July 27, 2006

Matt Garza and Other Twins Notes

Baseball America does a weekly feature called "Scout's View" where they interview a major-league scout about a specific prospect. The articles are subscriber-only content, but here's a small excerpt of "a veteran National League scout" on this week's subject, Matt Garza:

The impressive thing was, in his last inning ... he was throwing as high as 97. So he lost nothing at all velocity-wise later in the game. When he needed something at the end, he had it. And then, it wasn't like a one-time thing. He repeated some 97s, which was really nice to see.

Of his breaking pitches, even though they might end up with the same grade, the curveball was a better pitch than the slider, but they were both good. So what it tells you about a kid like that is that he's got three plus pitches, and the other pitch ain't bad.

I get excited when I'm looking at some highly touted kid, and you're hoping that he can duplicate what you've heard, and he certainly did. He was really impressive.

Garza is suddenly a hot topic because of his continued dominance in the minors and the upcoming trading deadline, but I don't believe for a second that Terry Ryan would even consider trading Garza for half-year rentals like Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee. Or at least I hope that's his stance, because history has shown that contending teams tend to overpay for midseason acquisitions and the impact of such players is relatively limited.

Quite simply, Garza is not the type of prospect you trade away, period. He's a former first-round pick who has emerged as one of baseball's truly elite prospects in just his second pro season and is one step away from the majors at the age of 22. Check out Garza's eye-popping numbers between Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A so far this year:

GS      W     L      ERA        IP      SO     BB     OAVG
21 13 4 2.04 123.2 142 30 .178

The Twins have pushed Garza aggressively and he's responded by dominating each level, posting ERAs of 1.42, 2.51, and 2.05 while holding opponents to batting averages of .169, .190, and .162. His combined record of 13-4 with a 2.04 ERA and 142-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123.2 innings is amazing, and includes a 2.05 ERA and 21-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in three starts at Triple-A.

Allowing just 79 hits in 123.2 innings is a huge part of what makes Garza a great prospect, and of particular note is that he's served up only six homers. Even more so than win-loss records or ERAs, the three things to focus on when it comes to pitching prospects are strikeouts, walks, and homers. Garza is about as good as it gets in all three of those areas, which is why he has legit ace potential.

In Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano, the Twins have arguably the two best pitchers in baseball and boast a one-two punch that few teams in the history of the sport can match. As if that weren't scary enough for the rest of the league, the Twins will soon add a third "No. 1 starter" in Garza. In fact, if Ron Gardenhire has his way, the rotation may contain three aces within weeks.

I think the best thing for Garza's development would be to remain at Triple-A until September, following the path Liriano took last year. Garza has thrown a lot of innings already and is coming off a complete-game, three-hitter that saw him inexplicably throw 127 pitches. With that said, if the Twins feel Garza is ready and calling him up would keep them from overpaying for a veteran starter via trade, I'm all for it.

Garza is the real deal, and if this season has taught the Twins anything it should be that trusting the young players you've developed is crucial. Plus, the sooner Garza establishes himself as a dominant starter in the majors, the sooner I can start using my poker-related nickname: Trip Aces. The best part, of course, is that both Liriano and Garza are 22 years old and Santana is the elder statesman at 27.

Some other notes I typed up while anxiously waiting for this weekend's series against the Tigers to begin ...

  • Not only do I think the Twins should avoid parting with Garza at all costs, I think they'd be best off being "sellers" rather than "buyers" between now and the trading deadline. That's obviously not what many Twins fans want to hear, but generally speaking I think giving up promising young players for 50 or 60 games of a veteran is a short-sighted mistake.

    Prospects like Kevin Slowey or Glen Perkins are a clear step down from Garza, but giving up their entire career (or at least the six years before free agency) for 200 at-bats is a bad move, even if those at-bats come from an impact player like Soriano or Lee. Any number of studies have shown that the impact of midseason acquisitions is typically overstated and history is littered with teams who would gladly take back their prospects-for-veteran deadline deals.

    It's certainly possible that Soriano or Lee would propel the Twins to the World Series, in which case giving up "too much" young talent becomes secondary to the third banner hanging in the Metrodome. However, that's impossible to know for sure and since we're only talking about one-third of a season, it's more likely that Soriano or Lee would represent a relatively minimal gain over Rondell White and Jason Kubel.

    I would stand pat unless a favorable deal came along for someone like Boof Bonser or Kyle Lohse. Breaking the bank for someone like Soriano is more exciting and fans will always love trading for a big-name player while giving up little-known prospects, but those same big-name players were once "little-known prospects" to the average fan and this team as currently constructed does not need to mortgage any of its future to win now.

  • As part of the focus on Joe Mauer earlier this week, ESPN.com had a nine-part breakdown of his swing that is definitely worth looking at.
  • Over at Baseball Analysts, Rich Lederer interviewed Bert Blyleven on a variety of topics, including the should-be Hall of Famer's thoughts on the Twins' playoffs chances, the pitching staff's dominance, and why pitch counts are the devil's creation.
  • Reading the Chicago newspapers following the Twins' sweep of the White Sox was a lot of fun, but I still managed to become annoyed at this excerpt from the Chicago Sun-Times:
    [The Twins] continued to show they might be the best "worst" team in baseball. Despite few household names, Minnesota has gone 34-8 since June 8 to catch the defending World Series champions.

    The idea that the Twins have "few household names" is either absurd or a major mark against the media's coverage of teams outside New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. Mauer is a former No. 1 overall pick who is leading baseball in batting average, Santana is a former Cy Young winner having another great year, Liriano is a rookie leading MLB with a sub-2.00 ERA after coming into the season as baseball's top pitching prospect, and all three of those guys were All-Stars.

  • The Twins used yesterday's off day to sign Mike Redmond to a two-year contract extension that includes a team option for 2009, which seems a little excessive for a 35-year-old backup catcher. Locking up a bench player through the age of 38 is the type of move that more often than not will end badly, although it can't be too much of a mistake assuming the deal is something close to the two-year contract worth $1.8 million Redmond initially signed with the Twins.

    Redmond is a perfect backup for Mauer. He hits right-handed, which allows Gardenhire to give Mauer days off against tough left-handed pitchers while taking advantage of the platoon edge. Redmond is also solid defensively, both in terms of throwing and calling a game, and is reportedly well-liked in the clubhouse. I liked the move to sign him two years ago and I like the move to re-sign him now, I just wish the option year was 2008.

  • By weighing the age and performance of each player in baseball, my Hardball Times colleague Dave Studeman determined that the Twins are the second-youngest team in MLB behind only the rebuilt, prospect-laden Marlins.
  • Today's Minneapolis Star Tribune contains a great feature-length article by the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III, on a week in the life of Santana. It's a must-read.
  • I'll be back first thing Monday morning with a full recap of the three-game series against Detroit and discussion of what did or didn't happen on the trade front. In the meantime, feel free to hang out in the comments section, which has suddenly become a hot spot with over 350 posts in the past two days.

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