and throw and we project him to be a good hitter.
Smith: But as he gets closer to the big leagues, he has to become a more polished player. make the routine plays and eliminate careless errors. he is in Rochester now, and working hard but still has a ways to go.
Smith: he has made four errors in their first twelve games.
Smith: He needs to keep working and should still become a Big League player hopefully in the near future.
luckydog7: How well do you think the Twins will do in their division this year?
Smith: We expect to contend for the Central Division title, and not many of the media experts agree with that. Our offense should be better this year, our defense should be better, our bullpen will be solid and we expect our young starting pitching staff to surprise a lot of people.
kilsey: After stepping back in October, Terry Ryan said he would continue to work with the Twins in more of a scouting capacity - how much interaction do you two have on a regular basis
Smith: Terry continues to work full time. But his focus has shifted to an evaluation role instead of an administrative role. He was with us for the entire Spring Training period in Fort Myers and he and I talk every two or three days.
Smith: He will continue to be an invaluable resource to all of us in the baseball front office.
jaiskies: What is Kevin Slowey's upside, and what does he need to work on to get there?
Smith: Kevin Slowey is a lot like Brad Radke. He is a command and control pitcher who doesn't walk many hitters. He is just 23 years old and he flew through our Minor League system with great success. He will be challenged to match that success at the Big League level, but experience is his biggest need right now.
Smith: He will have a chance to get that this year.
scout01: What is going on with the bullpen? Do you anticipate changes will be made if things don?t get better?
Smith: The bullpen is fine. We just had two bad games in a row. Over the course of the long season, the bullpen is going to be fine. Joe Nathan is outstanding at the back end. And Neshek, Crain, Reyes and Guerrier and Rincon and Bass will be fine over the long haul. occassionally, everyone has a bad outing. unfortunately, we had two in a row at the end of a long road trip.
Smith: Stay positive, they'll be fine.
scout01: Jason Kubel has been in the DH spot ? do you think that is permanent?
Smith: He's played a few games in the outfield and I think Gardy will give him some more opportunities as the season progresses. Delmon Young likes to play every day and he played all 162 games last year. Carlos Gomez has been solid in center and Cuddyer/Span in right. But Jason will get his chance as Gardy starts to rest players or maybe give them a day as a DH.
jaiskies: Any chance you'd be willing to trade Joe Nathan if the right package came along at the trade deadline?
Smith: We signed Joe to the extension last month with the plan that he will be at the back end of a playoff contending team well beyond the opening of the new ballpark in 2010.
scout01: What is a typical day like for you during the season?
Smith: Home games - usually arrive around 8 a.m., review the Minor League scores and reports from the night before, review Major League scores and newspapers from around the League. Phone work is done with Minor League staff and scouts, agents, media and other club personnel throughout the day. a lot of e-mail and mail correspondence. In the afternoon, we usually try and check with the manager, trainers, and doctors on any injured players and get ready for the game that evening.
Smith: hopefully after a win, go home and get some sleep and come back and do it again the next day. The best part is that no two days are the same!
Smith: Thank you very much for all of your questions. These Web chats have gotten more popular and we can tell by the questions that our fans are passionate about the ballclub. We had hoped to get off to a little bit better start, but this club is exciting and I think you will like watching a lot of the new players during the 2008 season. We talked earlier about core players, and having core players like Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Young, Gomez and Nathan along with an exciting group of young pitchers, will hopefully
Smith: in the playoffs and for years to come. Thank you again!
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.