August 18, 2010

Twins Notes: Thome, Morneau, Mijares, Gibson, Revere, and Wimmers

• This offseason the White Sox chose not to re-sign Jim Thome in large part because manager Ozzie Guillen urged general manager Ken Williams to let him go, saying he preferred to cycle various players through the designated hitter slot and make the lineup less homer dependent. Thome signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Twins and has batted .273/.391/.593 in 253 plate appearances, including last night's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning.

Meanwhile, the White Sox have gotten a combined .235/.305/.399 line from the DH spot, with Mark Kotsay drawing the most starts at the position. There is still a ton of baseball left to be played and even with the Twins now up four games on the White Sox in the division you can realistically point to any number of players on either team as the "difference" in the standings, but it sure is easy to focus on Thome simply switching sides. He's been amazing.

Justin Morneau revealed Friday and then repeated yesterday that he's yet to get through a single day symptom-free since suffering a concussion from a knee to the helmet while breaking up a double play on July 7. He's finally been able to take batting practice this week, but the Twins officially abandoned any timetable for his return. Here's how he described the situation to Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN.com:

At first it was wake up in the morning, feel good for about 10 minutes, and then the rest of the day not feel great. It's gone to wake up in the morning, get here, feel good, we start doing stuff, feel good, then get home and symptoms come back. Obviously you can't start pushing it too hard.

It has to be slow progression like we've done and hopefully that day's coming soon. I'm optimistic, just with how it's gone each day from where we started. Obviously it's taken longer than I thought or than I'd like, but I think they've handled it well and they want to make sure I'm ready to go when it's time to go back out there.

Morneau also talked about the frustratingly unpredictable nature of concussions:

When it happened, I thought two days after I'd be feeling all right. The thing about it, it's unpredictable. Coming in tomorrow, everything could be feeling good, could make it through the whole day. It could be next week, it could be two weeks, you never know. It's unpredictable. That's the part that's most frustrating.

You know, you hurt your knee, your MCL, it's 4-6 weeks. OK, you do a certain type of rehab, if everything goes good you can make it back in four weeks, and you kind of have that timetable. With this, it's different with every single person that goes through it.

Morneau has no doubt talked to his friend, fellow Canadian, and former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie, whose career was wrecked by a concussion at age 33. Koskie was playing for the Brewers in 2006 and hitting .261/.343/.490 through 76 games for one of his best seasons when he suffered a concussion while chasing after a foul ball on July 5. He never played again, finally retiring after going through several years of false starts and setbacks and frustration.

Obviously there's no reason to assume Morneau will mirror Koskie's sad tale, but there's a real possibility that he won't play again this year and legitimate reason to worry about his future. Combined with his missing the end of last season due to back surgery I'm starting to sense a certain segment of the fan base becoming frustrated by another long absence, but this is not an injury that Morneau can simply will himself to come back from. This is beyond toughness.

Jose Mijares being out for a month following knee surgery is a tough break because he had a 2.16 ERA and 21-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 innings since a bad first outing on April 5, but his role has been so limited that the impact could be fairly minimal. Factoring in his Triple-A stint, Mijares was on the Twins' roster for 90 games and logged 25.2 innings. Not only is that just 46 innings prorated to a full season, he faced an average of 2.8 batters per appearance.

Mijares had basically been pigeonholed into a left-handed specialist role despite holding right-handed hitters to a .256/.316/.400 line for his career. Losing him for a month and possibly the rest of the season is tough in the sense that he's one of the Twins' best relievers, but he was being severely underutilized anyway and the bullpen might be better off if Ron Gardenhire got back to his old style where lefty/righty matchups weren't driving so many decisions.

Ron Mahay tends to be the first name fans bring up when pondering relievers to potentially bump from the bullpen, but he's quietly been very solid in a low-leverage role this season and has a 3.14 ERA with a 33-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 innings since joining the Twins last August. I'm not convinced that the Twins really benefit much from having a strict left-handed specialist, but Mahay is certainly capable of filling that limited role for six weeks.

On the other hand, keeping Glen Perkins around primarily to have a second left-hander in the bullpen makes little sense. He got a big out last night versus Kotsay, who's 0-for-22 off lefties this year, but Perkins is ill-suited for a role that matches him up mostly with lefty bats. For his career Perkins has allowed lefties to hit .327 with an .857 OPS and righties to hit .283 with a .786 OPS. And as Nick Nelson pointed out, it's been the same story in the minors.

• It doesn't mean anything for the big-league team this season, but the Twins promoting 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson to Triple-A last week puts him in line to possibly claim a spot in the rotation next spring. After signing for $1.8 million, Gibson made his pro debut at high Single-A with a 1.87 ERA and 40-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43.1 innings. That got him a promotion to Double-A, where he had a 3.68 ERA and 77-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings.

Gibson moved up to his third level of the season Friday and tossed 5.1 innings of one-run ball in his Rochester debut, giving him a 3.04 ERA, .245 opponents' batting average, and 118-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142 innings overall. Not bad for a 22-year-old in his first pro season, and Gibson has somewhat offset his pedestrian strikeout numbers with a strong ground-ball rate of 56 percent. He may not have No. 1 starter upside, but could be an MLB-ready No. 2.

• Gibson's new Triple-A rotation-mate Nick Blackburn has a 1.10 ERA in three starts since last month's demotion to Rochester, but an 8-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.1 innings isn't quite as encouraging. Blackburn has been very tough to hit with a .186 opponents' batting average and he's allowed zero homers while inducing 72 percent ground balls, but ultimately if he can't find a way to miss more bats or re-establish his pinpoint control it's tough to be very optimistic.

Plus, with Brian Duensing thriving as his rotation replacement there's little room for Blackburn as anything other than a long reliever unless Kevin Slowey's elbow issues reoccur. Duensing was brilliant Saturday, hurling a complete-game shutout of the A's, and is now 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts this year and 8-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 14 career starts. I'm still skeptical about his ability to be more than a fourth starter long term, but clearly he's not going anywhere.

Ben Revere was hit near the right eye with a pitch on August 3 and is expected to miss the rest of the season with an orbital fracture, but Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that he could be cleared to play in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to the injury Revere's stock dropped for the second straight year as his once-lofty batting average predictably came back to earth against more experienced competition and exposed his lack of secondary skills.

Everyone looks great when they're hitting .379 like Revere did at low Single-A in 2008, but he batted .311/.372/.369 at high Single-A last year and .297/.365/.349 at Double-A this season. He managed just three homers, 32 total extra-base hits, and 70 walks in 207 games and 886 plate appearances during that time, which is why I suggested coming into the season that his upside is basically Juan Pierre. Right now he looks like a poor man's Pierre, which isn't good.

• Lost in the MLB-wide flurry of draft pick signings before the midnight deadline Monday is that the Twins signed their first rounder, Alex Wimmers, for the slot-recommended $1.3 million last week. Wimmers is unlikely to move through the system as quickly as Gibson, but he'll start out at high Single-A Fort Myers and has a chance to be in the Twins' plans as soon as 2012. In all the Twins signed each of their top 10 picks from what was a pretty standard "Twins draft."

  • Gendo

    A 10th inning set up by a Matt Capps blown save mind you.

  • Chris

    Thome is the Twins MVP because his production can be doubled: added to the Twins offense and subtracted from Ozzie’s idiotic “little ball” offense.

  • Gendo

    Hey Aaron, I uploaded this because I thought you’d get a kick out of it. Might be worth tossing in your post.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lWpFK64zhE

  • Brock

    Aaron I wouldn’t necessarily say that Perkins is just being used as a situational lefty. I would think that gardy just wasnt comfortable not having a long reliever. But he would have no problem letting Perkins go 4-5 innings.

  • mike

    thank you for providing realistic, fluid and entertaining twins commentary on a week in and week out basis. truly top notch.

    btw, the link to the warren g ‘regulate’ wikipedia description was also a big hit amidst my circle.

    much appreciated.

  • Matt

    Hit Tracker has the distance of Thome’s hit at 466 feet. I am pretty sure that they will say it wasn’t a “Lucky” homerun!

  • Adam Platt

    Vis-a-vis Mijares, isn’t part of the reason he’s been relegated to a specialist role that when he is left in for an entire inning things start to go bad really quick? After his encouraging September of 2007(?), his annual visa problems, poor conditioning, and shaky control exposed him as a guy who seems to neither want to put in the work nor concentration to make the most of what God gave him.

    And as for Revere, how many columns in the Strib and how many forecasts on local radio waves have touted Revere as the next great Twins find? I’m sure Seth and the community of Pollyanna bloggers have said the same. Why is the local sports media/blogosphere and fans become so besotted with players who excel in A ball? Far more of those players wash out by AAA or during their MLB cup of cofee than make a real mark in the majors. Delois Guerra will surely come through for us, though.

  • Uncle Josh

    http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=11082995&topic_id=8879206&c_id=cws

    Hawk Harrelson wondering what a Rawlings would look like in Delmon Young’s earhole.

  • ganderson

    I agree with Chris- keeping Thome off other teams’ rosters is valuable enough- I remember doing a Novena when he went to the Phillies!

  • Neil

    Ozzie’s apparent decision not to bring Thome back does make one wonder if the Twins are in his head. If you prioritize Konerko having a regular back-up so much that you want Mark Kotsay over Jim Thome, you’re clearly overanalyzing. Then again, that just seems to be the way these ex-middle infielders (Guillen and Gardy) manage — you can have too many lumbering power hitters, but you can never have enough bunting/hustling/small-balling.

    If Fire Joe Morgan was still commentating, they’d say it far more eloquently, but you get my point…

  • Neil

    And of course Thome’s invaluable to the Twins now, but until Morneau got concussed, he wasn’t really a good fit for the Twins, given all the other lefty hitters. But future HOFer Jim Thome comes to your team and says he’s willing to play for a million bucks? You just make that work.

    Still stunned that the White Sox left him for us…

  • Jakemeister

    Jim Thome is awesome. We got him for next to nothing and I think it is because he wanted to play here. Hell, demanded it. That makes me like him more. And he punished that ball last night. If not for the wind, that thing would have had a chance to bounce through the gate and off of Target Field property.

  • festivus

    Check this out. Thome’s AB/HR (At Bats over Home Runs) this year is 12.3. This leads all qualified members of both the AL and NL with the exception of Jose Bautista (and his 37 HR’s) who has an AB/HR of 11.3. Amazingly this isn’t his lowest AB/HR. He sported the following AB/HR’s as well:

    2003(CLE) 12.3
    2007(CHW) 12.3
    2004(PHI) 12.1
    2006(CHW) 11.7
    2002(CLE) 10.1
    2001(CLE) 9.2

    Thome has a career average of 13.6 AB/HR. Yikes! This isn’t too far off of Barry Bonds 12.9 career average (who sported a sick 6.5 AB/HR in 2001).

    To put this in context, check out these other sluggers current 2010 AB/HR stats (as of 8/17/10):

    Albert Pujols 14.1
    Miguel Cabrera 15.0
    Josh Hamilton 17.2
    Alex Rodriguez 20.3

    To sum this all up: Thome is the man!

  • festivus

    Just one more thing (no Columbo intended): Thome rounds out an impressive top 5 AB/HR career list:

    Mark Mcguire 10.61
    Babe Ruth 11.76
    Ryan Howard 12.36
    Barry Bonds 12.92
    Jim Thome 13.62

    Take out the PED squad and he’s top 3 all time.

  • Dave T

    Last night’s game reminded me of a heavyweight title fight. Both fighters won some rounds. Knockout blow by Thome in the 10th round.

  • Jbot

    Aaron: Any chance Twins go after former Texas A&M pitcher Barret Loux who was not signed by the D-backs due to 2009 elbow surgery? Despite failing his physical, (I can personally attest) he pitched extremely well for the Aggies this year, 11-2 and a 2.83 ERA. I know the Twins could use more pitching help, just curious if there is a chance of them going after this newly available free agent.

  • Danimal

    you ever going to give any love/respect to Valencia? The kid has and continues to play well and hit the ball well, if not for power.

  • mike wants wins

    Baseball America suggests Wimmers could be the 2nd player from this draft to see the majors – 2011 or 2012.

    I’ve always liked Thome, but I gotta admit, i didn’t think he had this much left. This might be an example of Gardy being a good manager…..

    As for Revere, even Seth has been moving him down his prospect rankings for some time. Should have sold high on him last year.

  • TMW

    Per Kyle Gibson: No way the rotation spot happens before June 1, 2011 but I see you mean.

  • Doug MacLennan

    Twins go to Mijares a lot more than you suggest. Mijares appeared in roughly 12 of 24 games from July 19 – August 11. It wasn’t mop-up either.

  • ?

    “I’m starting to sense a certain segment of the fan base becoming frustrated by another long absence, but this is not an injury that Morneau can simply will himself to come back from. This is beyond toughness.”

    Other than message board trolls, I have not heard anyone voice this sentiment.

  • brian

    I agree. The only thing we’re sensing is the fear that he might be finisished with baseball for good.

  • Gendo

    Another glorious appearance by proven closer Matt Capps.

  • Kurt E.

    Pretty mediocre K/9 for Gibson… and it’s the minors…. definitely not an ace and I would not even project # 2. He’s a 3 or 4 at least right now. A number 2 would be k-ing around 8 batters per 9, so when reaches majors it typically drops a point due to better opponents. Sigh… looks like another high pick spent on a finesse mid rotation arm.

  • mike wants wins

    The rubes comparing Capps to Nathan are cracking me up…..

  • theOW

    What is the deal with the straight – no movement fastballs fired by Capps the last 2-3 outings?
    When he first pitched for us, they were 96mph and moving and cutting. The last 2 nights = straight as an arrow. Hitters are simply going to tee off on him.
    Gappers and Home Runs will become the norm rather than the exceptions.

  • Arnold4321

    The deal is, Capps is not very good. I haven’t seen any moving and cutting since he arrived. Basically, he’s Jesse Crain before Crain learned how to throw off speed, or Matt Guerrier. Can you imagine the Twins going to, say, the Yanks and saying: We’ll give you Guerrier for Jesus Montero? What a joke. Time will tell, but this maybe one of the most lopsided trades in years.

  • mini_tb

    I’m not defending the Ramos/Capps trade or anything, but Wilson Ramos isn’t nearly the caliber of prospect that Jesus Montero is.

  • Arnold4321

    Probably not but I don’t know any other good catching prospects. But they are both highly regarded (well, except by the Twins). Anyway the point is, who in the world trades one of the top 2-3 prospects in their entire organization for a ho-hum reliever?

  • jioe

    The fact that the Twins could only get Matt Capps for Ramos tells you all you need to know about how “highly regarded” Ramos was.

  • Gendo

    That is outstanding circular logic.

  • jioe

    no, it just requires some thought…so hold on.

    The only real value a player has in a trade is what another team will “pay” for him, same as in a real world economic system. The Twins wanted a reliever, used their best chip that they could live without (Ramos) to get the best reliever they could find. That is what they got. And if you are of the belief that the Twins didnt kick the tires on as many better relievers and just went after Capps, you are not living in reality. Hell they even had to toss in Testa. Fact of the matter is, no one values Ramos as much as Twins fans, but that is not what matters.

  • Arnold4321

    You’re assuming, of course, that the economy of MLB is net-zero, in other words, everything transaction is 100% fair and equal. No, there’s a such thing as a fleecing in baseball trades. So AJ Pierzinski is “worth” Liriano and Nathan? Think that one out. Your reasoning actually makes sense: the Twins wanted a reliever, they had no use for Ramos, and they wanted to get the best reliever possible. What happened was they vastly overrated that reliever. Probably they looked at 1 statistic (saves) and thought, gee, this guy’s brilliant! Yeah, he’s worth Ramos and another guy.

    Just because a team CAN make a move, doesn’t mean it’s a naturally a fair deal, and certainly doesn’t mean they should automatically do it.

  • Brooklynegg

    @theOW: You are correct. In his first appearance as a Twin, Capps fastballs had excellent movement. Now, they are fast, but dead straight. He now reminds me of LaTroy Hawkins. A lot.