April 11, 2016

Gleeman and The Geek #243: Where’s The Re-Start Button?

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode included the Twins' brutal 0-6 start, over-managing Miguel Sano, Joe Mauer quietly having a big week, assessing Byung Ho Park, Danny Santana getting hurt, Paul Molitor tinkering constantly, Ricky Nolasco coming up big, buying a mattress from Casper, Glen Perkins struggling again, and Max Kepler filling in.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 243

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

This week's show is sponsored by Casper mattresses, which offers a 100-day free trial with free shipping and returns. And you can get an extra $50 off by going to Casper.com/Gleeman and entering in the promo code GLEEMAN.

April 6, 2016

To catch a prospect: Where to find the Twins’ top minor leaguers in 2016

Carmen Sandiego

I've put together a little guide for Twins fans interested in tracking prospects this season. No. 1 prospect Byron Buxton and No. 4 prospect Byung Ho Park are already in Minnesota, but here's a breakdown of where the other prospects from my annual top-40 rankings can be found on the season-opening rosters for Triple-A Rochester, Double-A Chattanooga, Single-A Fort Myers, and Single-A Cedar Rapids.

Rochester Red Wings, Triple-A:

 #2 Jose Berrios, SP
 #3 Max Kepler, RF
 #6 Jorge Polanco, SS
#13 Adam Walker, LF
#14 Alex Meyer, SP
#22 Taylor Rogers, SP
#38 Ryan O'Rourke, RP
#40 Pat Dean, SP
MLB Tyler Duffey, SP
MLB Kennys Vargas, 1B
MLB J.R. Graham, RP

Rochester has a lot of star power, including three of the four best prospects in the farm system now that Buxton and Park have graduated. No. 3 prospect Max Kepler and No. 6 prospect Jorge Polanco headline a lineup that also features No. 13 prospect Adam Walker and former top-40 regular Kennys Vargas. One-time big leaguers Darin Mastroianni, John Hicks, Juan Centeno, and Wilfredo Tovar will also be at Triple-A.

No. 2 prospect Jose Berrios leads a pitching staff that includes top-40 prospects Alex Meyer, Taylor Rogers, Ryan O'Rourke, and Pat Dean, plus would-be top-40 prospects Tyler Duffey and J.R. Graham. It's hard to imagine any Triple-A rotation having a better one-two punch than Berrios and Duffey, both of whom should probably be in Minnesota right now. Logan Darnell, Brandon Kintzler, Dan Runzler, and Buddy Boshers are also one-time big leaguers.

Chattanooga Lookouts, Double-A:

 #9 Nick Burdi, RP
#15 Brandon Peterson, RP
#17 J.T. Chargois, RP
#18 Engelb Vielma, SS
#21 Aaron Slegers, SP
#24 Jake Reed, RP
#30 Ryan Eades, SP
#31 Mitch Garver, C
#32 Mason Melotakis, RP
#33 Stuart Turner, C
#35 Travis Harrison, RF
#37 Daniel Palka, RF

Last year Chattanooga opened the season with the most impressive collection of top prospects in Twins history led by Buxton, Berrios, Kepler, and Miguel Sano. This year's Double-A group can't compare, but the bullpen is well stocked with No. 9 prospect Nick Burdi and four other top-40 prospects. If the Twins' relief corps undergoes a significant makeover this season it'll be thanks to several power arms beginning the year in Chattanooga.

Offensively the Double-A lineup is lacking in upside, but does feature the system's best defensive shortstop in Engelb Vielma, the Mitch Garver-Stuart Turner catching duo looking to bounce back, and a pair of corner outfielders with power potential in Travis Harrison and Daniel Palka. Overall it's a good, deep collection of prospects as long as you don't compare it to Chattanooga's roster this time last year.

Fort Myers Miracle, Single-A:

 #5 Nick Gordon, SS
 #7 Tyler Jay, SP
 #8 Stephen Gonsalves, SP
#11 Lewis Thorpe, SP
#12 Kohl Stewart, SP
#20 Tanner English, CF
#25 Trevor Hildenberger, RP
#26 Luke Bard, RP
#28 Felix Jorge, SP
#34 Yorman Landa, RP

Fort Myers is home to the Twins' three most recent first-round draft picks in Tyler Jay, Nick Gordon, and Kohl Stewart, which is thanks to Jay not being placed on the expected fast track and Stewart repeating the level. Stephen Gonsalves and Lewis Thorpe are two of the highest-upside starters in the system, although Thorpe will begin the season on the disabled list as he comes back from elbow surgery. This group has plenty of upside but lots of question marks.

Cedar Rapids Kernels, Single-A:

#16 Jermaine Palacios, SS
#19 Michael Cederoth, SP
#29 LaMonte Wade, CF
#39 Chris Paul, LF

Cedar Rapids gets the short straw this season with only four top-40 prospects and zero top-15 prospects, although Wander Javier, Lewin Diaz, Travis Blankenhorn, and Lachlan Wells could join the roster early on after some time in extended spring training. Michael Cederoth is repeating the level, while LaMonte Wade and Chris Paul are former college stars who should be moved up quickly if they fare well.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

April 4, 2016

Gleeman and The Geek #242: Baseball! Baseball! Baseball!

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode included saying goodbye to the too-long offseason, returning to KFAN radio, and previewing the Twins season with 10 key questions.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 242

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 the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and their website MNFarmTeam.com, which is sponsoring "Gleeman and The Geek" all season.

March 31, 2016

Season preview: Are the Twins ready to be a playoff team?

Last year the Twins emerged from the wreckage of four consecutive 90-loss seasons sooner than anticipated, out-performing expectations by climbing above .500 in Paul Molitor's rookie season as manager. Miguel Sano immediately established himself as the big bat around which the lineup can be built, leading the way for a deep, upside-rich farm system that's ready to stock the Twins' roster with young talent for years to come. It's a fun time to be a Twins fan again.

However, rather than build on that momentum and their sooner-than-expected contender status by making a series of significant offseason moves to beef up the roster the Twins basically stood pat. They went outside the box to replace Torii Hunter in the lineup by spending $25 million on Korean slugger Byung Ho Park and addressed the organization-wide lack of catching depth by trading Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy. And that was it.

No significant additions were made to a pitching staff that was 10th among AL teams in ERA last season after ranking dead last from 2011-2014 and one of the team's best second-half pitchers, Tyler Duffey, was sent back to Triple-A in favor of contractual albatross Ricky Nolasco. Rumors that the Twins would trade Trevor Plouffe to open up third base never materialized and led to their shifting the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Sano to right field despite zero outfield experience.

Aside from some minor tinkering, the Twins' offseason consisted of two moves and was over by December 1. And while the perception is that the Twins are a young team on the rise thanks to Sano and an impressive farm system, the actual Opening Day roster is heavy on veterans. Kyle Gibson is the youngest member of the rotation at 28, the average age of the pitching staff is 30, and only three of the nine Opening Day hitters are younger than 27.

Their relative inactivity leaves plenty of room for criticism, particularly on the pitching side, and the front office's decades-long conservative streak always offers a viable explanation. With that said, the Twins' disinterest in adding even moderately priced veterans to an 83-win team is easy to explain: Terry Ryan and company are convinced the young talent they've stockpiled through all the losing is now ready to turn the Twins into winners. Just not right away, apparently.

Jose Berrios is an elite pitching prospect and many teams would have promoted him in the middle of last season, but he's back at Triple-A with Duffey for a second go-around because the Twins spent the past two offseasons handing out long-term deals to mediocre starters. Based on service time considerations the Twins should be planning for Berrios to debut in late April or early May, but that makes the shaky assumption that they'll be ready to ditch veterans by then.

Bypassing the many veteran relievers available via trades and free agency may hurt the Twins in the short term, but they clearly believe that by midseason at least one or two good bullpen arms will step forward from a group of hard-throwing prospects that includes Nick Burdi, Alex Meyer, Brandon Peterson, J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, and Luke Bard. They had similar hopes heading into last year and the payoff was non-existent, but Burdi looks especially close to the majors now.

If by midseason Berrios and Duffey are leading the rotation turnaround and Burdi or Meyer have joined Trevor May and Kevin Jepsen setting up for Glen Perkins then the lack of offseason pitching moves will look prescient. If instead Rochester's pitching staff is thriving and Minnesota's pitching staff is again among the league's worst the fingers will point themselves. Right now the Twins' pitching looks mediocre at best, but the cavalry is coming. Or at least that's the plan.

Offensively most of the cavalry has already arrived and the young, crazy talented starting outfield of 22-year-old stud prospect Byron Buxton flanked by 23-year-old Sano and 24-year-old Eddie Rosario may tell the story of the 2016 season. That trio has the potential to be the Twins' three best players, but Buxton has yet to prove himself as a hitter, Rosario's lack of discipline threatens to stall his development, and Sano's right field sojourn threatens his health and the team ERA.

Here's the beauty of the Twins' farm system: They also have 23-year-old outfielder Max Kepler, a consensus top-100 prospect coming off an MVP-winning campaign at Double-A, waiting in the wings at Triple-A. Their outfield options are so young, so talented, and so plentiful that Oswaldo Arcia--a 25-year-old former top prospect with a .741 OPS in the majors--is an afterthought. If the Twins take a big step forward this season the young outfield figures to be a driving force.

Park is neither young nor inexperienced, winning a pair of MVP awards and four home run titles in Korea through age 28, but he's an MLB rookie for whom outlooks vary wildly. Based on his Hall of Fame numbers in Korea, the scouting reports from people who watched him there, and his spring training showing it's clear that Park will hit for big-time power, but that power will likely come with tons of strikeouts and a modest batting average.

For years the Twins' lineup was lefty dominated, but adding Sano and Park to Plouffe and Brian Dozier has swung the balance to the right side. In fact, this might be the most right-handed pop any Twins lineup has ever featured and Target Field is an ideal home for right-handed power. Six of the nine Opening Day hitters are right-handed, along with switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar and lefties Joe Mauer and Rosario.

Mauer simply hasn't been the same since suffering a concussion in August of 2013 and at age 33 the odds are heavily stacked against him being more than an above-average first baseman, but his on-base skills are desperately needed in a lineup long on power and short on OBP. Last year Sano and Mauer were the only Twins to crack a .330 on-base percentage and all the right-handed power bats need base-runners to drive in.

Escobar has quietly been one of the best shortstops in Twins history whenever they've actually given him a chance to play the position regularly, hitting .285/.331/.452 with solid defense in 203 career starts. For decades the Twins have repeatedly failed to find competent offensive shortstops, but Escobar is a switch-hitter with plus power for the position and has the ability to lengthen the lineup considerably. He's turned a lot of people--me included--from doubters to believers.

Nearly every hitter in the lineup comes attached to a question mark because of inexperience or injuries and that makes it tough to feel confident predicting how the offense will fare overall, but it's impossible to ignore how much young upside, right-handed power, and depth the Twins have assembled. If they get any sort of decent bottom-of-the-order production from the catcher spot and Buxton the Twins are going to score a bunch of runs.

And they'll need to, because the pitching staff with by far the fewest strikeouts in baseball since 2008 is again lacking the same type of upside and power that fills the lineup. There is some depth in that Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, and Gibson are solid veteran starters and May, Jepsen, and Perkins are a strong bullpen trio, but at a time when MLB-wide strikeouts and velocity have never been higher the Twins simply lack firepower.

That could change if Berrios and Burdi receive quick call-ups and thrive right away, but counting on two prospects who've never thrown a pitch in the big leagues to drag an entire staff kicking and screaming into the power pitching era is probably wishful thinking. Molitor keeping the lesser starters on a short leash could be crucial, because turning games over to fresher, harder-throwing relievers often makes more sense than risking another trip through a lineup past 75 pitches.

Based on the Opening Day roster the Twins look mediocre, with an above-average offense and a below-average pitching staff. Based on the much younger, higher-upside roster they could begin transitioning to as soon as late April the Twins absolutely have a chance to build on last season's surprising success by making a run at the AL Central title. They just need to trust the youth and have it pay off. And here's the best part: This figures to be the worst Twins team for a long time.

March 29, 2016

Gleeman and The Geek #241: AL Central Over/Under

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode included Tyler Duffey vs. Ricky Nolasco, newspaper columns about Miguel Sano, making over/under picks for the AL Central teams, unemployment pluses and minuses, Carlos Quentin asking for his release, Byron Buxton at the bottom of the lineup, mac and cheesing it up at Mason's, and choosing the winner for the 20-game Twins season ticket package giveaway.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 241

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 the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, which is hosting a Twins season ticket giveaway contest on their website, MNFarmTeam.com.

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