May 23, 2006

Who Is ... Pat Neshek

I've received a tremendous number of e-mails over the past month about Pat Neshek, perhaps more so than any other Twins-related topic. Baseball America inexplicably didn't see fit to include Neshek among their top 30 Twins prospects coming into this season, but he's been on my radar for some time now.

Last May in this space I described Neshek as "one guy who is worth keeping an eye on" and since then he's improved his prospect stock dramatically. After posting a 2.19 ERA and 95-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .225 batting average in 82.1 innings at Double-A last season, Neshek has put up the following numbers at Triple-A so far this year:

 G     GS      ERA       IP      H     HR     SO     BB
18 0 2.10 30.0 21 4 53 9

Those are dominant numbers, and the native Minnesotan and former sixth-round pick out of Butler University now sports a career ERA of 2.21 with 333 strikeouts compared to just 202 hits allowed in 264.2 pro innings. Neshek has been used as a closer in the minors, saving 24 games last year and eight already this season, but as a side-arming right-hander he profiles more as a middle reliever in the majors.

In fact, the single biggest negative with Neshek at this point is that his unique delivery (shown below) leaves him vulnerable to left-handed hitters, particularly those who hit for power. Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune discussed Neshek a bit in his column earlier this week and quoted Neshek as saying that he's "retired the last 15 lefties" he's faced.

(Video courtesy of Neshek's personal website.)

That may be true--stats in the minors aren't sophisticated enough for me to check easily--but for the entire year Neshek has allowed lefties to bat .279/.326/.558 with four homers in 43 at-bats against him. What makes those numbers particularly noteworthy is that Neshek has held right-handed hitters to a remarkable .123 batting average, striking out a ridiculous 39 righties in 65 at-bats.

The inability to consistently retire left-handed hitters hasn't really hurt Neshek in the minors, but it'll certainly impact his effectiveness in the big leagues. As a closer or late-inning setup man Neshek would inevitably be faced with an avalanche of left-handed pinch-hitters to go along with the usual assortment of left-handed sluggers who reside in the middle of most lineups.

However, as a middle man he could be used against predominantly right-handed portions of lineups, and because he'd be pitching in the middle innings opposing managers would be less likely to make bench moves against him. Because of that I like Neshek's chances of putting together a lengthy big-league career, perhaps even one that is a step up from guys like Steve Reed or Chad Bradford.

Will he get a chance in the Twins' bullpen this season? I think so, although given the Twins' sudden reluctance to trust young players you never know. In Neshek's case it's going to be very difficult to keep him in the minors for much longer given that he has 53 strikeouts in 30 innings at Triple-A and has put up the following numbers at each level:

LEVEL            IP      ERA     SO/9
Rookie 27.1 0.99 13.5
Single-A 82.0 1.64 11.1
Double-A 125.1 2.87 9.9
Triple-A 30.0 2.10 15.9

It's one thing when a washed up journeyman in his thirties beats up on inexperienced competition in the minors, but when a 25-year-old former early-round draft pick consistently dominates like that at every step on the organizational ladder you've got to think that the Twins view him as a big part of the bullpen's future.

Another reason that Neshek's future is far from a given is that throughout baseball history teams have been overly cautious with "trick" pitchers. Whether it's side-armers like Neshek, knuckleballers, or soft-tossers whose great numbers don't match up with their sub par velocity, you have to work a lot harder to get a legitimate chance than someone with mediocre results who throws in the high-90s with perfect mechanics.

With that said, Neshek throws much harder and has better overall stuff than most guys with non-traditional deliveries. He's also far from the complete disaster against lefties that many seem to think, giving up a relatively acceptable .280 batting average against them over the past two years. Neshek has certainly given up too many homers to lefties this season, but we're talking about a very small sample and he's also managed 13 strikeouts in those 43 at-bats.

Neshek is one of the Twins' most intriguing prospects and in a minor-league system filled with promising young pitchers he is perhaps the most overlooked as well. I expect him to play a significant role on the pitching staff beginning in 2007 and he deserves to be the next pitcher called up should the Twins need further reinforcements in the bullpen this year.


May 22, 2006

Twins Notes

  • I suggested a couple weeks ago that the Twins would be smart to trade Shannon Stewart before he becomes a free agent this offseason, but the potential return on such a deal dropped yesterday when the Twins placed Stewart on the disabled list with the dreaded "plantar fascia tear."

    Jason Kubel was recalled from Triple-A to take Stewart's place on the active roster, and despite Ron Gardenhire's spotty track record on such things I'm hopeful that he'll actually get a legitimate chance to establish himself in the lineup this time around. Kubel hit .283/.343/.475 with four homers and 13 total extra-base hits in 30 games at Triple-A.

    A platoon of Kubel against right-handed pitching and Lew Ford against left-handed pitching should have little problem duplicating Stewart's relatively modest production offensively (.298/.355/.376) and they'll be better defensively regardless of how the playing time is distributed.

    As good as Stewart was down the stretch in 2003, the decision to sign him to a three-year contract extension is looking like a mistake. Stewart hit well (.304/.380/.447) while missing 70 games in 2004, hit poorly (.274/.323/.388) while missing 30 games in 2005, and now this year is looking like a repeat of last season.

    If the Twins are lucky they will have gotten about 350 games of .290/.340/.425 hitting from a sub par defensive left fielder for $18 million, which isn't the sort of thing a small-payroll team can make a habit of doing if they hope to remain successful. Perhaps the Twins can recoup some of that value if Stewart returns from the DL in time to be traded at midseason, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • B.J. Garbe, who is one of the biggest draft busts in Twins history, retired over the weekend. A toolsy high-school outfielder from Washington who was the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft, at no point did Garbe ever resemble a quality prospect after a decent 41-game stint at rookie-ball to begin his pro career.

    Garbe went on to post OPS totals of .636, .597, .619, .508, and .561 in five full-season stops in the Twins system, spending two seasons at both Single-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. After hitting .201/.283/.278 in his second year at Double-A in 2004, the Twins traded him to the Mariners for 41-year-old backup catcher Pat Borders in September.

    Garbe hit .275/.335/.426 as Single-A roster filler in 2005 and then latched on with the Marlins' Double-A team this season. Still just 25 years old, Garbe finishes his eight-year pro career with a .235 batting average in 722 games and is the middle man in a three-year run of top-10 picks (Ryan Mills in 1998, Garbe in 1999, Adam Johnson in 2000) that provided the Twins with zero value.

  • Gordon Wittenmeyer had a nice article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Friday about Corey Koskie's first season with the Brewers. Koskie was one of my favorite players while he was with the Twins and I was very disappointed when Terry Ryan failed to bring him back when he became available at a discount this offseason, so seeing him do well in Milwaukee is tough to take.

    Here's an interesting excerpt from the article:

    Koskie, 32, still lives in the Twin Cities and said at one point he would have welcomed a trade back to the Twins, once the Blue Jays said they intended to deal him.

    And J.P. Ricciardi called the Twins first once he completed the trade for all-star third baseman Troy Glaus and decided to aggressively shop Koskie to break his infield logjam. But despite the Jays' willingness to pick up two-thirds of Koskie's salary over the next two seasons (leaving a $2 million-a-year cost), Ryan declined.

    The Twins GM already had the $1.25 million Batista on the rolls and said afterward the decision to turn down the Blue Jays was based largely on the same baseball decision the team made a year earlier when Koskie left as a free agent.

    In other words, a declining number of games for four consecutive years, because of injury, made Koskie a risk the team didn't want to take.

    Tony Batista is hitting .252/.313/.422 this season while Koskie is at .289/.363/.537, and they've each played 37 games. Quite the "baseball decision."

  • A take-it-for-what-it's-worth note from Bob Matthews of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:
    There is a much better chance of temporary Red Wings pitcher Kyle Lohse being traded than returning to the Twins. Minnesota should get a decent hitter from a team in dire need of a durable starting pitcher who would benefit from a change of scenery.

    "Durable" is certainly not the way I'd choose to describe Kyle Lohse at this point, but to each his own.



  • May 21, 2006

    Outdoor Baseball, Spring of 2010

    I'm too young to have been around when people actually thought that the Metrodome was a great idea, so for my entire baseball fandom it's just been the crappy place where the Twins play. I get asked a lot why I don't attend more Twins games in person and the reason is simple: I hate watching baseball indoors and especially hate watching it in a place that makes you feel like you're sitting in the middle of a warehouse.

    Not only would I rather watch the Twins on TV than pay to sit in a "ballpark" that has all the ambiance of a shoe box, I'd rather watch the St. Paul Saints play outdoors. Baseball is meant to be played outside, under the sun or stars, with wind in place of that ever-audible echo that serves as a constant reminder of what a depressing mess the Metrodome is. I've been to more Saints games than Twins games over the past five years, and for most of the time I couldn't name a single player on the Saints.

    I've avoided writing much about the Twins' quest for a new ballpark, in large part because I've seen hopes get up far too often on the subject. I became a hardcore Twins fan right around the time people were getting fed up with the Metrodome, so as far back as I can remember there's been a push for a new ballpark. And as far back as I can remember, it's failed. In fact, even now I remain sort of gun-shy about getting my own hopes up.


    A bill paving the way for a new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis passed the House and the Senate late Saturday night, and I'm sure Jerry Bell, Dave St. Peter, and Terry Ryan sipped champagne in the wee hours Sunday morning. Still, I half expect to hear about a "snag" that threatens to hold the whole thing up yet again. It's not that it seems to good to be true. After all, 10 new ballparks have opened within the last decade. It's that it seems good, and I've been conditioned to not believe that it's true.

    I've kept myself from getting too optimistic about the ballpark by avoiding articles on it and keeping clear of the artist renderings of what the whole thing might look like when it's done. That changed yesterday when I read all there was to read about the situation in both local newspapers and even found myself sneaking a peak at the drawings on the Twins' website. My hopes are officially up, although until I see some dirt being thrown around by guys in hard hats I doubt I'll truly believe it.


    There are all sorts of arguments being thrown around by both sides of the ballpark issue, but for me it's simple. A new ballpark will increase the Twins' revenue, which should lead to increased payroll. That'll give the Twins a better chance to remain competitive, while keeping the team in Minnesota for decades to come. It also means that 81 times per year I can head downtown for an MLB game in a real, outdoor ballpark, which is something I've never experienced in Minnesota.

    I've been to big-league games played in outdoor ballparks in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Toronto, and both sides of Chicago, and each time I've come away from the experience thinking about how wonderful it would be to have something like that for the Twins. I'm downright giddy right now, or at least as giddy as you can be about something that won't happen until 2010. After waiting all this time, you'd think it wouldn't be so hard to wait until then.


    May 18, 2006

    Link-O-Rama

  • Earlier this week I was taking my daily tour through the blogosphere when I came across this note from friend of AG.com Paul Katcher:
    Here's an open letter to people who write open letters: You're a hack. Maybe not as bad as the ones who begin columns by giving the Webster's definition of words like "desire" and "commitment," but a hack nonetheless.

    That's only mildly amusing by itself, but the very next blog I happened to go to was Will Carroll's, where I saw this entry at the top of the page:

    Dear Johnny,

    Today, you said "Sheff and Matsui, that's two or three runs a game right there."

    No.

    Stick to the running into walls, diving for balls, and throwing like a girl. Let BP do the math.

    Matsui is eighth on the team with a 0.050 MLVr while Sheffield has an MLVr of 0.209. That's almost exactly a quarter of a run a game. Yes, that's significant and no, you don't have a good replacement. Bubba Crosby's a negative and Melky Cabrera won't keep up his small-sample pace.

    The biggest problem the Yankees have now is figuring out that Bernie Williams is not the answer. Do the math on that one, Johnny.

    Your pal, Will

    Coincidence or fate doing its part to provide me with a good chuckle? You decide.

  • Doug Mientkiewicz and his wife gave their son perhaps the most ridiculous name I've ever seen: Steel Mientkiewicz. Seriously. It sounds like some sort of a power tool.
  • In what was surely an exhaustive process involving tons of data and analysis, Maxim named Ron Gardenhire the second-worst manager in baseball.
  • It's almost impossible to believe now, but at one point not so long ago people actually debated whether or not this person was better looking than this person. For someone without any sense of history, I imagine that would be like finding out for the first time that an NBA team once passed on Michael Jordan to draft Sam Bowie.
  • While the Torii Hunter trade talk begins to heat up, Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had this interesting note:
    Torii Hunter's contract includes a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to five selected teams. Interestingly, the current teams on his no-trade list are the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Detroit Tigers.

    None of those five teams are in the market for a center fielder, which means Hunter's no-trade clause is essentially useless. If the Twins want to deal him, they can.

  • On a related note, FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal speculated last week that the White Sox might be interested in dealing for Hunter. I put the chances of that happening at slightly lower than the chances of the Twins winning the division.
  • Speaking of the White Sox, this article from the Chicago Sun-Times on the Twins' fall from atop the AL Central was painful to read.
  • The possibilities with this are nearly endless.
  • After I criticized the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Twins beat writer, Jason Williams, here last week, someone pointed me to a chat session Williams did at the newspaper's website earlier this month. If you think I get defensive about negative comments here, wait until you get a load of Williams:
    Phil Sampson: Boy I hope your job consist of doing more than answering these questions in the forum because this is pretty sad. Keep up the, uh, "great" work.

    Jason Williams: Thanks, Phil, and don't forget your bitterness on your way out the door for work tomorrow morning. You have no idea what I do. NO IDEA.

    [...]

    Sucks Alot: Why do you go on how great the Twins are when they Suck?

    Jason Williams: Never have said they're great. Funny, because I'm typically criticized for being too negative. You must be an incredibly miserable person if you think I'm too "soft." Of course, your name probably says it all.

    There are a few other interesting responses, but those are my two favorites. I particularly enjoyed the "you have no idea what I do" line, followed by Williams adding "NO IDEA" for added emphasis. In case you forgot, Williams writes about baseball for a living.

    Also, put me in the "incredibly miserable person" group, because every time I read one of Williams' articles in the Pioneer Press I have to double-check the standings to make sure the Twins aren't in first place. The Twins have issued press releases that are harder hitting. For instance, in offering up his opinion on Juan Castro, Williams wrote:

    I don't think he's hurting the team offensively, regardless of his average. Anything he does from the nine-hole is a bonus.

    As if where a guy hits in the batting order is more important than the fact that he's hitting .233/.262/.272. Sure, there's no way that .534 OPS is "hurting the team offensively." You have no idea what I do. NO IDEA.

  • Perhaps I'm the last one to notice this, but the Giants' starting quarterback and the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com apparently share the same first name. Rarely has something lost its sexiness this quickly.
  • The Twins' first-round pick last June, Matt Garza, made his debut at Double-A yesterday and put up the following line:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    7.2 1 0 0 2 13 0

    Prior to that Garza was 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA, 53-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .169 opponent's batting average in 44.1 innings at Single-A. In other words, that pick is looking pretty good in a hurry.
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum, here are two pitching lines that have been put up against the Twins' hacktastic lineup this month:
                            IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    Justin Verlander 8.0 6 0 0 0 0 0
    Joel Pineiro 9.0 9 2 2 0 0 1

    There are tee-ball teams that work the count more and put fewer balls in play than the Twins.
  • I can't tell if this story is an odd coincidence or subtle nod in my direction, but it's funny either way.
  • A lot of Twins fans seem to be under the impression that a new ballpark will automatically lead to huge increases in attendance. Perhaps that's true, but I noticed yesterday that among the seven teams currently drawing fewer fans per game than the Twins there are three--Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Detroit--with ballparks that have opened since 2000.
  • A quick note for those of you interested in such things: The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal III, will be sitting in for Chad Hartman Monday beginning at 2:00 p.m. on KFAN. I've heard LEN3 sub for people on KFAN in the past and he did a solid job, and he'll surely spend more time talking about the Twins in his three hours than the rest of the station does for the remainder of the week. Plus, the show is produced by a guy I used to hang out with when I was a kid.
  • Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who offered words of support regarding the untimely death of my dog last week. It was a very tough time for me, but hearing from so many of you who have gone through similar situations with pets you've loved really meant a lot. While I couldn't respond individually to each of you--there were 40 comments and at least that many e-mails--I want to make sure that you all know how much I appreciated it.


  • May 17, 2006

    More Deck Chairs

    Add Kyle Lohse's situation to the growing list of the things that the Twins have botched over the last couple years.

    Lohse is one of many prospects Terry Ryan has plucked from the low levels of other farm systems over the years, with Lohse coming to the Twins as part of the deal that sent Rick Aguilera to the Cubs in 1999. The Twins then developed Lohse in their own system, sticking with him through some tough times before eventually turning him into a quality big-league pitcher. For that Ryan and the Twins deserve a ton of credit.

    Unfortunately, as they've done so many times with so many young players, the Twins erased many of the gains made with Lohse in the developmental stage by mismanaging him as a major leaguer. Not only didn't he improve with experience--something that's usually been reserved for the Twins' young position players--the case could easily be made that Lohse actually regressed in several keys areas.

    Lohse's command wasn't consistent from start to start, let alone year to year, and early on he didn't have an approach to getting hitters out that went beyond simply throwing the ball really hard. At some point pitching coach Rick Anderson tried to change Lohse from being a hard-thrower who didn't strike many hitters out to being a hard-thrower who focused on inducing ground balls, but that lasted about a month.

    This season, Lohse was worse than ever. His control was spotty, his fastball wasn't missing bats regardless of how hard he threw it, his breaking pitches were flat, and perhaps most maddening of all he seemed incapable of finishing hitters off once he got ahead of them in the count. That's a recipe for disaster, and sure enough the Twins demoted Lohse to Triple-A yesterday after he went 2-4 with an 8.92 ERA in eight starts.


    On Opening Day I predicted that Lohse would "be traded or sent to the bullpen before he makes his 20th start." Technically I was wrong, since Triple-A isn't the bullpen and he hasn't been traded yet, but the point is that for me at least it was easy to see where the situation was headed. Rather than trade Lohse last season when he still had some value, the Twins chose to keep him for the remainder of an 83-win season and then compounded their mistake by paying him $4 million to return this year.

    While sadly not unique, the team's handling of Lohse is a perfect example of why they are no longer contenders. Rather than trust the impressive assortment of young talent they've been able to produce on a yearly basis, the Twins jerk their young players around, stick with mediocre, overpaid veterans for far too long, and then finally turn to the young guys out of panicked necessity.

    In Lohse's case that meant not getting something in return for him when his perceived value was still relatively high, inexplicably deciding to pay him far too much money to come back when the team had comparable, cheaper options available, and then finally realizing their seemingly obvious mistake only after it's too late to really do anything about it.

    Did the Twins need to see another 38 innings to decide that Lohse is a lost cause? Did they need to hold onto Lohse until his potential trade value dropped to an all-time low? Did they need to waste $4 million in the process? Of course not, and it doesn't take any second-guessing or hindsight to see that. For a year I've been encouraging the team to do what they now realize they should have done, but now it's too late.

    Lohse is a complete mess who is surely irate about being demoted back to the minors and has probably burned bridges within the organization. I'd be surprised if the Twins don't deal him in the coming weeks, but I won't be surprised when the package they receive in return is a disappointing one. That's what happens when you go against Branch Rickey's advice and trade a player a year too late.

    Amongst fans and within the media the focus of this situation is understandably on Lohse and Boof Bonser, his replacement in the rotation. However, when patterns repeat and the same mistakes are made on a regular basis, it's no longer about individual players or specific circumstances. This goes far beyond that, and gets to the core of why the Twins have gradually lost their short-lived grip on winning.

    Somewhere along the way the team got away from the very thing that made them successful, which is trusting the young talent that the organization produces. The Twins once did that and the result was three straight division titles from a team full of homegrown talent. Now young players are pushed aside in favor of guys like Juan Castro and Tony Batista. Lohse is the epitome of that changed approach, going from being "young talent" to being "overpaid veteran" while the Twins held onto him.

    Bonser replacing Lohse is not going to fix the Twins' problems, and even Francisco Liriano stepping into the rotation for Carlos Silva will barely make a dent. What plagues this team runs much deeper than that, and Lohse's situation is simply the latest example. Later this year the Twins will be in a position to make similar decisions regarding pending free agents Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart, and if the past is any indication they'll botch that as well.

    The Twins deserve praise for their ability to identify, acquire, and develop young talent in the minor leagues. Few teams can boast similar success and it's without question what the organization does best. Unfortunately, what the organization does worst is making the most of that young talent once it reaches the majors, as the development seems to stop around Triple-A and players like Lohse stagnate rather than reach their full potential.

    Perhaps a byproduct of that is the sudden distrust in the current crop of young players, and a byproduct of that is certainly the misguided reliance on mediocre veterans that leads to things like playing Batista and Castro every day, and wasting $4 million on Lohse when he could have been traded for something useful and the money could have been better spent elsewhere.

    While the Twins are being praised in some circles for cutting bait on Lohse and turning to Bonser, I find it hard to do that when they're the ones to blame for the problem in the first place. Sending Lohse to Triple-A is akin to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, because while it may seem to be making a difference at first, in the end the ship is still sinking.


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