April 16, 2014

Twins Notes: Dozier, Plouffe, Buxton, Mauer, Burton, Nunez, and Hughes

brian dozier and trevor plouffe

It doesn't make a lot of sense to attempt any meaningful analysis after just two weeks, but here are some random observations I've had while watching the Twins start 6-7 ...

• Last year Brian Dozier set the Twins' record for homers by a second baseman with 18, which came as a surprise after he totaled just 16 homers in 365 games as a minor leaguer. There was evidence that Dozier changed his approach at the plate to pull the ball more, and he's already gone deep four times in 13 games this year. I'm still not convinced he's a top-of-the-order bat, but 15-20 homers along with a solid glove would make him a long-term solution.

• It took 13 games for Trevor Plouffe to homer, but that might not be a bad thing because he looks like a much different hitter. He came into this season with a lifetime .240 batting average and 289/89 K/BB ratio, but so far he's hit .314 with an 8/8 K/BB ratio. His batting average will obviously go down soon enough, but Plouffe has been much more willing to push pitches to the opposite field and assuming at least some of the power remains that's a positive change.

• I'm not a big Alex Presley fan because he's stretched defensively in center field and stretched offensively in a corner spot, but as backup outfielders go he's a decent one. Losing him on waivers for nothing left the Twins lacking in outfield depth and injuries to Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia quickly made that a problem. When it's still early April and you're starting replacement-level talent like Chris Herrmann in an outfield corner something went wrong in the offseason planning.

• With that said, given their current options the Twins might as well continue to trade defense for offense by using Jason Kubel and Chris Colabello in the outfield corners. For one thing their intended corner duo of Willingham and Arcia is brutal defensively anyway. Beyond that by using Kubel and Colabello somewhere other than designated hitter it also allows Josmil Pinto to get into the lineup and his long-term development could be one of the biggest keys of the season.

• Back when Miguel Sano underwent Tommy John elbow surgery I wrote about how so many of the best Twins prospects of my lifetime have suffered major injuries early in their careers, ruining the chance to see what they were fully capable of becoming without any road blocks along the way. On a sadly related note, Byron Buxton hasn't played since injuring his wrist diving for a ball on March 16 and the Twins announced that he won't see game action until at least May 1.

• I'm curious to see if Joe Mauer is more vocal arguing balls and strikes with umpires as a hitter now that he no longer has to help pitchers get calls from them as a catcher. That certainly seems to be the case so far, although being on the wrong end of a couple incredibly obvious terrible calls could be skewing the small sample size. Thanks in large part to Mauer's patience at the plate, the Twins lead the league in walks.

Jared Burton has had back-to-back brutal appearances despite nearly a week off between outings. Tuesday night he walked three consecutive hitters with two outs and then served up a grand slam, which really should have its own name along the same lines as a "golden sombrero" for hitters. Burton also struggled down the stretch last season, so it might be time to let him get some low-leverage work with plenty of days off mixed in.

Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Anthony had some odd quotes about Eduardo Nunez after acquiring him from the Yankees, saying stuff like "we know he can swing the bat" and calling him an "offensive-oriented player." Meanwhile, he's 26 years old and has hit .267/.313/.379 in 270 games as a major leaguer after hitting .272/.315/.366 in 712 games as a minor leaguer.

Phil Hughes' results haven't been very good so far, but he's managed to keep the ball in the ballpark in two of his three starts and a 17/5 K/BB ratio in 15 innings will definitely work over the long haul. On the other hand even with Hughes racking up plenty of strikeouts the Twins' rotation as a whole ranks dead last among MLB teams with 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings. By comparison, four rotations are averaging more than 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

• For anyone going to Target Field: I highly recommend the Butcher and The Boar rib tips. They're new this season in right field around Section 140 and one of the best things I've ever eaten at a baseball game. Plus for $5.50 you can get a shot of Knob Creek bourbon with them.

• For a lot more about Mauer, Nunez, Willingham, Arcia, Dozier, Plouffe, and Buxton--plus the sad story of how I tore my ACL--check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Fan HQ at Ridgedale Mall, which will be hosting an autograph and meet-and-greet session with former Twins closer Joe Nathan on April 26. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

October 30, 2013

Offseason Outlook: Brian Dozier

brian dozier twins

Over-hyped as a prospect locally after putting up good numbers at Single-A and Double-A in 2011 as a 24-year-old, Brian Dozier reached the majors in early 2012 and flopped both offensively and defensively. He hit just .234/.271/.332 in 84 games with an ugly 58-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio, showing none of the strong strike-zone control he displayed in the minors, and possessed neither the range nor arm strength required to be a big-league shortstop.

Dozier was so bad that the Twins demoted him back to Triple-A in mid-August and then opted not to recall him from Rochester when rosters expanded on September 1, putting his future in doubt. Still in the Twins' plans in part because they lacked other infield options, he shifted from shortstop to second base this season and was handed the Opening Day job, but hit just .214/.259/.299 with a similarly ugly 35-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 games through the end of May.

And then something clicked. Dozier got hot in early June and spent the rest of the season looking nothing like his former self, hitting .255/.331/.458 with 16 homers, 30 doubles, and 42 walks in 106 games over the final four months. During that four-month stretch he had a .789 OPS, which would have ranked sixth among all MLB second basemen overall this season. Or, to put Dozier's improvement another way, look at how his first 125 games compare to his last 106 games:

DOZIER         PA     AVG     OBP     SLG     HR    XBH    BB    SO
First 125     508    .228    .267    .321      8     25    25    93
Last 106      455    .255    .333    .458     16     48    42    85

Dozier more than doubled his Isolated Power from .093 to .203 and nearly doubled his walk rate from 4.9 to 9.2 percent. He continued to strike out a lot and posted a poor batting average, but the gains in power and plate discipline were very encouraging. For the season as a whole he hit .244/.312/.414, which was exactly average for an MLB hitter. That may not seem like a big deal, but no Twins second baseman has been an average or better hitter since Todd Walker in 1998.

Whereas it took two months to get going offensively, Dozier looked like a natural at second base right away. Highlight plays and the huge improvement compared to his time at shortstop may have led to fans and media members slightly overstating how good Dozier was defensively, but the eyes and the numbers definitely agree that he was solid. Ultimate Zone Rating viewed him as an average second baseman and Defensive Runs Saved pegged him nine runs above average.

Dozier hitting a grand total of 16 homers in 1,613 plate appearances as a minor leaguer makes me skeptical that he can maintain the type of power he showed during the final four months, but middle infielders don't need to be 20-homer threats to be assets offensively. MLB second basemen combined to hit .260/.320/.385 over the past two years, which is certainly within reach for Dozier even if he comes back to earth a bit. Add in good defense and that's a nice all-around player.

Given his track record, age, and skill set there probably isn't a ton of upside left in Dozier, but he was the Twins' second-best position player in 2013 and obviously has the starting job locked up for 2014. He could face competition soon from prospect Eddie Rosario, but for now it's not really an issue because Rosario just turned 22 years old, has played only a half-season above Single-A, and may not even wind up sticking at second base defensively. Still, next year is big for Dozier.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Twins Daily's new "2014 Offseason Handbook" featuring everything you need to prepare for the Twins' winter moves for just $6.95. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

September 4, 2013

Twins Notes: Pinto, Mauer, Carew, Dozier, Willingham, Colabello, and Sano

josmil pinto twins

Josmil Pinto fell off the prospect radar after failing to crack a .700 OPS in 2010 or 2011, but re-established himself as someone to watch with a strong 2012 and built on that this season. He started the year at Double-A, hitting .308/.411/.482 with 14 homers and nearly as many walks (64) as strikeouts (71) in 107 games to earn a late-season promotion to Triple-A. Pinto hit well in 19 games for Rochester and now he's getting his first taste of the majors.

By somewhat surprisingly adding Pinto to the 40-man roster last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft the Twins showed that they believe his right-handed bat has a chance to be special, because reviews of his defense behind the plate have always been mixed at best. He's thrown out 34 percent of stolen base attempts during the past two seasons, which is a solid rate, but Pinto has also spent close to half of his time at designated hitter (in part because of a shoulder injury).

Pinto doesn't have huge power, totaling 17 homers and 36 doubles in 138 games at Double-A and Triple-A, but he certainly has some pop and hit .308 with 70 walks in 580 plate appearances while striking out just 93 times. He'll be 25 years old before Opening Day next season, so Pinto should be pretty close to MLB-ready and is an intriguing prospect in that his bat may prove good enough to be an asset at designated hitter even if his defense isn't good enough to be a regular catcher.

Joe Mauer going 5-for-7 with a homer in a crazy loss to the Indians a few weeks ago got me wondering about similar performances throughout Twins history. My first thought was to look at five-hit games, but because focusing on hits tends to overrate free-swingers and short-change batters who draw a lot of walks here are the Twins' all-time leaders in getting on base four, five, and six times within a game:

4+ TIMES ON BASE         5+ TIMES ON BASE         6+ TIMES ON BASE
Rod Carew        117     Rod Carew         23     Kirby Puckett      2
Kirby Puckett     94     Harmon Killebrew  14     Justin Morneau     2
Harmon Killebrew  92     Kent Hrbek        13     Rod Carew          1
Joe Mauer         89     Joe Mauer         12     Joe Mauer          1
Chuck Knoblauch   76     Kirby Puckett     11     15 Others          1

Mauer ranks pretty impressively on those lists, but here's the thing: He's only 30 years old. Here are those same Twins' all-time leaders in getting on base four, five, and six times within a game, except through age 30:

4+ TIMES ON BASE         5+ TIMES ON BASE         6+ TIMES ON BASE
Joe Mauer         89     Rod Carew         16     Justin Morneau     2
Rod Carew         84     Joe Mauer         12     Kirby Puckett      1
Chuck Knoblauch   76     Chuck Knoblauch    9     Rod Carew          1
Kirby Puckett     59     Harmon Killebrew   9     Joe Mauer          1
Kent Hrbek        59     Kent Hrbek         5     13 Others          1

Mauer and Rod Carew make for a very interesting comparison both for their overall production as high-average/low-power up-the-middle defenders and for their perceived value as Twins. Here are their respective numbers through age 30:

             G     AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS    OPS+
Mauer     1178    .323    .405    .468    .873    135
Carew     1328    .328    .384    .434    .818    132

Pretty damn close, especially once you go beyond the raw numbers and look at adjusted OPS+ to account for the different eras. They both hit for huge batting averages and minimal homer power. Mauer drew more walks and had a bit more pop, while Carew's great speed added to his value at the plate. And then Carew had the best season of his Hall of Fame career at age 31, winning the MVP by hitting .388/.449/.570. Mauer better have big plans for 2014 if he wants to keep pace.

Brian Dozier's homer Saturday set a new Twins record for second basemen ... with 15 (he's since added two more, continuing an impressive three-month power binge):

BRIAN DOZIER      2013     17
Tim Teufel        1984     14
Rod Carew         1975     14
Chuck Knoblauch   1996     13
Todd Walker       1998     12
Bernie Allen      1962     12

It's remarkable that a team could be around since 1961 and not have a second baseman hit 15 homers until 2013. During that time there were 232 instances of a non-Twins second baseman hitting at least 15 homers, including 12 seasons by Jeff Kent and 10 seasons by Craig Biggio. And the Twins had no shortage of excellence at second base in Carew and Chuck Knoblauch, but those two combined to reach double-digit homers just four times in 19 seasons in Minnesota.

Justin Morneau passing through waivers unclaimed let the Twins to shop him around before settling on the Pirates, but Josh Willingham was claimed off revocable waivers by the Orioles. That meant Baltimore was the only place he could be traded, but beat writer Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported that the Orioles felt the Twins were "asking way too much" and the window closed without a deal.

So instead the Orioles added a different right-handed bat with good power and terrible outfield defense in Michael Morse of the Mariners and the Twins held onto Willingham, who's hit .164 with 33 strikeouts in 25 games since returning from knee surgery. Willingham is under contract for $7 million next season, which makes his situation much different than Morneau, but the way he's struggled all season it's tough to see any teams trading much for him this winter.

Chris Colabello was named MVP of the International League after hitting .352/.427/.639 with 24 homers in 89 games for Rochester. It's worth noting that the International League's previous seven MVPs were Mauro Gomez, Russ Canzler, Dan Johnson, Shelley Duncan, Jeff Bailey, Mike Hessman, and Kevin Witt. Not a prospect among them and Colabello certainly fits in that group, but I still think he can be useful if given an extended chance.

Miguel Sano finished tied for the eighth-most homers in the Eastern League despite his not being promoted to Double-A until mid-June. He hit 19 homers in 67 games there and the league leader is a 28-year-old with 23 homers in 139 games. Sano also finished tied for the eighth-most homers in the Florida State League despite not playing there since June 9. He totaled 35 homers overall for the most by any Twins minor leaguer in 25 years.

Wilkin Ramirez is done for the year after fracturing his left tibia with a foul ball. He previously spent three months on the disabled list with a concussion, so it's been a very rough season for the 27-year-old journeyman who won a bench spot with a strong spring training performance despite a thoroughly mediocre track record. He hit .272/.302/.370 with a 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87 plate appearances and seems likely to be dropped from the 40-man roster this offseason.

Samuel Deduno, who complained of shoulder problems three weeks ago, left Thursday's start after three innings with shoulder soreness and has been placed on the disabled list. Deduno has started 33 games for the Twins, which is one full season's worth, and he's thrown 187 innings with a 124-to-94 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.08 ERA, which is exactly league average.

• Last year's second-round pick, Rice University right-hander J.T. Chargois, needs Tommy John elbow surgery after not pitching at all this season in an attempt to rehab the injury. As a dominant college reliever he was supposed to move through the farm system quickly, but Chargois will likely miss the entirety of back-to-back seasons.

• This year's Twins prospects heading to the Arizona Fall League are Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May, Max Kepler, Zach Jones, A.J. Achter. That's as strong a group as I can remember the Twins sending to the AFL and it's hard to imagine too many other teams ever sending a better contingent.

• As expected the August 11 deal sending Jamey Carroll to the Royals for a player to be named later or cash considerations was essentially a give-away, as the Twins got an undisclosed sum of money to complete the trade. Carroll is 1-for-25 since joining the Royals, starting six games.

• Old friend Jason Kubel is back in the AL Central after being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks and traded to the Indians. Since signing a two-year, $16 million deal with Arizona as a free agent last offseason Kubel has hit .242/.315/.447 in 230 games.

Joe Benson, who was designated for assignment by the Twins and claimed off waivers by the Rangers in mid-May, has now been designated for assignment by the Rangers. In between he hit just .205/.293/.394 in 37 games at Double-A, continuing a remarkably steep decline.

• Mauer rates extremely well in Matt Klaassen's comprehensive catcher defensive rankings this season, which further complicates the question of a potential position switch. Ryan Doumit again rates horribly, which is an annual occurrence.

• Mauer has hit .324 in 508 plate appearances. All other Twins have hit .232 in 4,713 plate appearances and no one else with 100-plus plate appearances is above .260.

• Buxton in August: .410/.533/.506 with 20 walks and 16 steals in 25 games. As a 19-year-old at high Single-A in his first full professional season.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included a ton of talk about the Morneau trade.


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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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