January 31, 2005

State of the Twins: Catchers

Though we're still a couple months away from Opening Day, the Minnesota Twins' roster is just about set for the 2005 season. They lost a few of their free agents, re-signed the most important one, took care of all their arbitration-eligible guys, and recently handed out their non-roster invites for spring training.

Over the next week or so, I am going to take an early, position-by-position look at the state of the Twins heading into 2005, with the help of three player projection/forecasting systems -- Tangotiger's Marcels, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTAs, and Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS. (Hat tip to Tom Meagher over at The Fourth Outfielder for the inspiration for the idea.)

Let's lead things off with the catchers ...

JOE MAUER | C | AGE: 22                   MIKE REDMOND | C | AGE: 34

===================================== =====================================
PROJECTION AVG OBP SLG PROJECTION AVG OBP SLG
Marcel .296 .364 .509 Marcel .264 .325 .376
PECOTA .301 .367 .456 PECOTA .254 .317 .351
ZiPS .316 .373 .404 ZiPS .283 .325 .363
===================================== =====================================
AVERAGE .304 .368 .456 AVERAGE .267 .322 .363

CORKY MILLER | C | AGE: 29 ROB BOWEN | C | AGE: 24
===================================== =====================================
PROJECTION AVG OBP SLG PROJECTION AVG OBP SLG
Marcel .236 .320 .372 Marcel .257 .327 .408
PECOTA .227 .306 .369 PECOTA .221 .293 .362
ZiPS .214 .296 .354 ZiPS .210 .283 .341
===================================== =====================================
AVERAGE .226 .307 .365 AVERAGE .229 .301 .370

In years past I would have included Matthew LeCroy in this group, but considering the amount of balls he threw into center field while opposing runners went 15-for-16 stealing bases against him last year, I'm guessing he's spent his last meaningful game behind the plate for the Twins. It's a shame too, because before his arm went completely limp, LeCroy was passable defensively at catcher and provided plenty of offense for the position. At worst he was always a perfect third catcher, providing Ron Gardenhire with some extra flexibility. I always wanted the team to utilize him more at catcher, but that ship appears to have sailed.

Assuming LeCroy is relegated to first base and designated hitter this year, that leaves the Twins with four options at catcher. Joe Mauer will enter the season as the starter and will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate as long as his surgically repaired knee holds up. My confidence in Mauer's ability to hit for power got a huge boost last season with his six homers and eight doubles in 107 at-bats, so his average projection of .304/.368/.456 looks cautious, but just about right. In other words, while it would have been a fine projection for Mauer heading into last season, the chances of him matching his ZiPS projection by slugging just .404 despite a .316 batting average are beyond slim at this point.

Backing up Mauer -- and stepping into the starting role if he goes down with another injury -- will be longtime Marlins' backup Mike Redmond. Redmond's average projection of .267/.322/.363 looks very doable and would be a significant upgrade over the .206/.260/.368 performance the team got from Henry Blanco last year. If everything goes right for the Twins in 2005, they won't be needing Corky Miller or Rob Bowen. If Mauer stays healthy and Redmond simply needs to be his backup and take over for him behind the plate once or twice per week, Miller and Bowen will make an excellent catching combo at Double-A and Triple-A.

However, if Mauer goes down again and Redmond is suddenly thrust into starting 4-5 times per week, either Miller or Bowen would be needed as his new backup. They look nearly identical according to their average projections -- .226/.307/.365 for Miller and .229/.301/.370 for Bowen. With that said, considering Bowen hit just .197 at Double-A last year and has been absolutely horrible in his two brief stints with the Twins (.108/.190/.189 in 43 plate appearances), I'd be inclined to give Miller the nod as the #3 man on the depth chart.

Any way you slice it, the Twins have a lot more catching depth than they had heading into last season. Mauer, Bowen, and LeCroy are holdovers from 2004 who will fill similar roles in 2005. The team swapped Blanco for Redmond as the primary backup and Miller has been added as a minor-league reinforcement. What that means is that there won't be as much of a scramble to find out what someone like Pat Borders is up to if the team is hit with catching injuries this time around. Assuming Mauer stays healthy -- which is an assumption I am definitely not ready to make -- the Twins have one of the strongest catching situations in baseball.

Today at The Hardball Times:

- All About Arbitration (by Studes)


January 28, 2005

Link-O-Rama

  • While old-school guys are still holding most of the top spots in sports broadcasting, one thing we can all look forward to in the near future is the influx of young, sabermetric-friendly announcers that is on the horizon. Those kids who grew up reading Bill James eventually turn into adults, after all. Friend of AG.com Jon Sciambi, a 34-year-old who has worked as one of the Florida Marlins' radio announcers for the past eight years, recently signed a deal with ESPN television to work some Monday and Wednesday night games this season.

    While I haven't heard Jon work Marlins games on radio (what with me being in Minnesota and all), I have spoken to him enough to know that he will be head and shoulders above most of the play-by-play guys working national games when it comes to bringing an interesting approach and some actual insight to the broadcast. In other words, there's a chance he might not just keep spewing those same tired cliches that are staples for announcers. As I told Jon when I congratulated him on the new gig yesterday afternoon, it'll be nice not to know what the announcer is going to say before he says it for once.

    Here's hoping there are a few more Jon Sciambis on the way.

  • While wading through the incredible amount of information available at TheBaseballCube.com the other day, I stumbled across the player page for Tony Leseman, soon-to-be junior outfielder for the University of Minnesota and the best player I ever played on the same team with. Back in Little League, Tony pitched, played shortstop, and deposited extra-base hits all over the ballpark for our team (which his dad coached). Meanwhile, I played second base and third base while trying to bloop singles into shallow right field.

    Tony hit .315/.377/.427 as a redshirt freshman for the Gophers in 2003 and then hit .283/.410/.364 as a sophomore last season. He is expected to be the team's starting centerfielder this season, taking over for Sam Steidl, who hit .372/.441/.500 last year and was taken by the Dodgers in the 12th round of the draft. As for me, I'm still talking about the time I hit a grand slam off my uncle playing one-on-one baseball two summers ago.

  • Eric Gagne sure looks a lot less intimidating without the dirty hat and goggles.
  • Don't ask me why I suddenly discovered this information, but on the day I was born -- January 3, 1983 -- Tony Dorsett had his record-breaking 99-yard run for the Dallas Cowboys. Anyone wanna guess which team it was against? The Vikings, of course.

    Sadly, that appears to be the only interesting thing that happened that day (aside from me being born, obviously). However, on January 3, 1920, the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. What this has to do with anything is anyone's guess, but this is the sort of stuff you come across when you spend hours aimlessly searching the web for interesting stuff to blog about on a Friday in late January.

  • Am I the only person who read this story and immediately wanted to undercut the guy's price? For $37,375 I'd agree to a lot worse than an advertisement on my forehead. In fact, if anyone out there is interested in some ad space on my body (and there is plenty of space, trust me), just let me know. For those of you thinking dirty, sick thoughts ... shame on you!
  • And last, but certainly not least ... I once again contributed to Rotoworld's annual fantasy baseball magazine this year. I think my official title last year was "Senior Contributor," which sounds really good when you say it to people and looks even better on a resume. Of course, being the jackass that I am, I forgot to ask for the title again this time around, so I'm hoping they were feeling charitable. Anyway, the magazine is being published by the world famous (to anyone who collects sports cards, at least) Beckett Publications this year and you can order it online right now for just $6.99.

    There are obviously a ton of different places to get help preparing for your fantasy baseball draft, but I can personally vouch for Rotoworld's magazine being extremely good. I wrote three lengthy articles -- one on prospects, one on sleepers, and one on busts -- and I also worked extensively on the previews for each team. Those of you who are familiar with Rotoworld.com know what an outstanding website it is, and the same guys who run things there were in charge of the magazine.

    Incidentally, I showed my mom a picture of the cover -- which as you can see features Albert Pujols -- and the first and only thing she said to me was, "Boy, he's really got some big thighs ... is that Barry Bonds?"

  • January 27, 2005

    NRIs

    Along with Carlos Delgado signing with the Marlins and Doug Mientkiewicz being traded to the Mets, the one other thing that caught my eye yesterday was that the Twins announced their list of non-roster invitees for spring training. NRI lists aren't typically bursting with talent, but Twins fans can look back to last year's list to see that the players can have an impact. Last season's NRIs were Joe Mauer, Chris Heintz, Brandon Marsters, Gabby Torres, Jake Mauer, Alex Prieto, Luis Rodriguez, Jesse Crain, Seth Greisinger, Peter Munro, Jeromy Palki, and Joe Roa.

    Everyone knows about Mauer, obviously. Greisinger spent part of the year in the Twins' rotation, going 2-5 with a 6.18 ERA in 51 innings before the team decided to give Terry Mulholland a chance. Roa did a nice job as the long man in Minnesota's bullpen, going 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 70 innings. Crain joined the Twins in the middle of the year, tossed 27 innings with a 2.00 ERA, and is expected to be one of Joe Nathan's setup men this season. Prieto got a little action, hitting .250/.306/.375 in 36 plate appearances. And though Munro didn't pitch a single inning for the Twins, he went 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 99.2 innings with the Astros, and then actually started two postseason games for Houston.

    All of which leads us to this year's group: Scott Baker, Willie Eyre, Trey Hodges, C.J. Nitkowski, Brent Abernathy, Andy Fox, Luis Maza, Eric Munson, Glenn Williams, Todd Dunwoody, Josh Rabe, Jason Tyner, Mulholland, Heintz, and Torres. It is an interesting group with a lot of fairly recognizable names who were once thought of as pretty good prospects.

    Munson, whom I discussed in some length when the Twins signed him to a minor-league deal last week, was the #3 pick in the 1999 draft. For my thoughts on him you can read last week's column, but the short version is that he's got a lot of pop in his bat and is a good player to take a flier on, but his .215/.287/.414 career offense and lack of defensive ability makes him someone who would be pretty stretched as an everyday player on a contending team.

    Tyner was the #21 overall pick by the Mets back in the 1998 draft and has never really done anything -- in the minors or the majors -- to justify that selection even for just a little bit. He has as little power as you will ever see from a major-league outfielder, setting a career-high with a .400 slugging percentage at Triple-A in 2003. He is a career .309 hitter in 561 minor-league games and has good speed and decent on-base skills, but it has only translated to .257/.294/.299 in 246 major-league games. If a team asked for a fifth outfielder from Central Casting, Tyner would be high up on the list of guys they sent.

    Abernathy was Toronto's second-round pick in 1996. He hit pretty well in the minors and was traded to the Devil Rays for Steve Trachsel and Mark Guthrie in the middle of the 2000 season. Abernathy debuted for Tampa Bay in 2001, hitting .270/.328/.382 in 79 games, and then hit just .242/.288/.311 in 117 games as their starting second baseman in 2002. He got 37 plate appearances between Tampa Bay and Kansas City in 2003 and then didn't play in the majors at all last season. Though he's only a career .245/.295/.327 hitter in the majors, Abernathy hit .294/.357/.463 at Triple-A last year and there's a decent shot he could match Luis Rivas' production at second base in 2005 -- and he'd do it for about 20% of the cost. It'll never happen, of course -- he'll do a nice job for Triple-A Rochester.

    Hodges and Dunwoody weren't high draft picks, but they were each considered one of their team's best prospects at one point. Hodges went 15-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 172 innings at Triple-A in 2002 and combined to throw 77 innings with a 4.77 ERA with the Braves between 2002 and 2003. He then went 5-2 with a 4.82 ERA in 52 innings back at Triple-A last year before being sold to a Japanese League team, where he went 2-3 with a 5.31 ERA in 40.2 innings. It's unlikely Hodges will make the Twins out of spring training, but his track record suggests he could get the job done as a fifth starter or long reliever in the majors. If nothing else, he should be one of the better starting pitchers in the International League.

    I don't have nearly as much hope for Dunwoody. He put up some impressive numbers while in the Marlins' minor-league system in the late 90s, but hasn't done a whole lot since then. An outfielder, Dunwoody batted .281/.317/.473 with a ridiculously bad 75-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 107 games at Triple-A last year and is a career .267/.313/.471 hitter in 595 games at Triple-A. I checked out his page over at Baseball-Reference.com and was shocked to learn that he has played parts of six seasons in the major leagues, combining to hit .233/.277/.348 in 986 plate appearances.

    On the other end of the spectrum from these former prospects is Baker, who was the Twins' second-round pick in the 2003 draft. He has breezed through the system, going 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 220 innings between Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, while posting a fantastic 192-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Baker is one of the team's best pitching prospects and, like Crain last year, seems destined to impress the coaching staff during spring training, start the season at Triple-A, and then make his big-league debut in the second half.

    Eyre, Rabe, Maza, and Torres are also all original Twins' draftees. Maza is a 25-year-old infielder who looked like nothing more than organizational filler before last season, but then hit .311/.365/.470 in 126 games at Double-A New Britain. Rabe is a former 11th-round pick who has had a couple decent stops, hitting .340/.427/.481 in 80 games at Single-A in 2002 and .303/.361/.445 in 94 games at Double-A in 2003, but hasn't done much of anything beyond that. He is a career .279/.350/.401 hitter in 547 minor-league games and hit just .264/.333/.376 in 121 games at Triple-A in 2004.

    Eyre is a right-handed pitcher who has put together quite a few solid seasons while going up through the system, but his sub par strikeout numbers and lack of control suggest he probably isn't destined for much more than a few more years in the minors and maybe a cup of coffee or two in the big leagues. On the other hand, Torres is an intriguing player. He didn't have a great year in 2004, but he is a catcher who has hit .290/.366/.420 in 216 career games at Double-A. Torres will be 27 years old in 2005, so he's not destined for stardom, but he seems like someone who deserves a shot at being a backup catcher somewhere. Plus, you've got to love a guy who says his "favorite baseball player growing up was Bo Diaz."

    Mulholland is the NRI most likely to make the team out of spring training and would likely be the team's swingman if Joe Mays is healthy. Nitkowski is around to presumably "compete" with Mulholland, although considering his lack of major-league success (5.35 ERA in 475.2 career innings) and inability to move back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation, Mulholland shouldn't be very worried. Similarly, Fox is around to give Minnesota's assortment of middle infielders a little competition during the spring, but he's destined for Rochester along with Heintz and Williams.

    Oh, and one last thing: If you'd have bet me that I couldn't write 1,300 words on the Minnesota Twins' non-roster invitees for 2005 ... well, you'd be wrong.

    Today at The Hardball Times:

    - The Hardball Times 2005 NCAA Pre-Season All-America Team (Part Two) (by Craig Burley)


    January 26, 2005

    Thank You

    Yesterday I suggested that those of you who had some money to spare donate a little to Larry Mahnken, who suddenly found himself homeless after his apartment in New York burned down. I talked to Larry a couple times yesterday and he told me how incredibly generous people have been. While the amount of money he was able to raise yesterday will never be enough to offset his losses, he shared the number with me and it will certainly go a long way towards getting him back on his feet.

    So thank you, from both me and Larry. He appreciates the donations and I appreciate the fact that you guys allowed me to do something that helped a friend in need. The generosity and thoughtfulness of the people who read this blog is really amazing, and I know I'll think of the help you gave Larry the next time I get a negative e-mail or two that would normally upset me.

    Now, for those of you interested in reading something about baseball ... As promised yesterday, I crunched the numbers on Tadahito Iguchi and I have a write-up of Chicago's new second baseman over at The Hardball Times.

    The Hardball Times: Coming to America

    January 25, 2005

    Old News, Bad News, Worse News

  • You know the easiest, most surefire way to tell that it's the middle of the offseason? You see a headline that reads: "Red and ready? GM says Griffey healing well."

    Seriously, these annual Griffey-is-healthy stories are getting to be like some sick version of Mad Libs. Writers can use the same basic template and quotes over and over again, and all they need to do is fill in a few blanks with specific information about whatever current injury Griffey is recovering from.

    Seriously, try it for yourself:

    All-Star outfielder recovering from (*INJURY*)

    CINCINNATI -- All-Star Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. is making progress in his recovery from (*INJURY*), reports the Cincinnati Enquirer in Friday's edition.

    "He's doing outstanding," Reds general manager Dan O'Brien told the Enquirer. "He really has had no setbacks. He's right on track and should be at or near 100 percent at the start of spring training."

    Griffey, (*AGE*), began rehabilitation after having surgery last (*DATE*). He was (*LEVEL OF INCAPACITATION*) for weeks.

    It really is fun for the whole family. Well, maybe not for the Griffey family.

  • The White Sox signed Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi yesterday, giving the 30-year-old a two-year deal worth around $5 million, with a team option for a third season. I'm hoping to crunch some numbers on Iguchi today to get a better feel for exactly what type of player he is, but on first glance it looks like a very good signing for Chicago. Iguchi, who is a career .271/.349/.471 hitter, batted .333/.394/.549 last season and .340/.438/.573 in 2003. Before yesterday, the team's projected starter at second base was Willie Harris, who has hit .240/.305/.296 in 266 big-league games.
  • The Hardball Times' own Larry Mahnken, who didn't exactly have the greatest luck in 2004, is off to a horrible 2005. Larry's apartment building burned to the ground yesterday morning, leaving him with nothing besides the clothes he was wearing. Situations like this make me wish I was incredibly wealthy, because it would be so great to be able to send Larry a nice, fat check and get him back on his feet. Instead, I'll have to settle for suggesting to any of you who have some excess income that you consider making a donation to Larry via PayPal. He's a hell of a nice guy and a very good writer, and he deserves to have something nice happen to him.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:

    - Top 50 Prospects: Year in Review (31-40) (by Aaron Gleeman)

    - Drying Off the Spitty 1910s, Part 1: The Seasons (by Steve Treder)


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