Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source June 2003

Q&A with Lavelle E. Neal III

Lavelle E. Neal III covers the Minnesota Twins for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  He recently took some time to answer a few questions for us.


sBn: Share a little about your background: where you are from, college, other writing jobs, hobbies, interests and anything else you think is interesting.

LN: I was born in Chicago in 1965 and grew up a big fan of Dick Allen and the Chicago White Sox. I did not pursue a writing career until after two years in hell as a marketing major at the University of Illinois. I graduated from Illinois-Chicago with a degree in mass communications. I like most other sports and have become a big soccer fan in recent years.

sBn: The Twins' RF rotation of Kielty/Mohr/Cuddyer generates a lot of discussion  in Minnesota, who would you like to see play everyday?

LN: I think Bobby Kielty should get the nod. He's got very good plate discipline and is a switch hitter with some pop. Those are qualities the Twins need in their lineup. Kielty, however, seems to come down with nagging injuries and can't stay on the field for long stretches. With Cuddyer back in the minors, look for Dusty Kieltmohr to return.

sBn: Because of the seriousness of Eric Milton's injury, the Twins signed veteran  Kenny Rogers. Are they a better team with Rogers  than with the inconsistent Milton?

LN: They could be. Remember, Rogers only throws in the mid 80's, so his control has to be pinpoint or it's Goodnight Irene. His veteran savvy certainly is an asset. Rogers should remind fans of a left-handed Bob Tewksbury, minus the floppy curveball. Milton was on his way to become one of the better lefthanders in the game. You have to wonder how much discomfort he's tried to pitch with over the last couple of years - and how it has affected his performance.

sBn: During the off season the Twins let David Ortiz go, are there any players  that could be in that situation if they don't produce this season?

LN: There's a few. Matthew LeCroy is getting a chance to replace Ortiz and must produce. Kielty or Mohr have to make a strong bid to become everyday players. And it would be a boost if Doug Mientkiewicz can return to his 2001 form. With Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Michael Restovich, Todd Sears and Justin Morneau close to the majors, there could be a few chances after the season to boost the offense.

sBn: The Chicago White Sox made a lot of high profile moves in the off season,  how improved are they?

LN: They're better. But their pitching is not very deep and there's always clubhouse chemistry questions with them. Jerry Manuel already is on the hot seat. When the Twins are on top of their game, the White Sox can't beat them.
sBn: The Royals have jumped out of the gate quickly, do you see them being a factor in the AL Central this season?

LN: No.
sBn: You've covered Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire, what is the single biggest difference in their managing philosophy?

LN: I think both men stand for the same things but convey their feelings in different ways. Gardenhire is much more approachable than Kelly but Gardy will get on a player's case just like Kelly did. Gardenhire may manage on gut feelings a little more and deals with personalities differently. Would Kelly have made Jacque Jones the leadoff hitter and say things like, `We want Jacque to feel good about himself.' ? I don't think so.

sBn: You saw a lot of Joe Mauer in Spring Training, how good is he?  When can we  expect to see him in the majors?

LN: Mauer will need two more years. He's got great offensive potential but needs time for the power to kick in. He's made good progress as a catcher. He could make his debut during the 2004 season, but 2005 is a safer bet.

sBn: Are there any other prospects in the Twins farm system that may make an impact in the near future?

LN: I'm super high on Justin Morneau. He's a big-time offensive prospect with the ability to hit for power and average. Even his outs in spring training were exciting. Morneau's defense at first base needs work. But if he listens to coaches he should clean up his shortcomings. I view Morneau as a better hitting prospect than Todd Walker coming up through the minors - and Morneau appears willing to work on his defense, something Walker resisted. Also keep an eye on Lew Ford and Michael Restovich at Class AAA Rochester. Ford has some speed and can play all three outfield positions. He's the type of guy who could land on a playoff roster as a pinch runner, like Chone Figgins did last season with Anaheim. Restovich has gobs of power and is close. Down the line, pitchers J.D. Durbin and Scott Tyler are worth tracking from A-ball.

sBn: Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring sportswriters?

LN: Read other sportswriters across the country, the stories they came up with and how they crafted them. Keeping up with news is a must. Talk to people on your beats, learn to shmooze. I remember Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune once said he makes at least 50 calls a day. Something good is bound to come out of that.



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