November 14, 2011

Twins Notes: Plouffe, Iwakuma, Wada, Thome, Krivsky, Toby, and Kiss

Terry Ryan revealed during a 1500-ESPN interview yesterday that Trevor Plouffe will be an outfielder going forward, which isn't shocking considering how awful he looked as an infielder despite playing 680 games at shortstop in the minors. He has the tools to be a strong corner outfielder defensively and with Jamey Carroll signed that may be the clearest path to at-bats, but before the middle of this year Plouffe had never played the outfield in seven pro seasons.

Moving to the outfield full time also means Plouffe's bat will be held to a much higher standard and aside from a 50-game stretch at Triple-A this year he's never really produced like a corner outfielder offensively. He's batted .262/.316/.451 in 337 games at Triple-A and .226/.286/.382 in 103 games in the majors, so unless his two-month breakout in Rochester at age 25 is a sign of things to come Plouffe will have trouble hitting enough to be more than a platoon player.

According to Nippon Sports the Twins are interested in Japanese pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Tsuyoshi Wada, both of whom are outright free agents and can be signed without going through the posting process. Last winter the Twins reportedly finished runner-up for Iwakuma, who failed to sign after the A's bid (and were refunded) $19.1 million for his negotiating rights. He remained in Japan and had a 2.42 ERA in 119 innings, but missed time with a back injury.

Wada was even better, throwing 185 innings with a 1.51 ERA, but the 30-year-old left-hander may not have the raw stuff to thrive in the majors. I've seen Wada compared to Bruce Chen and Jamie Moyer as a strike-throwing southpaw with mid-80s fastball velocity and in talking to people who've seen him pitch in Japan the consensus seems to be that he's no more than a possible fifth starter.

As teams were bidding on Iwakuma last year there were some reports of him potentially being a No. 2 starter in the majors, but apparently those back problems sapped his already modest velocity this season. Iwakuma has more upside than Wada, but the 30-year-old right-hander likely projects as a mid-rotation starter even if his fastball returns to the low-90s. Intriguing, but unless the price tags are modest I'd be surprised to see either pitcher land with the Twins.

Jim Thome signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Phillies, which is a price the Twins should have been willing to match. However, prior to being fired Bill Smith ruled out bringing back Thome because of how his inability to play defense limits the roster and it may have been a moot point anyway, as the future Hall of Famer loves Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and reportedly had been hoping to be traded to Philadelphia rather than Cleveland in August.

Thome will have a very limited role with the Phillies, who view him as only an emergency option at first base even with Ryan Howard potentially out for the entire first half. That means pinch-hitting and serving as a designated hitter during interleague games, which probably won't add up to more than 150 plate appearances. His attempts to recruit Michael Cuddyer to join him in Philadelphia might have a bigger impact than Thome's on-field performance.

Wayne Krivsky was Ryan's right-hand man prior to leaving the Twins to become the Reds' general manager in 2006, but returns now as "professional scout and special assistant to the GM." Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune looked into his role and says "Krivsky will scout 15 major league teams, with scout Kenny Compton handling the other 15." And he'll be stationed out of Kentucky, so Rob Antony remains the No. 2 guy in the front office.

Days before firing Smith the Twins denied the Orioles permission to interview vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff for their GM opening, but several sources have suggested that was more about Radcliff's lack of interest in the job than anything else. Radcliff was the Twins' longtime scouting director prior to switching roles when Smith replaced Ryan in 2007 and is a big part of the organization, although Ryan admitted Radcliff was "spread too thin" recently.

• To put into context how odd the Twins' timing was in firing Smith: Eno Sarris of Fan Graphs reports that Smith was the first MLB general manager to be fired in November since 1950.

• Last month the Twins dropped Brian Dinkelman from the 40-man roster, making him a free agent, but the 28-year-old second baseman/corner outfielder has re-signed on a minor-league contract. Dinkelman's performance didn't warrant being called up to the majors twice this year, but he certainly took advantage of what may prove to be his lone opportunity by notching 22 hits in 23 games and the organizational solider will provide some veteran depth at Rochester.

• Rochester will also likely have right-hander Jared Burton in the bullpen after the Twins inked the former Reds reliever to a minor-league deal. Burton had a 3.47 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 161 innings from 2007-2009, but missed most of the past two years with shoulder problems that required surgery. He's exactly the sort of cheap, readily available player who makes giving 40-man roster spots to Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray so confusing.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Ron Gardenhire's son, Toby Gardenhire, will not be offered a contract after becoming a minor-league free agent. Nepotism got Gardenhire to Triple-A despite being a former 41st-round pick with a .232/.292/.274 career line, but his defensive versatility served a purpose for Rochester and ultimately at least they cut him loose based on merit.

• Other minor leaguers to leave the organization as free agents include Andy Baldwin, Dusty Hughes, Chuck James, Jake Stevens, Allan de San Miguel, Jair Hernandez, Chase Lambin, Paul Kelly, Yangervis Solarte, Jeff Bailey, and Brandon Roberts. Hughes and James pitched for the Twins this year, Kelly is a former second-round pick, Baldwin is a friend of AG.com, and Lambin was the subject of a Grantland article, but only Solarte resembles any kind of prospect.

• Getting a veteran middle infielder with very strong on-base skills was obviously nice, but I've stumbled across the primary reason the Twins signed Carroll:

Presumably "shorter than Gene Simmons' daughter and Shannon Tweed" wasn't prominently featured on the scouting report.

October 24, 2011

Twins Notes: More trimmings, fewer collisions, and shopping lists

Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, Anthony Slama, and Rene Rivera were passed through waivers unclaimed and sent outright to Triple-A as part of the Twins' initial 40-man roster trimming and they've since done the same with Phil Dumatrait and Brian Dinkelman. Some of the six guys may stay in the organization, but they've all been removed from the 40-man roster and Tolbert quickly opted for free agency after spending his entire eight-year pro career with the Twins.

Dumatrait had a nice-looking 3.92 ERA for the Twins, but didn't actually pitch well with an awful 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio and seven homers in 41 innings. Even the 1.15 ERA he posted at Triple-A to coax the Twins into calling him up involved just 15 innings and a horrible 12-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Dumatrait is a 30-year-old journeyman with a 6.20 ERA and nearly as many walks (90) as strikeouts (97) in 151 career innings as a major leaguer.

Dinkelman is a similar story, as his .301 batting average vastly overstates how well he actually played in 23 games for the Twins. All but one of his 22 hits were singles, producing a measly .315 slugging percentage, and Dinkelman drew just four walks while striking out 14 times. His call-up never made much sense in the first place, as Dinkelman is 27 years old and has hit just .255/.327/.353 in 264 games at Triple-A while being iffy defensively at second base.

Of the six players dropped from the 40-man roster Slama is the only one with any sort of shot to be more than a marginal big leaguer and the Twins avoiding the status quo with their own collection of replacement-level talent is a positive thing. And even after those moves they still have plenty of fungible non-prospects taking up space on the 40-man roster, including Drew Butera, Jim Hoey, Jeff Manship, Kyle Waldrop, and Esmerling Vasquez.

• During a recent radio interview on 1500-ESPN general manager Bill Smith confirmed that the Twins will not make any changes to the training staff following one of the most injury wrecked seasons in team history. Smith noted that "there's nothing from a training standpoint that you can do to prevent" what he called "collision injuries" such as Tsuyoshi Nishioka fracturing his leg while trying to turn a double play or Michael Cuddyer injuring his wrist on a hit by pitch.

As he's done multiple times since the end of the season Smith suggested that Alexi Casilla's hamstring strain was the only prominent example of a non-collision injury, but as Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN pointed out that's inaccurate. Casilla, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Jim Thome, Francisco Liriano, Delmon Young, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins each required disabled list stints and missed significant time with non-collision injuries.

I'm not really in a position to say whether the Twins need to dramatically shake up the training staff, but for Smith to dismiss the never-ending flood of health problems as simply bad luck and spin the situation with misleading information is disappointing. Yes, many injuries were of the collision variety, but most of those players missed far more time than the initial diagnosis and there were also plenty of non-collision injuries that kept players out far longer than expected.

• Smith also revealed a few other tidbits during that same interview, admitting that the Twins "will be looking" for a veteran shortstop who can provide "solid leadership and solid defense." No surprise, as entering 2012 with Nishioka or Trevor Plouffe atop the shortstop depth chart was never going to happen, but after botching the J.J. Hardy situation upgrading the position is once again a priority. If history is any indication the next shortstop will be underwhelming.

Asked about upgrading the depth at catcher Smith called Butera "a wonderful backup catcher" despite a .178/.220/.261 career line making him one of the worst hitters ever. Of course, more important than the silly platitudes is Smith admitting that "we've got to have more offense out of that backup position" and "are looking to add that." If they aren't willing to cut Butera loose that points to keeping three catchers or at least two catchers and a catcher/designated hitter.

• Last week I wrote about how the Twins' minor league player of the year winners have been a mixed bag during the past decade. David Winfree is perhaps the least successful recipient during that time, winning the award in 2005 thanks to a nice-looking RBI total at high Single-A masking unspectacular overall production and an ugly 93-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Winfree never even reached the majors, leaving the organization as a free agent in 2009.

He's played at Triple-A for three different organizations during the two seasons since then, but put together a good 39-game stretch for the Diamondbacks' affiliate this season and somehow convinced them to add him to the 40-man roster. Winfree is a 26-year-old first baseman/corner outfielder with a .287/.331/.484 mark in 264 games at Triple-A, so even if he finally makes it to the majors in Arizona don't expect the former 13th-round pick to haunt the Twins.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the Twins are giving rookie-ball center fielder Eddie Rosario some reps at second base in instructional league games. Rosario had a monster season for Elizabethton as a 19-year-old, batting .337 with 21 homers in 67 games, and given the organization's solid outfield depth and longstanding inability to develop quality infielders it's worth a try while he's on the bottom rungs of the minor-league ladder.

John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman are taking pre-orders for their annual "Offseason GM Handbook." I'm not part of the TwinsCentric group and have nothing to do with the handbook, but can absolutely vouch for product as a worthwhile investment. Plus, in addition to 135 pages analyzing offseason possibilities and all things Twins the e-book also features a foreword by Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune and 1500-ESPN. Check it out.

September 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sisyphus, meetups, cash considerations, regrets, and returns

• I'll be on 1500-ESPN radio today from 10 a.m. until whenever Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson kick me off the "Judd and Phunn" show. You can listen online here.

John Bonnes, Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, and Parker Hageman (also known as TwinsCentric) are hosting a get-together Saturday at noon for Game 1 of the Twins-Indians doubleheader. I'll be there as well and we'll be recording an episode of the "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast, so if you're interested in watching the game(s), drinking some beer, and talking Twins please come hang out.

The only catch is that we'll be at Manitou Station in White Bear Lake, which is a lengthy trek for most people and along with the Twins' dismal season has me worried that the crowd may be a little more sparse than a typical TwinsCentric gathering. But we're all making the drive and you should too. And as an added incentive I'm pledging to buy any AG.com readers who show up their first beer. Just show up, say hello, order a beer, and it's on me. Here are the details:

Who: Bonnes, Stohs, Nelson, Hageman, Gleeman, and hopefully more

What: TwinsCentric get-together during the Twins-Indians game

Where: Manitou Station in White Bear Lake (click here for map/directions)

When: Saturday from noon until whenever we go home

Why: Because the Twins are less depressing if you're watching with a group and/or drinking

• When the Twins traded Jim Thome to the Indians on August 25 they received a player to be named later or cash in return and they've somewhat surprisingly opted for the money, getting $20,000 to complete the deal. Obviously for a team with a $115 million payroll $20,000 means nothing and for the Twins to choose that instead of even a low-level prospect is frustrating at the end of a miserable year. In announcing the deal general manager Bill Smith explained:

We exchanged some names both ways and in the end we both felt this was the proper way to go. This was certainly the right thing to do for Jim Thome and the right thing to do for the Twins.

It's tough to imagine why they wouldn't pick some Single-A live arm and if any of those players ever finds out that they were passed over for $20,000 they'll probably retire on the spot, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Thome was dealt to save money and to give him a shot at playing meaningful games in September. Cleveland almost immediately fell out of contention following the move, but between his salary and the $20,000 throw-in the Twins saved about $650,000.

• As if the Twins' collapse isn't depressing enough, Wilson Ramos has hit .267/.331/.443 with 14 homers in 109 games for the Nationals. Those certainly aren't jaw-dropping raw numbers, but Ramos' production adds up to an adjusted OPS+ of 112 and that's damn impressive for a 23-year-old rookie catcher. In fact, during the past 25 years here's the complete list of every 23-year-old catcher to post an OPS+ above 100 in 400 or more plate appearances:

                  YEAR      PA     OPS+
Joe Mauer         2006     608     144
Buster Posey      2010     443     129
Jason Kendall     1997     572     114
Craig Biggio      1989     509     114
WILSON RAMOS      2011     420     112
Russell Martin    2006     468     101

That's it. That's the whole list. Oh, and he's also thrown out 34 percent of steal attempts. Sigh.

Denard Span returning to the lineup for a handful of meaningless September games seems like an iffy decision considering how poorly things went last month when he came back despite still having concussion symptoms. Toss in Justin Morneau's recent setback 15 months after his concussion and leaving Span on the sidelines sure seemed like the sensible plan, but at least he felt good after playing five innings. He also said: "I'm praying I wake up feeling good."

Jason Repko was hit in the helmet Sunday and has unfortunately joined Span and Morneau in suffering a concussion, with Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reporting that he's "been bothered by headaches and nausea." According to trainer Rick McWane "he had a CT scan and an MRI exam on his head and they both came back normal" and Repko hasn't officially been ruled out for the season yet, but he won't play again in 2011. What a shame.

• As the Twins zero in on the No. 2 overall pick next year Baseball America released their initial ranking of the top 50 prospects available in the 2012 draft. Generally speaking the draft class is considered underwhelming, particularly in terms of elite talent, but while that's bad luck for the Twins a lot can change before June. For now the main names to track are Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, and Florida catcher Mike Zunino.

• Speaking of Baseball America, they named Miguel Sano the No. 1 prospect in the rookie-level Appalachian League this season after the 18-year-old third baseman batted .292/.352/.637 with 20 homers and 45 total extra-base hits in 66 games. Elizabethton's other record-setting slugger, 19-year-old center fielder Eddie Rosario, ranked No. 5 on the same list and this year's second-round pick, right-hander Madison Boer, ranked No. 17.

Mike Fast of Baseball Prospectus did an extensive study on the often overlooked impact MLB catchers have framing pitches. His research and results are way too interesting and in-depth for me to recap here, so I'll just note that Joe Mauer's pitch framing has been two runs above average per 120 games, while Drew Butera's pitch framing has been nine runs below average per 120 games. Check out the whole study for some very intriguing, unique stuff.

Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia are the only two players on the Twins' injury wrecked roster who'll log enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, but believe it or not that isn't particularly rare. Ten teams in baseball history have had just one hitter qualify for the batting title, two of which are the Astros and Giants this season, and the Twins are the 70th team to have two or fewer qualifiers in a season.

Brian Dinkelman is 20-for-53 (.377) and all 20 of his hits have been singles. Jim Perry is the only other player in Twins history to record at least 15 hits in a season without an extra-base hit. Perry, a starting pitcher who won the Cy Young award in 1970, went 17-for-92 (.185) with all singles in 1971.

Tom Tango launched his annual "scouting report by the fans for the fans," which is your shot to play a scout by entering in personal observations about the players you watch on a regular basis to become part of the huge collection of scouting reports compiled entirely by fans. Take a look at the instructions and details, and then go to the Twins page to mark down what you think of, say, Trevor Plouffe's throwing accuracy or Ben Revere's arm strength.

Kevin Slowey, after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning last night only to fall apart for his seventh straight loss:

It's like we’re watching the fate of Sisyphus himself. We get to the top of that hill and just can't seem to figure it out.

Actually, there was probably no need to identify which player said that.

• On a related note, this would have been an interesting conversation to overhear:

Something tells me neither of them mentioned any Greek mythology.

Michael Kruse from Grantland wrote a lengthy article about 32-year-old career minor leaguer Chase Lambin, who spent this season playing at Triple-A for the Twins.

• Dating back to last season the Twins are 61-106 in their last 167 games, including 9-39 since late July. To avoid the second 100-loss season in team history they'd have to finish 4-4.

• If you haven't yet, please check out this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek."

This week's content is sponsored by Jane Gallop's new book, "The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing In Time."

September 5, 2011

Twins Notes: Bad news, good news, call-ups, vetoes, and symptoms

• Unfortunately in a season ruined by injuries not even the Twins' minor leaguers are safe, as Kyle Gibson will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. On the Twins' advice Gibson tried to avoid surgery with rest and rehab, but the odds were always in favor of his eventually going under the knife. In the past telling pitchers to put off surgery hasn't worked well for the Twins, but in this case the delay likely won't matter.

Because the typical recovery timetable for Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months Gibson would have missed most and perhaps all of 2012 whether he had the operation now or a month ago when the partially torn ligament was identified. All things being equal sooner is better, but there are some examples of pitchers with similar injuries avoiding Tommy John surgery and the chance of that, however slim, was probably worth the month-long delay for a 23-year-old.

Stephen Strasburg is back in the majors and throwing mid-90s fastballs again almost exactly 12 months after his Tommy John surgery, so it's possible that Gibson could see game action by late next year. Either way, his timetable for joining the Twins' rotation has now been pushed back until at least mid-2013 and the 2009 first-round pick has gone from the organization's top prospect to a major question mark. What a shame.

Alex Wimmers walked the first six hitters he faced this year, was immediately removed from the rotation at high Single-A, and spent three months trying to avoid going further down the scary Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel path. He rejoined Fort Myers as a reliever and then moved back into the rotation last month, pitching very well while avoiding any serious control issues. And on Saturday night he threw a seven-inning no-hitter in his final outing of the season.

Perhaps more importantly than not allowing any hits Wimmers issued just two walks and faced the minimum 21 batters in a 1-0 victory, with Aaron Hicks knocking in the lone run. Since his disastrous season debut and lengthy stay in extended spring training Wimmers has thrown 41 innings with a 3.32 ERA and 39-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio while limiting opponents to a .189 batting average. He's not out of the woods yet, but the 2010 first-round pick is back on track.

• Rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players on September 1 and the Twins called up Jim Hoey, Kyle Waldrop, and Brian Dinkelman as their first batch of reinforcements. Hoey was acquired from the Orioles in the J.J. Hardy deal and flopped earlier this season, allowing 18 runs in 15 innings. He still has high-90s velocity, but Hoey is 28 years old and didn't even fare particularly well at Triple-A with a 3.83 ERA and 38-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 innings.

Waldrop was similarly underwhelming in Rochester's bullpen, striking out just 44 batters in 79 innings while opponents to hit .276 with seven homers. He was far better in 2010, tossing 88 innings with a 2.57 ERA and 25 percent more strikeouts, but the Twins left him off the 40-man roster during the offseason and Waldrop went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft. Finally adding him now is odd timing, but Waldrop gets enough ground balls to possibly be a useful reliever.

When the Twins called up Dinkelman in June it was surprising, but two weeks later they put him through waivers unclaimed and sent the 27-year-old career minor leaguer back to Triple-A, removing him from the 40-man roster in the process. All of which makes it even more surprising that they've now re-added Dinkelman to the 40-man roster and called him up again. He must be one hell of a guy, because he hit .243/.316/.324 in 127 games at Triple-A.

UPDATE: Fittingly the Twins spelled Dinkelman's name wrong on the official lineup card today.

Liam Hendriks is also slated to come up from Triple-A tomorrow and make his debut against the White Sox. Hendriks ranked No. 8 on my preseason list of Twins prospects and has upped his stock since then by throwing 139 innings with a 3.36 ERA and 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A. He projects as a mid-rotation starter, but with Gibson out and Wimmers a worry the 22-year-old Australian is arguably the Twins' top pitching prospect.

Jim Thome's departure opened one spot on the 40-man roster and the Twins created another opening by transferring Nick Blackburn to the 60-day disabled list, ruling him out for the rest of the year because of a forearm injury. They'll need to clear one more space for Hendriks and Ron Gardenhire indicated that shifting Francisco Liriano to the 60-day DL could be the move despite his wanting to "throw at least a couple innings" before the end of the season.

• Leading up to the August 31 waiver trade deadline Joe Nathan told reporters that he "would consider" waiving his no-trade clause for a Thome-like deal to a contender, but when it came time to actually make a decision he vetoed any potential deals. In order to move Nathan the Twins would have had to eat his remaining $2 million salary for this season plus a $2 million buyout for 2012, and even then the best they might have hoped for was a marginal prospect.

Still, considering the Twins paid him $11.25 million not to pitch in 2010 and $11.25 million for a 5.02 ERA this year giving them a shot to swing a deal would have been nice. Nathan told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that next year's $12.5 million option played a part in the decision, but there's virtually zero chance of the Twins bringing him back at that price and even after being traded he could have returned next season a la Rick Aguilera in 1996.

Justin Morneau going on the disabled list with a wrist problem and then having neck surgery took the focus off last year's concussion, but now he's sidelined again with further symptoms stemming from the initial injury 14 months ago. His current symptoms were deemed "mild," but it's tough to think of anything concussion-related as "mild" given Morneau's ongoing struggles and Denard Span's similarly troubling attempts to come back from his own concussion.

Even after missing two months Span mistakenly came back before he was ready and Morneau still has headaches, dizziness, and fogginess 14 months later, making them both big question marks heading into 2012. Morneau has played just 150 of the past 327 games dating back to late 2009, undergoing back and neck surgeries in addition to the concussion, and was nothing like his usual self in 69 games this season. Scary times for two of the Twins' building blocks.

• Perception versus reality: Joe Mauer has driven in 16.1 percent of all runners on base for his plate appearances this season. Michael Cuddyer has driven in 13.8 percent. Mauer also had a higher RBI percentage than Cuddyer in 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005.

Jim Mandelaro, who covers the Triple-A team for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, notes that they've lost 90 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1903 and 1904.

Advertise your product, service, local business, or website directly to thousands of people each day by becoming an AG.com "Sponsor of the Week."

June 22, 2011

Twins Notes: Sad Mad Bum, Alexi power, first rounders, and imagination

• San Francisco's starter last night, Madison Bumgarner, came into the game with a 3.03 ERA in 205 career innings, including a 3.21 ERA this year. He allowed eight runs on nine hits before getting yanked with just one out in the first inning. And then the Twins were held scoreless for 4.2 innings by Guillermo Mota, a 37-year-old reliever who'd never thrown that many innings in 13 seasons in the majors. Funny game, that baseball (but we knew that already).

• Not to be overlooked in last night's insanity: Alexi Casilla has now homered in back-to-back games after homering once in his previous 221 games.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Phillies "made inquiries" about Michael Cuddyer. Presumably given the way he's hitting and the way the Twins are playing they were rebuffed. In the span of two weeks Cuddyer has gone from .260/.321/.370 to .281/.345/.454, raising his OPS by 109 points in 16 games. And the Twins have cut their deficit in the AL Central from 16.5 games to 6.5 games by going 15-3 in June, including eight straight wins, all after a 17-36 start.

Joe Nathan has thrown two scoreless innings while rehabbing at Triple-A and could be back in the Twins' bullpen as soon as this weekend.

Joe Mauer and Bill Smith addressed the media before his return to the lineup last week and what struck me is how much different the perception of his injury would've been had everyone involved simply called it complications from offseason knee surgery. Instead the Twins called it bilateral leg weakness, which raised eyebrows and never seemed to sit right with Mauer, and the odd diagnosis being shrouded in mystery magnified the criticism ten-fold.

Alex Wimmers was removed from the Fort Myers rotation after his season debut when the 2010 first-round pick walked all six hitters he faced and LaVelle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that two months in extended spring training hasn't solved his control issues. Wimmers has visited a psychotherapist and Neal writes that "the Twins are baffled" by how he went from starring at Ohio State with excellent control to following Shooter Hunt's footsteps.

Hunt was one of the top college arms in the 2008 draft coming out of Tulane and had a strong pro debut after the Twins picked him 31st overall, but in three seasons since then he's walked 181 batters in 129 innings and now looks unlikely to get past Single-A. Hunt went from being one of the highest upside pitchers in the system to a bust overnight and Wimmers is in danger of the same fate just a year after being touted as one of the draft's most polished pitchers.

• Speaking of Neal, he dipped his toe in the sabermetric pool yesterday. What a nerd.

This year's first-round pick, Levi Michael, isn't able to sign because he's still playing for North Carolina in the College World Series, but he was dropped from second to seventh in the lineup because of a recent slump that dragged his once-lofty batting average below .300. I've been watching most of North Carolina's games to get a look at Michael, but he's struggled so much that forming an opinion on his skill set is tough. His defense has looked decent at shortstop.

• Just in case you thought the media taking pot shots at Kevin Slowey stopped when he was placed on the disabled list and banished to extended spring training, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote this on Twitter during last night's game:

My imagination or did Twins turn it around after Slowey's plane landed in Fort Myers?

It's his imagination. In the days following Slowey being put on the DL the Twins went 1-6. And if you're going to attach their recent success to specific roster moves, the current 15-2 stretch started the same day they placed Jason Kubel and Jim Thome on the DL. That storyline isn't quite as convenient, though.

Dusty Hughes was removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. When the Twins claimed Hughes off waivers from the Royals in January they talked up his 3.83 ERA and how left-handed hitters like Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span gave glowing scouting reports after facing him. Hughes' track record suggested otherwise and sure enough he allowed 14 runs in 13 innings while opponents hit .365/.452/.673 off him.

Brian Dinkelman was also removed from the 40-man roster and sent back to Triple-A, which is no surprise given that his call-up early this month came out of nowhere. Dinkelman has been in the organization since 2006 and there wasn't much harm in giving him a cup of coffee in the majors when injuries left the Twins with few other options, but realistically he's a marginal role player at best and at age 27 seems unlikely to make it back to the big leagues.

Chuck James kept his spot on the 40-man roster, but the Twins optioned him back to the minors to make room for Glen Perkins' return from the disabled list. While not surprising, the decision to demote James rather than fellow left-hander Phil Dumatrait is unfortunate. Before shoulder surgery James was a solid young mid-rotation starter for the Braves and he deserves more of an opportunity after dominating as a reliever at Triple-A.

I'm sure the Twins based their decision on Dumatrait's sparkling ERA between Rochester and Minnesota, but his success has involved all of 25 innings and comes with more walks (17) than strikeouts (14). Dumatrait's track record includes a 6.67 ERA in 119 innings as a major leaguer and a 6.13 ERA with more walks (55) than strikeouts (46) in 104 innings at Triple-A last year. He's a bad pitcher having a fluky run, whereas James has the potential to actually be useful.

Pat Neshek returned to Minnesota as a member of the Padres over the weekend, throwing a scoreless inning Friday, and also shared some interesting thoughts about his departure with Phil Mackey of 1500-ESPN:

The best word is probably bittersweet I'd say. For that week before [I was waived], I knew everybody passed me up there. I didn't know why. I mean, I got the opportunity, but I didn't feel like anybody was really taking me serious. ... It was sad leaving behind the fan base, all the stuff I worked towards, all the stuff I did in my community, for my hometown. I was sad, but I knew it had to happen.

There comes a time when you're not getting that opportunity. Minnesota, that's my ideal place. I never would have left. I mean, I wish I would have stayed healthy, never had that Tommy John and stuff like that. My family's all decked out in Twins stuff. I don't know what to do with that stuff anymore. What do you do? My car's got a Twins emblem. I didn't expect it to happen. I thought as long as I pitched well I'd stay, but that's how the game works.

I'm very glad to see Neshek having success in San Diego with a 3.60 ERA and .222 opponents' batting average in 20 innings, although it comes with a horrendous 18-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struggled to bounce back from elbow surgery and then upset the Twins by speaking publicly about the medical staff, but instead of just stashing him at Triple-A they cut him loose for nothing in a spring training move that didn't make much sense to me then or now.

• Rochester's search for players to fill out a roster plucked over by the Twins led them to sign right-hander Thomas Diamond, who was the No. 10 pick in the 2004 draft and twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 prospects while with the Rangers. Tommy John surgery derailed his career before Diamond bounced back enough to get a call-up to the Cubs last year, but they released the 28-year-old last week after he posted an 8.66 ERA in 45 innings at Triple-A.

• I'm giving serious thought to purchasing Toby Gardenhire's game-used Triple-A jersey in the name of both charity and irony.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota salsa company Curt's Salsa, which I've enjoyed on several occasions and personally recommend.

Older Posts »