Charley Walters: Twins picked up a gem in Kenta Maeda

The first-place Minnesota Twins, it appears, have made a shrewd acquisition in Kenta Maeda.

In win-now mode, the Twins in February traded top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol to the Los Angeles Dodgers for veteran pitcher Maeda in a deal that also netted $10 million for Minnesota.

After three starts, Maeda, 32, is 2-0 with a 2.65 earned-run average, having allowed just eight hits in 17 innings while striking out 16. Except for a bullpen falter in Pittsburgh last Thursday, Maeda would be off to a 3-0 start.

The rifle-armed Graterol, 21, recently nicknamed “Bazooka” by the Dodgers for his 101-mph fastball, is 0-2 (5.40 ERA) after six relief appearances. He has allowed five hits and struck out five in five innings.

With the Dodgers, Maeda was blended as a reliever and starter.

“But we saw him as a guy who could be a bona fide top-end of the rotation pitcher,” Twins GM Thad Levine said last week. “Qualitatively, out scouts on the West Coast — Vern Followell and Kenny Compton — had seen him pitch quite a bit, liked his pitches and were very pro Kenta Maeda. As we evaluated his actual pitch mix, we thought he had a chance to be pretty elite.”

The way it looks now, they were right. Maeda is a joy to watch.

“We think his slider is one of the best in the game, he has a very effective split-finger fastball, and he has a release point that makes his fastball relatively unhittable,” Levine said.

“When you see that, and the numbers suggest that’s the case, you dive deeper and deeper and deeper, ask guys who have been in the game for a long time to watch. From the scouts telling us that the hitters are telling us this is tough to hit, we were very interested in giving him maybe even a more elevated role than the Dodgers had as a very firm member of the middle to the upper tier of our rotation.”

In evaluating Maeda, the Twins also did personality checks.

“So you talk to as many people who have played with him or been around him to gain insight into what his makeup is and his aptitude to learn,” Levine said. “We wanted to know — more than anything — if he wanted to be an every fifth-day starter, and when we heard emphatically from people who played with him that he did, we were really encouraged.”

There also was Rich Hill.

“One of the benefits is we had signed (starter) Rich Hill, who was his teammate (with the Dodgers),” Levine added. “And Rich Hill was really an instrumental person in giving us insight into the makeup, what kind of teammate this guy was, what drove him. I think that scouting report quite frankly was as valuable as anything.”

The Twins are 10-to-1 odds to win the World Series, behind only the New York Yankees (9-to-2) and the Dodgers (5-to-1), according to BetOnline.ag.

Happy birthday: Tom Kelly, who managed the Twins to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, will turn 70 on Saturday.

Craig Kimbrel, 32, the reliever the Twins considered but who ended up taking a $43 million, three-year free agent deal from the Chicaga Cubs, gave up two earned runs in each of his first three appearances. He has a 23.63 ERA after four appearances.

Look for the St. John’s-St.Thomas football rivalry football game that COVID-19 canceled for Nov. 7 at U.S. Bank Stadium to be played late next spring at Collegeville.

That big bespectacled head cutout in the first row behind home plate during Twins TV games at Target field is that of retired hall of fame team broadcaster John Gordon.

“It’s nice that they did that — I get a kick out of it,” Gordon said from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. “I’ve got a front row seat to games.”

Gordon, who called play-by-play for the Twins for 25 years, turned 80 last month and plays lots of golf. He’s an 18-handicapper.

“I’m living the dream, got three holes in one on three different holes at our course, and I’m working on a fourth,” he said.

Does he miss calling games from the booth?

“Not a bit — I miss the people — but I’ve seen enough balls and strikes,” he said.

A 1967 flannel game-worn No. 3 Harmon Killebrew jersey — size 44 — signed by the late Twins hall of famer had a national online auction bid of $16,081 last week.

A local memorabilia collector found a couple of autographed Korey Stringer trading cards at a garage sale the other day and bought them for $5 each. Market value for the signed deceased ex-Viking’s cards are worth at least $100 apiece.

The Vikings franchise, which Zygi Wilf and family purchased for $600 million from Red McCombs in 2005, today is the 33rd most valuable sports franchise in the world, according to Forbes’ new estimates.

“Jumping” Jim Brunzell, the former Gophers football player and 27-year pro wrestler who turns 71 this week, has two knee replacements, two hip replacements and in February gets a second shoulder replacement.

“My wife’s waiting for my brain replacement,” said Brunzell, who resides in Vadnais Heights.

Brunzell is initiating commemorative maroon COVID-19 face masks with No. 30 in gold to honor Gophers football great Noel Jenke, the three-sport star who recently died.

Thomas Lehman, 25, son for PGA Tour star Tom, 61 has won $8,327.50 in eight tournaments on the Dakotas Tour this year.

Golf prodigies: A year ago, Isabella McCauley of Southview Country Club, won the 36-hole Sanford Futures girls championship in Sioux Falls, S.D., by 18 shots. Younger sister Reese didn’t play.

Last week, Isabella, 16, shot 5-under-par to win the same two-day tournament in Sioux Falls, but won by just five shots. That’s because Reese, 14, entered and shot even-par to finish runner-up.

Another Southview youngster, Sam Udovich, 13, competing against Upper Midwest high school golfers, finished fourth.

Wayzata grad Joey Gerber from Maple Grove for the Seattle Mariners pitched a scoreless inning against the Los Angeles Angels in his major league debut last week.

Managing general partner for the San Diego Padres (7-6) is Ron Fowler, a St. Cloud Cathedral and University of St. Thomas alum. Mounds View and St. John’s grad Brett Becker, who led the Johnnies to two NCAA appearances while hitting .456 one season, is coordinator of baseball operations for the Padres.

Executives Lisa Lissimore from the state high school league, Pam Borton from her consulting company, Laura Day from the Twins and Julie Manning from the Gophers will discuss women in sports at a Twin Cities Dunkers Zoom meeting on Tuesday morning.

John Harris, who is among Minnesota’s most heralded golfers in history, expects to close out his competitive career next month in the Sanford International PGA Champions Tour tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“That’ll be a nice swan song,” the former U.S. Amateur champion, four-time Minnesota State Amateur champion and four-time Walker Cup player said after a round with pals at Southview Country Club the other day.

“I enjoy playing and am having fun with it, but I’m just not as competitive as I’d like to be. More mentally than physically.”

Harris, who resides in Minneapolis, recently turned 68.

“I’m just tired — I’ve been working hard for a long time at golf, and it’s hard to keep grinding,” he said.

Harris, who had a hip replacement four years ago, played 15 years on the Champions Tour and won the senior tour’s Commerce Bank tournament in New York in 2006, finishing ahead of greats Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange.

Harris began competing in golf nearly 60 years ago. The best thing about the sport?

“To me, it’s that you’re playing with and against yourself,” he said. “You can do very, very well and somebody plays better, and you just tip your hat to them.

“There’s no one style — you don’t have to be big or strong or fast or whatever like some of the other sports. If you know how to compete and you’ve got a good short game, you can play for a long time.”

Baseball hall of famer Paul Molitor, rarely interviewed since losing his job as Twins manager two years ago, obliged pals Patrick Klinger and Billy Robertson for a lengthy sitdown on local cable TV’s “Behind the Game” that will air this week.

Molitor’s election last week to the National College Baseball Hall of Fame was only 40 years late.

Retired Twins great Joe Mauer, 37, becomes eligible for Cooperstown hall of fame voting in 2024.

Roseville’s Rick Kolodziej, the superb Vikings team photographer for 30 years, died at age 68 from cancer the other day.

St. Agnes’ Andrew Brownell is winner of the Minute Men Foundation’s 2020 scholarship, which he’ll use to focus on track at the University of St. Thomas.

Former Hill-Murray hockey equipment manager Bryce Blinkhorn, who has two NCAA men’s championship rings for his equipment work at Minnesota-Duluth, has been promoted from the AHL’s Colorado Eagles to the NHL’s Avalanche for the playoffs in Edmonton, Alberta.

DON’T PRINT THAT

The Vikings’ Dalvin Cook isn’t the only running back from the 2017 draft class entering the final year of his contract and still without an extension. So are Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon.

There’s talk now that Mixon might be willing to settle on an $8 million per season extension, which insiders say was the Vikings’ initial offer to Cook that displeased him. If Cook declines and plays for his current $1.3 million deal this year, the Vikings could franchise-tag him next year for $11 million.

Contract extension? The doors are open for the Twins and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who at age 40 in his first 13 games this season had 19 hits and 15 runs batted in while batting .373, to continue their relationship. Cruz, in the final year of a $26 million, two-year contract, surpassed hall of famer Ty Cobb for most hits (16 in 1927-28) in the first 13 games of a season.

Assuming the Twins and Yankees meet to decide which team goes to the World Series, it could be Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda matching up against New York’s Gerrit Cole, baseball’s best starter in a seven-game playoff to decide who goes to the World Series.

And the way it looks now, the Twins could send Jose Berrios against baseball’s second-best starter, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, in a division playoff matchup.

Some people wonder whether Kevin Garnett, who once referred to Glen Taylor as a “snake,” wouldn’t eventually try to move the team from Minneapolis to Seattle to spite the Timberwolves’ owner if his group of investors were able to buy it. Taylor insists any buyer agree to keep the Wolves and Lynx in Minnesota.

Garnett, who likes to make headlines, last spring expressed an interest in bringing a NBA team back to Seattle. Word is his investor group includes music producing moguls Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis.

Rashod Bateman, who during the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving the Gophers to prepare for next spring’s NFL draft, is a better pro prospect than ex-Gophers wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who went to Tampa Bay in the fifth round of last April’s draft.

“Conservatively, Bateman is a second- or third-round pick, and probably toward the higher end of that,” Scott Wright of NFL Draft Countdown said last week.

“The only flaw people will have about Bateman is his relative lack of experience (just two seasons in college) and, secondly, how fast is he? But as long as he’s in the high 4.4s (seconds in 40-yard dash) or low 4.5s, it won’t be an issue.”

Don’t think former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill’s presence as overseer of the offense at Texas Christian didn’t have a great impact on former Eden Prairie wideout J.D. Spielman choosing the Horned Frogs over Minnesota for his senior season after leaving Nebraska.

Kill, by the way, is feeling fine after being quarantined for COVID-19.

Stefon Diggs, dumped on Buffalo by the Vikings, will have his pay this season increased by $3.3 million as part of a contract reshuffling, NFL Network points out, bringing his 2020 salary to $14.8 million.

The University of St. Thomas, in the process of leaving Division III for Division I athletics, has laid off some longtime popular fund-raisers to the dismay of some alumni.

Stu Bickel is leaving the Gophers men’s hockey staff to become head coach of the Richfield Magicians of the North American Hockey League.

3M Open winner Michael Thompson used a Fukikura Ventus Black 6X shaft for his driver. Price: $350.

OVERHEARD

Twins GM Thad Levine, on DH Nelson Cruz’s production at age 40: “We need to pull a molar and check the rings to see how old he really is. It’s remarkable how he has defied aging.”


Read The Rest at Twin Cities News Feed- (opens a new tab)





Pages

Archive