Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson, a 2005 Milaca graduate. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The National Football League college draft begins today (Thursday). The Minnesota Vikings have two picks in the first round. What positions should they be concentrating on with those picks ?
-Dorr: Wide receiver and linebacker appear to be the two positions where the teams needs the most help. Another cornerback who can play wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
-Marxhausen: Although the Vikings signed Greg Jennings away from the Packers, they are still in need of offensive depth at the receiver position. If the Vikings don’t trade up to get a better pick, which rumors have been going around that they are trying to do, my mock draft sees the Vikings landing receiver Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee. He has size, athleticism and good ball skills to make a splash at the No. 23 pick. The second most needed position on the team is the linebacker position. With the No. 25 pick via Seattle the Vikings are looking to grab Manti Te’o of Notre Dame. He has a lot of upside and can make plays at the inside linebacker position.
-Larson: One of those two first-round picks should be a wide receiver and Logan’s choice of the Tennessee receiver is a good one. I’d look for a middle linebacker with the other first-round pick. But, we may be surprised, as often happens, with Minnesota taking a defensive lineman with one of those picks. The experts say offensive and defensive linemen will dominate the first round. Maybe the Vikings will repeat their draft performance of 2012, which was very good.
-Johnson: The Vikings demonstrated how to compete with a mediocre quarterback last season. Much like Joe Flacco and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the Vikings can compete with a great running back and a good defense. They can put together an even stronger team in 2013 by drafting a good cornerback and middle linebacker. I would address the cornerback situation first. It seems as though this is a position the Vikings have struggled with for many years. Spend a first round pick on a good cornerback and improve the secondary. Jasper Brinkley is no longer with the team and the middle linebacker position is the heart of a defense. I’m not sure that anyone the Vikings have on the team from last year can fill that role, so I’d go after a middle linebacker early in the draft as well. The other position the Vikings can improve on is at wide receiver. Along with the acquisition of Greg Jennings, the Vikings could really use another threat from the outside to fill the void Percy Harvin has left. Even after the playoff push the Vikings put together last year, I’m not sure how I feel about Christain Ponder as a franchise quarterback, but I don’t think they can afford to draft at the quarterback position. Maybe Matt Cassel will rejuvenate his career if Ponder struggles early. After looking at the 2013 schedule that just came out, the Vikings will have their work cut out for them.
•Question: The Minnesota Twins took two games from the White Sox in Chicago over the weekend to move to an 8-7 record. The Twins had a four-game winning streak heading into Monday’s game at home against Miami. That game was postponed because of the weather. What did you like about the team during that winning streak?
-Dorr: The main thing, as it usually is in baseball, was that the starting pitching was generally good in those four games, as well as the relief pitching in the Chicago series. And Joe Mauer had a hot series against the Angels in the series that preceded the series in Chicago. It seems a long time ago now but the offense was on fire in the Angels series, scoring 16 runs in two games and piling up more than 30 hits on two cold nights. Some said those hits came against an Angels team that wasn’t doing very well but then the Angels swept division favorite Detroit last weekend, something that likely won’t happen to the Tigers very often this season. Manager Ron Gardenhire has been stubborn about keeping rookie Aaron Hicks in the lineup despite the fact he is hitting only .059 (3 for 51). If Darin Mastroianni wasn’t on the disabled list, I would hope Hicks would be in the minors. Someone should remind Gardenhire that both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays got sent down before their Hall of Fame careers resumed in the majors. Anyway, good the for the Twins so far. They’ve done OK without much of an offense (.240 average, only 9 homers).
-Marxhausen: There are some differences and similarities between the Angels series and the White Sox series. In the Angels series the Twins hit the ball extremely well and with runners in scoring position. The White Sox series wasn’t necessarily about a lot of hits, but rather timely hits with the first game of the series going 10 innings. The thing that was similar about all four games was that the Twins’ starting pitchers had quality starts and lasted at least six innings in all four games, three in which the starting pitcher lasted seven full innings. Starting pitching with quality starts was what the Twins needed most last season and continued efforts like that of the starting pitchers in the four-game win streak will bring the Twins past that bottom-of-the-league persona.
-Larson: The Twins are proving to be a better “outdoors” team than the Vikings! As the other writers here point out, starting pitching has been a key. When your pitchers do well your chances of winning are pretty good. I’m surprised the team is over .500. Joe Mauer has been in the groove and early indications are that he will be in the batting race all season long.
-Johnson: The Twins swept an Angels ball club with a $127 million payroll in two games last week giving LA a 4-10 record. As a former collegiate pitcher I thought, here is an Angels team with three future hall of famers who all hit at least 30 home runs last year. This is the last lineup in the majors I would want to face. If I were Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia, I would be worried for my job, given the high expectations coming into the season. In each game starters Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia gave the Twins a chance to win. When the Twins traveled to Chicago this past weekend, the story again was great starting pitching. Scott Diamond and Vance Worley threw great games, giving up only three earned runs in 13 innings pitched between them. These are the kind of outings the Twins’ rotation will need all season to contend in the AL Central. I think Aaron Hicks is on a short string in regards to being sent down to the minors but it appears as though Brian Dozier may be ready to take over the leadoff spot, going 4-for-10 in his latest at-bats. The Twins have a four-game series against the red hot Texas Rangers this weekend and we’ll see if the rotation can continue to shine.
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