April 26, 2010

Twins Notes: Hughes, Walks, Slama, Shooter, and Snoop

• After playing short-handed for a week the Twins finally placed Nick Punto on the disabled list Friday, calling up Luke Hughes from Triple-A to fill his roster spot. In the past Punto has often tried to play through injuries, resulting in the odd combination of a horrible performance being praised, but this time he at least managed to stay out of the lineup with a strained groin while Brendan Harris filled in at third base.

Danny Valencia is a better prospect than Hughes, but the Twins think he needs more work on defense and he's hitting just .176 at Triple-A. Plus, because Punto may not miss a ton of time Hughes makes more sense in much the same way Drew Butera filling in for the injured Jose Morales makes more sense than calling up Wilson Ramos to back up Joe Mauer. Valencia isn't as promising as Ramos, but if the Twins do call him up they'll want it to be for years not weeks.

None of which is to suggest that Hughes is any more ready than Valencia to be a starting third baseman in the majors, because his glove generally receives even worse reviews and his bat projects similarly. However, he's a better candidate to sit on the bench for a couple weeks and Ron Gardenhire would stick with Harris at third base until Punto returns no matter the call-up. I'd like to see Hughes get some starts at designated hitter or left field against lefties.

For more on Hughes, see my write-up ranking him as the No. 23 prospect in the Twins' system.

Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes that the Twins' league-leading walk total has them on pace to draw 70 percent more walks than in 2005. The change began last year, when they ranked fourth in walks after years of being among the league's worst, but the additions of Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson combined with Denard Span's continued development and sudden walk rate spikes by Jason Kubel and Justin Morneau have taken things to new levels.

Homers are nice, but getting on base and working counts to knock starting pitchers out early is an ideal recipe for putting runs on the board and it's great to see the lineup evolve from a free-swinging Jacque Jones approach to an ultra-patient Mauer approach. Span put it best: "If they throw it over the plate we're going to swing, but if not we're going to take pitches until we get what we want." Amusingly, he then called Delmon Young "the guy who never walks."

Jon Rauch blew his first save Saturday and not only didn't the world end, the Twins actually won the game. Aside from the fact that he's helping the team, the best part of Rauch going 6-for-7 in save opportunities so far is that it keeps hyperbolic fans and media members from attaching the usual mythical importance to a role that has an 85 percent success rate. As long as Rauch keeps pitching like he always has as a setup man, he'll continue to be just fine.

• I've long speculated that the front office is behind Anthony Slama still being in the minors at age 26, because he's repeatedly been passed over for call-ups and isn't even on the 40-man roster yet despite Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson praising him as someone they would like to take a look at. As always he's putting up great numbers in the minors with a 1.80 ERA, .147 opponents' batting average, and 14 strikeouts in 10 innings at Rochester this year.

Combined over the past two years he now has a 2.57 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, and 126 strikeouts in 91 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Much like Pat Neshek back in 2005/2006, high-minors dominance like that simply warrants a shot regardless of skepticism or question marks, but as Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote recently the front office remains unwilling to call up Slama despite his being Gardenhire's "preferred pitcher."

David Brown of Yahoo! Sports recently chatted with Mauer and showed why he's one of the best interviewers in the business by actually getting the reigning MVP to say a few interesting things. Among them is that Mauer loves hip-hop music, which gives me an excuse to re-run this amusing photo from his high school days:

Obviously those Cretin-Derham Hall boys roll hard.

• Mauer went 5-for-6 in Saturday's extra-inning win over the Royals for his third career five-hit game, which ties him for the second-most in baseball history among catchers and puts him one behind all-time leader Ernie Lombardi, who's also the only other catcher with multiple batting titles. For all positions Pete Rose (10) and Tony Gwynn (9) are the five-hit leaders and Kirby Puckett (6), Rod Carew (5), and Tony Oliva (4) are the only Twins with more than Mauer.

Shooter Hunt was a mess last season with 58 walks, 15 wild pitches, and seven hit batters in 33 innings between rookie-ball and low Single-A, and the 2008 first-round pick allowed five runs without a recording an out in his 2010 debut at high Single-A. However, as LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune notes Hunt has allowed just one run in eight innings since then, including five shutout innings with nine strikeouts and zero baserunners in his last two games.

• Last winter there was talk of the Twins pursuing free agent reliever Juan Cruz, who posted a 2.88 ERA, .199 opponents' batting average, and 158 strikeouts in 112.1 innings the previous two years. They ultimately balked because signing him would have meant losing a first-round pick and Cruz got a two-year, $6 million deal from the Royals, who by virtue of their bad record only had to forfeit a second rounder. Cruz was released Friday after a 5.50 ERA in 56 innings.

  • http://thatstwinsbaseball.com bennyc50

    Judging by the aesthetically pleasing female in the picture, it didn’t suck to be Joe Mauer in high school either.

  • http://laughorgaffe.blogspot.com Tony

    Someone needs to give the front office a copy of the chapter “Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher” from Moneyball.

  • Reggie F. Cat

    I’m sure the young girl in the picture was unable to woo Mighty Joe Young.

    After all, isn’t he gay?

    During Twins broadcasts last year they kept saying that Mauer and Justin Morneau were “feeding off each other.”

  • Neil

    I’ll praise AG.com for its search capabilities. It allowed me to look up Juan Cruz and see where Aaron called him “an elite setup man” and a “perfect fit” for the Twins back in the ’09 preseason.

    In Aaron’s defense, he also said it was understandable that the Twins didn’t want to give up a first-round pick to sign him.

    But even I knew a guy with Cruz’ walk rate would be horsecrap outside of the sucky NL.

  • Nathan Gau

    I’ve seen that photo of Mauer before. I believe that girl in the photo is actually his cousin… I could be wrong on that one though… Just remember reading somewhere that she’s a relative.

  • wrong em

    I wonder if it’s also worth noting that they’ve been giving Hughes a lot of time at 2B in the minors/spring. Even if it’s not going to last, maybe they’re not looking at it as him vs. Valencia.

  • Dave T

    The only thing the Twins are lacking now (besides a 3B) is a killer instinct. When you have a team on the ropes, put them away. With runners in scoring position, working a pitcher for a walk is not conducive to RBI’s. And no, I do not agree that a bases-loaded walk should result in an RBI for the batter. RWI maybe.

  • pete

    Right, and homeruns kill rallys. First-timer to ag.com?

  • James M.

    Any idea why the FO is down on Slama? And, if they have no intention of bringing him up, why not trade him? Gotta believe he would have some value to teams like the D’backs.

  • Brian

    Easy Prediction: Slama comes up in late June, early July a la Neshek in 2006 to avoid Super Two status for salary arbitration purposes. Maybe even bounces around with Burnett so he doesn’t qualify for super 2 status either.

    Slama, Burnett, Neshek, Mijares/Duensing set as foundation for good, cheap bullpen going forward

  • mike wants wins

    I think Slama’s not up because of hubris. Bloggers and stat heads love Slama, and they want to prove us all wrong.

    Ok, I don’t really think that….but I can’t come up with another good explanation (other than their obsession with veteran presence).

    I’d also like to see Hughes get some time against a lefty. As scary as his glove supposedly is, Hardy and OCab need a break some time (and it’s not like Hardy is hitting).

    As for Ramos, it’s clear they don’t want Butera in there. Mauer has missed only two games so far. Of course, now that I’ve checked the stats, 6 catchers have started 16 or 17 games, so maybe it isn’t about Butera….but at some point, Mauer will need more games off, I’d think. If Morales misses two months, does anyone’s opinion change on Ramos being up? Does 4-5 starts matter?

  • Ted

    The bullpen isn’t really killing the team right now, so maybe leaving Slama in the minors isn’t such a horrible thing. Not giving him a look last season, when the bullpen was overworked and struggling, made no sense. But through 57 innings pitched this season, the bullpen is second in all of MLB with a 2.37 ERA, and their walk rate is second only to Houston.

  • WOW

    mike wants wins living in the past with OCab? Haha…I’m glad we have the O-Dawg now instead of running out that dinosaur OCab at 2B this year (though i am grateful for his play down the stretch run)

  • JJ

    Wow, I don’t know how that picture ended up on this blog page. Joe and I were highschool friends and we were just goofing around in the picture. The picture was taken in Fort Myers shortly after he signed with the Twins. And to all you guys with high hopes, sorry, Joe is not gay. It’s funny how rumors get started. His priority right now, obviously, is baseball. Beautiful women will always be throwing themselves at Joe. I think he is smart to focus on his career, the rest will fall into place in time.

  • Nathan

    How many option years does Slama have? I take it he wasn’t eligible for the Rule V draft?

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year. Rauch Crain, and Guerrier are all FA and I would think it unlikely that we resign them all. Hopefully they let Crain walk. Seems like they’ll need some new blood by then. Hopefully Slama and Burnett are a part of that.

  • Mark

    Ummm, where was she when I went to C-DH?

  • Nathan

    Answered my own question. If he is not on our 40 man roster next rule V draft, he will be eligible to be selected. Seems like he has been around for more than 3+ years now though.

  • Adam S.

    Joe and Snoop kinda look alike dont ya think?

  • Carl

    So does JJ stand a chance in the next OFGOAG.COM election?

  • http://jasonwinter.blogspot.com Jason w

    I’m sure if she submits an up-to-date pic, AG will consider her case.