June 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sad Mad Bum, Alexi power, first rounders, and imagination

• San Francisco's starter last night, Madison Bumgarner, came into the game with a 3.03 ERA in 205 career innings, including a 3.21 ERA this year. He allowed eight runs on nine hits before getting yanked with just one out in the first inning. And then the Twins were held scoreless for 4.2 innings by Guillermo Mota, a 37-year-old reliever who'd never thrown that many innings in 13 seasons in the majors. Funny game, that baseball (but we knew that already).

• Not to be overlooked in last night's insanity: Alexi Casilla has now homered in back-to-back games after homering once in his previous 221 games.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Phillies "made inquiries" about Michael Cuddyer. Presumably given the way he's hitting and the way the Twins are playing they were rebuffed. In the span of two weeks Cuddyer has gone from .260/.321/.370 to .281/.345/.454, raising his OPS by 109 points in 16 games. And the Twins have cut their deficit in the AL Central from 16.5 games to 6.5 games by going 15-3 in June, including eight straight wins, all after a 17-36 start.

Joe Nathan has thrown two scoreless innings while rehabbing at Triple-A and could be back in the Twins' bullpen as soon as this weekend.

Joe Mauer and Bill Smith addressed the media before his return to the lineup last week and what struck me is how much different the perception of his injury would've been had everyone involved simply called it complications from offseason knee surgery. Instead the Twins called it bilateral leg weakness, which raised eyebrows and never seemed to sit right with Mauer, and the odd diagnosis being shrouded in mystery magnified the criticism ten-fold.

Alex Wimmers was removed from the Fort Myers rotation after his season debut when the 2010 first-round pick walked all six hitters he faced and LaVelle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that two months in extended spring training hasn't solved his control issues. Wimmers has visited a psychotherapist and Neal writes that "the Twins are baffled" by how he went from starring at Ohio State with excellent control to following Shooter Hunt's footsteps.

Hunt was one of the top college arms in the 2008 draft coming out of Tulane and had a strong pro debut after the Twins picked him 31st overall, but in three seasons since then he's walked 181 batters in 129 innings and now looks unlikely to get past Single-A. Hunt went from being one of the highest upside pitchers in the system to a bust overnight and Wimmers is in danger of the same fate just a year after being touted as one of the draft's most polished pitchers.

• Speaking of Neal, he dipped his toe in the sabermetric pool yesterday. What a nerd.

This year's first-round pick, Levi Michael, isn't able to sign because he's still playing for North Carolina in the College World Series, but he was dropped from second to seventh in the lineup because of a recent slump that dragged his once-lofty batting average below .300. I've been watching most of North Carolina's games to get a look at Michael, but he's struggled so much that forming an opinion on his skill set is tough. His defense has looked decent at shortstop.

• Just in case you thought the media taking pot shots at Kevin Slowey stopped when he was placed on the disabled list and banished to extended spring training, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote this on Twitter during last night's game:

My imagination or did Twins turn it around after Slowey's plane landed in Fort Myers?

It's his imagination. In the days following Slowey being put on the DL the Twins went 1-6. And if you're going to attach their recent success to specific roster moves, the current 15-2 stretch started the same day they placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on the DL. That storyline isn't quite as convenient, though.

Dusty Hughes was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. When the Twins claimed Hughes off waivers from the Royals in January they talked up his 3.83 ERA and how left-handed hitters like Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span gave glowing scouting reports after facing him. Hughes' track record suggested otherwise and sure enough he allowed 14 runs in 13 innings while opponents hit .365/.452/.673 off him.

Brian Dinkelman was also removed from the 40-man roster and sent back to Triple-A, which is no surprise given that his call-up early this month came out of nowhere. Dinkelman has been in the organization since 2006 and there wasn't much harm in giving him a cup of coffee in the majors when injuries left the Twins with few other options, but realistically he's a marginal role player at best and at age 27 seems unlikely to make it back to the big leagues.

Chuck James kept his spot on the 40-man roster, but the Twins optioned him back to the minors to make room for Glen Perkins' return from the disabled list. While not surprising, the decision to demote James rather than fellow left-hander Phil Dumatrait is unfortunate. Before shoulder surgery James was a solid young mid-rotation starter for the Braves and he deserves more of an opportunity after dominating as a reliever at Triple-A.

I'm sure the Twins based their decision on Dumatrait's sparkling ERA between Rochester and Minnesota, but his success has involved all of 25 innings and comes with more walks (17) than strikeouts (14). Dumatrait's track record includes a 6.67 ERA in 119 innings as a major leaguer and a 6.13 ERA with more walks (55) than strikeouts (46) in 104 innings at Triple-A last year. He's a bad pitcher having a fluky run, whereas James has the potential to actually be useful.

Pat Neshek returned to Minnesota as a member of the Padres over the weekend, throwing a scoreless inning Friday, and also shared some interesting thoughts about his departure with Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN:

The best word is probably bittersweet I'd say. For that week before [I was waived], I knew everybody passed me up there. I didn't know why. I mean, I got the opportunity, but I didn't feel like anybody was really taking me serious. ... It was sad leaving behind the fan base, all the stuff I worked towards, all the stuff I did in my community, for my hometown. I was sad, but I knew it had to happen.

There comes a time when you're not getting that opportunity. Minnesota, that's my ideal place. I never would have left. I mean, I wish I would have stayed healthy, never had that Tommy John and stuff like that. My family's all decked out in Twins stuff. I don't know what to do with that stuff anymore. What do you do? My car's got a Twins emblem. I didn't expect it to happen. I thought as long as I pitched well I'd stay, but that's how the game works.

I'm very glad to see Neshek having success in San Diego with a 3.60 ERA and .222 opponents' batting average in 20 innings, although it comes with a horrendous 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struggled to bounce back from elbow surgery and then upset the Twins by speaking publicly about the medical staff, but instead of just stashing him at Triple-A they cut him loose for nothing in a spring training move that didn't make much sense to me then or now.

• Rochester's search for players to fill out a roster plucked over by the Twins led them to sign right-hander Thomas Diamond, who was the No. 10 pick in the 2004 draft and twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 prospects while with the Rangers. Tommy John surgery derailed his career before Diamond bounced back enough to get a call-up to the Cubs last year, but they released the 28-year-old last week after he posted an 8.66 ERA in 45 innings at Triple-A.

• I'm giving serious thought to purchasing Toby Gardenhire's game-used Triple-A jersey in the name of both charity and irony.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota salsa company Curt's Salsa, which I've enjoyed on several occasions and personally recommend.

  • frightwig

    Speaking of dipping a toe into the sabermetrics pool, one of the Mariners broadcasts last weekend put up a graphic showing the top 5 leaders in pitching WAR. Circle me, Bert!

  • http://www.twinkietown.com Jesse

    Dusty Hughes was always a terrible idea, and looking back now it’s even more obvious that the Twins were grasping at straws in an attempt to fill bullpen needs.

    When I spoke to Rob Antony about Hughes, this is what he said:

    “RA: We saw him about ten times last year with the Royals. What they’d do is they’d bring him in every time, about the sixth or seventh inning when we had a bunch of lefties coming up, and all he did was get Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Thome out with regularity. And those guys do a pretty good job against left-handers.

    He was tough on us. He had a .260 batting average against lefties, which isn’t dominant, but this guy knows how to pitch. He can get lefties and righties out. We just think he’s a good fit for a left-handed guy who might be able to pitch for an inning or two if you need him to.”

    Red flags went off for me when he gave me that answer–he admits, although the guy would essentially be a LOOGY, that Hughes’ numbers versus LHB really wasn’t that great. And “but he knows how to pitch”, I’m not even sure what that means.

    Maybe the Twins saw him as a guy who could pitch in junk time. I don’t know. Either way it was a failure, and was more or less destined to be a failure from the start.

  • http://thebatshatters.blogspot.com AK

    Love the LENIII comment. Not a bad job by him either! Also, @frightwig LOL!

  • BR

    Re: the Phillies and Cuddyer. I hope – but do not expect – that the Twins are still talking with teams about moving certain players. The Twins had a glut of OFs coming into the season and holes elsewhere. That situation still exists. If someone is willing to overpay for Cuddyer (along the Ramos-for-Capps lines), then the team should listen. What if the Phillies offered Domonic Brown for him? They won’t, but what if? You do that deal.

    Ditto re: Kubel.

  • Adam

    Aaron- You’re obsessed with calendar months! Stop saying that the Twins started 17-36, while going 15-3 since, and call it what it is…they started 17-37 and have won 15 of 17 since. It’s not a big deal what their June record is.

  • Josh

    So I know there’s no way Alexi can stay on the roll he’s on right now (back to back HR games? Good lord!), but what do we think we can expect from him the rest of the year? Can he hit .280 with a solid OBP and enough doubles & triples to make him a real asset, or will he revert to the offensive black hole he was at the start of the season?

    Casilla is quite the enigma. After a horrid start, he’s been pushing up the hitting stats consistently for 2 months. 2007 & 2009, he’s so awful a hitter it defies description. 2008 & 2010, he’s nearly league-average and shows potential. Right now, he’s looking like the guy fro the even years…after starting the season like the guy from the odds. I really wonder which guy he’ll be for the rest of the year.

  • Kurt E.

    Baffling that Wimmers is going down the same path Hunt did. It’s like you said, how can a guy like Wimmers who had excellect control and command during a large sample size, come to the minors and be this awful? Makes absolutely no sense. Are the Twins doing something wrong with their development of these kids? IS there some Pysche thing going on where they’re not mentally able to hanlde the transition? Hopefully the organization gets mad and goes the reverse route by picking guys that throw hard and walk the park and then they figure it out in minors and dominate in the majors! Woooooweeeeee!!!

  • JA

    Jesse, so you want to chastise the Twins FO for taking a chance on a guy for free, or excuse me, Rob Delaney. They also took a chance on Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait. Sometimes you find a surprise.
    Its unfortunate it did’nt work out longer for Neshak. The FO must have felt a change of scenery was in order.
    Levi Micheal is reportly playing through mirid of nagging injuries. So we probably are not seeing this 20 year old kid play up to his full potentail.

  • al mayer

    Not a mirid, surely.

  • Brian

    JA,

    I’m not sure what you are trying to say. It seems like you are trying to justify a horrible move (waiving Delaney to make room for Hughes) by pointing out a good move the Twins made that worked out. (picking up James on waivers.)

    Aaron is not making these assessments in hindsight, he and everyone else who watches baseball closely knew that Dusty Hughes is awful, and that waiving Delaney, who was still reasonably young and had potential was not a good move. Aaron, and many others also praised the Twins for taking a chance on James.

    Furthermore, Dumatrait sucks so I wouldn’t point him out as a successful pick-up.

    So yeah, you’ve created a false dichotomy.

  • 1987Twins

    why does souhan’s twitter not surprise me. if anyone is a malcontent it’s souhan

  • morgan

    Everyone with ears should sign the Vin Scully for the World Series petition linked to on Hardball Talk. Bring on Mr. Golden Voice!

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/06/22/sign-a-petition-to-have-vin-scully-call-the-world-series-this-year/

  • JA

    brian
    Im simply pointing out that the FO took a chance on the 24-25 spot on the roster to see if they could find someone to fill it. They must have felt a need for some left handed relievers, they signed a few.

  • David

    First, Aaron. Then, a dose of Ted Robinson. Now, Neal (good job). We actually have some media members who take the time to understand and explain the game.

  • nick

    Been to that restaurant twice in a week and had no complaints from 15 people. Sounds like an advertisement? Did you receive funds? I love you either way.

  • meister

    Plouffe hit a HR last night while playing right-field in the first game of a double-header. Just saying.

    Steve Lombardozzi Jr. played 2B in that game.