August 8, 2013

Twins Notes: No trades, botched moves, nice debuts, and bye bye Butera

drew butera twins

Catching up on the Twins happenings while I was in Philadelphia for the SABR convention ...

• Essentially giving away Drew Butera wasn't supposed to be the full extent of the Twins' trade deadline activity, but aside from Glen Perkins they simply didn't have much to offer. It's certainly surprising that they didn't move Justin Morneau, especially given various reports suggesting that multiple teams expressed at least some level of interest, but they weren't going to get more than a marginal prospect for a below average 32-year-old impending free agent anyway.

Morneau has shown improved power recently and it's still possible to find a taker for him between now and August 31, but the waiver system limits options and every game he plays is one fewer game another team can acquire. For the third year in a row the Twins failed to make a significant move to swap veterans for long-term help before the trade deadline, which is rare for a rebuilding team and in several cases stems from their inability to pull the trigger at the right time.

• Butera spent parts of four seasons with the Twins, lasting long enough to get a $700,000 salary for this year via arbitration, which is amazing considering he hit .215/.287/.324 at Double-A and .218/.268/.307 at Triple-A. Plenty of terrible-hitting catchers have solid MLB careers because of defense, but Butera was several steps below terrible-hitting. He hit .182 with a .494 OPS, which is the lowest by any position player with 500-plus plate appearances in the past 30 years:

                    PA      OPS
DREW BUTERA        534     .494
Angel Salazar      932     .500
Brandon Wood       751     .513
Tom Lawless        590     .521
Kevin Cash         714     .526

Comparing across eras can be difficult, but there's a strong argument to be made that Butera is the worst hitter of the past three decades and if nothing else he's the only hitter with 500-plus plate appearances and an OPS below .500 during that time. And based on his minor-league track record that .494 OPS might actually count as out-performing expectations. Not surprisingly the Dodgers sent Butera to Triple-A immediately after acquiring him from the Twins.

• It's tough to look at Aaron Hicks' rookie season and not conclude that the Twins botched things at just about every step along the way. Instead of furthering his development and suppressing his service time by having him open the year at Triple-A they all but handed Hicks the center field job before spring training and rushed him from Double-A to the majors. Based on his 2-for-48 slump to begin the season and subsequent struggles, it's clear that they misjudged his readiness.

In early July they had another opportunity to send Hicks to Triple-A following his disabled list stint for a hamstring injury, but instead abruptly ended his minor-league rehab assignment and rushed him back to the majors after Josh Willingham's knee surgery. He again struggled, giving him a .194 batting average and 84 strikeouts in 81 games overall, at which point they finally demoted Hicks to Triple-A four months into the season.

Being overmatched as a 23-year-old rookie jumping from Double-A is hardly a death sentence for Hicks' long-term potential, although not many struggles are that extreme and allowed to go on for that long. Ultimately he needs to figure out how to maintain a patient approach while also being aggressive within the strike zone, which has been a career-long issue. Because of the demotion he won't use a full year of service time, but this was probably the worst path to that destination.

Andrew Albers joined Chris Colabello and Caleb Thielbar in going from independent ball to the Twins' roster and as if that wasn't already a good enough story the 27-year-old left-hander tossed 8.1 shutout innings against the Royals in his debut. Based on Game Score it was the best MLB debut in Twins history, topping Bert Blyleven's seven innings of one-run ball on June 5, 1970 and Anthony Swarzak's seven shutout innings on May 23, 2009.

Blyleven went on to become a Hall of Famer and Swarzak went on to become a long reliever, so a great debut certainly doesn't guarantee anything. With that said, Albers is definitely an intriguing player. His fastball tops out in the high-80s, which is particularly worrisome when combined with extreme fly-ball tendencies, but Albers is a strike-throwing machine and managed 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He's still a long shot, but could be useful.

• Albers is getting his big chance because the Twins sent Scott Diamond to Triple-A, completing a dramatic decline for a pitcher many people were extremely excited about this time last season. Diamond's awful strikeout rate always suggested that most of the excitement was overblown and he missed even fewer bats this year along with more walks and fewer ground balls. There are 122 pitchers with at least 300 innings since 2011 and Diamond ranks dead last in strikeout rate.

To have sustained success while striking out 4.3 batters per nine innings a pitcher needs to have spectacular control and induce tons of ground balls. And even then Diamond's realistic upside at age 27 is a lot closer to a left-handed Nick Blackburn than any kind of long-term building block. In fact, comparing Diamond's numbers through three seasons to Blackburn's numbers through three seasons is eerily similar:

               ERA    SO/9    BB/9    HR/9     OAVG
Diamond       4.39     4.3     2.2     1.0     .292
Blackburn     4.14     4.4     1.8     1.1     .293

At least the Twins haven't signed Diamond to a long-term contract extension yet.

Tim Wood, who was signed to a minor-league deal in November and then added to the 40-man roster two weeks later because the Twins suddenly felt worried about losing a 30-year-old Triple-A reliever in the Rule 5 draft, will miss the remainder of the season following shoulder surgery. He never threw a pitch this year in the minors or majors.

Chris Parmelee has hit .301/.409/.466 with a 15-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 games at Triple-A since his demotion. Not as spectacular as his 2012 breakout there, but the guy can hit International League pitching.

Kevin Correia has a 5.90 ERA and .329 opponents' batting average in 17 starts since May 1.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily interviewed Jared Burton and wrote an interesting article about the right-hander's fantastic changeup.

• For a lot more about the Twins' lack of trade deadline activity and Hicks' demotion, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

July 17, 2013

Reviewing the Twins’ first half: Hitters

joe mauer and aaron hicks

Offense was expected to be a relative strength for the Twins this season, but instead they finished the first half hitting just .245/.316/.386 with the second-fewest homers in the league, rank 10th among AL teams in runs per game with 4.12, and are on pace to score the second-fewest runs of any Twins team during the past 30 years. Before the second half gets underway here's a hitter-by-hitter look at the individual performances ...

Joe Mauer: .320/.402/.473 in 403 plate appearances

Joe Mauer has done his part following the oft-debated decision to move him into the No. 2 spot, basically matching his career numbers by hitting .320 with a .402 on-base percentage that ranks second in the league. He's scored 32 percent more runs than anyone else on the team despite the guys hitting behind him not exactly thriving, but his RBI chances have dried up because the Twins' leadoff men and No. 9 hitters have combined for a laughable .262 on-base percentage.

Within the standard production is a huge spike in strikeouts, as 75 in 88 games is already the second-most of his career and a 75 percent increase per plate appearance. He's made up for that with career-highs in line drives and batting average on balls play in, leading MLB in both stats, but it's a different path to the usual destination. Defensively he's thrown out an AL-best 46 percent of steal attempts after sagging last year and his all-around value is on pace to surpass $30 million.

Justin Morneau: .273/.331/.406 in 366 plate appearances

At this point every time Justin Morneau homers fans and media members start talking about how it might be the start of him getting back on track, which is perhaps the surest sign that he's now just a shell of his former self. This season's power outage has been well-documented, but going all the way back to his mid-2010 concussion Morneau has hit just .259/.321/.404 in 289 games and 1,224 plate appearances.

There are 193 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2011 and Morneau ranks 128th in batting average, 134th in on-base percentage, 138th in slugging percentage, and 143rd in OPS. He hasn't been even an average first baseman in a long time and at 32 years old with a lengthy injury history in addition to the concussion re-signing the impending free agent just doesn't make sense for the Twins. If they can get any kind of decent return for him a trade, they should.

Ryan Doumit: .237/.295/.393 in 325 plate appearances

Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract extension midway through last season, Ryan Doumit is having the worst season of his career. He's been particularly awful in 24 starts as the No. 3 hitter, batting .245/.299/.316 with one homer, and for the second straight season Twins pitchers have an ERA above 5.00 throwing to him. Doumit is a poor defensive catcher and very stretched in the outfield, so with an OPS below .700 he's been one of the worst regulars in baseball.

The good news is that his power is in line with his career norms, he's already drawn 25 walks in 81 games after totaling 29 walks in 134 games last season, and Doumit is actually striking out less than usual. His struggles mostly stem from a .256 batting average on balls in play, which is 43 points below his career mark. That suggests Doumit should bounce back in the second half, but whatever chance the Twins had of getting a decent return for him in trade is probably gone.

Brian Dozier: .235/.310/.386 in 322 plate appearances

After a brutal rookie season shifting from shortstop to second base dramatically changed Brian Dozier's outlook defensively, but through two months he was again bad enough offensively that the Twins were hinting at giving up on the 26-year-old. However, in his final 44 first-half games Dozier hit .270/.372/.493 with seven homers, 12 doubles, and nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (24), which is more than enough to buy him some more time.

In the minors Dozier generally controlled the strike zone very well, so that aspect of his recent improvement was particularly encouraging, and even while struggling overall he showed more power than expected. Of course, he's still 26 with a .235/.290/.358 career line in 165 games after hitting even worse than that at Triple-A, so the clock is definitely ticking on Dozier. He benefits from the lack of other MLB-ready middle infielders in the Twins' system.

Josh Willingham: .224/.356/.398 in 298 plate appearances

Josh Willingham followed up a career-year in 2012 with a big April, but then the 34-year-old's knee started bothering him and he hit .213/.338/.343 in 50 games from May 1 until the Twins finally shut him down in late June. Willingham needed regular days off and cortisone injections to stay in the lineup at what was obviously less than full strength and it didn't do anyone any good anyway, as he stopped hitting and was even worse than usual in the outfield.

It turns out he had a torn meniscus, undergoing surgery that will likely keep him out until at least mid-August and could cost him the rest of the season. Willingham is under contract for $7 million next season, which is reasonable enough, but whatever chance the Twins had of cashing him in for some long-term help in a trade last July or this offseason is long gone and it's hard to know what to expect from a 35-year-old should-be designated hitter coming off knee surgery.

Chris Parmelee: .223/.303/.372 in 274 plate appearances

Chris Parmelee's defense in right field was the highlight of his first half, which isn't exactly how things were supposed to go. Parmelee had a big September debut in 2011 and destroyed Triple-A pitching for two months last season, but he's hit just .226/.298/.376 in 147 games for the Twins since then. During that span he managed just 13 homers in 484 plate appearances while striking out 118 times versus 40 walks, which is why he was demoted back to Triple-A on Sunday.

Prior to the dominant stretch at Triple-A last season Parmelee's track record in the minors wasn't especially impressive and included a measly .416 slugging percentage in 253 games at Double-A. He's also 25 years old, so in terms of inexperienced hitters struggling Parmelee is much different than some other Twins. There's no need to give up on him yet, but it's looking more and more likely that Parmelee's overall track record is right and he's simply not a starting-caliber hitter.

Trevor Plouffe: .265/.323/.445 in 264 plate appearances

Last year Trevor Plouffe started slow, hit like Babe Ruth for a month, and then slumped down the stretch while dealing with a thumb injury. This season has been much less extreme, but his .265/.323/.445 overall line is close to his .235/.301/.455 mark last year. Plouffe's transformation from light-hitting shortstop prospect to big-league power hitter looks to be for real, as he's now hit .250 with 20-homer pop for 1,000 plate appearances dating back to 2011.

Unfortunately his defense cancels out most of that offensive value and his putrid .223/.285/.391 mark versus right-handed pitching suggests that Plouffe would be better suited in a platoon role. Plouffe can smack around left-handed pitching and that should keep in the majors for a while, but as an everyday player he's not really an asset and while a move across the diamond to first base would make him less of a defensive liability the standard for offense there is much higher.

Aaron Hicks: .197/.264/.366 in 263 plate appearances

Despite a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career after jumping from Double-A to an Opening Day job the Twins stuck with Aaron Hicks and he recovered to hit .237/.288/.447 with eight homers in his final 55 first-half games. He's still striking out a ton and Hicks' formerly strong plate discipline has vanished, but his power has been better than expected, he's made a handful of spectacular defensive plays, and now he simply looks like a 23-year-old rookie learning on the job.

Nothing has changed my opinion that he should have started the season at Triple-A, both for his development and service time considerations, but in contrast to their handling of Oswaldo Arcia the Twins have kept Hicks in the majors all season. Hicks has always projected as a low-average hitter, so the key will be rediscovering his ability to draw walks and cleaning up his defense so that the highlight-reel catches and throws aren't mixed in with poor routes and misplays.

Pedro Florimon: .235/.295/.342 in 261 plate appearances

Pedro Florimon's defense has been as advertised, with very strong overall numbers and plenty of standout plays along with a relatively high error count. Unfortunately his offense has also been as advertised. Florimon's fast start soon gave way to him being terrible at the plate and he's now hit .227/.285/.327 in 124 games as a major leaguer after hitting .250/.319/.352 in 290 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Every few weeks Florimon unleashes a swing that shows he has plenty of power, but it's resulted in just six homers in 421 career plate appearances. Similarly, his relatively patient approach at the plate has led to just 31 walks versus 91 strikeouts. Florimon's defense is good enough that he's definitely worthy of a big-league job, but in an organization that wasn't so devoid of shortstop options he'd be headed for a utility man role.

Oswaldo Arcia: .257/.317/.403 in 224 plate appearances

Fast start, slump, demotion. Fast start, slump, demotion. Oswaldo Arcia has gone through that same three-stage cycle twice in his rookie season and now he's back at Triple-A. There's no doubt that Arcia looked brutal during his slumps, but they were 20 or 30 at-bats in length and the Twins have shown a far more patient approach with Hicks' prolonged rough patches. They also pushed Arcia very aggressively through the minors, so growing pains should have been expected.

His overall performance has been right around league-average offensively, which is both far from impressive from a poor defensive corner outfielder and very impressive from a 22-year-old with fewer than 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Arcia projects as a middle-of-the-order bat long term, but his plate discipline and ability to handle left-handed pitching are potential stumbling blocks. Remember, though: Arcia is younger than the average player at high Single-A.

Jamey Carroll: .219/.276/.252 in 164 plate appearances

Last season Jamey Carroll hit .315 in the second half, suggesting he'd have plenty of value this season at age 39, but instead he's struggled in a part-time role. He's made 22 starts at third base and 13 starts at second base compared to two starts at shortstop, which is where he began last season as the starter before giving way to Dozier and then Florimon. Controlling the strike zone has long been Carroll's main strength, but he had 28 strikeouts versus 12 walks in the first half.

Carroll has a $4 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he reaches 401 plate appearances, but with just 164 plate appearances through 92 team games that obviously won't happen. He's not part of the Twins' future plans and looks just about washed up, but it's possible that a contending team could be interested in Carroll as a utility man. If the Twins do find a taker for Carroll they aren't going to get much in return.

Eduardo Escobar: .214/.268/.328 in 143 plate appearances

Hitting well for a few weeks in April had an awful lot of people excitedly overlooking Eduardo Escobar's terrible track record, but he hit .137 in his final 41 games before being demoted back to Triple-A. Escobar has now hit .216/.273/.294 in 114 games as a big leaguer, which is exactly what you'd expect from someone who hit .267/.312/.348 in the minors. He's a good, versatile defender, but at no point has Escobar's bat looked better than utility man-caliber.

Clete Thomas: .234/.309/.351 in 123 plate appearances

Clete Thomas got off to a good enough start after being called up from Triple-A in June that he stuck around when Hicks returned from the disabled list, but he quickly came back down to earth by hitting .152 in July. Thomas' overall numbers more or less match his career totals, which is to say they're backup-caliber at most, but he's started 28 of 33 games since his call-up and is in line for continued regular action following the demotions of Arcia and Parmelee.

Note: For a similar first-half review of the Twins' pitchers, click here.


This week's blog content is sponsored by the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl/Twins game, where you can join Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson, and Seth Stohs for a day of bar-hopping and baseball on September 14. Space is limited, so book your spot.

July 11, 2013

Twins Notes: Gardenhire, Gibson, Tonkin, Perkins, Morneau, and Colabello

ron gardenhire ejected

• With the Twins free-falling toward a third straight 90-loss season and Ron Gardenhire's job security becoming a popular topic locally I wondered how many managers in baseball history have avoided being fired after three consecutive 90-loss seasons. I knew there was at least one in Tom Kelly, but Jacob Pomrenke of SABR looked up the data for me and found that it's happened a total of eight times since 1945:

Larry Rothschild     Rays       1998-2000
Felipe Alou          Expos      1998-2000
Tom Kelly            Twins      1997-2000
Joe Torre            Mets       1978-1980
Darrell Johnson      Mariners   1977-1979
Preston Gomez        Padres     1969-1971
Casey Stengel        Mets       1962-1964
Zack Taylor          Browns     1948-1951

Four of the eight managers who kept their jobs after three consecutive 90-loss seasons were from expansion teams, so tons of losing was expected/accepted. And five of the eight managers who stuck around after three straight 90-loss seasons were fired by the middle of the next year. Kelly managed the Twins to four 90-loss seasons in a row from 1997-2000 and then went 85-77 in 2001, at which point he stepped down from the job at age 50 and was replaced by Gardenhire.

• After a solid debut Kyle Gibson has struggled in back-to-back starts, leaving him with a 7.27 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings. Among all pitchers in Twins history through three career starts Gibson allowed the most hits (23) and second-most earned runs (14). LaTroy Hawkins is the only Twins pitcher to allow more earned runs in his first three starts and he's had a 19-year career, although all of his success came after shifting to the bullpen.

It's silly to analyze three starts too much, but Gibson has been done in by a .377 batting average on balls in play and nearly half the runners he's put on base coming around to score. Fortunately neither of those rates are sustainable and the good news is that he's averaged 92.5 miles per hour with his fastball while inducing 54 percent ground balls and has yet to allow a homer. And despite a modest strikeout total his swinging strike percentage is slightly above average.

Caleb Thielbar going on bereavement leave means Michael Tonkin will be getting his first taste of the majors at age 23. Early on Tonkin's biggest claim to fame was being Jason Kubel's brother-in-law, but since shifting to the bullpen in 2011 the 6-foot-7 right-hander has emerged as a high-upside reliever with dominant numbers to match his mid-90s fastball. Dating back to last season Tonkin has a 2.17 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 99 innings.

That includes a 1.85 ERA with zero homers allowed and a 46-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year, so if Tonkin makes a good first impression the Twins may decide to keep him around at the expense of someone else in the bullpen. Either way, Tonkin is one of the most promising reliever prospects the Twins have had in a long time and it's easy to imagine him setting up for Glen Perkins at some point next season.

• As a follow-up to Perkins encouraging the Twins to use him more often in non-save situations, just 40 percent of his batters faced this season have come in "high leverage" situations compared to 43 percent in "low leverage" situations. By holding him back for save situations that often never materialize the Twins limit Perkins' overall workload, forcing lesser relievers into crucial spots, and end up using him in unimportant spots just to keep him from getting rusty.

But apparently they haven't started listening to Perkins yet. Last night the Twins lost a 13-inning game to the Rays in which they used six different relievers, but not their All-Star closer. Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly, who's served as a mop-up man for most of the season, took the loss while Perkins went unused because it wasn't a so-called "save situation." Of the seven relievers who've been with the Twins all season Perkins has thrown the fewest innings. Saves are a helluva drug.

Justin Morneau has finally started to show a little power with four homers in 11 games after totaling six homers in his previous 115 games dating back to last year, but his overall production hasn't improved. It's hard to imagine there being much of a trade market for the impending free agent, but getting a compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere this winter is also no longer really an option for the Twins because he'd probably just accept the $15 million qualifying offer.

It's possible that Morneau would be willing to take a major pay cut to remain in Minnesota beyond this season, but do the Twins really want to block various young, cheap hitters with a 32-year-old first baseman who's hit just .259 with a .321 on-base percentage and .405 slugging percentage in 285 games since 2011? That's a harsh reality considering his decline began with a concussion, but even at half of his current $14 million salary Morneau just doesn't make much sense to retain.

• If the Twins do trade Morneau before he walks as a free agent Chris Colabello deserves a long look in his place. After a so-so season at Double-A last year Colabello has crushed Triple-A this season, hitting .357/.435/.656 with 23 homers, 22 doubles, and 41 walks in 81 games. Colabello is 29 years old and was signed out of an independent league, so he's hardly a top prospect, but he leads the International League in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and homers.

Maybe that won't translate to the big leagues, but one of the only benefits to being a bad team is that the Twins are in a position to find out. At worst Colabello struggles and gets written off as a Triple-A player as the Twins continue their march toward another 90-loss season, but he might also prove to be a decent stop-gap first baseman while making just $500,000. And if nothing else he'd give them a right-handed bat to help balance a very left-handed lineup.

Josh Willingham limped around on a bum knee for a month before finally being placed on the disabled list amid reports that he planned to avoid surgery and return after the minimum 15 days. Instead literally the next day it was announced that he'd undergo surgery and miss 4-6 weeks, which is definitely on the optimistic side for a torn meniscus. And sadly all of that has become a pretty standard injury progression for the Twins during the past three seasons.

Willingham hit just .250/.337/.325 in June with even worse defense than usual, making him one of the worst all-around players in baseball. Allowing him to play at what was clearly less than full strength hurt the team, hurt Willingham, and now leaves the Twins with little chance to trade him. We may never know what they could have gotten in exchange for him last July or this offseason, but as someone who implored the Twins to shop Willingham around it's a question that looms.

Aaron Hicks' season totals still look awful, but that's what happens when you start 2-for-48. Since then he's hit .249/.301/.462 with seven homers in 50 games, which is actually pretty damn impressive for a 23-year-old center fielder. He continues to strike out a ton and Hicks has stopped walking, but here's a list of all the 23-year-old center fielders to slug .450 or higher in the last 10 years: Colby Rasmus, Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, Chris Young, Grady Sizemore.

I still think it was a mistake to hand Hicks the Opening Day job without any experience at Triple-A and it's a shame that he's going to burn through an entire season of service time when that wasn't necessary, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he's turned things around following one of the most brutal starts to a career you'll ever see. Even his defense has graded out much better recently and he's done some nice work as a baserunner.

P.J. Walters is a 28-year-old with a 6.28 ERA in the big leagues and a 4.45 ERA at Triple-A, so he predictably passed through waivers unclaimed after being designated for assignment to make room for Gibson's arrival and Mike Pelfrey's return. Walters accepted the assignment, so he'll stay with the Twins at Triple-A while no longer being on the 40-man roster. This is the second time in two years none of the other 29 teams claimed Walters off waivers.

• Since being called up from Triple-A in July of last year Casey Fien has thrown 71 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 71-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .187 batting average. Last offseason the Twins signed Fien to a minor-league deal and based on his track record in the minors he looked like a potentially useful middle reliever, but the 29-year-old right-hander been a whole lot more than that so far.

• After last night's loss the Twins are 37-51, which puts them on pace to go 68-94. At this same point in the season they were 36-52 in 2012 and 40-48 in 2011, so not much has changed.

Brian Dozier since June 1: .264/.386/.500 with six homers, eight doubles and as many walks (19) as strikeouts (19) in 35 games. Six weeks are six weeks, but it's a sign of life.

• Twins Daily blogger and "Gleeman and The Geek" regular Parker Hageman wrote a good guest column for Baseball Prospectus about how the Twins develop their prospects.

• For a lot more about Willingham's injury situation, Walters' exit, Dozier's nice run, and the many former Twins on the All-Star team check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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June 19, 2013

Who are the best young hitters in Twins history?

best young hitters

Oswaldo Arcia has thrived as a 22-year-old rookie, Aaron Hicks has struggled as a 23-year-old rookie, and Twins fans are counting down the days until stud prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton arrive in Minnesota. All of which got me thinking about the best young hitters in Twins history, so I looked up the most productive seasons for each age based on OPS. No teenage hitter has even gotten regular playing time for the Twins, so let's start with 20-year-olds ...


AGE 20              YEAR      PA      OPS
Butch Wynegar       1976     622     .719

Butch Wynegar is the only hitter in Twins history to see regular action at age 20 and he logged 622 plate appearances, started 133 games at catcher, threw out 35 percent of steal attempts, and made the All-Star team while hitting .260/.356/.363 with more walks (79) than strikeouts (63) in a pitcher-friendly era. Adjusting for the time it was a Joe Mauer-esque year, which is why he was such a phenom and why, despite a solid 13-year career, he was ultimately a disappointment.

Bert Blyleven actually has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 100, because he was an amazing young pitcher who debuted before the designated hitter. In fact, he also has the most plate appearances by a 19-year-old in Twins history with 58. Through age 20 he hit .135 in 158 trips to the plate ... and tossed 442 innings with a 2.95 ERA. Blyleven ended up with 514 career plate appearances and hit .131 with a 193-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Among position players Luis Rivas has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 64. In the early days of this blog the Twins rushing Rivas to the majors and repeatedly handing him a starting job based almost solely on his age was a frequent source of frustration. He debuted at 20 and got the sixth-most plate appearances in team history through age 24--Wynegar got the most by a wide margin--but Rivas basically never improved.


AGE 21              YEAR      PA      OPS
Tom Brunansky       1982     545     .848
Rod Carew           1967     561     .750
Butch Wynegar       1977     617     .715
Zoilo Versalles     1961     542     .704
Luis Rivas          2001     619     .682
Cristian Guzman     1999     456     .543

Those are the only six 21-year-olds in Twins history to log at least 300 plate appearances. Tom Brunansky actually began that 1982 season at Triple-A in the Angels organization and was hitting just .205/.317/.330 in 25 games there when they traded him to the Twins in mid-May along with Mike Walters for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He was immediately handed a starting job and hit .272/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 71 walks in 127 games.

Rod Carew was also no slouch at 21, hitting .292/.341/.409 in one of the lowest-scoring eras in baseball history. Seriously, in 1967 the American League as a whole hit .236 with a .303 on-base percentage and .351 slugging percentage. If you adjust Carew's raw numbers to today's offensive environment he hit around .315/.360/.475, which is amazing from a 21-year-old second baseman and explains how he missed being the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner by one vote.

Wynegar cracks the list again and Rivas shows up too, along with shortstops Zoilo Versalles and Cristian Guzman. In six decades of Twins history only two regulars have been above-average hitters at 21, which is something to remember when Sano and Buxton show up. Mauer doesn't make the age-21 list because a knee injury cut short his rookie season, but he hit .308/.369/.570 in 122 plate appearances for what would be the top OPS by a wide margin.


AGE 22              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1982     591     .848
David Ortiz         1998     326     .817
Joe Mauer           2005     554     .783
Oswaldo Arcia       2013     133     .759
Tom Brunansky       1983     611     .753

I've included Arcia on the age-22 list despite his not having enough plate appearances to qualify yet because he's actually what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. Arcia has fared well enough in the early going that I wondered how his production compares to other 22-year-old Twins, discovering that he's in some pretty nice company with Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Mauer, and Brunansky.

In all a total of 12 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 22 and Hrbek leads the way by hitting .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers in 140 games as a rookie in 1981. The worst OPS in the group of 22-year-olds belongs to Wynegar, who fell to .229/.307/.308 in his third season after being an All-Star at 20 and 21. Rivas, Guzman, Versalles, Carew, and Carlos Gomez also posted a sub-.700 OPS at 22.


AGE 23              YEAR      PA      OPS
Joe Mauer           2006     608     .936
Justin Morneau      2004     312     .875
Kent Hrbek          1983     582     .855
Rod Carew           1969     504     .853
Cristian Guzman     2001     527     .811

Four of the truly elite hitters in Twins history ... and Guzman. He'd been terrible in his first two seasons with the Twins, but in 2001 he hit .308/.346/.507 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and an incredible 13 triples in the first half to make the All-Star team. And then just as everyone was getting excited about a switch-hitting 23-year-old shortstop emerging as a star Guzman hurt his shoulder, missed much of the second half, and resumed being a terrible hitter.

Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 in 140 games at age 23, becoming the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title. He likely should have finished either first or second in the MVP voting, but instead placed sixth while teammate Justin Morneau won the award based largely on racking up RBIs with Mauer on base in front of him. Two years earlier Morneau posted the second-best OPS by a 23-year-old in Twins history, hitting .271/.340/.536 in 74 games after a midseason call-up.

Carew, like Mauer, won his first batting title at age 23, hitting .332/.386/.467 in 1969 to boost his OPS by 200 points compared to 1968, which happened to be one of the lowest-scoring seasons in baseball history and the final season before MLB lowered the pitching mound. In all 28 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 23 and 13 failed to crack a .700 OPS, including Torii Hunter and Roy Smalley.

Hicks hasn't reached 300 plate appearances yet, but his current .575 OPS at age 23 would rank third-worst ahead of only David McCarty (.542) and Danny Thompson (.482). Greg Gagne (.596) and Rich Becker (.599) also aren't very far ahead of Hicks and two guys who preceded him in center field, Gomez and Ben Revere, posted an OPS under .625 at 23. Next season Arcia will try to become the sixth Twins hitter to crack an .800 OPS at 23.


AGE 24              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1984     635     .906
Delmon Young        2010     613     .826
Denard Span         2008     411     .819
David Ortiz         2000     478     .810
Joe Mauer           2007     471     .808

Hrbek has the best OPS for 22-year-olds, the third-best OPS for 23-year-olds, and the best OPS for 24-year-olds. In his age-24 season listed above he hit .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers in 149 games, finishing runner-up in the MVP voting behind Tigers reliever Willie Hernandez despite not even making the All-Star team. Hrbek never finished in the top 15 in MVP voting before or after that season, although he had plenty of other productive years.

Delmon Young appeared to have a breakout season in 2010, hitting .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers and 46 doubles in 153 games at age 24 to convince a lot of people he was finally living up to the hype he received as a prospect. He finished 10th in the MVP balloting because some voters overlooked his terrible defense and focused on his high RBI total, but in three seasons since then he's hit just .263/.297/.404.

Ortiz has the second-best OPS for 22-year-olds and the fourth-best OPS for 24-year-olds, so while no one could have predicted that he'd become one of the elite hitters in baseball after leaving the Twins there was certainly plenty of promise shown at a young age. In all Ortiz hit .266/.348/.461 in 455 games for the Twins through age 25. In team history only Mauer, Hrbek, Morneau, and Rich Rollins had more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Ortiz through age 25.

By age 24 plenty of hitters are regulars in the majors and a total of 38 different Twins hitters got at least 300 plate appearances as 24-year-olds. Kirby Puckett ranks 34th out of 38 with a .655 OPS, hitting .296/.320/.336 with zero homers in 128 games as a rookie. Carew would hold the top spot among 24-year-olds with a .930 OPS in 1970, but a knee injury ended his season after 51 games with a .366 batting average.


AGE 25              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1961     656    1.012
Justin Morneau      2006     661     .934
Tony Oliva          1964     719     .916
Bobby Kielty        2002     348     .890
Joe Mauer           2008     633     .864

Harmon Killebrew couldn't crack any of these lists before age 25 because the team didn't move to Minnesota until then. In his first Twins season Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 107 walks. Five decades later he's still the only Twins hitter to top a .950 OPS by age 25. Tony Oliva also cracks these lists for the first time at 25 because it was his rookie season. He led the AL in batting average, runs, doubles, and total bases, winning Rookie of the Year.

Morneau's aforementioned MVP-winning 2006 season came at age 25, as he hit .321/.375/.556 with 34 homers and 37 doubles in 159 games. Morneau has the second-best OPS for 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds, but hit just .239/.304/.437 in between as a 24-year-old. Mauer cracks the top five in OPS for ages 22, 23, 24, and 25. And he likely would've had the top OPS for 21-year-olds too if not for the knee injury.

Bobby Kielty is the odd man out on the age-25 list, which reminds me that I've never been more wrong about a player. He was a switch-hitting outfielder with power and plate discipline, and as you can see Kielty put up big numbers at an early age. When the Twins traded Kielty to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in 2006 he was a 26-year-old .269/.375/.444 hitter. I thought they'd made a terrible mistake. And then Kielty hit .246/.333/.389 after the trade, flaming out at 30.


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June 12, 2013

Twins Notes: Sano, Buxton, Hicks, Arcia, Rosario, and Richardson

miguel sano fort myers

• Last year the Twins kept Miguel Sano at low Single-A for the entire season despite his having the second-highest OPS in the Midwest League. He moved up to high Single-A to begin this year and was even better, so this time around the Twins decided that a promotion was in order after two months of Florida State League destruction. Sano fittingly homered twice in his final game for Fort Myers, including a monstrous blast in his last at-bat.

Overall he hit .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games, leading the FSL in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage despite being the league's youngest hitter. It just doesn't get much better for a 20-year-old stud prospect and in fact no FSL hitter of any age has topped his OPS since 27-year-old Morgan Burkhart in 1999. Sano even stole nine bases at an 82 percent clip and reviews of his defense at third base have been a little more positive than last year.

And now he moves up to Double-A, where the average pitcher is five years older than Sano and both the off-speed pitches and command are much sharper than Single-A. It's a huge test for a truly elite hitting prospect, so even holding his own there at age 20 would be more evidence that Sano is very special and thriving there would put him on the verge of the majors. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia arrived in Minnesota having played a combined nine games at Triple-A.

• Presumably the Twins considered promoting Byron Buxton in tandem with Sano to give Fort Myers a new stud prospect after losing the FSL's best hitter. For now at least Buxton remains at low Single-A, where he's batting .350/.444/.578 with 29 extra-base hits, 26 steals, and nearly as many walks (39) as strikeouts (44) in 58 games as a 19-year-old. Toss in standout defense in center field and Buxton's performance has been every bit as impressive as Sano's.

FOX Sports North broadcast Monday afternoon's Cedar Rapids game and Buxton put on a show, going 3-for-4 with a bases-loaded double off the left-center field wall, a legged-out triple on a ball that didn't even get to the right-center field wall, and a spectacular sprawling catch. No doubt the Twins wanted to avoid promoting Buxton until after FSN's special broadcast, but the kid is leading the Midwest League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

Eddie Rosario and Angel Morales are joining Sano in getting the promotion from Fort Myers to New Britain. Rosario ranked No. 7 on my annual Twins prospect list coming into the season and has improved his stock since then, batting .329/.377/.527 with 24 extra-base hits in 52 games at high Single-A as a 21-year-old and reportedly getting more comfortable defensively in his ongoing transition from center fielder to second baseman.

Morales once ranked among the Twins' top prospects, but injuries and poor performances have sent the 2007 third-round pick's stock plummeting in recent years. He turned things around in a big way at Fort Myers, batting .297/.364/.525 with 28 extra-base hits and 20 walks in 55 games as the everyday center fielder, but it's worth noting that Morales is 23 years old and had already played there for part of 2011 and all of 2012.

• Hicks' hamstring injury puts on hold the rookie's slow climb to respectability following a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career. Hicks has hit .225/.275/.423 in 42 games since then, which is at least more in line with standard rookie struggles. Oddly enough when Hicks couldn't buy a hit he drew walks in bunches, but he's walked just 10 times versus 36 strikeouts in those 42 games. His less patient approach resulted in plenty of pop, with six homers and a .198 Isolated Power.

To replace Hicks on the roster the Twins recalled Arcia from Triple-A just two weeks after sending him back there in part due to a lack of consistent playing time. Arcia clearly has no business in center field, the corner outfield logjam hasn't lessened any in the meantime, and he hit just .218 in 15 games at Triple-A between call-ups, so it's not exactly an ideal situation. Also far from ideal: Clete Thomas will presumably be the everyday center fielder with Hicks out.

• Thomas was playing well in Rochester, but he's a .250/.326/.423 hitter in 400 career Triple-A games and at 29 years old is the epitome of a replacement-level outfielder. Darin Mastroianni's ankle injury left the Twins short on center field depth and that's what replacement-level talent is there for, but if they were turning to a Triple-A journeyman as a stop gap Antoan Richardson would have been a more interesting call-up.

Richardson is the same age as Thomas and has only a brief cup of coffee with the Braves in 2011, but he's hit .314 with a .451 on-base percentage between Double-A and Triple-A this season and has a .404 OBP for his career. Thomas has much more power and perhaps the Twins don't trust Richardson's defense, but the switch-hitter has topped a .400 OBP in three straight seasons while averaging 40 steals per 150 games. Why not give him a shot in the unproductive leadoff spot?

• For the second time in two weeks the Twins lost a former top prospect in order to clear 40-man roster space. Joe Benson was claimed off waivers by the Rangers and now Tyler Robertson was claimed off waivers by the Nationals. At this point Benson and Robertson are long shots to become valuable big leaguers, but they at least have some upside remaining and the same can't be said of 40-man roster holdovers like Drew Butera and Cole De Vries.

When discussing the Twins' haul in last week's draft it's worth noting that Benson and Robertson were their second- and third-round picks in 2006. They both developed well enough to emerge as good prospects, with Benson even cracking Baseball America's top 100 in back-to-back seasons, only to be lost for nothing. Neither loss is hugely troubling in a vacuum, but considering how much the Twins preach patience with prospects it's frustrating to lose talent when it could be avoided.

Alex Meyer, the 6-foot-9 right-hander who was acquired from the Nationals for Denard Span and ranks as the Twins' best pitching prospect, is on the Double-A disabled list with shoulder soreness. Hopefully it proves to be a minor injury, because Meyer was off to a very good start with a 3.69 ERA and 73-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings while holding opponents to a .226 batting average and just three homers.

• It took seven seasons, but Carlos Gomez is finally living up to his potential by becoming one of the best all-around players in baseball. Unfortunately it's coming far too late to help the Twins and Gomez's recent comments about how he's changed as a hitter sound a lot like David Ortiz's old comments when he started thriving with the Red Sox:

Before, Carlos Gomez tried to put the ball in play, hit the ball on the ground, because that's what people wanted. That takes my ability out. That's not me. I'm a free swinger. I like to swing hard, whether I have one or two strikes. When I step to the plate, I try to hit a home run.

I may hit a ball to right field, but I'm not trying to. I’m letting my instincts and my ability do the job. I'm looking for my pitch, a pitch I can hit out of the ballpark. If they throw me a different pitch, I can make the change and hit the ball the other way. If I try to hit the ball the other way, I get in trouble, because I slow down my swing. That’s not me.

Obviously the Brewers deserve credit for Gomez's development, but he joins Ortiz and some other less prominent players in suggesting that the Twins stifled power potential by forcing hitters to fit their preferred mold.

Scott Diamond allowed double-digit hits Sunday for the sixth time in 45 starts and opponents are now batting .293 off him for his career. That ranks as the fifth-highest batting average against in Twins history among all pitchers with 250 or more innings:

Travis Miller      .304
Nick Blackburn     .303
Carlos Silva       .303
Bob Tewksbury      .294
Scott Diamond      .293

If you can't strike anyone out you're going to give up a ton of hits and the above list is basically a mediocre middle reliever and four of the biggest pitch-to-contact starters you'll ever find.

• In the American League there are 66 pitchers with at least 50 innings and only three of them have a strikeout rate below 4.5 per nine innings: Diamond, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey.

• Last year the Twins drafted Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli in the ninth round and he ended up being their highest pick not to sign, returning to school for his senior season. Mazzilli hit .354/.408/.515 with 29 steals in 63 games and was drafted by the Mets in the fourth round, so Lee Mazzilli's son probably earned himself an extra $250,000.

• Current third base coach and former hitting coach Joe Vavra's son, Valparaiso infielder Tanner Vavra, was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round. Nepotism aside Vavra has an incredible story, overcoming being blinded in his right eye by two serious childhood injuries to hit .332 as a junior and .330 as a senior. He's very much a legitimate late-round pick.

• General managers usually get the credit or blame for draft picks, but Terry Ryan talked to Parker Hageman of Twins Daily about why that's misleading.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps last season Glen "Proven Closer" Perkins has converted 30-of-34 save chances with a 2.31 ERA and 77-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 innings.

Delmon Young in 225 games since leaving the Twins: .263/.296/.424 with 171 strikeouts, 33 walks, and 31 double plays. Toss in defense and he's been worth -1.5 Wins Above Replacement.

Francisco Liriano has a 1.75 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36 innings for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Sano's promotion and the Twins' draft, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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