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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May 15, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Arcia, Parmelee, Dozier, Mauer, and mock drafts

aaron hicks gatorade

Aaron Hicks got off to such a dreadful start that his overall numbers are going to look ugly for a long time--and maybe even the entire season--but there's no doubt he's putting together better plate appearances and getting better results. That all culminated with Monday's two-homer game and Hicks is now hitting .215/.333/.431 with three homers and a 15-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 22 games. Before that he was 2-for-43 (.047) with 20 strikeouts and three walks.

Since mid-April or so Hicks has been exactly the type of hitter that his minor-league track record suggested he would be, offsetting a low batting average with lots of walks and some power. Much has been made of Oswaldo Arcia's impressive start, and rightfully so, but since being recalled from Triple-A on April 20 he has an .839 OPS and Hicks has a .764 OPS. There are two rookies playing well offensively in the Twins' outfield right now.

Defensively has been another issue, however. Hicks was billed as a very good center fielder and has shown flashes of that, including robbing Adam Dunn of a homer along with hitting two of his own Monday, but overall he's been shaky with lots of bad reads and delayed reactions. Arcia was billed as a very good right fielder and actually played center field 77 times in the minors, which is almost impossible to believe while watching him stumble around struggling to make routine plays.

• Arcia's arrival initially cut into Ryan Doumit's playing time, but now that Doumit has broken out of his early slump Chris Parmelee is the one finding himself on the bench most often. Doumit or Parmelee is an interesting dilemma. Doumit is a switch-hitter, but since he's typically unproductive from the right side they might as well both be left-handed hitters. Doumit has a far superior track record and is signed through next season, but he's also 32 years old and Parmelee is 25.

In theory a team focused on 2013 should play Doumit and a team focused on the future should play Parmelee, but Doumit being signed for 2014 changes that a bit and the jury is very much still out on whether Parmelee is part of the future anyway. Parmelee had a great September debut in 2011 and crushed Triple-A pitching for two months last season, but he's hit .223/.292/.364 with eight homers and an 81-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 96 games for the Twins since 2012.

• In terms of age and lackluster performance Brian Dozier is similar to Parmelee, but the major difference is that the Twins don't have Arcia-caliber alternatives in the infield. I've been impressed by Dozier's defense at second base, but today is his 26th birthday and he's hit .230/.267/.324 with an 85-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 career games. He also hit just .232/.286/.337 in 48 games at Triple-A, so it's been a while since Dozier showed any sort of promise.

At the very least Dozier and his .267 career on-base percentage have no business in the leadoff spot, where the Twins have gotten a grotesque .189/.229/.233 line. That helps explain how Joe Mauer has just 13 RBIs despite batting .340 with 17 extra-base hits in 35 games. Jamey Carroll replacing Dozier at second base would likely improve the leadoff spot, but it's sort of a Parmelee-or-Doumit situation because Carroll is 39.

• Mauer has hit .319 with men on base, including .381 with runners in scoring position, but he's had a grand total of just 76 runners on base in his 157 plate appearances. By comparison Justin Morneau has had 126 runners on base in 149 plate appearances because he's got Mauer (.426 OBP) and Josh Willingham (.377 OBP) back-to-back in front of him. And batting Mauer second isn't really the issue, because in the third spot he'd just have two awful OBPs in front of him.

Mauer hit .366 in his first 17 games, then went into a career-worst 0-for-21 slump, and has now hit .431 with 10 doubles and 11 walks in 13 games since snapping his hitless streak. That works out to a .532 OBP and .628 slugging percentage. On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we talked about how odd it is for Mauer to be striking out so much, but his overall production is solidly above his career norms and he's also playing much better than last year defensively.

• Saturday night Vance Worley allowed five runs on 11 hits in 5.1 innings against the Orioles and got the win (Mauer, Morneau, and the Twins' lineup really got the win, but old stats die hard). In doing so Worley became just the seventh Twins pitcher in the Ron Gardenhire era (2002-2013) to win a game in which he allowed 11 or more hits:

Vance Worley      5/11/2013     Orioles
Nick Blackburn     5/4/2010     Tigers
Carlos Silva       5/9/2006     Rangers
Carlos Silva      4/29/2005     Angels
Carlos Silva       8/3/2004     Angels
Kyle Lohse         9/2/2003     Angels
Brad Radke        8/24/2002     Royals

Carlos Silva had 47 wins for the Twins and three of them came while allowing 11 or more hits, including a complete-game shutout in 2004. In all there have been 89 wins assigned to pitchers who allowed 11 or more hits in Twins history and Roger Erickson on June 25, 1978 is the only one to get fewer outs than Worley.

• On a related note, Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 204. No other team has fewer than 232 strikeouts and 14 teams have more than 300 strikeouts, including the Tigers with an MLB-leading 378. Breaking it down even further, Twins starters have 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings and Twins relievers have 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, so the bullpen has actually been missing plenty of bats.

Glen Perkins and Jared Burton since the beginning of 2012:

                 IP      ERA     SO     BB     HR     OAVG
Glen Perkins     83     2.71     98     21      9     .216
Jared Burton     79     2.05     74     22      5     .190

I wish Gardenhire would use Perkins a little more in non-save situations, but knowing that duo is looming whenever the Twins have a lead after seven innings is pretty fun.

• With a .500 record through 36 games the Twins have dramatically out-performed expectations so far. Here's how 18-18 compares to their previous records through 36 games under Gardenhire:

2013   18-18
2012   10-26
2011   12-24
2010   22-14
2009   18-18
2008   19-17
2007   17-19
2006   17-19
2005   21-15
2004   22-14
2003   20-16
2002   22-14

During their run of six AL Central titles from 2002-2010 the Twins' average record after 36 games was 20-16 when they made the playoffs and 19-17 when they didn't. Either way, it sure beats the hell out of where they stood after 36 games in 2011 and 2012.

• Last night was the 34th time in 36 games that the Twins have been the gambling underdogs. If you'd have bet $100 on the Twins to win each game so far you'd be up $618, which is on pace for a $2,781 profit over the course of 162 games.

Jim Callis' first mock draft for Baseball America has the Twins taking Texas high school pitcher Kohl Stewart with the No. 4 pick. Callis also writes: "Rumors persist that Minnesota could cut a deal with Washington high school catcher Reese McGuire and spend heavily further down in the draft." Baseball America's current top-100 rankings have Stewart at No. 6 and McGuire at No. 12.

• Baltimore wants Alexi Casilla to give up switch-hitting even though his career numbers don't suggest it makes any sense.

• I love this picture of Hicks robbing Dunn of a homer.

John Bonnes was on vacation, so Parker Hageman stepped in as my co-host for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we got super-nerdy with the hardcore Twins talk.


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April 17, 2013

Twins Notes: Four hits, two strikes, leading off, and mystery pitchers

joe mauer four hits

• Monday night Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a homer and a double for his 20th career four-hit game and then he followed that up Tuesday night by going 4-for-5 for his 21st career four-hit game, which ranks fourth in Twins history and third in Twins history through age 30:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Kirby Puckett      47        Kirby Puckett      33
Rod Carew          42        Rod Carew          29
Tony Oliva         28        Joe Mauer          21
Joe Mauer          21        Tony Oliva         15
Chuck Knoblauch    15        Chuck Knoblauch    15

You certainly wouldn't know it based on this week, but strictly in terms of racking up hits Mauer is at a small disadvantage because he draws so many walks, especially compared to a free-swinger like Kirby Puckett. Here's the Twins' leaderboard for games getting on base at least four times:

OVERALL                      THROUGH AGE 30
Rod Carew         117        Rod Carew          84
Kirby Puckett      94        Joe Mauer          79
Harmon Killebrew   92        Chuck Knoblauch    76
Joe Mauer          79        Kirby Puckett      59
Chuck Knoblauch    76        Kent Hrbek         59

"Four-hit game" rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than "four-times-on-base game" but as always walks are a good thing too. Either way, Mauer is ridiculous right now.

• Three of Mauer's four hits Monday night came with two strikes, which prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to comment:

One of the best hitters I've ever seen with two strikes. It's incredible how he can go deep into a count and never panic, never have any fear, have a nice swing and barrel it just about every time.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com recently adding splits data to the already amazing Play Index here are the active leaders in batting average and OPS with two strikes:

TWO-STRIKE AVG                 TWO-STRIKE OPS
Todd Helton        .263        Albert Pujols      .789
Juan Pierre        .261        Todd Helton        .784
Ichiro Suzuki      .260        David Ortiz        .698
Albert Pujols      .258        Ryan Braun         .697
Joe Mauer          .256        Miguel Cabrera     .696
                               ...
                               Joe Mauer          .668

As you might expect, guys with low strikeout rates have the best two-strike batting average and guys who're simply great all-around hitters have the best two-strike OPS. Mauer ranks fifth in batting average and 17th in OPS with two strikes.

• Last night Gardenhire moved Aaron Hicks out of the leadoff spot for the first time, which got me thinking about the history of Twins leadoff hitters. First, here's a list of the most starts in the leadoff spot in Twins history:

Cesar Tovar        742
Chuck Knoblauch    695
Denard Span        549
Zoilo Versalles    547
Dan Gladden        478
Kirby Puckett      417
Jacque Jones       320
Shannon Stewart    313
Lenny Green        263
Hosken Powell      225

Zoilo Versalles and Dan Gladden are two of the five most-used leadoff hitters in Twins history despite posting on-base percentages of .299 and .318 in the role. Jacque Jones and Hosken Powell weren't a whole lot better at .329 and .327, although at least Jones also slugged .472 for the highest mark by a Twins leadoff man. In all 25 hitters have started at least 100 games in the leadoff spot for the Twins and here are the leaders in on-base percentage:

Chuck Knoblauch    .399
Steve Braun        .386
Lyman Bostock      .362
Otis Nixon         .360
Shane Mack         .359
Shannon Stewart    .358
Luis Castillo      .357
Denard Span        .354
Lenny Green        .350
Larry Hisle        .348

As part of my "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series I compared Steve Braun to Chuck Knoblauch and called him one of the most underrated players in team history. Braun played in a low-offense era, so his OBP was even better than it looks. The worst OBP by a Twins leadoff man with at least 100 starts belongs to Carlos Gomez at .280, which won't surprise anyone. Hicks has led off 10 times so far, which ties him for 69th in Twins history with Pedro Munoz and Mark Davidson.

• Hicks tied the all-time record for most strikeouts in a hitter's first 10 career games:

Aaron Hicks       2013     20
Brett Jackson     2012     20
Matt Williams     1987     19
Russell Branyan   1999     18
Ray Durham        1995     18

There's no real positive way to spin 20 strikeouts in 10 games--particularly when combined with just two hits--but Matt Williams and Ray Durham went on to have very good, long careers and Russell Branyan was a productive slugger for quite a while. And just short of cracking the above top-five is Giancarlo Stanton, who had 17 strikeouts in his first 10 games in 2010 and is now one of the elite hitters in baseball.

• Just a few weeks ago Terry Ryan said this about Hicks as the Opening Day center fielder:

The guy has earned it. I find it almost humorous that people are talking about service time, starting the clock. We didn't trade Span and Revere to stall the next guy. ... I can't ever feel guilt about stopping a guy that deserves to be there because I know if I put myself in that man's shoes, I would be severely disappointed.

Are we trying to win, or what are we doing? Can you imagine if we sent somebody out that did what the kid did, and I had to look at Willingham and Morneau and Perkins and Mauer and those guys that are trying to win, and I'm going to stop that guy? I just don't believe in that. I hear this stuff. Not here.

"Earning" something by playing well for 20 spring training games can be a funny thing, although perhaps not as "humorous" as Ryan found the service time discussion.

Oswaldo Arcia's first taste of the big leagues lasted all of one game before Wilkin Ramirez returned from paternity leave, but he managed to get his first hit, make his first error, and have Mike Trout rob him of his first extra-base hit. And now with Darin Mastroianni going on the disabled list Arcia is coming back up after a 24-hour demotion to Triple-A. Arcia debuted about three weeks before his 22nd birthday, making him the 10th-youngest Twins player since 1991:

Joe Mauer           20.352
Cristian Guzman     21.016
Luis Rivas          21.017
Johan Santana       21.021
Rich Becker         21.221
Pat Mahomes         21.247
A.J. Pierzynski     21.253
David Ortiz         21.288
Francisco Liriano   21.314
Oswaldo Arcia       21.341
Javier Valentin     21.359

I believe the technical term for that list is "mixed bag." Jim Manning was the youngest player in Twins history, debuting in 1962 at 18 years and 268 days. He pitched seven innings that season and never played in the majors again. As for Arcia, it may take a trade or an injury but the odds seem pretty strong that he'll be a regular in the Twins' lineup for good by August. I rated him as the Twins' third-best prospect coming into the season, one spot ahead of Hicks.

• It's possible that the Twins demoted Liam Hendriks to Triple-A primarily because the various off days mean they won't need a fifth starter for a while and liked Pedro Hernandez more as a bullpen option during that time, but clearly their faith in Hendriks isn't very high right now. Faith in a pitcher with an ERA near 6.00 tends to be minimal and I've never been especially high on Hendriks as a prospect, but writing him off after 22 career starts would be a mistake.

Compare the following three Twins pitchers through 22 career starts:

                 IP      ERA     SO9     BB9     HR9
Pitcher X       118     5.63     5.4     2.5     1.4
Pitcher Y       137     5.40     3.8     2.2     1.6
Pitcher Z       121     5.20     6.5     2.1     1.5

One set of those lines is Hendriks and the others are Brad Radke and Scott Baker, who also frequently got dinged early on for not throwing hard and giving up too many homers. I'm certainly not suggesting he's the next Radke or even the next Baker, but if there's any benefit to being a bad team with a poor rotation it should be having few qualms about giving a 24-year-old like Hendriks an extended opportunity to sink or swim in the majors.

• Back in January team president Dave St. Peter was our guest on "Gleeman and The Geek" and we asked him if the Twins' recent struggles played a part in the inability to sign some free agent pitchers they targeted. St. Peter denied that was the case, repeatedly saying that "dollars and years" were the main factor:

No. It's dollars and years. It's dollars and years. And at the end of the day, a player might have Option A and Option B, depending where they're from. He may be able to take less in Option A, but at the end of the day it's ultimately going to come down to dollars and years.

I found that interesting at the time, because it seemingly differed from some previous things said by other members of the organization. Fast forward to last week, when Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town interviewed assistant general manager Rob Antony and got a much different answer to a question about the inability to sign targeted pitchers:

We made very competitive offers to a couple pitchers, and maybe even better offers than what players signed for. You get into a situation when you're coming off of two 90-plus loss seasons, some pitchers, and to their credit they are looking to land in a place where they'll get a chance to win, and some teams can just offer that and a player will look at it and believe it more so than when we say "Hey, we're trying to win, too." ...

So we tried to get some guys. We went after some free agents who basically didn't have a lot of interest in coming here, just because they thought that at this point in their career they wanted to win and they thought they could get the money and win somewhere else better than ... be in a better situation than they would be here.

That's about as far from "dollars and years" as you can get.

Glen Perkins continued his recent media tour by talking to my favorite interviewer, David Brown of Yahoo! Sports. It's great, because how could it not be? For example:

DB: How are you personally coping without Denard Span? I don’t think I’d be doing too well.

GP: This is the first year since 2004 that we won't be teammates. It's weird. I unfollowed him on Twitter. I guess that's my coping mechanism.

Perkins actually unfollowed Denard Span right after the trade in January, later refollowed him, and then unfollowed him again. I know this because Span pointed it out each time on Twitter.

• On a related note, Span had no idea what a double-switch was until this week despite playing two dozen interleague games under NL rules while with the Twins. And also, you know, being a professional baseball player.

Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus did some really interesting research about catchers and framing high and low pitches, with Mauer playing a prominent role in the analysis.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times tells the story of the time Bert Blyleven charged the mound.

• For a lot more about Hicks, Hendriks, and Arcia, plus the Twins' premature press release, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric's new GAME SIX shirt, commemorating one of the best moments in Minnesota sports history. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 25, 2013

Twins Notes: Hicks, Butera, Gibson, Diamond, Benson, and 612 Brew

aaron hicks three homers

• Making official what was pretty clearly the plan as soon as they followed up the Denard Span trade by also trading Ben Revere, the Twins named Aaron Hicks the Opening Day center fielder. Perhaps if Hicks had a terrible spring training Darin Mastroianni could have worked his way into the gig as a place-holder, but Hicks made that a moot point by hitting .350/.397/.650 with three steals in 18 games, including a headline-making three-homer game.

Hicks is a very good prospect with an all-around skill set that could make him a long-term building block, so I'm extremely excited to see him play. However, by jumping him from Double-A to the big leagues at age 23 the Twins may be rushing his development a bit and are definitely sacrificing their ability to delay his eventual free agency for the maximum amount of time. If he never goes back to the minors Hicks will be a free agent following the 2018 season, at age 29.

Based on service time rules they could've pushed back his free agency by an entire year, gaining an extra season and 162 games of team control, by sending Hicks to Triple-A for as little as four weeks. In that scenario if the Twins called him up in late April or early May and Hicks never went back to the minors he'd be a free agent following 2019, at age 30. Short-term gratification is hard to ignore, but stretching a prospect's pre-free agency years is done regularly by many teams.

Instead of having Hicks for 135 games this year and 162 games in 2019 they'll have him for 162 games this year and zero games in 2019. That math seems straightforward enough, especially considering Hicks is likely to be better as a 29-year-old veteran than as a 23-year-old rookie and the Twins might actually be contending in 2019. It's not about being cheap, it's about maximizing a player's value before he can leave. But it apparently never factored into the Twins' decision.

• One thing that has always made Hicks an intriguing prospect is excellent plate discipline, which he displayed immediately as an 18-year-old at rookie-ball in 2008 and has maintained ever since. He's averaged 98 walks per 150 games as a pro, including 79 walks in 129 games at Double-A last season, which is not a skill set you typically find in speedy, athletic, up-the-middle defenders. Joe Mauer, who knows a little something about plate discipline, took notice of Hicks' approach:

I've been real impressed by him. For a young guy to take pitches and work at-bats is pretty impressive. Even today, I talked to him and told him taking pitches is going to help the guys behind him. He has a pretty good grasp on how to approach an at-bat.

Ron Gardenhire tends to use speedy center fielders and middle infielders atop the lineup even if they lack strong on-base skills, so it's nice that Hicks is actually a patient hitter. By comparison, Revere drew a grand total of 57 walks in 254 games for the Twins. Hicks' high walk rate has also come with lots of strikeouts and mediocre batting averages, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to facing pitchers with better control and no fear of throwing him strikes.

• Back in December the Twins tendered Drew Butera a contract for 2013 and then in January the two sides avoided arbitration with a one-year, $700,000 deal, but he'll be making that money in Rochester after being optioned to the minors. On one hand it's encouraging that the Twins finally realized a career .183/.232/.265 hitter probably shouldn't be in the majors. On the other hand it would have been nice to come to that conclusion before signing him to a $700,000 contract.

One-year deals to avoid arbitration aren't fully guaranteed until certain dates this month, so even after signing Butera they could've saved five-sixths or three-fourths of the money by releasing him. Detroit recently did that with Brennan Boesch, saving $1.9 million of a $2.3 million deal, but those deadlines have passed. Gardenhire talked of wanting a stronger bench and removing Butera fits that, but he also talked of wanting Jim Thome and that apparently isn't happening.

Kyle Gibson won't be joining Hicks on the Opening Day roster, as initial reports of him looking great coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery gave way to struggles in actual games and the Twins sent him to Triple-A. He'll be limited to 130 innings this season, so there's an argument for not wasting them at Triple-A, but the problem with that line of thinking is assuming Gibson is ready to succeed against big-league hitters when he hadn't even done that yet before surgery.

• What was supposed to be minor surgery to remove a bone chip from Scott Diamond's elbow in December has become a season-opening stint on the disabled list for the would-be Opening Day starter. For now the plan is for Diamond to make his season debut in mid-April, missing the Game 1 matchup versus Justin Verlander and a couple more starts, but the Twins' injury timetables haven't been worth a whole lot in recent years and worrying about elbow issues tends to loom.

• Diamond on the DL and Gibson at Triple-A means Samuel Deduno or Cole DeVries is likely to be in the Opening Day rotation and both of them could get a spot if the Twins decide to send Liam Hendriks back to Triple-A. At the beginning of the offseason Terry Ryan spoke of big plans for fixing the awful rotation, yet the Twins are already turning to the same career minor leaguers who were thrown against the wall to see if they stuck last season as emergency options.

Joe Benson was sent to Triple-A after a lackluster spring training, but even if he'd played well there wasn't much room for him on a roster with Hicks and Mastroianni. Benson is coming off a terrible, injury wrecked season, so he needs to get back on track or risk falling off the prospect radar, but he'd seemingly be the obvious call-up if Hicks struggles or if any of Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Chris Parmelee, or Ryan Doumit gets injured.

Danny Rams and Cole Nelson were among a handful of minor leaguers released by the Twins. Rams was a 2007 second-round pick with lots of power, but couldn't turn himself into a quality defensive catcher and hit .241 with 543 strikeouts in 406 games while failing to get past Single-A. Nelson and Lester Oliveros were acquired from the Tigers for Delmon Young in 2011--the same day "Gleeman and The Geek" debuted--but the big left-hander from Edina stalled at Single-A.

Anthony Swarzak will join Diamond in beginning the season on the disabled list as he recovers from the fractured ribs suffered in the "horseplay" incident during Twins Fest.

Tim Wood, who was a candidate for the Twins' bullpen and out of minor-league options, has been shut down with a strained rotator cuff.

Matt Capps failed to make the Indians on a minor-league deal and may accept an assignment to Triple-A one year after beginning the season as the Twins' closer.

Scott Baker's comeback from Tommy John surgery has been derailed by a strained elbow and he'll be shut down for at least a month.

• Thanks to everyone who came to the Twins Daily meet-up Saturday at 612 Brew. It was a great turnout and we're definitely planning to host semi-regular events throughout the season. Between the beer and laid-back space 612 Brew is an ideal venue, with the added bonus that the owners are Twins fans and the head brewer is a "Gleeman and The Geek" listener. I'm sure we'll be back there at some point, but in the meantime I highly recommended checking out 612 Brew.

• I didn't think to take any pictures until after the crowd had already thinned out a bit, but ...

twins daily 612 meetup2

twins daily 612 meetup1

twins daily 612 meetup4

twins daily 612 meetup3


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