May 30, 2012

Going to WAR: What to expect from the No. 2 overall pick

Two weeks ago I examined the five players most likely to be the Twins' target with the No. 2 pick, so today I thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of that spot in the draft. Elite-level talent varies wildly from draft to draft and trying to draw conclusions based on 47 players spanning 47 years is silly, so this is mostly just an exercise in curiosity. In other words, Reggie Jackson being the No. 2 pick in 1966 doesn't mean much for the Twins in 2012.

For the purposes of this little investigation I'm going to focus on the 25-year history of the No. 2 pick from 1982 to 2006, because going back any further seems particularly irrelevant to the Twins' current situation and for the most part the players selected since 2006 haven't really had a chance to establish themselves in the majors yet. So here are the 25 players selected No. 2 overall from 1982 to 2006, along with their career Wins Above Replacement totals:

YEAR   NO. 2 PICK           TEAM           WAR
1982   Augie Schmidt        Blue Jays      0.0
1983   Kurt Stillwell       Reds           1.6
1984   Bill Swift           Mariners      19.3
1985   Will Clark           Giants        53.2
1986   Greg Swindell        Indians       28.5
1987   Mark Merchant        Pirates        0.0
1988   Mark Lewis           Indians       -4.0
1989   Tyler Houston        Braves         1.0
1990   Tony Clark           Tigers        10.1
1991   Mike Kelly           Braves         0.0
1992   Paul Shuey           Indians        6.1
1993   Darren Dreifort      Dodgers        6.7
1994   Ben Grieve           Athletics      6.7
1995   Ben Davis            Padres         2.4
1996   Travis Lee           Twins          5.3
1997   J.D. Drew            Phillies      42.4
1998   Mark Mulder          Athletics     18.4
1999   Josh Beckett         Marlins       31.1
2000   Adam Johnson         Twins         -1.0
2001   Mark Prior           Cubs          15.9
2002   B.J. Upton           Rays          11.3
2003   Rickie Weeks         Brewers       11.8
2004   Justin Verlander     Tigers        28.5
2005   Alex Gordon          Royals        11.8
2006   Greg Reynolds        Rockies       -1.4

For some Twins-related context for those WAR totals, consider that Luis Rivas had -2.9 WAR for his career, Jacque Jones had 9.2 WAR for his career, Roy Smalley had 25.3 WAR for his career, Kent Hrbek had 35.7 WAR for his career, and Rod Carew had 76.6 WAR for his career. There are lots of factors, but basically 0-10 WAR is a role player, 10-20 WAR is a regular, 20-35 WAR is a very good regular, 35-50 WAR is a star, and above 50 WAR is Hall of Fame territory.

As you can see, that list of No. 2 picks isn't exactly packed with Hall of Famers. In fact, of the 25 players selected No. 2 from 1982 to 2006 two failed to reach the big leagues at all, three others produced negative WAR when they did, and a total of 13 didn't crack double-digit WAR. In other words, more than half of the No. 2 overall picks were no better than role players or, in a few of those cases, very good players who stumbled on the path to sustained stardom.

There are zero Hall of Famers on that 25-player list, although Will Clark is a fairly legitimate candidate, Justin Verlander may yet get there some day, and Mark Prior seemed headed for Cooperstown before injuries derailed him. Beyond that Josh Beckett, Mark Mulder, J.D. Drew, B.J. Upton, Bill Swift, Greg Swindell, Rickie Weeks, and Alex Gordon are stars, to varying degrees. Still, those 25 produced a lot less career value than I'd have guessed.

None of which is to say that there wasn't much more career value available with the No. 2 pick in those 25 years, because almost every draft class during that time included at least one star-caliber player who didn't go No. 1. For instance, when the Twins got zero value from No. 2 pick Adam Johnson in 2000 the class also included Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Webb, Ian Kinsler, and plenty of other familiar names.

Or when the Twins took Travis Lee at No. 2 in 1996, failed to sign him, and watched him have a mediocre career with four different teams the class also included Roy Oswalt, Barry Zito, Jimmy Rollins, Eric Chavez, and Travis Hafner, among others. That isn't fun for Twins fans to think about, but similar stories apply to every draft class during that 25-year span and rarely did the No. 2 pick actually produce the second-best player even when studs were available.

Oddly during the 10 years from 1987-1996 the No. 2 pick produced zero stars and all but one failed to crack double-digit WAR, whereas during the 10 years from 1997-2006 all but two No. 2 picks have already topped 10 WAR and depending on your definition there are as many as eight stars. With only one player per year it's tough to differentiate between randomness and something with predictive value, but maybe scouting and/or decision-making has improved.

As for what that all means for the Twins come June 4 ... I'm not sure. Between the consensus on this year's draft class being that it lacks elite-level talent and the fairly underwhelming history of No. 2 picks from 1982 to 2006 expectations certainly need to be held in check. For every Clark or Verlander there have been several flat-out busts and ultimately snagging a solid but unspectacular player would represent an above-average return from the pick.

Also worth noting is that while we read the glowing scouting reports and dream of this year's top prospects developing into stars history suggests that several of Byron Buxton, Mark Appel, Kyle Zimmer, Mike Zunino, and Kevin Gausman will prove to be busts and zero or one star emerging from that quintet is more likely than three or four. Whatever happens, the Twins can't possibly get less value from this No. 2 pick than they got picking there in 1996 and 2000.

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May 28, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #43: Morneau, Moves, and Mocks

Topics for this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek included Justin Morneau's resurgence, the Twins' options with the No. 2 overall pick on June 4, Jason Marquis' departure, Francisco Liriano's move back into the rotation, the best baseball movies of all time, first impressions of Cole De Vries, our PickPointz MVP picks, Johan Santana's return to greatness, Ben Revere's role, and why Anthony Slama can't catch a break.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 43

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

May 25, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Dmitri Young sold his baseball card collection for $2.5 million. And here's my favorite part of the story: "Only seven cards in the entire collection received no bids and all were rookie cards of his brother, current Tigers outfielder Delmon Young."

• Anyone know if this team needs a blogger?

• Oddly both brilliant and creepy: The evolution of a family, one picture per year.

Joe Mauer and Snoop Dogg, together again at Thursday night's White Sox-Twins game.

• Financing the remake of a Pauly Shore movie is a sure sign that you have too much money.

• Thing that made me feel elderly: This week is the 20th anniversary of The Real World on MTV.

• Friend of AG.com and former Gleeman and The Geek guest Lindsay Guentzel beat out 22,000 applicants for a spot in the MLB Fan Cave, but now they're voting out residents, Survivor-style, and she needs your help to stick around and keep living in New York all season. Go vote.

LeBron James reads The Hunger Games in the locker room, obviously.

Michael Cuddyer is in a new league and on a new bad team, but the newspaper articles about him and "clubhouse chemistry" predictably live on.

Curt Schilling: Great pitcher, not-so-great businessman.

• Saying this will inevitably lead to ridicule, but whatever: John Mayer's new album is really good and also quite a bit different than most of his previous stuff.

• If you're interested in becoming an AG.com "sponsor of the week" click here for details.

• Fat-O-Meter update: I wrote on March 7 about losing 153 pounds in one year. Since then I've dropped another 23 pounds and now weigh 179 pounds, compared to 176 pounds lost.

• My weekly appearance on KFAN with Paul Allen was fun and you can listen to us talk about the Twins and the MLB draft and my life as a robot by clicking here.

• On a related note, I showed up at the radio station immediately after this took place:

 Not so long ago I'd have been excited about the fact that there were still donuts around.

• I'd like this cake for my next birthday, please. But definitely not the blond version.

Aroldis Chapman was arrested for driving significantly slower than he throws.

Jim Thome is single-handedly trying to prop up the housing market by selling his old place for $3.8 million and buying a new place for $4.6 million.

• Someone bought Babe Ruth's old jersey for $4.4 million.

Torii Hunter has yet to rejoin the Angels two weeks after his 17-year-old son's arrest on sexual assault charges.

• My former Sunday school classmate Leora Itman writes about how my old temple in St. Paul has a new, supposedly "cool" rabbi. And he has a sports blog called The Great Rabbino.

Chris Brown and his fans truly deserve each other.

Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy profile of Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton, who might end up being the Twins' choice with the No. 2 pick next month.

• I've never tuned in specifically to watch this show, yet cancellation is probably the only way to stop me from watching five episodes in a row every time I stumble across a marathon.

• NBC renewed Community for another season, but creator and show-runner Dan Harmon got fired and it's tough imagine the quality and creativity not suffering without him.

• Who is Cole De Vries and what is he doing in the Twins' rotation? I'm glad you asked.

• In similar news, I'm taking myself out of consideration for People's sexiest man of the year.

Jesse Thorn's long-form interview show Bullseye is always a must-listen, but that's especially true this week with Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as his guest.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is the studio version of the title track from Mayer's new album, "Born and Raised":

This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

May 24, 2012

Twins give undrafted former Gophers ace Cole De Vries a shot in rotation

Cole De Vries was the Gophers' ace in 2006, going 7-3 with a 2.42 ERA and 72-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 innings to earn All-Big Ten second-team honors, but the Eden Prairie native went undrafted before signing with the Twins. He debuted at low Single-A in 2007 and moved up to high Single-A in 2008, faring well in both stops, but then struggled at Double-A in 2009 with a 4.53 ERA, .291 opponents' batting average, and 90/46 K/BB ratio in 138 innings.

At that point the Twins shifted De Vries from the rotation to the bullpen and had him repeat Double-A in 2010, but he was even worse there and also got knocked around in his first taste of Triple-A. Combined between the two levels De Vries posted a 5.79 ERA with 113 hits and 39 walks in 92 innings while serving up 12 homers. At age 26 he was in danger of being released, but instead the Twins sent him back to Double-A and something clicked the third time around.

Serving as New Britain's closer he saved nine games with a 2.28 ERA and 33/5 K/BB ratio in 28 innings, earning a promotion to Rochester. He came back down to earth, but remained plenty effective at Triple-A with a 3.90 ERA and 42/18 K/BB ratio in 62 innings. He still wasn't on the prospect radar, still wasn't on the 40-man roster, and still wasn't protected from the Rule 5 draft, but at age 27 he finally earned a chance to start a season one step from the majors.

And not only did De Vries begin this year at Triple-A the Twins decided to shift him back into the rotation there. When injuries and ineffectiveness destroyed the MLB rotation depth his Triple-A rotation-mates Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond, and P.J. Walters got calls to the majors and De Vries kept plugging along in Rochester with a 4.24 ERA and 37/7 K/BB ratio in 47 innings. They dipped down into Triple-A again to replace Jason Marquis and De Vries got the nod.

De Vries' big opportunity comes more as a result of the failure of others than his own success, but that surely doesn't make finally reaching the majors with his hometown team at age 27 any less satisfying for an undrafted career minor leaguer. And he did his part by persevering through some rough times and improving as a pitcher even while bouncing back and forth from role to role and level to level.

As we'll see in De Vries' major-league debut tonight his raw stuff is underwhelming, including a high-80s fastball that failed to miss many bats in the minors and may have big-league hitters drooling. However, after walking 3.3 batters per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009 and 2010 he sliced that to 1.9 walks per nine innings at the same two levels in 2011 and 2012. He's hittable, but at least he throws strikes and in the Twins' world that means a lot.

As an undrafted 27-year-old extreme fly-ball pitcher with a high-80s fastball and a 4.65 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A the odds are heavily stacked against De Vries having any kind of sustained success in the majors, but it'll be awfully difficult to pitch any worse than the $3 million mess that was Marquis. Hopefully he can follow Diamond and Walters as an unexpected spark for the rotation and either way De Vries simply reaching the majors is a helluva story.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

May 22, 2012

Twins Notes: Marquis, Parmelee, Sano, old friends, and Babe Butera

• Sunday on Gleeman and The Geek we talked about Jason Marquis' latest clunker of a start and how much longer the Twins could possibly stick with him in the rotation. It didn't take long for an answer, as the Twins designated Marquis for assignment seven starts into a $3 million deal given to the 33-year-old veteran who was supposed to help stabilize a shaky rotation. Minnesota native and former Gophers star Cole De Vries was called up to take his spot.

Marquis now goes in the same pile as Ramon Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, and Sidney Ponson, each of whom were signed more for their veteran-ness than ability and got booted from the rotation after performing terribly. Those four pitchers combined to cost the Twins around $12 million for 303 innings of a 5.88 ERA and in each case the terrible performances were entirely predictable, although certainly Marquis was even worse than anyone could have expected.

He posted an 8.47 ERA and allowed 33 runs in 34 innings with more walks than strikeouts and nine homers, as opponents hit .371/.434/.629. To put that in some context, consider Albert Pujols is a career .325/.417/.609 hitter, so Marquis basically turned every batter he faced into a souped-up version of this era's best hitter. He wasn't throwing strikes, he wasn't keeping the ball in the ballpark, and he ranked dead last among MLB pitchers in swinging strikes.

When the Twins signed Marquis this winter I called it "an uninspired pickup made necessary by payroll slashing" and noted how odd it was for Terry Ryan to praise his ability to "throw the ball over the plate" when in reality his career walk rate was identical to Francisco Liriano's at 3.5 per nine innings. Marquis' awful control shouldn't have been a surprise, but all the homers from a ground-ball pitcher were unexpected and turned a questionable signing into a disaster.

• Unfortunately the Chris Parmelee situation played out exactly as I'd feared when the Twins chose to focus on an impressive September call-up and strong spring training while dismissing a mediocre track record. They had Parmelee skip Triple-A despite hitting just .282/.355/.421 in two seasons at Double-A and then relegated him to the bench when he predictably struggled in the majors, demoting him to Rochester when Justin Morneau came off the disabled list.

Parmelee was and still is a decent prospect with some long-term upside, but at no point has he ever looked like a potential star and it's silly to expect a 24-year-old to go directly from slugging .421 at Double-A to thriving in the majors. Hopefully the less than ideal development decisions won't keep him from getting back on track in Rochester and hopefully the Twins will cease taking such short-term views of their prospects.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote an article for ESPN.com about the minors' best power-hitting prospects and 19-year-old Twins phenom Miguel Sano sits atop the list:

For one scout, "the list begins and ends with Sano." Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million in 2009, Sano hit 20 home runs in 66 games in the rookie-level Appalachian League last year. As one of the youngest players in the Midwest League this year--the toughest offensive circuit among full-season leagues--expectations, at least statistically, were tempered.

Apparently nobody told Sano, though, as he leads the Midwest League in home runs (11) and total bases (85) while hitting .287/.406/.625 in 38 games. He just turned 19 last weekend, and for players this young, power is usually overwhelmingly on the projection side of the ledger. We haven't see this kind of in-game power from a player so young in low Class A since Giancarlo Stanton was known as Mike.

Giancarlo Stanton hit .293/.381/.611 with 39 homers in 125 games at low Single-A in 2008 as an 18-year-old and was in the majors five months shy of his 21st birthday, quickly emerging as one of the league's top sluggers. He's now 22 years old with 290 career games for the Marlins and has hit .263/.344/.523 with 65 homers, trailing only Pujols, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez in Isolated Power among all active right-handed hitters.

Nick Blackburn is back on the disabled list, although this time at least it's not an arm injury. Since signing a four-year contract extension in March of 2010 he's thrown 343 innings with a 5.31 ERA and .306 opponents' batting average. During that time Blackburn's strikeout rate of 4.3 per nine innings is MLB's worst among all pitchers with 250-plus innings. He's making $4.75 million this season and under contract for $5.5 million next year.

P.J. Walters has gone from Triple-A depth to spot starter to being secure in the big leagues based on two decent starts and the Twins reaching the bottom of an already shallow barrel for rotation reinforcements. He's allowed four homers through 12 innings with the Twins, which gives Walters a total of 16 homers allowed in 63 career innings as a big leaguer and ranks as the sixth-highest home run rate in MLB history among all pitchers with 60-plus innings.

• One-time top prospect turned minor-league veteran Joe Thurston signed with the Twins for Triple-A depth in late April, but went 4-for-43 (.093) in 15 games and was released last week. They also cut Triple-A first baseman Aaron Bates, who re-signed with the Twins after hitting .316/.408/.439 in 106 games for Rochester last season only to hit .238 in 28 games this year. After back-to-back 90-loss seasons got their manager fired Rochester is on a 62-82 pace.

Wilson Ramos, whom the Twins misguidedly traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps in July of 2010, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. That lessens the chances of Ramos' departure haunting the Twins, but it doesn't actually make the trade less bad any more than, say, selling your house for $100,000 below the market rate only to see the new owners accidentally burn it down makes that decision less bad.

Lew Ford, who last played in the majors for the Twins in 2007 and is now 35 years old, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles and took over as the leadoff hitter and center fielder on their Triple-A team. Since being dropped from the 40-man roster by the Twins in late 2007 he's played for multiple organizations at Triple-A along with the independent league Long Island Ducks and teams in Mexico and Japan.

Steve Tolleson never reached the majors with the Twins, getting dropped from the 40-man roster in February of 2010, but he had a brief cup of coffee with the A's that year and the 2005 fifth-round pick is now back in the big leagues with the Orioles. Tolleson was no more than a marginal prospect, cracking my annual top-40 list just once at No. 37 in 2010, but he always looked capable of being a useful utility man.

• San Diego's ex-Twins middle infield is no more, as the Padres released Orlando Hudson with about $5.5 million remaining on his contract and placed Jason Bartlett on the disabled list. Hudson quickly latched on with the White Sox, who're his fifth team in five seasons, and he's apparently going to play third base for the first time in his career.

• Old friend J.C. Romero may finally be finished at age 36. He debuted for the Twins in 1999.

• In blanking the Twins last week Indians right-hander Derek Lowe became the first pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout without a strikeout since Scott Erickson in 2002.

• Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia are the only hitters in the Twins' entire farm system with an OPS above .800, and none of them are above Single-A or older than 21.

Ben Revere had just one total extra-base hit in 23 games at Triple-A, so naturally he has four extra-base hits in four games back with the Twins. Play right field, hit for power. Easy!

• Not only is he hitting .360 in nine games since being recalled from the minors, Drew Butera became the sixth position player in Twins history to pitch when he mopped up in Sunday's blowout loss. Better yet, Butera averaged 91.1 miles per hour with his fastball, topped out at 94.4 mph, and struck out Carlos Gomez in a scoreless inning. Butera's average fastball clocks in higher than Marquis, Blackburn, Walters, Carl Pavano, Scott Diamond, and Liam Hendriks.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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