August 21, 2013

Twins Notes: Gibson, Morneau, Butera, Carroll, Mientkiewicz, and Liriano

kyle gibson final start of 2013

Kyle Gibson's first taste of the majors likely came to an end Monday, as the Twins demoted him back to Triple-A immediately following his poor outing against the Mets. Gibson pitched well in his Twins debut on June 29, but was mostly a mess after that and returns to Rochester sporting an ugly 6.53 ERA in 10 starts. His secondary numbers are only slightly more encouraging, including just 29 strikeouts in 51 innings and a .327 opponents' batting average with seven homers allowed.

Gibson got knocked around by big-league hitters and looked worn out at times, so considering the expected workload limit in his first full season since elbow surgery shutting him down soon made sense. He's thrown 144 total innings between the majors and minors and by shutting Gibson down after optioning him to Triple-A the Twins keep him from accumulating MLB service time while not pitching, although certainly the demotion could be purely based on performance.

There are some positives to be taken from Gibson's first 10 starts, including an average fastball of 92.2 miles per hour and a ground-ball rate around 50 percent, but the questions about his ability to generate strikeouts remain and overall he looked like anything but a top prospect. Hopefully he can come back strong next season, because Gibson will be 26 years old in a couple months and the Twins desperately need someone to emerge as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

• When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers on July 31 for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that their return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League this season Sulbaran has a 3.26 ERA and 86-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings. For comparison, J.O. Berrios has a 3.45 ERA and 92-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Last year the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera is shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com recently rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Butera is arguably the worst hitter of the past three decades, so any deal would get the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but this is a nice haul.

• Parting with Butera is the only move the Twins made before the July 31 deadline, but trades can also happen in August via the waiver wire system and they swung another deal by sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for the familiar player to be named later or cash considerations. If the Twins get anything decent in return for Carroll that would be even more shocking than the Butera deal, because as a 39-year-old impending free agent he had zero value to them beyond this season.

Carroll didn't work out quite as well as the Twins hoped when they signed him as a free agent in November of 2011, but the reasoning behind the two-year, $6.5 million contract made sense. As usual the Twins' infield options were severely lacking and Carroll was a good, versatile defender with strong on-base skills. He did what he was supposed to do in 2012, drawing the third-most walks on the team to get on base at a .343 clip and starting 30-plus games at three positions.

When signing a 37-year-old to a multi-year deal rapid decline is always a risk and unfortunately this season Carroll's usually outstanding strike-zone control vanished and the Twins no longer trusted him to play shortstop at age 39. He was a worthwhile pickup who couldn't hold off father time long enough to provide a great return on a fairly modest investment. And yet among all the middle infielders in Twins history to appear in 150 games only 10 had a better OBP than Carroll.

• As expected, Justin Morneau passed through waivers unclaimed because he's a 32-year-old impending free agent first baseman with a $14 million salary and a .430 slugging percentage. At this point it's unclear if any contending teams are interested in Morneau, but at the very least no teams were interested in Morneau and the possibility of being stuck with the remaining $4 million on his contract.

Clearing waivers means Morneau can be traded to any team, with August 31 as the deadline for postseason eligibility. However, don't expect much if he's moved. Despite a confusing number of fans and media members continuing to act as if Morneau is an impact player he's been a below-average first baseman since the 2010 concussion, batting .257/.317/.409 in 320 games. This year there are 216 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances and he ranks 115th in OPS.

Josh Willingham returning from knee surgery followed by Ryan Doumit coming back from a concussion left the Twins with a roster crunch and they decided to make room by demoting Chris Colabello back to the minors. It's a shame, because Colabello's monstrous Triple-A production warranted an extended opportunity at age 29 and he was just starting to show some promise by hitting .286/.397/.551 with four homers and nine walks in his last 16 games.

Most of the talk surrounding a possible Morneau trade centers on what the Twins might get in return and whether they should try to keep him past this season, but one side effect is that not trading him takes at-bats away from guys like Colabello who could prove useful on a minimum salary for 2014 and beyond if given a chance. Instead, after hitting .354/.432/.652 at Triple-A he got a grand total of 96 plate appearances in the majors.

UPDATE: Well, the good news is that Colabello has already been called back up. Unfortunately it's because Joe Mauer was placed on the concussion disabled list after taking multiple foul tips to the mask Monday. Mauer was dizzy during batting practice Tuesday, which is an awfully scary thing to write following several paragraphs about Morneau being a shell of his former self since a concussion. Brain injuries are impossible to predict, so it's breath-holding time.

• Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz got into a brawl with the opposing manager Saturday, video of which you can see below courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press:

Because the beginning of the brawl wasn't captured on video it's tough to tell exactly what went on, but by all accounts Mientkiewicz escalated the situation in a huge way by running out of the dugout to tackle the other manager. Twins minor league director Brad Steil issued a statement saying "that's not the example we want him to set for our players" and "he realizes that's not how we want him to represent the Minnesota Twins."

However, general manager Terry Ryan explained that the Twins left any discipline to the Florida State League, saying: "Doug was apologetic. I think it's taken care of." And the FSL merely fined him, providing quite a contrast to the Twins allowing Double-A manager Jeff Smith to bench Miguel Sano four games for showboating on a homer and reacting poorly to being scolded. It's obviously apples and oranges, but imagine Sano tackling another player and only being fined.

Francisco Liriano is 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 121 innings for the first place Pirates, allowing two or fewer runs in 15 of 19 starts while throwing fastballs far less often than he ever did with the Twins. Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote a lengthy, quote-filled article about Liriano's post-Twins turnaround, including this comment from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage:

Because that's Frankie. If I try to make Frankie pitch like [someone else], we wouldn't have what we got. That's force-feeding him to do something that he's not comfortable doing. Frankie does pitch the way he pitches. So just let him be him. That's what we did.

Maybe he simply needed a fresh start somewhere else, but "just let him be him" certainly isn't something Twins coaches said often about Liriano and his improvement can be linked to a clear change in approach that runs counter to what the Twins preached regarding fastball usage. He's averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings for the Pirates, whereas the Twins have used 10 different starters this year and none have averaged more than 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

• Whatever slim chance Nick Blackburn had of pitching for the Twins again is over following season-ending knee surgery. Blackburn's contract still includes an $8 million team option for next season, but that will obviously be declined. In signing Blackburn to a misguided long-term deal in March of 2010 the Twins ended up paying $14 million for 408 innings of a 5.56 ERA from a guy who would have been under team control through 2013 even without the guaranteed contract.

Darin Mastroianni wound up spending four months on the disabled list with an ankle injury that was initially deemed so minor that the Twins let him play through the pain for several weeks. He eventually underwent surgery, but now that Mastroianni is healthy again the Twins activated him from the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A. In other words, Mastroianni lost his job because of the injury. And his 40-man roster spot might be in danger this offseason.

• For a lot more about Morneau going unclaimed on waivers and a look at the Twins' options for improving the rotation in 2014, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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August 19, 2013

Gleeman and The Geek #107: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included Justin Morneau remaining in Minnesota and going unclaimed on waivers, the rotation being heavy on mediocrity for 2014, getting blocked by a documentary film crew, free agent pitching options for the offseason, how to be a fan by way of Andrew Albers, adventures in dog-sitting, drinking vs. not drinking, winning bets on Nick Blackburn, mailbag questions from listeners, and Doug Mientkiewicz brawling.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 107

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August 16, 2013

Link-O-Rama

Wanna see Jared Burton punch Brian Duensing?

LaTroy Hawkins, who's getting another chance to close again at age 40, got hit in the bollocks. And yet he still won't wear a cup.

• "Doctor offers free plastic surgery in exchange for dream dates" is a story that has me curious about the blogger equivalent.

• And speaking of the blogger equivalent, "burglar left bruised and bleeding by retired 72-year-old boxer" is a pretty great headline.

• How good has Oswaldo Arcia been as a rookie and how good can he become long term?

• While searching for a photo to use for that Arcia post I stumbled across this beauty featuring Arcia, Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, and FSN sideline reporter Jamie Hersch.

Francisco Liriano is so busy throwing complete games for the Pirates that he has neither the time nor the energy to bother with hitting.

• And because he can't be any worse than Liriano in that last video, Parker Hageman of Twins Daily might take an at-bat against Glen Perkins. I want to be there to podcast the magic.

• Happy birthday to Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis, who turned 30 years old. It's all downhill from here, trust me.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we again learn that John Bonnes isn't needed.

• Oh nothing, just Nick Punto hitting a homer and then doing a postgame interview with a Punto jersey-wearing Danny DeVito on the field at Dodger Stadium:

Punto does kind of have a Charlie Day vibe.

• It turns out not all Bar Mitzvah parties are created equal. Way back in 1996 my party featured basketball and swimming rather than a full-scale burlesque show. We did have pizza, though.

• I'm thinking of applying to the Twins' "social media suite" for the free food. And also because the application asks for a count of Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and ... LinkedIn connections.

• During my weekly half-hour chat with Paul Allen he welcomed Cory Cove into the KFAN studio to tag-team mock me for winning a bunch of money playing poker at Canterbury Park. And then I threw Nick Nelson under the bus to save myself.

Jeff Sullivan of Fan Graphs wrote a very good article about the Twins pitching staff's historic inability to generate strikeouts.

Carson Cistulli of Fan Graphs chatted with one of my favorite baseball beat reporters, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

• And speaking of MLB beat reporters, Deadspin's efforts to identify the best and worst covering each team was kind of disappointing in that they left the worst spots blank a lot.

• Congrats to former "Gleeman and The Geek" guest Ben Goessling, who left the St. Paul Pioneer Press to become ESPN's new Vikings beat reporter. Newspapers continue to hemorrhage talent.

• Wanna be the Minneapolis Star Tribune's new Vikings beat reporter?

• According to a University of Georgia study 28 percent of journalism school graduates wish they'd chosen a different field, which actually doesn't sound all that high to this non-graduate.

Jonathan Abrams' article about Jonny Flynn for Grantland is a must-read for Timberwolves fans, David Kahn haters, and people who simply enjoy shaking their head in disbelief.

• St. Paul Central graduate, Ricky Rubio fan club president, stand-up comedian, and "Parks and Recreation" writer Joe Mande is finally doing something with his life.

• I'm almost finished re-watching "The Sopranos" and by far my favorite part has been getting to re-hear Paulie Walnuts pronounce "Baja Fresh" again:

I laughed as hard at that two days ago as I did 10 years ago and can't explain why in either case.

Rickey Henderson's high school yearbook picture from 1976 is spectacular.

• For my fellow insomniacs, Allie Shah wrote about the struggle to sleep for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, including how "young people, in particular, might be setting themselves up for future problems because of their round-the-clock devotion to mobile devices and social media."

• I really hope everyone listened to me and signed up for the light rail pub crawl/Twins game on September 14, because just look at this shirt.

• Mazel tov to the Phillies for releasing Delmon Young, who refused an assignment to Triple-A.

Manny Ramirez is probably done after being released from Triple-A by the Rangers, but don't forget what a monster he was for 15 years.

"Blue Valentine" is one of my 10 favorite movies, so I was incredibly excited for Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance's second collaboration, but "The Place Beyond The Pines" was underwhelming. Not bad, certainly, but also nothing special overall. Another fairly new release that I rented this week, "Mud" starring Matthew McConaughey, was much better.

• As someone who obsessively watches "Chopped" on Food Network and obsessively listens to podcasts, chef Alex Guarnaschelli's interview with Marc Maron was amazing. She quoted "Bull Durham" and talked about listening to Notorious B.I.G. and is basically a perfect human.

• "Doodie Calls" with Doug Mand and Jack Dolgen is always funny/weird, but Annie Lederman was a particularly great guest.

Alex Rodriguez, as explained by detective Frank Pembleton.

• If you're into supporting worthwhile projects via Kickstarter check out Hunter Weeks' "feature-length film about the oldest people in the world and their lessons for living life right."

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Jim Thome naked"
- "Jim Thome shirtless"
- "Lean Cuisine chicken enchilada suiza makes me sweat"
- "Brendan Harris attitude"
- "Otis Redding baseball cards"
- "Tevin Campbell radio interview"
- "Mae Whitman pornstar lookalike"
- "Who is Dana Wessel?"
- "Bar graph showing pork chops and mutton chops"

• Finally, because I've listened to it about 100 times in two weeks despite not being sure if I love it or hate it this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Reckoning Song" by Asaf Avidan:


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August 14, 2013

The future is now with Oswaldo Arcia

oswaldo arcia homer

Oswaldo Arcia would have entered this year as the No. 1 prospect in most other farm systems and would have been the Twins' top prospect in most of the past 10 years, but instead he's largely been overshadowed by Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton (and for a while at least, Aaron Hicks too). None of which is to say that Arcia is on the same level as Sano or Buxton, but rather that perception and context often play big roles in the amount of hype attached to prospects.

Arcia climbed the minor-league ladder very quickly, particularly in the typically slow-paced Twins system, and now he's showing a ton of promise in the majors as a 22-year-old rookie. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, including strikeout-filled slumps and multiple demotions back to Triple-A, but for a 22-year-old to show this kind of power potential and overall hitting ability is incredibly encouraging.

This year at Triple-A he hit .313/.426/.594 with 10 homers and 22 walks in 38 games and dating back to the beginning of last year Arcia has played exactly 162 games in the minors while hitting .318/.396/.551 with 27 homers, 77 total extra-base hits, and 73 walks. And while posting those monster numbers Arcia was very young for every level of competition and never stuck around in one place for more than a couple months. He was young, he moved quickly, and he crushed.

His numbers in the majors aren't as jaw-dropping, but within the context of being a 22-year-old rookie they're every bit as impressive. Arcia has hit .264/.321/.452 with 10 homers and 25 total extra-base hits in 70 games, which makes him solidly above average in a year when MLB as a whole has hit .254/.317/.398. Here's how he ranks in slugging percentage, OPS, and adjusted OPS+ compared to the other 22-year-olds in Twins history with at least 250 plate appearances:

SLUGGING %                 OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+
Kent Hrbek       .485      Kent Hrbek       .848      Kent Hrbek       128
OSWALDO ARCIA    .452      David Ortiz      .817      David Ortiz      111
David Ortiz      .446      Joe Mauer        .783      OSWALDO ARCIA    110
Tom Brunansky    .445      OSWALDO ARCIA    .773      Joe Mauer        107
Joe Mauer        .411      Tom Brunansky    .753      Tom Brunansky    103

In the entire history of the Twins only four 22-year-olds have been above-average hitters in 250 or more plate appearances. Arcia is on pace to become the fifth, which would mean joining Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Joe Mauer, and Tom Brunansky in some pretty nice company. Breaking his production down even further, Arcia's current Isolated Power of .188 would be second among all 22-year-old Twins, sandwiched between Brunansky at .218 and Hrbek at .184.

Looking to all of MLB, if Arcia maintains his current production he'd join this list of 22-year-olds from 2005-2012 to reach a 110 adjusted OPS+ and a .180 Isolated Power: Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Grady Sizemore, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez, Brian McCann, Chris Davis, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Pablo Sandoval, Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton. Guys who hit like Arcia at 22 turn out pretty well.

There are still plenty of rough edges to be smoothed out too. Arcia has struck out 81 times in 70 games, which is the equivalent of 179 strikeouts prorated to 600 plate appearances. Studies have shown that high strikeout totals can actually be a positive thing for very young hitters because it often foreshadows significant power development down the road, but it's nearly impossible to post high batting averages whiffing in 30 percent of your trips to the plate.

Arcia whiffed a lot in the minors too, including 99 strikeouts in 454 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He managed to hit .323 in the high minors despite striking out nearly once per game, but that was due to a .380 batting average on balls in play that simply isn't sustainable in the majors. To put that in some context, no active big leaguer has a career batting average on balls in play above .365 and a .335 mark is in the top 30.

So despite his lofty batting averages in the minors it's hard to see Arcia challenging for batting titles in the majors barring a change in approach. Of course, with his power even a .285 batting average could be enough to make him one of the league's best hitters. More worrisome than the high strikeout total is Arcia's ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio, which stands at 81-to-18 through 70 games. Plenty of excellent hitters strike out a lot, but very few have strike-zone control that bad.

The good news is that walk rate and strike-zone control are weaknesses for many young hitters and also tend to improve with age and experience. And in this specific case Arcia drew a decent number of walks in the minors, especially factoring in his age and rapid promotions. He's certainly a free-swinger right now and Arcia seems unlikely to ever become a truly patient hitter, but if he can draw walks somewhere around a league-average rate he'll be just fine.

Arcia's long-term ceiling is very high, but in trying to be at least somewhat realistic projecting his future performance based on his current strengths and flaws a .285 hitter with 30-homer power and mediocre plate discipline seems reasonable. Jason Kubel spent five seasons as a regular for the Twins and hit .273 with an average of 22 homers, 55 walks, and 113 strikeouts per 600 plate appearances, so a rich man's Kubel might not be a bad target for now.

Kubel's upside became limited by his inability to do damage versus left-handed pitching, against whom he's hit just .244/.316/.420 for his career. That may also end up limiting Arcia, who has a 30-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus left-handers in the majors so far. Small sample size caveats apply, but Arcia showed extreme splits in the minors too. Over the past two years in the minors Arcia had a .961 OPS against righties and a .742 OPS against lefties.

Also like Kubel he figures to be a below-average defensive corner outfielder. His early defensive numbers are awful, with a collection of awkward plays to match, and even in a best-case scenario he seems destined to be a minus in the field. None of that will impact his ability to develop into a middle-of-the-order slugger offensively, but defense will certainly play a big part in Arcia's overall value and raises the bar for his offense on any potential path to all-around stardom.

Dreaming about the arrivals of Sano and Buxton is exciting, but in the meantime Arcia is already in Minnesota and already a quality middle-of-the-order bat having more success at age 22 than anyone in Twins history but Hrbek, Ortiz, and Mauer. He's the best Twins position player prospect to reach the majors since Mauer in 2005 and the best young power hitter the Twins have called up since Justin Morneau in 2003.

For a lot more about Arcia's rookie-year production and long-term potential, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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August 12, 2013

Gleeman and The Geek #106: Rapper’s Delight

On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode Nick Nelson of Twins Daily filled in as co-host and topics included Jamey Carroll being traded mid-show, Oswaldo Arcia's long-term upside, Justin Morneau's power binge, how not to get into a Samuel Deduno argument, white rappers then and now, Josh Willingham's return from knee surgery, what the rotation looks like for 2014, mailbag questions from listeners, "Breaking Bad" excitement, and puking on a light rail.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 106

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