July 2, 2014

What does Jorge Polanco’s early Twins debut mean for his future?

Jorge Polanco Twins debut

Jorge Polanco's first stint in the big leagues was a brief one and came in something resembling an emergency situation, as the Twins needed infield help and decided to promote a 20-year-old from Single-A rather than make changes to the 40-man roster for a more experienced call-up. In getting five at-bats before a return to the low minors Polanco became just the second Twins player in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014 to make his MLB debut before age 21.

Joe Mauer is the youngest player to debut under Gardenhire at 20 years and 352 days when he was the Opening Day catcher in 2004, followed by Polanco at 20 years and 356 days last week. Francisco Liriano is the youngest pitcher to debut under Gardenhire at 21 years and 314 days when he appeared as a reliever in September of 2005. In all, 14 players have made their MLB debuts for the Twins before age 23 under Gardenhire. Here's the complete list:

                   YEAR     AGE
Joe Mauer          2004     20.352
Jorge Polanco      2014     20.356
Francisco Liriano  2005     21.314
Oswaldo Arcia      2013     21.341
Justin Morneau     2003     22.026
Alexi Casilla      2006     22.043
Jason Kubel        2004     22.098
Ben Revere         2010     22.127
Rob Bowen          2003     22.189
J.D. Durbin        2004     22.197
Liam Hendriks      2011     22.208
Alex Burnett       2010     22.256
Matt Garza         2006     22.258
Wilson Ramos       2010     22.265

Sort of a mixed bag. Mauer, Liriano, Oswaldo Arcia, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Matt Garza, and Wilson Ramos were all stud prospects on fairly natural, quick paths to the majors, but then there are non-prospects like Rob Bowen and marginal prospects like Alex Burnett who found themselves thrust into the majors to fill short-term roster needs. Polanco falls somewhere in between as a very good but not elite prospect promoted to the majors way ahead of schedule.

Much like Polanco, many of those 14 players listed above had short stints with the Twins as their MLB debuts and quickly headed back to the minors. In fact, even going beyond the debut-making Twins and looking instead at all Twins, the only players to receive regular playing time (more than 300 plate appearances) for the Twins before age 23 under Gardenhire are Mauer, Liriano, Arcia, Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Luis Rivas.

So in 13 seasons under Gardenhire the Twins, who pride themselves on developing homegrown young talent, have given regular playing time to a grand total of six players before age 23. To put that in some context, consider that across baseball during that same period a total of 107 hitters and 130 pitchers logged at least 300 plate appearances before age 23, which works out to an average of 8.5 for each of the other 29 teams.

That shouldn't come as a shock, because the Twins are known for delaying the arrival of certain prospects and studies show that their overall promotion timetables are among baseball's slowest. Whether that's driven mostly by their chosen development philosophy or financial/service time considerations is up for debate--and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will hopefully put it to the test in 2015--but whatever the case they don't hand over the keys to many very young players.

All of which is why the decision to promote Polanco from Single-A to the majors for a days-long bench role at age 20 was uncharacteristic for the Twins and why he may not make it back to the big leagues as a regular for quite a while despite the rushed debut. He is, however, a very good prospect who ranked eighth on my annual list of Twins prospects coming into the season and whose stock has risen even further since then.

Polanco signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2010 and if not for being in the same international prospect class that saw the Twins snag Sano for $3.15 million his $775,000 bonus would have garnered a lot more attention. He didn't hit much in his first two seasons, but Polanco broke out as an 18-year-old at rookie-level Elizabethton in 2012 and has been putting up impressive numbers since.

Polanco lacks power, but he's not completely without pop and currently projects as a potential top-of-the-order hitter thanks to a high contact rate, good batting averages, and increasingly solid patience at the plate. Last season at low Single-A he batted .308 with 47 extra-base hits and 42 walks versus 59 strikeouts in 115 games, and this season at high Single-A he's batted .292 with 21 extra-base hits and 36 walks versus 42 strikeouts in 74 games.

Defensively he split last season between shortstop and second base, but this season Polanco has played exclusively shortstop. His error total there hasn't been pretty and his odds of sticking at shortstop long term seem low, but it's a relatively positive sign that the Twins haven't moved him to second base full time yet. Or at least it's a relatively strong indication that he has a chance to be a very good defensive second baseman if he does move eventually.

It's worth noting that the Twins already have a very good all-around second baseman in Brian Dozier. In fact, during the past calendar year Dozier has been one of the three or four best second baseman in all of baseball, combining good defense with 20-homer power and 20-steal speed. But come, say, 2017, when Dozier is 30 years old and Polanco is 23 years old, the Twins might be ready for a change at the position.


For a lot more about Polanco's debut and his long-term outlook, plus talk of which other Twins prospects could be called up soon, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

June 30, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #152: Falling to Pieces In More Ways Than One

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included starting pitching (and podcast hosts) falling apart, Jorge Polanco's rushed arrival, Alex Meyer and Trevor May having issues in the minors, Chris Parmelee as a center fielder, puking in cabs, throwing out backs, Joe Mauer turning things around, Eduardo Escobar returning to earth, Aaron Hicks going back to Double-A, and Clayton Kershaw vs. Johan Santana.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 152

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


This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

June 27, 2014

Hardball Dynasty league openings

I'm addicted to WhatIfSports.com's excellent "Hardball Dynasty" game and run a pair of leagues called "Gleeman World" and "Gleeman World 2." Seasons last about four months, so that means I'm frequently looking for new owners to fill openings.

Hardball Dynasty is not fantasy baseball and in fact has nothing to do with fantasy baseball. It's much better. From rookie-ball to the majors Hardball Dynasty is an incredibly detailed simulation of running a fictional MLB organization, with fictional players and everything from the Rule 5 draft and international prospect signings to free agency and 40-man roster management.

Here's what one of the player cards looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 10.12.11 AM

Due to the steep learning curve involved in the game and significant time commitment required to master it I'm looking first and foremost for owners with some previous experience playing Hardball Dynasty. Mostly, though, I'm just looking for good owners and despite the sales pitch-like tone of this post I get absolutely nothing in return for someone signing up (except for a better league to enjoy, of course). If you're interested, let me know.


This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

June 25, 2014

Twins Notes: Berrios, Vargas, Dozier, Hughes, Hicks, Pino, and Perkins

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox

• Right-hander Jose Berrios and first baseman Kennys Vargas will represent the Twins in the Futures Game, which is MLB's annual prospect showcase as part of the All-Star festivities. Berrios was the Twins' supplemental first-round pick in 2012, going 30 spots after they snagged Byron Buxton. Last season a mediocre ERA hid what was a strong overall performance for a 19-year-old at low Single-A and this season his ERA and secondary numbers are on the same page.

Berrios is one of just two 20-year-olds in the entire Florida State League with at least 50 innings, posting a 2.05 ERA and 98/21 K/BB ratio in 83 innings. His strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings ranks second in the league behind only a 23-year-old and he's held opponents to a .219 batting average with just three homers. Berrios ranked fifth on my list of Twins prospects coming into the season and has upped his stock even further since then.

Vargas placed 23rd in that same ranking, but has also upped his stock considerably by hitting .318/.395/.531 in 70 games at Double-A. At age 23 he's not particularly young for the Eastern League and massive first basemen who'll probably wind up as designated hitters generally aren't a great prospect group on which to bet long term, but the switch-hitter has huge power potential and has made big strides with his strike-zone control.

UPDATE: Triple-A right-hander Trevor May has also been added to the Futures Game roster.

Brian Dozier hasn't slowed down following his surprisingly powerful start to the season and in fact June has been by far his best month with a .310/.449/.549 line that includes four homers and more walks (16) than strikeouts (13) in 21 games. Going back even further, in the past calendar year Dozier ranks as the third-best second baseman in all of baseball according to Wins Above Replacement, behind only Matt Carpenter and Robinson Cano.

During that 365-day span Dozier has hit .252/.340/.444 with 26 homers and 23 steals in 160 games, which along with very good defense adds up to an all-around performance that tops big names like Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley. Not only does Dozier rank among the league leaders in walks after showing strong strike-zone control in the minors, his power has come out of nowhere after he hit a grand total of 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer.

Ricky Nolasco has been disappointing, but the Twins' other free agent pitching pickup has outperformed expectations in a big way. Phil Hughes has a 3.40 ERA and 82/9 K/BB ratio in 95 innings after posting a 5.19 ERA for the Yankees last season and a 4.53 ERA in seven seasons for New York overall. He's issued zero walks in nine of 15 starts (60 percent) this season. Prior to this season Hughes had zero walks in 24 of 132 starts (18 percent).

Aaron Hicks giving up switch-hitting to exclusively bat right-handed seemed like a reasonable decision given his struggles from the left side of the plate, but after all of one month and very few at-bats thanks to a shoulder injury he's already gone back to switch-hitting. Hicks is technically in the minors on a rehab assignment, but it's hard to see what's gained by keeping him in the majors at this point. Let him try to thrive versus Triple-A pitching for a while.

UPDATE: Hicks has been activated from the disabled list and demoted to Double-A.

Yohan Pino had the seventh-best "Game Score" by any Twins pitcher in his MLB debut behind Andrew Albers, Bert Blyleven, Anthony Swarzak, Allan Anderson, Eddie Bane, and Brad Havens. Take from that group what you will.

Kendrys Morales has hit .222/.271/.333 in 14 games for the Twins. Josmil Pinto has hit .282/.417/.513 in 12 games at Triple-A since his demotion. And his career OPS in the majors remains higher than Morales' mark since 2012.

• On a related note, Glen Perkins had some pretty damning things to say about Pinto's pitch-framing skills, which puts a dent into his already slim chances of being a catcher long term.

• Perkins' record as a reliever is 13-5, including 8-1 since 2012 and 5-0 since 2013, and the Twins have won five of his last six blown saves. Among all MLB relievers with 30 or more innings this season Perkins ranks fifth in K/BB ratio, seventh in strikeout rate, and ninth in xFIP.

• In the same presented-without-comment vein as the previous versions:

Tony Gwynn: .338 AVG, .388 OBP, .459 SLG, .847 OPS, 132 OPS+
Joe Mauer: .320 AVG, .401 OBP, .461 SLG, .863 OPS, 133 OPS+

• Random thing I noticed while looking up some other stuff: Denard Span had a .390 on-base percentage in his first two seasons. Since then he has a .329 on-base percentage in five seasons, never topping .342 in any year.

Johan Santana was on the verge of completing his multi-year comeback from multiple shoulder surgeries by joining the Orioles' rotation, but now he's done for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. Just in case anyone forgot:

Clayton Kershaw, 2009-2014: 1,145 innings, 9.4 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 155 ERA+
Johan Santana, 2002-2008: 1,413 innings, 9.5 K/9, 4.2 K/BB, 156 ERA+

• Since the beginning of last season the Twins are 16-10 (.615) against the White Sox and 86-125 (.408) against everyone else.

• For way more on Hicks, Vargas, Morales, and Pino, plus lots of talk about Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

June 23, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #151: Beating the White Sox and Falling Out Of Trees

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included dominating the White Sox, Yohan Pino's impressive debut, Aaron Hicks going back to switch-hitting, Kyle Gibson's mind-changing run, Joe Mauer showing signs of life, Oswaldo Arcia swinging "too hard" for Ron Gardenhire's taste, Tony Gwynn's lasting legacy, Kennys Vargas' upside, and how to have fun and injure yourself at a 25-year reunion.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 151

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


This week's blog content is sponsored by R.F. Moeller Jeweler's repair department, which is recognized as the premier jewelry repair facility in the Twin Cities. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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